This week, BlizzCon will host a number of esports competitions, including the conclusion of the 2018 Heroes of the Storm Global Championship. The best professional teams from around the world will convene at the Blizzard Arena in Los Angeles during BlizzCon’s opening week to begin the 2018 HGC Finals. There is a definite favorite to win it all but there are a few teams that have the potential to get the surprise (or not so surprising) win.
One of these teams is HeroesHearth Esports. One of the newest teams in the HGC, the North American squad ended the season in first place with a 13-1 record, 41-14 game record, and a +27 game differential. While they’ve become a dominant force in season play, HeroesHearth tends to underperform during tournament situations. In Mid-Season Brawl and both Western Clashes this year, the furthest the team got was the second round.
We spoke with HeroesHearth Esports player Khalif “Khroen” Hashim about this performance deviation and how fan expectations have changed since they’ve become the top NA team.
“At the last Western Clash, that was the first time we really disappointed with our performance because we had those expectations. A lot of fans were hyping us up and we had felt that,” explains Khroen about HeroesHearth’s unfortunate demise at the last Western Clash. “We can come to this tournament and really make a big impact so we’re not just going to settle for taking a couple games or maybe just one series; we wanted to, at least, top three.”
“Losing that, for myself, was a little bit frustrating, a little bit disappointing, and I think those feelings are shared throughout the whole team,” shares Khroen as we discuss the aftermath of that Western Clash and how HeroesHearth have tried to improve since then. “After that, we took some time to reflect on it. Expectations, while we should aim to do well as a team, they shouldn’t break you; you should be able to balance expectations.”
Khroen also talked about a change in mindset. Since the team has been so dominate during the season, the expectations have been high for HeroesHearth. Instead of worrying about those high expectations, the team plans to take a more relaxed approach when Finals begin.
“How we are approaching tournaments now is to go into it not necessarily carefree but just less stress,” Khroen remarks. “We play our best when we’re enjoying ourselves and having fun; that no pressure, underdog sort of mentality. So, being at that mental state is where we’re looking to be at BlizzCon.”
Khroen also gave some insight on who may be a threat throughout the Finals other than the European team that is a clear favorite to win it all this year, Team Dignitas.
“I think Leftovers are another team we’re looking at as a potential threat, as well as Tempest, in that group,” Khroen answers after stating the obvious answer of Team Dignitas. “We ended up facing Tempest in the group stages at Mid-Season Brawl and ended up going one-to-one with them so I think it’s definitely possible that if approach that matchup and play well on that day and do our prep work, I think it could be a set that we take another game off of, if not two.”
While Khroen was confident when talking about a matchup against Tempest, a match with the “wild card” Leftovers may be a turbulent one for HeroesHearth if the EU squad can perform how they have in previous tournaments.
“The Leftovers are, kind of, a wild card. They perform at tournaments so well,” states Khroen. “It’ll be interesting to see where their strength level in this tournament.”
I tend to agree with Khroen on this one. Leftovers are not a team to sleep on. The EU team may have not performed the best during season play – they ended the 2018 season with a 9-5 record, 32-25 game record, and a +7 game differential – they always seem to show up during tournament play. Leftovers managed to make it to the final round of this year’s Western Clash during Phase 2 as well as win Playoffs to secure their spot in the Finals.
Similar to Khroen and HeroesHearth, we spoke to Leftovers tank Maksym “Mopsio” Szczypa about their own contrasting performances depending on the situation.
“There were a couple of points that I started to work on at the beginning of 2018. Initially, we play because we want to have fun,” Mopsio explains when discussing their strategy. “So, we usually play the compositions we have the most fun with because all we are doing is focusing on our game and our advantages as a team.”
Mopsio continues to discuss Leftovers’ effort to perform well, especially during those beginning stages. “A very important factor with this team is that everybody is really open-minded and really open about criticism. During practice, we know what we are doing wrong and we are working really hard and everybody is putting in the effort to be the best players in their role,” states Mopsio about the openness and work ethic of the team.
The road to qualifying for Finals was a tough one for Mopsio and his teammates. Unlike the other teams in the EU region, Leftovers not only had to start performing at a pro level but also had to start finding some synergy with his teammates. Once that happened though, Leftovers became a force to be reckoned with.
“The climb was not easy. Initially, we had to face teams that were way more experience than Leftovers and we needed to work on some internal stuff communication wise and gameplay wise,” Mopsio begins to explain about the team’s tough beginnings in the league. “Once we got the momentum going we started playing really well and winning match after match.”
Since the next week will arguably be both HeroesHearth and Leftover’s most important matches of each team’s career in the HGC, both Khroen and Mopsio gave us an idea of how they are preparing for the Finals. Both teams have different ways of prepping for their upcoming matches. Some strategies are a bit more what you would expect while another is taking a more nonchalant approach.
“So, we have a new team member because Arthelon is no longer on the team with us so we’re trying to get as much practice in as we can with Homi,” Khroen states while discussing the team’s approach to prepping for Finals. He continues, “as well as look up what other regions are doing and making sure we are prepared for the meta. Also, making sure we are solidified in how we want to approach the tournament and what we want to bring in terms of drafting, priorities, and maps, that kind of stuff. Outside of that, it’s making sure we are in a good mental state to be able to compete well. That’s a really big thing for us.”
Khroen and HeroesHearth definitely seem to be taking the traditional route of analyzing their opposition and making sure they are prepared for anything that comes their way. Mopsio and Leftovers, on the other hand, seem a bit more relaxed and content with where they’re at and accept whatever outcomes may occur.
“We didn’t really prepare specific tactics for BlizzCon. We are taking the same kind of attitude as we did during Western Clash which is just playing our game,” Mopsio states when discussing Leftovers strategy for Finals. “We are coming here to have fun, we are not pressured to win the tournament because we have to big contenders like Gen G. and Dignitas. I saw that people are putting us high in the power rankings but I still believe that our strength comes from our attitude of being the underdog and we’re going to stick to that.”
While talking to Mopsio about Leftovers about their strategy and mental state, it seemed like he had a lack of confidence with where they were at in the tournament. It turns out it was less about a lack of confidence and more about taking things one step at a time. The pressure is on them and if there is a way to alleviate that pressure, Mopsio believes they will perform better:
“Basically, it’s like the Polish idiom which says ‘never think about something being done.’ So, we are not thinking about winning, we are thinking about a game and that is our main goal. We are not overthinking things because we also think applies too much pressure and too much pressure is very unhealthy for your mentality when it comes to the game. You want to show confident play. Even though outside of the game we are not too confident, when the game pops on, we are all on the same page and we are really confident that we can do it.”
Mopsio did have some words to close things off that, in a way, exudes that confidence I initially thought they lacked. Spreading a message of positivity and a reminder that video games, even if you do play them professionally, is all about having fun.
“We just want to send a big thank you message to all the fans and all the support we’ve received for the past five or six weeks since we qualified. We feel like our Cinderella story is coming true with us qualifying for BlizzCon. We are just here to have fun and I hope that every pro gamer and every single gamer has fun when they play video games.”
The 2018 HGC Finals will begin during BlizzCon’s opening week, on Thursday, October 25, 2015, at 9 a.m. PDT with Tempo Storm and Luna Meow kicking things off. The top four teams from both groups A and B will advance to the bracket stage which will begin on November 2, 2018, at 12 pm PDT at BlizzCon in Anaheim, California. The conclusion of the 2018 season will begin the next day, on November 3, 2018, at 9:30 am PDT where the champion will be crowned.