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The future of competitive Smash: A hopeful outlook

As the year comes to a close, now is as good a time as any to discuss the future of Smash. Last week, we discussed the concerns and troubles that competitive Smash has experienced throughout the past year. This week, however, it’s time to have the second part of that conversation. While there certainly continues to be concerns regarding the financials and growth of Smash as an esport, there’s more positive and hopeful aspects of competitive Smash to talk about.

One of the most powerful things about the competitive Smash community is that, no matter how little money and coverage surrounds Smash Bros. in comparison to other esports, the community remains as loyal and dedicated to the games they love. This past year is proof that the Smash community is as alive as ever. What helps prove this was the abundance of incredible tournaments throughout the year, in addition to the growing diversity of represented players and characters in tournaments. Can we hope that these trends will continue into 2018 and beyond? What should the Smash community strive for as we look to the future of Smash as an esport? Let’s talk about it.

2017 as an example of the future of tournaments

The health of any esports community can be measured by both the quality and quantity of major tournaments. Smash is no different. Thankfully, this year has seen the prevalence of high-quality Smash tournaments throughout the year, and a large contributor was 2GGaming. Throughout the year, 2GGaming provided viewers with more Smash tournaments than they had provided in any year before. Tournaments such as Civil War and the 2GG Championship provided highly competitive, exciting tournaments for viewers.

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Leonardo “MK Leo” Perez won the 2GG Championship, the tournament that capped off the 2017 2GG Tournament Series. Image: Twitter

Additionally, they were organized, structured and presented in an incredibly professional way. This professional presentation goes a long way to allowing Smash to provide positive impressions to non-fans. In the coming year, if more events have the high-quality production values that 2GGaming exemplified this year, then we could see Smash begin to garner many new viewers, and gain more attention as an esport.

The 2GG Championship Series kept major tournaments at a consistent pace throughout the year. This series also allowed viewers to more easily stay up to date with high-level players. Over the past few years, Smash has struggled to have a consistent stream of content for viewers to keep themselves busy with. This year’s 2GG Championship Series serves a good blueprint for what other tournament organizers can accomplish in the years to come. Nevertheless, continuing to organize tournaments consistently and professionally will help Smash grow its viewer audience, something that certainly needs to be done.

The variety of Players and Characters

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Eric “ESAM” Lew’s win against Elliot “Ally” Carroza-Oyarce at 2GG Civil War was considered by many to be one of the highlights of the entire year. Image: YouTube

2017 was the first year in Smash 4’s life to not see the arrival of any downloadable content or patches that affected the balancing of characters. As such, this year saw some stabilization in the competitive Smash community. Now that the dust of new characters and rebalancing of old characters has settled, players have used this year as a chance to finally grow used to how characters perform in tournament, without having to worry about the possibility of patches affecting balance.

This caused some experimentation within the community. This year, we saw many well-known players pick up new characters. A good example of this was when Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios began using Lucina in tournament to accompany his trademark Diddy Kong. In addition, we also saw the continued main and secondary use of characters that aren’t considered top tier, such as with Matt “Elegant” Fitzpatrick’s Luigi and Eric “ESAM” Lew’s Samus, among many other examples. Tournaments throughout the year brought viewers a more diverse pool of played characters, which kept tournaments exciting and diverse to viewers.

I hope that the variety of characters and playstyles that we saw throughout 2017 continues in future tournaments in 2018 and beyond.

Looking to the future of Smash

Smash has always been at a disadvantage as an esport. Unlike many other esports, Smash doesn’t receive much financial backing at all from its creators. This makes it difficult for competitive Smash players to make a full-time career out of their love for the game. And yet, this year, we saw so much passion and camaraderie among Smash players. This year served as a reminder of how much competitive Smash players love the game that they play.

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Competitive Smash continues to be played at large events such as EVO. It’s an exciting time to be a fan of Smash. Image: Twitter

I feel that the future of Smash, though certainly having some legitimate issues and concerns, is a bright one. A large reason for this is the competitive community for the game. The players that we see in major tournaments – their personalities, their playstyles, and their presence – they keep us coming back. While the competitive Smash community itself certainly has flaws just as any community does, it’s clear that all competitive Smash players are determined to keep providing viewers with great sets at great tournaments for years to come.

With the rumors of a Nintendo Switch port of Smash 4 still up in the air, along with so many great major tournaments in recent memory, it’s hard to see competitive Smash going anywhere. This year was a year of growth for competitive Smash. If we continue to see this level of growth, professionalism and diverse playstyles and characters, then we could see Smash become even bigger.

Nevertheless, it’s an exciting time to be part of the competitive Smash community. With that said, what do you think? Do you think this year was a good year for Smash? What do you think the future holds for the competitive community? As always, join the conversation and let us know!

 


 

Featured image courtesy of DBL Tap.

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The Telecom Wars continue: LCK at its most competitive

The telecom wars, SK Telecom T1 versus kt Rolster, are always the highlight games of the League Championship Korea. This most recent telecom war decided who would be the current captor of first place in the LCK. Before this telecom war occurred, the LCK held a very rare three-way tie for first place between kt Rolster, Samsung Galaxy and SKT T1. The three-way tie in a league where first place (SKT T1) is typically vastly distanced from second place is telling of this season’s fierce competition.

With the winner of the Telecom Wars deciding what phone company LCK caster, Alberto “Crumbz” Rengifo, goes with, SKT T1 v kt Rolster is much more than your average professional League of Legends game. The Telecom Wars are typically a preview of who will win worlds. However with the current competition in the LCK, there are definitely more variables than just the two telecom companies.

Game 1: kt Rolster Victory 24:57

Kt Rolster decimated SKT T1 in the first game of their best of three. SKT failed to take a single tower the entire game, lost every single neutral objective (two Drakes, Rift Herald, and a Baron) and only managed to secure three kills in the sub 25-minute game. If you want to see some clean and controlled League of Legends to the point of near boredom, this is the game to watch. Kt Rolster created the team composition to snowball an early victory against SKT T1, drafting early game power with Renekton, Elise, Corki, Kalista and Thresh.

The top lane combination of Renekton stun into Elise cocoon sealed Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon’s fate in game one. Back to back kills on Huni put him so far behind that he was unable to complete his Cull until the twelve-minute mark. While compared to his opposing laner, kt Rolster’s Song “Smeb” Kyung-ho, Huni led in CS at twelve minutes, Smeb was already up two kills and an assist. Smeb went off. Up until the 18-minute mark, Smeb held 100 percent kill participation, proving that he is one of, if not, the best top laner in the world.

Despite Smeb’s performance, it was not entirely his show. Cho “Mata “Se-hyeong showed that his Thresh was a must ban for the next game. Mata was able to show up to every fight and have significant impact regardless of where the fight started. He seemed miles ahead of SKT T1 and was able to aid almost every play around the map as soon as he was able to roam. After game one, it appeared that kt Rolster was the new team to beat. With such a clean and decisive victory, kt Rolster illustrated that Renekton and Elise are a disgusting top and jungle combination that must be separated.

Kt delivers a swift defeat to SKT with an excellent draft that SKT would have to adapt against. Courtesy of loleventvods

Game 2: SKT T1 Victory 44:31

SKT T1 starts off game two by removing Thresh from Mata’s hands and once again banning kt’s signature Galio flex. The draft phase that SKT pulled off showed that they had learned from their mistakes in game one. Karma was once again picked early on for flex purposes, but this time was moved down to support, while the combination of Renekton and Elise was removed. In addition to this, Huni was subbed out in favor of Park “Untara” Ui-jin most likely as an answer to Huni’s tilting teleports and laning phase in game one. Untara was also able to get a soft counter to Renekton by securing Gnar in the second part of the draft phase.

While Smeb was still able to tear the game apart on Renekton, Untara was able to stop the bleeding by only giving up one kill during laning phase to the crocodile. Untara then drew pressure with his split pushing Gnar playstyle, resulting in a baron for SKT T1 as two kt players killed Gnar. Unfortunately for SKT, they were immediately aced after Faker took the Baron with his Orianna Shockwave. Had the Baron been stolen by kt, that would have undoubtedly been game once again at 25 minutes.

With a very similar early game composition, kt Rolster needed to secure a victory or an early Baron by the 25-minute mark. Unfortunately for them, SKT T1 was able to hold out. At 25 minutes into the game, the score was 2-11 in kills, kt’s lead, but with both SKT solo laners out scaling their counterparts; the game was not yet over. At the 30 minute mark, the score was still 2-11 in kills. By 35 minutes kt Rolster had only managed to acquire two more kills in their favor. Looking to secure the next Baron, kt traded two for one and then went for Elder. With two minutes of Elder buff and Baron buff combined and two open inhibitors, kt Rolster was poised to take out SKT for a clean 2-0.

How a turn around happens; one late game SKT team fight. Courtesy of loleventvods.

But not all went as planned for kt Rolster. They took both open inhibitors, but then stayed to topple the final inhibitor tower. While kt stayed at SKT’s base, their Elder and Baron buffs did not stay. SKT T1 took this moment, their only moment as super minions began pushing down both top and middle lane, to take a momentum-breaking team fight. Bae “Bang” Jun-sik’s Ashe was able to free fire the entire team fight allowing Untara to defend the remains of the base as the inhibitors respawned.

With SKT T1 6k gold and one baron buff down, they somehow managed to clean ace kt Rolster near the Baron pit putting SKT in a position to secure the victory with one dramatic push. While 6k gold is a lot to be down, SKT T1 had reached their individual item power spikes as a team, effectively out scaling kt Rolster’s composition.

Game 3: SKT T1 Victory 44:30

With an incredible upset in game two, SKT T1 looked to continue their late game momentum into the next match. With an early pause due to “Chair Issues”, this game already was off the rocker. An early counter gank made by kt Rolster after seeing Kang “Blank” Sun-gu on Gragas looping on kt’s bot lane left kt Rolster with an early lead once again at 2-0. At 20 minutes kt were 4k gold ahead, however, drakes were in SKT’s favor as they were in prior games. Once again, SKT’s draft for the late game allowed for some of these gold deficits to be nullified by the time thirty minutes came along. At 25 minutes, the score was 7-1 in kills as well as a Baron in kt’s favor. Things were looking grim for SKT, but Untara’s Fiora was just coming online.

Don’t bother looking at the Fiora taking all of your base. Coutesy of loleventvods.

SKT bought more time by catching out  Kim “Deft” Hyuk-kyu first through a face check into a Thresh and second from an attempt at some untimely vision control. Faker then turned onto Smeb’s Rumble for a solo kill after sneaking through vision gaps of kt Rolster. Things started cascading out of control after this, with Untara’s Fiora taking an inhibitor tower and an inhibitor in one push all while his team was able to get a Baron. This clumsy scramble to address Fiora’s split push sealed kt’s fate. The Untara win condition was too much for kt and they were unable to close out the game before SKT’s composition came online.

The Future of the Telecom Wars

Being the first round of the telecom wars for the Summer split, the matchup between kt Rolster and SKT T1 is and has always been a preview of the highest caliber of League of Legends play. If you do not watch the LCK regularly but are interested in top tier League of Legends play, give this series a watch. Both teams played incredibly well, and games two and three were very close. SKT T1 proved that if you cannot beat them by 25 minutes you will not beat them. Typically drafting towards late game team fights, SKT is the pinnacle of team fight coordination in competitive League of Legends. Pay special attention to how each player rotates their attention to deal with appropriate threats and to stack Crowd Control. SKT makes late game team fights look scripted, even against other top tier teams in the LCK.

Yes, SKT T1 is a team that encapsulates perfection. However, the LCK is as close in skill as it has been in quite some time. Only one victory separates first place from a tie for second place, and fourth place is only two victories behind first; the LCK hosts heated competition. Expect to see the competition grow as, by the time you are reading this, Samsung Galaxy will be playing Longzhu Gaming to see if they can once again tie SKT T1 for first place.

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Featured image courtesy of LOLeventvods

Un’goro is a Tough Act to Follow – What Should the Next Expansion Bring?

By many accounts, Un’goro has been arguably the most successful expansion as far as meta healthiness goes. Every class but Warlock has multiple competitive archetypes. In a recent Meta Snapshot Vicious Syndicate declared for the first time ever that at Legend ranks there are no Tier 1 decks (More than 52% winrate). There are a wide variety of Combo, Midrange, Aggro and Control decks, with many different flavours and variations on each. Card diversity is up too, with virtually no multi-class omnipresent auto-include. Long gone are the days where almost every deck had Patches, Aya or Kazakus. In short, aside from a lamentable blemish in the decline in Warlock.

But no success will last forever, and soon even this ultra-diverse meta will begin to grate and feel stale. More importantly for Team 5, Blizzard’s accountants are surely eagerly awaiting a new expansion for the next deluge of pack-purchasing frenzies. But how should Team 5 introduce new cards and concepts to improve upon the high quality of Un’goro? Here are my highly subjective suggestions.

Make Warlock Competitive With New Synergies

I’ve written before on the sad state of Warlock. Simply put, the class has bad cards; to the extent that its hero power isn’t enough to save it. On the board-centric aggressive end, the class needs fewer janky Discard mechanics and more solid minions that speak to the initially unimpressive, mathematical joy and tactical precision of Zoo. More Dire-Wolf Alpha and Defender of Argus style cards that rely heavily on board maintenance, prediction and positioning would be perfect.

Meanwhile, Controlling or Handlock-esque versions of Warlock suffer simply from lack of survivability. The class should, thematically, not get too many healing tools; Reno proved that giving it such options could make it dangerously powerful. Instead, other survivability-based synergies should be introduced to improve that class’s ability to withstand Aggro and Burn.

Give Shaman Reactive Early-Game Tools

Shaman is probably the second-weakest class currently. Though it retains relevancy (barely) with Bloodlust-centric flood builds, Elemental decks, and some Control experimentation off the back of Volcano. However, the class has become over-reliant on its AOE spells, and its non-Aggro decks are falling to low Tier 3. Without additional help, the class could fall to irrelevancy if other classes continue to have stronger early game.

Though the lesson of giving Shaman stellar early minions has surely been learned, a few more reactive early game tools wouldn’t go amiss. A weapon would probably be a strong option, though the incredible potential power of early game weapons makes this a tricky one to balance properly. A few more Lightning Bolt style spot removal options, maybe with some adjacency damage tacked on, might allow the efficiency needed to put together a decent non-AOE early game reactive package.

Paladin has a number of ways to make recruits – but few buff mechanics to make them worthwhile compared to Murlocs

Let Paladins Buff Their Dudes

Paladin appears to be in a good spot, with multiple archetypes, high competitive viability and a focus on a “fair”, value-based Midrange package that perfectly fits the class. The one thing missing is flavour; the current lists seem to be a mismatch of holy warriors, rampaging murlocs, ancient dragons, turtles and even a mechanical zookeeper. The iconic Silver Hand Recruits of Paladin are being sidelined.

Paladin should get more options to create, synergise and buff their “Dudes” (silver hand recruits) and build decks based less around murlocs and more around inspiring their ordinary men to acts of great valor through the power of the Light. Lightfused Stegadon and Sunkeeper Tarim were steps in the right direction, but more interesting single-target and mass buffs are needed to make the Dudes truly shine.

Push Warrior Towards Combo

Warrior has been in an amazing position in the meta for some time now, with numerous Control and Aggro archetypes. The all-conquering Pirate Warrior needs no introduction, and Taunt Warrior is proving a solid choice also. Such strong decks needing little support, especially as any decent Neutral two drop or strong taunt will likely be incorporated into either deck.

Instead of over-supporting these archetypes, Team 5 should focus on gently opening avenues for Warriors to experiment with interesting combo decks, exemplified by old Patron Warrior, Worgen Warrior and Arcane Giants Blood Warrior. Maybe a class-specific improved version of Wild Pyromancer, or more Patron-style end-game combo activators. With such potential in the classic set, it’s likely that there could be an interesting, balanced and potent combo deck to hunt aggro and provide a compelling gameplay experience. And hey, it might just reduce the number of Pirate Warriors on the ladder.

Find a Late-Game Druid Mechanic That Beats Jade

I wrote recently about the danger Jade poses to the Druid class. While Druid is in a good space now with two solid archetypes, it’s hard to envision a different future.

The easiest way forward would probably be to rotate out the Jade package early, but that seems unlikely. More realistically, a different late-game package with different strengths and more cerebral interactions than repeatedly summoning over-statted minions is introduced that is more competitive than attempts such as the unsuccessful Druid Quest.

Be Conservative with Mage

Mage got a number of objectively powerful cards in Un’goro. Arcanologist and Primordial Glyph (along with, to a lesser extent, Meteor), have propelled the class to new heights. Secret Mage may even be Tier 1. The class feels as if it is teetering on the edge of being oppressive. One powerful Secret could swing the Secret package and Mage as a whole into dangerously overpowered territory.

As such, it’s probably best to keep new Mage cards on the underwhelming side, especially if they’re Secrets.

Keep Hunter Cheap

The biggest Un’goro additions for Hunter were a strong, beast synergistic two drop in Crackling Razormaw, and additional one drops. This propelled Hunter into a decent position, though it lacks class diversity.

The current strategy of giving Hunter efficient beasts and synergies seems to be working. While giving them an incentive to curve higher might be a valid idea, the current trajectory of Hunter seems to be balanced, flavourful and lore-appropriate. The most important aspect would be to limit the number of powerful auto-include Epics and Rares, and ideally give Hunter no new necessary Legendaries so that it remains one of the few low-dust potent beginner decks.

Big, flashy legendaries are all well and good – but make them too integral and beginners will lack a good starter deck to aim for

Give Priest More Consistent Value

Priest is in a great state compared to its historical irrelevance, with multiple Silence, Combo and Control decks burning up the ladder with Holy Fire. However, it remains at risk of puttering out in many matchups.

Free from Amber was a step in the right direction for Priest, but the class still seems to lack a consistent late-game punch. Outside of snowballing with Divine Spirit or Lyra shenanigans, the class is forced to rely on inconsistent Elise packs, and vulnerable Medivh minions. Giving the class at least one potent, value-tastic late-game card seems like the best course of action. Bonus points if it’s not entirely RNG dependent.

Give Rogues More Card Engines

Rogue’s Quest archetype has taken off in a big way, both for tournaments and ladder. Refined versions of Quest Rogue have left Miracle by the wayside, leaving some who prefer the Miracle gameplay somewhat lacking.

Outside of aggro or Quests, Rogues need huge amounts of draw to make their efficient but low-value spells worth playing. An over-reliance on Gadgetzan has pigeonholed Rogue towards a certain type of list and playstyle. Giving Rogue some other draw engine that’s not balanced around other classes (that have, say, Innervate and Wild Growth), might allow them to retain relevancy without the Quest in a world of ever-stronger aggro.


Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com

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ELEAGUE Announces Street Fighter V League; Ushering Fighting Games into the Future

Street Fighter V is getting another major league, with the announcement that ELEAGUE is picking it up. The Turner owned league has recently had tremendous success with the Counter-Strike division, and will now move back into Street Fighter. It adds another $250k prize pool and could become the most important tournament, next to the Capcom Cup.

On March 27-30, 32 of the world’s best Street Fighter players will be invited to compete at the preliminary rounds. The top 16 players from last year’s Capcom Cup have already received an invitation, and the rest will be selected from Capcom (most likely based off Capcom points). From there, the top 24 will advance to the regular season, which will be broadcasted all the way through May on TBS and Twitch.

ELEAGUE will be the first time a network has committed to a long-term Street Fighter league. It’s an experiment to see if this type of structure can work within fighting games. It will undoubtedly expose the fighting game community to a market that has most likely never seen a fighting game tournament. As far as I’m concerned, it’s all upside for the Street Fighter V scene.

After the invitational has completed, the regular season will have four live broadcasts, with groups of six battling to make it into the playoffs. Each broadcast will be on Friday throughout April, with the playoffs starting on May 26th.

The future of fighting game tournaments

ELEAGUE’s interest is the first sign that the next wave of esports events is coming. Instead of a weekend long tournament, leagues similar to this one could be the next phase in fighting game development. EL’s focus on top players is the first step into a spectator dominated structure.

Now, as a player who regularly attends and competes at events, this is a little scary. There’s no question that ELEAGUE’s presence is good for the entire scene in terms of growth and legitimacy, but it takes the emphasis off grass-root events. Luckily, Capcom is still committed to tournament organizers through the Capcom Cup. This could be the start to more spectator focused events though.

The upside is exposure. More eyes on Street Fighter means more potential investors, player acquisitions, and better overall experiences. This will be the third time SFV has made it into a national stage. Fighting games are no longer apart of the niche market. Companies have noticed the growth and strength and have decided to invest in its future.

Regardless of your opinion on spectator events, ELEAGUE is good for players, fans, and the game itself. It’s the fighting game communities chance to reach an even wider audience and to keep building this into something great.

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Who Is The Future Quarterback In Cleveland?

When five different quarterbacks see action in a team’s first eight games, that’s not usually a sign of a consistently strong team.  The Cleveland Browns are, in fact, consistently inconsistent.  They have been so discombobulated at quarterback in just the first half of the season.  As the only winless team in the NFL, the Browns must be starting to think long-term with regards to who is under center.

The season started off with Robert Griffin III getting a shot at redemption with a new team.  He looked rusty early in the preseason, but seemed to settle in by the start of September.  Griffin looked average at best in game one, completing just 12 of his 26 pass attempts for 190 yards and an interception.  In typical reckless Griffin fashion, he tried to do too much on the run and injured his shoulder while being forced out of bounds.

Image result for rg3 browns

Photo provided by sports.yahoo.com

Enter NFL journeyman, Josh McCown, who earned the start in week two with his seventh NFL team.  At 37 years old, McCown showed that his play was about as unspectacular as the rest of his uneventful career.  After leading Baltimore in the first quarter 20-2, McCown and the Browns allowed a victory to slip away in the second half, falling 20-25.  This year, McCown has thrown four touchdowns and six interceptions.

Image result for josh mccown browns

Photo provided by foxsports.com

Next up: third week, third quarterback, and third round draft pick, Cody Kessler.  If there is a silver lining and sliver of hope in Cleveland, it is Kessler, who has tossed the ball for 1,241 yards and six touchdowns, while completing nearly 67% of his passes.  He leads the team in those three areas.  Kessler shows the most promise because, a) he is young, b) doesn’t make too many bonehead mistakes, c) he is the most consistent with his reads and d) every other quarterback on the roster has registered mediocre to horrible statistics.

Image result for cody kessler browns

Photo provided by gettyimages.com

Kessler’s best game came in week six when he threw for 336 yards and two scores.  It was a hard-fought game with Tennessee just barely beating Cleveland, 28-26.

Batter up, veteran Charlie Whitehurst, who saw action in only the 13-33 thrashing against New England.  After throwing for 182 yards, one touchdown, and one interception, Whitehurst was not given a second shot with the team.

Image result for charlie whitehurst browns

Photo provided by dawgpounddaily.com

And last but not least, there is fifth round draft pick, Kevin Hogan.  Hogan hasn’t started any games, but has seen action.  Though he has thrown for a dismal 104 yards and one interception on the season, he also made one of the most impressive plays for the Browns.  Dropping back to pass with nobody open, Hogan took off instantly and weaved his way through about four defenders before diving for the goal line for a 28 yard score.  The Browns should keep Hogan as a backup because if he can develop some accuracy and timing with his receivers, he could be a dangerous weapon.

Image result for kevin Hogan browns

Photo provided by profootballtalk.nbcsports.com

Even wide receiver Terrelle Pryor has taken some snaps at quarterback, but he isn’t up for future consideration.

At 0-10, the Browns are guaranteed to have a losing record and miss the playoffs in 2016.  This quarterback roulette is about as active as it gets.  Sometimes Head Coach Hue Jackson looks clueless as to who should go in and he doesn’t do his younger quarterbacks any favors by yanking them at half time.  McCown has to leave and retire.  Whitehurst was already released.  The only question is does Jackson want to invest more time into developing a sporadic, injury-prone RG3, or go with Kessler, the younger of the two prospects?  Hogan should stay and get another shot at some point this season to show what he can do in a full game.

For the future, Cleveland should retain their two rookie quarterbacks and determine if RG3 has any role on this team.  If he doesn’t, trade him – though his worth is pretty nonexistent at this point – or release him and sign a veteran quarterback not over the age of 34.  Brian Hoyer may not want to return to the Bears so he could be a valuable option.  The same goes for Mark Sanchez.  This Cleveland team is so young; they could use some veteran leadership.  A backup experienced quarterback on the roster is an underrated component for the development of a starting quarterback.

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The Current State of the Hearthstone Competitive Scene

Disclaimer: A lot of the ideas I use in this article come from different members of the Hearthstone community. Special mention goes to Dan “Frodan” Chou, his words on Value Town were the inspiration for writing this article.

This week was an intense week for Hearthstone, Na ‘Vi unexpectedly disbanded their Hearthstone team and Archon is no more. In the threads about these events a lot of people were shouting at the fact Hearthstone is dying and that the current state of the game cannot support a competitive format. Additionally, discontented tweets from pro players about the state of the game continue piling on, it seems the competitive community is starting an uprising against the creators.

I will admit that my first reaction was similar to the one the community had, I thought the rats are jumping the sinking ship. On Wednesday night after I finished watching Value Town, a show hosted by Chris “ChanManV” Chan, I changed my mind. I was convinced by what Dan “Frodan” Chou said, Hearthstone is maturing this is just a transitioning period. Later that night one of the people I respect the most in the scene, Andrey “Reynad” Yanyuk, claimed that Hearthstone is in a better position than most esports and we haven’t even peaked yet. This made me think. As an outsider to the scene I have to bow my head to these pillars that have been here since the start, their opinion is obviously much more educated than mine. So as a philosophy graduate I took their words and tried to make sense out of them, this is what I came up with.

These are the Rough Times

Hearthstone is a really young esport. Compare it to League of Legends: the game was released the 27th October 2009, it wasn’t until 6th of August 2012 the first LCS season was announced. Before that there was outside organizers participating in the scene as they saw potential. Hearthstone was released the 11th March 2014, in 2014 we already had massive prize pools and Blizzcon was a huge success. The year after the trend continued going, tournaments were pulling in absurd amount of viewers. This was until the post League of Explorers metagame when the scene slowly went into decline. This is not because the esport side is dying, to the opposite of this, like Frodan said the initial excitement has died out a bit and now it has to developed into a more mature scene.

This is a bit akin to a relationship, if you have ever been in a long term one you will know what I mean. The first few months are the honey moon period, everything is exciting and you cannot see any of the flaws in the significant other. After a few months the excitement dies down, this is the moment the relationship is set to the test. It either dies out because the people in the relationship couldn’t transition to the maturation of the relationship, or it will blossom in something even better, with more trust and engagement from both people involved. In some sense the transition stage can be called the puberty of the relationship,so we could say we are living in the puberty of Hearthstone.

So what do I think we need? We need the major exponents from the competitive scene to cohere together and invest in the future of the esport. I heard Aleksandr “Kolento” Malsh say it was not worth it attending tournaments for him, he makes more money streaming. This is absolutely absurd because going to tournaments should be seen as an investment into the scene that will profit you in the long run. If major names attend tournaments more viewers will be attracted to following the competition, it is only natural to want to see your favourite player compete. This results in more sponsors, thus money, into the scene and helps the scene flourish as a whole. More money = more events and enjoyment.

Additionally we also need the dev team for Hearthstone to step up their game, it would be absurd to claim they are without fault. If they manage to make a game which can host a healthy competitive scene whilst also pleasing the casual player they will have done gods work, it is hard but I trust they can do it. All we need is a couple of good expansions and balance changes to make the game a good grounds for competition.

Above all we are in the hands of people like Reynad, owner of Tempostorm, and Steve “Buyaka” Maida, owner of Luminosity gaming, to direct the scene in the right direction. They are the people that most of all have the potential to make the scene really flourish, they need to attract sponsors and show how much this game can give. Obviously it is a hard job, they need the support from the players and the development team but if they have it I think they can potentially reshape the Hearthstone landscape.

Overall it is not something one single person can do, the scene should work together and everybody should try to give their input to improve it. Be it pro players attending more tournaments or the dev team communicating and making more balance changes, Hearthstone needs to be seen as a huge group project.

The Potential

Something which I really wanted to talk about is Frodan’s claim that the sponsorship potential for Hearthstone is higher than in any other esport. Whilst you can still advertise video games, mice and keyboards, the people who watch Hearthstone streams are usually avid gamers, you can also expand sponsorship in areas such as food and beverages. Playing Hearthstone at the highest levels doesn’t require mechanical skills, eating or drinking whilst playing legend games is possible. What this means is that businesses could be attracted by the idea of making players place their products in exchange for monetary support.

This gives Hearthstone the possibility of expanding more than any other esport, I don’t think I have to emphasize how much money counts when developing any sort of infrastructure. In a few years’ time, if the leading figures of the Hearthstone scene manage to attract the big sponsors like Coca-Cola, we could have a scene which has an absurd amount of competitive content happening weekly. These behemoths of the capitalistic world can do anything with the amount of funds that are available to them.

But esport scene cannot exist without a following, here we have to give it to the dev team that they have done a great job making Hearthstone really appealing to look at. No online game appeals to the casual eyes as much as Hearthstone. The interface is clean, cards get played and effects are flashy and explosive. It is so good, that even if he has never played the game, my brother enjoys watching tournaments with me. You don’t need to be a Pro Player to understand the basics behind the game.

The last point to fight back is the idea that there is too much RNG in Hearthstone, it can never support a competitive format. I wrote a whole article about this but I think James “Firebat” Kostesich summarized the issue perfectly on stream about a week ago (you can find the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqVfKHLzTSQ ). Bumping the win percentages of the pro players up by just a bit would make for the competitive scene to flourish again, whilst we have too much RNG this is not impossible to solve. You only need a pro player around 65% win rate in order to grant him consistency in the long run, 100% win rates are not to be expected in a card game.

Overall we play a game which has huge potential, but we are not the only game around competitors are coming up from every corner. The question is: will Hearthstone come out on top?

The Positive Aspects

Now, I am not saying that the guys in the dev team are doing a perfect job, but they have started getting more involved with the community. Posts on Twitter and Reddit by Ben Brode and the others are pretty common, they always answer intelligent queries sent to them. Additionally, they also confirmed they read the Hearthstone related subreddits multiple times during the day and that they keep in mind community feedback. This is especially obvious after they removed Purify from arena in order to not butcher even more an already butchered class. Also on the 5th of September Brode confirmed that they were going to make balance changes to make arena less of a Magefest (as of now the changes are official you can find them: http://www.hearthhead.com/news=255768/blue-tweets-brode-talks-rng-improving-communication-and-yogg-saron ).

Additionally the team has said multiple times that they are interested in keeping the esport scene going, what we need to see now is more willingness to make concrete changes and look back at past designs. People have to acknowledge that it is hard to change a card, a small change can impact the metagame and a class completely. It is a decision that takes time and a lot of testing. Consider that the Hearthstone team is probably swamped with work, they are currently trying to optimize the game of every platform. When everything will be set in stone and all the platforms will be sorted out, the focus will be able to finally shift entirely on the game.

Overall the communication can improve from their side, but I will take a step back and be less arrogant and stop claiming that they are not doing a great job. It must be really rough to do what they do. Hopefully the team will show us why all the critiques that have recently targeted them are founded in ignorance and they are right in how they are managing the game.

Also sponsors are looking to invest money in the scene, tournaments still happen on a monthly basis. Especially now that we are getting closer to Blizzcon it is important to make the game in the best shape it can be, we need to showcase off the competitive scene. Additionally players, like Firebat, have shown that they are willing to invest their own time and money in order to make the scene flourish. They love the game that much.

What we need is time, maybe in a couple of years’ time we will look back at this period laughing at our own misgivings.

Wrapping Up

Some will claim that I am being a Blizzard/Frodan fanboy blind to the real state of the game. All I can reply is that after a long reflection I think I realized I might have been unfairly pessimistic about the Hearthstone competitive scene. Whilst there is work to do, I think Reynad and Frodan are totally on point, this is a transitioning stage and by 2020 Hearthstone will be one of the biggest esports out there. The questions time will answer is the following: will everybody involved cohere together and manage to work as a team to lend support for this wonderful game?

Before concluding I will say that I would advise anyone who is mildly interested in the Hearthstone background scene to watch the following VOD of the Value Town show, it provides wonderful insight and can help clear the uneducated opinions many of us have as outsiders to the scene. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i3sGfM4365Q&t=15m39s

If you enjoyed the article consider following me on twitter at: https://twitter.com/matteo_ghisoni , it does help my self-esteem when I get more followers!

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A Tale of Two Team Managements: Post NA LCS Finals Discussion

 

The longest running rivalry in NA LCS, possibly even the world, meet again in an unlikely NA LCS finals. Courtesy of loleventvods.

The longest running rivalry in NA LCS, possibly even the world, meet again in an unlikely NA LCS finals. Courtesy of loleventvods.

While a lot of the story lines being covered center around the games themselves and what laid up to them, it’s another thing to note the actual development philosophy of the two teams that actually made it to the finals: CLG and TSM. As we’ll get to in the article, these two teams took very different approaches to forming their squads in the post-Worlds off season, and it is definitely clear that neither approach could be said to be superior to the other currently. For CLG it was a more ‘Ember-esque’ approach, one that focused on the team, its environment, and fostering teamwork and cooperation in and off the rift. For TSM, not saying these previous factors weren’t involved, it was about the star power, about the raw, mechanical skill that makes a team do crazy good things. It was about getting the best in the West together and making the strongest team for raw star power that NA has ever seen. Both team styles showed to be viable in the finals, and it’ll be great to see if both are able to keep up their performances going forward.

I’d like it to be on record that I actually predicted the results from the right half of the bracket correct: I saw Liquid easily moving past NRG, falling to CLG in a tight five game series, with CLG moving onto the finals where they would win that in another close five game series. I just thought that’d be against Immortals or Cloud 9. It was an absolutely insane showing by fan favourite TSM, the 6th seed, to make it to the finals, and not because they got placed against ‘easy opponents.’ They overcame both Cloud 9 and Immortals, the two teams slated to possibly even meet in the finals. The left half of the bracket was a completely unpredictable beast that had all the TSM doubters quickly silenced.

In a lot of ways I think this is probably the greatest way for the finals to go: The new guard, the upstarts, the hyped Titan killers in Immortals and Liquid ultimately falling to the veteran organizations, the time trialed and well-worn path of the old guards in the two oldest teams in the league: TSM and CLG. I also think it should be a humbling experience for those new guard teams, and a need for the organization to make sure their infrastructure is properly in place for the teams to at once not take this too badly, but also to understand where things went wrong.

 

CLG: The Big Ember that Could

 

Wow. What an absolute roller coaster CLG has been in the past year. We saw the suffering Faith Age turn into the Golden Age, with an NA LCS title in the Summer, a strange showing at Worlds (hey, that’s an accomplishment for the team, being at Worlds that is,) and what seemed to be further sunny ways as rivals TSM, the fierce rival of the org, looked to have to rebuild their roster. Then the Dark Age came, CLG dropped both Doublelift and Pobelter, and the fans were torn apart. Doublelift, particularly, was seen as the team’s longest player, but also their strongest and the star power. He also was a main reason for fans of CLG to stick around. The Rush Hour lane was an absolute tyrant in lane and team fights, it’s hard to really see any reason to drop that. Pobelter, too, is a good mid laner, who eventually moved to the newly minted Immortals side to much success there in the Regular season. And then the absolutely unforeseeable happened to Doublelift: he turned in the Blue and Gray of CLG for the Gray and Black of TSM, CLG’s rivals.

The Dark Age seemed to only get worse: CLG brought secondary Mid laner in Huhi to the starting roster, and promoted Stixxay, a relatively unheard of ADC, from their Challenger squad to the starting roster. What an absolutely insane roster move, the fans decried. Most weren’t even calling it a roster move but a full on roster downgrade, purposefully shooting themselves in the foot after such a great showing from the team. It wasn’t a talent upgrade by any stretch of the imagination, that can’t be denied. While CLG went on to say that Stixxay, particularly Aphromoo his fellow bot laner and Support, was on par with Doublelift mechanically, it was a questionable statement to begin with. Was this new rookie really a contender against the fabled Doublelift?

Courtesy of CLGaming.net

Courtesy of CLGaming.net

Well, if he wasn’t the team was able to pick up the slack. They beat Korean side Jin Air Green Wings in a best of three at IEM San Jose, an impressive feat for any NA side, they went 13-5 in the Regular split, getting the oh so coveted semi-finals berth, and a tough road ahead of them to defend their NA LCS title as more than just a fluke in the system. Many doubted them along the whole way: they questioned whether the squad was talented enough, saying they were one dimensional in a split push style, their wins were too cheesy for a best of five series style, they’d crumble and choke once it came down to it, you name it, people probably said it about the team. Some slated the CLG Age to have turned to the Silver Age: a second place showing would be a win for the organization, and many fans shot for just that in their aspirations. Nobody really thought CLG could pull off another Title.

The rookie ADC made a name for himself in the finals, but was it enough to prove critics wrong? Courtesy of ESL youtube.

The rookie ADC made a name for himself in the finals, but was it enough to prove critics wrong? Courtesy of ESL youtube.

Many analysts rightly identified that CLG was an experiment of a very different breed of team management: the long-term, rebuilding mindset. Bring on new talent, rookies with prospective futures, ride out a few bad seasons until they’ve been polished enough to truly shine. It’s an age-old process in traditional sports: as your star talents start to falter, get old, demanding too much money or being emotionally disruptive, a team has to look to rebuild itself around new, young talent. Doublelift wasn’t old (I hope not, he’s only 22!) but his mentality has been hinted at multiple times by current CLG players as having a negative effect on the atmosphere. Talent only gets you so far before your team mates start not feeling comfortable beside you, and that seems to have been what happened in the CLG camp.

They also moved towards what could maybe be called an ‘Ember approach’ to team management, alluding to the current (past? Now defunct? Who really knows…) Challenger Series squad of Ember. Many NA fans will remember their desires to build ‘better humans’ to make better athletes, working on the emotional side of their players just as much as their in-game skills. Fostering talent, too, was a big feature, and what better way to do that then to promote from within the organizations ‘farm team’ and their back bench? Rather than looking abroad for international talent, the team made the conscientious decision to stick within themselves and work as a team. And my gods, what a beautiful team that was when it worked.

 

TSM: The Best of the Best

 

TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM TSM. Sorry, sometimes Twitch chat comes out when I think of TSM. The easily NA fan favourite squad is none other than TSM. The team is just as storied and Legacy as Counter Logic Gaming, just with a lot more success until most recent times. TSM has been much like the European side of Fnatic: always showing up in the playoffs, making it to the finals and either claiming it for themselves or falling but still walking away with the glittering Silver. The team’s practically synonymous for most with NA League, and deservedly so, and they’ve been in a situation unlike CLG where they’ve been able to validate their fans time and time again. But the team’s showings last year, from their regular season shakiness back in Summer 2015, to their falling out of Worlds like much of NA, and mediocre international results, caused this old guard team to do a radical roster shake up: they dropped every player outside of star mid laner Bjergsen. I doubt any League fan will ever forget the Dyrus good bye speech, but outside of that much of the roster faded away without much ceremony. Wildturtle went to Immortals, Lustboy has all but disappeared like John Cena, and Santorin was shipped around to multiple Challenger Series teams trying to make an name for himself.

Spoiler: TSM's roster has some of the scariest talent available in NA. Courtesy of https://www.reddit.com/r/TeamSolomid/comments/3r3k8i/tsm_2016_roster_banner_so_far/ (TSM subreddit.)

Spoiler: TSM’s roster has some of the scariest talent available in NA. Courtesy of https://www.reddit.com/r/TeamSolomid/comments/3r3k8i/tsm_2016_roster_banner_so_far/ (TSM subreddit.)

But who would fill out the legendary squad that is TSM? Well, nothing below legendary players, it would seem. Hauntzer was recruited from NA side Gravity, easily the strongest player on the Gravity side and probably one of the top three NA top laners around. Svenskeren was brought over from the now defunct SK Gaming side to fill the Jungler position, replacing fellow Dane Santroin, which seemed to be another easy upgrade. Sven’s aggressive play style fits well with the TSM identity of heavy team fight focus. Doublelift, as we said above, was brought in from rivals CLG and was seen to be another clear upgrade. Doublelift was one of the few NA ADCs able to compete internationally, and so he seemed a clear pick. Yellowstar was tapped on the shoulder to replace Lustboy, probably the second biggest player to fill out the new TSM 2.0. Yellowstar’s tenure with Fnatic is legendary, and particularly his role as crucial Team captain in the rebuilding of Fnatic after the xPeke exit was arguably the reason Fnatic were able to do their perfect split. There wasn’t much to say about this roster but “wow.” It was the most star studded, international, NA team ever. And fans were hyped, until it just seemed to fail time and time again.

The TSM Dream Super Team of Lots of Talent looked shakey in the regular split, but showed up when it mattered most: Playoffs. Courtesy of TSM Store.

The TSM Dream Super Team of Lots of Talent looked shakey in the regular split, but showed up when it mattered most: Playoffs. Courtesy of TSM Store.

TSM came into the playoffs as the 6th seed after a pretty atrocious regular season that had many TSM fans bemoaning a decline that just didn’t make sense. But there was a silent murmur in the NA LCS fandom and abroad even, whispers muttered in the dark of the time-tested truth: TSM shows up in Playoffs. Worry mounted as Cloud 9 easily dismantled TSM in the first game of the best of 5, but the next three games were absolutely dominated by the fan favourite in TSM. An upset of note, yes, but Cloud 9 was another team that seemed to be all over the place at times. It was an understandable possibility. But surely TSM would fall in their next endeavour: a best of five against the only other team other than Fnatic to almost make it to a perfect split in Immortals. Immortals looked absolutely disgusting throughout the regular split, but again murmurs were heard, as the Immortal side looked very, very, weak against Renegades and Dignitas, being bullied outright by the former. The side wasn’t the same as it had been earlier.

TSM breezed past the faltering Immortals to blaze their way to the finals against long-time rivals CLG and a repeat of last year’s Summer Split finals. Many had said it would be an easy victory for the TSM boys, and what looked to be the most unlikely story line to ever unfold almost seemed to be within grasp. But the games were back and forth evenly, CLG claiming the first, TSM the second, etc. It came down to a 2-2 record with the last game being the decider. And it was only befitting that the came was a nail biter of tension that was palpable, with teams making great plays (CLG’s grabbing baron) that were only meet with setbacks (TSM all but wiping CLG afterwards.) CLG eventually came out on top, after a crazy close teamfight that eventually saw the team pushing into TSM’s base to claim the second NA LCS trophy for the CLG side.

 

The Take Away

I highly doubt anyone expected this to be the final brackets. Courtesy of lolesports.

I highly doubt anyone expected this to be the final brackets. Courtesy of lolesports.

I do not think in any way shape or form TSM fans should be too deeply saddened by their team’s performance. From 6th seed to second place is one helleva trip, and the team looked better than ever. If this is the TSM of Summer split, then the TSM of old may very well be back. That can only mean great things for NA overall. TSM need to make sure they keep up whatever they did during the playoffs, which’ll be aided by the move to Bo3’s for the Summer split. I think TSM have a good chance moving ahead, and I highly doubt any roster changes will happen for the team now. They’ll need to look within, work on their own form, clear up some of their internal infrastructure, and try to keep whatever spirit possessed them to bring them to where they were just a few short days ago: the Finals of the NA LCS.

CLG, too, doesn’t look like they’ll be resting on their laurels anytime soon. The squad, who almost unanimously everyone doubted and trash talked, shut up doubters (well, the ones who aren’t stubborn,) who doubted whether they were even a top-tier NA team, let alone the ‘best.’ Nobody will ever agree on who is really the best, but winning two LCS finals sure does help. The team looks to be moving in the right direction with their rookies, and fans can only hope that they’ve yet to reach their skill ceiling, and with further nourishing they’ll grow even stronger. CLG’s staff will need to make sure to patch up the holes and problems the squad experienced, and maybe attempt to deepen those champion pools and drafting process for the squad. But CLG looks strong, very strong, coming into the Summer split. They’ve shown that they’re not a one trick pony either, and as much as fans of the other teams will still use it against them, it does make a statement that they won their final game off a decisive team fight and not just a split pushing Darshan.