The thing about a running start is that it becomes easier to trip.
After a strong opening week of play, Cal Heroes of the Storm fell to 2017 semifinalist UC Irvine, 2-0. Luckily for the Bears, the defeat was more of a slip than a stumble, and the Mishas managed to rally and pull ahead in their matchup against Notre Dame, earning a close 2-1 victory.
In the first game, early kills by UC Irvine off of chained stuns saw the Mishas concede early map control, which snowballed in the bottom lane as siege giants battered Cal structures. Despite a successful ambush by the Bears, the Dream Eaters managed to recover with fast rotations to take engagements across the battlefield and ultimately smash through the weakened bottom lane to take the map.
The second map against UC Irvine was the Battlefields of Eternity. Cal played better around objectives and captured the first Immortal, but a disastrous engagement against the second allowed the Dream Eaters to retake the lanes. Quick repositioning by Cal stemmed the bleeding, but the wound was reopened in the third battle over the Immortals and became fatal in the fight over the fourth, as Cal wiped and gave Irvine the bottom lane, the core and the match.
In its second match of the week against Notre Dame, the Mishas returned to Dragon Shire for the first map for a grueling brawl. After messy skirmishes, Cal seized the upper hand by summoning the Dragon Knight to break open the gates. The Mishas pressed the advantage and wiped out Notre Dame, taking the second Dragon Knight. With these leads, Cal ground down the Notre Dame defense to take Dragon Shire.
The match continued on the Tomb of the Spider Queen, where Notre Dame struck back by repeatedly forcing Webweavers through all three lanes. An attempt by Cal to retake the Webweavers backfired when Notre Dame ambushed the Mishas, sending all five back to spawn and giving Notre Dame a clear path to the core to take the second map.
The final map between Cal and Notre Dame returned to the Battlefields of Eternity. Unlike when they played against UC Irvine, the Mishas were dominant throughout the map, and they pushed as a four-man unit to crush Notre Dame against its gates. With better collaborative team fights, Cal managed to take control over every Immortal, creating an unrelenting wave of pressure that crumpled the Notre Dame defenses and earned the Mishas the victory.
Most impressive this week was Brandon “Pierce” Phu, veteran solo-laner of the 2017 team, who maintained an average of 3 deaths despite going 2-3 in map score. Although the lone wolf nature of Phu’s position often left him vulnerable to enemy ganks, he soldiered on with dependable consistency and had a monstrous game on Leoric against Notre Dame in which he went 6/17/3 in K/D/A with 150,000 siege damage.
“I definitely think we have a high ceiling, but in our current state we have a lot to improve on,” said team captain Andrew “Jadis” Ding. “Next week, we face undefeated teams, and some of them are really, really good. We need to get better at drafting,”
Recently, the team has focused on an aggressive style, relying on taking full-team five-on-five melees. But having finalized a strategy, the Mishas need to finalize their tactics in order to avoid setbacks. Poor drafting against Notre Dame cost them the map, which has long-term ramifications in the standings.
“The No. 1 reason that we lost was that [Notre Dame] picked Kerrigan,” Ding said. “They crushed us with dive and a lot of chain crowd control, just stun-locking us. And because they banned Tyrael and first-picked E.T.C., the two heroes we wanted for our Tank pick, we had issues with our team fights.”
Of the five maps played in the week, Cal had Tyrael or E.T.C. in its draft only once, on Dragon Shire against Notre Dame. The lack of Tank priority caused issues with Cal’s ability to engage and maintain fights; its bunched-together play style leaves the team vulnerable to stuns, which was exploited by the aforementioned Kerrigan pick but also by Irvine’s Loc “Pandasaurus” Tran on Garrosh. Moving forward, the Mishas should look to get their Tank of choice early in the draft rather than risk losing their primary enablers.
“Our mindset is that we will never underestimate any opponent,” Ding said. “We go in with the mindset that they’re good. Game two against Notre Dame was pretty rough, and I feel like I could do a lot more. It takes time, but at our peak, at our ceiling, we could beat anyone.”