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HGC 2018, Phase 1, Week 1 - Super Shimada Bros

Hello there!  I'm CriticKitten.  You may know me from my previous segments, 7 Days Later, in which I keep track of how heroes are performing after recent balance patches.  Here is a link to my most recent edition of that series.  I've also been responsible for writing a segment entitled "Fixing the Meta", in which I discuss possible adjustments to the game to create a more appealing meta.  Here is a link to my most recent edition of that series.  I am currently hard at work on new articles for both of these segments, so please look forward to those in the future.

Today, however, we're here to talk about the HGC!  This is the first article in what I hope will be a running series discussing the HGC each week.  And of course, being the stats nerd that I am, I'm going to cover these matches in waaaaaay too much depth, and possibly drive myself crazy, all for your benefit and enjoyment!  So....enjoy!

Be warned that there are spoilers in this post, so if you have not watched this week's HGC matches and wish to do so without being spoiled about the results, turn back now!  Also, keep in mind that these are in-depth posts meant to cover a variety of statistics with tables and graphs.  As such, they tend to be very long posts.  Just giving fair warning!


HGC 2018, Phase 1, Week 1

Each week in the HGC, teams from each region face off against other teams from their region.  Each match is a Best-of-5 series, and there are six matches played per week in each region.  The matches (and results) for the HGC this week were....

North America: 
Simplicity vs Gale Force Esports (2-3)
LFM Esports vs Spacestation Gaming (1-3)
Spacestation Gaming vs Simplicity (1-3)
Tempo Storm vs HeroesHearth Esports (3-1)
Gale Force Esports vs Team Freedom (1-3)
Team Twelve vs LFM Esports (3-0)

Zealots vs Tricked Esport (1-3)
Leftovers vs Team Liquid (0-3)
Team Liquid vs Zealots (3-2)
Method vs Diamond Skin (3-0)
Tricked Esport vs Team Dignitas (0-3)
Fnatic vs Leftovers (3-0)

The current standings for the league can be found on the HGC site at this location.

Below is my analysis of this week's HGC action.  If you're having trouble reading any table in this article, you can see the table in full-size by clicking on it.  Keep in mind that this analysis does not cover every single match directly, nor every single little detail, as that would be an exhaustive list of data that would take literal days to compile.  While I always try to discuss all matches, I will focus this analysis primarily on details that I felt were interesting or relevant for this week.  You are welcome to request any information that I do not provide in this analysis in the comments below, or on Reddit.  I'm happy to share what I have!


Map Picks

Below is a list of the pick/win rates of each map this week, as well as by region.  Please note that this will only show NA and EU statistics, as those are the regions that I track.
[Table of NA/EU Map Picks]


Map Pick Priority

The priority of map picks across all regions are currently:
1) Infernal Shrines (9 picks)
Tied 2) Dragon Shire (7 picks)
Tied 2) Sky Temple (7 picks)
4) Tomb of the Spider Queen (6 picks)
5) Battlefield of Eternity (5 picks)
Tied 6) Towers of Doom (4 picks)
Tied 6) Volskaya Foundry (4 picks)
8) Cursed Hollow (3 picks)
9) Braxis Holdout (0 picks)

The priority of map picks in NA are currently:
1) Sky Temple (5 picks)
2) Infernal Shrines (4 picks)
Tied 3) Cursed Hollow (3 picks)
Tied 3) Dragon Shire (3 picks)
Tied 3) Volskaya Foundry (3 picks)
Tied 6) Battlefield of Eternity (2 picks)
Tied 6) Tomb of the Spider Queen (2 picks)
Tied 6) Towers of Doom (2 picks)
9) Braxis Holdout (0 picks)

The priority of map picks in EU are currently:
1) Infernal Shrines (5 picks)
Tied 2) Dragon Shire (4 picks)
Tied 2) Tomb of the Spider Queen (4 picks)
4) Battlefield of Eternity (3 picks)
Tied 5) Sky Temple (2 picks)
Tied 5) Towers of Doom (2 picks)
7) Volskaya Foundry (1 pick)
Tied 8) Cursed Hollow (0 picks)
Tied 8) Braxis Holdout (0 picks)

Both regions were relatively similar in their map preferences.  NA tended to prefer Sky Temple and Volskaya a bit more than EU did, but both regions tended towards Infernal Shrines and Tomb of the Spider Queen.  Towers of Doom has dropped somewhat in favorably between these regions as compared to last year's season, and Cursed Hollow has dropped off the radar entirely for EU so far this season.  Also, neither region would touch Braxis Holdout with a ten-foot pole.  Of course, this is just the first week, so we'll have to see if this trend continues.


Map Ban Priority

The priority of map bans across all regions are currently:
1) Braxis Holdout (banned in 75% of matches)
Tied 2) Cursed Hollow (33.33% of matches)
Tied 2) Volskaya Foundry (33.33% of matches)
Tied 4) Battlefield of Eternity (16.67% of matches)
Tied 4) Towers of Doom (16.67% of matches)
Tied 6) Dragon Shire (8.33% of matches)
Tied 6) Infernal Shrines (8.33% of matches)
Tied 6) Sky Temple (8.33% of matches)
9) Tomb of the Spider Queen (0% of matches)

The priority of map bans in NA are currently:
1) Braxis Holdout (banned in 83.33% of matches)
Tied 2) Battlefield of Eternity (33.33% of matches)
Tied 2) Towers of Doom (33.33% of matches)
Tied 2) Volskaya Foundry (33.33% of matches)
5) Infernal Shrines (16.67% of matches)
Tied 6) Cursed Hollow (0% of matches)
Tied 6) Dragon Shire (0% of matches)
Tied 6) Sky Temple (0% of matches)
Tied 6) Tomb of the Spider Queen (0% of matches)

The priority of map bans in EU are currently:
Tied 1) Braxis Holdout (banned in 66.67% of matches)
Tied 1) Cursed Hollow (66.67% of matches)
3) Volskaya Foundry (33.33% of matches)
Tied 4) Dragon Shire (16.67% of matches)
Tied 4) Sky Temple (16.67% of matches)
Tied 6) Battlefield of Eternity (0% of matches)
Tied 6) Infernal Shrines (0% of matches)
Tied 6) Tomb of the Spider Queen (0% of matches)
Tied 6) Towers of Doom (0% of matches)

Here we start to see some differences in map preference.  Both regions were quick to ban out Braxis Holdout, and showed some hesitation about playing Volskaya Foundry.  The European regions were more likely to ban out Cursed Hollow, whereas NA had no trouble playing it whatsoever.  That said, it's worth repeating that this is only the first week, so it's not really enough to form a trend.


Hero Picks

Accounting for both picks and bans, the top 10 hero picks across both regions are currently:
1) Genji (100% popularity rate, 62.5% win rate)
2) Greymane (97.78% popularity rate, 30.77% win rate)
3) Hanzo (91.11% popularity rate, 56% win rate)
4) E.T.C. (84.44% popularity rate, 73.08% win rate)
5) Lucio (73.33% popularity rate, 61.9% win rate)
6) Malthael (62.22% popularity rate, 69.23% win rate)
Tied 7) Dehaka (55.56% popularity rate, 52.17% win rate)
Tied 7) Rehgar (55.56% popularity rate, 29.17% win rate)
Tied 9) Arthas (53.33% popularity rate, 55.56% win rate)
Tied 9) Abathur (53.33% popularity rate, 50% win rate)
Tied 9) Leoric (53.33% popularity rate, 47.62% win rate)

Yes, I am aware that's 11 heroes, but 3 of them tied for 9th in popularity.  Genji was only actually played in 17.78% of matches, but he was banned out of all of the others.  Similarly, Abathur's high ban rate makes his win rate rather hard to rely on.  Hanzo saw a fair deal of play, and it seems that pros primarily mixed it up between a Scatter build and the AA build with Sharpened Arrowheads.  His value in the meta seems fairly high, although some of the stronger teams have questioned his pick frequency.  The real monster in this week's stats, however, is E.T.C., who was drafted in 26 matches and won 19 of them.  Malthael was a bit less of a terror than his win rate implies, as he was only played in 13 total matches, but the pros did feel the need to ban him out enough that he had an influence on the draft.


Hero Priority by Region

The top 10 priority picks/bans in NA are currently:
1) Genji (100% popularity rate, 80% win rate)
2) Lucio (100% popularity rate, 62.5% win rate)
3) Hanzo (100% popularity rate, 54.55% win rate)
4) Greymane (100% popularity rate, 26.09% win rate)
5) E.T.C. (95.83% popularity rate, 81.25% win rate)
6) Dehaka (66.67% popularity rate, 46.67% win rate)
7) Malthael (62.5% popularity rate, 75% win rate)
8) Leoric (54.17% popularity rate, 36.36% win rate)
9) Tychus (50% popularity rate, 58.33% win rate)
10) Arthas (50% popularity rate, 55.56% win rate)

The top 10 priority picks/bans in EU are currently:
1) Genji (100% popularity rate, 33.33% win rate)
2) Greymane (95.24% popularity rate, 37.5% win rate)
3) Rehgar (95.24% popularity rate, 31.58% win rate)
4) Hanzo (80.95% popularity rate, 57.14% win rate)
5) Gul'dan (76.19% popularity rate, 60% win rate)
6) E.T.C. (71.43% popularity rate, 60% win rate)
7) Abathur (61.9% popularity rate, 100% win rate)
8) Malthael (61.9% popularity rate, 60% win rate)
9) Malfurion (61.9% popularity rate, 58.33% win rate)
10) Arthas (57.14% popularity rate, 55.56% win rate)

NA wasn't exactly the most creative bunch when it came to drafting this week, at least towards the top of the roster.  Genji saw very little play, as I mentioned before, making it hard to gauge his overall strength for certain.  However, on the very rare occasion that he was picked instead of banned, he was very dominant.  NA also latched firmly onto the other popular Overwatch heroes and had reasonable success with them.  Greymane saw the most play of any of them, but as a result, he was often was drafted onto the losing team.  E.T.C. is the one to watch out for, as he saw a lot of play (the second most out of these heroes) and also dominated those games.  Beneath this, not many surprises except perhaps the rise of Tychus.  Dehaka and Arthas have been main stays of NA's meta for some time, and Leoric is perhaps a bit more popular but not enormously so.  In general, it seems that NA's meta hasn't shifted very much since Roll 20's showing in the GCWC.

Interestingly, the story changes somewhat when we turn to the EU.  Genji's win rate there is considerably lower when he was played.  Of note is that Rehgar doesn't make the top 5 or even the top 10 in NA in popularity, and holds a mere 20% win rate when he was played.  And yet in EU, he's 3rd in popularity, although only marginally more successful.  EU also sees a bit more diversity in the mix by bringing in Gul'dan, who was played in nearly half of all EU games and performed rather well.  Gul'dan bumps E.T.C. down to 6th in popularity on EU.  EU also saw considerably more consideration for Malfurion and Abathur, though the latter of those two was mostly bans rather than actual play.  But most important is that the EU roster of heroes had less heroes above 90% popularity, suggesting a bit less emphasis on those particular heroes.


Less Used Heroes

The following heroes were "one-and-done" heroes that were only picked or banned one time:
Auriel, Azmodan, D.Va, Garrosh, Kel'Thuzad, Stitches, The Lost Vikings, Thrall, Valla, Xul, Zarya

The following heroes saw no play (either as a pick or ban):
Alarak, Ana, Chen, Cho'Gall, Gazlowe, Li Li, Lt. Morales, Murky, Nazeebo, Nova, Probius, Raynor, Rexxar, Samuro, Sgt. Hammer, Sylvanas, The Butcher, Tyrande, Valeera, Varian, Zagara, Zul'jin

A total of 52 heroes were either picked or banned during the first week of NA and EU HGC play.  46 different heroes appeared in NA, and 40 in EU.  Once you account for the heroes who were only picked once, this list drops off to X in NA, and X in EU, with 41 overall heroes.  Clearly, while some heroes are very obviously favored a lot, we're not actually getting "the same ten heroes every game".  There's a fair amount of variety still.  That said, we can probably do better than 69% of the hero pool being used.  Reworks to some of these heroes (like Raynor) and downward adjustments to others (Genji, Hanzo, Greymane) would likely help diversify the field even more.

This leaves 23 heroes unselected in professional play, and most of these are no surprise.  Specialists have never been particularly favored in the HGC, due to their relatively low team fight contribution and the fact that assassins can cover their wave-clearing duties well enough.  Similarly, stealth heroes remain mostly unused (save for the occasional Samuro in Korea) despite attempts to bring them back into favor.  Valla and Zul'jin have faded out in favor of Hanzo, who has less reliance on a double support meta in order to keep them afloat.


New Hero Performance

The newest hero(es) in professional play are the following:
Junkrat (17.78% popularity rate, 37.5% win rate)
Alexstrazsa (11.11% popularity rate, 20% win rate)
Hanzo (91.11% popularity rate, 56% win rate)

Hanzo is, of course, the obvious stand out in this group, and I've already said my piece on him.  His popularity will likely fade once his stronger talents are brought down a bit, though his general strength will make him a viable option going forward even if those changes are made.  Both Alex and Junkrat saw play in this week's games, though neither saw much success.  Alex continues to struggle as a solo support now that double support has been nerfed, a fact that Blizzard has acknowledged before and says they are working on (Ana is in the same boat).  Junkrat suffers from an unfavorable meta focused around dive (which he is weak to), but it seems that teams are still experimenting with him, so I wouldn't expect him to vanish off the radar just yet.


Team/Match Analysis

Let's look at the play by each team this week.  We won't be covering all 16 teams, of course, as that would make an already long post even longer, but rather just a few teams and matches who I felt deserved the extra analysis and attention.


LFM Esports - Down but Not Necessarily Out

LFM has every reason to be proud of their play this week.  While it's certainly tough to go 0-2 in the first week, they played far better than anyone anticipated, taking a match off of Spacestation Gaming despite having a sub for their support role, and putting up a surprising amount of resistance against Team Twelve, a top NA roster.  Their drafting shows some degree of diversity, with three players (Figgy, Tea, and Swabs) playing five different heroes over the weekend, as shown below.

LFM historically struggled in the Crucible and failed to defeat Naventic on both of their visits there, but this team is looking a lot stronger than the one we saw in the Crucible.  Some mechanical mistakes and a lack of aggression are the biggest issues I've noticed so far.  They tend to let other teams push them around on the macro game a bit too much, which their opponents exploited a lot against them with Dehaka, Falstad, and E.T.C. (using Stage Dive).  However, their team fight is fairly strong, and once they iron out their macro issues, this could be a much stronger roster than anyone imagined them to be.


Gale Force Esports vs Team Freedom - A Lesson in Getting Ahead of Yourself

Gale Force is a prime example of how "smack talk" can sometimes come back to bite you.  After struggling to defeat a surprisingly solid Simplicity squad (say that five times fast) on Friday, Udall made a bold prediction about their match on Sunday vs Team Freedom, stating that he was "looking forward to bodying them on Sunday".  Obviously, this was just a silly little jab meant in jest, but it was such a beloved sound bite by the community that even the production crew added it to Sunday's preview video of the matchup.  Unfortunately for Udall, that's not what happened, as a very strong Freedom crew showed up to play that night.  Lutano stunned with his performance on the Super Shimada Brothers, and YoDa brought a solid Jaina and pocket Medivh pick in a matchup that never really felt as close as the final score implies.  KzN also merits a lot of props in this one for playing a very subtle but outstanding support game on Kharazim, with multiple fight-saving palms.

This is not to say that Gale Force did a poor job this weekend.  They put up a decent enough fight against one of the top NA teams out there, and they brought their own style and flavor to the Nexus with a few Kerrigan picks by Udall that turned out well.  However, there is still some growth needed before this team is ready to compete for the top slot.  In that sense, perhaps it's good for them to get a "humbling" match early in the season to help show them how much further they need to go.  Gale Force should get an easier match against LFM Esports next week, but if they sleep on LFM too much, they might find themselves dealing with more than they planned for.


 HeroesHearth Esports - Questions Lingering

The HeroesHearth squad had a lot of expectations thrust upon them at the start of the season.  Some had very high expectations for them to crack the top 3, whereas others expected them to hover close to the bottom of the pack.  They had by far the most variety in rankings of any team in any region.  And they had perhaps one of the toughest matches going into this  season: a match with the star power of Tempo Storm.  After an intense series, what have we learned?

Well....not much, to be honest.  In all four of their matches, Tempo Storm had a much higher level of aggression in the early game which sprung them out to an early lead every time, leaving HHE playing from behind the entire series.  Even when they stretched the matches out intentionally (in the case of that last match), the early structure losses constantly left them on the back foot, struggling to recover from a high-powered Tempo Storm attack.  That said, when the late game came around, HHE seemed to come to life and made some outstanding plays.  However, in most cases, the early losses were ultimately too much, as the December and January changes to improve the meaning of the early game really took their toll on the team.  This is perhaps the area that HeroesHearth needs to improve upon most.

The other important area to improve upon is hero diversity, which can best  be demonstrated with two graphs:

As you can see, HeroesHearth played comfort picks almost to a tee, which is understandable against a very tough team like Tempo, but also made it much easier for Tempo to key into their priority picks and focus their draft and in-game firepower accordingly.  Hopefully in future matches, we'll see a more diverse showing out of HHE.  Unfortunately, their road doesn't get any easier just yet, as they face another high-octane offense in Team Freedom next week.


Simplicity - Have the Old Gods Awoken?

Simplicity, formerly known as the Old Gods, had low expectations going into this week.  And yet, here they sit at 1-1 for the weekend's results, only barely losing the series to Gale Force Esports and putting on an even stronger showing against Spacestation Gaming with a 3-1 win.  This weekend's results make it hard to properly gauge where Simplicity truly ranks.  They were always a bit of a question mark when it came to NA, a fact which other teams have commented on.  It all comes down to their desire to win, and it seems that right now, they definitely want to win.

Out of this team's ranks, I'd like to take a look at Hosty's figures the most.  While other team members put up good play of their own, most of them are known quantities and good play is pretty much expected of them.  Hosty is perhaps the least known of the roster to many, thus I'd like to talk about him and give him some much deserved props.  While some may bash him for playing the "broken" Hanzo most of the time, he played rather well, delivering a couple of big Dragon's Arrows when the team needed it most.  We also got to see some solid Abathur play from him as well.  Hopefully, as Hanzo is adjusted and the hype starts to die down, we start to see more of what Hosty can play and do.

As for the team as a unit, perhaps we'll get a better idea of where they fall in the grand scheme of things when they take on Team Twelve next week!


Team Liquid - The Thirst for First

In Liquid, we have a team which formerly fought for the top three with Fnatic and Dignitas, but started to fall off the radar a bit with the rise of Expert.  This year, they are out for blood, crushing Leftovers in a 3-0 and fighting to defeat Zealots 3-2.  This is a strong start for the team, but does it mean that they've finally emerged as a top contender?  That is....hard to say right now.  Certainly, their wins are impressive, but their opponents are perhaps not the best measures of their current strength.  Zealots has largely been considered a mid-tier team for EU even with their changes, and they only just managed to edge them out.  Without a match against a top opponent like Fnatic or Dignitas, it is hard to say where they truly lie.

One very interesting stat for Liquid up to this point is their draft priority, shown below.

With the exception of SportBilly, whose picks are almost always in the latter half of the draft, Liquid doesn't seem to prioritize its picks around specific team members, as many other teams do.  This could be a source of strength for them later in the season, as it helps them differentiate their draft style a bit from the rest of the pack and makes them a bit harder to predict.  We'll have to see if they can keep the pace up when they face off against Diamond Skin next week!


Final Thoughts and Games to Watch Next Week

All of this year's teams in Europe and North America are fighting their hardest to earn a spot among the top.  While we have an early glimpse at who might be the best, there's no way of knowing what sort of chaos might shake up the roster in the weeks to come.  Here are some games that I think you ought to pay attention to for next week!

Tempo Storm vs Team Twelve (Friday, 1/26 @ 5 PM EST)
Team Freedom vs Tempo Storm (Sunday, 1/28 @ 7 PM)
The region's top three teams face off in a pair of matches that will help determine who belongs at the top!

Team Freedom vs HeroesHearth Esports (Friday, 1/26 @ 7 PM EST)
HeroesHearth Esports vs Spacestation Gaming (Saturday, 1/27 @ 7 PM EST)
Can the HHE roster rebound from a tough loss to Tempo Storm to drill out a pair of wins?  Their opponents are the formidable Team Freedom, and a Spacestation Gaming squad that will be eager to recover from its own tough loss.

Method vs Fnatic (Friday, 1/26 @ 12 PM EST)
Team Dignitas vs Method (Sunday, 1/28 @ 2 PM EST)
Method faces perhaps the toughest possible weekend any team could ask for, with a battle against two of the best teams not only in EU, but perhaps the world.  This will be our first glimpse at which teams will be rising to the summit of EU!


Whew!  Like I said, lots of data to go through, but this is my take on this week's action.  That's all for this week.  Quick shout out to Khaldor for providing some of his stats in Twitch chat, which helped me to mke sure that my own records were accurate.  Please feel free to leave your comments on this week's HGC matches below, or on Reddit.  I would also love to hear your feedback on this article and whether or not there are any aspects of the article that you'd like to see improvement on.  I'd love to hear your feedback!
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Wow! Well done!
1. I'd skip listing the map winrates for the regular season, if you're pulling from a program I'd suggest just "hiding" the column until we get to an international tournament

2. I'd highlight when a hero's winrate above 50% is statistically significant. That's a sufficient threshold to say there is an above and beyond trend of dominance that can't just be explained by "The hero is picked when their niche is good"

I really appreciate this type of content however - Have you seen Captain Planet's Overwatch Meta Reports?
1) Fair point. Amusingly enough, I originally sorted the columns in that order because it was hard reading the table when like data was clumped (i.e. 5 columns of pick rates, 5 columns of ban rates, etc, making it hard to distinguish each region's stuff) but I should have probably kept the win rates all by themselves. It's something I'll fix for next time. :)

2) Also fair point. Obviously it's hard to gauge that so early in the season right now (except maybe for Greymane or the like) but possibly something to think about later on.

The feedback is very much appreciated! And no, I haven't seen those posts, but I'll have to look into it. Always looking for ways to improve!