The soft glow of the holiday season is behind us, and the first full weekend of the year has come and gone. If you are anything like me, the first weekend of the year is also a holiday as it is HRX and SWC time! Unfortunately, health concerns mean I watched this year from my recliner under the effects of heavy medication instead of in-person under the effects of mild medication – like last year! However, I like looking on the brightside instead of dwelling in darkness. I was afforded the opportunity to run this tournament, and do live-tweeting for all of the games. While my analysis has room to improve, one area that has grown significantly has been trend identification and analysis. Lucky for us, there were ample opportunities to do just that – all of which were key to the outcomes of the sets that took place.
Going into this LAN, if you asked me who the top five most picked and banned gods would be, I would have said Ullr, Raijin, Fafnir, Ah Muzen Cab, and Cu Chulainn. If you asked for five more I would have said Ravana, Sylvanus, Serqet, Odin, and Artio. In reality, it was Sylvanus instead of Cu Chulainn in the top five. Osiris sneaks in the top ten at 6th, and Cu Chulainn is nowhere to be found. That’s not too bad from a purely observational standpoint.
Now, things get a little more interesting when you look at win rate. Of those gods, it is no surprise that Fafnir sports the best win rate by a large margin (~82%). Fafnir is in a strange place. The coordination and planning required to get the most from him is beyond the reach of the average ranked game, but is on display in competitive games. Even after major adjustments, the meta shifts have kept his power on full display. This is particularly true with a combo I thought would see a lot of play during the tourney: Thoth, Hachiman, and Fafnir.
I was both right and wrong in assuming this combo would see action. It was broken out twice, seeing success both times. The strength of this composition lies in the powerful poke it brings to team fights, and the copious shred it brings to objectives. The team double dips in attack speed and bonus attack damage with decent escape and excellent secure. Flag into wall into Coerce brings an unbelievable amount of pressure, and it’s pressure capable of being redirected as necessary. The only thing preventing this comp was the banning of Fafnir – which is understood – but it was surprising this was not more of a strat when available. It was so clean in practice, and I would have loved to see more.
Too Ullr for School
This is in contrast to Raijin and Ullr. Coming into the event, it was clear these characters were pick or ban. Ullr was buffed to a state that can only be called “egregious.” His weaknesses were minimized – some removed entirely – and his strengths were enhanced. The quirks of his gameplay – often referred to as the “skill cap” – were mostly removed. Still, the success or failure of the god comes down to the individual player. In order of importance it is about understanding the delay on the stance switching, landing the volley, and hitting the stuns.
The reason I rate the stun so low is it doesn’t matter if you hit the axe if you can’t hit the other abilities or will get caught out of position easily. Ullr requires heightened situational awareness compared to many other hunters, as his escape might require additional cooldown cycle, and doesn’t have the CC protection due to his lack of ult. To see this in practice, compare the success of Ataraxia, Vote, and Pandacat. Ataraxia has several issues on Ullr compared to Vote, and Vote again had issues compared to Pandacat.
All three are incredibly skilled, but the small degrees of comfort and familiarity are visible at that level. While Ullr is very strong, Hou Yi is no slouch. If you are slightly more skilled at Hou Yi, it’s probably a better selection over Ullr due to Hou Yi’s team presence. With this in mind, it makes a lot of sense that the win-rate for Ullr is 60% and not higher. Frankly, this speaks to how strong he is, as people not as skilled in using him are selecting him and coming out on top – especially with how selfish he is.
Thunderbolt and Lightning (Very, Very Frightening Me)
Raijin is a similar case to Ullr, but is different enough to warrant discussion. Raijin has easy, confirmable damage, and bring a plethora of hard and soft CC, all the while having reliable movement. Unlike Ullr, there isn’t a noticeable soft skill floor that players need to be wary of, nor is the skill ceiling as high as that of Ullr. Raijin is fairly straightforward, and requires only the same skills needed by any other mid laner. In short, as long as you hit your skills, position well, and have map awareness, you will make a good Raijin.
Raijin also brings a very underrated component to the meta we saw at SWC – Divine Ruin spread. Sustain – as expected and indicated by Super Regionals – became a big part of the game plan of a lot of teams. Even if you aren’t picking gods or comps with team sustain, you pick gods with individual sustain. Double lifesteal or even triple lifesteal is core to the hunter meta, and boxing out that sustain alone is worth a single item investiture – to say nothing of a Pestilence from your solo laner. With this in mind, it is comically easy to spread the Divine Ruin effect to the opposing team with Raiju. It’s not up to you to land the skills, but instead relies on the opposing team reacting in a specific way, which is often counter to what the situation would typically call for. Raijin punishes you for grouping, after all.
Raijin had a 62.5% win rate, which is very respectable given the fact he was over 96% pick/ban rate. In only edge cases was Raijin open and not selected. By edge case I mean a single game. When you select a god that much, it’s telling his win rate is that high. He was a central strategy of all teams in the tourney. Teams believing they could just deal with him were punished more often than not. All told, Raijin was more impactful than Ullr, though it was a close thing.
Birds and Bees
About half-way through the tournament, people remembered Ah Muzen Cab was ridiculous and needed to be dealt with. Before people remembered, AMC was having a field day. It was pretty much all AMC and Hachiman, with the Bee Man having overall better stats. AMC never stopped performing well, but he benefited from Ullr hysteria and managed to sneak under the radar from time to time. He became something of a first pick bargaining chip.
In reality, AMC was only a game over .500, while the other hunters of note – Hachi and Hou Yi – were only a game under .500. It’s not a huge differential in reality, but the mental games around the pick were meaningful. Using the same credentials, Rama sneaks in as the third best hunter – albeit with a small sample set. The point is, really the prioritization of Ullr -> AMC -> Hachiman in that order, but everything ended up about equal. Yeah, this ignores team dynamic and specific comps, but the meta was “hunter ignorant” anyway.
In the same vein, Team Bird Mage absolutely killed it. Isis was 3-1, Ra 2-1, and Thoth 2-0. Isis was banned more than she was selected – which isn’t surprising. Isis was a Wlfy special, and proved to be a Yammyn special! The second point surprises me a bit, but I’m a new viewer – comparatively – and apparently this was a season two sorta thing. Ra was banned five times, as well. Once again this was a Wlfy special, as well as a multi-region selection. The only loss was by Wlfy in a situation where Ra ended up being a bait pick, given the way eUnited drafted. Thoth went 2-0 with no bans.
What a difference a year makes, eh? Thoth is believed to be in a bad spot – mostly due to an underperformance at Super Regionals. However, most of those losses were at the hands of Zyrhoes, which can’t rightly be counted as an unbiased sample, given the collapse of Team Dignitas. Still, it scared teams away. I maintain the Fafnir-Hachi-Thoth combo was a sleeper strat, but it won’t rightly be proven out. C’est la vie!
Missed by most, the solo laner became something of a secondary support. The goal was to get ahead, keep the jungler ahead, and the hold W with authority. You see Deathwalker do this for Team Rival across all games, and Benji did the same for eUnited for all his games. Only in game four of the finals did Team Rival figure out what eUnited was doing. This is in no way a slight – as no other team managed it. Rival lost game four for a different reason, entirely.
The value of Cu Chulainn wasn’t “omg Choo Choo OP.” Really, he is strong but in an okay spot. The value was his ability to stay relevant late in the game, and bring huge disrupts. He lost in lane to DW a few times – as he did to LG in SRs – but managed to sustain and condition his opponents. I can’t stress the “condition” part enough. This is a big part of several strategies. It relies on you getting your opponent to continue to perform or not perform an action over and over again. All-inning the Osiris during a late crucial objective fight, costing you the objective and fight for no reason. The perfect example is Wlfy using the kraken solo on Benji’s Osiris. Earlier in the game that makes Benji leave, if he’s not picked by Ice or DW. Late? It’s a loss-contributor. Mind games were BIG in this HRX. Bigger than ever before, imo.
Anyway. Only in game four was DW going at Benji as aggressively as he was known for. In the ther games, he was playing set-up and control gods for his late team fights. This is by no means a bad call. Rival team fighting late was better than just about everyone. DW going even AND being that huge team presence was a big part of that. Unfortunately, that style played into what eUnited wanted to do. eUnited was using the amazing presence of Screammmmm to double dip on farm, and then let Venenu be a second carry over just the disruptor. It made a HUGE difference. It was because of the aggression and non-late play of Benji.
Man. It is tough watching teams beat themselves. LG did it. NRG did it. Rival did it.
LG overstayed and got punished by Adapting. The fact it was Adapting made it so much worse. Adapting beat the core of this team twice at Worlds. Now you can make it three. He got a triple kill off of the hubris of the team staying, LG collapsed that game and looked 100% defeated going into game two. It showed.
For NRG, it was the bait into picking Fenrir. Serqet was finally locked out, and Adapting goes Fenrir. This was not a shock. It would have been…if that Jeff/Barra documentary didn’t come out. That doc spent a LOT of time focused on Adapting, and how he goes Fen when it’s all on the line. Rival had to know that was going to play out this time if things went to the wire. Sure enough, game five and Fen comes out. This time, Rival was prepped. The entire team had beads, magi’s and shut down all of Fen’s utility. Adapting was forced into trying to make plays, and it getting worse and worse. Without the doc, does he pick Fen? I don’t think he does, but we will never know.
Rival got a taste of the mind games themselves in finals game four, unfortunately. Rival was on top in game four when the decided to gamble on Fire Giant. Resetting the objective and cleaning up eUnited would have been the safe bet. However, Rival believed their secure was enough. After all, objective secure is a big part of why you pick a utility mage like Poseidon. Unfortunately, Wlfy barely misjudged the damage dealt, it wasn’t quite enough, and eUnited stole it. While bad, this wasn’t insurmountable. Rival was way ahead, after all. Rival pulls portal demon as a way to get their confidence back and get their heads right…only to lose it via steal again. That was the nail in the coffin. Rival started making bad decisions – kraken on just the full health Osiris -and communication began to dissolve. This was 100% Team Rival’s game until that series of events. Would they have won a game five? Impossible to know. What we do know is that we won’t get the chance to find out.
I dislike seeing a god competitively for the first time at SWC. It changes the meta in ways you can’t predict, and results in strange pick/ban phases where certain teams end up as guinea pigs. Then again, the nature of scrims is such that it is impossible to know what will or won’t work. We’ll see if this changes with Spacestation Gaming having two teams in Season Five. Regardless, SWC was the first time we got to see Discordia – to mixed results.
Discordia was 3-7, which belies her strength. When she is the right character, she forces a ban for her in the next game, as was done each time in the tournament. Her weaknesses – outside of the standard mage weaknesses – are her bad early game, her reliance on enemy positioning, and item dependency. When she is even or ahead, she is an unstoppable monster. Her burst is high, she spreads Divine Ruin as easily as Raijin, and her CC is so incredible. If she is even or ahead, her damage is crazy. In fact, if she gets ahead, it’s safe to call her nigh-unstoppable. The nigh is there only because you could drop the ball yourself.
Right now, she is something of a risky pick. You have to pick high pressure everywhere else, and execute it appropriately. Still, if you manage to so then you are almost guaranteed the win.
Final Thoughts – The Sets
Only two sets at SWC were not shut outs. This is in part because each team was trying to force pressure and pick up wins from sheer presence. Like a CCG, the balance is then less intra-sey but instead cross set. Hopefully this gets changed with season five, to bring a bit more of the competition together. Still, it was a great SWC, and a very promising trending for season five.