Heroes of the Storm entered the MOBA scene a few years ago with a small splash due to many people believing it wouldn’t be competitive with its casual-friendly design. It steadily rose in popularity to where it sits today, below its predecessors in League of Legends and Dota 2 in Twitch views by a fair margin, but there nonetheless.
One of the major selling points of the game is its concept of “fantasy.” Previous MOBAs had created characters to build their game around, typically with a moderately fleshed out story and enough context to justify the characters’ voice lines and appearance. Heroes broke that mold. Blizzard decided that their MOBA would dissect features of its genre in pursuit of something unique, special, and daring. They chose to pull characters from their other games into the MOBA experience, something that had never been done on such a wide scale. To do this, they made sure every character they ported into the game captured its “fantasy.”
Fitting a Fantasy
One example of a character fitting its fantasy is Li-Ming, whose whole design stems from the Wizard in Blizzard’s other title, Diablo III. For instance, they both have access to Magic Missile, Arcane Orb, Disintegrate, Wave of Force, Diamond Skin, Teleport, Illusionist, Archon, and I’m sure I’m missing a few more. If you wanted, you could even create a Diablo wizard that mimicked her play style.
Li-Ming is a moderately different, very limited, but fairly accurate representation of what a Diablo III wizard looks and plays like. Because of this, she is a good example of a hero that fits the game’s fantasy. Heroes like Li-Ming are very practical because they draw in players from their respective Blizzard games. With this concept of design, Heroes of the Storm is able to pique the interest of some of the millions of people who play World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Diablo, StarCraft, and Overwatch.
Now, this is all fine and dandy, but we’ve encountered a slight issue. The game is progressing and, as it does, the limits of design are pushed and pulled to make room for new and exciting mechanics and heroes. This means that some older heroes need to be tweaked or even completely reworked to keep up, and that’s where the aforementioned issue lies: reworks.
Reworks generally come about because a hero is not matching up to other heroes in their role. For example, why would you pick Probius as a solo-lane hero when Yrel or Blaze is better at it and better at holding objectives? You wouldn’t unless you’re just a god-tier Probius player. To fix this issue, I would posit that Probius needs to be reworked by the Blizz dev team. Again, this sounds fine, except that recently Blizzard seems to have thrown at least some of their “fit the fantasy” design process out the window during reworks. As a recent example, I will bring up Azmodan.
Our favorite Lord of Hell has always been a sieging monster. Since the game’s early days, he’s been a lane pushing hero that could snipe you from across the screen with his Globes of Annihilation. His demon summons put global pressure on the map, and you had to dodge his globes. Playing against him was reminiscent of playing against him in Diablo III when he is laying siege to Bastion’s Keep. Being able to draw that similarity and feel the influence of his role in Diablo on the Heroes design means that Azmodan “fit his fantasy.” But as time passed, our demonic subject faded into obscurity before being kicked in the teeth with the 2018 laning changes. While he was rarely bad in a game, he just wasn’t the sieging terror that we all knew and loved.
So a rework was announced for him and we all got cautiously optimistic. With the rework live now, it’s obvious that the caution was necessary. He is a strong hero post-rework, but he’s been left in a spot where his global pressure took a hit. It’s not uncommon to see new Azmodans going for an auto attack build or even using globes to hit enemies just a few feet away in the lane, as opposed to using it as a snipe or waveclear tool. The rework essentially stripped Azmodan of his fantasy, a long-range siege monster who mimicked the Azmodan in Diablo III, and turned him into a solid team fight-oriented mage that can summon a global demon now and then.
And the community takes issue with that, saying that Azmodan is another example of Blizzard removing macro siege possibilities from Heroes because exciting team fights get more views on Twitch than in-depth macro play that heroes like Azmodan encourage. People feel as though Azmodan lost his unique fantasy-oriented play style to make the game more palatable for wider audiences.
No one can really say if this is wrong, right, if the community outrage is warranted or not, or anything else really. All we can do is voice our opinions to the people who make this game for us to enjoy in constructive ways. It’s obvious that Blizzard is having to decide between a few different directions for the game, and their decisions will inevitably sow discord in the community. Some people want change; some people don’t. But I think this is an important topic to be aware of and to discuss in public forums right now, so that our developers can get as much community feedback as possible while they solve what seems to be a game design identity crisis.
Should design cater to the hero’s fantasy and original game? Or should they simply reference their own game while having kits and play styles fitter for a wider, less invested audience? Should Heroes of the Storm return to its macro play focus that got hampered by the 2018 laning changes and the Azmodan rework? Or should it continue focusing on team fight-oriented gameplay? What do you think?
Let me know in the comments.