Heroes of the Storm has unique gameplay mechanics and design that rival the likes of League of Legends and Dota 2, but changes at Blizzard have affected the development to a point where some believe the future of the promising competitor may be in question. Overwatch, the Diablo franchise, and World of Warcraft are icons that one immediately thinks of when they think of Blizzard, and with those big titles casting such a large shadow, it’s also easy to miss a game like Heroes of the Storm. This is particularly true of those who may be unfamiliar with the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre.
Still, HOTS promises a different kind of gaming experience that fans of Blizzard can enjoy. Unfortunately, Blizzard’s restructuring continually causes changes to occur both internally and externally of the Heroes of the Storm community, affecting the longevity and viability of Blizzard’s potentially competitive MOBA.
Heroes of the Storm became what it is today through a mod of Starcraft II. Blizzard used the custom map known as “Blizzard DOTA” (later “Blizzard All-Stars”) as a demonstration of the modding mechanics within the Starcraft sequel. The demonstration in innovation was massively popular and spawned an expansion in the dev team. Before long, Heroes of the Storm became a fully-fledged Blizzard title. Subsequently, HOTS used the experimentation with existing intellectual property to lay a foundation for a new community to form.
Although the concept of using existing IP as a foundation to construct a different game is not new (i.e. Super Smash Bros.), Blizzard’s clever execution of implementing heroes (and villains) across all of their titles into simple-yet-competitive gameplay drastically bolstered Heroes’ potential to appeal to a wide audience. Fans of games as old as Warcraft III and as new as Overwatch can play with their favorite characters in a different light. Furthermore, the simplicity behind the game design offers a great experience even to those unfamiliar with the MOBA playstyle. On average, each match takes about 20 to 25 minutes, as opposed to other MOBAs with matches lasting as long as an hour. The replayability is thus significantly higher in comparison, and with consistent updates and patches, new heroes added regularly, an intuitive loot chest system, and gameplay that “is an excellent starting point to anyone new to the [MOBA] genre,” Blizzard securely put their foot in the door of the MOBA genre.
However, Blizzard’s recent restructuring affected the momentum that HOTS had coming into this year. Specifically, the reduction in the developer staff, as well as the HOTS professional and collegiate esports league ending, has drastically changed the direction the game was heading. With such major changes to the internal and external aspects surrounding the game, Heroes of the Storm is now in a state of limbo. According to Blizzard, the restructuring sets the game up for “long-term sustainability,” but with such a vague term, the future is strictly speculative.
Following suit to other Blizzard titles, Heroes of the Storm has a mass following that includes a community of both casual and professional players alike. Through its balanced gameplay, mass appeal, and unique design, a variety of gamers have found HOTS, and involve themselves within the community. Therefore, it was a shock to loyal fans when they were hit with the changes that a significant portion of the developer team would be reassigned to other projects. HOTS’ players had grown accustomed to a certain standard set forth by the developers before these changes, and although the game still receives regular updates, the difference in the composition and scale of the updates causes the expectations previously set to be difficult to match.
Originally, players could expect seasonal/unique events happening in-game that offered rewards and special purchases consistent with a theme, as well as regular utilization of the public test server, which gave players anticipation of future heroes and map updates. A specific seasonal event which occurs every February is the Lunar Festival, offering mounts, skins, and bundles in accordance with a Chinese New Year theme. In addition, special quests provide the player more opportunities for in-game currency and other special rewards. However, February 2019 has come and past with no such seasonal or unique event to which players had come accustomed. Furthermore, the PTR has had less significance throughout the transitional period as well. With overall less new content to bring to the game, the PTR has been underutilized with major updates players may look forward to in the future. This is not the fault of the smaller dev team; rather, it shows the direct impact the game has to endure from the changes throughout Blizzard.
Furthermore, the esports cancellation does not give a sense that the game will be returning to form any time soon. The competitive aspect behind HOTS was a major draw for those interested, and although these details surrounding the game do not affect the ability to enjoy the game itself, the fact of the matter is that they are significant factors that led to Heroes of the Storm becoming a true competitor in the MOBA gaming genre.
Weathering the Storm
Despite all the changes and uncertainty, the developers currently working on HOTS maintain a sense of normality. While the updates may not be as significant as before, the dev team keeps the game fresh with consistent hero patches and plans for new heroes players can experience. The gameplay has not changed, and new players can still experience the same excitement they would have before the changes. Blizzard as a company still appears to be weathering their own internal storm, but HOTS‘ future still looks optimistic upon closer inspection. The dev team continually interacts with the community, including social interactions on Twitter as well as scheduled Reddit AMAs discussing everything from matchmaking to hero design; this gives fans confidence that the game and community will continue to thrive.
The community itself has also taken steps to bolster the game’s relevance with tournaments. Overall, fans of Heroes of the Storm and the dedicated dev team are working in tandem to make the best of the situation in which they find themselves. The future may still be in question, and HOTS may not reach the potential it had from the beginning, but in the meantime, Heroes of the Storm will continue to exist as a MOBA for a variety of Blizzard fans to enjoy, and is a prime example of how a community surrounding a game they care about is able to weather the storm of a corporation of uncertainty.