Cloud9 at Blizzcon

Undying Cheese

If there’s one thing that Blizzcon 2015 taught the Heroes of the Storm community – asides from the brilliant content announcements, the capabilities of the casting crew, and the fierce eye that Blizzard has on the eSports scene – it’s that Heroes of the Storm is an incredibly entertaining game to watch on a competitive level. Whether you enjoy the fast-paced games themselves or the intricacies of team-fighting, there’s something to be savored for players from any eSports or gaming background.

On Cloud9

Needless to say, Blizzcon Champions Cloud9 showed their true face at the tournament this year. They came with a completely fresh attitude, knowing full well that they had the mechanical and strategic capacity to trump the Heroes goliaths on an international stage.

Cloud9 displayed an incredible amount of mental power throughout all of their games, conducting near-perfect drafting strategies against their foes, performing intricate rotational plays to throw their opponents off-guard, and brute-forcing their team-fights.

All the hype aside, I want to highlight game 2 of Cloud9 vs DK, going over their drafting strategies and why they were so far ahead of the game when it came to the international stage. I also want to discuss why their composition in this game, while brilliant, is potentially unhealthy for the state of HotS.

There are spoilers for Blizzcon ahead. If you missed the game and still haven’t seen it, you might want to check this out:

Cloud 9 VS Team DK – Undying Cheese

The second game of this semi-finals matchup found the teams facing off on Cursed Hollow – one of my personal favorite battlegrounds. It’s one of those diverse maps that allows for some really interesting picks. You can have a Rexxar that’s able to solo Boss camps at level 4, or some fun Illidan Hunt compositions that allow for cool split pushing and ganking strategies. Even Sgt. Hammer is exceptionally viable on this map: she can buy time for turn-ins, and, if positioned well, she’s able to deal tons of damage around objective areas. However, Cloud 9 completely threw all logic out the window and decided to break this video game.

From pick 1, team DK knew full well what Cloud 9 is going for – or at least they thought they did. It seemed pretty obvious, honestly. It’s an Illidan map, with a first pick Abathur. So Team DK decides to start picking against it; they lock down the Sonya pick early, who is able to 1-for-1 out-duel Illidan at any stage of the game, and they deny Cloud9 Uther as well. Illidan without Uther can be a nightmare – Divine Shield is an almost necessary reset that Illidan needs to be successful in competitive games, and Uther’s burst healing is a huge boon for him.

With the followup Tassadar pick from C9, it’s even more indicative that they’re planning on running an Illidan composition. Plasma Shield is an invaluable asset to Illidan, especially given the recent buffs to it and Leeching Plasma, one of Tassadar’s level 4 talents. Tassadar’s shields increase Illidan’s survivability dramatically and allows him to steal even more health with his Basic Attacks.

murkyPicking up Leoric with Illidan isn’t the most common of drafts we see, because he doesn’t have the hard-engage that Illidan is looking for – which is why we see the Muradin ban from Team DK. However, something must have started to smell a little… fishy… for Team DK once they saw the Leoric pick. While it works, it’s not something that is very common in these compositions. The Brightwing pick further enforced that Cloud9 wanted to hard-support a melee assassin. And then… boom. Heroes of the Storm competitive history was written – the unholy scion of baby murlocs was selected, and the crowd went wild.

Abathur, Tassadar, Leoric, Brightwing, Murky – this composition alone is a complete testament to the brilliance behind Cloud 9’s drafting strategies and their overall understanding of the ebb and flow of team-fighting. In choosing this composition, they understood full well that they would lose the early game, and lose it hard.

You don’t win Tributes with this composition, nor skirmishes. Cloud 9’s strategy was to try to stay as even as possible until the late game. From there they needed only to bait Team DK deep into C9’s side of the map, so that the Korean team had no nearby structures to flee to. Cloud9’s win condition revolved around extended lategame teamfights, where they could make use of Murky’s chase potential and Leoric’s death respawn timer.

As soon as Murky hits level 16, he becomes an unstoppable machine – Murkidan, if you will. Bubble Breeze at level 1 increases his movement speed while bubbled, augmenting his chasing; Bubble Machine at 13 brings Safety Bubble‘s cooldown from 14 to 9 seconds, allowing him to become frequently invincible; and Rejuvenating Bubble at 16 heals Murky for half his health whenever he bubbles. While DK had a sound advantage pre-16, the match’s teamfights started to get whacky once C9 hit that mark.

Between his talented Safety Bubble, the shields/heals from Brightwing, Tassadar, and Abathur, and iDream’s impressively pesky play, Murky became unstoppable. DK couldn’t kill him, DK couldn’t escape from him, and DK couldn’t deal with his damage. Even if they managed to burst the murloc down, he would spawn 5 seconds later and be back in the fray soon after. His consistent yet pesky damage was always bolstered by Abathur, making him a powerful offensive force.

Brightwing, Tassadar, and Abathur all make sense in supporting Murky. All provide shields, which bolster Murky’s paltry health bar in a way straight heals cannot, making him nigh-immune to burst damage. Brightwing and Abathur excel at split-soaking/pushing, allowing Cloud9 to keep up in experience even though they lost the early game. Tassadar’s vision, walls, and shields were all pivotal to this composition’s success. So where did Leoric fall into play?

Besides being KingCaffeine’s premier hero, Leoric had two tremendous roles to play. Firstly, it was his role to die. Anyone who has watched the series may have noticed that Leoric was dead for what seems like half the game. While not ideal for any hero, Leoric’s trait allows him to handle death better than any other hero (besides Murky, of course).

Which, of course, was all part of Cloud9’s plan.  Even when Leoric died in later teamfights, he stuck to the enemy team, slowing them and accelerating his respawn time. His ability to slow enemies, alive or dead, was a huge asset to their Murky-centric strategy. When Leoric came out of death, he fulfilled his second main role: casting the net. Or, more appropriately, the Entomb.

With Cloud9’s seeming lack of damage, some might have expected KingCaffeine to select March of the Black King, especially since the Skeleton King was so often descending into death. However, Entomb was another facet of their carefully crafted composition. The super-buffed Murky was already scary enough in open spaces, but locking the rabid fish in a stone box with DK’s less mobile heroes proved devastating.


Cheesy Wins vs. eSport Health

While everyone (myself included) were absolutely thrilled to see this unorthodox composition hit the big stage, the quasi-exploitative nature of this composition brings a few concerns to light. That is not at all to disparage Cloud9 – breaking a well-balanced game in any capacity is a feat to be lauded – but having compositions like this rise into the meta is surely unhealthy for the game.

The reason I say that is because DK didn’t lose the game to superior play – they lost because as time went on, the mechanics of the game were working against them. As a game advances towards its later stages, respawn cooldowns become the most crucial aspect of winning. Early ganks can garner an experience lead, but late ganks can take a player out of a game for upwards of a minute, leaving their team at a disadvantage and susceptible to snowballing into a loss.

By building around Murky instead of Illidan, Cloud9 negated the primary weakness of an Illidan-centered composition: the risk of losing the carry and being a useless team until he resurrected. The risk of the gestalt breaking, the team being forced into its individual parts.

Murky, on the other hand, with his 5-second respawns and increasingly frustrating Safety Bubble, made for the perfect persistent threat. With the persistence of Leoric at his side, Cloud9 took a deteriorating early game and simply out-persisted DK in the later phases.

A lot of credit goes to Cloud9 for keeping up with DK in the slaughter that was the early game – not many teams could do it. This composition isn’t the single greatest thing in the game and will not eke out a 100% winrate, nor anything close to it. But the fact is, Cloud 9 didn’t really beat DK in that round 2 match – they beat the game. They beat HotS.

Moving forward, I don’t think we’re going to see compositions similar to this Murkidan team play out on international stages. It’s simply unhealthy for the state of the competitive game to have secret trump compositions that win by combining game mechanics for a near catastrophic amalgam of cheese.

While Blizzard is a company that loves to bend the rules of the MOBA experience (CHO’GALL ANYONE!?), I’m sure the design team wasn’t intending on a composition like this when they designed Murky and later on Leoric. I certainly commend Cloud 9 for being the first to try this out, and applaud them for bringing into the most important tournament to date for Heroes of the Storm.

From all of us in the Heroes community, we salute you, Cloud 9. Mrrgrrrgl.

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