MLG Winter Championship begins in Dallas tomorrow, featuring League of Legends and Heart of the Swarm


Heart of the Swarm launch week concludes, fittingly enough, with the first MLG Heart of the Swarm championship in Dallas. League of Legends will also be broadcasting this week’s North American division LCS games from Dallas, as well as the North American Summer Promotion Qualifier and an international exhibition tournament. The streams begin at 6 PM Eastern and the games start a half hour later, at 6:30 Eastern / 10:30 UK. 

To get a high-definition, ad-free Twitch pass, go here and pay the $10 per month MLG subscription fee. Otherwise, you can watch free in 720, with ads, via Twitch or the MLG website.

The StarCraft tournament is a bit simpler than MLG fans are used to seeing: using a straightforward single-elimination bracket of 32 players, with no pool play or open bracket, an elite field of StarCraft 2 pros will do battle in best-of-five matches for a grand prize of $25,000. With stars like Mvp, PartinG, Flash, Bomber, Rain, MC, Stephano, and MarineKing, among others, this should be a no-fluff, high-stakes tournament. It will be fascinating to watch these players adapting themselves to Heart of the Swarm while competing against top-notch opponents.

Casting the StarCraft matches are MLG regulars Sean “Day[9]” Plott, Marcus “djWheat” Graham, Mike “Husky” Lamond, John “TotalBiscuit” Bain, Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson, Nick “Axslav” Ranish, and Alex “Axeltoss” Rodriguez while Anna Prosser Robinson reports from the floor.

Over on the League of Legends side of things, there are a number of different things happening. First, the North American division will broadcast its weekly matches live from MLG Dallas, while Dignitas, Curse, Gambit, and KT Rolster B compete in an International Exhibition with a prize pool of $10,000. Casters include LCS regulars Rivington and Phreak, as well as Kobe24 and EGADorFEED.

I asked MLG caster Tom “Optimus Tom” Searfoss about what we might see at the International Exhibition, with teams from the NA, EU, and Asian competitive scenes suddenly being tossed together. He talked about how the regions come with their own preferred tactics and compositions, but also watch each other closely and eventually their metagames start to converge.

“What we’re seeing is each region kind of coming up with a few of its own ideas, and it slowly spreading from area to area,” he explained. “For example, we had mid lane Kayle start in Korea, migrate to NA and slowly begin her period of dominance in EU in both the mid lane and the jungle. Similarly, Volibear has popped up in EU and filtered his way from Korea to NA. In the Korean Qualifiers for the MLG Winter Championship, we had the OGN Champions Najin Sword & both KT teams favoring an NA jungle and support combo of Jarvan IV / Taric. Similar favorite picks, and similar outright bans on Champions like Twisted Fate and Shen for global threats, aggressive jungles like Vi and Xin Zhao are getting the banhammer to take carry junglers down a peg.”

But the teams with the most to play for are the Challenger Circuit contenders taking part in the Summer Promotion Qualifier. Velocity eSports, Curse Academy, Team Dignitas’ junior team (formerly Pulse), and Cloud 9. The winning team not only gets $20,000, but earns a slot in the LCS promotion / relegation tournament in May.

Optimus Tom gave these teams some mixed reviews. While each of these teams boasts some strong players, they also suffer from too-frequent roster changes.

“If these teams want to be LCS level teams, a lot of them just need the opportunity,” he said. “Some unfortunately have reasons why they are not part of a pro team already such as age, schooling, etc. But every single squad competing at the MLG Winter Championship in Dallas has the skills so that come May, they may be on the LCS stage. They just need to stick together as a team, and keep the communication flowing. Once a team loses co-ordination, they lose focus. Roster changes aren’t always a bad thing, but the teams need to stick it out until the Promotion Matches to really be able to play together as a team, rather than a group of players.”

Of particular note is the Curse Academy team, where the LCS-banned pro Christian “IWillDominate” RIvera plays jungle. Optimus Tom says the controversial player “has not lost his sheen” and he’s paired with a fearsome top-laner in the form of Keenan “Rhux” Santos.

Velocity eSports (formerly Dirt Nap) is still one to watch, however, as Tom has seen them play hyper-aggressively, starting with level 1 invades to snowballing lanes under Neil “PR0LLY” Hammad and Ainslie “frommaplestreet” Wyllie. Cloud 9 he describes as “should-be LCS stars”, but it’s a fairly new roster they’re playing with and that might hurt their cohesion. All these teams have an uphill climb into the LCS, however. Not only do they have to beat one another, but they will also need to overtake one of the current LCS teams in relegation, after months of playing and practicing together with a steady salary. In a game where cohesion counts for so much, the challenger teams have some built-in disadvantages they’ll need to overcome.

No matter what, however, this should be an interesting MLG weekend, with a first-rate Heart of the Swarm tournament and a series of novel League of Legends mini-tournaments, to say nothing of the LCS matches.