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Oxygen goes over some of Heroes of the Storm's features that most need improvement.
BlizzCon 2017 will be Heroes of the Storm's 4th showing at our favourite yearly event. Since Blizzard has certainly delivered on the esports side of the game with HGC, I thought I'd share my thoughts on some of the game's systems. Here it is, then: Six aspects of Heroes of the Storm that need improvement.
I) The Class System
This point is extremely complex to discuss because it directly criticizes one of the core aspects of the game, and cannot be separated from resulting issues. I’ll try and break it down as simply as I can.
The premise of this discussion point is a firm belief in the following statement: Heroes of the Storm was designed to be played with team compositions that include at least one tank, and at least one healer.
I’ll develop this point further, but I’d first like to draw a parallel with World of Warcraft’s 5-player dungeons. In World of Warcraft, dungeons are specifically designed with parties composed of 1 tank, 1 healer, and 3 damage dealers in mind. You are allowed to twist party compositions at your own risk, if you can field 5 players willing to partake to the experiment, but the automatic group finding tool will never deviate from the established “1-1-3” norm. Why? Because these dungeons are designed, and tested that way. The damage taken output is normalized for a single healer to handle; the kill timers are made for 3 competent damage dealers to handle; no tank-switching mechanics are present, and so on.
I understand that the normalized team composition statement is very bold for Heroes of the Storm because we have all experienced those matches where the above rules were all but respected. But, you may have observed that matches involving irregular team compositions were either extremely long or extremely short, or that they featured absurdly high or absurdly low kill counts. Why do such extremes occur?
Not my most memorable performance. Or match.
Tanks and healers are what I might call “inhibitors”; they inhibit kills. The sheer resilience of tanks – which is generally about 3 to 4 times that of your typical assassin or support hero – and general access to long-range mobility allows them to scout with relative safety to contribute to the own safety of teammates. Their access to reliable crowd control allows them to protect teammates as well. On the flip side, this crowd control also punishes poor positioning dearly… which is where healers intervene.
Healers’ ability to undo damage contributes to safely capturing certain objectives, razing structures, closing out games, and, of course, making mistakes less impactful. Have you ever tried sieging a guarded core without a healer? Unless your team has a 3-man advantage or the help of a map objective, and assuming relatively competent players, this is generally unreasonable to pull off. Structures hit hard in this game, and minions die very quickly.
Actually, everything hits hard; most assassins can kill each other in less than 5 seconds; heroic ability combos are devastating and almost always lead to kills. But tanks and healers help reduce these outcomes drastically; they create breathing room, partly due to their defensive nature and utility, and partly due to the fact that they generally have limited or otherwise very situational sustained damage outputs.
6 paragraphs in, and I have yet to explain why this is problematic. Here it is, then: in essence, I feel that matches where tanks or healers are absent are too different from so-called “normal” matches. Lacking either role closes off several strategic options for your team; the game loses strategic depth, and often breaks down to which team fields the greatest abilities to quickly wrench kills away – usually through raw combat mobility or long range poke which makes retaliation difficult. This is not a problem (beyond design intent) when the playing field is even, of course; when both teams do feature irregular compositions, but the playing field is seldom even in this respect. Why? Two reasons, both related to drafting.
The first reason deals with player preferences and proficiencies. The tank and healer roles are essential, but by design, less represented in any given team composition. Due to their importance, the skill disparity between two opposing tanks or healers may be felt more strongly than for assassins; in other words I feel it is much less punishing to have to handle a poor assassin player, as team compositions generally feature at least one or two more. This is especially true when considering that tanks and healers tend to require more knowledge and practice to play well. In a random drafting environment, you may find yourself in a situation where neither you nor any of your teammates are proficient at either role versus players that do display proficiency in these roles. Of course, it makes sense to reward players that master multiple roles, but the set drafting order, inability to trade hero picks, and questionable ability to blanket-block all forms of communication with teammates makes coordinating a messy business. This contributes to making the drafting process random at best, and toxic at worst. How? Nobody likes being forced into playing a role they do not wish to play, especially if they know they might perform poorly. But, nobody likes having a sub-par team composition either, nor tilting teammates before a given match has even begun. After all, specializing one’s hero pool and role is the norm for the MOBA genre, not the exception. If a player is stuck playing a role they do not wish to play due to the game’s design heavily promoting specific team compositions, they may set their team at a disadvantage. Would you rather risk something unconventional, or stick to one of your weaker or less interesting roles? In both cases, you are setting yourself up for a potentially frustrating match.
The second reason has to deal with drafting and in of itself; what if, for whatever reason, your team did not manage to secure either role? Most players are used to having a certain stability, and while I do not doubt that many would not mind experimenting, not everyone is capable of nor open to doing so. As I see it, the role system exists to guide players very strongly towards what the developers had in mind. We simply need to remember the Varian debacle to see what happens when the intended system fails to function properly. For those of you who weren’t around back then, here’s a recap: Varian, as a multiclass hero that can elect to become a tank or an assassin, used to be considered an assassin for matchmaking purposes. This left Quick Match players in a situation where they were consistently matched against a tank without one of their own. Blizzard addressed the situation by making him a tank for Quick Match-making purposes.
This ties in nicely with my next point: Quick Match, as the most played game mode by far, and the “logical” introductory step to PvP, ill-prepares players for drafting. It makes little sense to me to, on one hand, have a well-defined class system around which the game is designed, to then have a game mode that essentially throws the concept of team composition right out the window. As it turns out, tanks and healers are less popular than assassins, which often forces the matchmaking system to deal with an unevenly distributed population of players. It then has to make a choice between creating irregular team compositions, or to keep players waiting for an indefinite amount of time. I’ll also argue that Quick Match, in its current form, tends to put players into an “I play what I want when I want” mindset that translates poorly into other game modes. This would be fine if the natural progression was not Quick Match into Unranked Draft into Ranked Draft, but it is. When you design a game around team play, you need to groom your players into becoming team players from the get-go.
If Blizzard is bent on keeping its current role system, Quick Match mode simply cannot continue to exist in its current form. The solution is rather simple: Just like the World of Warcraft dungeon system, and, more closely related, League of Legends’ Draft Pick system, players should simply select the role they wish to play before a given match, and not the hero itself. Enforce a basic 1-tank, 1-healer, 3-assassins/specialists rule. If there aren’t enough tank or healer players around to make queue times reasonable, incentivize players to switch to these roles with gold and experience bonuses that scale directly with how many players for roles are necessary to regulate said queue times. This would have the positive side effect of pushing players towards experimenting with new, different roles, potentially increasing hero purchases, and giving players a better understanding of the game as a whole. The same system should certainly be introduced to non-Team-League-Draft modes as well.
For the record, changes to the class system were announced recently. I’m certainly looking forward to attending BlizzCon and reporting on those changes.
tl;dr: Heroes of the Storm’s class system puts an inordinate amount of importance on drafting a basic, functional team composition, as individual matches come apart at the seams by design when tanks or healers are not present. The importance of such roles puts a huge amount of pressure on players playing these roles, making them less popular and generally more punishing to experiment with. Quick Match ill-prepares its players for mid- and high-level drafting experiences.
II) Lack of Transparency
It’s no secret that the MOBA genre is extremely competitive from a business standpoint. Two extremely well established giants – DotA and League of Legends – are estimated to hold over 80% of the genre’s market shares, and have accustomed players to a number of transparent systems.
Heroes of the Storm features several systems that could benefit from improved transparency. One of the most broadly discussed subjects in this regards has been the nonexistence of an API for the game. Such a system would essentially allow third parties to use Blizzard’s data to disseminate information about a wide variety of game-related statistics, such as player performance information. This might include information such as experience level and win rates.
While alternative ways of obtaining this information do exist as of today, they must rely on clunky user-submitted replay scraping to gather said information, meaning that their success depends directly upon the goodwill of players to feed the system. This presents several problems. First, it is difficult for newer websites to compete fairly with older monopolies, as good data depends on quantity. Second, statistics at different skill levels may be misleading due to low and otherwise uneven player contributions. Third, the ability to “rig” one’s performance by uploading only desirable replays may skew data. Furthermore, some of the more well-known Heroes statistics websites have been notoriously poorly managed and come under fire like clockwork. Whether ill-intentioned or not, this poor management ends up hurting the integrity of the game.
Still, I must hold back a bit and admit that I’m thankful – not only as a player, but also as a guide writer – to have a way of accessing such data at all. If it weren’t for third parties, we’d be left in complete darkness with regards to any of the aforementioned information.
Could we live without having data about, say, individual hero win rates or talent pick rates? Of course; and we did for a long time. However, I’ll be capricious and quote myself here: “Two extremely well established giants have accustomed players to a number of performance-related information systems.” When trying to create a name for yourself, you need to offer more than the established standard, not less. Regardless of the state of Heroes of the Storm, I feel that having an API or an equally transparent system is extremely important to make your typical MOBA contender feel like a complete game.
The first reason is about being able to find concrete information about the metagame. MOBAs are – at their core – complex strategy games; thousands upon thousands of strategic choices and permutations are open to players. Even though outstanding websites do exist to help players out, the complexity and highly competitive nature of MOBAs makes them particularly cutthroat for beginners. Having access to detailed and accurate statistics allows content creators to provide new players with the information they need to get off on the right foot. Veterans, too, can make use of such data to analyze, adapt to, and potentially exploit metagaming trends to their own benefit. Ultimately, information is power for all players, and power is player retention.
Information also empowers players in another markedly different way that I might call watchdogging. Without basic data such as win and pick rates, players would never be able to meaningfully criticize the state of the game’s balance. Blizzard developers are known to use individual hero and talent win rates to dictate at least some of their balance changes, as they so often comment. We cry out when things feel poorly tuned or unappealing because we love Heroes of the Storm. But without data, we are left relying on subjective and ineffective hunches to discuss balance; with it, we can support our assertions, and be proactive when things aren’t moving. Having access to exact player statistics also allows players to track and compare their progress, instills players with a sense of competition, and allows for watchdogging of the matchmaking system.
I feel I must insist on how difficult proper design- and system-related criticism is to produce without data at our disposal. Transparency might mean exposing yourself to scrutiny, Blizzard, but it also means significantly improving your image, and providing yourself with an effective way of self-regulating. I suppose this is where I mention that the company has been displaying questionable transparency as of late; Overwatch doesn’t have an API either (though it is regularly discussed by Blizzard staff, and scraping websites do exist as well), and Hearthstone players can’t see their win rates or match history. By contrast, Warcraft III still lets you browse its ladder.
The creation of an API is not the only way Blizzard can improve its transparency, however. In fact, an API might not even be necessary if all desirable information was simply given to us somewhere or in some form. Some of it is available, such as individual player statistics, but remains hidden behind a clunky, hermetic system that requires you to work through the chat or friends list system to use. In other words, if you want to look a specific player up, they need to be in a chat room with you (general channel, in-game, and so on) or on your friends list. No ladder exists outside of the Grandmaster ladder and unofficial ladders spawned by data websites. The match history log makes no listing of who played with you. There’s no way to see anyone’s mmr (matchmaking rating), including your own, so you can never tell if you’re being matched with and against players of your skill level. And to this I must ask a resounding “Why?”
tl;dr: Heroes of the Storm lacks the basic level of transparency other similar games have accustomed players to having. This lack of transparency makes it difficult to assess the quality of the matchmaking system and of balance and design changes. The reliance upon third-party websites for such basic data creates a number of ethical issues.
III) The Reconnection System
If I were asked to point out the most frustrating element in Heroes of the Storm, this might just be it. If you’ve never experienced being dropped out of match before, for whatever reason – crashes, connection or computer issues, and so on – here’s how it goes: after obviously relaunching the game, you are treated to a screen inviting you to rejoin your game in progress. There are no other options here, not even an exit button; you either hit “Rejoin” to, well, attempt to rejoin the match, or ALT+F4 your way out of Heroes of the Storm. That’s fine; it incentivizes players to not purposefully disconnect from their matches to go and play another match right away. For some obscure reason, however, this screen doesn’t always appear. I’m not sure what triggers this problem, but if this happens to you, you’re done. There’s no rejoining that game, and you’ll be awarded a loss, your rating will feel the consequences of a left game (that’s 600 points – or 3 wins worth of points, on average) regardless of the match’s outcome. You might also earn yourself a leaver status, on top of potential player reports. This is a rather rare occurrence, however.
Under normal circumstances, the Rejoin screen will appear, and you’ll hit rejoin, naturally. If the game you’re trying to rejoin is in the process of ending, however (in the Defeat/MVP screens), you’ll be stuck on this screen for an indefinite period of time and have to reboot the game. Again, you’ll be awarded a leave & loss. If the Rejoin button does work, you’ll have to go through the classic Loading screen. Once this is done, you hop right back into the match and get the full control of your Hero and, ready to make a comeback. At least, that's what you'd expect from playing League of Legends, DotA II, or Smite.
No. After this short loading period, you’ll experience one of the most bizarre and scary things in Heroes of the Storm: The “Reconnect Successful” screen. It looks like this:
Well, is it? Where'd the game go?
I’m not certain why it exists, and I certainly don’t claim to understand the underlying systems, but this screen might be best described as some kind of limbo where you hear every sound (including death “bings”) in the match and see every shattered screen from the AI controlling your hero’s inevitable, repeated deaths, in a fast forward kind of replay. As the image above shows, during this time, you’re trapped “catching up” because “the server is X minutes ahead” of you. The quirkiest part of this strange experience, however, is that the time it takes you to reconnect is directly proportional to the current length of the match. On average, you can divide this length by four and end up with a pretty good guess of how long it’ll take you to actually successfully reconnect. Since most Heroes of the Storm matches last between 15 and 20 minutes, disconnecting at any point after 12 minutes means you’ve probably lost, or at least made the match excessively difficult (and more importantly, frustrating) for your teammates. If you do manage to finally reconnect, you’ll have to deal with the AI’s suboptimal talent choices, just to add insult to injury. As it stands, disconnections simply end up being too impactful. Nobody likes their losses (and victories, for that matter) to be defined by outside factors. Online tournaments, too, are affected by this, as thousands of viewers often end up held hostage by the system.
I feel like I need to reiterate here that I don’t claim understand how the system works. What I do know is that this is the most frustrating reconnection system I have ever experienced, in any game. There’s no sugar coating this one: The process simply needs to become faster; the dreaded “Reconnection Successful” screen has to go. Players need a way to force the system to put them back into matches if the Rejoin screen fails. AI-controlled heroes need to stop picking talents for you; have we considered implementing a shared unit control system instead?
IV) The Replay System
Heroes of the Storm’s replay system shares its biggest issue with the reconnection system: Skipping through replays also happens to be an awfully slow process. Jumping to the end of a 16 minutes game took about 2 minutes of loading time, leading me to believe that replays can’t “seek” any faster than their 8x maximum play speed. Thankfully, scanning only has to be performed once; subsequent skipping is much faster. This lengthy initial loading time can still certainly turn off content producers from browsing replays to create highlight reels or showcase certain aspects of the game if they have a number of replays to go through. This also disincentivizes players from reviewing their matches to go over specific events or study certain strategies. Other than that, the replay system is functional, but very bare bones. Blizzard is obviously aware of this because they’ve officially promoted Ahli’s work on a better replay interface. But even with these enhanced features, the system’s polish and features pale in comparison to DotA II’s and League of Legends’ own.
V) The Queue System
Although I find queues to be on the long side of things, I can at least understand how the system would struggle to find an appropriate match for players with unusually high win rates, let alone 5 of us – and especially when considering that the game’s population is split across six different game modes. What I do find completely unacceptable, however, is receiving the all too familiar “A player you were matched with has disconnected or left the service” message followed by the need to go through the entire queue again. My group typically has to wait between 8 and 10 minutes to find Quick Match and Unranked matches, and often twice as long for Team League matches. Forcing 9 people to go through the entire process is both insulting and inefficient; if the system has found a match, why not just toss all 9 of us back into the queue and just look for one more instead of wasting some 90 minutes of collective time? Again, I don’t claim to understand the system, but other games do it, and for good reasons. This behavior is considered baseline, not exceptional.
VI) The Drafting System
Although Heroes of the Storm heavily touts itself as a team-oriented game, I find it rather strange that we still do not have access to a draft hero trading system. I say “still” here because, as with the above features, hero trading is considered commonplace in the MOBA genre. My guess is that, at this point, there was an active decision to not include one. If this is the case, I must protest: On top of promoting draft interactions, hero trading reduces the impact of randomness in picking order. In other words, the system allows specialized late-pick players to focus on their role, and early-pick flex players to cover a broader variety of roles without feeling forced to play high priority heroes, regardless of the randomized picking order. Imagine yourself in a situation where your tank player might be the 4th or 5th player to pick on your team, in a metagame environment where tanks are generally prioritized. As the 1st pick, would you push your dedicated tank player’s away from their role so as to secure heroes considered high tier? As I mentioned earlier in this article, specializing one’s role is the norm, not the exception; the flexibility of this system is needed to reduce the randomness of drafting. I will mention that about a year ago, there were talks of adding such a system to the game. Here’s to hoping the upcoming BlizzCon will bring us good news about this. If the system does end up implemented, blanket chat blocks will have to be reworked to exclude lobbies. Or, at the very least, an indicator should show who isn’t receiving messages so that attempts at communicating aren’t in vain.
While we’re at it, I’d also like to quickly touch on the horror that is giving AFK players a random hero instead of outright removing them from the game at hand. I don’t really have an argument for that one; it’s just annoying, and players who are serious about playing should be present for the drafting process.
VII) Bonus Comments About Other Systems
Here are some other thoughts that I feel don’t really need a dedicated paragraph to be taken into consideration. In no particular order:
I’d like to be able to check out mounts in Try Mode. I wish I could use my Stimpacks whenever I please. As it stands, I don’t open Loot Chests unless I know I’ll be playing for a while, and if I do open a Stimpack by accident, I just ALT+F4 my way out of the game to preserve it. I would love to have an item gifting feature for my teammate’s birthday. I don’t particularly care for the forced MVP cut scene after every single match. I rarely see more than 2 people vote anyway; let’s at least have the option to opt out of it. I’d like to be able to check out anyone’s profile, at any time, if I happen to know their BattleTag. I wish my heroes were available across other regions. Players who opt out of receiving messages from non-friends probably shouldn’t be able to whisper other players.
Heroes of the Storm is relatively feature-rich as far as modern MOBAs go. Unfortunately, many of these features and systems feel unpolished or underexplored when compared to the game's competitors. While it's difficult to tell just how much they affect the game's popularity, Blizzard has a history of continuously improving and supporting its games over their extensive lifetimes. Furthermore, many developer comments hint at improvements for some of the topics underlined in this article to be announced no later than this BlizzCon, making me excited about what's to come. I'll be there in person to report everything, so stay tuned!
Heroes of the Storm Highlights are back with the 93rd episode of WTF Moments.
If you have any interesting replays to share, you can submit them here, but don't forget to include a time stamp!
WTF Moments Episode 92 WTF Moments Episode 91 WTF Moments Episode 90 WTF Moments Episode 89
Heroes of the Storm Highlights released the 92nd episode of WTF Moments.
The latest episode starts with Chromie gameplay, a Zeratul escapist and Kerrigan's Ravage across the map on Cursed Hollow.
If you have any interesting replays, feel free submit them here.
WTF Moments Episode 91 WTF Moments Episode 90 WTF Moments Episode 89
Every Tuesday, Blizzard updates the collection with new Heroes and a fresh set of cosmetics. Next week, you can buy Malthael, Nazeebo or Tyrael!
Don't forget to check out the ongoing sale here.
Weekly Collection Update: Oct 24 – 31, 2017
Next week's Collection Update will begin on Tuesday, October 24! Check out the new list of featured items and Hero discounts below. Upcoming Hero Sales
Malthael — Sale Price: 375 Gems Nazeebo — Sale Price: 250 Gems Tyrael — Sale Price: 250 Gems The following Skins and Mounts will enter the Featured Item Rotation, and will be unlockable using Gems until next week's Collection Update:
Upcoming Featured Skins
Crimson Grave Warden Malthael Weathered Hellflame Nazeebo Legion Mistress Kerrigan Teal Ronin Zeratul Obsidian Sir Murkalot Deputy Valla Aquatic Insectoid Zagara Shogun Artanis Demonic Tyrael Upcoming Featured Mounts
Crimson Ringmaster's Pride Heart Stone Lucky Rainbow Unicorn Weekly Sale Bundle
If you’d rather pick up everything at once, we’re also going to add a new Weekly Sale Bundle to the Featured tab in your Collection. This limited-time bundle contains all of the items above at a discounted Gem price, but will only be available until next week’s Collection Update takes place.