Not So Massively: How unrealistic expectations hobbled Heroes of the Storm

    
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I find myself in the odd position of feeling compelled to both defend and criticize Heroes of the Storm. The game’s taken a huge PR hit over the last year, with developer Blizzard Entertainment cancelling its esports events and scaling back development, and as always the Chicken Littles of the world are out in full force to say the game is dead. Even as a former player unhappy with the current state of the game, I can say that seems unfair.

But as I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that both the overblown doom-saying over Heroes of the Storm and my issues with it are largely rooted in the same issue: unrealistic expectations. Both Blizzard and the community lost sight of what Heroes of the Storm was supposed to be, to the game’s detriment.

Heroes is unique in my gaming career. (I still can’t bring myself to call it HOTS; to me, HOTS still means Heart of the Swarm, the StarCraft II expansion.) Heroes is the only PvP-focused game I’ve ever become a regular player of for more than a few weeks.

I was lucky enough to be invited to the technical alpha for Heroes of the Storm, and from that point I played almost daily for about two years, and more sporadically for a while after that. I was, to put it mildly, a fan. Considering I normally avoid PvP at any cost, I think it’s fair to say the game must have been doing something right.

A lot of it is simply that I’m a lifelong Blizzard fan, and I just couldn’t resist the nerdgasmic delight of tossing all their most iconic characters into a ring and making them fight. But it was also the sense of fun that ran through Heroes of the Storm. This was not some “serious business” competitive game. It was a ridiculous cartoon brawl that never attempted to take itself seriously, at any level. It wasn’t made for serious competition. It didn’t have last-hitting, or complicated item builds, or so many other unforgiving mechanics you see in other MOBAs. It was made to be a fun game to blow off steam.

In much the same way World of Warcraft originally started as a more casual alternative to some of the grindier themeparks of the time, Heroes of the Storm seemed to be the MOBA for more casual players who didn’t want the stress and intensity of games like League of Legends or DOTA 2.

That, at least, is how it started. People forget that. Originally it wasn’t even meant to be released as a separate title. It was first just a mod produced to showcase the potential of StarCraft II‘s Galaxy Editor. It ended up being so much fun that Blizzard then decided to make it a full game unto itself, and its ambitions for Heroes grew, which was a good thing right up until it wasn’t.

For much of the game’s testing period and early launch days, the focus still seemed to be on making Heroes a light, casual game for messing around with, but gradually the push to market it as an esport grew, and along the way the original, low stress vision for the game seemed to slowly slip away.

A little bit at a time, Heroes of the Storm changed its direction and started to become less the game I’d initially fallen in love with.

One of the things that frustrates me the most is how the meta-game has evolved. Early on, Heroes‘ team fights were relatively slow, stately affairs. An intense fight over an objective could last up to a few minutes, giving each team and every player plenty of time to recover from any mistake. Victory was about playing consistently well, not single make-or-break moments.

But then power creep began to sneak in. More and more heroes with high burst damage were introduced, and the old characters had to be balanced to compensate. Slowly team fights began to resemble less a tug of war and more a Western shootout. It became simply a race to see who could one-shot the other team first. Fights became quick, brutal, decisive, and very difficult to recover from. A single mistake could doom your team.

I’m not sure whether this was a conscious decision on Blizzard’s part or not, but if nothing else the fact that the studio didn’t try to stop it proves it’d lost sight of the vision of Heroes of the Storm as the casual-friendly MOBA.

Let’s look at Chromie, a character who in all seriousness almost single-handedly killed the game for me. With her high burst damage, lack of any telegraphs on her abilities, and an ultimate that all but guarantees a kill, she’s a monstrously frustrating hero to play against, and completely antithetical to the low stress environment Heroes was meant to provide.

I am not necessarily saying Chromie is over-powered. She can be countered, but it takes skill and most of all the correct team composition. At high-level play with draft-picked teams, she’s probably fine, but for casual quick play PUGs — which I consider the heart and soul of Heroes of the Storm — she’s a nightmare.

That’s not the only example of Blizzard only considering the high-end players to the expense of everyone else. Look, also, to the constant hero redesigns. Sure, balance changes are inevitably going to be needed in any game like this, but it is possible to go too far. Heroes of the Storm is not a well-balanced game, and it never will be. I’m OK with that. It’s the price you pay for fun and unique playable characters.

But Blizzard is never satisfied. It always has to keep tweaking things. Its passion for iteration was great when it mostly made single-player games and had to finish things to meet a deadline, but it plays havoc on a live service game. Heroes of the Storm changed so much so often it became all but impossible to keep up as a casual player.

It’s not just about balance. Blizzard has freely admitted it redesigns heroes who don’t need it, just to keep things “fresh.” I’m sure the hardcore players appreciate the shake-up to the meta-game, but again it’s exhausting to those who just just want to log on and blow stuff up in a quick match.

This is one of the biggest thing keeping me away from Heroes these days: All of the characters I used to love have changed so much I hardly recognize them. Meanwhile basic quality of life features, like a map veto, are still nowhere to be found. Their priorities are all out of whack.

This is one of the biggest thing keeping me away from Heroes these days: All of the characters I used to love have changed so much I hardly recognize them.
 Heroes of the Storm was never cut out to be a serious, competitive esport. Personally I think MOBAs make terrible spectator sports at the best of times, but even putting that aside, I’d say Heroes was just too late to the scene to have much of a chance at keeping up with its more established cousins.

But Blizzard is ambitious, and people expect everything it does to be a monster hit, so Heroes was twisted into something it was never meant to be. Predictably, that effort failed, and now Heroes has died as an esport, and the commentariat flocks to declare the game as a whole dead and buried.

But here’s the thing: Heroes of the Storm isn’t dead. It’s still getting updates and new content, albeit a bit slower. And I think here again the unrealistic expectations are dragging the game down because I don’t think Heroes is dying. I think it’s returning to what it was always meant to be: a fun little side project.

Not every game needs to be a masterpiece or a blockbuster hit. Sometimes it’s OK to be a small, silly game. Sometimes those are the most fun of all. Heroes was always at its best when it was small and silly, and maybe now it can reconnect with those roots.

Given how hard of a sell PvP is for me, it might be too late for Heroes to win me back, but I don’t think it’s too late for the game to turn things around, as long as people are willing to accept it for what it is.

The world of online gaming is changing. As the gray area between single-player and MMO becomes ever wider, Massively OP’s Tyler Edwards delves into this new and expanding frontier biweekly in Not So Massively, our column on battle royales, OARPGs, looter-shooters, and other multiplayer online titles that aren’t quite MMORPGs.
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echo_blu
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echo_blu

This article was so frustrating to read. “Journalist” sounds like he didn’t touch this game more than 3 years. Even screenshots are 3 years old! 3years old screenshoots, talking about pre-reworked chromie, repeating some “beta” opinions. If you don’t play HotS, just pretend it never existed, you don’t understand what is fun about this game anyway.

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Jim Bergevin Jr

I felt the same way about Atlas Reactor as Tyler did about Heroes. I played both games regularly, but Atlas always came out as my favorite.

I really didn’t start playing Heroes until it’s second year, so don’t know how much it had changed since release, but compared to a couple of attempts at DotA, found Heroes much easier to get into and play on my casual basis. I agree that both Blizzard and a portion of the playerbase wanted it to be more than it necessarily needs to be.

And I have to agree that Blizz’s philosophy of changing for the sake of change us just asinine. I haven’t played in a while because the last couple of times I logged in for an evening of play, my core heroes had been changed each time that I had to spend most of the play session just learning how to play them all over again instead of just enjoying the matches. It was annoying as hell.

BetterTax
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BetterTax

I just registered to comment how misinformed, wrong and biased this article is.

I’m not going into go into every single issue, but the fact that the ‘journalist’ never mentioned the Chromie rework, which changed her whole gameplay from burst to sustained damage (almost impossible to 1 shot anyone now) goes to show that this person didn’t touch the game for the last year or more.

The Chromie Rework was launched on the Caldaeum event, on March 2019.

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Bruno Brito

I am not necessarily saying Chromie is over-powered. She can be countered, but it takes skill and most of all the correct team composition. At high-level play with draft-picked teams, she’s probably fine, but for casual quick play PUGs — which I consider the heart and soul of Heroes of the Storm — she’s a nightmare.

Seems like it. This old interaction of Chromie was so broken, she demanded a rework.

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ref 2

This article is written based on 3 year old memories and is severely misinformed.
It feels like you haven’t touched the game in at least a year, and the 3 year old screenshots with old UI proves it.

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Bruno Brito

One of the things that frustrates me the most is how the meta-game has evolved. Early on, Heroes‘ team fights were relatively slow, stately affairs. An intense fight over an objective could last up to a few minutes, giving each team and every player plenty of time to recover from any mistake. Victory was about playing consistently well, not single make-or-break moments.

Yeah, i remember those days. When the game first 15min mattered so little ( lack of items and carry role ) that everything was up for grabs and the weaker team could simply comeback for a push and win because the comeback mechanics in Hots were always pathetic.

And i don’t know what timeframe you’re on, but i’m from the beginning of hots launch too. And i do NOT remember a instance where leveled assassins couldn’t delete people. Teamfights were NOT taking 5 minutes because they were more tactical. They were taking 5 minutes because some long-ranged engage was missing. Arthas was one of the best tanks until Anub’arak appeared, and Arthas is a counter-engage character. ETC was always meta and always picked, and he was godlike, and any team with ETC played the exactly SAME from the beginning of Hots to the end.

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Richard de Leon III

Blizzard has freely admitted it redesigns heroes who don’t need it, just to keep things “fresh.”

And they apply this design philosophy in all their games, which is why sometimes i hate to play wow because my toons are changed too much. I still miss gameplay where i used ALL types of spells rather than be limited to a rotation in one specific school (looks at frost spec with disdain).

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sizer99

As someone who’s only peripherally interested in Heroes I do remember the launch being pretty hyped. I don’t remember any hint of ‘This is casual fun’, rather ‘This is the our LoL/DOTA killer!’

You’re probably right and Blizzard let their ambitions run away – and their Activision masters probably wouldn’t have been too happy with ‘It’s MOBA Peggle’ instead of ‘It’s $500M/yr esports’.

BetterTax
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BetterTax

The problem in that regard was that the game was never marketed as a MOBA, it was a “Hero Brawler”, whatever that was. Blame Dustin Browder for that.

Also, HOTS is far from casual (the thing that LOL/Dota players say to validate themselves), it’s exceedingly difficult at the highest level, which can be proven because several of their ex-professionals achieved massive success in other games (a “mid tier” USA pro won 2 million dollars after less than a year of playing Fortnite, he got 2nd place).

HOTS found its place as the “MOBA for people new to MOBAs” , and that’s what they should have tried to do, instead of trying to force a 1v2 with esports and a game that was barely on Beta. In fact, the game was always on Beta from my point of view until recently, when they finally finished fixing Ranked. Though Quick Match as a game mode is absolute trash.

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Bruno Brito

Also, HOTS is far from casual (the thing that LOL/Dota players say to validate themselves), it’s exceedingly difficult at the highest level, which can be proven because several of their ex-professionals achieved massive success in other games (a “mid tier” USA pro won 2 million dollars after less than a year of playing Fortnite, he got 2nd place).

Hots is COMPLETELY casual. The game was advertised as such. Just because good gamers find themselves having success in other games, that doesn’t speak about the game, it speaks about the player.

Hots mechanics are easy to grasp, casual to the core, and that’s why it died. Because most of the nuances that makes a team win in Dota or LoL are not present there.

You can talk about validation all you want, but of these three games, two have huge competitive scenes, worldwide. I’ll let you figure out which one doesn’t.

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TomTurtle

I don’t play the game, but I’ve heard the same complaint about the whole fun vs. pursuit of e-sports over the years as well so it’s good to see someone else echoing it here.

I feel like the mentioned issue of power creep finds itself into many PvP games/modes along with the issue of balance fatigue. Though for the latter, little balance can be just as damaging, if not more so.