Heroes of the Storm: How the latest changes shake up Blizzard's MOBA

Blizzard announced some significant changes to their entry into the MOBA genre, Heroes of the Storm. After a few days of playing around in the Nexus, here are some thoughts on the newly evolved MOBA.

Meaningful tweaks

The changes break down into a few broad categories. According to Blizzard, they wanted to make the early game feel more meaningful, and so they implemented the following changes:

Towers, forts, and keeps no longer use ammo. This game feature has been entirely removed. To balance this, structure damage to minions has been reduced and minion damage has been increased. I’m enjoying this change, as it gives me an incentive to attack in a wave with my minions as opposed to stand back and wait for towers to burn through their ammunition supply. This makes early game aggression a more interesting proposition.

Standalone towers have been removed. I wasn’t sure about this change when it was first announced, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. Standalone towers always felt like an afterthought when making a push, as they didn’t do enough damage or have enough hit points to make a real difference. I will miss throwing AoE spells on that tiny gap between the towers and the forts, but I’m sure I’ll make due.

Forts and keeps now have True Sight. This affects stealth heroes the most, which is significant given the significant recent stealth updates (see below). You can no longer engage in wild maneuvers into enemy territory without being punished for it, but it also means that stealth enemies lose this advantage during big pushes.

Regeneration globes switch from allied to neutral after three seconds. I’m sure there are deeper reasons to like or dislike this change, but as someone who plays a lot of characters with “grab all the regeneration globes!” quests (Jaina, Tassadar), I’m glad that I no longer have to watch enemy regen globes fade out of existence. Now, working lanes to grab globes is twice as effective.

I like this, but I wonder what its future impact may be on those particular heroes’ power level.

Objective timers have been simplified. Different maps activated objectives at different times, leading to in-game confusion. Blizzard has simplfied this, with a few maps spawning objectives at 90 seconds, and the rest spawning at three minutes. Tomb of the Spider Queen and Volskaya Foundry remain the same. I don’t think I was ever elite enough to notice this before, but the new changes have helped make matches feel a bit more similar map to map. Some folks may like this, but for me it didn’t make much impact.
 

HotS now provides earlier objective information. Going forward, players will receive 30 second objective spawn warnings across all battlegrounds. This is meant to give teams time to coordinate and reposition. The minimap now indicates where the next objective will appear on maps with multiple objective locations. They also remain a few moments after the previous objective or event has come to an end. I like this change, as it helps me make more informed decisions, particularly when playing characters meant to roam the map. It also let me know if I had time to hearth and run back to the objective.

Mercenary camps have been tweaked. Knight camps get more pushing power via their Knight Wizard’s spell armor aura buff to all nearby units, including Heroes. Hellbat attacks now deal out a slight armor penalty that can stack. Siege Giant attacks can now be dodged more easily. The Knight camp change seems to have the most impact, making this pack of mercs a bit scarier than before.

Big changes to stealth

Stealth also underwent some significant changes, altering how characters like Samuro, Nova, Zeratul, and Valeera play.

New stealth visuals change how stealth looks. Before, stealth was an “eye test,” in that stealth characters are barely visible. I’ve been playing this game for years, and I often had a hard time noticing stealthed characters, but pro players could see them every time, so these characters rarely got used at higher levels of play.

In the new system, stealth characters appear as grayish wireframes while moving and vanish completely after standing still for 1.5 seconds. They will reappear if they move again and take or deal damage. I’m still torn on how I feel about this change, as stealth just doesn’t feel very… stealthy anymore. While enemies can’t target you with direct abilities, it’s simple to use an AoE effect and yank you out of stealth. Before, yanking someone out of stealth using AoE required some amount of educated guesswork and skill on the part of the opposing player. It felt good to guess right and reveal a stealth character with an AoE. Now it’s as simple as hitting any other character.

That being said, it was terrible to hop into a Quick Play game and end up facing a stealth character with no True Sight-endowed characters on your team. Samuro, in particular, was infuriating in casual matches.

All stealth characters got buffs to compensate for the weakening of their stealth ability. I can’t speak to Samuro, Zeratul, and Valeera, but I really like that Nova’s Snipe Master ability comes free, and her Holo Decoys do a small amount of damage. She feels a lot more powerful now, so while I’m not enamored with the new look of stealth, I do like the Nova buffs.

Matchmaking

Blizzard has also introduced Performance Based Match Making. Previously, your Matchmaking Rating (MMR) was based primarily on your win/loss ratio (WLR). Wins raised it while losses brought it down. Also, each team’s comparative skill affected the amount by which your MMR increased or decreased. If the enemy team has a higher MMR than your team, you’ll receive more points for defeating them and lose less if they win. However, it took a significant number of games before your WLR adjusted your MMR to match your true skill level.

Performance-based matchmaking changes that system. Now, the system examines your individual performance when calculating your MMR adjustments. According to Blizzard, “the system will apply context to your stats by looking at the Hero you’re playing, the Battleground you’re on, the game mode, and what region you’re playing so it can make fair comparisons against other similarly skilled players under the same conditions.”

They claim to have a machine-learning system that defines the importance and weighting of stats based on millions upon millions of games. In short, the system will take into account your individual performance to adjust your MMR. You can click here to see an explanation of how the new system examines the performance of Kerrigan players versus Illidan players.

If this works, it’ll be great. MOBA is a game centered around teamwork, and one weak or stubborn player can destroy four other skilled, cooperative individuals. Ostensibly this will also stop smurfing, as the MMR of smurfs will rise rapidly, taking them out of the ranks where they ruin low level games.

I also noticed that your MMR doesn’t seem to visibly appear anywhere, and given the controversy regarding SR and Overwatch, that’s probably a wise move.

I think that this matchmaking system might still be getting the kinks out. While I’ve had some great, well-balanced matches, I’ve also taken part in some utter slaughterfests (both as a winner and a loser). I think the machine-learning system still needs some time to examine play data before this system is fully cooked, so to speak. It’ll be easier to assess this change a few weeks (or maybe even months) into its life.

While these changes may not be enough to yank dedicated LoL or DOTA players into HotS, it shows Blizzard’s commitment to the only game they’ve made that hasn’t totally dominated its respective genre. When most game companies release games that don’t do well, they abandon them almost immediately. But Blizzard isn’t most companies, and it’s good to know that our community, while comparatively small, is still getting some love and attention.