Oxygen

Of the Relevance and Usefulness of Performance-Based Matchmaking

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One of the biggest changes announced at BlizzCon 2017 was the introduction of the performance-based matchmaking system for ranked game modes in Heroes of the Storm.

In a nutshell, this new system seeks to quickly adjust individual player matchmaking rating (MMR) by using data from past performance, other players, and a number of other unspecified systems. Unfortunately, players quickly found out how flawed the system was upon receiving seemingly unjustified penalties to their MMR despite perceived strong performance, and ultimately figured out how to game the system to maximise their gains by exhibiting counterintuitive in-game behaviour.

And unfortunately for Blizzard, the release of the system coincided with other “bugs” that affected placements and general matchmaking, which exacerbated the problem. Not one but two placement match history resets have now been performed. Blizzard claimed that the issues were not related to the new performance-based matchmaking system, but the system in question has been disabled for three days at the time of writing. I can’t help but to wonder why the system was disabled if it in fact wasn’t part of the issues, but I’ll offer Blizzard a highly skeptical benefit of the doubt for now. They need all the help they can get.

However, I’m not here to criticise Blizzard’s course of action, which I believed to be reasonable and timely enough, if not a bit opaque. I’d much rather look into the very existence of the performance-based matchmaking system. I’ll start by going over some of the comments made in the official system announcement linked above.

Blizzard LogoBlizzard (Source)

The team-focused nature of Heroes presents challenges when using this system to determine an individual player’s matchmaking rating, since any single player is only 1 part of the 5-man team that won or lost the match. The system works since, all things being equal, a player will win more games than they lose over the long run if their skill is higher than other players at the same rank.

I must admit I was not ready to respond to a “we know it works, but we’re changing it anyway” approach. Leaving aside the obvious flaw in basic argumentation theory, I know how frustrating it is to have a strong performance and still lose; I’ve certainly been there before. But, in general players need to be groomed into being able to look at the larger, statistically-significant picture. If you consistently perform well and are never the cause for losses, you will rise. After all, the opposing team would have 5 chances of “messing up” whereas yours would only have 4. This means that if you can maintain an approximate 55.5% win rate, you know you’re good. (That approximate 55.5% value comes from 100 - 4 / 9 * 100; this calculation essentially compares each team’s chance at a liability if you’re never a negative factor, hence why it only take 9 players into account and giving each player an approximate 11.11…% of the responsibility for losing.). If your win rate is actually higher than that, you may even be good enough to even make up for negative factors on your team. That’s powerful, and certainly doesn’t require any fancy system to work, even in a team environment, unlike what Blizzard seems to be claiming. Even if your impact is small, you still have an impact.

However, I don’t want people to get me wrong here; in theory, I think that the idea of a performance-based matchmaking system is great, though just not for the purpose of long-term MMR adjustment. If Heroes of the Storm did have a way to accurately identify high- and low-level players, the matchmaking experience would be vastly improved for both groups: high-level players would no longer have to endure low-level players with high MMR uncertainty, whereas low-level players would no longer be thrown into victimizing and soul-crushing matches. Higher match quality promotes player retention; player retention is profitable for everyone.

Blizzard LogoBlizzard (Source)

What differentiates a highly skilled player on a given Hero isn’t always obvious, though.

In a complex game such as Heroes of the storm, is it ever? The system is claimed to be “dynamic”, which means that, over time, it reevaluates how it defines skilled play for a given hero as it is fed new data. However, in practice, I just don’t think "skill" is something that can be reliably measured by in-game performance data alone. Nor should it be. Let us draw comparisons between Heroes of the Storm and chess, which has used a similar matchmaking system known as ELO for some decades now. In chess, what would you say matters most between the two following statements?

Claiming multiple pieces without trading your own?

or…

Focusing on claiming key pieces during key moments?

The answer is “it depends”. Although both tactics may lead to victory, the first style is opportunistic whereas the second is analytical. Unfortunately for the second player, his strategy would be much harder for a performance-based system to evaluate; how would it know what defines a key piece, let alone a key moment? The first approach is mathematical; one is better than zero and, generally, “free” trades correlate with winning, which is more or less why they are inexistant at a high level chess unless intentional.

In chess, you aren’t rewarded for losing less, and the reason for this is that the underlying ELO system is robust and self-correcting; rating resets don’t occur every couple months, let alone twice in a week, and rating gains and losses are small. Of course, the ELO system isn’t beyond reproach, but I think it’s fair to say that players understand that long-term results are what matter, not individual game results. And, it doesn’t run the risk of overvaluing Queen taking Rook because of insufficient or misinterpreted data.

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Queen literally takes Rook during a Tribute fight. Siege damage is important to Zagara, says data.

As you can tell probably tell by now, I’m very skeptical about how such a system is supposed to evaluate what differentiates a highly skilled player, period, regardless of what hero it is they’re playing. Here’s a concrete example of what I mean by that: Although I don’t consider myself to be a particularly strong mechanical player, I have always managed to maintain a rather high win/loss ratios, for a team game, back in my active days anyway. Why? I’d be lying if I didn’t say that many of these victories weren’t simply due to outdrafting opponents, clear non-confrontational shotcalling, encouraging teammates, defusing infighting, taking every match seriously, knowing when and why to engage, going over mistakes, and generally making powerful macro decisions. On top of being that one weird guy that says “can play anything*, prefer assassin or specialist, let’s try to ban x and pick y.” Doesn’t reading that first thing in any given lobby instill confidence in the rest of your teammates? I bet this translates into wins every once in a while, so why not do it?

I tend to thrive on waveclear tanks with strong engaging power because they let me decide exactly when a minion wave needs to push or when an enemy hero needs to die despite low mechanical ceilings.

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And now you know how to ban me out.

*…whereas I couldn’t outplay most of my opponents to save my life. I accept my fate as one of the worst Illidan players in existence, and I’m fine with it.

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I have nothing to add, your honor.

The great irony here is that none of the aforementioned elements that I feel make me, and probably many other players, reasonably strong are – nor can be – taken into account by any automated system because they’re simply too subjective. Why exactly am I being punished for not mindlessly using my abilities on-cooldown and padding my numbers? We get it; dealing damage is important. But what about useful damage? How can that ever be taken into account by a machine? This might sound like an argument from incredulity but, as I see it, we have plenty of evidence to conclude that the system isn’t quite working as intended.

Of course, within this system, winning is still what matters most, and by far. Fortunately for me, my skillset does tend to translate into wins. But obfuscating one’s point gains and losses behind questionable variables is going to, at best, confuse players, and at worst, breed harmful behaviour. These two consequences have already been observed.

TL;DR:

A solid performance-based matchmaking system can have positive effects on matchmaking by allowing players to find their appropriate MMR faster. However, what defines a good player in a complex, team-oriented game goes well beyond what any data collection system can collect, interpret, and use. In its current state, the performance-based matchmaking system is at best unnecessary and at worst obfuscating, and ultimately risks breeding harmful player behaviour.

I’ll allow myself to end on a bit of wisdom: If you play to improve, you’ll never lose a game in your life. And the sooner you quit worrying about your rank, the sooner you’ll be able to focus on what really matters.

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The primary problem with this individual performance is that HotS is so team-oriented that sometimes you have to do what seems like the wrong thing to give your team the advantage.

 

Sometimes you NEED to overextend and push a lane, threatening it to pull opponents away from an objective to deal with you. Sometimes you need to soak and not fight over the objective to give your team a quick level/heroic bonus over the opponents. Heck, sometimes you need to overextend in a team fight just enough to pull an enemy into range of a Garrosh toss or some other ability that will then punish them for taking the bait.

 

Computers don't recognize plays like this for what they are. They see it as performing badly and punishing you for it. Computers don't recognize sacrificing the body for the ball. They only see mistakes or successes as they have been programmed to recognize.

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@Tarvesh

You are absolutely right. Games that are as team oriented like HotS do require those plays that seem like just being stupid and suicidal if you want to perform at the highest level. You see it all the time and they yield incredible results when communicated well, not on a personal level, but on a team level.

 

Furthermore, it becomes even harder to measure with this individual performance system when you have specific team compositions where you play a support as a sacrificial pawn instead of actually playing support. The individual performance system will check your performance compared with other people playing the same champion and go "lol this dude died 4x more often than the average" while those plays actually gave you great success for your team.

 

Team-based games are best played in a pre-made team and simply measuring the teams win rate vs other teams. It requires the least variables of performance (How often do you win?) and it is always very consistent (Because you play in the same team all the time).

 

I get the individual performance system, people like to solo queue or test out new champions without dragging down their pre-made team or experiment with different styles etc. There's tonnes of reasons to play solo, but an individual performance system will only work if you have a mastermind team that's capable of making a formula that's "all-compassing" for all the variables involved. And that's just incredibly hard to do without a neural network self-learning AI like Deepmind Alpha Zero that gets data from millions of matches played.

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9 hours ago, Oxygen said:

I accept my fate as one of the worst Illidan players in existence, and I’m fine with it.

Don't you worry... I'm worse, though for some reason I still like to play him :P

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I know it sounds tempting to say that, if you're always good it doesn't matter if you lose games because of your team being worse than you are, but that's simply not true, no matter how much you and I wish it was. MOBAs by nature are team-based games, you MUST team up and work in conjunction with your teammates in order to succeed. This is why it's so difficult to succeed, and why it's so frustrating for players. Not only you have to be individually good - by yourself -, you ALSO must be good at working with others towards a common goal. If players are already challenged at and are bad enough playing by themselves, you can imagine how bad they get when they try to work with other players as bad as themselves.

Also, you're always making an impact, but if you're playing bad, or even if you're playing good but NOT in conjunction with your teammates, you're not making a POSITIVE impact in favor of your team anyway. You may be an assassin with a wonderful KDA ratio, but if you're not neutralizing that enemy hero who is positively "making the game" for the opposing team, you're not going to tip the scales and change the course of the game anyway. If you're a pusher specialist, and you're not capitalizing on the other team's mistakes to push and create an advantage for your team, doesn't matter you have a decent or even great KDA, you're failing. You're not doing your thing.

This is just like soccer. If you're the best midfielder of the world, like Messi, or Maradona, or whatever, if you simply cannot play together with the rest of your team (or conversely, if they cannot play together with you), you will fail and you will lose the match anyway. Ever wondered why Messi is so good while playing for his team, FC Barcelona, but when playing for the Argentinian national team, he loses in the end, no matter what? Players who are "exceptionally good" on their own can carry their team only to a certain point.

Being "individually good" at MOBAs (not taking the teamwork factor of the equation into account) is already hard enough as it stands. It seems (I say this from personal experience) that most players simply won't take MOBAs seriously. They won't take their sweet time doing their research on their heroes of choice, they maybe know 1 or 2 good builds, but they won't know when to use each. They won't know how to ADAPT, how to draft and outdraft other players. (On a side note, this is a big deal of why I hate the so-revered QM mode in this game, because there's no drafting whatsoever involved in it). A proper drafting phase, where you successfully outpicked and counterpicked the other team, has already decided like 50% of the match's outcome in your favor, even before the actual match starts. But for whatever reason, most players don't know how to draft properly. Even if they are genuinely interested and willing to learn (and I'm not saying that of most), it simply takes a good time of learning and acquiring such experience.

Now there's the big question. Are we players being rated by our individual performance, or by our performance as a team? Or maybe a mix of both? Any form of player ranking system should consider BOTH. If players are individually good but they can't coordinate and work together, they will always get dragged down by poor players. On the other hand, if players in a given team can somehow consistently win games, even if with some internal struggling, it will mean they only have to focus on winning at all costs, which is nice and all, but won't properly measure how good each of them are, and their common rank will not reflect their individualities at all.

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The only fact that is known about the performance based mm is that nothing is known about the performance based mm.

 

All conversations and forum posts like this are only assumptions, suggestions, even far from being called an attempt of a thorough analysis. To be sure and certain what the system is capable and incapable of, one must know exactly it's mechanism. At this point, unless you are a pbmm developer, this is not the case. 

MMRsystem is a number of interacting components, not a whole and inseparable thing. Problems in one of the components can disable or cause malfunction in others, this is why blizz might not be lying about new MMR being not the culprit.

And new MMR is a new  very complex self-learning component in an interconnected system, so rough starts should not surprise you. If they do, you must be not realizing entirely the complexity of this introduction.

All in all, I'm not arguing or proving Oxygen wrong, he might turn 100% correct in the end. All I'm trying to say is that it's probably a bit too early for such statements and such posts.

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I reckon it may be completely impossible to accurately assess how good a player is in a MOBA game. I will talk a bit about Dota 2 here because you don't have something as complex as "wards" here in HotS. But, as you may know, in Dota 2, you have wards, which are used to give vision of the map to your team (in HotS, you have Gall's wards and scouting drones from certain heroes like Raynor, Malfurion, etc, but those are all easily seen and destroyed). There are also sentries, which are similar to wards, but don't give much vision, instead they give DETECTION, to detect invisible heroes or units (including enemy wards) in the surrounding area, so they are often used to deward. Thus, in a typical Dota 2 match, along with the war between the heroes, the ganks, teamfights, and pushes, you also have a "warding war" (at least when both teams are decent) played along. It's a war within a war, so to speak. 

The supports are supposed to buy wards; the carry heroes are supposed to get more powerful (and expensive) items to do their job and kill the other team efficiently and/or survive teamfights, so they are not expected to spend their gold in wards. Thus its a part of the supports' job not only to heal their allies and save them from danger, but also to give valuable map vision to their team. It is expected of a good support to spend a considerable portion of their gold in wards. But does that mean that the support who buys 50 wards in a match was better than another support in that same match who bought only 10 wards? No. Why? Because the one who bought only 10 wards may have provided more USEFUL mapvision to his team; maybe the other guy who bought his 50 wards was just a troll who wasted his wards by planting them around his fountain where no map vision was required. But the game itself has no way to know WHO provided more vision for his team, only the one who bought the most wards. Thus, if the game uses this information to assess players as "good/bad supports" (which is not confirmed, but maybe rumored) it would be surprisingly deceptive.

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13 minutes ago, Leadblast said:

... But does that mean that the support who buys 50 wards in a match was better than another support in that same match who bought only 10 wards? No...

Likely not, but you can create approximation if in given timeframe hero that was spotted was involved in takedown (be it theirs or yours) or maybe even something else important, of course it's not 100% correct, neither is current MMR.

Edited by SleepySheepy

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13 minutes ago, SleepySheepy said:

Likely not, but you can create approximation if in given timeframe hero that was spotted was involved in takedown (be it theirs or yours) or maybe even something else important, of course it's not 100% correct, neither is current MMR.

It's really hard to translate that kind of info (how well are you warding) into hard numbers. You maybe are warding correctly, but maybe the other team is aware of your efforts and simply aren't willing to commit into teamfights in the area they suspect is being warded by your team. Maybe you're warding correctly but you're also being dewarded by the enemy support as well. Or maybe you're warding well and all and not being dewarded yourself, but the enemy has simply better ability to survive and/or escape from teamfights (like let's say you're providing good vision, but not detection, so they can just stay invisible in the warded area without you knowing it) so they can and will commit into teamfights, regardless of you having better vision of the field over them. However, you can see that "how well are you warding" has a BIG impact in the game (in most cases anyway) and it can be indirectly measured, in a way, by seeing how well your team performs in teamfights, which in turn contributes to winning the match.

Edited by Leadblast

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5 hours ago, Jonar said:

The only fact that is known about the performance based mm is that nothing is known about the performance based mm.

 

All conversations and forum posts like this are only assumptions, suggestions, even far from being called an attempt of a thorough analysis. To be sure and certain what the system is capable and incapable of, one must know exactly it's mechanism. At this point, unless you are a pbmm developer, this is not the case. 

MMRsystem is a number of interacting components, not a whole and inseparable thing. Problems in one of the components can disable or cause malfunction in others, this is why blizz might not be lying about new MMR being not the culprit.

And new MMR is a new  very complex self-learning component in an interconnected system, so rough starts should not surprise you. If they do, you must be not realizing entirely the complexity of this introduction.

All in all, I'm not arguing or proving Oxygen wrong, he might turn 100% correct in the end. All I'm trying to say is that it's probably a bit too early for such statements and such posts.

Agreed! Only time will tell how well this goes and regardless of the outcome it will give Blizzard information/ data to work with in the future. HoTs can only improve (I hope)! 

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First of all, sorry for my English, but I want to explain my opinion. Even Hots is a team-based game, many players play it as alone player in a random group, and the mmr is an individual measure. In low ranks the diferrence can be high and many times, that players of bronze, silver and gold... ranks are casual and semi-casual players than not play too much in a seasson. For that players is a reality to loose many games in a row becouse of a single bad player in a team. That players can't play hundred of games to feed a good ELO kind system, in that case the Performance-Matchmaking is a great tool. Ok maybe that players are not so impresive as the higher ranks but are the most great pool of players of that game.

Now, if you are a cassual player and are spotted in a bronze/silver rank but with time you learn and become a gold-level player, surely you never go out of bronze league as you can play enough games in a season to level up the rank with the actual system that fails in low diferences of level between ranks.

Surely Oxigen opinion is good in higher ranks or for more competitive players, but them, even be the most important reference to balance the game, are the 20% of actual players and I think that tool is more for the other 80%.

Thx for read.

 

Performance-Based Matchmaking

Edited by TDworD

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7 hours ago, TDworD said:

Now, if you are a cassual player and are spotted in a bronze/silver rank but with time you learn and become a gold-level player, surely you never go out of bronze league as you can play enough games in a season to level up the rank with the actual system that fails in low diferences of level between ranks.

That's unfortunate, but systems based on statistics actually need statistics to function at all. If you don't play enough games, what's the system supposed to do for you? Hold your hand and say, "hey buddy, those three games you played over the last month and a half were great, here's your gold medal?" At some point, you have to realize that if you can't put time into the game, you're probably better off not expecting a spot in the Pantheon.

Performance-based matchmaking adjustment, you say? Sure, but then, we go back to the problem I underlined in the article: if a player is improving through untrackable means, such as better leadership or drafting, how is the system supposed to account for that and "help" them reach whatever rating they should be at? Performance-based matchmaking only helps performance-based stats.

7 hours ago, TDworD said:

Hots is a team-based game, many players play it as alone player in a random group, and the mmr is an individual measure.

Yeah, and that happens to be how it currently is. Great! If you're better than player X, you'll probably win more often, and your MMR will rise accordingly.

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5 hours ago, Oxygen said:

That's unfortunate, but systems based on statistics actually need statistics to function at all. If you don't play enough games, what's the system supposed to do for you? Hold your hand and say, "hey buddy, those three games you played over the last month and a half were great, here's your gold medal?" At some point, you have to realize that if you can't put time into the game, you're probably better off not expecting a spot in the Pantheon.

We need to take in account that each season is over 3 months (92 days), if you have a consistent 55% win ratio that means that over 100 games you will gain 55 and loose 45 that means a 10 full victorys and a gain of 2000 rating points, thats 2 ranks, from silver 3 to silver 1, if you are a silver player and want to raise to gold you will need over 300 games with the actual system, that's a lot of hours playing for a casual player, that makes raise a rank more a how many games can you play more than how good you are.

Remember the Nostromia challenge. A Gand Master needed to play hundred of games to raise from bronze to platinum (not count To Grand Master) with a win ratio much higher than the other mortals.

The Performance-based matchmaking only speed-up the process. Yes, the system will not be perfect and may risky plays will not be correctly reflected by the system, but in a statistical point of view, that risky plays are a low percent of all gameplay so the system will anyway speed-up the player even if it can't correctly evaluate all plays. For me it's ok if the system is disabled for higher ranks, I think in premade teams and high ranks that system will make almost no diferences as the diferent level of play in all teammates is very low, so disabling it no matters, but in low ranks I think can be noticeable.

Edited by TDworD

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In my opinion. At least KDA ratio is quiet balanced statistic parameter for measuring. If we got a lot of games with statistics and player doesn't  maining Abathur or something like that. Also KDA for different heroes can make sense. I read a lot of whining comments on reddit from platinum-diamond players, who placed to gold-silver. I have checked profiles just for interest multiple times and I often see something like Jaina-mainer (300+ game) with KDA 2.5-3.0 with her. I saw Guldan-mainer(1000+ games) with same KDA. I am just curious, is it really normal for "skilled" platinum/diamond player to have such KDA on ranged DD?
KDA can't be the main skill estimation in concrete match, because maybe someone was always late on quest but got some kills. But on long distance, better KDA just means better probability to win quests and to win entire game, because, more you kill, less you die - easier to win quests.

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Using only KDA as a parameter is misleading as well. There are lots of heroes which will just die against their natural counters but maybe they can still contribute to their team by pushing, helping in teamfights or whatever. Conversely, you can contribute nothing to your team and still have an apparently wonderful KDA on the surface (maybe because you're feeding on an opponent who is deliberately feeding or otherwise putting himself in a disadvantageous position). You can be a Genji bursting down a Sylvanas 14-3-0 in a distant lane of the map and still not helping your team while the opponent's Jaina + ETC combo is wrecking your teammates every single time they try to acquire the objective. etc.

 

tl;dr it's difficult for them to make a MMR system. However, things like Quick Match mode which only serve to distort statistics simply have to go.

Or at least should not be considered for statistic purposes.

Edited by Leadblast
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I will make a case for the automatic systems, though I think they can be skewed in some cases:

 

A machine learning algorithm should not be underestimated, given enough data it can find surprising things. I heard on a TED talk an AI could be made to predict sertain kind of seizures based on the latest Facebook posts. Machine learning is a big topic...

Such algorithm does not need to play the game itself, it just needs to find out what are the player actions that almost all the time resut in a win.

As for the data itself, my personal guess is that Blizzard saves the whole games on their servers, at least for a short while.

 

Secondly, as long as the algorithm is not public we can only speculate before it's live again.

 

Personaly, I think the current system worked fine, certainly better than the matchmaching in other games, and didn't need a radical change.

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Is it now a flat 200 points you win/lose every match? Where does that mmr kick in then? I used to be ranked a lot higher then my current rank, now I'm with players picking Nova and likes as first pick, and it seems impossible to get out of the lower league swamps.

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14 hours ago, decHunger said:

Such algorithm does not need to play the game itself, it just needs to find out what are the player actions that almost all the time resut in a win.

This is how AlphaGo works. The game being played on a turn-by-turn basis and being a lot more quantifiable probably helps quite a bit.

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      “It’s constantly evolving,” said Zealots ranged flex Adrian “adrd” Wojcik. “It used to be that the four-man was only ‘deathballing,’ or picking Heroes that out-sustain enemies and brawling four versus four. Oftentimes, though, you would end up in a situation where your four-man would be weaker than the opposing team’s. So, at this point you must work around that.”
      Nowadays a good four-man is more oriented towards ganks and kill pressure. “Heroes like Muradin are a perfect example of this,” adrd explained. “He’s not that great for fighting and trading, but if he disappears from the map your solo laner is in danger of dying, and also the four-man needs to be careful so that he doesn’t flank and get a good stun that turns into a kill.”
      Understanding the macro game means understanding the amount of pressure on the map at any given point in time. The most obvious pressure is lane pressure, when a wave is about to crash and must be cleared. The less obvious pressure occurs when an enemy Hero (specifically one that has crowd control or high burst damage) goes missing. When this happens, you must assume them to be anywhere and everywhere while playing reserved. When the four-man goes missing, it’s important to make yourself scarce, as you could be the next victim of a savage gank. Consider yourself warned.
      Global Heroes and Specialist

      If losing soak is such a cardinal sin, why not employ the likes of a Hero with global abilities to make up for this? While some of the best offlaners are global Heroes, adrd is hesitant to endorse this strategy.
      “We've seen in the HGC some teams playing Dehaka and Falstad even on two-lane maps,” adrd said. “Normally, if you are solo laning with a global hero and you use your global ability to gank other lanes you will lose a lot of experience. So, what people are doing on Braxis Holdout is putting Dehaka in top lane and Falstad in bottom lane. Dehaka can gank, and then after the gank Falstad can fly top so you don't lose any experience. Rotating your globals around this way works really well, in the HGC at least.”
      In Hero League though, it’s difficult to expect your teammates to be as coordinated. More often than not, the idea of a proper 4-1 split will fall apart in the draft, as the hero in the solo lane will either spell success or failure for your team.
      The Role of an Offlaner

      “You can probably hold one versus two.”
      Remember this phrase the next time you step into a lane while outnumbered.
      Assume your four-man is going well. They are getting kills and winning their rotation handedly. The advantage this brings doesn’t amount to much if the solo laner is struggling. The “1” in the 4-1 split is the most important part of the equation.
      “I think most of the normal 1v1 laners are pretty decent at holding 2v1,” adrd said. “On some maps, it is very important that your solo laner doesn't lose too hard. On Braxis, for example, it's important to have a solo laner who can win their lane because it gives an insane advantage. You can hold one of the beacons for free basically after the structure in lane is gone. On most Battlegrounds, you have to consider how well the offlaner does in team fights as well.”
      The best solo laners in the current meta would be Sonya, Leoric, Arthas, Greymane, Malthael, and Dehaka. Outside of maybe Greymane and Malthael, these are beefy frontline Heroes that excel at bullying opponents in lane and clearing waves quickly.
      “You can run a lot of different setups, and the solo laner you use depends entirely on who they're facing off against usually,” adrd added. “Some Heroes will not be able to hold a lane on their own.”
      Depending on the map, you can decide for yourself if it’s more beneficial to take on the role of an offlaner or join in the four-man deathball. If you follow in the footsteps of the Mad Scientist, you’ll likely be winning rotations before you know it. 
      Check back with us tomorrow right here at playheroes.com/esports because we’ll be learning how to identify whether or not your team’s composition will emerge victorious from a fight at level 1.   
    • By Stan

      The Heroes of the Storm collegiate tournament, Heroes of the Dorm, is back in 2018! Competitors will play for more than $500,000 in scholarships and prizes as they battle their way through their respective regions. Signups are now open on HeroesoftheDorm.com.
      Announcement Video
      Blizzard (Source)
      Now in its fourth year, Heroes of the Dorm is introducing regional play. More than $500,000 in scholarships and prizes are up for grabs in this premier collegiate esports competition. Regional winners and other top teams on the national leaderboard will be seeded into the 64-team National Championship bracket. The battle for the Heroes of the Dorm National Championship—and for the scholarship money each player receives for the remainder of their college careers—will be fierce. Fans can watch all the action on both www.twitch.tv/blizzheroes and www.mlg.com.
      Each college will field their strongest Heroes team to battle to the top of their regional division for a chance to play in the National Championship tournament. This year, we’re also partnering with Raycom Sports on a weekly broadcast for matches in Heroes of the Dorm’s Atlantic Coast Region for a one-of-a-kind sports network viewing experience.
       “With intense student competition and an epic tournament bracket featuring schools across the United States and Canada, Heroes of the Dorm showcases the kind of excitement that can only come from college esports,” said Mike Morhaime, CEO and cofounder of Blizzard Entertainment. “We look forward to cheering on all of the talented players who will be competing in Heroes of the Storm, as well as Hearthstone and StarCraft II, for their share of Tespa’s biggest scholarship prize pool ever.”
      Starting today, eligible college gamers in the United States and Canada can sign up to compete in Heroes of the Dorm at www.heroesofthedorm.com.
      LEARN MORE
      For information about Tespa's other Spring Leagues and $1M scholarship prize pool, head to tespa.org/university/compete.
    • By Stan

      Free Hero rotation has been updated with a new set of Heroes available for gameplay starting January 23.
      Free-to-Play Hero Rotation: January 23, 2018
      Li Li ETC Zagara Butcher Kael'thas Artanis Li-Ming Zarya Brightwing Malthael Sylvanas (Slot unlocked at Player Level 5) Alexstrasza (Slot unlocked at Player Level 10) Chen (Slot unlocked at Player Level 15) Chromie (Slot unlocked at Player Level 20) (Source)
    • By Oxygen
         
      Our fifteenth Heroes of the Storm Meta Tier list for the Blaze patch of January is here!
      We present our fifteenth Heroes of the Storm Meta Tier List for the Blaze patch of January 2018.
      Note: This list also takes the January 16 balance patch into account.
      Welcome to Icy Veins's Meta Tier List for the Blaze patch.. The goal if of this list is to try and detail game's current metagame state. The prime goal of such lists is to inform players regarding popular and trending team composition drafting strategies (i.e. the drafting metagame). Although tier listings are generally the product of balance, many factors come into play when discussing the relative perceived strengths of heroes, including player regions, maps, play style, skill level, and, of course, personal perception. As such, any tier list—including this very one—should never be interpreted as gospel, but rather, as a guide to better grasp what to expect with regards to typical drafting experiences. One useful application of such lists is to allow you know which heroes to look out for in terms of practice and counterplay, ultimately improving your knowledge of the game.
      Using the list
      As stated above, tier lists are easy to mistake for gospel. As new strategies are discovered and experimented with, so changes the perception of the relative strengths of each hero. Tier lists still prove to be useful as a snapshot of player expectations in terms of drafting. Although it is generally considered preferable to focus on high tier heroes (Prime and Core tiers), it is important to note that Heroes of the Storm's wild character and map designs make it so that any given hero's tier position is prone to fluctuate depending on the situation at hand.
      One classic example of such is that of Kerrigan on the Infernal Shrines map. Although we currently judge her to be a low-to-mid-tier hero, her drafting priority shoots up to first-pick or first-ban material on this specific map due to the nature of its objective. Certain heroes also synergise so well with each other that the sole fact of having the opportunity of drafting them together is generally enough to increase their potential. Tassadar and Tracer, for instance, are generally nightmarish to deal with for many. There are too many examples of these interactions to reasonably produce here, but we invite you to consult our guides to know exactly where and when each hero shines. The guides have been linked in the lists below for your convenience - just click any of the hero names to access them.
      A ↑ next to a hero's name means its tier list position has increased since the previous month whereas a ↓ means just the opposite. Additionally, a + or - sign indicates short-to-medium term predictions (which is to say, about a month) for tier increase(s) or decrease(s), respectively. These are often updated after significant balance patches and/or when clear trends are emerging.
      If you're newer to the game, also consider visiting our glossary for a comprehensive list of discrete Heroes of the Storm terms.
      Current map rotation
       
      Prime Tier
      Warrior Assassin Support Specialist Arthas Genji - - E.T.C. Greymane     Sonya↑ Hanzo↑↑↑     Prime tier heroes are considered to be extremely strong in all situations, and show no obvious weakness. They are very often banned or picked right away, as they generally dictate the pace of most matches.
       
      Core Tier
      Warrior Assassin Support Specialist Anub'arak Falstad Alexstrasza↑ Azmodan Dehaka Junkrat↑↑ Brightwing Nazeebo Diablo Kerrigan Lúcio Zagara Muradin Li-Ming Stukov↑ Sylvanas↑  Stitches Malthael↓ Uther   Varian (Tank) Nova↓-       Valla       Zul'jin     Core tier heroes are strong in a wide variety of situations and have few counter-picking possibility. They should form the core of your team, and be picked after Prime Tier heroes have been distributed.
       
      Viable Tier
      Warrior Assassin Support Specialist Artanis Alarak Ana Abathur D.Va Cassia Auriel Murky Garrosh Chromie Kharazim Probius Johanna Gul'dan Li Li+ Sgt. Hammer↑ Leoric Illidan Lt. Morales Xul Zarya Jaina Malfurion (reworked)+   Blaze (new) Kael'thas Rehgar   Tyrael (reworked)↑ Kel'Thuzad Tyrande     Lunara       Ragnaros       Samuro       The Butcher       Thrall↑       Tracer       Valeera↓↓-       Zeratul+     Viable tier heroes are generally well-rounded that have either fallen out of favour, or, inversely, are on the rise in popularity, due to the current Prime tier contenders.
       
      Niche Tier
      Warrior Assassin Support Specialist Chen Cho'gall Tassadar Gazlowe Cho'gall Raynor   Medivh Rexxar Tychus       Varian (Damage)     Niche tier heroes have niche application on certain maps or for certain team compositions. They are generally picked to "round out" your team composition when your team composition is missing out on key components, such as a "jungler" (mercenary camps), a solo laner, or solid waveclear.
       
      Bottom Tier
      The Lost Vikings Bottom tier Heroes are deemed to be either considerably weaker than the majority of other Heroes, or much more challenging to play properly. Although they may situationally shine, these Heroes are generally avoided by most players.
       
      Metagame assessment
      Happy new year to everyone. This list is a tad late, as was the last one, but I was, once again, waiting for one of those odd rework patches that come out a week after featured hero releases and go untested on the PTR for some reason. HGC matches also began just yesterday, meaning that new trends  are likely to emerge shortly; today saw unexpected Cassia, Tychus, and Leoric make an appearance, which was certainly exciting. As per usual, I'll be updating the list as I see fit throughout the next few weeks. The last few lists have generated quite a bit of discussion, which is great to see. Although I cannot reasonably respond to every comment, I do read everything posted. Keep it up!
      Blaze. My initial PTR assessment of the hero, which was quite positive, was followed by a sudden realization: he does a lot of things well, but nothing exceptionally well. Blaze is the quintessential jack of all trades, master of none type hero. Generally, that's not a particularly desirable trait, because heroes are generally picked for their niches to either counter opponents or synergise with allies. For a warrior, he can't really solo tank, meaning he often ends up in that strange spot where you need a pretty well fleshed out team composition to make him work. But when he works, he does work well. He can hold his own in a solo lane, but his waveclear isn't quite good enough to deal with mercenary camps pushing before Grill and Kill, which can be frustrating. Certain heroes, such as Leoric and Malthael, completely shut him down as well. This leads me to believe that he won't see much tournament play if at all, unless teams are messing around. Viable as a late pick when you don't really know what else to pick because your team composition is already fine.
      Sonya. She's currently the most popular pick in the game. You can't go wrong with a bulky solo laner that can duel nearly anyone, output as much damage as an assassin, and clear mercenary camps with ease. Leap lets her setup really well if your team composition lends itself to that. Still, I don't think she deserves bans.
      Hanzo. This important Overwatch figurehead could just not be allowed to remain seen as underpowered for over a month. After unsuccessfully giving him a blanket 10% damage buff across the board following poor PTR feedback, Blizzard adopted the bolder strategy of making his basic attacks deal ability levels of damage thanks to the Sharpened Arrowheads changes. What was initially supposed to be a difficult to master skillshot-based hero now  has access to what is arguably the most powerful basic attack in the game, though the Serrated Arrows + Never Outmatched combo I discussed last patch remains useful for trivializing map objectives on Battlefield of Eternity and Infernal Shrines while allowing Hanzo to solo any mercenary camp from level 7 and on. With the help of another hero, bosses also become possible at this level. Losing map control or suffering one or two early deaths against Hanzo is devastating. Explosive Arrows lets him waveclear relatively well too, though particularly with Piercing Arrows for double hits on minions. The Natural Agility range increase made it much more usable, to where Hanzo can now reliably escape most if not all heroes with proper positioning. It is interesting to note that these buffs coincided with Hanzo's first free week.
      Junkrat. The proverbial death of the double healer meta means it's time for sustained poke to shine. Junkrat's popularity exploded recently as players discovered that a mix of reliable ranged waveclear, playmaking (through Concussion Mine) and potentially fight winning RIP-Tire hits made the hero a force to be reckoned with. Just be sure to pick up Endless Nades; that's your late-game damage.
      Malthael. Hanzo does really well against him, so I'm not surprised by the dip in popularity. Malthael is still very powerful, though unlikely to draw bans before second round, if at all. Always a solid pick against double tank as well as a solo laner.
      Nova. She (along with Valeera) were allowed to remain oppressive for quite a while, benefiting from the turmoil generated by the stealth rework and Blizzard employees taking a couple weeks off for the holidays. Nova is now in a good spot, with clear counters and niches, though I'm still disliking how easy Lethal Decoy makes her to play. I feel like she'll keep a potential caster meta in check for quite some time now that she's back on the radar.
      Alexstrasza. She's doing rather well. Dragonqueen is now being appropriately treated (though not quite respected by opponents) as a heroic ability by players to fight over objectives and while sieging.
      Stukov. His high healing output makes him rather strong in a poke-heavy meta. I think players are going to experiment with the Growing Infestation + Virulent Reaction (+ Bio-Explosion Switch) combo to make Stukov a lot more aggressive than we're used to seeing him be. Flailing Swipe continues to be great as a pseudo-Mighty Gust in terms of disengaging. Stukov is probably one of the best solo "all purpose" hero leaguing healer at the moment.
      Sylvanas. Any change to minion or structure damage end up being indirect buffs or nerfs to Sylvanas. Since structures were recently buffed again and Sylvanas's direct counters were nerfed quite heavily, I think she's back to being relatively high priority. Possession is really strong now, as is Mercenary Queen, though only if there's nothing for Barbed Shot to work on.
      Tyrael. Though he's not notably more powerful than he was before, I think his rework opened up a viable bruiser build for him, increasing his versatility. He's sitting at a healthy 50% win rate at the time of writing. HGC already saw him picked rather often - though, that's pre-Tyrael patch, where he is arguably weaker - , and I'm certainly looking forward to see what kind of builds players are going to gravitate towards. Holy Ground is still great, and comes online 3 levels earlier than it did before.
      Valeera. She suffered the same fate as Nova, though her overly simplistic ability set makes small nerfs very impactful. At the end of the day, she's probably going to require a broad rework, because as of right now, she either bursts her target down and feels "unfair", or doesn't and feel "worthless". Right now, she's erring on the side of the latter.
      Malfurion. Possibly one of the best rework ever done, though his vastly increased skill cap may make him less popular. His sustained healing output is excellent, but his lack of burst management still makes him difficult to play. 
    • By Stan

      This week's brawl is the Temple Arena. Harness the power of the temples to destroy the enemy Core. Choose one from three randomly selected Heroes and pick your Heroic ability. No other talents are available. Complete three matches to earn a Loot Chest.
      Blizzard (Source)
      This week’s brawl is the Temple Arena! Harness the power of the Alligator, Cobra, and Jackal Temples to destroy the enemy Core!

      Rules:
      Choose from one of three randomly selected Heroes before entering the Arena. Be quick about it though, you only have 30 seconds to choose! Everyone will begin the round at level 10 and will be asked to choose a Heroic Ability. No other talents will be available. During each round, slay the enemy team’s Heroes and capture the Temple Shrines to take shots at their Core! The Core for each team will have set amounts of health based on the number of active Shrines. Each round can have 1-3 active Shrines. The first team whose Core reaches 0 health will lose the round. Be the first team to win 2 rounds and claim victory! Rewards:
      Complete three matches of the Temple Arena to earn a Loot Chest! Find out more about the Heroes Brawl game mode on our Heroes Brawl site; and as always, you can find more information on this week’s Brawl by clicking the Brawl Info button at the bottom of the play screen when preparing to queue for the Brawl game mode.