SEATTLE -- The crowd sat forward, staring up at the screens intently as the bass from the speakers shook the floor. Hundreds of people watched as three players in the video game got taken down, yelling their support for the great plays.
Seattle's Pax Prime Convention was the scene over the weekend of the first international tournament of "Heroes of the Storm," the latest multiplayer PC game to draw teams of professional gamers from all over the world in hopes of winning fame and fortune, not to mention gold and talent points.
"Heroes of the Storm" is becoming big, with teams dedicated to playing the game professionally and a fan base and rivalries that are already huge -- despite the game being released by publisher Blizzard Entertainment just three months ago, on June 2. It is quickly following the footsteps of another popular game, Riot Games' "League of Legends," the North American Championship Series final of which was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City in front of a crowd of about 11,000.
A South Korean team dominated, but the real suprise from the tournament was that North America beat the top European team, settling -- for now -- a rivalry that has simmered for years across the competitive gaming world.
Competition for the MSI Masters Gaming Arena kicked off on a stage built in one corner of the fourth floor of the Washington State Convention Center. Rows of folding chairs faced a stage with a "casters" desk -- gamer-speak for announcers that webcast their narratives -- in the middle and seats for five players and computers on either side for each team. One side of the stage was bathed in blue light and the other in red -- with big screens mounted above.
Sitting in the crowd, craning your neck up to watch the games unfold on the screen, you could feel the shudder of the bass every time a team fight was under way. Chairs filled up quickly and the noise coming from the speakers drew in a crowd, with people standing or taking a seat on the ground to watch.
The competition was intense; the teams had been training for months following the first qualifiers in June and everyone in the “Heroes of the Storm” community was excited to see which region would come out on top, especially between Europe and North America where the rivalry is very real.
As the first international tournament, everyone saw the Masters Gaming Arena as a good indication of which team would be likely to take out the World Championships at BlizzCon on November 6-7 -- and with $30,000 on the line for first place, $12,000 for second and $8,000 for third the teams really wanted to place.
Unfortunately controversy kicked off before the games even started, with the two Chinese teams having to withdraw from competition due to visa issues. This saw North American team Cognitive Gaming being invited to compete just weeks before the tournament.
There were no upsets on the first day of competition, where each series was a best of three the winning team took out their competitor 2-0. Team Liquid from Europe advanced over South East Asian team myRevenge.VS, a result that surprised no one as Team Liquid is considered one of the best teams in the world.
South Korean team MVP Black dominated the Eastern European team Virtus.pro, while North American team Tempo Storm took out fellow NA team Cognitive Gaming. Due to Chinese team eStar Gaming having to pull out of the competition at the last minute North American team Cloud9 (formerly known as Cloud9 Maelstrom) got a bye first round.
Saturday saw a full day of competition, with teams contending in the semi-finals and finals. All eyes were on MVP Black going up against Team Liquid, and North American favorite Tempo Storm.
Huge crowds were drawn to the stage by the yelling and excitement of the North American casters Jake Kulinski and Corey Hauver whenever a major play was made, and the tension at the arena was high.
For some games European caster Teknolink was subbed in so they could take turns having a break, but the crowd was regularly annoyed with his commentary as he didn’t seem to know anything about the game or the teams playing, often turning to his fellow caster to ask what was interesting about the talents picked up by a team at certain levels -- basic knowledge when casting a game.
There was some controversy during the Tempo Storm and Cloud9 pick/ban phase when Cloud9 drafted Sylvanas -- a hero that was banned from play on Saturday due to a bug -- at the last minute giving them more time to think about which hero they wanted to pick.
In a repeat of pretty much every North American competition to date Tempo Storm went up against Cloud9 and beat them. For many fans in the crowd however Tempo Storm did not seem to be playing at their best, the competition was close and Cloud9 often looked to be way ahead.
The MVP Black and Team Liquid games were thrilling to watch, with Team Liquid managing to take one game off the South Korean team, despite losing the round of three in the end.
Easily the biggest upset from Saturday was in the losers finals, when Cloud9 beat Team Liquid 2-0, a stomping that surprised everyone as Cloud9 is considered to be the second best in North America and Team Liquid one of the best overall.
Taking to the stage for the grand finals, both Tempo Storm and MVP Black looked calm as they plugged in their keyboards and mice, getting comfortable in their seats for the best of five round that would determine the winner.
The crowd was the biggest yet, every seat was taken as well as much of the floor space, the crowd overall seemed to be in favor of Tempo Storm but there were a decent amount of South Korean supporters as well.
Everyone’s eyes were trained on the screens, watching as the teams drafted their heroes, a huge factor in whether or not a team could win the match.
Unfortunately for Tempo Storm, Sylvanas is one of their preferred characters, and due to the ban they had to pick up heroes they were not as comfortable on, and barely ever played -- such as Tyrande in the first match and Tassadar in the third.
MVP Black shook up the meta in game two with their pick of Brightwing as a support, the faerie dragon is believed to be essentially redundant in competitive play due to not being as strong as other support characters like Rehgar, Uther and Malfurion.
Taking out the series 3-0 to victory was MVP Black, who out rotated Tempo Storm consistently, wiping out team members and snowballing levels in all three games.
While Tempo Storm is known for their late-game dominance they just couldn’t find a foothold against MVP Black, even the smallest positive play from Tempo Storm would illicit cheers from the crowd.
After the game the two teams shook hands, and the medals for the top three teams were handed out. The crowd was already dispersing when Tempo Storm and MVP Black packed up their keyboards and mice before exiting the stage.
The games were over and once again a Korean team had shown its dominance over the competitive eSports scene. Now each of the teams would head home to go over replays and practice ahead of the World Championships, with a slightly better understanding of their weaknesses against international competition.