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Editorial: A Casual Case Study of Heroes of the Storm’s Failure to Launch

2/28/17
Being a college student, the big rage is the extremely popular ULoL league, League of Legends‘ collegiate series. This collegiate series involves varsity or club teams of over 200 schools in North America, all competing for the prestigious championship title and prize. While all of this limelight and excitement has been forming for ULoL, Heroes of The Storm was actively trying to reach the goal of League’s collegiate success in just a matter of months.

Blizzard has been pushing its equivalent counterpart, Heroes of The Dorm, since the release of the title. Even with all the time and money Blizzard spends on this endeavor, League just expands their collegiate reach and it’s an instant success, while Heroes of the Dorm arguably isn’t. This dichotomy between the two games is a perfect example to use to justify the argument that Heroes of the Storm was a failure to launch title, a first for Blizzard Entertainment.

From a lifelong fan’s perspective, I think that Blizzard’s design philosophy can easily be watered down to the old analogy, “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Summing up Blizzard’s Exec. VP of Game Design Rob Pardo’s GDC presentation in 2010, World of Warcraft was developed with the vision that the experience of the game must feel epic and overwhelming, but the actual design of the game needs to be as simple as possible.

This interview had great parts, but most importantly, at around 14 minutes, Pardo explains why Blizzard didn’t expect raid healers to have this clustered, complicated UI, but if the ability to play a more complicated role is there, players will create add-ons and make sure that it is possible. This flew right in the face of Blizzard’s attempts at a simplistic AI, and it serves as a perfect example as to why Heroes of the Storm failed. Players don’t always hate the ability to experience complexity.

The MOBA genre is full of different titles that fly at different levels of complexity. Although this isn’t the most important factor, since League is bigger than Dota 2 but immensely friendlier to casual players, there needs to be some sort of difference between a good player and a bad player.

Although Heroes of the Storm has this, it feels muddied. There was too much simplifying with the base mechanics, and although the different map styles bring the game up to speed, the heroes you play just feel like early-release League of Legends champions, which have almost all been reworked with evolved kits. At the baseline, Heroes of the Storm looks pretty and has interesting gimmicks, but the most important part of a MOBA is the mechanics of your champion, which was the part that Blizzard decided to cut back on.

Although I am a huge Blizzard fanboy, owning literally every game other than the Lost Vikings, and paying to get into HotS before the release, I can’t help but feel disappointed in how it turned out. I feel as though I am not alone when I look at the Twitch numbers and the game is currently sitting at #30 with no tournaments going on for any competitors. With the effort and resources that were put into its collegiate series just to be outdone in one fell swoop by a competitor, Heroes of the Storm is in a limbo between a competitive and casual title, and it isn’t pulling either player base successfully. As a Blizzard fanboy, I hope in a year or two, I can boot up Heroes of the Storm and it will be a great, polished title after it catches its stride. In the meantime, I’ll have to keep an eye on it, looking for any big changes coming to increase the game’s draw and fun factor.

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