On April 25th, 2017, Blizzard Entertainment launched the Heroes of the Storm 2.0 event. This was a rebranding event that acted as a capstone for all the changes that Heroes had gone through over the last two years. When Heroes of the Storm was released back in the summer of 2015, it was arguably not a complete game. There were numerous bugs, issues with the matchmaker, and heavily imbalanced characters that made it difficult for Heroes of the Storm to compete with League of Legends or DOTA 2.
Things have changed.
Matchmaking was revamped and recalculated, ranked play was tweaked and adjusted, two new game modes (Brawls and Unranked Draft) were added, more than thirteen maps are in the rotation, dozens of heroes were added, hundreds of cosmetic items were carefully and lovingly crafted by the development team, and the launch of the Heroes Global Championship (HGC) standardized and stabilized the professional community.
So, like Blizzard said, Heroes was no longer the fledgling game that it was and it needed to be rebranded.
Have they succeeded though? It’s been more than two months since the 2.0 launch and I have been diligently playing and examining the changes to the game to find out.
Loot Boxes, Hero Collections, Mega Bundles
Perhaps the most obvious change in 2.0 was to import the successful loot boxes from Overwatch. Before 2.0, the only way that a player could unlock heroes, skins, or mounts were either to pay gold or real money for each item.
With 2.0, players can still do that but they also have the opportunity to collect items from loot boxes randomly. In addition, a second currency called ‘shards’ can be collected whenever a duplicate item is revealed in loot boxes, which can be used to purchase cosmetic items directly. There’s also a third currency called Gems that basically replaced real money purchases.
Lastly, since the majority of events are built around attracting new players and bringing back old ones, Blizzard saw fit to make it easier for new players to increase their hero collections. Special “mega hero bundles” were made available for purchase with gems, which were awarded freely to players upon completion of the tutorial. This took some of the intimidation out of trying to grind out your hero collection, and each mega hero bundle was specialized into tanks, support, flex, or assassins which allowed new players to focus their role as soon as possible.
All in all, this move by Blizzard was surprising, as it gave players the opportunity to get for free what people would have spent money for in the past. Small other additions like emotes, sprays, and voice lines that players use to taunt and show off their collection give the game an extra level of depth, color, vibrancy, and accessibility.
Not just keen to cannibalize the Loot Box system from Overwatch, Blizzard finally began adding substantially more Overwatch content due to it being the most underrepresented of the well-known Blizzard intellectual properties. Not content to just add two heroes, the Hanamura battleground was also implemented.
The first hero was Genji, the cyborg ninja from the Shimada clan. Genji’s mobility, survivability, and playmaking heroic abilities have kept him on top of the pick and ban list since his release. He’s seen a fair amount of professional play and has especially been either enabled or countered by the other high tier character in the current meta: Uther. Divine Shield and Divine Storm have the ability to ensure a Genji victory or erase him from the game respectively.
The second Overwatch hero is the Korean pro-gamer D.Va. D.Va’s role has been a little less uniform, but she performs well on maps that require large zoning and area denial like Infernal Shrines, Cursed Hollow, and Sky Temple. While she doesn’t act as a main tank, her ability to be annoying and flexible is her strength. In the mech, she can bully people around and mitigate heavy damage from the enemy team all while threatening to explode at a moment’s notice. In the pilot form, she’s less survivable but can lay down heavy poke damage.
The two Overwatch heroes provided a level of mobility that was initially frustrating for the community, as both can easily gap close and attack while moving.
While on the topic of new heroes, I’ll mention Malthael, the Aspect of Death from the Diablo universe that was recently added as well. At the moment, Malthael is designed to do heavy percentage based health damage against opponents, which makes him great at not only destroying heroes but at chunking PvE enemies like bosses and map objectives. He seems a bit overturned, and I fully expect him to receive adjustments in the future, and in ranked play he’s seen his fair share of bans or early picks. However, Blizzard seems to be implementing heroes that have been highly requested by the community, which is definitely a positive.
The new map, Hanamura is a unique one even by Heroes standards. The two lane map requires players to push a payload across the map, similar to the maps in Overwatch. Each payload pushed in takes away one point of the core’s health, and destroying the enemy’s forts can add additional damage to payloads. There are also a series of unique camps and other mechanics on this map that have made it prone to its own meta and gameplay requirements. It has also led to some pretty cheesy strategies that have met with a huge series of success and have sparked controversy within the community.
I would state that the first series of new characters for Heroes of the Storm 2.0 and the new map were mostly successful, and while many people were annoyed with Hanamura on release, the community seems to have settled into playing it competently. It’s been enjoyable to have Overwatch so healthily represented in the Heroes community!
Restricted Map Pool
For the first six weeks of 2.0, Blizzard began instituting a rotating map pool, feeling that 13 maps was too many for people to play regularly. Perhaps they also felt that learning so many maps would be intimidating for new players to get even the basic mechanics down, but it also had the side effect of boring players with the same six or so maps over and over again for weeks at a time.
This was especially true because of the consternation within the community regarding Hanamura. After three weeks they expanded the map pool to nine, and then after six weeks they expanded it all the way back to all thirteen maps. It is unclear whether this change was brought on by backlash to the community or if it was planned all along.
Either way, the message is clear: players enjoy the variety that Heroes of the Storm offers.
The Culling of the Support Role
Since the launch of 2.0, there have been a number of balance patches that have changed the face of the game, but none have been more affected than the support characters. For months, Malfurion stood at the top of the group because of his strength of heals, utility, and ability to cleanse his allies.
After his recent rework though, he now has mana issues, cannot cleanse, and has weaker heals that makes him hard pressed to deal with the amount of incoming damage from the enemy team.
Our noble druid is not alone, Tyrande also received a rework that made her unable to support her team effectively and Lucio has received such a nerf to his base healing that he is no viable as a main support.
What we have seen in its place has been a need for double support compositions to make up for the continuing damage Blizzard seems intent to do upon the most thankless job in the game. By removing cleanse from supports means that even powerful solo healers like Auriel (who herself is reliant upon another character to be effective) need to be paired with somebody who can prevent a team from being locked down and destroyed.
Tassadar recently received a small buff that enables him to make hyper carry characters like Valla extremely effective, but he cannot support by himself. Conversely, Lt. Morales can solo heal but offers no utility and needs to be heavily guarded to be useful.
This leaves one healer who stand on top of the pile: Uther. His versatility, survivability, burst healing, and ability to counter crowd control makes him the most hotly contested support in the game and a target for first picks or bans. I fear that Uther will be the next support character to fall to the nerf hammer.
While these changes have probably not been intentional, it has shifted the meta in such a way that it is all about double support comps in order to withstand the damage that comes out. It will be interesting to see whether new supports are introduced to fix this problem or current heroes will receive buffs or nerfs.
All in all, 2.0 is a welcome change to the game. The addition of new skins, emotes, sprays, and mounts has added to the vibrancy of the game and made it more enjoyable to look at. It also makes it possible for players to get their hands on premium skins without paying real money for them. Who doesn’t like free stuff?
The additions of Overwatch related themes just rounds out the Nexus even more, and it was a graceful way to handle a heavy inclusion of Overwatch characters all at once; this is something that has been difficult because Overwatch came out after Heroes of the Storm.
I believe the development team has been in tune with the community, and they have adjusted certain aspects of the characters and map pool to the betterment of the community.
While the majority of the Heroes of the Storm 2.0 update is just a cosmetic overhaul and an opportunity to include loot boxes, the game has received significant quality of life changes since its initial release. The game has come a long way in terms of matchmaking, balance, and game modes over the last two years and is probably the most entertaining and satisfying MOBA on the market.
There has never been a better time to check out Heroes of the Storm or come back to it. I strongly suggest you give it a look!Related: Blizzard Entertianment, eSports, Heroes of the Storm, MOBA, Review