Tournaments

DotA needs more non-traditional tournaments

I was incredibly surprised when I discovered that Captain’s Draft was an official DotA 2 Minor with qualifying points on the line. For ages, Captain’s mode has been not just the preferred tournament game mode, but the only one. To be fair, Captain’s Draft and Captain’s mode are very similar. The only major difference is the fact that Captain’s Draft has a significantly smaller hero pool. For those that don’t know, Captain’s draft reduces the hero pool down to nine each of strength, agility and intelligence heroes. For a brief stint this game mode was actually available for Ranked play. Due to the increased segmentation of the ranked player user base, Valve permanently relocated it to the unranked playlist.

But then we have the Midas Mode tournament that is currently going on. While it is not a Minor itself, it is considerably more unique than Captain’s Draft. In the tournament, each hero costs a certain number of currency to draft, and teams start with a certain amount of this currency. A hero’s cost correlates with their current popularity and win rate. Teams can earn currency back by choosing to random or by completing a set of community created challenges. Teams can even bet their currency on games that they are not participating in. While this is more than unorthodox, there are merits to tournaments like these granting Qualifying Points. I hope to explain why through this article.

It challenges teams

Captain’s Draft challenges teams to make the best out of what is likely a poor situation. Of course if top tier heroes happen to be in the pool, teams will immediately pick or ban them. Other than that, the mode generally pushes both captains and players outside of their comfort zones. Teams can actually use this opportunity to try off-the-wall strategies, or sub-optimal synergies. Maybe a player is trying to add a hero to their hero pool but their not comfortable with it in a tournament setting. Well, in Captains Draft, the enemy team might be at the same disadvantage. This makes it the perfect time to try a new hero in a more high pressure situation outside of pub games or scrims.

I know that teams play their fair share of pubs to test new strategies. I also know that they occasionally have practice matches against each other. Unfortunately neither of these really reflect the atmosphere of a major tournament. In pubs, a professional team may very well find themselves against a team that has not played together as often, ensuring an easier victory. In scrimmages against other teams, players may not wish to reveal pocket strategies that they hope to use in future tournaments.

Midas Mode further challenges teams by giving teams a limited amount of currency to deal with throughout the whole tournament. Each decision the team makes is determined by the amount of currency the team has at their disposal. While the economical balance of the mode can be called into question, it IS the first tournament of it’s kind. It will undoubtedly be improved in the future as they work out the kinks.

They are viewer friendly

Say what you want about the staged performances between matches, but the actual games and drafts themselves are a blast to watch for viewers. One of the major reasons that fans become tired or professional matches is that everyone fights for the same heroes in every draft. New draft? Well we can expect that W/X/Y/Z heroes are going to be picked or banned in the first phase. With much of the variety taken out, matches become much less interesting. These non-traditional formats take care of that.  In Captain’s Draft, a limited hero pool means that viewers will almost always see meta-unfriendly strategies and drafts. This prevents the games viewer from getting bored, and keeps the games much more exciting.

Tournaments

Image from twitch.tv/moonducktv

Midas Mode takes it to the next level by introducing a popularity based cost system to drafting as well as a community driven challenge system for players to participate in. The cost system requires players to carefully choose whether they pick the expensive meta-popular hero or a less expensive underdog during the draft. The mode even rewards teams for randoming or skipping a ban. All of these mechanics result in some of the most exciting drafts I’ve seen in recent memory.

But the fun extends to the main game as well. Tournament organizers collect challenge suggestions from fans on a daily basis, and use those suggestions to inform their decisions for the tournament. Challenges can be simple and predictable, such as “Kill Roshan at level 1”. They can also be completely absurd and specific, such as “Announce that you are doing a “360 NO SCOPE” in all chat. Within 10 seconds that player must perform a 360 spin and then kill an enemy player. Can only be attempted once per game by each team”. If that last challenges sounds too far fetched to actually work, OG claimed that bounty during one of their games. These challenges ensure that the viewer base is always entertained in new and exciting ways.

Why we need more tournaments like these

While these are just two examples of the possibilities afforded by new game modes, I do not thing the creativity should stop there. I have no suggestions for my own, but these kind of tournaments tick all of the boxes. Players are challenged in new and interesting ways, while viewers have something new and different to watch. These types of tournaments could break up the monotony of professional DotA that had fans crying out for a patch mere weeks ago. Though Midas Mode is in it’s testing phase now, it could be become a Minor in time. My argument is that it should be so. These kind of tournaments add a much needed layer of unpredictability to the DotA 2 competitive scene. We should be welcoming them with open arms into the DotA Pro Circuit.


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Zoe's competitive

Early looks: Zoe’s competitive potential

Patch 7.22 brings the largest gameplay update League has seen in years. While the community theory-crafts fresh playstyles and build paths with the Runes Reforged overhaul, a new champion looms just around the corner. Zoe, the Aspect of Twilight, will soon be the latest addition to the Rift. With new play patterns emerging by the day, Zoe will enter the League just in time to sew some chaos. Professional players will no doubt spend much of preseason mastering Targon’s newest champion. How will Zoe‘s competitive future pan out after the pros have a chance to practice her high skill-cap style?

summoner spells, stars and… sleep?

Zoe's competitive

Credits: Riot Games

Zoe introduces several new ideas and a unique mechanic to the League. Her E, “Sleepy Trouble Bubble” is the first ability in the game to have the “drowsy” mechanic. After hitting an enemy with her bubble, Zoe sleeps her target, a form of hard crowd-control seemingly similar to a root. If the initial cast does not hit a target, the bubble lingers as a fairly wide trap. This new mechanic makes messy mid-game skirmishes against Zoe increasingly tricky. Sneaky bubble placement can cause huge disruption in teamfights. Tanks can find themselves immobile for the few seconds it takes to lose their AD-carry. Players can also use these bubbles to zone off entrances or exits to jungle corridors, taking the positional advantage to secure objective control.

Zoe‘s bubble becomes even more threatening when coupled with her ultimate, “Portal Jump.” Zoe gains an extra dimension of mobility with her portal. Although she cannot move while portal jumping, Zoe can cast abilities, ward and auto-attack. A quick “Portal Jump” near the enemy AD-carry can deliver a fast sleep bubble before Zoe jumps back to safety. Alternatively, she can quickly ward dangerous enemy territory and escape unscathed.

Zoe‘s competitive potential and teamfight explosiveness shines with her W ability, “Spell Thief.” When enemy champions use active spells or items, they leave spell shards that Zoe can steal with her WIn her champion teaser, Riot showcased Zoe‘s skirmishing strength by weaving multiple “Flashes” to make for quick spell rotations. Mechanically gifted players will take Zoe‘s competitive gameplay far beyond Riot’s teaser video. But, will this aspect of Zoe‘s kit put her in the ranks of mages like Ryze and Azir? Champions whose skill ceilings are oppressively strong on the competitive stage.

Zoe’s Competitive Skill Ceiling

Zoe's competitive

Credit: LoL Esports Photos

We have seen it with several champions over the past few years. Champs like KalistaRyze and Azir whose kits gave room for massive skill caps that dominated competitively. However, because of their dominance, Riot was forced to nerf these champions beyond viability for the average player. This causes a frustrating disparity between the pros and casual players in solo queue. The question now is, will Zoe be doomed to a similar fate?

Many initial reactions to Zoe highlight her “over-loaded” kit. In all fairness, Zoe does boast a kit with high ceilings for mobility, crowd-control and wave-clear. However, on a recent episode of Beyond the Rift hosted by Michael “imaqtpie” Santana and William “Scarra” Li, RiotWrekz and RiotMeddler dive deeper into a discussion on Zoe‘s mechanics. Scarra used the term “fake mobility” to characterize how Zoe‘s ultimate is more of a deceptive type of mobility. RiotMeddler elaborated on the point, adding that “Portal Jump” excels when used to dodge skillshots, not run down enemy champions. In the podcast, they highlight that Zoe‘s actual strength is her ability to quickly re-position in teamfights.

In Riot’s teaser, Zoe chases down multiple targets in an oppressive display of mobility. However, when we take a step back to really look at the champion, her power lies elsewhere. Zoe seems to excel more in mid-game teamfight scenarios where she can duck enemy crowd-control with “Portal Jump” and steal summoners to effectively lay down her own CC. While Zoe‘s kit is extremely impressive at a glance, the months to come will test her strength in a competitive setting. With the preseason patch constantly reinventing the meta, Zoe‘s competitive viability changes every day.

Featured Image: Riot Games

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Does Hearthstone need a Tournament mode?

The reliability of Hearthstone’s official tournaments hasn’t been stellar lately. Disconnects, issues with clear rule communication and venue issues have repeatedly plagued high-level play over the past few months. Most controversial was competitive player Michael Luker’s disconnect whilst winning a crucial match. The dominant game-state during the disconnect and his resulting tilt and losses arguably cost his qualification.

Some would blame Blizzard’s organisation for this. But the issue may run far deeper. Perhaps the issue lies in part in the Hearthstone game client itself. How can Hearthstone support esports without a tournament mode?

A matter of functionality

tournament mode

If you opponent disappears in a puff of smoke, pros should be able to resume their game

Currently, all of the rules, functions and quirks of any given tournament have to be organised within a limited Hearthstone client. Things like rules, decklists, bans and play orders have to be sorted manually. Naturally, this leaves greater room for error. It also places more administrative strain on the organisers.

Potentially, a Tournament mode or client in Hearthstone could automate this admin. It would also be less prone to error than human organisers.

What’s more, potential Tournament-friendly features could be added. The ability to restore a game to a prior state from a disconnect could be invaluable, especially in earlier stages of tournaments. A tournament mode could also provide post-match stats on demand for interested viewers.

Better rules, easier enforcement?

A tournament mode could also make for easier enforcement of anti-cheating rules. Currently, smaller independent tournaments have dilemmas when it comes to players potentially cheating via in-game chat. When pro player RDU received in-game messages stating “Hi mum” mid-Tournament in a game vs Amaz in a 2014 tournament, some believed it was code for Amaz drawing Leeroy. However, Hearthstone has no way of preventing players receiving messages outside of clearing out friends lists; a time-consuming and irksome task for all involved. The only alternative is to either tolerate potential cheating or disqualify those who receive messages (which would be equally open to abuse).

Similarly, intentional or semi-intentional disconnects are very hard to police, especially in venues with poor or unreliable web connections. A tournament mode with a resume feature would prevent this potential abuse.

These methods of preventing cheating would not only prevent wrongdoing, but also free up organisers that otherwise would have to devote time and effort to scrutinizing players.

Bridging the competitive gap

There may also be knock-on benefits for a Tournament mode or client. Though it would likely initially only be available to authorised partners, such a client may eventually be expanded to Fireside Gatherings. This would allow enthusiasts a far easier time of setting up small community tournaments without the hassle of organisation, bracketing and rule enforcement. Perhaps the mode could even be extended to those seeking a more personal, involved and strategic series of games than the traditional anonymous single matches of Ladder.

As well as opening more avenues for players to enjoy Hearthstone, it would also help to close the divide between Competitive and Ladder Hearthstone. Currently, the experience of tournaments is very different to that of most players. It’s hard to train for, enjoy and engage with Tournaments when the fundamental day-to-day Hearthstone experience is completely divorced from it. If players get to experience line-up balancing, bans and the tactics of a Best of Five, they may find themselves enjoying watching Tournaments more. Engagement would also translate to a greater pool of talented Hearthstone players.

tournament mode

Ladder doesn’t always satisfy those looking to get a competitive experience

Benefits for the average Jaina

All this wouldn’t just help the competitive scene. There would be potentially tangible benefits even to casual players. For one thing, a separate mode may allow tweaks to cards. This would mean that crucial balance changes would no longer follow the dictates of Tournaments. What’s more, it even opens the albeit unlikely possibility that certain cards could change for Competitive but not ladder; perhaps the most obvious example being Yogg-Saron.

A healthy competitive scene is the sign of a healthy game, and Hearthstone is no exception. Though Blizzard may be content to rest on their laurels of Hearthstone’s massive commercial success, they should not become complacent. Striving for greatness and skill motivates a significant proportion of their paying customer-base, and they deserve a strong, supported competitive scene to inspire them.


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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Call of Duty Ghosts for dummies: Part two

This is a follow-up to my first article in which I had started discussing some simple setups for Search and Destroy. In this post, I’ll be covering Sovereign and Warhawk and then moving onto some perk choices. If you enjoy the article or think it could be improved please comment.

Sovereign

This map is a different beast in comparison to the two I’ve already covered. Unlike Freight and Octane, there’s no easy way of knowing when the enemy has bomb control.

Sovereign incorporates a three lane system, similar to most Counter-Strike maps. This usually means that the defense is spread thinner to cover all the lanes. However, with the setup I’m going to suggest for beginners, it should make locking it down much easier.

Defence

My strategy focuses on stacking the B bombsite. This is because it is much harder to retake since Remington’s can hold the flank from way back in spawn while the Vector players lock down the control room. Your Remington players have next to no chance of retaking B as they lose gunfights inside the map room 99% of the time. That leaves the round on your sub-machine gunners to win a series of head-on gunfights. It also gives you enough information on where players are if they do take the A bombsite, making the likelihood of you retaking much greater.

Players one and two have the job of holding the actual bomb site. Player one will play in the bomb room killing anyone attempting to plant. Player two will play on the stairs just outside watching B domination. If P1 gets pushed on bomb, it’s on P2 to get a quick trade kill. If the attackers try to grenade him out, P2 should counter-nade. It’s a strong setup because even player one dying can be good since they won’t expect another player so quickly and might hastily try to plant meaning you drop the bomb on spot.

Player three should hold snake and the cupboard. This player doesn’t need to be aggressive at all, he is there to ensure that no one gets on our side of the map through B. With the Remington, he should be able to pick up some free kills if they are daring enough to peek either of the positions.

Click to enlarge.

The linchpin of the setup is player four, who guards the underground and the push into range. This is from a sneaky spot just below blue catwalk. Should the enemy team plant A, this player can kill anyone who tries to cross from A bomb into range. If no one does, it makes the pinch onto the bomb site much easier since you don’t have to worry about that side of the map. Player two should also quickly be able to tell whether they have a player holding B domination or not. With that information, it means that their entire team is likely trapped between servers and zig making it easy pickings for your team.

Attacking

As with most maps you can go for the standard smoke Incog rush plants. On Sovereign, I recommend letting another player smoke the bomb and for the bomber to take Trophy System since grenading the bomb is so easy on this map.

As I mentioned in the defensive setup, it’s easy for defenders to see when attackers cross over to their side of the map. A way you can catch them off guard is to leave a player in snake while the rest of the team goes A. This means that the snake player can flank the catwalk player after he moves towards the A site.

For going B, I like to have one player climb up the ladder and hold the flank into the bomb room. Then I’d have a player on yellow stairs watching over the bomber. This can be the player with the smoke if you go for an Incog rush plant. Finally, have a guy on back catwalk initially watching a snake push so that ladder cannot get flanked then switching to holding the caution and full flank from the stairs opposite ladder.

Warhawk

Defence

Warhawk also uses the three lane system. On this map, it is fairly easy for the attackers to get control of both bomb sites. There are a number of spots that the defenders can use to their advantage to net free kills.

My default setup would be to have player one on the tank just outside the diner. This guy can see if anyone rushes mid or blue tarp. They can also see if any players come from A into the Z connector. This player can also quickly rotate to help back truck or water tower if enemies are spotted.

Player two is the truck player spotting the A push. His primary job is to get information of them pushing the bomb and focus on staying alive as opposed to making kills. Since the attackers can get to this site so quickly, it’s often the brunt of three or four-man pushes. The player can peek the fences from the barrel near veranda (I’ve never heard it called that but hey-ho) with thermal and call how many players he sees. He could also play more passive from the tree and wait for someone to peek back American, or garage as this site calls it.

Player three has the role of locking down the B site. This can be done from either the water tower or tin. I recommend using the thermal scope to spot players pushing into the back building or jumping on the bomb. One sneaky spot that can earn you kills is under the blue tarp at the tower. When the attackers try to plant bomb an assault rifle will often peek from loading bay giving you a free kill. Similarly to player two, the main job is getting the information that enemies are B. Once the enemies are called out you can ask for player two to come and help from tin.

Click to enlarge.

Last but not least we have player four. This guy is free to roam as the rounds develop. If the attackers are seemingly favoring the A bomb site he can sit in American and kill enemies that are trying to kill your truck player. Alternatively, he can rush post office on B and hit the flank fast. This allows for your tower player to quickly rotate to A. There are a number of options he has such as peeking mid more aggressively with a sniper or rushing blue tarp. I would say his role is actively trying to get first blood.

Attacking

Attacking on Warhawk usually ends up being four-man pushing either A or B. The smoke Incog pushes are particularly effective on this map since the thermal hybrid sight is a popular choice due to its long lanes. On Warhawk, I recommend the bomber using Trophy System again since it is easy to get good grenades onto the bomb sites.

The most effective strategy would be to have two people rush into American pre-firing the back door. If there’s a player there then he will either die or get traded by the second player. If no one is there the bomber can rush plant with his trophy system since the truck player will have no chance of killing him. This is effective since it puts pressure on the defense straight from the off since it only leaves them with forty seconds to retake.

When planting B, I think it’s best to wait for first blood before trying to plant. If the defenders spot no one A, they often get restless and flank early, which you can have a guy watching from the blitz portal or antiques. There is a little corner just below water tower where attackers can sit to get easy kills, I recommend trying to get a player there before planting.

Perk Choices

Before rounding out the article I wanted to make a little section on perk choices. This is because recently I’ve seen many players waste slots on unneeded perks. Firstly, you should always have Dead Silence and Focus. The latter is important as it reduces the flinch you get when hit and Dead Silence since almost all players will be using headsets and will be able to pick up on the smallest sounds.

A prime example of wasting slots I’ve encountered multiple times was quickdraw on the Vector. This shouldn’t even need explaining but the sub-machine guns aim down sights fast enough in this game and the difference isn’t great enough to warrant using up three create-a-class slots. You could have two grenades or Incog over that which is much more valuable.

List of all the perks and their cost in Ghosts. [Source: u/plokijuh1229]

Another is Sleight of Hand. In Search and Destroy there is no reason to use this perk, the MTAR and Vector have large enough magazines to confidently pick up three kills. If you’re using the Remington you’re most likely going to be far enough away that you have time to reload anyway. Obviously, it’s a nice perk to have and gives you peace of mind knowing you have a full clip but I’d take it as your first specialist bonus rather than two of your create-a-class points.

My final point will be that you don’t have to take Quickdraw on the Remington either. Although the increase in ADS speed is substantial on the assault rifles if you pre-aim the right places you should be able to get the kills regardless. Take playing truck on Warhawk for example, they can only push you from back American or from the open bomb site. Not having it definitely means you suffer on the retakes but it’s just something to consider. Perhaps you might take both Agility, Marathon and a pistol to fast peek the cross on Freight. It’s your choice.


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beat invitational

Bizzaro world: Beat.gl Invitational recap

The results of the Beat Invitational were kind of a given, yet the actual matches themselves were definitely a surprise. Rogue won, Immortals took second and Arc6 took third. The placings below those three spots made as much sense as an Ouija board prediction.

LG Evil didn’t place and yet a month ago they looked stellar. Tempo Storm took a game off of one of the best Overwatch teams in the world. Rogue almost lost to Arc6 in a screamer. FNGRFE almost took out Arc6 in a match that required a look at the rulebook. Just what exactly happened in this tournament?

We have found the Scary Door.

Day One: Friday

lg evil, beat invitational

Courtesy of Team Liquid

Of all the matches, look to Envision versus LG Evil to be the real takeaway. Despite a laundry list of production problems, the match between LG Evil and Envision won match of the day.

LG Evil was the favorite, previously playing in groups two weeks prior and crushing Envision’s hopes. Envision now had a much better Genji in Jaru, and like MasterCard, he’s accepted everywhere. ConnorJ stepping down from Envision was a loss but Jaru seemed like an above average fit for a team indeed of a possible carry. On LG Evil’s side, Jake was still considered one of the better Soldier:76 players in the league, not above aKm but certainly no slouch. What played out through this match was a back and forth of Envision going absolutely crazy followed by Jake and the rest of LG Evil tying them to a bench to hold on. Poor team fights, wild ults that did nothing – it was a match that just felt tilted from the get go.

LG won Lijang, then lost Route 66. Envision almost lost Dorado but a last second brain fart cost LG the match. LG beat Envision on Anubis and held them to absolutely zero. The match on Ilios would have been much more interesting but once again Jaru proved to be the difference in killing everyone. Envision looked a lot fresher than they have been while LG just looked tired.

Day Two: Saturday

beat invitational, Arc6

Courtesy of Arc6 twitter

With five matches, the day went off surprisingly without a hitch. Arc6 and Rogue beat their respective teams handily and then nearly killed one another in the very next match. Arc6 going up two games to nothing, putting Rogue into a fly or die mentality. In everything after, Arc6 failed to finish off Rogue in Lijang and opened up the door for a comeback. Rogue blanked Arc6 on King’s Row and it felt like the game was over immediately. As Arc6 failed to get even two points on Route 66, Rogue took out all the brakes and finished them off with time to spare.

The reverse sweeps were just coming, however, as a few short matches later, the exact same thing occurred once again for Arc6. CLG went up one game to nothing against them in a best of three and was unable to close Arc6 out. Another nightcap of a match sent home the message that the tournament could easily be great when it wanted to be.

Day three: Sunday

beat invitational, rogue

Courtesy of TeamLiquid

Sunday borrowed the script from Saturday and turned it into a summer blockbuster. It even added more zany antics and wild plays to top it off.

Immortals looked very strong and nigh unbeatable in Contenders and then fell to Rogue in a three to one. Arc6 and FNRGFE repeated the match between Arc6 and Rogue except Arc6 won out. More so, the match itself went into a best of three, winner-take-all control point on Oasis. It had shades of similarity to Kungarna vs Cloud9 just two weeks prior in Contenders. Arc 6 looked gassed, and Immortals, still licking their wounds from Rogue, ended up trouncing them.

The final deserves recognition.

The heroes of this series were easily Kariv and uNKOE. Kariv became Proffesor Xavier to uNKOE’s Magneto. They just knew what and where the other one was and was planning to do all the time. uNKOE was obviously the aggressor in a lot of the fights and early on Immortals had zero clues on what to do. Enter Envy on D.Va and suddenly the match pulled a massive u-turn.

People joke that if teams want to get better they simply need to add Korean players. Maybe this is the truth because Immortals morphed into a totally different monster with a single substitution. Call it a hail mary of some degree – down three to nothing with the tournament on the line, Envy changed the dynamic of the game by doing a better job of taking care of Kariv on Zenyatta. Both are Korean so it’s probably not a hard guess that Kariv and Envy could actively communicate easier. Rogue looked hard pressed, with Kariv knowing just exactly when uNKOE was going to use EMP on a team fight. Kariv’s absolutely ridiculous aim and game sense seemingly turned on with their backs to the wall. Add in that GrimReality and Agilities woke up and found themselves in a team fight and flank battle with players way better than themselves. Immortals DPS looked very average compared to Rogue, who absolutely annihilated anyone in a one on one. aKm, SoOn and NiCO were above and beyond better but unable to match the support and tank play of Immortals.

The games went from being a possible sweep to a possible reverse sweep, to a best of five, to a best of three to finally winner-take-all on Volskaya. It drew over 25k+ viewers, which was at or higher than Contenders for most of its run barring finals. It highlights that when done well, Overwatch isn’t just great, it’s incredible to watch. Immortals made only a single mistake and it cost them the match, just a single blunder of contention. Otherwise, the match may have flipped and the power pyramid of teams in the US might need some adjusting.

The conclusion

This tournament had a lot of problems, with what felt like a roving bunch of gremlins trying to sabotage it from the get go. But addressing the considerable amount of production woes this tournament had is both unfair to the work that was put in by both the casters and the tournament staff. It’s all over Reddit and other websites, but in the end, it seems pointless to bring it up. Every tournament has a handful of missteps and this one albeit higher than average did a very good job of rolling with those production issues. Hexagrams and ZP are easily a great pair and you can sense that Hex is pushing through a lot of quality work despite the pressure. This tournament shined through the muck and really highlights that Overwatch can and is a good esport to watch.


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“From our Haus to yours”

Overwatch Contenders week 5: A tale of two finals

Europe

eUnited was favored to win the tournament since June. Their competition in the bracket never really matched up, no matter what or when the match happened. eUnited showed top tier gameplay, coupled with outstanding performances, putting them ahead of the rest of the teams within the European bracket. Their staunchest opponent only reared their ugly head in the final match, an ironic twist of fate. 123, the culmination of unsponsored talent, rose to the occasion. It wasn’t Misfits, or Ninjas in Pyjamas, or even Laser Kittenz – it was a living mirror reflection of eUnited’s team-first mentality.

Dota 2 Power Rankings Team Liquid

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

The ensuing final match was like watching a fighter shadowbox. eUnited did what 123 did, they dove at the problem and let the rest shake out. eUnited just had more firepower than 123, with players like Kruise out-shining Snillo and Mistakes. Vallutaja (pronounced Vallutaya) wasn’t forced to carry heavily like his counterpart Mistakes on Tracer. The D.Va play from uNFixed and Kodak was not comparable. uNFIxed planted himself in front of Snillo and absorbed every bullet, rocket and mean look he had. Kodak had less impact simply because Kruise on Genji never bothered to deal with the D.Va unless he had to.

The score of four to one does not reflect what exactly happened in this match. The key difference between eUnited and 123 was flexibility and firepower. Kruise and Boombox (on Zenyatta) were better than their counterparts. eUnited compensated their deficiencies by plugging their better players into situations where they flourish. 123 could only do what they knew and practiced, never deviating, never wavering, less the house collapse.

North America

While undoubtedly the favorites to win it all, Immortals were not the talk of the tournament. Yes, they won, beating Liquid handedly in a four to one match where Liquid looked hard press to attempt any strategy without a strong counter. But the talk of the tournament was a former sponsored team, now freelance. It was a contenders storyline made in heaven with FNRGFE showing the grit to battle their way in and around every situation. They fell short, like any sad film where the real hero never sees the finish line. They did, however, make it into Season One, and if any indication is true, we’ll be seeing more out of them in the coming months.

Immortals, on the other hand, looked as poised as ever to not just secure the win but annihilate the competition. Whether tired from the previous down to the wire match or overwhelmed, Liquid looked lost. Their one shining win was beating Immortals on Gibraltar, which very well could have been the start of a streak. It was more a bump on the Immortals pathway towards the finale. It’s hard to describe just what exactly makes them better than Liquid. Their DPS with GrimReality and Agilities looked ready to pick and play any hero to guarantee a win. They not only wanted to win, they looked like they wanted to prove something.

One thread to reflect on is that Immortals won the second day of open bracket back in June. They lost to Arc6 (Formerly Yikes!) in a two to nothing rout and later were held to their only draw against them in groups. Now they’re kings of the tournament and Arc6 will be forced to drag themselves through yet another bracket just to qualify. They improved and evolved their games week in and week out against. The only key to beating them lay entirely on knowing to exploit their sometimes rocky team fights. Liquid could not capitalize on those and went down round after round afterward.


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Who’s that champéon? It’s Thresh!

Thresh, the Chain Warden, is as edgy as he is powerful; the champion is also borderline overpowered, so that’s saying a lot. With gap closers for himself and a friend, two forms of hard CC, an AOE 99 percent slow and some free damage and armor, it’s no wonder that Thresh is the apex predator of the support champions.

Why is Thresh Meta

What if I said you could have Janna levels of peel and Blitzcrank levels of catch all while having free scaling damage and tankiness? Easy, you’d line right up to pick that Champion before it picks you.

Thresh’s passive, Damnation, is perhaps one of the most overlooked and undervalued passives in the game. Damnation allows for Thresh to pick up souls of nearby enemy minions, champions and neutral monsters. These souls are then converted into Ability Power and Armor, as well as amplifying the damage bonus of his auto attacks based upon the rank of his (E) Fley. Thresh souls also increase the shielding on his lantern. To better qualify the power of this passive here are some numerical comparisons. At 66 souls, Thresh has the same base armor as Gnar at level 18, while at 144 souls, Thresh has more armor than Malphite with a fully-ranked Brutal Strikes at 124 armor. These numbers are taken into account without items, masteries and runes.

Thresh’s Q, Death Sentence, is what he is known for most. Death Sentence is his pick tool and his gap closer. While being difficult to hit, Death Sentence enables the rest of Thresh’s kit, allowing him to get close to his target as well as bringing an ally along for the ride via his W, Dark Passage. Dark Passage gives Thresh and one other a meager shield, but more importantly allows for the relocation of an ally. Dark Passage can also be used in a nifty way to block off terrain between the tower and walls of Summoner’s Rift.

Thresh’s E, Flay, allows him to utilize Relic Shield with ease as well as giving him particularly good matchups into other tanks. The active of Flay allows Thresh to peel and engage based upon the direction by which this small displacement is cast.

Thresh’s abilities as described. Courtesy of surrender@20

 

Finally, Thresh’s ultimate, The Box, puts up a five-sided box. The first wall to fall does magic damage and slows for two seconds while the next walls to fall deal no damage and slow for one second. The Box has a 99 percent slow, which reduces enemy champion movement speed to 110 unless they have Boots of Swiftness. The Box alongside Thresh’s other abilities can be cast during Thresh’s Death Sentence channel.

Who Uses it in Competitive?

Everyone. Thresh has always been one of the most consistent support picks for competitive, even when shielding meta was at its peak. If there is a support champion that professionals play, it is Thresh due to his jack of all trades kit and the way he scales with team communication. Being picked or banned in 79 percent of LCK games and 55 percent of NA LCS games, Thresh is as highly contested as he is impactful. In EU LCS, Thresh is picked or banned in 99 percent of games. Yeah, he’s that powerful.

Who Plays it Best?

While Thresh has an incredibly high play rate in competitive, his win rates across all regions have a low of 45 percent (LCK) and a high of 57 percent (LMS). That being said, who plays it best?

FW SwordArt stoked after a victory. Courtesy of lolesports.com

The answer here is clearly Hu “SwordArt” Shuo-Jie of the LMS. With five games and a 100 percent win rate on Thresh, SwordArt makes the champion a must ban if you are playing into the Flash Wolves. Across all five games, SwordArt has only died once, maintaining a 50 KDA on the champion.

SwordArt knows Thresh down to each cheeky hitbox. Always seeming to be a play ahead of everyone else, SwordArt is constantly utilizing lanterns to avoid ganks and setting up plays for his allies.

While there have been great Thresh players throughout time, such as Madlife and more recently Biofrost, SwordArt is consistent on his Thresh performances and one of the few players to have played Thresh throughout the competitive seasons since release.

Bringing Thresh into Solo Queue

Thresh is the best support to bring into solo queue for any support main who wants to climb the ladder through sheer individual skill.

A good Thresh player is both a master of positioning and reflex heavy skill shots. During laning phase your job is to get level two before the enemy laners and look to control the lane after that through making a play with the level advantage. To do this utilize AD marks paired with a relic shield and an early skill point in Flay. Capitalizing on early Soul pickups is crucial during laning phase, especially early on. Getting one or two souls before trading with the enemy laner allows you to get the upper hand by getting raw stats without going back to shop.

After the level one and two of laning phase your job is to pressure the enemy carry and draw jungle attention. If the enemy laner is going to CS, auto them, Flay them or give them a Death Sentence. When the enemy jungler is bot side, play further back to allow your carry to farm while also being able to bail them out with a Dark Passage. If you are shoving, make use of an early Boots purchase to gank mid with or without your jungler.

During team fights, look to set up picks (initiate) or peel for your carry by being able to re-position them. Often times peeling is better than diving on Thresh, but if you get that sick hook on the enemy carry, then bring a pal in with you.

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Featured Image courtesy of Jesse Barron

Ninjas in Pyjamas released, Cyclowns disband and Finnsi leaves Movistar Riders

Well that was incredibly pointed. As mentioned in our OWL takeaway, Blizzard has fallen flat on its face in terms of presentation. NiP’s announcement only lends more credit to the idea. If Blizzard hopes to run a successful league, they’re going about this in the wrong way. Right now CS:GO is getting more viewers, more money, and more players. More everything is good for a scene while Overwatch has quietly slipped farther in viewership.

In other news, Finnsi left the Spanish team of Movistar Riders with very little explanation. At the worst Google translation, it has something concerning discipline. Upon some digging into the Reddit threads, I was linked to this.  That is Logix talking about it at length. Personal issues are not uncommon with players in any sport and if the team suffers for that, there has to be comeuppance.

Besides NiP leaving the scene, Cyclowns disbanded hours after going down with two losses and a draw in Overwatch League. The team lasted five months. Two major players, Meowzassa, the main tank for them joined Laser Kittens in late May, and Boombox, who played Support, is on eUnited. While Meowzassa and Boombox were receiving offers, the remaining teammates did not. This reads that the five of them really wanted to stick together and play. That having been said, it leaves open the potential for the remaining players to fill some gaps in other teams immediately.

Player movement seems to be a lot more chaotic when the talent pool for a game is so vast. I still refer to the quote from my superior editor, Jared MacAdam, “a scene with more talent than teams”. The base sentiment, however, is that a league like this is in flux still. There are a lot of incredible players. The same cannot be said in terms of teams with available spots. It’s a buyers’ market and the easier a player is to get along with, the less of a problem it will be to pick them up for a team. The issue is they’re behind the eight ball to stay in line or they’ll be on the street in months. Finnsi will crop up again without a doubt and the rest of Cyclowns will likely find teams willing to pay them and give them a roster spot.

Call it luck that Cyclowns suddenly dissolves. With Finnsi gone, you can swap in anyone on Cyclowns and lose almost nothing. It is fantasy sports teams in real time with real players. There’s not even a commissioner saying you can’t do it either. In this case, Movistar played a match with former Cyclowns player Destro taking Finnsi’s spot. Is it a try out, a possible roster move?

I just wonder how this continues when Overwatch League is still mid-way through the season. At some point Blizzard has to ask themselves if starting a league when the entire scene has monumental shifts with teams forming and disbanding, players switching teams in mid-season is viable. A perceived lack of steadiness in North America and Europe and that leads to having questions about solvency for a league. Teams are questioning the game’s ability to remain within the public eye and be a pillar for their organization. One only has to look at APEX to get an idea of how a league keeps its teams and players in line, so why is Blizzard struggling? It’ll be something to watch in the future as Overwatch continues barreling forward toward an uncertain future. Especially now with a major team that influenced the meta suddenly being yanked out of contention.

More as this develops.


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Overwatch Contenders Week 3: Group stage round one takeaways

It’s remarkable how much a tournament can twist around in a week’s time. Here are a few points to mention concerning the Overwatch Contenders tournament as a spectator.

One: The lack of streams on matches is becoming abhorrent

In group stages, there are 16 very strong teams that should be all drawing in major viewership from their respective fans. We get to see eight games over two days. That’s a quarter of the number of games played in that time, and it’s not good enough, especially without a replay feature. No replay feature means people can’t go back and watch the replays themselves or even have a VOD or two to browse.

During the Saturday European games, eUnited, who crushed the competition last week, had no games on stream. None. The single best team of the bracket and of the groups gets no coverage whatsoever. This is a huge tournament. Put the big teams out there. Close matches between two strong teams yield the best results.

Two: The group format is confusing

This is going off Team Liquid’s page here. Here’s what I can gather: every win is a point, ties are nothing and losses lose a point. Ergo, a team that wins every match finishes with 12 points at maximum. So the closer you play the game, especially with a two-two tie, means you theoretically have averted damaging the chance to continue but have also done yourself no favors. This shorter gap means matches become more important and so on and so forth. Every match that ends in a tie creates more pressure to win the next one. So the emphasis is on wins overall first, followed by how many maps are won. Losses are losses and ties mean absolutely nothing happened. There, this is the format explained as best as one can without any explanation from Blizzard.

For people who’ve never seen a group stage, this is confusing, and for a tournament to go from brackets to groups, this is even more confusing. Somewhere Blizzard figured group stages are a good way to measure teams metrics and yet they did brackets first. They could have done pools and used that to weed out a lot of the teams and then gone to brackets. Evolution does it every year with over hundreds of people and it gets sorted out rather quickly. Whatever the case may be for the tournament thus far, changing styles only made it worse. When group stages are over, the tournament seems to go back to brackets. So why did they do this in the first place?

Three: The shadow of the news cycle

One group has a team that disbanded immediately following the day’s matches. Cyclowns, who a week prior showed incredible poise and play under pressure, folded. What happens next week? They’re still in the groups, so do they just give the whole group a free point now by forfeiting? There are no rules in the tournament document I’ve found that has any info for this. To make matters even worse is the Defran suspension on Selfless which forced a switch and sub-in with Carpe. Carpe had a single day to practice with Selfless who also switched Kresnick for Midnight (a D.Va Main) and finished the night going for two losses and one win. The win was against FaZe clan which is considered an upset until you look at the group performance. The Carpe and Midnight storyline would’ve been a lot bigger if Blizzard had streamed more matches during the day.

Four: Matches that were streamed were not that good

Teams getting demolished on a stream is not fun to watch. Immortals, the absolute favorites to win this, only lost a single map the entire time. Sure great play and amazing teamwork is something to study and revere. It doesn’t make for good viewing, however. Another example is the Selfless/FaZe match which essentially turned into a real match. FaZe pulled a reverse sweep on Oasis that started entirely off of ShadowBurn getting a reflect kill off a McCree Deadeye. The whole match swung and suddenly everyone comes alive. The rest of the series becomes tense as a result. That wasn’t always the case in streamed matches over the weekend.

Final thoughts

Those are some serious gripes but I won’t lie that the overall production quality was solid. The casters have found some serious chemistry and it’s working great now. We have laughs coming out of them with good jokes and insight wrapped into a solid package. The observers are doing their absolute best to really work on their camera control. You see a lot of the action the moment before it happens and get a decent scope of who’s doing it. It’s a rough job trying to guess just who is going to be making the hard picks for people. This is their inaugural season and it’s not surprising they’re trying and testing out things as they go along. It does, however, start reflecting on the tournament as a whole when even the pro team’s players start dissing the tournament on Twitter before and after their matches though. If this does wish to continue for improvement, Blizzard needs to look into making a replay system for their matches. Valve and Riot have made it a requirement for these types of things and even Blizzard can’t make the excuse of no replay. Hearthstone and StarCraft 2 have it so why is such a key feature missing. Much like this tournament, it’s in development but it needs to hurry up and fast.


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Divisions in Competitive Call of Duty

A recent interview posted on the PlayStation website revealed a few details about the upcoming Call of Duty title WWII. In a question asked by a Twitter user, Michael Condrey revealed that there are to be some exciting changes to the current Create a Class system. He stated:

We’re days away from E3 2017 and the team at Sledgehammer Games can hardly wait to share more on our multiplayer plans. We’re particularly looking forward to revealing more on Divisions. Divisions fundamentally redefines how players invest in their Multiplayer soldier career. Replacing the create-a-class system, players choose from five iconic World War II divisions each with specific basic combat training, division training and weapon skills. We think it’ll intrigue Call of Duty series veterans, and we can’t wait for our fans to see it for themselves.

In this article, I will discuss some of my thoughts on how this might impact the competitive scene in the upcoming year.

WEAPONRY

The system sounds strikingly similar to that of CoD’s biggest competitor, Battlefield. In EA’s latest release, Battlefield 1, the player can specialize in a number of classes ranging from the close quarters’ Assault class to a horseback riding soldier with the Cavalry class.

As in Battlefield, the E3 reveal shows us that it’s likely each division will be restricted to a certain type of weapon. For example, the infantry divisions used at E3 had either the M1 Garand or the BAR while the mountain division made either the M1903 or the Kar98k available.

Click to get an enlarged look at the Infantry division. [In-Game footage belongs to Sledgehammer]

Click to get an enlarged look at the airborne division. [In-Game footage belongs to Sledgehammer]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Separating the different types of weaponry adds more hours of grinding into the game as players will no doubt work to unlock various cosmetics only earned through using a particular class. A thought I had about how it could change the competitive landscape is if there was a limit on how many divisions can be used on one team. If it were limited to just one or two then expert players in one division may be more valuable players than others.

An obvious example would be the mountain division which homes the sniper rifles. If teams have to have a sniper player their value in the esports space would rocket.

Although it’s unlikely to happen, it would deepen the tactical play of CoD and definitely help bring back more defined roles.

DIVISION SKILL

Another element to creating the perfect class is the game’s perks. However, in WWII perks have been replaced by various division skills and training. Division skills, as the title would suggest, are exclusive to whichever division the player chooses to use. The ones I saw at E3 seemed fairly basic, for example a bayonet charge melee in the infantry class or being able to equip a suppressor in the airborne class.

The two more exciting ones were sharpshooter in the mountain division and incendiary shells in the expeditionary division. The former allows the player to gain aim assist and see enemy name tags whilst holding their breath. This should be extremely helpful for players using that division since it revolves around the bolt action rifles. However, it should not affect competitive too much since it does not reveal players through walls or anything game breaking like that.

The incendiary shells are shotgun rounds which spark flames that burn enemies to death. I simply picked this one out since it seems like something that could be overpowered. If previous games are anything to go by, shotguns will likely end up being banned anyway, thus making the skill useless.

DIVISION TRAINING

Division training seems to be division specific perks aimed at directing the player to use that class in a particular way. For example, the division training available for the airborne class at E3 was Pathfinder III which grants the player increased sprint speed, duration and the ability to mantle faster. This suits the airborne playstyle as it focuses on sub machine gun play.

There’s currently not a lot to say on division training since at E3 only one was available for each division.

BASIC TRAINING

The final perk related addition to create a class is basic training. Confirmed in a tweet by Michael Condrey, any basic training unlocked can be used across any division.

The most impactful basic training on competitive is probably phantom. This perk gives quieter movement, no fall damage and makes the player invisible to UAV. To long-time players, the perk is better known as dead silence and has been in every Call of Duty. However, it is particularly problematic in this case since players are already limited in what perks they can choose.

Even if the developers have tried to integrate quieter movement into the game, professionals will more than likely choose to use dead silence so their ability to make plays is never hindered. This can make the game stale for viewers as they end up seeing the same setup every map.

Another interesting basic training is smoked. This gives the player a smoke as their secondary grenade. As we’re back to boots on the ground the use of smokes could further tactical depth. I can envision players smoking off certain trench routes to deny the enemy information in the round. The gameplay below is of the map Point du Hoc which looks like it could utilise smoke grenades.

The final perk I will discuss is called scope. This makes the player move faster while aiming down sights as well as adding an additional attachment onto their primary weapon. The reason why this could be impactful in competitive play is if there is no stock attachment.

Stock also allows for faster movement while aimed in and is a favorite among pros as it gives assault riflers a more even playing field against the sub machine guns. It will be interesting to see if riflers opt to take the perk over something standard like phantom.

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