Recently my wife and I returned to the United States from Taiwan, which for me in part meant reconnecting with my gaming friends from high school and college. Back in the day we spent endless hours playing MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas), beginning with the original DotA, then Heroes of Newerth, then League of Legends and DotA 2. League of Legends was always my favorite of the bunch. It did away with some of the mechanics such as denying last hits and esoteric item builds which were more stressful and technically challenging–though, I must admit, rewarding once mastered–and focused in on the fun parts of the MOBA experience. Objectives were made clearer: understanding when to go for the Ancient Creeps or Roshan was always more confusing than going for the Dragon or Baron after a good team fight.
Part of this might be that I’m just a casual gamer. I like games that I don’t have to master to play well enough to have fun. So League of Legends captured my attention back when it was the most casual–and, for me, the most fun–MOBA around. But since coming back to the US I haven’t played a single game of LoL. Instead, I find myself playing game after game of Heroes of the Storm.
Heroes of the Storm isn’t the most technically excellent MOBA–that mantle goes to DotA 2, in my opinion. It’s not the most eSports friendly, as Joshua Calixto made clear in this article for Kill Screen. There are no last hits, no denials, no item builds (no currency, even), no leveling up of individual skills, and everyone on your team gains levels together. The concept of balance at times seems to have been thrown out in favor of a design philosophy along the lines of “make every character as overpowered as possible and let the dust settle where it may.” Yet, I find myself enjoying Heroes of the Storm more than I ever enjoyed DotA, or LoL, or HoN, or DotA 2. Even the matches that go badly don’t make me as angry and frustrated as they did in those other games.
I think the main reason is because Blizzard has, as Mr. Calixto points out, cut out all the things that make MOBAs brutally frustrating, the things that make players rage at each other when someone is new to the game or makes a mistake. Without ability leveling and item builds the learning curve for HotS is much lower, so it’s easier to help new players figure out how to play their characters. When games last around twenty minutes (though they can stretch to as long as fifty, as some friends and I experienced during one brutal, soul crushing grind of a math) it’s easier to let a loss roll of your back and try again, rather than rage at the teammate whose mistake or ignorance may have cost you the match. With these frustrating things excised, HotS is left with a refocus on the things that make MOBA gameplay fun: each map (and there are many, in contrast with DotA’s one and LoL’s three-ish) has unique objectives and mechanics which are designed to force team fights, the most entertaining and rewarding parts of a MOBA match. In this way, Blizzard has distilled the MOBA into a faster paced, more inviting game, one that draws me back for match after match, even when I should be writing.