Heroes of the Storm Feels Like The Ghost of MOBAs Past
Over a decade has passed since Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm has first shown to the public.
It’s been six years since Heroes of the Storm launched and four since the game’s ambitious “HOTS 2.0” rework. Three years since the infamous downsizing of the development team behind the game and the abrupt abandonment of Blizzard’s esports ambitions.
Announced at Blizzcon 2011 as Blizzard DOTA, the project that would later become known as Heroes of the Storm was originally less of a challenger to established MOBA titles and more of a novel showcase for the power of Starcraft 2’s Map Editor.
Following a legal dispute over the name DotA, the game would later be rebranded to Blizzard All-Stars. It would be repackaged as a standalone title before the company eventually settled on the final name.
With only a few empty slots left remaining on the in-game character select menu, the clock is probably ticking but the fact that it’s ticking at all is likely a surprise to many HOTS detractors.
As put by Jack Delaney at IGN:
Despite the initially bleak outlook, Heroes has risen like Fenix from the ashes of a slaughtered Zergling swarm to have a full-blown resurgence. With scaled-back resources, no competitive scene to adapt to and perhaps less expectation and pressure from the higher-ups at Blizzard, the smaller dev team has been able to prioritise the one thing that’s in their control — making the game as fun as possible.
Blizzard games have always been a big part of my life. Warcraft 2 was one of the first PC games I ever played. I’ve sunk hundreds of hours into World of Warcraft over the years and spent countless evenings playing Warcraft 3 and Starcraft 2 with my friends in high school.
I’m not always or exclusively playing Blizzard games but there’s usually at least one in the mix when it comes to my regular gaming diet. Right now, it’s Diablo 3. Maybe next year it’ll be Overwatch 2.
For a while though, it was Heroes of the Storm. I don’t play it all that much nowadays but for a while it managed to supplant League of Legends as my MOBA of choice. Compared to League of Legends, the pacing was faster, the map variety kept things interesting from match to match and the team-based XP system made one-sided games that much less likely.
Where aggressive balancing in the name of high-level professional play is almost endemic to other MOBA titles like DOTA 2 and League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm is full of wacky, weird shit that just wouldn’t fly elsewhere.
There’s a two-headed ogre character that tasks two players with sharing control of a single body. The Lost Vikings flip that dynamic by tasking a single player to control three characters at once. This kind of messy experimentalism feels like a carryover from the Warcraft 3 modding and mapmaking scene that originally birthed the MOBA genre.
On a more personal level, Heroes of the Storm echoes a custom riff on Defense of the Ancients formula that me and my friends played a lot of in high school.
Called “Failure of the Ancients”, it was a modded version of the standard DotA map that traded out the existing roster of hero characters for a grab-bag of poorly balanced novelty picks.
There was the Bobby Kotick, “The CEO”, who traded away conventional abilities for the capability to build additional towers anywhere on the map. There was Lucky, a Murloc with a 1% chance on hit to do 1 million damage and instantly decimate his foes. There was even a Space Marine pulled straight from the grim darkness of Warhammer 40,000 who could call down orbital bombardments upon his foes.
My original .W3X map file for FoTA has long since been lost, so there’s a good chance that some of the above descriptions have blurred in the chasm of my memory. Still, the similarities between stuff like FotA’s CEO and Heroes of the Storm’s Probius endear it to me in a way that no other MOBA does.
The best days of Heroes of the Storm might be behind it but the ghosts of my MOBA past keep giving me reasons to reinstall it and return to the Nexus.