Stay Green: Coronation of the new Kings?

I might jump the gun here right away, but the feeling and vibe that the last couple of weeks left me with is that a change at the top of the HoN scene is almost unavoidable. Not only did [sG]Stay Green win the Diamond Division for the second time, but they did it by defeating all the major teams in clutch time. That is what I take away from the Championship Weekend and that is what I took away from the GSL Qualifier – Stay Green is emerging and is challenging the old Kings of Newerth for the crown.

The first championship of Stay Green in the Diamond Division might have been diminished slightly with the holidays and a historically bad performance of the dominating [tdM]Trademark eSports, but this one is completely legit. They did square off with their longtime rivals Trademark eSports in the Lower Bracket Finals and won with a clean sweep. They swept the Swedish-Danish combination in the GSL Qualifier as well, so their rise in the competition against the No.1 team is undeniable. First it looked like [coL]compLexityGaming might be able to rain on their parade and be the stepping stone in the pursuit of their destiny, but they overcame that in a gripping, tight, intense and exciting series for all the jewels on center stage.

Not to go into detail of that intense four-game series, but for the first time in HoN Tour Diamond history, the participant from the Lower Bracket could break through and take home the title. [357]QsQ and Stay Green before that came close. Now swindlemelonzz and his team have that to brag about; they are just 2,000 points away from Trademark eSports in the standings. Their position in Las Vegas, the SBHL Championship Bracket and Thailand is secured. Everything indicates that the old kings might been inferior to the princes of HoN.

Another way to judge Stay Green is their individual strength, combined with the dedication this bunch puts into HoN at the moment. Not only have all five members now gathered in an unsponsored team facility to practice, play and live together, but they also bring a lot of individual talents to the table that makes this such a formidable and dangerous team. Right from the start of the game, Stay Green was in control of the events with one of the greatest drafting minds that Newerth has ever seen in Swindlemelonzz. His style of leadership might be questioned by some, but in this team it seems to work more than fine. Further down the line you can look at talents like sLiCKz and KheZu, who are both great carry players in their own right, but also can play multiple roles. Ever since sLiCKz joined forces with the team, he has been on duty to carry the team to success. His style of aggressive play even in the midgame phase of matches is very compatible with the aggression that Swindlemelonzz likes to bring in all stages of the game. Khezu had to move to the suicide lane, in which he struggled at first in the “honeymoon” period. Now he looks more than fine on that position and is even winning some of his lanes in farm.
In addition to that we can still have a look at the supporting cast of that team with Zfreek and Chessie, two all-star players in their own right. ZfreeK sort of came into the scene as just the brother of Swindlemelonzz, but he has excelled as a jungler and now he is performing great on the hard support role. And Chessie, well he is Chessie. An awesome jungler that likes to invest a lot of time early on into his farm in the saving jungle, before becoming very aggressive by helping out other lanes. The Parasite game yesterday was an indictment of why Parasite should be banned against capable junglers like him.

complexity is Back Too

I have to admit something right off the bat. I was disappointed with complexity Gaming’s big run in this tournament – out of very selfish reasons. In an earlier column I wrote that called complexity dead, but counting them out with their new roster would be an enormous mistake. After that I estimated that they will be a force to be reckoned with in Cycle 7 and 8. It was very close to being a great prediction, just that complexity couldn’t be patient and wait for their time.

All jokes aside it is fantastic that the North American roster with a slight Danish accent here and there is back in the spotlight. It is a situation comparable to other major sports that get far more attention, viewers and excitement. Golf has their standout with Tiger Woods, I believe HoN has that with complexity Gaming. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that coL is the best team in HoN and needs to be represented in every single final. I am also not saying that they did more for the popularity and professionalism of HoN lately than a dedicated and great squad like Trademark eSports and Stay Green, but the fact of the matter is that brands are also a major factor in eSports. When a community has a big name organization competing for major titles, it will get more attention through their website and other content than unsponsored teams reaching those highs.

So the business and popularity aspect is one thing to keep in mind. The other thing is the competition aspect. HoN is far more entertaining and interesting when you cannot predict every single time that Trademark eSports and Stay Green are going to meet in the Upper Bracket Finals as well as the Grand Finals. Six months ago the scene had Trademark eSports against complexity Gaming headlining every event and every final. Then it turned into Trademark eSports against Stay Green with the heavy decline of complexity Gaming in that time. Now the community has three awesome teams competing for a HoN Tour Diamond title and other major titles, adding excitement and suspense to the mix. It is just beneficial for HoN as a game, HoN as a scene, and HoN Tour as a whole.

Enough generality now, as complexity deserves a lot of praise for their spectacular run in the GSL tournament and in the HoN Tour Diamond Division. Starting last week no one would have thought that the North American squad could really get close to the Upper Bracket Finals, let alone the Grand Finals, so quickly. Their hard work and scrimming, on top of great individual skill, has led them back to the promised land or at least pointing them back to the direction of the promised land. In some cases the players make slight individual mistakes, get overeager and cost their team with that, but mostly the team seems to get back in shape. And by back in shape I mean back into the shape they had six months ago when they dominated the scene completely.

That success was built on a couple of pillars that keep the successful structure of that team alive. First they had a firm grip on the meta game at that time. They knew how to play it, they had the personnel in position to fill the needs of that meta game and the specific roles. Secondly they have been one of the most patient teams I have ever seen. They barely ever made ill-advised decisions where the risk outweighed the reward. They played it safe, they let the game come to them and capitalized viciously on every slight mistake their opponent was about to commit. Thirdly they not only had the perfect personnel in place for the meta fits, but they also had individual players that could turn a bad situation into something good. I can recall matches back in the OSC tournament or the Redemption tournament, were MoonMeander toyed with his opponents on the suicide lane as Bubbles. I can remember games were Chessie just completely demolished the opposing lane in compLexity’s pseudy trilane. There were games where bkid and Franzzii worked together as a two-man wrecking crew, giving Haxxeren time, space and an opening to get the farm he needed. Now Chessie is gone, but Riser_ is an exceptional jungler himself that can fill that role in dominating the lanes with ganks as well.

The future of the team looks bright again and even Swindlemelonzz acknowledged in an interview, that complexity Gaming is on pace and in the discussion of winning a Diamond Division Championship. They came close yesterday, but in the end their Shrine fell and the dream was over.

Back for More

Every two weeks this column features the four newcomers that have made it through the Gold Cycle to have their chance of playing against the absolute elite of Heroes of Newerth. This time two comebackers are in the mix, alongside two newcomers. The biggest chance to have success in Diamond obviously goes to [oo7]We Are Spies, who have won the Gold Division a record setting three times, putting them on the eighth seed for the brackets.

Not only will that team get a favorable matchup in the Diamond Division as well as in the upcoming GSL Qualifier, but they also did prove their skill, talent and worth on other stages aside from HoN Tour. In the SoundBlaster Heroes League they qualified with ease and will be participating in the huge upcoming Championship Bracket of that league. That means that they are one of the 16 best teams in that league and have a chance at a good amount of money. The same numbers and chances apply for their third stint in the Diamond Division as well, but the track record of the North American team is all but satisfying.

First they came in as the Gold Champion in Cycle 3, but fell down right away. In a statement DirtyMobs later acknowledged that they were still too inexperienced for the big challenges in that league, but they will get there. Then they got their second chance in Cycle 5, but once again they couldn’t hang on to the spot. The GSL Qualifier also was only a short experience for the team, who did show in the SBHL Qualifier and in numerous Gold clashes that they have potential, chemistry and the class to go above and beyond the first round of Diamond competition. They just need to show it when the lights are on, when it is clutch time. This is their last chance to make a lasting impression among the Diamond Division teams, as another demotion would mean Gold Division to finish the first Season of HoN Tour.

Alongside We Are Spies are [vdT]Vietnamese Dream, [F4NG]Fntastic4nGombos and [DonD]DoberOnDamp who made it into the illustrious group of Diamond teams. Out of those teams only DoberOnDamp has been in the spotlight of the Diamond Division before – at least in that lineup. Most members of Vietnamese Dream have their fair share of Diamond experience themselves as members of Fack You Kurdi and Vitriolic Gaming. Completely new are Fntastic4nGombos who made it to the third place in Gold Division to earn the promotion. That means that they did defeat DoberOnDamp to get to that point, which indicates some sort of quality right there. Still I haven’t seen anything of them in HoN Tour or outside of HoN Tour that makes me believe that they can overcome their bad seeding and will remain in the Diamond Division after the seventh Cycle.

The same judgment I have for DoberOnDamp, who already made a stance in Diamond once, but due to very lucky circumstances. It was the fourth cycle and they just lost in crushing fashion to Trademark eSports in the Upper Bracket, ready to square off against Fack You Kurdi for the right to remain in Diamond. Fortunately for them Fack You Kurdi disbanded after their abysmal outing against [MlST]Team Mistral and was not going to fight DoberOnDamp for that right. Therefor the Americans stayed in Diamond one more Cycle until they dropped in the fifth Cycle with losses against QsQ and [TteS]Tt eSPORTS. In the current structure of the rankings they have to go against Stay Green in the Upper Bracket, to then face either [OTP]One Trick Pony or [PNIS]Pencils in the Lower Bracket to fight the elimination and demotion battle. Those are tough tasks ahead of them and I predict they will fall right back to Gold.

Last but not least Vietnamese Dream will get a chance to play. The collaboration of former Fack You Kurdi and Vitriolic Gaming has not made the big impact just yet, but they are a talented bunch of individuals that definitely have a chance to stay in Diamond. In the SoundBlaster Heroes League they did manage to reach the Grand Finals in that prestigious seventh and final Qualifier for the NA/EU region – ultimately winning that last international spot for the big event. That victory put them on the map and now they get the chance to showcase their skills on the biggest stage Heroes of Newerth currently has to offer. The team still has to overcome an uphill battle with their seeding position. They will face complexity Gaming in the Upper Bracket, most likely falling into the pressure situation of that one elimination match, deciding their fate for the next Cycle. After that it will be either Tt eSports or [Pika]Pikachu for the Diamond Division privileges. It is manageable, but still a tough road ahead of the Vietnamese to continue their dream.

Winners and Losers

As usual, the final segment of the column is reserved for the Winner and Losers of the Week. Winners have shown extraordinary performances, achievements or improvement in their game recently, while the Losers have either fell short of expectations or just didn’t do well at all.

Winners of the week are clearly Stay Green and complexity Gaming with their great runs through the HoN Tour Cycle 6 bracket. Stay Green is not only the winner of the past two weeks, but also of the sixth Cycle of the Diamond Division. For the very first time a team from the Lower Bracket fought through the obstacle of a 1-0 deficit right away and still captured the Diamond crown of HoN. Add in the fact that Stay Green will travel to Thailand, will be seeded second in the SoundBlaster Heroes League and is challenging Trademark eSports for the No.1 spot in the HoN Tour rankings, and the Honcast Community Rankings is speaking volumes about the kind of week Stay Green had.

complexity on the other hand might be a little bit disappointed in the last match of the cycle, but they gave it their all and lost in a highly entertaining, tense and good series against the best team in HoN today. After coming up short several times in recent history, the team is about to re-establish itself at the top of the mountain. After the decline two months ago and roster changes, the team looks united and ready to roll again. Riser_ has been a great addition; the chemistry, coordination and tactics are back on track and complexity Gaming can once again be considered “elite” in HoN.

The Losers of the week are Trademark eSports and QsQ for different reasons. The statline of both teams might be fairly similar on the Championship Weekend with neither team scoring even a map success, but they are in this category for more than that.

Actually Trademark eSports is here for the combined crucial losses in the GSL Qualifier and the final weekend of HoN Tour. In both events they got swept by their nemesis Stay Green, and in the HoN Tour Upper Bracket Finals they got annihilated by complexity eSports. Usually it seemed that Trademark eSports had the number of both these teams, with controlling complexity in the past and not losing a single series to Stay Green before the GSL. But the tide might turn on the European squad. They look out of sync at points, they make uncharacteristic individual mistakes in the laning phase and they show weakness against inferior teams. Their trip to Thailand seemed like a foregone conclusion, but with the emerging force that is complexity Gaming they will be in for a serious fight in the second GSL qualifier.

Now to QsQ, who have been consistent in their HoN Tour performances ever since the league started, but recently have been stagnant. They are not necessarily doing bad at all, but ever since the QsQ squad emerged from the community program that NoVa initiated, they have been constantly on the rise. They continued to reach milestone after milestone in the OSC, Redemption and Destination tournaments. They established themselves as one of the best team in Heroes of Newerth today, but they have taken time off to really show better results. The team has placed Top 6 in HoN Tour every single cycle with a lock on the fourth place in the first two cycles, followed by a second place finish and three consecutive 5th/6th place finishes in the Premier League of HoN Tour. Still, improvement and performance is lacking and so QsQ needs to be called out at some point. They need to get back on their successful path and be one more serious contender for the Diamond crown to make this Division even more tense, epic and exciting as it already is. In NoVa and QsQ I trust on this one.

- Sören "Fantasy"