While many were expecting a clash of style, few were prepared for the richness and depth of interaction between opposing regions that unfolded at BlizzCon Opening Week for Heroes of the Storm. Eight of the best teams in the world battled to cement their position in the final bracket of the Heroes World Championship, but only Cloud 9 and Na’Vi would secure their places in the seminfinals for a shot at the $200,000 top prize.

cloud9
Cloud 9 looked poised and efficient in going 5-1 in the group stage of the World Championship.

The first match of the day was between Americas champions, Cloud9, and the lightly regarded underdogs, GIA from Taiwan. Much to the surprise of all, GIA showed strong and directed play. In spite of GIA winning multiple tribute fights on Cursed Hollow due to the undying Leoric, Cloud9 was able to continually maintain an experience lead into the late game. There they were able to dodge GIA’s tricky party ambushes and win a miraculous 4v5 fight over the boss, and push their way to victory. Game 2 showed the solid play we’ve come to expect from C9, but several follies in the mid game opened a window for GIA to mount a comeback. In the end, Cloud9 managed to barely pull ahead and finish the game in style, leaving fans with a good first impression.

Said Cloud 9 captain DunkTrain: "I think our posturing for team fights and our team fighting with the high damage compositions we had are much better than Europe."  

Dignitas vs Team YL was projected by many to be the most interesting matchup of the day. It represented a direct comparison of the European and Chinese play styles, and, ultimately, both regions looked quite even. The first game of the series featured Dignitas on a surprising Azmodan composition while Team YL opted for a composition relying almost entirely on Tyrande for healing support. YL was able to take a close Game 1 despite a disruptive internet outage. Unfazed, Dignitas took the loss in stride and showed intelligent decision making in the subsequent two games to decisively control map objectives and knock the Chinese team into the lower bracket.

The most watched match of the day was Tempo Storm vs Team DK and the questions around this matchup were clear. Could Tempo Storm overcome its internal issues and play with the world class precision we’ve seen in the past? Was DK really as powerful as everyone thought? The first game on Dragon Shire looked incredibly one-sided in favor of DK, but Tempo Storm brought it back in Game 2 with excellent team fights and a brilliant Zeratul pick to keep Abathur’s split soaking in check. Unable to capitalize on an experience lead, DK’s Illidan-based composition crumbled. The deciding game on Sky Temple was even until the very end when DK managed to repeatedly shut down Tempo Storm in team fights and gradually win through attrition. For a moment, DK faltered and looked something less than invincible. On the other hand, Tempo Storm banded together and showed flashes of their former glory on their way to the lower bracket of Group B.

navi
Na’Vi made it clear that their European dominance was no fluke.

The last set of opening matches was China’s Braveheart vs Na`Vi. At first, it looked as though the composite team of EDG and Braveheart members would be unbelievably strong. The audience bore witness to their incredible individual skill and ambushing prowess. However as the games wore on, it became much clearer that Na`Vi was still in top form and looking as invincible as they had at the Europe Championship. They showed a superior understanding of rotations and even sported their infamous Butcher/Falstad combo in one game. While there may have been a few messy moments during team fights, Na`Vi still took all of them and rode the wave of their advantages into the late game for two consecutive wins.

The winners matches were neck-in-neck battles between the top teams of each group. Dignitas took on Cloud9 with several fascinating drafts featuring their trademark double Warrior composition alongside niche picks like Tyrande and Kharazim. Unfortunately, even with their best foot forward, the opportunistic team fights of C9 proved to be too much for Dignitas. Likewise, DK was able to draft their dream compositions centered around Jaina/Muradin/Sylvanas in their battle with Na`Vi, but to no avail. Though DK looked dominant in Game 2 and the beginning of Game 3, Na`Vi achieved one of the most incredible comebacks ever in HotS history to take the series. The momentum Na`Vi built up in Prague at the European Championship carried them through to the next round of the Heroes World Championship.

The lessons learned at the end of the Day 1 of Opening Week: the Western world has come into its own; the Korean champs no longer look infallible, and both the Chinese and Taiwanese squads are not to be underestimated.

Cloud9 and Na`Vi advance directly to the semifinals of the tournament, scheduled to be played next weekend when the World Championship moves on to BlizzCon proper in Anaheim. The two teams that will join them there will be decided on Friday, November 6 as the group stage concludes. Despite all of the lessons learned on this first day of competition in Heroes of the Storm, the next two days of World Championship competition will have plenty to offer as we move one step closer to crowning the best.