Heroes of the Storm

How to carry – understanding forms of skill expression in HOTS

HeroesoftheStorm 3 - How to carry - understanding forms of skill expression in HOTS

I'm on a long journey with time to spare so I thought I'd type some thoughts I had on carrying. I'm not calling myself an authority on teaching others how to carry, rather, I just hope to spark some discussion and I know there are players better than me on this sub. But here goes, long post ahead.

I've always thought from a micro/teamfight point of view (rather than macro), there are a few primary means of skill expression. Some are well understood but some are less well understood or not really recognised or even acknowledged by players.

I'd say there are at least the following forms of skill expression:

  1. Damage
  2. Bearing the burden of the enemy threat
  3. More specific forms of skill expression

Note this post is specifically about the MICRO perspective of skill expression (teamfights and mechanical skill expression) and not MACRO (playing the map, knowing camp timings, when to soak etc)


Everyone for the most part recognizes the value of damage. To carry a game, you try to not only maximize the quantity of your damage output, but also the quality of your damage output (damage on a squishy is usually more valuable than damage on a tank, damage to secure a kill is usually more valuable than damage that is healed right back up)

Bearing the burden of the enemy threat

I think this is much less acknowledged or explicitly recognized. What this means is actually quite simple. A player that is able to draw a significant percentage of the attention or threat of the enemy team is contributing significantly to a teamfight, assuming the following conditions are met:

  1. It is not interfering with the player's ability to do his job (e.g. if he's a healer, he's still healing properly, if he's an assassin, he's still doing damage properly)
  2. The player is not dying while being focused by the enemy team
  3. The player is not unnecessarily or disproportionately draining the healer's resources

For example, think of a high-skilled zeratul or samuro dancing laps around the enemy backline, drawing the attention of 2-3 heroes and baiting out 20 spells a minute while dodging every single one of them. Think of bruisers like Chen who dive the backline. They may not be doing huge damage but they're contributing in a hugely significant way.

Some people may call it "creating space for the team" or simply drawing aggro for the team.

I think the part that is less understood about this is that, if you want to carry a game, understanding this aspect of skill expression actually has implications on how you're going to play, and what hero you're going to pick.

For example, if you watch Fan's bronze to GM challenges and watch him play Deckard Cain or Lucio or Lili, do you think he's just sitting in the backline pressing his heal buttons hoping to carry his team that way? Anyone could do that.

Just watch any of Fan's deckard cain games when he's "trolling" in the lower leagues, he's literally in the frontline playing like a main tank while playing these squishy healers and drawing 70-80% of the enemy team's threat to himself, while staying alive, dodging a ton of stuff. People who don't understand think he's trolling, and he might be a little bit, but he's also creating a huge amount of value in teamfights by giving his teammates the space and freedom to do whatever they want because they're no longer pressured by the threat of enemy damage. It's no coincidence that Fan wins most of his games even on heroes like deckard cain, in bronze to gm challenges. And it's not because he has some secret way of throwing potions faster than you.

While the job of bearing the burden of the enemy threat usually falls to a great extent on the bruiser and the tank, realise that any hero can do it and should do it if you're able to get away with it (must not die, must not drain healer resources, must still be doing your job). There's a reason why players who vastly outskill their teammates and opponents play so aggressively, even on assassins or squishy healers. Not only does aggressive positioning allow them to do more damage, they're also able to express their mechanical skill to the full extent and draw so much of the enemy threat that their tank and bruiser have a much easier time finding the engages they need without feeling the pressure of enemy damage.

For example, imagine you're playing Diablo. You're the only one in front, the entire enemy team is watching you like a hawk. How many wall slams do you think you can get? Probably 0 if your enemy team doesn't suck. Now imagine there's another player who is drawing a vast amount of threat/aggro for you. It could be any hero, e.g. maybe a sonya who just casted leap into the enemy backline and is staying alive in the middle of 5 people despite the entire enemy team attacking her or e.g. an annoying lucio/tracer running circles in the middle of enemy team, or e.g. a valla stutter stepping and attacking while dodging everything. Suddenly it becomes 10x easier to find wall slam opportunities because the enemy team is so distracted and all their threat/attention/aggro is focused on someone else.


This is also a reason why when players that belong in the lower leagues (e.g. maybe a gold) play in a party with their friends from higher leagues (e.g. masters), they feel as if they do so much better, so they think they belong in masters and it's their gold teammates holding them back from climbing since they seem to be doing just fine in masters level games. What they fail to see is that better players don't just do better for themselves, they also make a lot of space for their teammates to perform way better (and the gold player may not be capable making the same space for their masters friends, but he is using the space they create, and then looks at his damage stats from the space created for him and thinks he's good enough for this level of play).

Or e.g. if you're playing quickmatch and everyone is a squishy. It's a perfectly fine playstyle to wait for someone else to draw the aggro and enemy threat for you, then while they're being focused down and being your meatshield, you go in and do the damage, steal the kills and steal the glory. That's a perfectly fine playstyle, but just understand that if the other squishy assassin is doing the same damage as you but he's going in first every time, he's contributing SIGNIFICANTLY more than you.

This also has implications on hero or talent picks if you want to carry games. If you want to carry games and assuming it is true you are way more skilled than your teammates, you don't want to pick stuff like abathur, or orb li-ming to carry games. The reason is simple, you're cramping your ability to express your skill. Standing 2 screens away shooting orbs allows you to show off skill expression in the damage department, but does not allow you to express your skill in this area (bearing the burden of the enemy threat). Abathur allows you to show off your skill in the macro department, but in the micro department, if your mechanical skill is far superior, you are unfortunately unable to express it much at all. So you really want to pick heroes that can show off your skill in all areas if possible (assuming you're really that good and deserve to climb)

More specific forms of skill expression

This is the third means of skill expression. The first 2 are general, they apply to every single hero (every hero does damage and takes damage). But this third one would be everything else that is hero-specific or role-specific or talent-specific or ability-specific. Not every hero can do these stuff.

For example, maximizing your healing as a healer in a teamfight, as a tank maximizing the quantity of your stuns or cc (how many heroes you can hit and how often you can hit) and the quality of your stuns/cc (are you hitting squishies with your stuns or just stunning their main tank? are you interrupting key enemy abilities or just pressing your buttons off cooldown?). This could be talent-specific, e.g. healing reduction talents, damage reduction talents, how you can maximise the uptime on these talents? Etc. Too much to cover.

Parting thoughts

I've always thought it's a bit of a pity that players don't really understand space created for them (not just in the micro/teamfight sense, even in the macro sense, most players don't really understand the value of space created). From a macro point of view for example, most players are stuck in the mindset of "death = bad", but there are often circumstances where the space or opportunities created from a death far outweighs the disadvantage of the actual death.

From a micro point of view (which is what this post is about), much emphasis (maybe too much emphasis) is placed on damage output and it's all players look at. E.g. they see Yrel's low damage, they think she must be bad in teamfights (yrel's skill expression is more of 2 and 3, drawing enemy threat (number 2) and disruption that is hero-specific (number 3)).

It really didn't help at all that the damage taken stat was removed. The damage taken stat was an imperfect stat. It attempts to track the contribution of a player bearing the enemy's threat. BUT it is unable to track the full extent of the contribution because it does not include spells that were dodged (which also counts as the player's contribution because the player still wasted the spell of the enemy and drew the threat away from his teammates), the damage taken stat was only able to show a percentage of this contribution of bearing the enemy's threat (it only shows the auto attack damage taken and the spells that hit).

Imperfect as it is though, I still do believe the damage taken stat should return because too much emphasis is now on how much damage heroes can do, even bruisers, when a significant contribution of bruisers is really how much attention they can draw away from their team, to give their team's tanks and assassins the breathing room to do what they need. Even the damage dealt stat itself is also flawed, it is only able to show the quantity of damage dealt, but not the quality of it (whether it was meaningful damage or just meaningless poke that got healed), and if the flawed damage dealt stat is included in the stat screen in this flawed form, I see no reason why the damage taken stat shouldn't return as a counterbalance to draw the emphasis away from everything being about damage damage damage. Players who want to improve might want to go away from the high damage=good, low damage=bad mindset.

Anyway, this are just random ramblings from a random player. It's not meant to be comprehensive, it's not meant to be the ONE TRUE WAY of understanding hots skill expression or the BEST way of understanding it. It's simply a small insight into one part of how I understand hots in my own imperfect way.

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