Storm Elite League
A Place for Competition
The Storm Elite League – or SEL for short, is an invite-only tournament server that hosts approximately 100 players in the Heroes of the Storm community. Created by TigerJK and PartyFoul, SEL provides an environment for top-tier players to test their mettle against one another in heated 5v5 matches. The server itself has it’s own forum (which can be found here), including it’s own internal ranking system for players, Twitter account and Twitch channel. SEL has been the HotS community’s way of battling the problems found that plague the Hero League ranking system, issues with which top level players are all too familiar. While SEL has provided the community with a tremendous amount of insight into the details of competitive games, especially from a draft and teamplay perspective, it has also contributed a few issues into the scene (it has shorn the scene asunder).
The vast majority of players don’t have the opportunity to take part in professional scrimmages, let alone have access to those sorts of games – including the vocal content. Storm Elite League has provided a medium in which players of all skill levels can watch and learn from arguably the best players in the scene. The amount of information you can get out of watching an SEL stream is bar none in comparison to the content available right now. It is simply the best way to get better via the best.
Every match starts in the pre-game lobby, where players discuss who will take which role – draft leader, shotcaller, class roles, etc. The games then naturally move into a full 2 ban draft phase, just like those in competitive games. This is one of the most informative things a player can watch – it provides viewers with complete information on why players are picking or avoiding certain Heroes. Sometimes the justification is based on the Heroes’ base strength (Leoric/Zeratul), sometimes it is meta- or map-specific. While Hero League play isn’t to the calibur of ESL, most of the information translates directly over, providing players with another means of edifying themselves in the art of HotS.
The remaining gameplay is no less important – throughout the game, the team that’s streaming will discuss different strategies, make decisive calls, and engage in incredibly interesting team-fights, all of which is fully backed by commentary and logic. Being able to listen to Dreadnaught communicate his cooldowns to his teammates, or to KingCaffeine as he calls shots while diving the enemy backline has provided up-and-coming HotS aficionados a glance of what it’s like to operate in an organized scrimmage setting.
Sheer Skill or Favoritism?
While SEL is composed mostly of the highest ranking players in the North American scene, it also falls prey to a bit of a popularity bias. There are quite a few players within the League that simply shouldn’t be there. That is not to disparage their skill as gamers – they are certainly talented – but they simply do not measure up to the calibur of the average SEL player. It seems as though their place within the League has been garnered by community popularity alone, rather than by mechanical/strategic prowess.
This phenomenon is a double-edged sword. While it provides SEL with the necessary publicity to get the content out there for the HotS community to see at large, it also dilutes the overall skill threshold for the League itself. If it’s a League for the best players, that criteria should be consistent regardless of extenuating circumstances.
The server has also placed a schism within the community. I myself, as a Rank 1 player, have not attempted to join the ranks of the Storm Elite League squadron due to a simple time deficit. That being said, my personal adventures in Hero League have become more and more lackluster since the advent of the SEL – I am really noticing the lack of top contending players in the pool. It sucks not seeing players from coL, C9, TS, COG (and the list goes on) as much as I used to.
Overall, though, I’m quite happy that TigerJK and PartyFoul have taken it upon themselves to try to remedy the issues beleaguering HotS’s competitve ladder. The current ranking inconsistencies, lack of Grand Master rank, and non-evident MMR system simply will not cut it, especially considering the systems employed by other top-contending eSports. I am hopeful that the creation of the SEL will exemplify to Blizzard the importance of catering to the higher echelons of their player base. The implementation of a more consistent and clear-cut matchmaking system has been long called for by the community, but the chances of significant and timely changes look grim.