Heroes of the Storm : The next big ESport?

Last week I put Blizzcon as a whole under the microscope and compared it to other events, this week I’m going to examine what I found to be the most exciting part of the show : The continued evolution of Heroes of the Storm.

First, a little history. Back in Blizzcon 2011, an as yet unannounced project was given the name ‘Blizzard DotA’ and was shown off as part of the StarCraft 2 mods panel, a video of which you can find here on YouTube . Blizzard DotA was originally intended to be Blizzard’s answer to DotA 2 and League of Legends, both of which were quickly picking up speed in the gaming world, and was going to be a custom game mode for StarCraft 2 featuring characters from all across Blizzard’s games. A legal battle ensued as Valve had trademarked the DotA name, and eventually in May 2012 Blizzard were forced to drop the DotA from the games name, instead calling the custom map ‘Blizzard All-Stars’, and it was under that name that work quietly continued for the next year, with little information being released.

In late 2013, just before Blizzcon, Blizzard eventually broke silence on what was going on. Blizzard All-Stars would no longer be merely a custom map for StarCraft 2, it would now be its own game, now under the name Heroes of the Storm. At Blizzcon 2013, Heroes was officially announced with its own section of the show, which you can also see here on YouTube. Its aim was to offer a well known gameplay formula with a different look and feel, polished to within an inch of perfection, something that Blizzard are masters at doing. There would be no items to buy, though you can change how your hero plays through talents as the game goes on, experience among the team would be shared, and the game would take place over several maps with distinct objectives to be fought over, as opposed to the single map of DotA 2 and League of Legends. The technical alpha for the game was released earlier this year, with invites slowly going out to those who are lucky, and at this year’s Blizzcon Heroes had its own stage featuring interviews, analysis, upcoming heroes and maps and an invitational tournament.

Let’s rewind back a little bit. I was lucky enough to get an invite to the alpha in October, but even before I’d got my invite, I was excited for the game for a few reasons. New maps and modes was a big thing for me, having played and enjoyed League and DotA 2, I nonetheless find playing on the same map all the time a little tiring. Special mention should go to Smite, a third person competitor to these games that is well worth your time if you haven’t checked it out, and has several maps and modes to choose from, although generally only the original is played competitively. The streamlining of Heroes, too, while a major criticism for many, often works in the games favour. While I agree the removal of items removes a lot of the complexity that makes DotA2 fun to play, its very easy to quickly see exactly whats going on and who is doing what, especially for spectators. It’s also much faster paced, with the objective spawns keeping the gameplay flowing across the whole map with few lulls in the action, which again is a big draw for spectators as it keeps gameplay exciting. It reminds me of the difference between Serious Sam or Doom and other slower FPS, and it can feel a little frantic before you get used to it.

So why exactly am I so excited for this? I find these changes make for an interesting game, for a start. Having played the alpha quite a bit by now the fast paced nature of the game and the general feel simply appeals to me in a way that the long standing games of the genre cant quite touch. Then there’s the whole draw of being able to play many of your favourite characters from across Blizzard’s worlds in battlegrounds based on the very places they hail from, heck, it’s even going to have the Lost Vikings in it! It’s also got that signature Blizzard polish which accompanies every click and every visual or aural effect in the game. The competitive scene also looks very good for Heroes, Blizzard have shown that they know how to make competitive games work over long periods of time, especially with the recent release of Hearthstone, and already semi-regular tournaments are cropping up for those with access. Everything appears to be slowly coming into place, and I hope to see Heroes take its rightful place among the big names of ESports next year.

The closed beta for Heroes of the Storm starts early next year and if you have a account you can sign up for access right now, although of course you might not get an invite for a while, there are various competitions you can enter to increase your chances.

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