Wargaming: 4 phases of team building and the LA regionals aftermath

Heroes Alexander “Sarcophaguy” Kiratzis

I would much prefer this article to cover how you can hone your tactical expertise. However, major issues facing the NA scene following last weekend's tournament are absolutely critical to address. Whether you are a seasoned member of a professional HoTS team, a casual player looking to improve your game, or a tryhard who dreams of going pro, this article is for you.

Why is this relevant right now?

As many of you have observed over the past few days, many of the teams that failed to move on to Korea following the NA Regionals have found their confidence shaken. Organizations such as King of Blades Alpha, Panda Global, and Team Blaze have begun some major reformatting, ranging from roster adjustment, to completely disbanding. It may be heretical in esports to reference a professional athletic organization, but why is it that the Minnesota Vikings, Winnipeg Jets, or Milwaukee Brewers (none have won championships in their respective league) have not disbanded?

Sometimes even pro players miss their skillshots.

Given the ages and attitudes of many pro-players, it is common for fans to view this as immature "drama". Sometimes it definitely is. However, it is important to realize that there are some tried and true techniques for building a strong team, and they can be applied universally. I would love to claim that the U.S. military is where this process originated, but businesses, and all major professional athletic organizations follow it.

But could this ever become a real problem?

Since HoTS is still in its infant stages, and relatively new to the esports scene when compared to League of Legends, Dota 2, or CS:GO, its professional teams need to square themselves away on this process. Just think how ridiculous it would look if every team that didn't make it to the finals of a tournament disbanded, or removed its perceived "weak link". Teams need to start emphasizing successes/improvements during tournaments, rather than focusing on failures alone.

I don't claim to know the internal dynamics and relationships that govern every pro team, but I do question Team Blaze for making any organizational changes after a tournament where they were forced to find a substitute player. What I do know is that if the competition across pro-teams becomes too polarized, it will be difficult for HoTS to maintain the interest needed to eventually supersede its eSport competitors. Before you read on I want to clarify: I do not think that roster changes are a bad thing. They are just not the ultimate solution to building a strong team.

One day your great team can look like these happy stock photo people.

But what are you actually trying to teach?

The following 4-step process is used by the military (and as noted previously, other organizations) to assess how a team has grown, and if it is functionally operating at its full potential. It reveals the inevitable truth that in a team eSport like HoTS, the most important thing is the effectiveness/success of the team (obviously), and not the effectiveness/success of its individual players. I apologize for the lengthy introduction, I'm sure most of you recognized the importance of this concept before ever opening the article. So, without further ado, the four steps:



Critical Point of this Phase:


  • Agreeing upon a set of goals
  • Establishing formal roles for each team member
  • Every member taking personal pride and ownership in the team "Name"


When the decision is made official to form a team, it requires a commitment from each member to wholeheartedly pursue an agreed upon set of goals. This may be as simple as everyone aligning under the goal of qualifying for the Spring Global Championship, or winning Heroes of the Dorm. Surprisingly, this critical point is something that many teams fail to do. This is because an implied task to each member of the team is prioritizing the team's goals above personal goals. A player who is determined to be the best ranged-carry in HoTS may need to allow their team's goals to come before their own. Eventually the team's success will allow that player to achieve their own goals.

It is equally important that certain rights and responsibilities be formally endowed upon members of a team based on their position.


  • It is undeniable that the Team Captain is the leader. This doesn't necessarily entitle him to unquestionable authority, but he is certainly given the privilege of making final decisions (in and out of the game). A good Captain understands the importance of the Manager/Coach, and is responsible for working with him and backing up his input.
  • The Shotcaller determines which enemy player will be focused at any given moment in an engagement, something that can only be accomplished if each of the five players can be relied upon to follow the direction.
  • The Team Manager/Coach is given administrative authority, responsible for the day-to-day operations required to run the team. Most importantly, however, the coach is required to be the chief mentor to each member of the team. Simply having good organizational skills is not enough to run a team. Congrats on making sure we have tickets and lodging for the next tournament, now give us some actually valuable feedback on the replay from this game we just lost (or won).


The players on a HoTS team are like the five fingers of a hand. If everyone works together, you have a fist.



Critical Point of this Phase:


  • Realizing that this is actually a phase (it is going to happen)
  • Not being the guy that quits (I'm looking at the guy who says "gg" when Gazlowe gets first-picked)


Everyone loses, games will get thrown. Worse yet, we are human beings and pro-players will get pissed off at each other. You've probably never argued with your best friend (oh wait, that was the most intense argument of your life).

Systems have to be broken down in order to be reconstructed and made stronger. While the storming phase is undeniably unpleasant, it is a means to an end. If members of a team never recognize what makes them different, they will never learn to amplify each other's strengths, or mitigate each other's weaknesses.

Personalities will always get in the way. Are you trying to make a new BFF or is winning at Blizzcon what actually matters here? A player cannot be regarded as a pro[fessional] gamer if their immaturity causes problems for a team, that voids them of their status as a professional.

If you don't work well with others, maybe a game with a shared level between players isn't your cup of tea, go play League of Legends. Or...Hearthstone perhaps (disclaimer: I love Hearthstone).

Cho and Gall are permanently stuck in the Storming Phase.



Critical Points of this Phase:


  • Being proud of small successes
  • Identifying the team's strengths and weaknesses
  • Realigning with shared goals


When the Storming phase ends, you have to begin again at some point. Although it might seem petty and insignificant, being proud of each small success will provide the drive to move on to the final phase of team building. Honestly, I was incredibly sad to hear that Team Blaze was considering making some adjustments following the NA Regionals. They performed very well under the circumstance of having to substitute for a teammate. Given the nature of their competition, where they landed was not a failure.

Moving into the Norming phase, there should be less interpersonal conflict on the team, and the manager and captain should have identified what each team member's greatest strengths and weaknesses are. Analyzing how these individual qualities combine will reveal which situations the team is strong in, and vice versa. At this point, each player will begin to have a reformed identity that is nested within the purpose of the team. The team is capable of training to achieve its goals.

Team Nom was a new face to many fans last weekend. Though they haven't hit their stride quite yet, they were solidly in the Norming phase. Watch this spectacular attempt to hold out against an almost inevitable GG.



Critical Point of the Phase:


  • Winning
  • Maintaining a stance of humility
  • Recognizing the capability for human error


By far the most pleasant phase of the team building process, your team will visibly begin the Performing phase when they have achieved a common identity, and therefore begin to produce optimal results. The entire process of team building is meant to be rewarding, and this part is just the icing on the cake.

There are two issues that are important to be aware of at this point:


  • First, stemming from the attitudes of their associated players, many teams acquire an arrogant attitude when their success is recognized. Everyone is prone to this, and it is easy to feel entitled if you are the team to beat. Be proud of your performance, and show that. But consider, aren't you more likely to lose fans than gain them if your attitude pisses people off? Everyone loves Wade "Dreadnought" Penfold because not only is he a HoTS expert, he is also very approachable.
  • Second, just because your team wins a major event doesn't mean you won't still make mistakes. You will certainly make a lot less of them, but they will happen. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Team building is a continuous process and any of the 4 phases can present themselves at times. This is not regression, you will always be capable of improving. An important thing to note here is that even if one player is making more errors than the rest of the team, they can't be identified as a "weak link". In accordance with a team's identity, they need to be recognized as a cause for every group success, just like the team needs to assume responsibility for each of its failures.


Wombo Combos may not always happen as a result of pure coordination, but this compilation by KendricSwissh is still fun as hell to watch.



Hopefully, this has provided you with some new perspectives on how you can build or strengthen an organization. With the right attitude, you can take any group of fairly competent players and develop it into a team worthy of being called pro[fessional]. Or you can be like Cam Newton and first pick Nova in Hero League, I'm sure you'll get a huge following once everyone realizes that you're the best carry in the game.

Follow us on twitter @GosuGamersHoTS for more esports news.


What is the keystone to a team's success?

The Organization: players need a support structure to unify them
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The Roster: raw talent must be shown before an effort is worthwhile
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Alexander “Sarcophaguy” Kiratzis
Alex is a Blizzard fanboy and eSports enthusiast. Having been stationed by the Korean DMZ for 2 years as both a tank and reconnaissance platoon leader, he is excited to apply the secrets of small unit tactics and leadership to the growing scene of competitive eSports. You can find him on twitter @SarcophaguyHoTS.


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