Thank You, Heroes of the Storm
February 09 2019
Heroes of the Storm took an already fast-paced genre and cranked the speed up even higher, delivering an esports experience that threw teams into full 5-on-5 brawls from the first minutes of every match.
In its attempt to redefine the MOBA genre, Heroes of the Storm frequently redefined itself as well, putting its competitive scene through rapid evolution. The competitive history of Heroes of the Storm saw several distinct eras in its four-year span, each with its own shifting esports landscape and definitive teams.
And Team Liquid was there for all of them.
From the earliest days of tech demos and exhibition tournaments, Team Liquid held a prominent place in the Heroes of the Storm scene, evolving along with the game. Unfortunately, Team Liquid's involvement with the game has come to a close, after Blizzard announced the end of officially sponsored HotS esports and the cancellation of the Heroes Global Championship. Despite this, Team Liquid remains proud of its HotS players and their accomplishments in the scene. The Team Liquid jersey has been worn by some of the game’s most memorable and decorated players. The final line-up of Team Liquid was Liam “Arcaner” Simpson, Aleksander “ethernal” Milanov, Dennis “HasuObs” Schneider, Nils “Nurok” Gebhardt, and Ivan “SportBilly” Koturić. These five players lived up to the legacy of Team Liquid as an organization, and the rosters that preceded them.
Team Liquid’s first squad was formed in 2014 by TL StarCraft veteran, Shawn “Sheth” Simon. Heroes of the Storm was still in tech alpha, invitation-only, and for many the game was still only rumor. To draw eyes to the developing project, Blizzard held a four-team exhibition tournament at BlizzCon that year. Although HotS would not have a true competitive scene until the following year, the 2014 exhibition tournament put the game—and Team Liquid—before a new and curious convention crowd, the first experience of what Heroes of the Storm could become.
HotS took its first proper steps as an esport in 2015, with monthly scenes and grassroots tournaments springing up as the game went into open beta. That year, Team Liquid was represented by one of the most legendary rosters in the game’s history, led by veteran StarCraft brothers Pedro and Juan Moreno Durán, better known as LucifroN and VortiX. The brothers, together with Cristofer “Blackscorp” Embareck, Victor “Falcon” Sánchez López, and Fran “GranPkt” Núñez, are remembered in the HotS community as the Spanish Armada. The most dominant team of the era, the Spanish Armada swept through those early Western tournaments, claiming multiple titles and immortalizing Team Liquid’s place in Heroes of the Storm history. At the height of their golden summer, the Spanish Armada claimed nine consecutive first-place finishes at different tournaments across the EU, including DreamHack, PGL, MSI Masters Gaming Arena, and the ZOTAC monthly cups.
The pioneer days of Heroes of the Storm came to an end during that summer, as the game grew and evolved into something more centralized. LucifroN and VortiX were joined by Cristoph “Cris” Goqizke, Raoul “Gerdamherd” Saurbier, and Joaquim “Lowell” Fitas in the winter, and the new roster represented Team Liquid in the Eastern regions. TL would become the first Western team to ever defeat the Korean dominants, MVP Black—a deed that prefigured BlizzCon 2018, where a newer Team Liquid would face MVP Black’s later incarnation, Gen.G Esports.
2016 was the year of HotS’s “global circuit” era, with three distinct mini-seasons and world championships in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. The circuit system was a time of rapid change for Heroes of the Storm, with Oskar “Jowe” Halamus and Daniel “Shad” González representing Team Liquid in Spring 2016, Summer bringing Arturs “bkbgrnrjefek” Hlibovs (whose handle is itself a reference to fellow TL alum, GranPkt), and Lawrence “Atheroangel” Harper joining in the Fall phase. For all their rapid change, these circuits helped unify the various regions into a larger and coherent community, paving the way for the final form of Heroes esports: the HGC.
Owned and organized by Blizzard directly, the Heroes Global Championship began in 2017. The HGC gave Heroes of the Storm a proper league structure, with each global region working to qualify for a grand international final. It was a league that benefited from stability, and TL had its sights on a proven line-up. The five-man roster of Markus “Blumbi” Hanke, Simon “Darkmok” Tabin, Dennis “HasuObs” Schneider, Nils “Nurok” Gebhardt, and Lyubomir “Splendour” Kozlovski had first assembled in January 2016, and had played together throughout the circuit era.
This team had stayed together across multiple organizations, and their experience together lead them to an early undefeated streak in the new HGC. As such, when Team Liquid acquired the roster from Misfits Gaming, the team was already a favorite for the passionate HGC fanbase. But Team Liquid wasn’t finished evolving yet. The team’s early success did not translate into the season’s end.
As 2017 came to a close, TL was struggling. Europe had become the HGC’s most internally competitive region, with razor-thin margins separating the top 5 teams. By that point, Team Liquid’s squad was the longest-standing roster in the entire game. But as close as the competition was, only the very best teams could go to the BlizzCon world championships.
“In 2016, we were one game away from making it, TWICE,” Nurok recalls. “I took a big hit from it.”
The roster had been together so long without any changes, but it was becoming clear that a change was necessary for the team to survive. That change came in the form of Alexander “ethernal” Milanov, and the return of SportBilly, who together took on the team’s frontline roles. But while the revised roster remained successful within the region, morale was still low for the team’s BlizzCon hopes.
“2017 then looked more promising, but we struggled at the end of the year. I personally had very little hope back then,” says Nurok. “So we just went all-in.”
One final piece was missing. In 2018, Team Liquid acquired Liam “Arcaner” Simpson, a fan-favorite prodigy from the Australian region. Arcaner had found as much success as he could in that minor region, and his move to Europe introduced him to a higher caliber of play. Arcaner was a ranged assassin player, which is exactly the area where Team Liquid was struggling, but the team made one more change in its line-up by parting ways with their support player, Splendour.
“We did not only bring in new blood with Arcaner on the carry role, but also changed the Support position by moving Nurok to it,” HasuObs explains. “Both changes seemed to have a great impact on the performance of the team, but also the morale.”
Team Liquid had found their missing piece. With Arcaner, the team had not only found the line-up that would bring them success in the HGC—they had formed the roster that would endure to the very end of Heroes as an esport. The new roster received a lot of attention, most of which gravitated towards Arcaner as the bright, young star in a new region. But HasuObs gives just as much credit to Nurok’s role-swap.
“Arcaner is one of the best hard carry players,” he says, “and Nurok reinvented the Support play. He mastered the challenge of swapping role and excelled the expectations. I am really happy that we went for these changes.”
The new line-up was bottled lightning. Empowered by the new direction, the reforged roster finished strong in the 2018 season. After two years of striving, Team Liquid finally grasped what they had always been reaching for, and qualified for the HGC World Championship.
“It felt truly amazing,” Nurok says. “I actually felt better in that moment than in winning tournament moments. My burden vanished and I could finally play without a weight again. I felt free and had peace with myself.”
SportBilly agrees: “Qualifying for BlizzCon and playing there was always a dream of mine.”
But if BlizzCon was a dream come true for the players, that was just as true for the organization itself. None of Team Liquid’s previous rosters had reached the world final stage, not even the Spanish Armada. This line-up gave Team Liquid something none of their predecessors had been able to do. At the same time, that was wholly mutual—all of these players had been trying to get to BlizzCon for years, with other teams, other organizations, even other games in the case of some (“I tried in both WC3 and SC2,” recalls HasuObs), but it was Team Liquid where those dreams finally came true.
That intersection of dreams, for both players and organization, created an emotional bond larger than the tournament itself. Nurok searches for words to describe the feeling: “Qualifying for BlizzCon could be compared to qualifying to the TI from DOTA2 or the World Championship from LoL—but phrasing it like this doesn't justify how amazing it felt to qualify for the biggest tournament of the year. We built this roster to reach that goal. I specifically had very big influence on it, and told my teammates, ‘We will qualify this year.’ I told the same to everyone who asked me, I was confident in it, for some reason which I can't even explain myself.”
SportBilly remembers how hard the team worked, during that season. “The road to BlizzCon was a bit stressful with a lot of ups and downs,” he recalls, “but in the end with great teamwork and a strong mindset we made it. I was super excited to finally play on the big stage and to practice against the Korean teams.”
HasuObs was just as confident: “It was our main goal that we set in 2018 and achieving it pushed us even more into the right direction. I knew, with the addition of Arcaner and swapping Nurok to support we had a really good chance, proving ourselves but also our fans that we are a top contender.”
Even Arcaner, who had a completely different history and brought his own competitive mindset to the team, could feel that this Team Liquid was like nothing that had come before it: “The truth is I have never felt an overwhelming joy or sense of accomplishment that I see from players when I qualify for an event,” Arcaner admits, reflecting on the experience. “Including BlizzCon. It always felt strange that I was not content with the achievement, but a lot of my focus has been, and always will be, to use tournaments as a platform to showcase my skill and practice. In my Heroes of the Storm pro career I believed that I was better than everyone and that I needed to go out there and prove it in solo queue, scrims and tournaments. Every time I qualified for an event almost all of my excitement was to play solo queue in another region and encounter foreign pros.”
“However,” Arcaner concludes, “BlizzCon 2018 with Team Liquid was different. It was the first event where I came home satisfied with the team's performance, and I attribute a lot of this to our bootcamp in the NA Alienware Training Facility where we grew so quickly as a team. I'll never forget this event and I'll always be thankful for how hard my teammates worked to achieve our goals.”
And so, these five—Arcaner, ethernal, HasuObs, Nurok, and SportBilly—would become the first players to represent Team Liquid at BlizzCon since the 2014 exhibition match. Even today, SportBilly is proud of their achievements together: “So all in all I'm happy that we showed up at BlizzCon with our performance and gave the fans some nice games to watch.”
That’s an enormous understatement.
In the tournament itself, Team Liquid performed greater than any other Western team. The title itself would go to Gen.G Esports, the Korean first-seed—and the most dominant team in Heroes of the Storm history. During the entire tournament, both the opening stages in Burbank and the playoffs at BlizzCon itself, Gen.G lost to only a single team: Team Liquid. And so, though Gen.G would eliminate Team Liquid in the semifinals, Team Liquid did what no one else in the world could by bringing Gen.G to all five games in the series.
“I wish we would have closed out the series against Gen.G,” Nurok says, “though I am sure we made the fans happy for giving the best games of the tournament, the last official HotS event.”
Nurok’s statement is not an empty one. While the bracket layout means that Team Liquid technically finished behind Team Dignitas, the tournament grand finals ended up being a short and simple 3-0 in Gen.G’s favor. Given the one-sided feeling of the Dignitas match, especially since the tournament turned out to be the last event of the HGC era, the semifinals of the tournament have proven more memorable to the Heroes community. With the end of Blizzard-sponsored events, it is the series between Team Liquid and Gen.G that stands out as the most exciting, most competitive, and most climactic series in the last HGC tournament.
Since then, with the end of HGC and official Heroes esports, the team has remained close as friends, helping each other find their next steps in a post-Heroes of the Storm world. SportBilly, Nurok, and HasuObs have all been streaming, while Nurok has been duo-queueing League of Legends with Arcaner.
SportBilly has been playing League as well, but alternating that with streams of Fortnite. “I’m coming from an FPS background,” he explains. “HotS was pretty much the first MOBA I really liked.” More than anything, SportBilly is keeping an open mind, both within gaming and beyond it. Fulfillment is important to him. “If there is any multiplayer games coming up in 2019, I will for sure try them,” he says. “If not, I’ll try and find something else that makes me happy and put my heart into it. I would like to thank the HGC/HotS community for the awesome support. They made the professional life more enjoyable for me, and make sure if you want and can to still support my teammates and me in whatever is next for us!” His journey, and his stream, can be found here: https://www.twitch.tv/sportbilly
HasuObs and ethernal remain involved with Heroes of the Storm. In the absence of an official league, the fan community Heroes Lounge is running a donation-funded league: Heroes of the Storm Division S. Many ex-HGC pros are participating in Division S, and HasuObs and Ethernal have formed a team together with former Fnatic and Dignitas players. Their team is called Washed Up, and fans can continue contributing to the Division S prize pool through Matcherino. In addition, Hasu still streams the Heroes of the Storm ladder, and you can watch him here: https://www.twitch.tv/liquidhasuobs
Nurok has recently finished another community-organized HotS event, the EU Nexus Contest, where he coached Team Germany. Now, he plans to play League of Legends full-time. “I will stream League of Legends and pursue a career as a fulltime-streamer and potentially go pro again, we will see which doors will open up,” Nurok says. It’s a return home for Nurok, a former Challenger who won the German national league back in 2013. He plays in the bottom lane, both Support and ADC. Nurok streams six days a week, and you can find him here: www.twitch.tv/nurok
Arcaner is also playing bottom lane with Nurok, but has been playing the midlane role as well. Unlike Nurok, League of Legends is untapped territory for Arcaner, but his determination and drive are still there. “I’m playing with the intention to be in the LEC,” he says. “It's going to be a lot of learning and grinding, but I'm transferring the same mentality I had in HotS to League, and I believe that I will be able to succeed in this game. It’s a test to my character since I'm starting from scratch and none of the accomplishments and resulted ego will be relevant in this journey. Also the time constraints related to how long I can financially support myself living in EU will add extra pressure.”
Regardless of the end of HGC, the perfect storm of talent and community that brought Team Liquid will not be easily forgotten, by either the players or their fans.
“I wish the journey could have been longer,” Arcaner says, referring to the end of Team Liquid’s time in HotS. “I want to thank my fans for supporting me personally and also all the Team Liquid fans. I want to also apologize to fans for not engaging or interacting with them much—I'm a very reserved person and I preferred to focus on my own improvement in solitude.”
Nurok is similarly outspoken, and leaves the team’s fans with a final message of positivity: “Thank you guys for the amazing support, and I hope you will continue supporting my teammates and me on our future journeys.”
Let me start by sharing that Team Liquid is indeed leaving Heroes of the Storm. Over the past month we have been working on a path for our players to see where it makes sense to continue working with each other in some capacity. We are incredibly disappointed that HGC is no longer going to be around and have thoroughly enjoyed our time in Heroes of the Storm and HGC the past five years. With our background in Blizzard games and a long standing relationship with one of our first players Sheth, we decided to take the leap and picked up our first roster to participate in the BlizzCon Exhibition Tournament in 2014.
Since then it has been a pleasure watching our roster form and transform several times into becoming a top contender. We look back fondly at some fantastic successes over the years with VortiX and LucifroN. The core of our current roster — HasuObs and Nurok — has been with us for two years, and eventually everything came together in the performance of their lifetime with a top four finish at this last BlizzCon.
In a way it is eerily fitting that arguably our greatest achievement comes right at the end of a five year span in the game. It was an absolute joy seeing our players reach new heights. Special shoutout to HasuObs who realized his dream of playing at BlizzCon and making it to the semi finals after an incredible career in WarCraft 3, StarCraft II, and Heroes of the Storm.
Although we had been looking forward to participating in the new season, I also must be honest about the fact that our presence in HotS was under review for us regardless. This was mostly caused by the fact that any impactful monetization for organizations continued to be absent from HGC and our Blizzard relationship. I am honestly really disappointed with the lack of commercial development around HGC. We believe it had potential to attract sponsors, do media deals, and create unique digital items, but none of this came to fruition. I believe that because of the lack of monetization, Blizzard solely saw HGC as a marketing expense for the game, which explains the abrupt ending.
I really have to spend a few words on where I feel HGC went wrong as well. Ultimately within Blizzard there was a commitment to putting a product out there, but far too few resources were spent to establish monetization that I am confident would have supported the league because of the game’s devoted fan base. In a total absence of finding revenue it just became a pure marketing spend. That leads me to another point, which is that if a publisher isn’t able to monetize their league as a sport, but still sees value in the marketing for their game, they absolutely have an obligation to not treat it like any other marketing department operating on a year-to-year budget. This isn’t the same as buying a Super Bowl commercial spot. This is a full ecosystem with hundreds of young adults relying on its existence. To just pull the plug on it overnight is entirely irresponsible. There should be long term commitments from publishers to the leagues they run and a decision about discontinuing should be made well in advance. I understand the league may suffer a bit if everyone knows early on that it is going to end, but the human benefits here far outweighs the downside.
On our end we continued to have our players under contract throughout the holidays despite the mid-December announcement. In the end we are parting ways by giving them an additional month under contract, as well as a very significant increase to their share of the bit cheer revenue, to help them transition into their new lives. We sat down with the entirety of our team to figure out whether we can support them in some way. This has led to us continuing to work with SportBilly, Nurok, and HasuObs as streamers. While we are happy that we can be a home for some of our players for a while longer, it should also be said that unfortunately the path of being an upcoming streamer is in no way the financial equivalent of being a pro player. We’ll always try to help out where it makes sense.
Finally, I would like to say that I am incredibly proud of what our Heroes of the Storm team was able to accomplish. I have nothing but respect for the hard work and dedication that they put in throughout their time on Team Liquid, and they will always be a part of our history.
Victor "Nazgul" Goossens