Shortly after the end of Western Clash in Kiev, we had the opportunity to interview the Dutch eSports legend, Manuel "Grubby" Schenkhuizen, a former Warcraft III and Starcraft II professional player, winner of over 40 offline tournaments and 6 times Warcraft III world champion. We asked him for an evaluation of the recently finished Western Clash, the teams that took part in it and his opinion on the current meta.
Manuel "Grubby" Schenkhuizen, born 11.5. 1986, Netherlands
Former Warcraft III and Starcraft II professional player. Winner of over 40 offline tournaments and 6 times Warcraft III world champion. Currently a Heroes of the Storm commentator and streamer.
Twitter, Twitch Stream, Personal Website
You have been around for what feels like almost forever. How do you feel the new 2017 competition format compares to the old one and what you feel the "next step" for the production team should be?
It doesn't feel that way to me! It's really been a very short time - 14 years. In this time, eSports has gone through incredible changes, but let's not forget that's a short period of time! For HGC 2017, Blizzard has chosen to go with a system that strengthens regional stability and progamer sustainability. The top 8 teams per regions have financial certainty unlike ever before in Blizzard eSports games. There is a transparent (albeit difficult) route to qualification into the Pro Division in Korea, China, Europe and North America. This kind of transparency has been lacking previously, and it was sometimes a bit of a "wait for an unannounced opportunity" in 2003-2016.
I like the system as much as I liked the 2012 WCS StarCraft II system. The next step for the HGC production for events around the world, will be to make events even cleaner - quick transitions between games and 1080p quality.
With the general lack of bigger tournaments and organized leagues in minor regions, their almost whole income often depends on getting into Clash or Mid Season Brawl. In what other way could Blizzard support these regions?
To be a little blunt, for minor regions, there's only so much support you can expect. The viewership and playing level for the minor regions is just not on par with the major regions to invest the same kind of resources, I imagine. However, it'd be really awesome if the Twitch Bit Cheering programme for HGC could also include the minor regions. It's not as easy as it seems, but I hope they can overcome the challenge, so that the Red Canids and Nomia's of this world can feel more included in that enterprise, and get a little extra motivation and sustainability from the goodwill of the fans.
Three top teams from EU Region finished in the precise order they did in second phase of regular season. Liquid, as the third team beat all 3 US teams one by one. Is there really such a big skill gap between the regions?
If Fnatic is a 10/10 right now, then Expert was a 8/10, Team Liquid was a 6/10, Team Freedom and Galeforce from NA around a 5/10. To overcome Fnatic any time soon seems almost impossible for NA, but Team Liquid seems reachable. Of course, even as I write this, the teams from both sides are probably working hard on overcoming those predictions. Everyone is focused on improving in the running up to BlizzCon 2017. It's the team that is the most willing to put in more work than any other team, and practices in a smart way, that will improve faster than the others.
Based on the current standings in regular season, it seems that in EU, the skill difference between the teams (other than FNC) is way smaller than in NA. Why is there such a discrepancy between these regions?
Sometimes I think there is a really simple explanation. Rather than making a broad analysis of the ecosystem of each respective region, we can just say that Fnatic has worked hard to become this good, and they obviously have the talent. My theory is that being under Dignitas' shadow for so long has forced them to evolve. It will be interesting to see how both Fnatic and Dignitas perform in Playday 6-10 and to see how they perform at BlizzCon, if they make it.
Fnatic have allways been one of the top European teams. But they have been continuously improving ever since loosing in a close series against Dignitas 3-2 in the first Clash. Is this their final form or how much can they still improve?
If my theory is correct, Fnatic will not improve much from the form they've shown at MSB and WC Kiev. There has not been a team looming over them for a while now. Having or finding the motivation to improve (and knowing how to!) in absence of a direct nearby threat, is what will determine if Fnatic wins against the Korean teams at BlizzCon or not.
They won the whole tournament without loosing a single map. The last team to achieve that was MVP Black during 2016 Spring Championship. How would Fnatic's current form compare to MVP Black back then at their prime?
Each building block of the game is built upon the bricks underneath it. As such, comparing teams in their prime years apart is a near impossible exercise. Rather, teams need to keep proving themselves to make sure their legacy goes on for as long as possible - to make the story most worth re-telling to their future children, so to speak. If memory serves correctly, MVP Black was on a 40-0 or so win streak. Fnatic yet has much to prove, as their success has been only across half a year or so.
Quite frankly, Fnatic made it look quite easy and except for a game or two, they looked unstopable. How do you beat such a team other than cheesing a game here and there?
Learning from them, being able to do what they do, and then getting better still. Cheese always only lasts you for so long. In the long run, fundamental skill, mechanics, and flexibility always wins out.
Only five assassins and two specialists have been picked / banned in more than 10 times (out of 43 games). Do you think that some of the popular assassins are too strong, synargize too well with other popular heroes or why dont more assassins get played?
Mages are good against 1 Warrior 1 Support 3 DPS teams. Jaina, Kael'thas, Chromie, Azmodan, Nazeebo, and Probius capitalize on the lower sustainability of these comps. Two Warriors, 2 Support, 1 DPS teams will outheal and engage mage teams, and that's part of the reason Dignitas has struggled, since they have a great mage player in Mene who struggled to find his place in the meta. Mages had a tough time at the Western Clash Kiev because the poke damage gets outhealed by double Support teams that were popular.
Almost purely ranged AA (basic attackers) Heroes easily get countered in draft. Zul'Jin, Raynor and Sgt. Hammer can only be last picked, and are more one dimensional than Valla, Lunara for the most part, as those have more magical damage too. Sgt. Hammer did get last picked once by TL in a game that should've been a win for them (Cursed Hollow).
What you're left with are the Heroes that teams believe will work best. I believe 55+ out of 70 Heroes were used, so altogether not a bad rate.
Double support, which a lot of players dont like, have been part of close to 50 % of all drafted comps. In addition to that, some teams tried to choke their opponents on supports so this number could have been even higher. Is there any way to turn away from this sustained/double support meta without nerfing the supports?
Let's talk about the 4 resources of a Support. (1) Healing (2) Utility (3) Wave clear (4) Hero damage.
If a Support has (1) good healing while also having (3) good wave clear and (4) hero damage, it will a valid pick for Double Support comps. The reason you'd avoid Uther+ Kharazim is because you'll lack wave clear. The reason Auriel + Tassadar works well is because they literally are both amazing at wave clear, they have good utility and will also put out 20-40k Hero Damage (Auriel) and 40-70k Hero Damage (Tassadar) respectively in a regular game. So you're not punished enough for double Support. In short, Supports that have great healing and/or utility need to have terrible wave clear or hero damage or both. Otherwise, double Support meta will persist.
The most recent support Stukov also showed up a few times. His healing output is often compared to that of Auriel, but he was also played in pick comps thanks to his silence. Where do you think that he fits in current meta?
Well, Stukov has great utility and really good sustain heals. He's got burst heal as well, but it's somewhat delayed and harder to control, so his healing and utility not as reliable to save an ally or himself from immediate burst. His waveclear is "ok" and his hero damage is average for a support. Overall, I'd rank him 9/10 in Utility, 9/10 in Sustain heal, 5/10 for Burst heal, 5/10 for Wave clear, 4/10 for Hero Damage. Because he lacks in the last 3 categories, you'll generally see him paired up in a double support comp together with Tassadar, Uther or (burst protect specialist) Medivh.
Talking of supports, Brightwing, thanks to Fnatic who made her popular once again, saw a rather wide variety of play. Other global heroes like Dehaka, Abathur and Illidan (with hunt) also saw some decent play. Has Falstad fallen out of meta for good or why was his pick rate so low?
Falstad won 100% of the games he was picked in, but generally teams will avoid him if the opponent has Illidan or Genji, because he will die to them repeatedly in the course of a game. In fact, Brightwing is even safer against those, due to Polymorph, Pixie Dust, Emerald Wind, Iceblock and Z-ing away. If not for Genji or Illidan picks, I suspect Falstad would've been far more common.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. Any shoutouts or final words?
My pleasure! Thanks for conducting the interview. A very thrilling event is about to go down, Eastern Clash in Taipei (11-13 August). If you want to know how the Korean and Chinese teams look like right now, I recommend you to check it out. Also, Garrosh just came out (Orc Warrior). Once HGC Regular season picks up again, he'll be allowed already, as it'll have been two weeks. So check out my stream twitch.tv/followgrubby
to see how he plays! As always, a huge thanks to my sponsor ASUS Republic of Gamers - The Choice of Champions.