Game Breaking: How Blizzard Has Evolved the MOBA Genre

 

     Since the day Heroes of the Storm's game details were first announced (or re-announced, after a lengthy evolution from a simple StarCraft II map mod project), Blizzard has shown an understandable commitment to creating a MOBA (or “Hero Brawler”) game that stood out from other games of its ilk through unprecedented changes to the steadfast “rules” of the genre. This was necessary, and probably a lot more fun for the developers, as many people worried that Blizzard was jumping in too late in the game. League of Legends and DOTA 2 has already established dominance over a genre that many see as a trend, a mega-popular kind of game that is already witnessing it's own decline, not to mention the bloated number of other games trying to cash in on the genre's popularity. The fact that Twitch.tv viewership, despite heavy promotion and a near-unanimous consent that HotS is a pretty fun game, is always far below its competitors is proof enough for many people that the game cannot, and never will, take the top spot in MOBA popularity.

     But this may be a short-sighted, and ultimately inaccurate outlook for a young game that is doing unprecedented and fascinating things on regular basis. Firstly, it's prudent to point out that when we discuss the unique ideas Heroes implements, from base game design to hero details, we aren't just talking about fresh Hero kits. While other games have lately done some very interesting things within the established parameters of their game worlds, such as slight map tweaks, fun “mini” modes, or brand-new hero styles, HotS is on a completely different level as far as originality because it breaks the “fourth wall” of the genre, not just fiddles around within its own rules. Heroes of the Storm is the Deadpool of online brawlers.

     From the very start, Heroes started breaking rules, mostly to the benefit of us playing the game. Last hitting creeps is the foundation of this genre, and has been since the original DOTA was overtaking WarCraft III itself in popularity. Removing this aspect of the game (for the most part) was enough for many to dismiss the game outright as being “too easy” or “casual”. But players soon found that not being tethered to their lane allowed for more action, more freedom, and more interesting games. Tied directly to last hitting, the removal of items in favor of unique talent trees was a similar story. Shared experience, the expulsion of the "carry" role, and  a huge variety of maps to play on, rather than one competitive map, were even more core gameplay changes that shouldn't have worked. Maybe they didn't work, based on how many players from other games wouldn't accept them and stayed with their MOBAs of choice. But from a gameplay perspective, they worked beautifully and many of us could never see ourselves stacking last hits on our Q with Nasus ever again without feeling a little queasy.

 

"What do you mean I can't carry? Do you know who I AM?"

 

    These original deviations from the “laws” of the genre are well-documented and well known, though. What we're discussing today is how Blizzard has just continued pushing the envelope of the genre, culminating most recently with the announcement of Cho'Gall: a two-headed Ogre hero that is controlled by two players simultaneously. Sitting at the BlizzCon opening ceremony, and watching Cho'Gall announced, I found myself actually saying out loud as everyone cheered, “The balls on these guys!”

 

Why One Hero Per Player?

     Cho'Gall wasn't the first, though. A similar, (albeit inverse in execution) Hero made their way into the Nexus a few months back: The Lost Vikings. Three Heroes, completely independent, controlled by one player. They of course are a fan favorite and completely shook up the way the game was played, but I think while most people appreciated their unique style, they sort of dismissed the Vikings as the “whacky” Hero, the outlier, the anomaly. Even further back, from the early alpha, we have had Abathur, a hero who stays in the base, away from combat, and “possesses” his allies to fight. We take Abathur for granted now, but it's important to note just how ground breaking he was. Nothing like him had ever been attempted. With Cho'Gall, we see that Blizzard has no intent of making these kind of ground-breaking core gameplay changes the exception to the rule, and we all benefit for it. If you can play with how many people control various Heroes, what other “meta”, outside the game changes can we anticipate in the future? A completely non-combat hero, a merchant of buffs? A raid style map where all 10 players work together (but against each other) towards a single goal? Maybe, maybe not, but if I were a developer, I would envy the freedom Blizzard's audacity when designing the core game is allowing. As a player, I couldn't be happier to see all these unique decisions, for better or for worse.

 

"Hi. We're weirdos. Enjoy!"

 

Keep The Weird Stuff Coming

     Having played Cho'Gall at BlizzCon, I found myself in love yet again with a totally unique hero. With some tweaking and balance, I predict that he won't be a “just for fun” choice, but a completely viable and threatening asset in a high-skill and competitive online game. Imagine a Cho'Gall rampaging across the battlefield at next year's BlizzCon tournament. Two-player pro gaming duos could forseeably gain fame and accolade for their “mind meld” abilities, and of course be photoshopped onto Ogre bodies on the regular. It sounds crazy, something so off-the-wall having so much potential to be taken seriously. But both Abathur and The Lost Vikings are regularly picked Heroes in competitive tournaments involving many, many dollars. The point is: it's working, and everyone is having a good time. Keep doing this stuff. 

     In the end, if Blizzard's goal was to create a unique and enjoyable game, rather than a MOBA clone that jumped into the genre years after it was established, then they have already succeeded in a huge way. I don't see Heroes of the Storm as a goofy version of the genre, but a vital evolution of it, a game that takes a steadfast and rigid type of game and makes it a trail blazer into the genre's future. My only hope is that more and more people see what a special product has been created and join us in the Nexus soon.