Communication in games has always and will always be one of the most important factors in a successful multiplayer game. In Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) communication makes all the difference between winning and losing. For those of you who don’t know what a MOBA is, it’s a genre of strategy games where the player controls one character out of the two teams. The two teams fight to the opposing teams main structure with the assistances of AI, and characters with unique abilities. There is usually a shot caller that leads the team, decides what actions to take, and becomes the focus point of the team. There must be clear communication with the team that enemies are missing, or what skills could be on cool down. This exchange of information allows the team to make better decisions and play better to achieve victory in the match. There are four mainstream MOBAs currently on the market, League of Legends (LOL) by Riot, Dota2 by Valve, Smite by Hi-Rex Studios, and Heroes of the Storm (HotS) by Blizzard.
In a MOBA there are five main channels of communication, all chat, voice chat, team chat, private chat and pings. In Heroes of the Storm there are only three out of the five channels present, so we will be looking at why that’s the case, and how impactful would it be to include the other two. The three channels featured in Heroes of the Storm is team chat, private chat, and pings. By leaving out all chat, Blizzard has removed a level of communication from the game. This is not necessarily a bad thing since it allows the players to focus more on interacting with their team, and more focused on the game. For voice chat, I want to specify in-game voice chat. This means not using third party programs like Discord or Teamspeak. This feature has been requested a lot on Blizzards forums, but it also has a lot of counter arguments to why the game is better without it.
Team chat, like its name implies, can only be seen by your team. This is the main channel to talk with your team, about strategies, and sharing information. At least that is the intention of having team chat. In Heroes of the Storm, team chat is mostly empty and unused except at the start and end of each match where players say “good luck, have fun”, and “good game”. Majority of the games I have personally played in Heroes, team chat has been silent, and I think the silence penalty that Blizzard has put in place plays a large role in this.
The Silence Penalty
Screenshot from Update Patch Notes: http://us.battle.net/heroes/en/blog/19818500/introducing-new-reporting-options-and-the-silence-penalty-9-7-2015
This is the silence penalty that is applied to your account when you have been reported enough times. It restricts your communication with your team, making you a liability in terms of communication unless you are playing with friends. Being limited to just pings and private chat; you cannot communicate with your team through text. In most cases this is given to toxic players who deserve the mute, since it takes a decent amount of reports against you to even get the penalty. However, this system is easily abuse-able. For example, in a match where there is someone playing as a solo queue and their teammates are a party of four, if the party of four decides to report the solo queue player, even if they did nothing wrong, it’s still a 4 versus 1 scenario.
The silence penalty has led to posts like this on the official forums.
Screenshot from Heroes of the Storm official forums
With the comment in mind, most plays simply choose to stay silent, to avoid having an infractions on their account.
Sometimes you just have to defend someone or talk back since his or her negativity is affecting the rest of your team, so how do you confront toxic or aggressive players without escalating the situation? You treat them like cats. People react badly to negative reinforcement and especially in short time spans like a match in Heroes, it’ll have a bad negative feedback. You should be using Positive reinforcement and reward them when they do something right. Even if their contribution was low, still reward them with a “good job”. If you stroke their ego, they will be more willing to help the team efforts. Ignoring the toxic player is another tactic. People feed off your responses so it is best to keep silent and not show any reaction to them. You should still be reporting their behavior, but do not tell them. Eventually they’ll get bored after not getting any attention, and they will stop. Redirection is the third tactic to use against toxic players. Most scenarios, they cause problems because they are bored or frustrated with the game. If you redirect their attention back to the game, giving them something else to focus on instead of trash talking. You tell them about objectives and strategies the team can do to come back and win the game, just as you would catch a cat’s attention with a toy.
Private Chat only happens with your friends, and with the new additions to the Battlenet chatting client, you can also do voice calls and group calls. This can also be considered third party since it is not part of the game, but its using Battlenet, Blizzard’s game hub.
The most common type of communication in Heroes of the Storm, or any MOBA, is the use of pings. Pings are a quick notification system that players can use to alert and pass on information at a moments notice. They range from danger, retreat, on the way, missing enemies and target this objective. Only problem with the ping system is that intent of the messages can be lost at times. The system is not meant for in depth communication but it serves its purpose and gets the job done.
Is All Chat and Voice Chat really needed?
So with all three types of communication in Heroes of the Storm, does it really need all chat and voice chat in game? All chat is not a necessity and it is up to the developers, there isn’t a really large impact on gameplay. It provides a nice outlet to talk to the other team to congratulate them on a nice play, or to provoke them into making misplays. For a MOBA like Dota2, it is really needed since they have a pause function, but for Heroes of the Storm, it is not so important.
Voice chat needs to be split into two categories, team play and solo play. For team play you would not be using the in game voice chat anyways. When you play with friends, you are most likely using a third party program like skype or discord to talk already. So the addition of in game voice chat doesn’t affect those players. It is mostly for the solo queue players who want to communicate with their team and to give a move competitive feel to their games. It allows for faster communication without typing and you can give more detailed instructions while in the middle of a team fight.
So does Heroes of the Storm really need all chat or voice chat? All chat no so much, but in game voice chat I feel should be added to the game for the solo queue players. This allows them to become more immersed into the game, giving them the competitive feel and improving gameplay overall. Of course this isn't a be all end all once you include these features. There are lots of precautions you have to add in to prevent abuse, mute functions, and notifications of being muted.
Overall I think Heroes of the Storm can benefit from having in-game voice chat, and for people who don't want to use it, they can mute with the counter measures that would be implemented with the voice chat. Sure it seems redundant to add in a feature if some users will not use it, but it is better to give players the choice and let them limit themselves.
Looking forward into the future of MOBAs, with the emerging market of mobile MOBAs which have little to no communication at all, we may see the next generation of multiplayer gaming where there is no communication between people at all.