Going into Gold Cycle 6 there were a few teams I expected to do a little more than what they did. In the end we still saw [oo7]We Are Spies continue their dominance in Gold; they are one of a few teams that continue to dominate the Gold Brackets but have not been able to penetrate the lower surface of Diamond.

Even if the Gold and Diamond teams are similar in skill level, what isn't accounted for is the drafting ability. Talking with [DrDz]Druidz eSport player Fantalastisk, he shared his first-hand experience in playing the upper teams. Though he doesn't draft for his team he can see the effect it has and how the draft plays out with communication from his captain and drafter.

From experience, top teams are very good at trapping you in Lock Pick (they get what they want outside of blind bans and banning stage of course). Bottom line, in the end they will probably get the lineup they want against you.

swindlemelonzz recently said in an interview with BreakyCPK about his GSL qualifier win, that in both games he got the exact draft he wanted. This goes to show that there is much to learn for many of these newer teams. This goes beyond the banning pick stages that we saw MSI and fly dominate with his superior drafting—this is a new stage and so far it's looking like swindle is proving to be #1 in that department.

I haven't paid much attention to the drafting ability of the Gold teams, although I know they all have their own quirks and heroes they enjoy to run. The problem with that comes with what we see now versus [357]QsQ or [LION]Lions eSportsKlubb; the heroes you've won with are going to be blind banned or banned against you. So those Pandamonium, Chipper, and Bombardier big plays will get you maybe one win versus a top team—after that, if they are a threat they will be banned. The solution for those teams: get multiple heroes you can wreak havoc with.

There are around 50 heroes that are viable for competitive play in the current meta, although we do not see many of them due to the fact that teams and players get comfortable with a limited roster and stick with it.

Nymphora for example has a delay on her stun and is more reliable to follow up with rather than start with. For this to work you need someone like a Magmus who can stun and get up close whereas Hammerstorm will not reach them in time. In both cases you would rather see Engineer with Magmus and Glacius with Hammerstorm, due to how the heroes synergize. Aluna and Moraxus for example is another good combination. All these pairings are solid dual mid lanes that can effectively get kills and in some cases turn around.

This is why we see so much of Engineer, Aluna and Glacius as opposed to Empath, Andromeda and Nymphora. Although I would place all these heroes in the same level, it is the competitors who choose to run the heroes they feel comfortable with. Getting more into the nitty gritty aspect of drafting comes down to those first few picks. Recently we have seen a focus on heroes like Rally, Pebbles, Deadwood and Master Of Arms for the top teams. Followed up by the popular Wretched Hag, Torturer, Magmus and other 'lock pick' picks that made it through all the banning and locking phases such as Bubbles or Pharaoh on rare occasion.

We have seen teams moving away from picking a hard carry such as Draconis, The Dark Lady or Silhouette, replacing them with heroes like Pebbles, Wretched Hag and most recently Deadwood. Trademark was one of the first teams to start this, most notably after the Zephyr revitalization era of Dreamhack Winter 2024. Since then we have seen a change in meta, and although laning remains the same tri-lanes have become more popular.

It cannot be repeated enough that there are more viable heroes then what we currently see. It simply falls to captains to be able to lane the heroes to their needs. Thunderbringer for example after his recent buffs does an extraordinary amount of damage, but how do you lane him? Solo safe would be one option, since you don't want to put him up in a dual lane or solo mid vs two stunners. Even in the short lane he could get killed by a Bubbles, Hag or even a Pharaoh quite easily. That is to say unless you decided to 2v1 your short lane to give Thunderbringer an edge, but what would that really gain your team when the enemy team has Mystic Vestments readily available?

Drafting is one of the many other problems that separates lower and higher teams. Think of it like micro and macro: Micro would be your captain deciding the draft such as locking, banning and picking heroes as well as laning them, while macro is how well you actually play the lanes and lineups. Both parts need to find a happy medium in order to guarantee a recipe for success.

Gold Finals and Afterthoughts

Moving into HoN Tour results we have We Are Spies taking the dominant win over [vdT]Vietnamese Dream going 3-0 in their best of five series. Again, they are one of the many rising teams who are having trouble penetrating the Diamond bracket.

This brings me to another problem that many teams will face who rise up to Diamond: say you're a new team to Diamond, your first match is a welcome invitation to facing either [tdM]Trademark eSports, [coL]compLexityGaming or [sG]Stay Green in the first round match. Assuming they play at their level, after that you face a mid-tier team who lost to another mid-tier team. No chance and no practice in Diamond, and back to Gold you go for another Cycle. Scrimming these top teams isn't easy either, since most teams want to scrim someone that will test them. We aren't going to see [F4NG]Fntastic4nGombos scrimming Stay Green anytime soon, unless Stay Green wants to just stomp them if they are having a bad run. No offence F4NG, but you're not quite there yet.

This week will say a lot about teams as we enter Cycle 7—the upcoming lock will determine the rosters for the remainder of Season 1. With [OTP]One Trick Pony calling it quits this opens up a surprise invite into the final spot, considering many of the teams near that spot, including [C1K]Call It Karma, Fack You Kurdi and [PUDG]Dendis jungldevos, are all disbanded or not playing anymore. That is great news for teams like [AiD]Afraid, [xCet]Team Excellent, [DCx]Justice League, Vietnamese Dream, [SdS]SdS, [hade]HAVE IT and maybe [DonD]DoberOnDamp, who can make it into the Fourth position tournament based on their performance over the next two cycles.

For those teams, and any others on the verge of breaking into the next tier, here are a few words of advice:

Scrim! Scrim! Scrim! Nothing brings improvement like playing together and building synergy as a team.

When it comes to drafting, pick a playstyle and drafting style that suits your team best and play to it. You don't need to counter the enemy team with your picks so much as you need to get the lanes you feel comfortable playing versus them.

Experience doesn't come free. Many top players dedicate time and resources to improving skills. Study games with your team, learn preferred lineups for other teams and any predictable drafts they will make, and what makes them so strong.

Finally, don't get discouraged because of a loss. If you find yourself losing many games in a row, either take a break or go beat on some lowbie teams until you figure out what the problem is.

- Crowslaw