North American team Cloud9 ended up taking home the trophy for the first-ever Heroes of the Storm World Championships this weekend at Blizzcon, surprising many who expected a top Korean or Chinese team to win. More surprising was how they won. Specifically, it came down to one bonkers match in the semifinals.
Cloud9's grand finals games against Europe's Team Dignitas were an easy victory. The really tense match up came in the semi-finals when C9 played against Korean heavyweights Team DK. The semifinals were best-of-three, and C9 won the first game against DK with a fairly standard team composition for high-level professional play: Two warriors (King Leoric and Rexxar), a siege-heavy specialist (Sylvanas), a damage-dealing assassin (Jaina), and a healer to support the rest of the team (Reghar). It was a near-perfect mirror of Team DK's composition, and a very safe series of hero picks for C9.
Once it got to the second game, C9 threw caution to the wind. Rather than going with a typical team comp like the one I just described, they chose Abathur and Murky, two of the most idiosyncratic specialist heroes in the game, two support characters with Brightwing and Tassadar, and King Leoric as the solo tank. Team DK went with a much more...usual team composition with two warriors, two assassins, and a healer.
This GIF (via Reddit) of C9's facial expressions right before they selected Murky as their final hero pick sums up the situation perfectly. They knew what they were doing. They even tried to warn us:
As I noted in my original review of Heroes of the Storm and several other articles (mostly about Murky), the small fish-like melee fighter Murky and the gross-looking Zerg monster Abathur are two of the oddest MOBA characters in HOTS, not to mention the whole genre. Murky has very little in the way of hitpoints, relying instead on an egg he strategically deposits somewhere on the map to respawn constantly and jump back into the fight:
Abathur, meanwhile, keeps himself at a deliberate distance from the action because he's a giant slug with tiny little arms that can't really do much on their own:
Instead of engaging directly, he manipulates the battlefield in a number of different ways — say, by summoning another, smaller Zerg monster to hover above a teammate and support them:
Murky and Abathur pair very well together — Abathur's "hat," as fans refer to the hovering overhead Zerg monster, helps keep Murky alive for longer in fights so he can deal lots of damage to his enemies. But pairing the two of them with two support characters and a single warrior basically meant that Murky had to be C9's sole damage-dealing hero for the entire game.
It was just crazy enough to work. You can watch the full match below:
The beginning of the game was a little rocky, and it seemed like it could go either way. But once C9 got some momentum, DK just couldn't do anything to stop them. Much of C9's strength came down to how expertly annoying Abathur was. During practically every time fight or struggle over an objective, it seemed like Abathur managed to be pushing against DK's defences while his enemy team was too busy to notice or do much of anything about it.
(The green projectiles there are from locusts that Abathur spawns, which helps him push out a specific lane or several)
As for the teamfights, the somewhat unorthodox combo of Murky with two healers and Leoric wasn't perfect. But it got the job done. Abathur's hat, combined with Tassadar's shield and Brightwing's powerful area-of-effect healing power, managed to keep Murky alive through many trying situations — allowing Murky to dole out damage to his unsuspecting teammates.
The Heroes of the Storm eSports scene is still so new and barely-formed that it's hard to make many definitive statements about the season that just concluded, or where the pro scene will go in the coming year as new heroes and maps continue to drop into HOTS at a rapid clip. But it's great to see teams competing at the highest level show a level of creativity and experimentation that they can pick downright silly-seeming team comps like C9's.
I hope that HOTS pros keep this spirit of fun and ingenuity alive in the seasons to come.