This is the time of the year when college sports take center stage. But as college basketball begins to wind down, it's time for the madness to spread to collegiate esports. In particular, it's time to look at Heroes of the Dorm, the annual collegiate tournament for Heroes of the Storm that has operated on the college basketball model for the past four years.
The Heroes of the Dorm Round of 64 is set to kick off this week. So in anticipation of the madness, Shacknews spoke to Tespa Associate Product Manager Logan Fishel about what to expect from this year's event, as well as some of the logistical challenges, the Bracket Challenge, and bringing the Heroic Four to the Blizzard Arena.
Shacknews: What has been the primary difference with this year's Heroes of the Dorm as opposed to previous years? How do you feel the event has improved?
Logan Fishel, Tespa Associate Product Manager: It's interesting, because this is the fourth year that Heroes of the Dorm has been running. So I think that in itself has caused a lot of changes. A lot of our schools have figured out the competition and are realizing how seriously they need to take it, so that's a pretty interesting change. We've seen a lot of schools step up their game. I don't think there's a clear favorite this year.
I'd say the biggest change I've noticed is that it's shifted a lot to a smaller sub-section of schools taking it really seriously. And then the more casual schools have been playing in our open ladder. So participation numbers are higher than last year, but we've seen a smaller more concentrated number of schools focused on this premier competition.
And yes, I'd say the legacy of this being the fourth year running has been the theme of this year's tournament. So when we revealed the Bracket Challenge last week, the key piece for that was celebrating a key player from each of the previous year's champions. Fan [Yang] from UC Berkeley in 2015, [Michael] Udall from ASU in 2016, and Kure [Yusuf Sunka] from UTA in 2017.
Shacknews: It's funny you mention more teams participating this year, because that leads to my next question. Has organizing a field of 64 gotten easier over the years? How do you feel you've improved the seeding process?
Fishel: It's changed every year, so I don't know if we've found efficiencies. But this year has been really interesting, because in our regular season, instead of splitting it up last year where we just split it up into the United States and Canada and the North, South, and East, and West regional groups, we split that up even more for this year. We had 15 more local groups. From what we've seen from players and the general feelings of schools, they first want to see how they stack up against their immediate neighbors and peers. So our competition had a lot more local storylines going into this.
But that also made seeding going into the Round of 64 a little bit more interesting, because a significant amount of matches were just played locally. So there was a little bit of balance trying to figure out how those 15 regions stacked up against each other.
Shacknews: The Round of 64 is kicking off a little later than in previous years. Was the team concerned about having the Heroic Four at a later date and missing that March Madness atmosphere?
Fishel: I would say no. I think it doesn't have to parallel exactly with March Madness. I think we're still in the general timeframe. And I think this schedule mostly focused around not trying to make our college players play too many matches before March. We wanted to make sure we got enough matches in before Round of 64 to accurately seed it without making them balance school and playing a ton of matches every week. I think it was a little bit of a balance between trying to get all the matches in around March but not pushing our players too hard.
Shacknews: I know how challenging early May can be, in terms of academics and finals. Do you anticipate any problem with schools potentially having finals around that time and players having to split their focus between Dorm and their academics?
Fishel: Typically when we schedule any tournament, we have aggregated academic calendars for, at minimum, our top 20 participating colleges, but sometimes even more. The window for our Finals, May 12, is definitely right on that borderline of when a lot of spring finals start kicking off. I think one week later or any amount of days later, it would be a no-go, but I think we're right at the cutoff.
That being said, most teams finish playing in April. It's the Heroic Four going on to the Finals, but if anything were to come up, we'll definitely be sure that those players are finding ways to focus on school first, because their success in school is still our priority.
Shacknews: What can you tell me about this year's Bracket Challenge? How did Blizzard determine this year's prizes and for anyone who filled out a bracket last year, is there any hope they're going to see Azmodunk again?
Fishel: Well, I don't know if I can speak to the Azmodunk question, but we definitely think he's a cool part of Heroes of the Dorm. That's all I can really say about that.
The Bracket Challenge at its core is the same as last year. There's still $10,000 for the closest-to-perfect bracket for the winner, lots of in-game goodies for anyone who fills out a bracket, and even more in-game goodies for anyone who finishes in top 500 of the brackets. And really, the biggest thing we added, if anyone is able to secure that perfect bracket, which... really, there's a lot of different opinions on the extreme odds of that, depending on what factors you look into. But there is $1 million on the line for anyone who, against all odds, is able to secure that perfect bracket.
Shacknews: What does it mean to the team to have the Blizzard Arena available for this year's Heroic Four? In what ways do you plan to throw an event on par with Heroic Fours of years past?
Fishel: I'm really excited to bring it back to Los Angeles, where the very first finals were held. Blizzard Arena does a lot to elevate the legitimacy of this competition. And I know a lot of our players are excited for the chance to play on one of the most premier esports stages. So I think, in general, there's a lot of excitement among our players. I'm definitely excited for the live finals this year and I think it'll be an exciting show.
Shacknews: I know that in past Dorms, some of the better teams have gone on to the pro esports level. I remember Udall and Arizona State going on to become a big part of Gale Force eSports for a long time. Do you anticipate anything similar, maybe one of these college teams going pro someday?
Fishel: It's interesting, I think it's definitely an aspiration for some of our players. So Dorm is a great opportunity to experience playing in the most competitive setting, especially if you make it to the Heroic Four and you get all that stage experience. One of the things I really enjoy about our live finals is, for the most part, none of the players when they arrive have any experience playing on a stage this big. I'm always impressed by their ability to step up and play at their top level.
I think it's good experience for those who want to go pro and I know a few of our teams are actually in the HGC Open right now. So I think it's very likely we'll see, for the fourth year running, some of the top players from this year's Dorm go on to HGC next year.
Shacknews: Lastly, for the casual Heroes Esports viewer, what resources can you recommend for anyone looking to learn more about the Round of 64 teams?
Fishel: If you go to the Heroes of the Dorm website, you can check out the brackets. Make sure to fill out a bracket by Tuesday the 27th at midnight.
But then what I really enjoy is that we have tons and tons and tons of stats on all of these teams. Click on the 'Teams' tab, you can look at each team and find stats on each team, what their top compsitions are, what their top battlefields are, click on the players and see their individual stats. And then when you're filling out the bracket, you can click the info tab on each match to see how each team stacks against each other. Overall, I hope we have a lot of resources out there to help inform you and increase your chances at winning some prizes. We also have on the website, the Bracket Reveal show, where our casters who have been casting the entire regular season give their predictions and their breakdowns on the teams and highlights. There's definitely a lot of material out there. You can probably spend a whole evening going through the teams, doing some research, and filling out that perfect bracket.
The Heroes of the Dorm Round of 64 begins this Wednesday, March 28 and continues through the month of April. The Heroic Four will take place May 12 from the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA.