NA Heroes Meta
Forever a Fad Behind
Last month, Korean team MvP Black proved that their meta was dominant at PAX Prime by destroying everything and everyone the rest of the world could throw at them. Blizzcon will be the true proving grounds, however, and the North American meta has a lot of ironing out to do between now and then. The Heroes Americas Championship (hereafter HAC) pulled back the veil on the top American teams’ current mindset on the tumultuous meta. While the American teams have made incredible and hard-earned headway in their strategies since PAX, Korean teams have been doing the same – and they’re already ahead.
As it stands now, the Heroes meta is a fad set by the top Korean teams whilst the rest of the world struggles to stay caught up. MvP Black brought their aggressive stratagems and hero pools to PAX, giving everyone a glimpse of how strong they were before rolling back overseas. The NA meta seems to have adapted very well since then, but there remains a scary question: if we bring the Korean ‘fad’ of aggressive lineups to Blizzcon, how much ahead of the game will they be by then? It seems very likely that NA may be that one kid who finally gets the ‘cool new thing’ the moment it goes out of style
Aggression, Wave Clear, and Broken Heroics
If PAX Prime instilled anything upon the NA scene, it’s a newfound respect for the Warrior class. While Johanna and Leoric have yet to be pushed from their pedestal, a slew of old, war-torn friends have begun to pop up. Arthas and Sonya have emerged as competitive picks, while Muradin and Anub’arak rounded off many a team’s composition with their array of stuns. Double- and triple-Warrior lineups popped up throughout the weekend, to varying degrees of success.
While the weekend boasted a couple of exciting picks and the emergence of a few new heroes into the scene, the tournament revolved for the most part around the following heroes: Uther, Zeratul, Jaina, Kael’thas, Leoric, and Johanna. Also on the high end of involvement were Tyrande and Arthas, with Kerrigan, Abathur, Valla, Rehgar, and Sonya close behind them, though less contested. The first bans bounced almost unfailingly between Uther, Zeratul, Jaina, Tyrande, Arthas, and Kael’thas, with a few respect bans coming out on the likes of Abathur and Illidan.
We can glean a few things from these trends. First off, the Korean meta was in evidence throughout the weekend. The resilient and Warrior-heavy aggression favored by MvP Black was reflected in many drafts – especially those of Tempostorm, who faced the strategy’s power first-hand at PAX Prime. Leoric and Arthas, AKA the Lich Brothers, established themselves as a dynamic duo, often being picked up in tandem and eliciting some surprising bans. The damage, sustain, and crowd control they can pump out brought momentum to the teams who managed to pick them up. Anub’arak and Muradin tossed out stuns left and right, while Sonya, Tyrael, and Kerrigan beat the life out of hero after hero.
The greatest catalyst to these aggressive strategies actually seems to be a single hero. Uther, the Lightbringer, has surely taken the spot of the number one support if he didn’t own it already. This is due in large part to his burst heals and incredibly versatile utility, but there is another thing that takes him over the top: Divine Shield. The three-seconds of non-interactivity it grants can be absolutely game-breaking; it single-handedly allows teams to adopt riskier damage dealers like The Butcher and Sonya. It also gives assassins with burst abilities, like Jaina with Icy Veins, a clear path to blast enemies away. Its aggressive applications are matched only by its defensive ones.
Divine Shield is one first of three heroics that temporarily remove interactivity from the affected heroes, one of three heroics that shapes the Heroes meta. Void Prism and, to a lesser extent, Devouring Maw, are the other heroic abilities that can take a game, no matter how skewed, and break it wide open. The ability to remove a hero/heroes from the fight is incredibly powerful – because of this, these heroes (esp. Uther and Zeratul) are incredibly contested, being picked or banned first in nearly every game. Anub’arak’s Web Blast has similar strengths, but is single-target and can be countered by team coordination.
Kael’thas and Jaina have maintained their positions as powerful ranged AoE damage-dealers, securing their involvement in a lot of early picks and bans. More single-target ranged Assassins, like Raynor and Valla, were used in countering Warrior-heavy lineups. Melee assassins, the current flavor of the Korean meta, saw some love as well. Kerrigan was a deadly and contested pick in a number of matchups, while Illidan and the Butcher saw several brutal games. Even Thrall was picked up to counter some melee-heavy compositions, though his success was dubious at best. However, Warriors seemed to be more prominent than Assassins or Specialists this weekend.
There are many things that a Warrior is expected to do – tank, gank, peel, disrupt, intimidate, etc. Being able to clear minions quickly has emerged as a very desirable characteristic in the class, however, and the field is dominated by the likes of Johanna and Leoric. Arthas, a hero that has spiked in popularity of late, also has an easy time with minion waves. Complexity even made a case for Rexxar by showing how powerful his wave clear can be when he picks Bird of Prey, a level 7 talent that increases Spirit Swoop‘s damage to non-heroic enemies by 300%. Wave clearing abilities in warriors is on the chopping block for balance. Whether this means that Warriors in general will have their wave-clear boosted or neutered is unclear.
The Lot of Supports
While we can all agree that Uther reigned triumphant this weekend, it was interesting to see the state of supports in the meta. While Rehgar was certainly the preferred healer when Uther was unavailable, both Brightwing and Kharazim made impressive showings. Some of the Kharazims even opted for Seven-sided Strike to counter tank-heavy lineups, despite being the solitary healer. Brightwing’s mobility and shielding proved pivotal to CoGnitive Gaming’s Illidan-centric strategy. Given the aggressive turn of the meta, burst heal is in favor at the moment, but Malfurion saw some success this weekend, as well.
What was perhaps unexpected was the dominance of Tyrande, who was banned and picked at high rate. The trend towards the pseudo-support reflects the overall NA push towards more aggressive strategies. With Hunters Mark and Lunar Flare, the shapely elf can be quite the playmaker, using Light of Elune to make clutch heals. When paired with another hero with aggressive stuns, a la Muradin or The Butcher, she can really shine. Tassadar also made a few appearances as a damage/support hybrid.
Healers are in a strange state, with one reigning supreme and the others rather meekly sharing second place. Li Li was the only Support not to see play at HAC, but she is quite capable of putting out numbers on par with the other Supports, albeit with less precision. It will be interesting to see if Uther can be toppled from his throne by Lt. Morales, who is soon to grace the Nexus with her soothing presence, or if he will be struck with the nerf-hammer instead.
Behind the Curve?
Some of the heroes who seemed like innovative picks this weekend, e.g. Sonya and Arthas, were heavily favored in the Korean meta long before now. Multi-Warrior lineups have been rampant there for months, and Raynor and Valla have been long popular to combat this trend. While it is apparent from HAC that North American teams have adopted and modified the aggressive tendencies of MvP Black, are they still a step behind?
Incredibly recent picks in the OGN Superleague, where the fiercest Korean teams play, have included slower strategies with Sgt. Hammer and Tychus, neither of whom were seen at HAC. While NA teams seem to have taken what they learned from PAX prime and begun forging their own meta, using heroes like Tyrande and Kael’thas, it may be sub-par to the strategies currently formulating in the Korean Superleague. It’s possible that if NA and EU teams take their aggressive new strategies to Blizzcon, the Korean meta will already have advanced a step. Or, even worse, they’ll play the same meta, only better.
There are still a few weeks and new heroes between us and Blizzcon, and it will be fascinating to see how comparable the meta we saw this weekend is to what we will see in early November. While things may look grim, NA and EU both have some incredibly talented minds doing their best to unravel this eSport. This year’s Blizzcon is going to be a truly spectacular event.
Links of interest:
Join the Reddit discussion of this topic – Here
Heroes Americas Championships Day 1 – Here
Heroes Americas Championships Day 2 – Here
Weekend statistics, as compiled by Redditor /u/Dthehunter – Here