Heroes of the Storm
The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre of gaming has been rapidly gaining widespread popularity in recent years, particularly with the emerging Esports scene. Lately, there have been three “main” MOBAs in Esports: DotA 2, League of Legends, and Smite. However, with Blizzard’s recent growing involvement in Esports, they have been expanding their own MOBA, Heroes of the Storm into its own Esport. With a newcomer to the scene, it begs the question: How well does HotS stand up in both amateur and professional play compared to these more veteran MOBAs?
Main Differences From Other MOBAs
One of the most dramatic differences between HotS and other MOBAs is the lack of gold and items. For those familiar with most MOBAs, this really stands out because it also means that the ability to last-hit minions is unnecessary. While this relieves a lot of stress on the average player, it could also be argued that without last-hitting, gold, or items, the potential for mastery and branching playstyles is reduced in exchange. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; some players prefer a simpler, less stressful game.
While less dramatic than the removal of gold or items, another notable deviation from traditional MOBAs is Heroes’ addition of mounts. On a casual level, mounts add another layer of customization to the game, allowing the character to pick what animal, vehicle, or magic carpet to use to move around the map. On a more strategic level, mounts make for a much more macro-based gameplay. The ability to quickly move between lanes and objectives while out of combat makes players be able to plan and play for the “big picture” as opposed to sitting in lane most of the game.
The final major difference between HotS and other MOBAs is its use of a variety of maps. What’s great about having multiple maps is that it makes for less monotony in games by adding variety of what game type a player gets to experience. On a more competitive level, it also makes picks/bans have more variety, as some characters tend to be better on certain maps. This benefit comes with a big trade-off however. Having a neutral, consistent measurement of skill tends to be very important to MOBAs, especially in regards to Esports. Many hardcore MOBA players might feel that the randomization of maps and objectives could damage the competitive integrity of the game to a certain degree. Again though, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as it still appeals for the more casual audience looking to have quick, relaxed games.
Being a MOBA with several established games of the genre, HotS comes with one of the toughest challenges in game design: How can the game stay true to the genre, while still being original after other companies have already done so much with MOBAs? I feel that Blizzard accomplishes this unique identity fairly well. The character kits as a whole are still completely different from any other MOBA’s characters and there are a good amount of mechanics in Heroes that don’t exist in any other MOBA (i.e. King of the Hill and Payload objectives). With its various maps and gamemodes, it also defies the convention of “traditional” MOBAs of simply “Attack the enemy towers then inner base to win”.
The other primary challenge of HotS is actually a result of one of its greater strengths: One of its coolest aspects is its use of characters that are familiar to anyone that’s played Blizzard games. While tapping into a passionate fanbase is effective, it also comes with a risk: Misrepresenting their beloved characters could cause major discontent and leave a bad impression on the game as a whole for players giving HotS a try. However, this comes down to a matter of opinion, as many players have been enjoying the more “silly” aspects, like the Pajamathur skin for example.
Without gold or items to give the game dynamic decision-making, it makes up for this by having multiple choices for branching power through a talent system. The ability to choose between two ultimate abilities is very interesting, as it gives characters more depth on a game-to-game basis. This depth is further supported by talents allowing a player to augment their abilities as they level up in-game.
The talent system comes with a major downside however: It adds a very large amount of complexity to newer players and viewers. In DotA, LoL, and Smite, a viewer who has played the game a fair amount can at least have some idea of how players are building because the items are the same for all characters. I was watching some HGC Qualifier matches the other day and I noticed the display of each player’s talents (pictured here). As someone who has played and studied HotS a reasonable amount, I gain virtually no information from looking at that table because I haven’t memorized every single talent choice for every character. Having to tab back and forth between a stream and the Heroes wiki page really detracts from the viewer experience.
State of Balance
There’s not much to say about Heroes’ balance, it seems to be VERY well tuned. A competitive meta exist with a few minor outliers, but there doesn’t seem to be any character that’s excessively weak or strong. A large part of this is likely due to the lack of gold and items. Without items, developers are able to balance around the characters without worrying about bonus stats or any sort of stat-based modifiers on abilities.
I really enjoy the massive amount of cosmetics put into the game as it definitely showcases the passion of the developers, especially the artists. Heroes’ use of the tried-and-true method of buyable/unlockable loot boxes works fine, even improving on the system by being able to buy a reroll on the loot from a box.
In terms of competitive integrity or high-level analysis, the only concern with cosmetics revolves around the concept of “pay-to-win”- being able to have an in-game advantage from paying real money in the store. Fortunately there hasn’t been any noticeable cases of pay-to-win in HotS so far.
Overall, Heroes’ store seems to be really well done. The only possible flaw to it is that three separate currencies (excluding real money) might be a bit too many. Unlocking new characters or cosmetics should be simple and straightforward — regardless if it’s by playing a lot or purchasing with actual monney. Having to memorize what each of the three currencies buys and how to get them feels like an unnecessary amount of thought to put into something that should be very simple.
With short games and an over-the-top feeling, Heroes definitely feels like a bit more casual MOBA — which is okay! The game practically oozes with unbridled passion from the developer. If they can clean up the clarity/accessibility of talent information for new viewers, it should have a much stronger potential as a major Esport.