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HGC Korea 2018 - End of Year Review
HGC Korea has always been my favorite region to watch. My love for it began when I watched the Super League Season 3 finals live on Twitch, which gave birth to the MVP Black/Gen.G vs. L5/BLX rivalry. Much has changed since then, and even more seems to be changing with the passing of this year. We may very well be seeing the end of an era and the birth of a new one with all the retirements and roster changes, so I wanted to take some time to review this year of HGC Korea, which was very memorable to me.

Gen.G

2018 was a good year for Gen.G. You might be thinking, isn't any year a good year for Gen.G? Not necessarily. In 2016, they started out strong, but from the summer global championship to the end of the year, they did not win a single event. In 2017, they spent the first half of the year very clearly being only the 2nd best team in Korea. I'm tempted to say that 2018 is the best year they've ever had, but I didn't follow HOTS back in 2015, and that era of the game is not very well documented. They finished this year with 3 consecutive international wins (MSB, EC2, Blizzcon), 1st place in both phases, and a mere five losses. They are 4-time consecutive global champions if we include Blizzcon and Gold Club from last year. Their worst performance in any event for the entire year was placing 2nd once, at the Phase 1 Eastern Clash.
 
What else is there to say about Gen.G, other than that they were clearly the best team of the year, in addition to being the best team of all time? Plenty. In my opinion, what makes Gen.G so good isn't that they are untouchable, even as much as that might be a common conception. They lost five times this year, so they got touched. What makes Gen.G so good is that they are by far the most consistent and adaptive team around. Any time a team beat Gen.G or got close, Gen.G turned things around in their future meetings with those teams. Tempest opened the year with a clean sweep against Gen.G, but could never take more than a single game in their future sets. Ballistix beat Gen.G in an extremely close 4-3 at the first Eastern Clash, but couldn't take a game in the second. Miracle beat Gen.G twice in league play, but got embarrassed in their group stage match at Blizzcon.
 
Dig never even beat Gen.G despite the perception of them as rivals, and although the MSB finals were close, Gen.G made sure the Blizzcon finals weren't.
 
Whereas Ballistix and Tempest struggled to adapt to the ever changing meta and got left behind, Gen.G pioneered the new meta, with Rich's Hammer, Reset's Junkrat and KyoCha's Yrel. While other teams attempted role swaps and looked worse off for them, Gen.G's role swaps turned them into the best iteration of the team ever, in my opinion. I think Sake's assassin play was one of the team's few weak links over the years, and I think he's a better support than KyoCha was. I think Rich is a better ranged assassin than Sake, and I think KyoCha's melee flex play actually rivals Rich's when he was in that role.
 
Gen.G is now in an era of dominance that either has not been seen since 2015, or has never seen before. Many of the closest competitors that they had this year will be undergoing roster changes, so it's hard to tell when Gen.G will receive a serious challenge next.

Tempest

Even before this year, I have often felt that Tempest is a team that starts out strong, but then runs out of steam as time goes on. They opened the year with a 3-0 sweep against Gen.G, the single most dominant performance against them by any team for the entire year. In all future sets though, Tempest couldn't take more than a single game. They beat Ballistix at the start of the year as well, giving the team a 7-0 record and the 1st seed going into the Eastern Clash, but then fell to Ballistix to place 3rd at that event. At the MSB, they beat Dig 2-0 in the group stage, taking 1st seed in the bracket, with some incredible Garrosh play by Sign, as well as great Zeratul play by Good. They ended up falling to Dig 1-3 later on in the lower bracket finals.

 

In spite of the fact that Tempest autoqualified as the second seed to Blizzcon, and although they began the year looking like the best team in the world, they were, in my opinion, only the fourth best Korean team by the end of the year. They were never really competitive with Gen.G after that first win against them. Although they were often close with Ballistix and traded series through out the year, it was going in Ballistix's favor toward the end of the year, with Tempest losing their last two meetings both with a 1-3 score.

Despite technically doing better at Blizzcon than they did last year by making it out of the group stage, it's hard to view their performance at that event as redemption. They finished the group stage with a baffling 5-5 score, which includes a map loss to The One and a full series loss to Heroes Hearth. The anticipated group stage rematch of Dig and Tempest from the MSB started off with a 6-3 structure lead in Tempest's favor, but once Dig took control, the rest of the series didn't even look competitive. In Tempest's final match versus Miracle (at Blizzcon), Tempest looked like they couldn't even keep up, despite playing against a roster they had never lost to yet.

At Blizzcon, Wolf criticized Tempest for their failure to adapt to the meta, and for neglecting strategy and preparation in favor of just attempting mechanical outplay. One of my personal criticisms of the team is their role swaps. For both 2017 and 2018, in my opinion, Tempest has usually, if not always, looked best with all players in their original roles, and often looked worse once they start role swapping. This happened back in 2017 when they would put HongCono on tank and Sign on Tracer, and also a few times when they tried H82 on ranged and Lockdown in the solo lane. This year, it was the swap between Dami and Good on ranged and off-lane. In my opinion, Dami is a better ranged player than he is an off-laner, and a better ranged player than Good. I believe vice versa is also true, with Good being a better off-laner than he is a ranged player, and a better off-laner than Dami. This of course comes from my perspective as a viewer, as I have no idea what the internal workings are like, and thus their own reasons for making the changes.

2018 looked like it would be the return of Tempest to greatness, and very briefly in Part 1 of Phase 1, it was. With the retirement of Sign, and the release of Dami and Good, who knows what the team will look like and how it will perform in 2019. SDE and Hooligan look like potential pickups, which I say only because their respective positions are open and because they are known free agents coming from another high-tier team. With the retirement of Jeongha and Wiz though, I think Tempest may find it difficult to get a strong off-lane player. Even if 2019 ends up being a better year for Tempest, I don't think it will begin with a strong start.

Ballistix

I remember right before the MSB this year, Ballistix teased that they would be making roster changes for Phase 2, and then proudly announced that they weren't making any. This was about two months after Ballistix had beaten Gen.G at the Phase 1 Eastern Clash. After their victory, I remember SDE taking off his headphones and slamming them down. I remember Hooligan shaking uncontrollably. I remember Magi's smile, a more subdued and controlled reaction than SDE's and Hooligan's, but a rare sight for him. Heading into the MSB, they had good reason to believe that they were contenders to win the entire tournament.

And then they suffered a series of crushing defeats against Tempo Storm. They lost 0-2 in the group stage, then they lost a tiebreaker to put them into the lower bracket, and then they finally lost 2-3 in a reverse sweep, with a game 5 that they massively choked on. They were eliminated at 5th place, the worst performance for the team to date. Moving forward past the MSB, Wolf was constantly criticizing SCSC for his narrow hero pool. Hooligan was frequently criticized for his inconsistent tank play. Although SDE had a very wide hero pool and shined quite a bit during the second Eastern Clash, I still personally criticize both him and SCSC for practically (and maybe even literally, but I haven't checked the data) never playing Sergeant Hammer and Junkrat, even when these were extremely relevant heroes.

It's very difficult to view 2018 as anything but a very disappointing year for Ballistix. While the new roster was never as consistent as the original one, Ballistix's elimination by Tempo Storm at 5th place at the MSB, and their failure to make it to Blizzcon, both come as extremely surprising for a team that won an international event against Gen.G in the spring of the same year.

In spite of all this, I don't think it was strictly a bad year per se, and partly seems that way just given the team's legacy and extremely high expectations. Towards the end of the year, I think Ballistix was actually in an upward swing. At the Phase 2 Eastern Clash, they clutched out their reverse sweep against Blossom, and then went on to beat Tempest, with the discipline and tenacity that have often been the hallmarks of Ballistix. In fact, they won their last two meetings against Tempest. So which two teams really kept Ballistix from going to Blizzcon then? Gen.G and Miracle. The first we take for granted, and the second can arguably be attributed to the rise of Miracle more so than Ballistix's own failings.

Let's also not let Ballistix's failures make us forget that they had some very real achievements this year, that only a few teams can rival. They are one of only three teams to beat Gen.G all year. Of those three teams, Ballistix is tied with Miracle with 2 series wins, but Ballistix had more map wins against Gen.G than any other team this year (8 maps). Ballistix is also the only team to beat Gen.G at an international event. This also makes Ballistix one of only three teams to win an international event this year, the others being Gen.G and Dig.

As sad as it is to see Hooligan and SDE leave the team on a low note, they had a good run with the team and will walk away as two-time Eastern Clash champions. Jeongha walks away with an event bigger list of accomplishments that also include being a world champion, and being a member of the original roster, which was truly better than MVP Black for most of its existence.

What does the future hold for Ballistix? With three positions open, but a thinning talent pool in Korea, it may not be easy to find strong replacement players, if the team does indeed continue in the league (given rumors of their disbandment). Their best bet, if the team keeps their sponsorship, would be to leverage that sponsorship to attract players from either Miracle, Blossom, or the departing members of Tempest. Could we see the return of Nachojin? Could we even see the return of Swoy (who is back in Korea to my knowledge)?

Miracle

Talk about finally living up to their name. In my opinion, Miracle was the most exciting story of HGC Korea this year. Given their legacy as a former MVP team, which - under their old roster of Tsstt, Reset, CrazyMoving, Sniper and Darvish - was actually competitive as a top 4 KR team in 2016, much of HGC proper in 2017 and 2018 has seen an extremely underwhelming Miracle through several roster changes. Until this past phase, Miracle had never had a league record that put them better than 5th place, although they once had a strong MSB qualification playoff run to secure 3rd place. Near the end of phase 1 this year, Wolf was even suggesting the possibility of Miracle ending up in the crucible and losing their spot in HGC, but they ended up placing 6th, just barely avoiding it.

Enter Phase 2 of 2018. Say goodbye to Gunza, JaeHyun and H82, and hello to Frankle, Bluebeetle and Nachojin. This was the roster change that some people predicted could return Miracle to glory. Nachojin was the known star coming in, as a former world champion of the original Ballistix roster, coming out of retirement. Although I feel his actual in-game impact has been less visible than Frankle's, Judy's and Bluebeetle's, one can only imagine the behind the scenes impact he may have had with the experience he brought as a world champion to a squad of relative rookies. I personally underestimated the impact Frankle and Bluebeetle were going to have when I first saw the roster, since they came from lower and mid-tier teams that I watched less and also just didn't make them look as good as they do now.

It did take some time for Miracle to get going. They opened Phase 2 with an 0-3 loss against Ballistix in which not a single game looked close. They went on to another 0-3 loss against Tempest, before finally shocking everyone with a 3-2 win over Gen.G. It was the first time since December of 2016 that Gen.G had lost to a Korean team that wasn't Tempest or Ballistix. Viewers and redditors downplayed Miracle's success, attributing the victory in part to Gen.G experimenting, Gen.G not taking Miracle seriously, and Gen.G making suboptimal draft picks. Despite this massive upset, Miracle went on to lose to Blossom in the very next week, failing to qualify for the Eastern Clash in the process.

At the time, it was reasonable to assume that Miracle's win against Gen.G was a fluke, given their losses to all the other top Korean teams. In hindsight though, it just seems like Miracle had a long way to go, and there was a bumpy road with a few stumbles on their way to greatness. They won their next meeting against Ballistix with a 3-1 victory, the implications of which were that later on, Ballistix would not be able to autoqualify for Blizzcon due to their league record. I myself didn't believe that Miracle would beat Gen.G again, but they did it. Not only were they the only team in the world to beat Gen.G at all in phase 2; they did it twice.

Fast forward to the end of the HGC finals, and it's pretty safe to say that by the end of the year, Miracle was pretty clearly the 2nd best KR team and a top 4 team in the world. They just kind of had a backwards order to their accomplishments, which made their initial win against Gen.G hard to believe. In the end though, they managed a convincing 3-1 victory against Blossom in the playoffs to Blizzcon, and then a dominant 2-0 against Tempest in the Blizzcon quarter finals. What does this mean? To spell it out: Miracle beat every single top Korean team. They just didn't do it in the expected order. Pretty much the only things they didn't achieve that they had a chance to were beating Dig in the semifinals, and then beating Gen.G in the finals, both of which were extremely tall orders. While I would have liked to see Miracle go all the way, it was already a miracle that they made it as far as they did.

I have questions about the future of the team however. As of right now, Miracle has no announced roster changes. On the one hand, it would be reasonable to assume that the roster would stick together. Things seem to be working, and they have experienced incredible growth and success. On the other hand, Tempest, Ballistix and Blossom will all have open spots, if all teams continue in the league. Ballistix is a sponsor, and to my knowledge, Blossom is an esports org as well, so they may be able to entice players from Miracle's roster with more money. I personally would like to see Miracle just continue with their current roster, as I think it's the best chance for Korea to have a team that's still competitive with Gen.G

Blossom

People may forget that Blossom actually began the HGC as a 7th place crucible team. The addition of Gondar as their new tank player in the second half of 2017 coincided with Blossom's rise from a low-tier team to mid-tier team. The addition of NaSang as their support player (as well as the disbandment of Mighty, the former 4th place KR team), also coincided with Blossom's rise to the top half of HGC Korea. In spite of this, although Blossom was often respected by viewers and casters, I don't think they were really perceived as being competitive with, or on par with, the top 3 Korean teams.

Blossom's roster changes, along with Miracle's roster changes, for the second half of 2018 gave people hope that these two teams would be competitive with the top three teams in Korea. Between the two, I think Blossom was the one that looked more promising initially, because both of its new additions were highly recognizable names and former world champions, in Merryday and HongCono. While Miracle also had a world champion addition, Merryday seemed to be the more beloved former champ with more star power than Nachojin.

If we fast forward to today though, we know which of these roster changes worked out really well, and which one didn't seem to. The first sign that things were off was when Blossom played their first series of phase 2, and viewers (and I think even casters) were surprised to see HongCono playing tank and Gondar on DPS. For the past year, Gondar's tank play had been viewed as one of Blossom's greatest strengths, and part of the reason that the rose up from being a crucible level team to being a mid-tier one. Now it was gone. HongCono initially looked pretty weak on tank, as he was try play tanks like Diablo, who weren't meta back during his first stint as Tempest's tank player in 2016. 

I think everyone expected HongCono to play DPS, because that's what he did for Tempest in 2017, and also because Gondar was considered a strong tank. However, in HongCono's 2017 interview leading up to Blizzcon, he actually said that tank is his favorite role, and that DPS is his least favorite, even preferring support over it. My theory is that roleswaps were made on Blossom simply because HongCono was unwilling to play DPS. I think things may have changed in Blossom depending on HongCono's whims, because then Gondar would flex back to tank when HongCono wanted to play things like Illidan at the Eastern Clash.

I don't fault Merryday as much, but it did sometimes feel like he was trying to do too much, as if he could hard carry his team from the support role, because he's just so used to winning from his MVP Black days that he wanted to make it happen.

In the end though, I actually prefer the Phase 1 roster of Blossom, which still had DDuDDu and NaSang, over the phase 2 roster with HongCono and MerryDay. Blossom went throughout the year solidly beating the bottom half of Korea, and had a respectable league record in both phases, but they had few, if any, notable accomplishments. They never placed higher than 4th at an Eastern Clash, which was also their seed going into them. They did not have any wins against Gen.G or Ballistix. Their best accomplishments are beating Tempest in the last week of phase 1, at a time when the outcome would not have affected anything, and beating the rising Miracle roster in phase 2, who they eventually lost to in the playoffs to eliminate Blossom from Blizzcon contention.

With Wiz retiring, and rumors of Merryday retiring as well, we could be looking at a very different Blossom roster next year. In spite of my overall negative tone, I think Blossom's chances may be looking up for 2019. Since Blossom is an esports org, they have may the money to attract some of the players who just left Ballistix or Tempest.

Feliz and Supernova

I'm going to confess to just not having as much to say about these teams because I just don't know as much about them and don't watch them as much. Interestingly, I'm going to remind people that Feliz did not actually make it in through the crucible. In fact, they never played in the crucible as an amateur team. When Team Ace and GLuck made it in through the crucible, Mighty also disbanded, which meant that the league needed another team. So maybe Feliz was the 3rd place Open Division team from phase 2 of 2017? Not sure.

In any case, both teams retain their spots in the league. I know some viewers were really excited by Supernova, but it's actually Feliz who didn't even have to defend their spot in the crucible, placing 6th with a record of 3-11. Supernova defended their spot in the crucible, but will be losing 3 players in the next phase. I believe at least one is retiring, and the other 2 I'm not sure. For all I know, they might have gotten offers from other teams, which does leave the future of Supernova as a team in doubt. The last time a crucible team replaced 3 members, it didn't go so well, which brings me to...

GLuck

GLuck lost their spot in HGC, and I'm honestly a little sad about that. When they came into HGC in Phase 1 of this year, they looked promising. In one series, against Tempest, they pulled out Probius in game 1 and won it. The series ended up going 3-2 in Tempest's favor. GLuck finished the phase with a 5-9 record, which may not exactly sound good, but there have only ever been two crucible teams that have done better than that in their first phase: Heroes Hearth and Zealots.

The roster changes ultimately did not go GLuck's way during the midseason. Bluebeetle left to go to Miracle, Relic was suspended for poaching, and I believe Tseron just retired from the game and went on to other things. Their replacements were Misen (formerly Darvish from MVP Miracle), Kcb (from the relegated Team Ace), and Asgard (from the relegated RRR). They finished with a 1-13 series record, with their only series win being a 3-2 against Supernova. For the rest of the phase, they only took 1 more map, leaving them with an astonishingly bad map record of 4-41. This is the single worst record for any team ever between HGC Korea, Europe and North America, beating out the old record held by Raven of 1-13 in series and 5-40 in map record.
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Beautiful analysis: complete and full of details. I really appreciated. Now I am more prepared for what happens in the east. Thanks Man. I hope I can read other similar articles