Blizzard Entertainment announced big things for Heroes of the Storm during BlizzCon 2017. These include two new heroes, skill-based MMR ratings, modifications to laning and stealth, improvements to mercenary camps, increased camera view, and voice chat. In order to dive a little deeper, I had the opportunity to discuss the upcoming content with Claudio Gentilini.
Can you start off by introducing yourself and role with Heroes of the Storm?
My name is Claudio Gentilini, I’m a game producer for the Heroes team. I work primarily with the hero designers and the live design team that does the rework updates and balance. I’ve worked for Blizzard for 10 years, I just got my shield this year. I was the fifth person that ever started working on it when it was a tiny mod map called Blizzard Dota. So, I’ve been around the block with Heroes.
This was already a big year with the Heroes of the Storm 2.0 update. Can you highlight the major changes planned for the MOBA?
We’ve got the double dragons of the Nexus with Alexstrasza and Hanzo. Heroes 2.0 came out earlier this year, it was a really big moment. We got to redo the progression system, uncap hero levels, add loot chests, and give the cool rewards to players that they’ve been asking for, but now we really want to put a focus on the in-game content. With that, we were able to do an update to the stealth mechanics, put more emphasis on the laning phase with changes to towers, regen globes and mercenaries, and even make updates to the matchmaker.
What is the release schedule expected to be for Hanzo and Alexstrasza?
Our longest PTR ever is coming up. We have a 3-week PTR. So Alextrasza will go to PTR and I believe she releases the following week. Hanzo will come on PTR at some point in there and come out in December. The rest of the gameplay updates come out in the December release so we can get information and feedback from the community about what we’re moving forward with.
Hanamura is one of the more interesting map designs in Heroes of the Storm, but it hasn’t been terribly well-received by the community. Are there any plans for an update?
I don’t have any details on what we’re trying specifically. We are definitely looking at it. There is so much effort and art and design that went into that map. It’s not going to die. It’s definitely going to come back. I don’t have any sort of ETA because we’re not going to release it until we’re happy with it. Maybe we’ll PTR that when the time comes, but we’re working on it.
How happy are you with the Heroes 2.0 systems and are you planning any changes next year?
I know that there are some community concerns about it and we’re listening to those concerns. We’re interested in making changes, but I don’t know what the directors are talking about in terms of that. We’re happy with what it did and Heroes 2.0 was our biggest moment; it was bigger than our launch was. It’s done really really great things for our game. We have to be happy with that aspect of it and now that it’s live and we’re getting community feedback on it. Just with everything Heroes, we’re listening and will make changes.
The upcoming Target Info Panel will allow players to see important information about heroes on the battlefield. Why is this being implemented more than 2 years after launch?
We really wanted to get to it earlier. It’s something that we even had a debug tool that kind of functioned in that way. It could just never get jazzed up to the level where we were ready to release it and spend the time with debugs. The UI team is working on it and is dedicated to making it as pretty and fluid and functional as it can be. We’ve been testing it internally for a couple of weeks. I don’t think it’s coming on PTR with this next set of changes, so it’ll probably be a little bit before we release it. As with everything Blizzard, we have a list of a million things and so maybe it wasn’t as high on the list as Heroes 2.0.
Are you expecting the changes to things like stealth mechanics and map timers to have a drastic effect on the competitive meta?
I probably wouldn’t quantify it as drastic. With the changes to stealth, unlimited tower ammunition, regen globes switching to a neutral state after several seconds, I think that those will have different changes. We wanted to make more strategic moments around laning combat. We’re a hero brawler, we love that 5v5 all-mid and then spread out to your lanes, but we’re not huge fans of ‘blow up a lane, move to a different lane, blow up to a different lane, move back.’ You’re just trying to bleed out ammunition from your opponent until the towers don’t do anything anymore and then you push them down.
Overall, it’s not very aggressive gameplay. It’s pretty passive, so we want to introduce more aggression and strategic aspects to laning. So now you should push with your wave because you only have a few moments where you can actually deal tower damage. We had a big event where we brought in lots of HGC players from all the regions, community folks, casters, and we got feedback from everyone. Now going to PTR, I’m sure we’re going to end up changing more things once we get feedback from them, but we’ve already run it past a ton of people and made adjustments based on that.
The changes to tower ammunition will likely have a major effect on the balance of certain heroes focused on pushing. Is this something you’re anticipating?
I think that we’re expecting that. I’m sure that our balance team has changes planned for stuff like that. We may have to increase health of summons so that they stick around longer and give you the ability to push more. Internally, we haven’t really seen any ill effects to game time. As you adjust to having to increase your aggression in the lane where you’re trying to push, rather than playing passively, we’ve found those times kind of just even out. Game times should stay the same. We’re not interested in increasing game times by doing this. We’re just interested in elongating that earlier laning phase.
Are you worried about toxic behavior with the addition of voice chat and will there be news forms of rewards for positive behavior or punishment for abuse?
We don’t have any plans right now. I know that positive reinforcement systems are on the list somewhere, but I don’t know where they’re prioritized against the numerous other things that we’re working on. We’re aware of the concerns that players have about that. We do have individual player sliders for volume and we do have the report system in-game now that we’re trying to make improvements to. We’re even sending emails to players that make those reports saying that ‘an action was taken against someone you reported,’ so that we can create that feedback loop that people have been desiring. I know we want to do more with that.
Are there systems in place to prevent players from gaming the new MMR system by only focusing on their stats and not on team play?
That’s not really a concern that we have. We have so many metrics and each hero is individually measured. It’s not just Assassins like ‘Oh, your Illidan damage didn’t compared to this Kerrigan’s damage so your rating went down.’ We don’t look at it that way. We look at it like this is just Kerrigan. So CC time, damage, time spent dead, maybe shields gained. I can’t even tell you how many metrics we measure for that stuff.
If we’re doing it right and players are trying to game the stats that they know are increasing their rating then they should be performing how you want them to perform as a team. If I’m spending more time CCing enemy heroes, I’m probably doing something right for my team. If there’s just one guy and I’m just casting my stun on him continuously, that’s not a common occurrence. Sure that might boost your time CCing, but it’s not like that’s 30 percent of your adjustment. It might be like 5 percent or 3 percent and so when we measure you against all of these things those together will determine your performance-based rating.
If you lose you’re not going up, it doesn’t matter how well you play. If you play really well and hit a number of these stats that we’re looking at, you’re going to not lose as many points as you would have.
We’re quickly approaching 75 heroes, which is quite a bit more than the game launched with. Are you planning on capping them at a certain amount or slowing down the release timeline?
Heroes of the Storm is all about heroes; they’re the bread and butter of this game. We love pulling from this list of 300+ heroes that grows every single day and translating them into the Nexus. We’re not stopping. That’s the thing the team is super passionate about creating.
What are the changes coming to mercenaries and are there going to be changes to heroes with the Mercenary Lord talent?
The changes we’ve made with mercenaries are super cool. Gone are the days of taking knights and just letting them push by themselves. First of all, because infinite tower ammunition means knights die faster and you’re not bleeding ammunition out. We give you spell armor when you’re inside this aura that the mage has, so you really need to focus that guy down. With everybody blocking around it and trying to protect it, it makes pushing with those things a more strategic moment. The Hellbats reduce armor now of buildings, minions and heroes. That’s going to be a big change, so don’t stand in the fire.
I don’t know that we have any planned changes (to Mercenary Lord). Often times, those aren’t the most picked talents anyways but we kind of like what they can do. If they start over performing, we’ll find out pretty quickly and adjust them.
I appreciate you taking the time to discuss the upcoming changes to Heroes of the Storm with us. Is there anything else you would like to add?
We’re just super excited about voice chat and the in-game updates with all of the stuff we’ve talked about.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, BlizzCon 2017, Heroes of the Storm, Interview, MOBA