As Phase 2 comes to a close, only five weeks of league play remain before we ramp up for the HGC Finals in November. Before we jump into the next leg of the league though, it's time to look back on everything we learned from the Eastern and Western Clashes. 

Fnatic are probably the best team in the World


Fnatic, champions of the Mid-Season Brawl, won the Western Clash in Kiev without dropping a single map. It was merely a stat-padding exercise for the Swedish superstars, who left Kiev with a record low number of deaths on the scoreboard. Several of their Heroes didn’t incur any deaths across multiple games, including a 4-0 ETC, a 2-0 Illidan, and a 2-0 Valla. Warrior player Pontus ‘Breez’ Sjogren only died a single time – on Anub’arak - throughout the entire tournament.

In the post-event press conference, team captain Dob ‘Quackniix’ Engström expressed that Latin American team RED Canids actually gave them their hardest match of the tournament because Fnatic was still in the process of getting used to the environment on the first day of play. Fnatic’s luggage hadn’t yet completed the trip over from their boot camp in London, so it’s conceivable that Quackniix was alluding to an absence of hair products, and that the subsequent reunion on day 2 of the tournament is what helped them finish their miraculous run.

Jokes aside, BlizzCon is now on the minds of Fnatic, who have their sights set on hoisting the HGC trophy in November. “We might try and go to Korea for BlizzCon boot camp,” said Quackniix at the Western Clash. “It depends on how Korea is looking. From Korea, you can also play Chinese teams I think. Going there would be nice to scrim with the other regions. There is still two or three months until then though. Other teams can grow or we could start struggling depending on the meta. Anything can happen.”

Team expert are moving up the food chain


Outside of Team Dignitas, Team expert are the most likely to give Fnatic a hard time in their pursuit of their dreams. At the beginning of Phase 2, it was incredibly difficult to predict where Team expert would end up, especially with the likes of Team Dignitas and Team Liquid in the running for top three in Europe. They came out of their corner swinging at the Western Clash, though, defeating both Team Freedom and Gale Force Esports before falling to Fnatic in both the winner’s finals and the grand finals.

“I think we’re learning the most from Fnatic and they’re good at everything,” said Warrior player Benjamin ‘BadBenny’ Eekenulv at the Western Clash. “I think we’re closing the gap on everything, but I don’t know exactly where our biggest strength lies. Before, it was that we had unique drafts and surprises, but now we’re not cheesing or anything. Team Liquid is way more of the cheese team now because they play very certain things.”

Team expert placed ahead of Team Liquid in the first five weeks of Phase 2, and again in the Western Clash. To keep up the momentum, they must continue to edge out Team Dignitas and Team Liquid if they want one of the two guaranteed spots at BlizzCon at the end of the season. 

North America is close to a breakout performance


Both Team Freedom and Gale Force Esports put up admirable fights at the Western Clash against Team expert and Team Liquid, taking a total of five battlegrounds from European opponents at this event. This was on the heels of Roll20 Esports and Tempo Storm’s promising performances against MVP Black and Team Dignitas at the Mid-Season Brawl.

The fact remains that no North American team has beaten a European team in a full series since April 2nd, 2016, when Cloud9 beat mYinsanity (the current Team Liquid roster) 2-1 in the group stage of the Spring Championship. To find when a North American team last beat Korean opposition in a full series, you have to look back even further to Cloud9’s win over Team DK at BlizzCon 2015. For the entirety of 2016, no North American team made it out of groups at an international tournament.

In 2017, though, things are looking up. John Paul ‘KingCaffeine’ Lopez, Keiwan ‘k1pro’ Itakura, and Fan ‘Fan’ Yang have reunited under the Gale Force Esports banner to reclaim their Cloud9 legacy, and the rest of the top teams in the region have shown promise against international opponents as well. Slow progress is progress nonetheless. On home soil, BlizzCon will be North American teams’ best opportunity to flip the trend. 

Taiwan is growing stronger


Although Taiwan is not a major HGC league region, Taiwanese teams are generally tasked with taking down the toughest teams from Korea or China at international events in the early rounds. While it’s been a tall order for teams in the past, it has molded some of the most incredible rosters to ever come out of the region, including the fabled Please Buff Arthas squad who upset Gale Force Esports at the Summer Championship and took a game off Fnatic before defeating Astral Authority (the roster now known as Tempo Storm) 2-1 at the Fall Championship.

One factor is consistent across every great Taiwanese Heroes of the Storm team, and that has been the presence of one Su ‘GoDDog’ Yu-Yen. If you look at his results in 2016, GoDDog placed in the top 10 with GIA at the Spring Championship. At the Summer Championship, he placed in the top eight with Please Buff Arthas, and at the Fall Championship, Please Buff Arthas went home after finishing in the top six. These incremental improvements are in stark contrast to the total absence of results that North American teams achieved in the same year.

Taiwanese teams turned it up to 11 at the Eastern Clash, where Soul Torturers and Team Face Check took a game apiece against Korea’s MVP Black and China’s CE respectively. Taiwan’s teams have improved tremendously in the past year, and this improvement will likely translate to results by the time the HGC Finals roll around. Do not sleep on Taiwan.

L5 have recovered, the gap is closing in Korea


L5 proved themselves the better Korean team at the Mid-Season Brawl by defeating MVP Black 3-1 in the playoffs. This was a strange time for both teams, though, as they had both announced mid-tournament roster changes; Tae Jun ‘merryday’ Yi left MVP, and the duo of Jin Su ‘NaCHoJin’ Park and Do Jun ‘Noblesse’ Chae left L5. With roster changes across the board in the region, it was uncertain which Korean team would find themselves on top once the dust settled.

This past weekend at the Eastern Clash, L5 proved to everyone that they came out on top in the round of roster changes with the additions of Jong Hoon ‘Hooligan’ Park and Hyun Tae ‘SDE’ Kim. Both of these “rookies” played the best Heroes of the Storm of their young professional careers. It would seem the leadership of sCsC in tandem with the game knowledge that comes with the rest of the L5 really opened up the battleground for SDE and Hooligan to shine on their Heroes. This effect is reminiscent of how the addition of Kenn Øster ‘Zaelia’ Rasmussen helped Team Dignitas overcome Fnatic at the first Western Clash. However, Team Dignitas have seemingly fallen in favor since then. If L5 can play their cards close to their chest and keep their strategies and tendencies to themselves before BlizzCon, they might avoid suffering the same fate.

It is also worth noting the breaking point that Tempest reached at the Eastern Clash with their win over MVP Black. Defeating MVP Black was a goal that Gyeong Hwan ‘Hide’ Jin, Jae Hoon ‘Lockdown’ Jin, and Ji Hoon ‘Sign’ Yoon have had for the better half of a year. Achieving this goal now ahead of the HGC Finals is incredibly promising for this hungry squad.

Make sure to check back here at later this week for more news and coverage on the HGC before we head back into league play on August 25.