As the 2018 Heroes Global Championship kicked off early Friday morning, little time was wasted before the first major upset of the season took place as Tempest swept defending HGC Champions KSV Black in the opening match.
With new rosters, organizations, heroes and gameplay mechanics introduced for this season’s action, there’s more to love and keep an eye on as league play develops. As overwhelming as that may sound, a list of three storylines to follow along with are listed below in addition to the numerous that will develop over the next few months.
1. New heroes, new meta.
Since last season’s championship ended, four new heroes have been added to the roster and all are expected to be, to some extent, competitively viable and used in league play. Alexstraza, who was released before Gold Club World Championship last month, was seldom seen in that tournament as she struggles against aggressive dive compositions, which Asia’s well-known for excelling at but has been drafted in early league play matches this season. Alexstraza’s ability to control a battlefield with her pseudo-ultimate trait and zone enemies makes her a powerful tool if she’s kept above 75 percent health to maximize her healing potential.
Hanzo has seen heavy usage in both Hero League and on Day 1 of HGC play as a point of emphasis to either ban quickly or be the first pick, similar to the treatment his brother, Genji gets. His current state allows him to be the jack-of-all trades with multiple talents builds to provide versatility. Wave clear, vision, burst damage, sustain damage and a team-stun are just a few of the strengths his kit possesses, making him a true point of emphasis on the battlefield and in the draft.
Another Overwatch hero, Junkrat, excels at long-range damage and, in a world, in which Li-Ming is in a premier position as a ranged mage, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Junkrat get picked on occasion depending on the team composition or map. His usefulness on maps where chokepoints are prevalent and the objective is confined allow his bombs and traps to whittle down the opposition and set up his teammates for destruction.
Finally, Blaze, who is not yet available to be picked in HGC, adds another bruiser to the draft pool to compete with the likes of Sonya and Leoric for the solo lane. The amount of crowd control Blaze possesses makes him a very appealing selection in compositions with coordinated follow-up damage, which, professional players excel at. As his inception into the game is still very new, it’s unsure how he will be utilized, if at all, at the competitive scene but his base kit provides optimism.
2. The battle for EU supremacy.
Throughout the 2017 season, a back-and-forth battle took place between Fnatic and Team Dignitas with Fnatic, eventually, reigning supreme en-route to the grand finals in HGC. In the off-season, rosters were shaken up between the two and both are back to assert their dominance in the HotS scene.
For Dob “Quackniix” Engstrom, the captain of Fnatic, the future is the same as the past: the goal is to win.
“The goal with the new roster is pretty straightforward. Long term we are aiming for the end goal, which is winning BlizzCon. Short term, we are looking to grow as a unit and prove ourselves as top three in EU and maintain that level throughout the year.”
A big part of their success hangs in former-Team Dignitas member and now Fnatic carry, Thomas “Mene” Cailleux, who is optimistic:
“With this new roster I think we will need a bit of time to show our real strength, but I’m excited to see if we can do as well as the old Fnatic roster in this 2018 HGC season."
Standing in the way of Fnatic repeating last year’s success is Team Dignitas who recently finished second to KSV Black in the GCWC in China, taking home $70,000 and providing some practice with their new roster for HGC league play.
GCWC standout and new ranged carry acquired from Team Zealots, Vilhelm “POILK” Flennmark is confident with reaching the high expectations placed on the team coming into the HGC this year. With Jonathan “Wubby” Gunnarsson replacing longtime captain James “Baker” Bakery, questions remain as to whether there will be a drop-off in production in either team with a new roster.
But POILK isn’t concerned:
"I believe that everyone on the team would be pretty disappointed if we don’t finish top two or even first place. I think that hard work always pays off if you have talented players with a lot of motivation and I believe that's something we all have in Dignitas this year"
3. First competitive look at sweeping Gameplay Changes.
The Heroes of the Storm design team wanted to kick off 2018 with a bang, to provide a more enhanced playing experience and freshen up the game they love. A re-work of the tower ammunition, mercenary camps, and regeneration globes, aim to create a more meaningful early game as that period ended too quickly in their opinion. As a result, games were ending a little too quickly, per the dev team. Games would snowball into often two or three level leads before the 10-minute mark and create an un-fun experience.
A recent patch adjusted those numbers to provide a prolonged playing experience but it will be intriguing to see if that trend translates at a high level of play or if professional’s game knowledge will compensate for, on average, shorter games. A litany of questions arise in the mind of competitively minded fans:
- Will it become common for teams to develop early two level leads and snowball into games that aren’t fun to watch?
- Will wave clear become even more important than year’s past with mercenary camps becoming stronger?
- Will the importance of winning a lane due to the regen globe change translate into changes in the draft process?
Blizzard developers are aware of how sweeping the changes might be, and said just as much in the most recent development update:
"These are some hefty changes, and it’s likely that there will be more needed to be done over time as things continue to settle. We’ll be keeping an eye on things, and are prepared to make more updates as they’re needed."
Time will tell but these are questions that will be answered over the course in the HGC season in addition to many others that come to mind.
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