Tier lists - the fastest way to draw the ire of large groups of people in record time. Couldn’t the hgc use a little more controversy, rivalry, and backstory though? For sure getting flamed by some grumpy players and supporters, but as I teach the game instead of play it now - the best part is I can be brutally honest without regard for politics! Here are my personal opinions on team rankings for the upcoming season, feel free to prove me wrong.
(HHE omitted due to impossibility of unbiased evaluation)
#1 Tempo Storm
The default NA team to measure all others against. An immense amount of mechanical skill and some potential world class players on this team, but cracks have begun to appear in the aura of invulnerability this team once had at the start of the year. At the end of phase 1, I believe the old Octalysis roster was stronger than Tempo, but with the additional international experience from MSB and returning roster synergy that Tempo will have going into phase 2 - they will be starting out at a higher level than any other team.
This team has a very high “floor” to their performance. With such high overall mechanical skill, and a massive advantage in online hgc play through being near-unbeatable on their home server where they all play with almost 0 ping, I can’t see this team ever going lower than 3rd place. However, their one clear weakness over the first hgc phase, was overall rate of improvement. Starting out the year looking invincibly strong, they looked less and less dominant every couple weeks when compared to the overall level of NA teams.
I would put Tempo at nearly a 100% lock to make blizzcon, but if the trending strength of their long term improvement continues, it could end up being through the playoff ladder. Even so, unless they drop to 4th seed or lower, and have a team that prefers central server ranked above them in playoffs, there’s pretty much no way they don’t qualify to blizzcon. I don’t see that kind of standings drop happening from this team.
A surprising amount of turnover from a team that really seemed to be hitting their stride at the end of phase 1. They lost 2 solid players, but picked up 2 that have high potential in return, so while I expect this team to initially take a bit of a step back, they could easily push for the top spot in NA as the year goes on. Drated is an up and coming player who plays specific heroes at a very high level, developing his overall hero pool strength will be the test for this team. Prismaticism was a key piece of the old Roll 20 roster that showed a brief period of unmatched dominance towards the end of 2017, going 21-1 in match score with Justing proving to be the premier NA tank player of the time, frequently making huge individual game-winning plays in the later stages of games.
One of the biggest factors for this team will be establishing the main voices of team strategy and shot calling. Prismaticism understands the tactics of the game at a high level, but has had a well known history of difficulty in meshing with his teams personality-wise. Justing was initially the main shot caller for Oct in 2018, and as publicly stated on the stream of a departing player recently, that changed to a sort of hybrid situation between him and Daneski as the season went on. Establishing who is in control of which aspects of the game in a way that builds trust within the team will be essential.
#3 Team Freedom
Team Freedom and Team DJ occupy their own isolated tier in the middle of NA, slightly behind the top teams but way ahead of the bottom ones. I give the edge to Freedom as they ended the season with a strong performance in the playoffs, and will be maintaining their team synergy going into phase 2. This team had a brutal collapse after starting out the season 5-0 and then going 2-7 over their next 9 sets, including the western clash. With that in mind, it’s hard to have a high degree of confidence in their stability, despite the returning roster, though I give them credit for turning things around at the end of the season. A strong contender for the 3rd blizzcon spot.
#4 Team DJ
It may surprise people to see the notorious zombie GFE roster rated this highly, but all drama and role swaps aside, the addition of Kure and Daneski alone means this is a team that can’t be counted out of contention. I agree with the general opinion that there is an over the top and frankly questionable amount of role swapping going on in order to put together a team that likes each other personally, but it has also been stated that problems arose on the previous GFE roster from differences in opinion/personalities more so than gameplay. Results will reveal the truth here, it will be very interesting to see if taking downgrades in some positions will produce overall better results with higher team synergy/friendship. How well this team does will impact the way that rosters are created for seasons to come.
All 5 of these players are highly mechanically skilled, so the potential is there that they may grow into their new roles faster than anticipated. However, both BigE and Bkid have been coasting off the initial hype for their mechanical ability since 2016, and have constantly produced dismal results far below what was expected from their teams. They have the talent, but do they have the work ethic, and ability to impact a team in the many ways that are just as important to success as mechanical ability? Time will tell.
This team was much, much stronger than they looked in the standings towards the end of phase 1. They were a group that saw impressive growth over time, one of the most important metrics of a team, and I probably would have rated them as at least the 6th strongest team as the season came to an end, instead of their position at 8th. Losing Drated hurts a lot, he was able to constantly get his comfort picks through the year and perform well on them, as teams often overlooked researching the last place team before matches. Picking up a stronger tank in Fury, who can also provide veteran experience and leadership to a developing team, will help offset this loss enough to potentially move them out of crucible range.
If any of my predictions is going to get me spammed with “that idiot cauthon rated these guys how low!??” in the future, it’s this one, but unfortunately I have to come out swinging on these guys. This is a team who has made extremely questionable roster decisions for the last year, dooming their seasons due to internal conflicts with strong, aggressive personality types clashing rather than due to gameplay. They passed up both Khroen and McIntyre in the past in favor of players like Srey and Erho, intense personalities who’s complete inability to work with people who did not share their views caused no end of problems. Seemingly learning nothing from past mistakes, they pick up yet another player, in TigerJK, who is likely to add to the exact same personality conflicts and team rifts as this team has been unable to find a solution to in the past.
Tiger is a strong player when emotionally invested and motivated, and a good assistant shot caller on team fights and aggressive ganks/rotations. K1 is moving back to his natural role where he first achieved fame. On paper, this team should be rated much higher, but something about the long-term decisions that are made here are way, way off. If there was ever an example of a team that should have an outside analyst or General Manager in charge of team decisions, rather than the players, its this one.
There are people in the scene who are knowledgeable about player strengths and personalities, and were not signed to a particular team in the past. CavalierGuest would be the most obvious, but not only, example. I really think it would benefit an a team like this one, who have a clear history of struggling in these off-season phases, to hire someone short-term in order to come oversee their tryouts, help make a sensible long term decision for the team, and set some goals for how that team should approach improvement. Having a couple weeks of that structure would probably help immensely.
I use Simplicity as an example of a team who could have benefited from that kind of oversight in the past, but I will give them credit for going out and making a similar personnel move for the upcoming season. If there is one shining hope for this team finally getting over their past mistakes, it is with the pickup of Equinox as coach. If he is able to make this team work together, focus on an improvement mindset, and get over the egos of past successes, my prediction will be way off. However, as I feel Simplicity has an exponentially higher chance of collapsing due to internal conflicts than other teams, I have no choice but to start them towards the bottom of the rankings.
Edit - due to confusion on past rosters, it's fair to clarify that the point wasn't really to hold all current members culpable for the mistakes of the past. It was to point out that this "franchise" and it's history as a team, not just the current 5 players, has made similar mistakes in team compositions in the past due to not properly considering how certain personalities work together in the long term, and thus should be more aware than anyone of such risks.
Would prefer to be wrong, NA needs as many Blizzcon contenders as possible to grow the strength of the region.
#7 No Tomorrow
Without question the weakest hgc team at the end of phase 1, they hung onto an hgc spot through the crucible by the skin of their teeth, and some strong sonya comps. Personality conflicts and swapping the main shot caller multiple times caused issues for NT throughout the season, and will be an important obstacle to overcome in order to reverse their trajectory. Making their frustrations or complaints about other teammates public was another issue that this team will have to fix, when other teams all know about your internal issues early in the season, that’s not a good look for where a roster will end up.
The upsides to this team are the addition of a standard support player in akaface, which allows Tomster to go back to a more natural role where he was effective in the past, and additional time for their hgc newcomer Jin to improve and adapt to the pro level. Not a lock for the crucible by any means, but based on how they finished the first phase and all of their improvements being theoretical, this is the expected spot to be placed until they prove otherwise.