NA Qualifiers: The World Turned on Its Head

Apr 20, 2016

What can you say? This month has been crazy in the NA scene. Between iconic teams disbanding, important roster changes, and nearly daily content to absorb, keeping up with the scene has been near impossible. On top of all that, the qualifiers for the North American Championship at DreamHack Austin gave us a ton of upsets and left us scratching our heads. It’s just been crazy.

Double Tournaments All the Way Across the Calendar

First, let’s talk about tournaments. In contrast with the tournament format from last season, Blizzard is trying out a new dual championship system in Europe and North America, each awarding one spot in the Global finals instead of two. This is a positive change that will make the finals more meaningful and exciting for both the teams and viewers. In any case, it’s a very confusing system that’s very difficult to understand, even with Blizzard’s attempt to clarify the rules.

The first championship for North America will be at DreamHack Austin in two weeks. All of the qualifiers are over with Tempo Storm, Team Naventic, Gale Force eSports, Team Higher Consciousness, Cloud9, Panda Global, COGnitive Gaming, and Gust or Bust advancing to the regional championship. The second one will be held at the ESL studios in Burbank during early June. Teams can compete in (and potentially win) both tournaments, but only two teams total will get a chance to go to the Global Championship in mid June.

Global Circuit Format

To make this simpler: Heroes of the Storm tournaments are going on constantly. Between just NA and EU, there’s enough esports to keep you busy most days during the week. You can follow all of the action with the Summer schedule on Liquidpedia or through Blizzard’s esports site.

Huge Upsets in the Qualifiers

Remember Cloud9? The world champions of 2015? They got knocked out of the first two qualifiers in quite a humiliating fashion, struggling against teams they dominated only a few months ago—Gust or Bust (formerly King of Blades Alpha), Tempo Storm, and Gale Force eSports. It looks like in spite of their rockstar roster, they may not be the biggest kids on the playground anymore.

The team at the height of last year, now literally fallen from Cloud9.
The team at the height of last year, now literally fallen from Cloud9.

In particular, the new rosters from Tempo Storm and Gale Force eSports (GFE) have stepped it up a notch and shown that they have some of the best play in NA. GFE’s merge with Panda Global is probably one of the most successful team mergers since the original C9 Maelstrom merge with its sister team C9 Vortex.

Perhaps the most surprising upset to come out of the qualifiers was from Team Higher Consciousness (THC). Winning out over COGnitive Gaming and Gust or Bust—both excellent teams in their own rights—THC showed a surprisingly dominant performance. Who are these guys? If you’ve been keeping up with the minutiae of NA tournaments, you would know that they’ve been a presence for a few months, but they’ve always had suboptimal play and few results. It’s hard to tell what the big change is, but whatever they’re doing, it’s working.

Roster Swaps Become a Commonplace Roulette

If we’ve learned anything from the past few months—especially from our friends in Europe—roster swaps will typically get good results in the short run and progressively worse a few months later. Nonetheless, we’re seeing the honeymoon effect of roster swaps in full force right now.

GFE has obviously seen this effect the strongest. Reeling from an alleged player contract scandal, they reset the roster with a lot of familiar faces with Panda Global. Positive forces prevailed, and they walked over C9 in a close series to qualify for DreamHack Austin.

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Tempo Storm has been through some rough times, especially after their massive roster changes post-BlizzCon last year. Nonetheless, they triumphed with decent results during the Spring Season and stride into summer with yet another positive roster change. It’s obvious the swap out of ladder star and former tank player Quinn “Srey” Fischer for Aaron “erho” Kappes has had a positive effect on the team, and the newest iteration of the team is likely to go much further.

On the other side of the coin, though, roster swaps can prove detrimental. Panda Global, in spite of having a great set of players and attaining half of the all-star roster from Team Blaze, just haven’t looked great during the qualifiers. Likewise, Gust or Bust has struggled compared to their success only a few weeks ago, but the replacement of carry player Thomas “Tomster” Maguire with esteemed player and shotcaller Jon “Equinox” Peterson may prove to be better in the long term.

Restoring the Natural Order

Whatever the case may be, roster swaps are always a gamble in the short run. They may give you a knockout team for the next competition or they may cause tensions that break down the current one. It’s all in the cards.

Roster changes are risky because you can't know well players work together until they actually start playing as a team, just like the unlikely duo in Breaking Bad.
Roster changes are risky because you can’t know well players work together until they actually start playing as a team, just like the unlikely duo in Breaking Bad.

In the long run, we will likely see more stability in terms of results from each team and perhaps a return to the norm we’ve come to expect. In the meantime, however, we’ll just have to accept the chaos: the world turned on its head.

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Chris is an esports aficionado who has followed and written about several different games, including StarCraft II, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm. He has served notable time at Team Liquid, among others, in the pursuit of becoming a freelance writer and editor. He’s sometimes been known in the MOBA community as “that feeder” but continues to improve and remains optimistic for the future.
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