I’ve played a heck of a lot of HotS, and I’m sad to see it move towards maintenance mode, especially as I saw so much potential for the game. I’ve been thinking about where things went wrong or, at least, could have gone better, and come up with the following:
Failed to Refine
Blizz has rarely been a genre creator, by which I mean creator of new game types (RTS, ARPG, MMORPG, MOBA, FPS). Instead, they tend to try to both innovate and refine what’s out there. For each of their IPs this is the case, and they were stellar at it. It’s no surprise then that they showed up late to the game for MOBAs, after LoL and DotA had captured most of the market share.
And HotS innovated a lot: multiple maps, objectives, talents instead of items, shared xp, no last hitting, mercs in lane, ammo, etc. Together, all of these innovations culminated in fast-paced games, where meaningful action started just minutes (instead of tens of minutes) into the game and much of the annoying tedium was gone.
But Blizz dropped the ball on refinement. If you’re showing up late to the party (market), then your product better be polished. Instead, Blizz built the game off the SC2 architecture, and it pigeon-holed them into a bunch of problems.
One major flaw with the SC2 architecture is the reconnect system. Since the game didn’t snapshot the current state of the game, if you disconnected, you had to get fed the entire play-by-play to reconnect. Worse, your computer had to process the graphics for it in fast forward. When the game came out and again when 2.0 came out, the player population surged, the servers dc’d and then a bunch of potential players who wanted to give the game a try spend 5-20 minutes trying to reconnect to games that had all to often already ended.
QM Match-Making is Attrocious
Another major flaw with the SC2 architecture is the matchmaking. Even when HotS had a sizeable population such that you could find both a variety of roles and evenly skilled players, the game would stick 2 tanks, 1 specialist and 2 healers against 5 assassins. Why, for the love of Rue Paul, wouldn’t it queue 10 people and then divide them up?
It would have been so easy to set the matchmaker to grab 10 people between MMR X and Y, 2 of which had to be warriors, 2 of which had to healers, and 2 of which had to be assassins. Then divide them up and split the remaining 4 as fairly as possible based on duplicate roles.
Nowadays, though, the player population is so low that I imagine the matchmaker is caught between MMR restrictions and role restrictions.
Drafted Play Spread Thinly
As much as I like unranked play and team league, the population was never high enough to support three separate draft modes. There should have been one draft mode, with a toggle for solo-queuers to select whether they want to queue against only solo-queuers or are fine against teams.
Slow Response Time on Draft Changes: It took ages to implement 3 bans and there is still no way to exchange heroes with another teammate. (Honestly, I wish each player had a ban that they could use at the beginning of the draft or hang onto until prior to their selection.)
Poor Defining of Roles
There are a number of characteristics that all heroes are defined by: mobility, global, range, sustain damage, burst, skill vs. AoE, CC, self sustain, team sustain, and lane pressure. On top of this, damage type got added in — AA vs Ability. How a hero fulfills these characteristics determines their role and their counters. For example, high sustain and CC, but low damage is a good old tank like ETC.
From the get-go we needed heroes defined along these terms, which is far wider than warrior, assassin, healer and specialist. Ideally, they’d not only expand the roles to the most common archetypes, but also include a summary of strengths after. For example the roles would be tank, bruiser, bully, assassin, mage, finisher, healer, and support, and afterwards you’d have some synopsis saying “(mobile, burst)”. Falstad, for example, would be Mage (Global, Range, Sustain AA, Burst Ability).
Without properly defining roles, QM matchmaker never stood a chance at making balanced comps.
Poor Balancing of Heroes and Slow Responses/Reworks
HotS has a huge roster of heroes, but less than about a quarter can see regular play in ranked. Why?
First, some heroes, especially new ones, are overtuned. It’s supposed to be jack of all trade, master of none, but somehow we end up with master of all trades for far too many heroes. Release-day Sylv, Li-Ming, Tracer, Fenix and Genji stick out the most in my mind, as does the inordinate amount of time it took to nerf some of them. A hero should not have the best mobility, best sustain damage, high burst damage, medium range, and good self sustain. If the reward is high, so too should be the risk, yet Blizz just can’t see to wrap their head around the notion that high mobility and range and burst should not also have sustain damage but should instead have a high risk of getting shut down and burst.
It feels like Blizz abandoned creating innovative new heroes (Abathur, Murky, TLC) and heroes with high skill curves and complex team interactions (Medivh, ETC). In their place we get straight power creep to keep people buying new heroes and dumbing down things like XP mechanics, global mobility, etc. to make the game more accessible to more buyers.
(Honestly, this seems to be par for the course of the last decade for Blizz. Look at D3, for example, where role-playing/character crafting has been replaced with “wear these 6 items to do 8000% damage with Y skill”. Why doesn’t Blizz just play the game for us?)
And this power creep has simply led to them being banned from all drafts.
Second, due to the aforementioned power creep, most of the roster became outdated. Almost all heroes that lack mobility or, at least, someway to handle both burst and/or high-mobility sustain damage are not worth playing. If Blizz is not going to stop with the master of all trades, then these heroes need overhauls to stay relevant.
Poor Iterative Methods
There were multiple instances where pro players called Blizz out on changes they didn’t like before they were ever implemented. The most recent laning XP changes were probably the most poignant case of this.
Regarding implemented changes, the game had always been a question of whether to make a strong early-game comp to win before 15 minutes or try to bide your time for the late game advantage. This, coupled with objectives that forced the choice of fighting early on or pushing, is part of what made the game so fast and to the point early on.
Now I’m not saying it was perfect. You obviously don’t want an uncounterable snowball from the very start, but how to correct that is something that requires input from the best players — not announcing a change is coming, getting told it is a bad idea by people who dedicate all their time to playing, and then railroading it anyway.
There were also multiple maps that never should have made it to play like they were at release. Again, put it on PTR, pay pros to try to break it and give suggestions, fix it and then introduce it. If you are playing with half the skill of a pro and allocating a fraction of a fraction of the time the player base and pro scene will have to tinker with hero, map or mechanic, you will not be able to balance/iterate properly.
Overdoing the Pro-Scene and Under-Doing Marketing
No one cares is the cash prize is $1 million or $250,000. Why waste $1 million on that? It just needs to be enough to attract pros. On the other hand, I just took a trip to an underdeveloped Central Asian country and there are advertisements up all over the capital for what equates to $1500 for the DotA championships. DotA spent more on the ads than they did on the reward in that country.
And Most Importantly, Monetization
2.0 made their bad monetization worse. Gotta get gold to get heroes, lootboxes to get shards for some things, and cash to get some bundles that have 8 things I don’t want in them.
How about something much easier:
- Heroes are free.
- There are only two currencies: real cash and in-game gold.
- Everything that is buyable with gold is also buyable with cash, but not vice versa.
- Lootboxes are no longer purchasable and recycling items from them will give you gold.
- Basic, rare, epic and legendary actually go back to having some meaning. For example, for skins, basic is a recolor of the original skin; rare is a change to the model, but the abilities and voices stay the same, epic is a change to the model, the color of the abilities and the voice filters, and legendary is a change to the model, the ability animation and some new voicelines.
- Other than the basic skins, skins and mounts are only buyable with cash, and the quality of the skin dictates the price: rare = $2, epic = $3 and legendary = $5.
- You only have to buy one color scheme for a skin or mount, but if you buy more than one scheme, you get a discount: rare = $0.25 per additional scheme, epic = $0.50, and legendary $1.
- The game reverts back to multiple situational voicelines per hero. You will have the ability to change some lines out with ones you find or buy.
- The game shifts sprays, dances, and flags to the way of voicelines, where they are hero specific and you can switch them out with ones you find or buy.
- Finally, there will be voicelines, flags, sprays, dances, and color schemes for skins and mounts that are locked until you achieving something with the hero they are associated with, at which point you can buy them. For example, hitting level 100 open a new color scheme for each of the heroes skins, having a better than 50% win rate over 10 games in masters gives the hero a new dance, etc.
Honestly, in my eyes, the game is doomed. The issue of using the SC2 architecture is moot. They are not going to build a new engine for this game if they don’t see it as lucrative. And if they are divesting themselves from the venture, then, despite independent efforts, the pro scene will end soon. If the pro scene ends, the player base will shrink, which means money for new content will go with it. And from there it is a domino effect: fewer people means less confidence in buying in-game items as who knows how long you’ll be playing.
Really, the best thing Blizz could do right now is fix the monetization and reopen the pro-scene, but smaller. Keep the game alive while they build a new game engine in the background then program most of their content into the new engine. In other words, keep this game alive long enough to start from scratch and have all the other stuff I mentioned fixed out of the gates.
© Post "What Could Blizz Have Done Differently?" for game Heroes of the Storm.
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