Heroes of the Storm

Math of the Storm: A Farewell

HeroesoftheStorm 2 - Math of the Storm: A Farewell
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An Apology

This article has taken too long to write. The effective cancellation of Heroes of the Storm at the end of 2018 was painful. I had found a real community and started to get to more personally know some of the personalities. I had attended Blizzcon that year and personally met so many of the casters and streamers I had grown to admire, making that unique personal connection that can only happen at LANs. While it wasn’t my first blizzcon, it was the first one I had a chance to go behind the scenes


I had only previously pestered on Reddit and Twitter. Going from that high to less than two months later functionally losing the community I had grown so close to was crushing. I continued to play the game regularly for another six months in hopes that the attempts at a semi-pro scene would pan out, but it was too quickly clear that a combination of naturally weak viewership numbers and chaos behind the scenes doomed the effort. I don’t mean to dismiss the ongoing efforts at community tournaments and those who stream the game at a high level, but in combination with the reality of my then-imminent graduation from college it was time to move on to the next phase of my life.

My Time in HotS

https://i.imgur.com/fsUoAno.png?1

I first got into Heroes of the Storm in May 2014, when Kerrigan’s overtuned passive and Maelstrom heroic made her the meta. I remember being in high school checking my email when it came in – I was allowed into the technical alpha. The game was radically different then, with barely two dozen heroes many iterations away from the current progression system. My first patch was about a week later with the introduction of Murky. With only four maps and barely any streamers, the game was a novel break from my on-again off-again relationship with League of Legends at the time. In an echo of the future, I was leaving the League of Legends Dominion community as it fell apart from a lack of official support from Riot.

I continued to play Heroes of the Storm through the alpha and beta, vocally protesting the addition of Artifacts while appreciating active developers who were genuinely interested in making a better designed game that learned from the mistakes of the past and weren’t shackled to golden cows created by the limitations of the Warcraft 3 map editor. More importantly, the vision of an average game length of 20 minutes, rather than 40, was appealing to me as I became an adult with responsibilities and smaller blocks of play time (what had brought me to Dominion).

While some people writing retrospectives on the game would cite the overproduced and underwhelming launch as a sign of things to come, I must admit I actually missed it – I was away working at a summer camp in 2015, a time that led me to begin playing Hearthstone. When I came back months later just before the Artanis early release the game had changed dramatically, with a snowballing melee monster of Butcher and a real tank addition in Johanna, not to mention two new maps to raise the total from six to eight. I delved back into the game enthusiastically as I also began a new chapter of my life in college.

The next year and a half is a bit of a blur – I attended Cloud 9’s historic Blizzcon victory for North America in 2015, but I wouldn’t consider myself an esport aficionado over the course of the next year. The competitive community grew and changed though, and I began to follow high level metas more closely. By May 2017, three years ago, I had enough of bad theorycraft and poorly understood mechanics and wrote my first post on HeroesHearth and submitted it to Reddit. It was exhilarating stepping into the world of content creation, and while I appreciated all the reactions, only one of these comments has stuck with me

You so smart and make it easy to comprehend. I need a cigarette to digest this information. Well thank you sir

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This comment has remained a meme between my girlfriend and I, and has actually served as a bit of a north star – as much as I love tackling high level concepts and nuanced theory craft for top level play, Math of the Storm was ultimately a series that tried to break down advanced ideas for the general audience. The comments on my articles were almost always positive and educational, helping me grow as a content creator and writer. I want to deeply thank everyone who took time out of their days to post a question, something funny, or their own insight in the replies – while Reddit sometimes gets a bad rap, I’ve always found it warm and welcoming.


To the Developers

The Heroes development team was and is something special. Not only has it acted as a steward of every single Blizzard IP, but the relentless drive towards innovation and improving the design of the game kept Heroes of the Storm above and beyond the competition for me. While the talent system has never and probably never will be perfectly implemented, the fundamentals of unique and exciting ways to enhance your champion as the game progresses is simply a better base from which to start a game than the eclectic and problematic item system. The core math of the game providing exponential rather than linear boosts to power per level shows a willingness to break away from the constraints of pen and paper RPGs and utilize the power of computers to provide a better play experience. The variety of maps, which are all built left to right rather than bottom left to top right, shows the developers are willing to move beyond the engine constraints of Warcraft 3. Simply put, the developers were willing to see something greater than “Blizzard DOTA”, rethinking the play systems from the ground up to make a uniquely better game.

This isn’t to say the game wasn’t without warts – the implementation of the talent system sometimes left heroes with dull one note builds, not to mention the actual difficulties of balancing power levels. I don’t have the data insights to say which combination of “casual” marketing, a missing framework for those “casual” players to become “competitive”, and simply being late to market is truly responsible for the game’s current state, but it’s clear the game did not have the success the core design deserved. I will say I don’t believe the game truly had the degree of “matchmaking issues” many players, including high level ones, ascribed to the game’s downfall – identical complaints reliant on misunderstandings of statistics exist across every competitive game I’ve ever played. What “issues” I think exist(ed) are exclusively the domain of top ELO play, where the developers have to choose between top players getting fair matches and having to wait lengthy periods of time for games to pop.

I will also say here that I believe the general issues that Overwatch has also been facing are in part due to Blizzard’s complete and total failure to deliver a better social system in the past four years. While I lack special insight into the corporate engineering that sabotaged “blizzard social”, my understanding is that the original plan in 2016 was for a Bnet-wide guild/clan system that would integrate all of their multiplayers games. I assume technical hurdles with WoW’s archaic systems were amongst the issues, but both Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch desperately need(ed) better social systems to remain competitive in the gaming marketplace.


Concluding Remarks

While this is a farewell to the Heroes of the Storm community, I truly bear no ill wishes and hope those that stay find enjoyment in their games to come. If you’re wondering what I’ve been up to, I’ve spent the last year in the D&D Eberron community. I’ve authored an entire series of dmsguild supplements investigating the politics of the setting, and am a contributing author on the Platinum best-seller Eberronicon, a pocket guide to the setting.

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