ASU's dominant road to 2016 Heroes of the Dorm title

Heroes of the Dorm 2016: Arizona State victory montage (1:38)

ASU rolls through the Grand Final in spectacular fashion. (1:38)


That one word perfectly describes the tournament run of the 2016 Heroes of the Dorm champions, the Arizona State University Real Dream Team. They didn't just win the entire event in stunning fashion, they absolutely plowed through it without suffering a single loss. Simply put, they were a force of a nature.

Last year's runner-up to the inaugural Heroes of the Dorm, the ASU Real Dream Team lived up to the namesake in every way -- and backed up their claims coming in that this year's tournament was theirs to lose. Perhaps the most impressive part of Arizona State's run is that it was done without using any kind of gimmick -- they beat teams straight-up with standard lineups and heroes. Whether it was through better control of neutral objectives, or superior execution in team fights and the correct priority for the best heroes possible on a given map choice, every game was fairly one-sided. In other words, the work paid off and they absolutely outplayed the field.

It's fair to assume that there was plenty of hard work as the improvement from last year's runner-up team was clearly evident in the Real Dream Team's performance. Michael "MichaelUdall" Udall, the team captain, reflected about what went wrong with the first attempt.

"Last year, we went into it with just raw talent alone; no experience and practice," Udall said. "We winged it. I didn't want that again after we left the stage last year with the feeling of defeat. I wanted us to be overprepared."

In addition to preparation, the ASU Real Dream Team added substitute players and a couple new professional faces. One of them, Austin "Shot" Lonsert dropped his previous competitive Heroes of the Storm obligations to dedicate that practice time for the Heroes of the Dorm team. Every player treated this year's event as the full-time job.

That meant scrimmages, practices, communication, strategies and studying replays. The team was willing to put in the work to ensure that their claim to the championship trophy was guaranteed.

"We played two-hour blocks with different teams -- even teams that we knew were absolutely better than us," Lonsert told me. "We practiced against professional and amateur teams, and we're thankful we got to play against better teams. The experiences from our practice losses helped us throughout the tournament because we learned why we lost."

Udall took to his coaching role seriously. He had an idea on what the team's practice regimen should look like: scheduled scrimmages, specific focuses on individual mechanics, and feedback. For himself, he focused on his overall shot-calling and the hero draft.

They practiced with a purpose.

"I don't think any team worked as hard as we did," Udall said. "Even teams with professional players like the University of Texas-Arlington Dark Blaze juggled both competitive play instead of just focusing on this tournament. Other teams practiced for just three days a week or just half-days, their time spent playing was a lot lower than ours."

It's hard to argue with the captain of an undefeated team. While UTA Dark Blaze, the eventual second-place finishers, was regarded as the favorites to emerge from their side of the bracket, the final was anything but competitive. They were swept 3-0 from the building, and even attempted a couple pet strategies and hero choices to potentially swerve the ASU's focus. The tilt was evident when UTA Dark Blaze forgot to first-pick a hero they planned on after the ASU Real Dream Team picked it up instead -- their signature Illidan.

"I don't think any team worked as hard as we did," Udall said. "Even teams with professional players like the University of Texas-Arlington Dark Blaze juggled both competitive play instead of just focusing on this tournament. Other teams practiced for just three days-a-week or just half-days, their time spent playing was a lot lower than ours."

"We were all good friends with UTA Dark Blaze and we knocked them out last year," Stefan "Akaface" Anderson said. "We were concerned initially with them, but then they dropped a game to Boston College Pool Plato ST and most of their series were very close. As long as we played our game, we would be fine."

After experiencing the reach that their success from winning Heroes of the Dorm was able to generate, the players of the ASU Real Dream Team understand the raw potential of collegiate esports. It's an untapped community that could both generate mass appeal to the casual fan and generate plenty of monetary gain for interested future sponsors and companies.

One large obstacle in the way of growth may just be the current lack of collegiate events and competitions for Heroes of the Storm, and other esport titles. It would be difficult to justify a sponsorship or even scholarship potential for players to attend just one or two major events. As Lonsert told me, it's very important for more events to exist for the sake of persuasion and exposure.

"I have high hopes for the collegiate scene. It's easy for the casual crowd; all my high school teachers took pictures of [Heroes of the Dorm] and rallied behind it without knowing anything about the game," Udall said. "Universities have widespread appeal and we didn't know how big it could be."

For Udall, he will continue to play Heroes of the Storm on a competitive basis (along with Lonsert and Anderson), but he'll also strive to start an esports program at ASU in association with the Athletics Department. The majority of the team will be free agents in the professional player pool, and could garner interest because of their collegiate successes.

The jump to being a professional player in Heroes of the Storm is a long and arduous one. Like many other esports before it, it requires dedication and limitless passion for even a chance to see the fruits of the labor put in.

One of their key substitute players, Vann "Vannity" Childs, is the true success story within the team. He was a spectator at last year's Heroes of the Dorm and was shattered upon watching his school fall short of their goal. For a self-professed "person with no school spirit" before the tournament, he vowed to join the team and win it for his school.

"I tried out for the sub and realized that it meant a fill-in for any role. I researched every individual player and role so I could jump in and play well," Childs told me. "I was an observer to every scrimmage and listened in on the communication of the team. I would watch the replays after and see if my moves matched the team's movements."

While events like Heroes of the Dorm are rare, the players of the Real Dream Team still offered up priceless advice for anyone looking to join them in the competitive ranks.

From a champion's point-of-view to everyone hoping to replicate those kind of results: "It will take a while -- you have to keep working at it," Lonsert said. "A lot of times, I wanted to quit but I powered through it. When you're at your lowest, it's then that you need to work the hardest."

"You have to be open-minded and receptive to criticism," Udall said. "I wanted to shout-out to the team, especially Vannity, because they didn't need to show up but they did so much. Players like Vannity are big to a team -- they really help a lot."