The Champs Go Down

Yes, it actually happened. After months of domination, the streak of [tdM]Trademark eSports has finally snapped. The real shocker was not that the streak snapped, but in the fashion it ended. Trademark did not just lose to the resurgent [TteS]Tt eSPORTS; they actually got completely swept by the American team. Now the question is if this is a sign of concern for Trademark eSports. Is a huge change going to happen on top of the Diamond Division?

I would probably lean towards answering that question with a distinctive “No,” as I just don't believe that Trademark eSports got weaker. I just think it was a case of Tt eSports getting stronger and catching up to the elite teams once again – paired with tdM not having their best day. Every team and every individual has those days, where just nothing seems to bounce your way. Trademark eSports could have just witnessed a day like that. In my opinion, they will use this crushing loss to regroup and get back to reality, as they have been flying above the entire scene for the last three months. Ever since they won that important World Championship at DreamHack Winter 2021, they have not really tasted defeat. This might sound cocky but success can get boring. You might feel like you can afford to relax or that you can not practice as hard. However, you cannot go into a match without the complete dedication and concentration required to defeat great teams like Tt eSports, [sG]Stay Green or [coL]compLexityGaming, even as the reigning and defending World Champions and two-time Hon Tour Diamond Champions.

Trademark will have to claw their way back into the tournament against [LION]Lions eSportsKlubb in an possible elimination game for the team. This situation is called “Go big or go home,” as the Lower Bracket does add a quite bit more pressure. The looming threat of being eliminated is always present and tdM will have to adjust to that situation again. Undeniably they are a great team and all the players have been through adversity before, so the next weekend could be very interesting in terms of Trademark eSports’ response to this unfamiliar situation.

Green Sun Rising

I have said it before and I will probably say it again very soon, but Stay Green is one of the best prospects in Heroes of Newerth. After the most recent roster modification, they have been looking for a comfortable spot to settle. They had to re-arrange the roles in the team, get used to those new roles and improve their communication. All those elements seem to be getting better and better with every cycle. The scary part is sLiCKz is still playing with a horrible ping and news recently broke that he will be living with his teammates swindlemelonzz and Zfreek in the near future. This team is already in the discussion for being on top of the HoN scene and sLiCKz with less delay might be a boost for the team in that argument.

Another interesting aspect about Stay Green is the “natural” rivalry with compLexityGaming. I mentioned in articles before that rivalries and a little bit of drama can add spice and character to a match up. In said article, I applied that logic to the grudge matches between compLexity and Trademark, but Stay Green's battles with compLexity are actually catching up in that department. The most recent game between those two delivered even more evidence for the growing rivalry between them.

First, Stay Green went for a very risky dive onto MoonMeander, only to get countered and pay for their attempt. The response from Moon was a simple “GG.” Later in the match, when Stay Green was firmly in control of the match, swindlemelonzz, ZfreeK and KheZu provided their share of G's as part of their celebration of their victory.

Things like that seem a little bit unmannered at times, but they are doing so much to build up excitement above and beyond the “bracket importance” of a match. Obviously every time compLexity and Stay Green are clashing, it is a top quality match but what pushes this match up over the edge is the storylines that go along with it. For a long time, the personal rivalry between bkid and Mynuts dominated the scene. Now, you have the exact same situation with Stay Green and compLexityGaming-- the exact type of rivalry, the exact type of chat behavior and also the exact type of excitement for the matches. Good for the scene!

Outside the Bubble

In the preview to the third cycle of the Diamond Divison, I talked about the “Mighty Four” as Trademark eSports, compLexityGaming, Stay Green and [357]QsQ have conquered the first four spots in all three HoN Tour events so far. In terms of strength of the teams and the overall picture, the perception tends to lean more towards a clear-cut “top three” with QsQ and several other teams in the hunt. So midway through the third cycle, the question about the follow up teams for these “Big Three” still exists.

The best teams in this race for the fourth spot are QsQ and Tt eSports, based on their recent performances. QsQ has an impressive track record in HoN Tour tournaments, finishing third in the Qualifier and fourth in Diamond Division twice. Still, the team has had some problems in the past and was knocked down to the Lower Bracket fairly early at points. They are lacking a real streak of dominance, a will-imposing match that strikes fear into their opponents. In the first cycle, they almost got demoted into Gold but managed to rally. The second cycle saw them reaching the Upper Bracket Semifinals and placing fourth. This cycle has been a mixture of both. The team around the four-time DreamHack winner NoVa got knocked from the Upper Bracket in the second round, but powered through the Lower Bracket in dominating fashion so far. Neither [PNIS]Pencils nor [DrDz]Druidz eSports could challenge these boys so they are heading into yet another good placement in the Diamond Division.

A little bit different is the situation for Tt eSports, as the team had to suffer a crushing player loss with sLiCKz leaving the team. A lot of people called the team “dead” after that transaction. These people either have to believe in zombies now or retract their statements as Tt eSports looks as strong as ever. The roster seems to be coming together, ultimately ending the long winning streak of Trademark eSports. With that victory, Tt eSports is making an impressive run to the finals of this cycle. They are just one victory away from reaching that match for the first time as a team.

The other teams in this category are probably Lions eSportsKlubb and [OTP]One Trick Pony, both of which have gone through a little bit of a roller coaster in the past cycles. After an impressive performance and placement in cycle 1, Lions went down very early in the second cycle, only to re-emerge once again. The Swedish team pushed compLexity to a tough three match series in the first cycle and is back in the race for a podium placement this time. Trademark eSports poses an imposing challenge though, but a victory or even a great performance would indicate a bright future for the roaring Lions once again.

A little bit more consistent so far has been the squad of One Trick Pony. After barely avoiding demotion in the first cycle and a top six placement in the second cycle, they have been playing at a high level once again. They were able to push Stay Green to three maps, they crushed Vitriolic Gaming and fell just short of yet another top six placement in a close series against Lions. They have been awarded the “Upcoming Team of the Year” award by Honcast for 2021 and it looks like they brought that momentum into the new year as well.

Down to the Wire

One other observation of the weekend was that many series actually went into a third map. To be exact, seven matches from this weekend went the full distance, while only five went that long in the entire previous cycle. It’s not just the number of matches that is interesting but also the team match ups. Not even me, as a [FyKu]Fack You Kurdi fan, expected the Norwegians to push Trademark to the third map, nor did I expect One Trick Pony to get Stay Green to a third match. On top of that, I didn’t feel that Pencils were good enough to give compLexity the fight that they did. Overall, the “smaller” teams gave it their all against tough competition.

It was a pretty big anomaly that suddenly the “Big Three” had such huge troubles against these teams so I tried to figure out the reasons behind that. I looked at the games, looked at the circumstances and even talked to a couple of players to find an answer.

In my opinion, the holiday break was more of a blessing for the mid-tier teams than it was for the big squads. Overall, the holiday period is a time where teams don't really actively scrim or play, as most of the players have family obligations and festivities to attend around Christmas time. That coupled with the Inhouse League opening, the activity of serious scrims and team practice went down to a minimum in that time frame – for all teams. For this reason, the teams that benefit the most are the smaller teams, as the individual skill comes more into play when you don't have the greatest communication and coordination due to lack of practice.

I think that teams like compLexity Gaming, Trademark eSports and Stay Green win most of the games because of their coordination, their patience and their game plans, paired with high amounts of individual skill of course. In times of lesser practice, the blind understanding between teammates is not there anymore and the coordination loses some quality. So naturally, games are decided more by individual skill. I feel like the smaller teams are fairly close to the top teams in terms of individual skill, so they’ve been able to hang with the established teams. That is why the games across the board were darn entertaining, close and exciting.

To make an analogy or a comparison, I have to go to football for a second. When a high profile team like Bayern Munich goes on the road to play some low-level German team in the German Trophy competition, they will most likely play on a sub-par field. That field is sort of the equalizer between the teams, as technical finesse gets harder – meaning that the big edge of Bayern Munich would get diminished. So the wide gap between the amateur team and Bayern Munich gets a little bit smaller and the match gets a little bit more exciting and close. I believe that is exactly what happened on this Saturday and Sunday in the Diamond Division, more or less.

“I’ll Be Back”

No, I am not talking about Arnold Schwarzenegger in “Terminator.” I really mean the newly demoted Diamond teams: [oo7]We Are Spies, [aL]Absolute Legends, [PUDG]Dendis jungldevos and [Pika]Pikachu. I wrote in the Diamond Division preview, that I believe that the talent and potential of this cycle was stacked. Seems that I was right, because I would have never expected anyone to say that Absolute Legends would find their way on the elevator down to Gold. Along with Pikachu, those demotions actually shocked me – even though both situations are different. Pikachu fell down because of technical difficulties which led to a forfeit and a resulting disqualification from the Diamond Division, while Absolute Legends lost their spot on the battlefield and not in the rulebook. Still, both teams will have to go down to fight their way back into the top league of Heroes of Newerth.

The same applies for Dendis jungldevos in a way. I was not that surprised to see them go, as I had them as a candidate for a demotion in Cycle Two already. I don't believe that they are necessarily a bad team by any means, just that think they are a little bit behind the other teams. With that said, I also think that they absolutely belong in the Diamond Division, but somebody has to get the boot every single cycle. They will have to prove themselves in the Gold Division to earn their spot back – which I believe they will.

I actually have the exact same feeling about the reigning Gold Division Champion We Are Spies. I believe that they are highly talented and actually belong among the best 16 teams of the International Region. They have played terrific HoN in the first and second cycle in Gold and they have turned some heads with incredibly tight matches against Lions eSportsKlubb in the Diamond Division. They made their first impression and it was a good one, but like I said before somebody has to go down and the brackets gave them tough opponents.

To end this segment, I want to put myself out there. I would almost take a bet that all four of these teams will be back in the Diamond Division in the fifth cycle. I believe they all have the skill and a demotion to Gold can also serve as a wake up call for teams.

Nobody is really safe from getting a demotion. You have to bring your “A” game week in and week out in order to retain that precious status. To soften the blow of a demotion, a Gold Championship will give the winning team 1000 points, as much as a top six placement in Diamond would bring you. It represents the chance for a fresh start into Diamond again.

Winners and Losers

To close the column, I will go through the winners and losers of the weekend. Just remember guys, being the “loser” of the week does not mean, that those teams are bad or anything. It just states that their week was not the greatest.

In terms of winners I will go for Tt eSports, Stay Green and Druidz eSports for various reasons.

Tt eSports is the most obvious choice in this category as they did not only end the winning streak of Trademark eSports, but they also re-established themselves as a serious contender. Before the loss of sLiCKz, the team was a fixture on the podium of pretty much every event. After his departure, they had to figure out their playing style again. Now it seems like they are comfortable and a guaranteed spot on the podium in cycle three is a great sign for that.

A podium spot for Stay Green is almost expected after the recent history but the team wants to take the next step and that road goes through compLexityGaming. They did that last cycle and they have done it again this time, putting them one step closer to the second place spot in the rankings and within reach of their first major tournament championship.

Last but not least in the list of winners is Druidz eSports, who haven't been discussed thus far in this column. The reason for that was that they just didn't fit into any category. They retained their Diamond status, they are not yet approaching the top four teams and they were only in 2-0 series, one way or the other. Still, it is undeniable that this team has played a tremendous cycle with clear victories over Dendis jungldevos and Fack You Kurdi on their path to becoming a Top 8 team in their debut cycle. They came in with a lot of question marks and some controversy, but their actions in-game spoke louder than any words on the forums.

And now to the loser category of this week and quite surprisingly the two-time HoN Tour Diamond Champion Trademark eSports find themselves here – for the very first time. Their impressive winning streak came to an end and that qualifies you for a “Loser of the Week” award in my mind. Still, the team is the perfect example for my qualifier in the opening text! I don't think that Trademark eSports is a bad team or is done after this loss, but a streak was shattered and therefore you find yourself down for a little bit. Still, chances are high that they will end up as “Winner of the Week” next time I write this column.

The other Loser of the Week is undeniably the shining team of Absolute Legends. I still remember the words of earlier columns, where I put the team among the top six with possibilities to even go for the podium. Now they are far away from that goal, as they have to go through the Gold Division to get themselves back among the top team in the world. Their fall into Gold was the shocker of the weekend and surely qualifies the team for this category.

That was it for this week’s episode of Monday Morning Carry, the first edition of the new year. I will be back next week with some more headlines of the final Cycle Three weekend, some Gold Divison talk and, of course, some weird predictions. Stay tuned.

- Sören "Fantasy"