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Making the twelve hour drive back from this year’s BlizzCon, I was struck with a sort of wistful melancholy. I’ve been lucky enough to attend every BlizzCon, and the only other time I felt this way was after the first time I got to try StarCraft II. It was upon remembering this that I realized what this feeling was: I was bummed out that I wouldn’t be able to go home and play Heroes of the Storm. That I had months of waiting ahead of me. This article is an assessment of the game as it played in it’s Alpha form at BlizzCon. I’ll be giving my thoughts and comparisons regarding the game from the standpoint of a long time player of DOTA, League of Legends, and DOTA 2. The goal of the article, however, is to convey why Heroes of the Storm has me feeling like the Blizzard fan I used to be again. Passionate, rabid, knocking over thousands of ladder matches of WarCraft III, sacrificing my collegiate GPA in the name of love for gaming, and Blizzard. What is it about Heroes of the Stormthat’s making me resent all my scheduled work hours again? Let’s find out.


Upon sitting down for my first match of HotS, (Aside: HotS? Heart of the Swarm, Heroes of the Storm, HeartStone: Heroes of WarCraft… something must be done about this acronym debacle, but that’s a task for us, the community, to tackle. So let’s hear some suggestions. I vote for “HOOTS”. Then Blizzard can add a kooky owl hero, to be followed by a kooky owl continent in WoW.) I immediately saw that this was not the map I played two years previously. Nor was it the simple map editor experiment that got shoved into a corral next to Aiur Chef and StarJeweled I played before that. Where before, the game was sort of neat, but obviously just a StarCraft II Arcade mod, this was an entirely new game. It reeked of polish. It was clearly the results of a team’s efforts, not a project given to one person, it showed the power that a team of talented developers can funnel into a product. The controls were responsive and tight, and the graphics were vibrant and detailed, even beyond StarCraft II’s standards, which the game was built from. I chose my first hero, the Elite Tauren Chieftain, and chose his alternate skin, an 80’s style tiger-stripe leotard sporting glam rock version. He even had a guitar modeled after the one Prince uses, as if I needed any help knowing who I was destined to select.



The Elite Tauren Chieftain creates a massive AOE stun, as his guitar solo compels the enemy team to do nothing but rock out. Probably Randy Rhodes’ solo from “No More Tears”.



As I loaded into the fountain area with my team, I began pressing buttons like “B”, and clicking around the home base looking for shop to buy my starting items. I couldn’t seem to find it, no matter where I searched. The announcement that the match was about to begin came across, and it dawned on me: this game has no items. My teeth began to grind. The capillaries in my eyes began to stress. “Casuals! Filthy, filthy, no skill, baby aspirin CASUALS!!”, I thought to myself, as I begrudgingly headed towards my lane. But, I’m an open minded guy, and I still trust these developers. My ire subsided and I decided to give the game an honest chance to impress me. It didn’t take long before I forgot about items. After one game, I never missed buying items again.

Why? I was too focused on the map objectives to remember items. I was too busy looking forward to leading my team to victory to look forward to buying a big fat item and doing the most damage I could. Heroes of the Storm does not take place on a traditional hero brawler map, the classic formula we know from the first DOTA, 3 lanes, creeps, towers, and jungles. Instead, we are given “Battlegrounds”, each with unique team based objectives and win conditions. In one Battleground, called Blackheart’s Bay, players must collect coins from around the map and deliver them to a neutral ghostly pirate captain, Blackheart, who will then use his ship to deliver gigantically devastating damage to the enemy team’s towers and base. In another, Dragon Shire, there are two capture points on the North and South sides of the map, and when both are held by one team, they can choose a hero to become the Dragon Knight, who is vastly stronger and more deadly than a normal hero. In a word, he facerolls. In yet another, Cursed Hollow, teams battle for the favor of the Raven Lord – collecting his tribute curses the other team, weakening their towers and minions significantly. In the last of the four available Battlegrounds, Haunted Mines, a highly unorthodox and extremely interesting map, players go below ground into mines, a subterranean level beneath the normal map, to collect skulls. Enormous grave golems are then summoned for each team, their strength determined by the number of skulls their corresponding team collected. These grave golems are gigantic threats, and left unchecked, will push through multiple towers or even win the game.


The Grave Golem pushes relentlessly onto the enemy Nexus, swelling with putrid offal and endless undead might. He also enjoys watching “Modern Family”.


This is where the game really began to shine as it’s own entity. Listen, I’m not some general games journalist who thinks the future of gaming is QTEs and choose your own adventure books, who’s played 50 games of League of Legends and thinks that pirates are really neat-o and fun. I’ve got thousands of hours in DOTA 2, just as much in League of Legends, and I was addicted to DOTA 1 throughout the entire George W. Bush presidency, and I’m telling you: these maps are not gimmicks. They encourage tactics and teamwork beyond anything being done in those games. The objectives create action and intrigue, and simultaneously aren’t the only way to win.


So, like I said before I gushed over the maps, the game doesn’t have items. So what does it have? What do you have to look forward to with your hero? Not having a way to enhance your heroes is a little bland isn’t it? The answer is in the skills. Heroes don’t just have 3 spells and an ultimate. They start with 3 spells, and beginning at level 1, you select from passive improvements, spell modifications, and new activated abilities all the way up to level 20. Every hero has at least 2 ults. All along the way, you can choose to make your skill tree more tanky, more speedy, offensively oriented, supportive, or any combination thereof and more. Sort of like an item build, without having to memorize recipes. It’s like the item shop and League of Legends’ masteries rolled into one, but you get to build them every game. Your build is yours to decide, and you can easily adapt that build in the middle of the game if another type of style is needed for your team to win. Maybe you’re playing as Nova, and the enemy team has you outleveled. Your Abathur has taken the ability that adds healing to his already robust shielding buff. While so far, you’ve been focusing on abilities to apply heavy single target damage, you diverge and begin taking AOE damage enhancements so you can more quickly farm neutral mercenaries to try and catch your team up in levels while Abathur heals you. You can do that. Not only that, it works.



A look at the talent screen for Stitches. Not pictured: The hidden heroic ability “Lengthy diatribe on Jackson Pollack”.



Don’t be mistaken. I was having a blast, but I still thought that the robust hero build system lacked depth compared to the item shop. Once the most “ideal” build is found, then won’t everyone play every hero the same way? My worry was relieved by lead designer Dustin Browder during our press Q&A session:

“At some point throughout the progression system you unlocks talents, and more talents. And then what you’ll have is a loadout. So you might have…9 or 10 talents available to you at level 1. Before the game launches, you’re going to get to choose 3. So you’re going to go and configure your hero before the game. So you’re going to go ‘Ok, I’m going to play Sonya the Barbarian. What talents do I have unlocked for Sonya? Ok, I have 10 talents for her at level 1, these 3 feel meaningful to me.’ So you’re going to load your choices like you’re building your deck. Right? ‘These are all my cards, these are the one I’m gonna take with me this game’. Then you’re going to go into the game and we’re going to say ‘Hey, hey. These are the choices you said you wanted. Pick one’. And then that will happen throughout the process. So after you get out of the game you may say ‘That deck didn’t work for me.’ “


So, instead of an item shop, you get to make an ability “deck” based off the hero abilities you’ve unlocked, and then make a long term build up to level 20 based on the abilities you chose. Sound like a lot? Seem impossible to balance? Ask yourself: how hard is it to balance compared to balancing an item shop of 150 items, that have to be used fairly and equally by over 100 heroes? Compared to that gargantuan task, balancing a crop of abilities specifically tailored for a hero against other heroes is child’s play. On top of that, it adds loads of flavor. I am picturing a “Spectre Nova” skin, with her in black and gray, red eyes glowing, and includes a set of ability cards that includes a long range snipe ability and a triple mini-nuke ultimate to include in your build. It should be noted that this is not in any way the confirmed method Blizzard will be conducting micro transactions, in fact, during our interview, Dustin made a solemn vow to avoid all “pay to win” principles. It was just my own thought for how new abilities, themes, and playstyles could be added to heroes. After experiencing the skill system in Heroes of the Storm, not only do I not miss items, they seem almost archaic and cumbersome to me.


When Heroes was announced, Blizzard’s “strategy” was pretty obvious to everyone. They missed the boat with the successor to DOTA and the advent of the MOBA/ARTS genre. They didn’t cash in on what is now unquestionably the most explosive genre in video gaming. This game was how Blizzard would take a piece of their rightful pie back, and they’d do it by cashing in on the familiar faces that so many people know and love. After all, this entire genre was built using WarCraft III’s tools and resources, by the WarCraft III community. Right?

I’m not so sure. Sure, of the 18 heroes available in the BlizzCon build, I recognized… well, 18 of them. Sure, I loved it. Sure, when I saw Diablo stomping around casting his lighting/fire breath and summoning pentagrams, I had the squishy fanboy glee moment. But I think that the shiny happy heroes we all love will be the candy that gets folks in the door, and an amazingly fun and addictive multiplayer game is what will get them to stay put. Then buy skins. Glorious, glorious skins. As I said before, I chose the Elite Tauren Chieftain in my first game. All the heroes, what I think of them, their abilities, their difficulties, strategies, skins, and roles will be covered in our comprehensive overview, so I’ll save that for later. Since I’m talking about ETC however, I’ll describe him.



Come on Feel the Noize with ETC who Don’t Want Nothin’ But a Good Time because he’s a Livewire and a Youth Gone Wild who loves Cherry Pie.



ETC can be compared to varying other heroes from the brawler genre depending on your build and playstyle. Simultaneously, he’s definitely his own entity. He is a melee hero who is most useful when initiating and fighting up close. He has a damaging dash, a self heal, an AOE cleave, and for this build, his choice of ults were between a map wide teleport, or a large AOE crowd control, where he puts on a rippin’ guitar solo, and the enemy team is compelled to dance. So, depending on your build, ETC can play like Shen with his dash and map teleport, like Alistar with his crowd control and self heal, or like a classic bruiser. My only regret is that I got one game with him, and I’m looking forward to getting more time with him. Hopefully sooner rather than later. My game went smashingly,. And I think our team went something like 4300 kills to zero deaths and won. Something like that.

My next game, I chose Abathur. Abathur was my favorite character in Heart of the Swarm. Obsessed with acquiring perfect genetics for the Zerg, slug-like, cowardly, but an expert survivalist, I was very interested to see how such a character would be translated as a hero in a game like Heroes of the Storm. What I was shown was a hero unlike anything I’d ever played before.



Do you enjoy gladiator movies, Human?



Abathur is a support hero taken to the next level. He has the ability to tunnel anywhere on the map, and to place creep tumors that explode, do damage, and slow, like Teemo’s mushrooms. These skills make him very valuable for map control, as he can quickly capture points or reinforce gates and walls at any time. His main mechanic, however, is to cast a channeling spell, where he “infests” an ally hero. The channeling has no duration, and you are infested inside the hero until you choose to break it or the hero dies. While “inside” the hero, Abathur shoots a skill shot damage spike from their body. He also has the ability to shield the hero. At one of his levels, Abathur could choose to make this shield stronger, or to add a healing property to it. He also casts an AOE burst of spikes from the hero he is infesting, and coupled with the skill shot, can greatly enhance the damage capability of a lane or team fight. His ultimate lets you become a clone of any hero on your team, including all their spells, allowing you to double up on your assassins or really go for a strong push. It has to be strategically timed, however, because during this time you won’t have the benefit of Abathur’s support.

Abathur himself dies in about two hits from any hero. This little fact is what made my first experience with him very confusing at the outset. You see, his infestation ability has infinite range. That’s a little something I failed to notice. So there I was, with Abathur out in the lane, trying to hide in bushes and behind towers, infesting my pane partner at close range. And dying. Dying a lot. After a few minutes of getting squished like the bug I was, I turned to my friend, Legacy site administrator LordofAscension, and said “…I think I’m supposed to play this guy FROM the base.” Which of course, I was. You’ve got to understand, there had been no Heroes of the Storm panels or gameplay discussions at this point. This was a mind blowing concept for someone playing this kind of game for eight years. It was exhilarating to see hero designs being implemented outside what we have known as absolute truths in this genre up to this point. Once I parked my squishy larval butt back in the base, things started going swimmingly for my team. Infesting heroes in the underground mines while I stayed above, teleporting to capture points as soon as they were available, saving a hero with a sliver of life, then infesting across the map to do it again in the span of seconds. I was having the most fun I’ve had in a hero brawler in years.

As I walked towards the exit after the game, which we lost because I gave the other team an EXP filled grub to stomp on for about ten minutes, I was beaming with excitement. I told my teammates how unique and refreshing Abathur was, how he was something I’d never even considered. Here was something beyond a support hero. He was a director of fates. I’d call him a commander hero. It was during this joyful tirade, by a 30 year old man, that I realized something: I was more electrified by a Blizzard game than I’d been since I was a kid. The last time I was this excited was when I first saw Dark Templar in Brood War. I really, genuinely couldn’t wait to get back into the game again. This kind of “make the game we want to make, worry about the semantics later” approach to game design is exactly what needs to happen for this game to be a huge success. I did not think I’d be pledging any allegiance to a new MOBA style game, ever again. After my Abathur game, I was solidly on the HOOTS boat, and began planning my commentary and coverage, right then and there. Toot toot, all aboard for HOOTS! Toot.

So what other sorts of things can be done with these liberating new battleground and hero mechanics? How about an Arcturus Mengsk commander hero, who never actually arrives at the battlefield, but commands safely from his Battlecruiser? He could be purely about summoning and controlling extra minions in the lanes. Like Abathur, he could be extremely micro intensive, as his special troops are deployed all over the map. What about Deckard Cain, whose immense knowledge of the arcane, mystic, and demonic is all about empowering his allies? He could stay at home, and “identify” items for allies, giving them activatable skills. With these types of things going on, as well as more interesting supports, and pure siege heroes, soon we will no longer be fenced in to “Carry, Tank, Support, Jungler” molds. What works in the game will be decided by teams. And that’s what Heroes of the Storm emphasizes above all else: teamwork.


You will always be the same level as everyone else on your team. How does that sound? To me, it triggered all those “filthy casual” buttons again when I realized it was happening. But, after finding that I didn’t miss items, I thought about, (having heard Blizzard’s design philosophies about the game), what the goal of the shared experience is. Firstly, it allows a hero like Abathur, who never leaves the base, to exist. Secondly, It allows freedom for interesting map mechanics. If a hero can be off doing an important task besides farming in lane, then more strategically robust maps can thrive. Again, I like that. It also always allows for a window for a team to make a comeback. Even if one team is several levels ahead of the other, and it looks grim, because the opposition doesn’t have one useless carry or one individual hero who is so grossly far behind that there’s no possibility of comeback, both teams must always be focused and on their toes. Games of HOOTS are quicker than League of Legends games, and (much, much) quicker than DOTA 2 matches, but in that approximately 20 minute span (about the length of an average SCII match), the outcome is never a foregone conclusion. The team that’s behind can shift gears, focus on gathering up mercenaries and experience points. The map objectives are so powerful that a team that’s behind can turn the match around just by strategically stealing them from the other team. It’s like the option to steal Baron Nashor, all the time. Both teams have to be active and sharp the whole game. It really makes for a compelling and enjoyable experience - every time.



Diablo makes a break for the delicious marshmallow moon he recently spotted.



The inclusion and importance of Battleground objectives necessitates teamwork at all times. In Heroes of the Storm, HotShotGG can’t sit in his lane for 45 minutes playing PvE then run in at the end and nuke the planet with some godly over-farmed Nasus or Nidalee. I myself, at BlizzCon, after only a few games, found myself communicating to my team (through good old fashioned yelling, which, in retrospect, the enemy team probably heard). “Ok, Nova, you swing around behind Diablo and let him chase you. Make sure you kite him with your W, I’m going to sneak towards the shrine. Abathur, while they’re chasing her, you tunnel to the middle and snipe the Dragon Knight. Ok, ready? Going! Go, go, go!” Not only was this kind of teamwork natural, it was extremely gratifying, and every player felt like they were an important part of it. At the same time, they are dancing, dodging, firing off skillshots, kiting, and doing all the things that we love to do. Click click click.

Which brings us to the heart of this game. It’s a dream I’ve had in a long time in this genre, and I bet you have too: no more pubs. To have a consistent group of 5 players, who get on every night, and that’s your squad, with whom you learn to mesh like you could never do with strangers. With long term ladder and tournament goals in mind. Some of you probably have accomplished this in other games. I never have, and I think in Heroes I’ll have no problem getting there. It looks to me that because of the game’s design, it will demand this kind of interaction to thrive. Blizzard knows it, and that’s their entire goal: you will be rewarded with in game currency and increased account experience for playing with friends, and Battle.net support for pre arranged teams will be elaborate and expansive.


Of course, sometimes, you will need to just play on your own. The experience of getting paired up with 4 strangers, 2 of which are constantly babbling in Portuguese to each other while they feed, an AFK tank who auto locked the hero you wanted then decided to alt-tab and check out Katy Perry interviews on YouTube instead of playing, and a carry who has “noobnoobnoobnoob lololol” pasted into his clipboard, understands why this can be a daunting task (read; everyone who’s played one of these games). Dustin Browder, stating matter of factly how matchmaking is operated, didn’t realize what a big deal this announcement was:

“I choose what hero I wanna play, and then I match make. And I say ‘I would like to play Elite Tauren Chieftain. Nobody take my ETC, I wanna play him.’ And we go, our match making goes ‘Oh, you wanna play ETC ok, he wants to play ETC too, he can be on the enemy team. Ok, ETC, you need a support character, and a couple assassins, and let’s pick up a siege’. Right? And we’ll try to make a comp for you that makes sense.”


This small change, one that I’ve been griping about for years, by itself, eliminates a gigantic chunk of the horror of solo matchmaking in my opinion. Unfortunately, the plan seemed to be to only allow this for unranked play, but when the “stakes” are higher, when people care more, is when these sort of conflicts need to be weeded out the most. Choose your role, the game finds you an appropriate team. Hopefully Blizzard realizes that this method of solo matchmaking should be universal. I can say from years of experience and online chat text strife, that it unquestionably is.


Illidan, Kerrigan, Uther. Raynor, Malfurion, Arthas. Diablo, Tassadar, Nova. Faces we know, names we love, and they’ll be coming down the pipe all the time. What’s more, they’re done beautifully, and they’re chock full of personality. Every hero has all the flavor you want from that hero. This is the foundation stone, for many, of why this game is happening. Maybe to a degree it is. But why this game will flourish, to me, is all soaked into the gameplay.

From a sample map to encourage people to use the editor, to one man developed back burner project, to BlizzCon centerpiece. Heroes of the Storm is ready to enter the arena of the biggest PC gaming genre in the world. Here we are, staring Blizzard’s hero brawler in the face. From my two days with the alpha build, it looks like Blizzard’s got a lot more than one leg to stand on. It’s not just about cashing in on fan favorites. It’s not about “demographics”. It’s about a formula that made the company so insanely successful in it’s Golden Age: make games that people just don’t want to stop playing. With an emphasis on customization, hero builds, unique and varying map types, and above all else, teamwork and playing with friends, this could be the game that leads me to write a piece called “How Blizzard Got Their Groove Back”. Let’s not put the cart before the horse, though. Because then the horse eats all your apples you were delivering to the general store or whatever. Right? That’s what that expression means, I think.

Anyways, we’re a long way out, and there’s a lot of pitfalls to avoid along the way (the last time I was this pumped was when I played the StarCraft: Ghost multiplayer at the first BlizzCon), but all the pieces are there. Blizzard has, after these years of development, really got the pieces they need to make my new favorite game, and yours too. I’m going to do everything I can to help us get there.

starcraft 2

This is a StarCraft: Legacy (http://sclegacy.com/) BlizzCon 2013 event article.

starcraft legacy

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