Tl;dr – This game has made a lot of changes over the past three years, most of which I think improved it. I’m excited by Storm League because I hope it will address some of the main issues with ranked play, however, there are a few simple changes which would improve the game.
I wanted to offer up some suggestions and insights after playing the game again for the past 4 weeks. It's a long post, so maybe grab a beer first?
I dropped hots after I started traveling for work about 3 years ago and came back about a month ago after quitting my job with a new account (couldn't find old one, even with Blizz ticket). Despite the change in support for this game and cancelation of HGC, I used to love this game especially in comparison to League so decided to give it another shot. I believe this game is worthwhile for two main reasons: 1) this is differentiated from other MOBAs in play style which is refreshing, 2) amazing lore (where else can I spam your highlord, Alarak?)
I played 187 ranked games at 65% winrate during season 1, climbing from Bronze 2 to Plat 3. My main heroes were Alarak (31-12), Zuljin (12-6), Raynor (17-9), Artanis (11-3), Varian (10-2), and ETC (6-4) for a total amongst most played of 87-36. I had continued lurking on the sub since I stopped playing around the Tracer release so I was broadly aware of meta and some changes, but I had only really played ETC and Artanis much before stopping play.
– One, change the modes of play.
QM is CRAZY and builds terrible habits. You can’t learn anything except mage in QM, because there are no proper engages. Rotations don’t make sense. The list goes on. Unranked seems silly, and hopefully Storm league addresses the HL / TL split that doesn’t make sense. In an ideal scenario, I think you have AI, quasi-ARAM, quick draft, and ranked. AI wouldn’t change, quasi-ARAM would be similar to the ARAM brawls rotating through in the sense of single lane limited objectives, but allow people to spend gold or maybe “points” to play a particular hero. For points it could work that every time you play healer or tank in ARAM you earn points, bonus if you win, then you can spend those points on a game to play a specific hero (maybe one out of every 4-5 games). This would allow people to learn heroes they don’t know or that are difficult while encouraging more standardized comps without forcing it. Quick draft would allow selecting a role – either use a similar points system as mentioned with ARAM mode or reward people less for selecting damage or a specific hero. Every non 5 stack team would have a full tank, healer, ranged damage dealer and two flex. Playing a specific hero would autolock once your turn came, and other draft times would be 10 secs, no bans. No ranks associated with this mode but would give people the sense for ranked with reduced total game time. Storm league hopefully addresses most of the issues with ranked, however, I do think remembering back to why they split it out in the first place, one matchmaking criteria should be to try and balance stacks. E.g., don’t put a 3 stack and 2 stack against 5 solos. Also, early games suggest we should all let the discrepancies between hero league and team league ranks settle before giving up
– Two, add “special” reports.
Every 15 games or 48 hours, someone should earn one special report (max 2 at any time). Using this report triggers serious review of the reported player, and provides some transparency to the reporting player about the outcome of the report. I’ve had games where a player will not just afk, but run around the base so they don’t disconnect. It’s unclear the reporting system works in any meaningful way, but it also is spammed (particularly by teams when a solo player doesn’t do exactly what they want). Automated system just rewards you for playing in a group. Providing transparency to when your special report resulted in bans would increase morale around the system. Additionally, for those that successfully use special reports, they could receive a bonus (this might require longer periods to earn a special report, or have 3 in a row successful) such as a 1-day boost. Based on overwatch feedback, I don’t think commendations would help that much.
– Three, avoid feature.
I realize this could be abused, but perhaps below diamond, a feature where you can avoid 2-3 people. I’ve bumped into one 3-queue about 10 times at this point who only play jaina zeratul and medic. The medic will only heal or stim the zeratul who builds the aa build (even though he’s a low plat and doesn’t have the mechanical savvy to make plays on this build). From level 1 they start chasing people deep into enemy territory and if you don’t join them and they die, toxicity starts immediately. Typing back only opens you up to a triple report, so you keep your head down and hope the enemy team is dumb enough to make unsafe lane rotations. Once with these 3, I locked zera with the 3rd pick (first pick after bans), went q build. The medic refused to heal me, and so after passively playing until 16 to get my power spike, actually made a few plays to turn around the game at which point medic waited in base and said this is a waste since I have no one to stim… so failed to play rest of the game. Being able to avoid would allow players to avoid extreme cases like this, BUT ALSO give them the sense of empowering who they choose to play with even tho it doesn’t do THAT much. I played many games where two losing teammates from a previous match would start draft super salty. I’d try to defuse by self-deprecating and challenging them to win, but it’s not ideal.
– Four, add back the performance based rankings, but work with the community on the rules!
I think their mistake is not that it doesn’t work that well, but there is zero transparency and they aren’t soliciting feedback. It would be great if someone disconnects for 50% of their loss points to be given back to those who didn’t disconnect. Sure people can game it some, but if Blizz was continually working with us on the hard rules plus what it’s trying to accomplish with it’s machine learning models, I think people would greatly appreciate it and we’d avoid weird results.
– Five, educate the player base.
Blizz doesn’t even need to create the content. I think they could link youtube / twitch videos from pros / coaches into the game itself as a splash screen (as well as patch notes!). I’m still struggling to fully grasp items on volskaya, specifically the placement and when to drop them. Weekly shorts on draft tips would be amazing. There is so much opportunity, and a lot of great content here on reddit that would shine if brought to the larger player base. It’s a low effort way to reduce the lack of education and inconsistency in things across the game (think about how much Hearthstone evolved from the first two years in player education… rank 15 already involves netdecks and people largely making the right immediate choices if not yet thinking steps ahead instead of Dennis who moonfires your face on turn 1).
– Six, confirm before starting.
This seems simple but every time someone AFKs during draft and it resets me to a 300 second queue that hurts. Either require people to say they are present (League style) or at the very least put the non-disconnect person back into queue at highest priority. The 9 people who didn’t disconnect should just add one and restart immediately.
Overall, I found the state of the game to be pretty good. Queue times weren’t ridiculous (I’m on NA), they’ve added so many heroes and reworked a lot of others which felt healthy, most people were friendly, and I experienced zero toxicity through voice but some through text or just inting. Placements seemed off, as I went 9-1 and got into Bronze 2. Despite having rusty mechanics (not stutter stepping but on individual heroes), and not playing with the new globe, ammo changes, and maps, I was almost always best or second best player in my first 30 games due to ~500+ games on my old account. Personal rank adjustment never really accounted for this, as the most points I got are actually now in Platinum at 7-8. This would be something PBMM would help adjust faster and make it less frustrating for everyone involved.
High bronze / low silver: What I admired about these leagues was how little toxicity there was overall. Additionally, I find this sub often talks about bronze as if they are players without mouses or keyboards, but I think 75%+ of the players could operate their character okay or better. They could hit combos and dual in a 1v1 or 5v5 team fight. The only toxicity I saw, came from smurf players who would admit they opened a new account because their old account got banned for trolling / toxicity. One big issue I saw in bronze, was a lack of game knowledge. I believe this is largely fixable by Blizz but something they haven’t worked on. Playing the tutorial to see about changes, it provides such a rudimentary view of what should be happening. Going into AI and then QM, you learn nothing. So ranked play is a huge jump in understanding what wins games. Additionally, the lack of meta coordination compounded this issue. What I mean by this is while micro coordination (focusing one target) was missing as expected, coordinating objectives, lane soak, rotations, etc all lacked. No one got into voice or typed much other than gg gj gl hf. Part of this helps lower toxicity, but it also means you have crazy things happening like an Ana wave clearing top lane while a Nazeebo solo contests a bottom lane cursed hollow tribute. No one got camps unless you had someone who would exclusively get camps (also an issue normally). Another issue I observed was the ridiculous amount of crazy free damage people took. Burst comps didn’t really matter because lack of micro coordination, but poking would chunk their entire team significantly. I stated before people knew how to operate their hero, but dodging was excluded from that skill set. This makes Kael and Azmodon gods, and first ban material. That being said, all damage gets taken to the face so it’s not hard to find other characters that do the same. Finally, no one really thought about draft but almost every comp would actually take a tank and a healer. I believe I won every single game climbing from Bronze 2 to Silver 3 even on characters I had never played and it gave me a better sense of the basics of what new characters could do and how new maps worked. I played a lot of Raynor because people wouldn’t focus him and he’d spit out huge damage and decent wave clear.
High silver: These leagues certainly increased in toxicity, however, for the most part, I was able to carry past 1 toxic player or sometimes even 2. As long as your toxic players minus opposing teams toxic players was not >1, I found myself winning. People here certainly started trying harder, and at least knew they SHOULD be rotating and timing things, even if they couldn’t execute on it. Tunnel vision doubles at this level with chases lasting 3/4s of a map onto heroes you are not going to catch. Players will always trade kills over map presence and objective. Also I found some players to have high technical skill, some players to have a great sense of macro, and some players to (attempt) coordinating with their teammates. Most players did one of these things, a few rare players did two, and every once in a while you’d see three, but even as someone who attempted to coordinate with teammates, people started becoming quite stubborn in being right rather than being together. I did find that if players were talkative, especially in voice, you could shot call and become very hard to beat because it was unlikely anything of the sort would happen on the other team. Another odd thing I noticed, which actually persisted through to high gold, was the amount of players taking characters that they never played before and didn’t think through the win conditions. A Nazeebo that’s chasing kills all game and choosing vile infection with 80 stacks, a Ragnaros dying right before a massive 100-0 zerg wave without using ult or trait, a Varian going taunt in the solo lane. Another issue I saw was a lack of thoughtfulness about the draft. Even excluding one tricking or playing comfortable heroes, people would take things that were already hard countered by the opposing team like double mage into tracer with stitches artanis as tanks or that didn’t work together like a poke comp and uther into a lucio. I did not perform well on healers in this league, but excelled with great 1v1 / PVE dualers like Artanis and Varian Twin blades.
Gold: I found gold the most toxic league. I tried to keep my head down and get through it as quickly as possible. Everyone believes they should damage or one-trick, and no one wants to heal or tank. I’m not sure how to address this from a game design standpoint, but ideally tanks and supports could make more plays to make playing non-damage more compelling. No one wants the triple tank or double support meta being 95% of games, but it should at least feel good to have one tank and one healer in a game. Additionally, Dunning-Kruger effect is in full force. Ignore the fact that someone is 80% winrate on an assassin, “mechanics god bob” wants them to heal so they can play their 30% win rate dragon claw genji. When they die 3 screens past your entire team in the heart of the enemy base, expect toxic sludge to come out of their mouth. I have four tips for getting out of gold: 1) no matter how toxic or inting someone is, keeping playing to make yourself better, and find times to be positive; 2) if you find communicative non-trolls, party up; 3) avoid people — if you lose with a mega troll, whisper after the game without saying anything, while their status may be inaccurate, if you can’t invite them to a party it means they are in a game; 4) if you lose two in a row, take a break. Finally, if you have the option to play the solo lane, do it; your fate will be almost entirely in your own hands.
Platinum / low diamond: I’m lumping these together because a) I didn’t reach low diamond and wanted to talk a little bit about it, b) there didn’t seem to be much difference between play at plat 4+ and low diamond frankly. This league felt like a pretty good match for my skill set, but expressed itself in wide variability. The inting went down in this league, most people try hard, but the toxicity bubbles up very fast. Any comments must be made incredibly carefully not to even appear to criticize someone otherwise it quickly devolves. Occasionally, I’d get a match where teams were equally matched with masters and diamonds scattered in and the match would largely be dictated by the one person not in voice comms. The biggest issues I saw where variability across several elements. Players are not a uniform rank across their roster – based on my play and win rates in platinum over the past week and half, I’d say I’m probably high diamond on Alarak, carrying games with masters in it. On ETC, I’m probably low diamond but I’m missing something that’s at a higher level of play (comments from a masters player in my game to stop zoning and finish engages when I was at low health and backing out I realized were accurate but I just didn’t know how to do it differently). Additionally, players sometimes are in the zone and sometimes not. On Zuljin, even normalizing for team comp, some games I’m a god, and some games I just can’t even tie my fucking shoes. Players are not consistently skilled across maps, hitting their groove in a standard 3 lane map like cursed hollow but completely failing to understand the changes in a two lane map. Mix these things together (e.g., I feel like I have a good understanding of two lane maps and I’m best on Alarak), and you have a game where someone will play like a high diamond and the next where they are barely a gold level player. Without attempting to understand this variability, I think people get tilted by horrible play from their teammates. We should all try to understand that can happen and at least for me with Zuljin a few positive words and I can still become a late game asset for you. Another issue I saw in Platinum is the smurf teams. It was not as common as I read about on this sub, but I definitely ran into teams where a silver 5 genji would consistently go 1 v 3 and get triple kills. Fortunately I didn’t experience those same players intentionally feeding much as I climbed.
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© Post "Returned after 3 years – some suggestions on improvements and the state of play" for game Heroes of the Storm.
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