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To balance Heroes of the Storm, 'remember that MOBAs aren't a true sport'

Two Heroes of the Storm designers break down the process behind making minute game changes that have big impacts.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

November 2, 2018

3 Min Read

In the midst of its many game updates announced at Blizzcon this weekend, Blizzard also made a notable announcement for Heroes of the Storm--the company's MOBA that mixes together characters from different Blizzard games. The company is releasing a new hero named Orphea, whose game of origin is in fact Heroes of the Storm. 

Her release, combined with a slew of changes announced for 2019, shows that Blizzard is still interested in fueling its in-house MOBA even while other game genres are dominating the multiplayer market. With that kind of investment, we wanted to check in on what Blizzard's doing to keep both professional and recreational players engaged in a competitive market. 

That curiosity led us to lead live designer Brett Crawford and Battlegrounds designer Steve Holmes, two Heroes of the Storm devs we were able to track down at Blizzcon. Like many other multiplayer game developers, the pair spoke about how the short list of changes in the 2019 update came from a long, focused amount of iteration, but what was interesting to hear from the pair is that the team's balance strategy for the next year isn't so much about tweaking characters, but rather bending known MOBA systems to keep matches competitive. 

"All MOBAs have the problem with...it's not a true sport!" Crawford exclaimed while trying to parse the minute game changes being discussed. "In basketball, if I make a 3-pointer, I'm not 3 inches taller then you now. In MOBAs, that's what happens! I just did something good, and I get a power advantage over someone else."

Crawford says that this philosophy means that in the last few years, the dedicated team at Blizzard has looked at everything from ripping out character levels to eliminating hte concept of Mana. What they've focused on for the last 6 months instead, is tweaking rules to keep power imbalances from stacking up quickly. 

Holmes, who's responsible for analyzing the game's different maps (and their myriad mechanics, the map isn't standard like it is in League of Legends or DOTA 2), chimes in with the way Blizzard uses its metrics to analyze how changes impact different types of players. "We can take the [game] data and slice it by different categories of players, so which MMR (skill ranking), which league, we can tell what effects have on different players."

So per Holmes, the Heroes of the Storm team can look at micro decisions and ask if they'll primarily impact pro players, or everyone else. 

What unites many of the data points Holmes and Crawford are measuring, is what time those metrics are taking place in the game. Crawford is quick to point out each Battleground has different standards, so there aren't universal metrics he can point to, but decisions like changing what happens after players destroy an enemy's keep are driven by trying to tamp down different kinds of power spikes from occurring too quickly. 

But Crawford adds, that time analysis also means engineering downtime for competitors. "We want these highs, and then we want players to get a break, so they don't get blown out. We want the match experiences to feel different here, and if every map does the exact same thing we want to push that to be different." 

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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