The next season of Heroes of the Storm‘s professional play begins tomorrow, and that means we get to see what the professional teams of Europe and North America have been brewing up in the off season. Rather than offer our own speculations on what the state of professional Heroes of the Storm might look like, we decided to ask an expert—Manuel “Grubby” Schenkhuizen, to be precise.
Grubby is a veteran of Blizzard titles, having played both Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2 at a professional level. It seems only appropriate that he’s been a caster and streamer for Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s Smash Bros-style MOBA mashup, since the game’s release. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about what to expect.
The following interview has been slightly edited, for clarity.
THE META: Right off the bat, what are you excited about as we gear up for the next season of Heroes of the Storm professional play?
GRUBBY: On January 20th, Team Dignitas goes up against Team Misfits. While the Nexus Games EU, which I also casted, was exciting, there wasn’t nearly as much at stake as there will be now. To see everyone’s favorite teams go head to head on a regular schedule with big stakes is very exciting. Now, more than before, there is a value in breaking the mold of the meta by developing spicy pocket strategies and finding new ways to use uncommon heroes. Every match matters, and that’s what I’m excited about the HGC League going forward.
THE META: What are the biggest changes you foresee to the meta, compared to 2016?
GRUBBY: Instead of a few big tournaments spread out over the year, there will be an ongoing need for high level performances. Heroes that before may have seemed too time-intensive to practice, because you may or may not be able to use it at that ONE tournament that’s coming up, may now see more play—for example Medivh or Illidan. Actually, it’s impossible to predict really, because patches and results will force teams to keep rethinking their gameplay.
THE META: Are there any teams you think will do particularly well this year? Any players to watch that you see as rising stars of the scene right now?
GRUBBY: I think for EU, everyone will be wondering how Fnatic will do. They had a stellar performance at BlizzCon 2016 beating MVP Black and taking 2nd. Secondly, we haven’t seen Misfits in a while – they are one of the best EU teams, but narrowly fell short of BlizzCon qualification. Have they used their time well? And finally, will Team Dignitas’ restructured team live up to their storied reputation?
THE META: Artanis has the highest win-rate in the game right now, but has never (I think) seen top-level play in Heroes of the Storm. Do you expect that will change once HGC 2017 gets started?
GRUBBY: The Artanis rework where he can swap mid-Q happened after all of 2016’s major tournaments were over; his winrate now is based on the last week or two of ladder play. This is why there is no relation yet. I expect when HGC begins we’ll definitely see Artanis. He’s fun (which doesn’t seem to matter, but it makes players practice him which does matter), and in my opinion a new and improved Stitches. Less safe than Stitches, but higher damage and a more flexible and easily usable displacement sequence. The fact that Phase Prism ignores minions and Stitches’ Hook doesn’t is the key here. Also, you can throw Phase Prism on your inbound to just gap-close and land next to a squishy ranged assassin, or on your outbound trajectory for massive displacement. Great utility.
THE META: Ragnaros and Zul’Jin have both been released since we’ve had regular high level Heroes of the Storm competition. Do you foresee either of these making it into competitive play? Are there any teams in particular you think might run them?
GRUBBY: Ragnaros with Q-build and Sulfuras Smash will see competitive play, I’m pretty sure. He’s safe, he’s got poke, not too mana intensive, has objective-slowing mechanisms in defense, and massive stun-damage burst follow-up to CC set up by a tank. Lava Wave will not see play, I think. Zul’Jin doesn’t feel strong to me in competitive. He hasn’t got great waveclear, just a lvl 13 low impact mobility talent, low utility in fight, and needs to be babysat by a support. Taz’Dingo offers options, especially with Stim, but like always in competitive if such a thing works once people will focus on disengaging until the ult is over. As a four second ultimate, don’t expect pro players to just stand still and get attacked by a 1HP Zul’Jin while trying to kill him. He also seems a bit too mana intensive to really function well as a solo laner. I doubt he’ll see much, if any, play, but I’d be happy if I were wrong.
THE META: What other characters do you foresee being high demand, in terms of picks and bans?
GRUBBY: Falstad as always due to his utility. Dehaka will be top priority. Malfurion is undiminished, so we’ll see the old man make his regular appearance. Gul’Dan and Tychus are probably still top ranged assassins, whereas for melee if EU practiced well they should be playing Zeratul. Koreans showed at GCWC that Zeratul is broken strong, but it’s not easy to play him well so we’ll see if EU’ers got him to work consistently.