The Rise of the Bruiser
Korea’s Leaking Meta
A Shattered Understanding
Up until PAX, the American opinion on warriors had been centered around their ability to stun, peel, and disrupt. This favoritism pushed heroes like Muradin and Johanna to the top of the NA meta. However, that opinion’s value was recently degraded by Korean team MvP Black’s performance at PAX Prime. The team, relatively unknown to Western players, dominated the day against heavy hitters like Tempostorm and TeamLiquid.
Their secret weapon? You guessed it – bruisers.
Korean teams play their bruisers like warrior/assassin hybrids: immensely damaging, in-your-face, hard to take down. By pairing two such heroes, they create an indomitable frontline that can easily reach and harass the enemy backline. Against lineups with two or more squishy ranged assassins – like those that have experienced popularity in the NA meta – the unrelenting nature of double-bruiser compositions is devastating. Sure, Kael’thas can dispense immense damage, but that doesn’t matter if he’s being harried by a warrior or two. In the highly mobile setting of HotS, being able to wade through enemies and lock down priority targets is invaluable.
Arthas, Tyrael, Anub’arak – these menacing frontline bruisers are heroes that aren’t really considered top-tier picks in the Western scene. Because of this, MVP Black managed to secure strong drafts against opponents that seemed completely oblivious to their machinations. Leoric is a hero that proved especially dangerous in the Korean team’s hands, and yet it took until the last game of the Grand Finals for a team to ban him out of their reach.
Leoric himself is not an odd pickup – he has been making waves in all regions since his release – but the Korean team also debuted heroes like Tyrael and Arthas, who provide strong back-line engage and can deal a lot of damage in a short period of time. These heroes are seldom seen in the North American competitive scene, but MvP Black made a strong case for them by pairing them with either Johanna or Leoric, who were the most contested warriors at PAX.
To make matters even beefier, MVP Black threw another punch at the Western stance on warriors by picking up E.T.C. and running him in a triple warrior lineup: E.T.C., Leoric, Anub’arak, Uther, and Valla. By speccing towards talents that sustained his allies and locked down the enemy team, Korean player Lockdown played the oft-maligned cow as a cross between a warrior and a support. Showing up against TeamLiquid in the third game of the series, this composition’s relentlessness carried MvP Black to the Grand Finals. While TeamLiquid’s Tyrael provided incredible engage and decent damage, the rest of the team wasn’t able to punish the tanks razing their backline.
A Niche for the Fleet
Also interesting was the resurgence of some neglected assassins, namely Raynor and Valla. Jaina and Kael’thas are more popular picks in the NA meta, but Raynor’s (relatively) survivable nature makes him a natural fit in MvP Black’s sustainable stratagems. Having a passive ability that heals him for a substantial amount of health allows the hero to make unfavorable trades in lane and still come out on top, lending him a lot of pressure throughout the early game. As long as there is someone around to support Raynor, he can ramp up into the late game and deal some incredible damage.
Valla is a hero that is sometimes picked in NA, but she has been by no means a priority. Korean teams are adamant about her high power level, however, and they proved themselves right whenever they picked her up. Valla cuts an imposing figure in a meta ruled by tanks, due to her mobility and access to Giant Killer. She will continue to be second to the mages as long as NA’s meta remains constant, but could easily slip up to the top tier if warriors become more prominent. Other ‘tank-busters’ like Falstad may see a similar boost.
It is too early to tell the lasting effects of MvP Black’s absolute slaughter in the first global HotS event. The players on said team are all incredibly proficient with their mechanics, meaning that the true power of double- and triple-tank lineups may not manifest in a widespread way.
However, MvP Black demonstrated the power of contesting tanks with their early picks and bans, almost always opting to grab Leoric or Johanna over early assassins. As long as they could grab one of these core tanks, they were happy to pick up a dedicated bruiser to supplement them. Many bruisers are are considered to be lower tier heroes in the Western meta – it will be interesting to see if the likes of Arthas, Tyrael, Anub’arak, or perhaps even Chen begin to pick up steam.
Below are some videos of MvP Black’s tank-centric strategy in action. This isn’t footage from PAX Prime, and in fact predates it by about a month, but it is still a good demonstration of the tactic. Do remember that Leoric and Kharazim were not available in the games below. If you’d like to see the PAX Finals, you’ll have to deal with Twitch’s VOD system, but you can find those games here:
Otherwise, you can find some examples of the Korean meta in the videos below. MvP Black plays in the 3rd-7th games in the playlist, accessible by clicking the dropdown in the top left of the video window.