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When Heroes Solves League's Problems

League of Legends has long been the premier MOBA in modern eSports. It boasts a global championship series, professional teams and a massive user base of rabid fans. It has also, for better or worse, become the metric by which other MOBAs in the genre are judged, and one game that has gotten the sharp end of the stick in that comparison is Heroes of the Storm.

Heroes of the Storm has taken a lot of criticism for its "overly simplified" mechanics, occasionally chided as an "easy mode MOBA." But the interesting thing about that is that Heroes of the Storm has managed to directly solve some of the major complaints that the League faithful have about their own game. Take a look below to see what we mean.

The meta swings

One issue that League of Legends runs into on a fairly regular basis is metagame shifts. Riot has diligently continued to balance their game, tweaking items and champions to keep the game fresh and bring new strategies to the table. But it’s been a double-edged sword at times. The game has passed through several eras of dominant character archetypes and strategies: the League of Assassins, Carries, Bruisers and Tanks have all been phrases used to describe League in past years.

Now this isn't all bad — these balance shifts are ideally meant to keep the game from becoming stale. However, these power spikes can leave unlucky champions and even entire character types to take a back seat to the new flavor of the month. This month, your favorite champion might be the best in the game. But next month may be a different story.

Even the smallest changes can cause huge ripples, as well. This is especially true when it comes to item changes; buffs and nerfs can single-handedly rebalance entire classes of champion. In 2014, a change to Black Cleaver made it so powerful that AD casters like Pantheon could simply stack the item and burst down just about anybody.

Where League has struggled with containing the impact of tweaks and changes, Heroes of the Storm has found an elegant solution. Unlike League, Heroes has done away completely with gold and items, and made earned experience a shared pool among each team (for you League fans out there, stay with us here for a minute; this isn’t as strange as it sounds). Replacing gold and items is the Talent system, which allows players to choose how they augment heroes and their abilities in more direct ways.

It’s also allowed the devs some real freedom to get creative with how heroes can be upgraded. For instance, Nova’s Anti-Armor Shells talent allows her to do 250 percent damage with basic attacks while slowing her attack speed proportionately, and Jaina’s Storm Front talent gives her Blizzard ability 100 percent more range — changes that League of Legends isn't designed to make to its champions.

This means that instances like the aforementioned Black Cleaver fiasco are practically non-existent. If a certain character is doing too well, developers can target the exact abilities that are causing the issue without affecting the entire balance ecosystem. The same is true for buffs.

Balance shifts are still very much a part of the game — recent patches have brought Kerrigan to the forefront of Heroes where Kael’thas and Li-Ming used to be the two instant pick/ban prospects. But Heroes’ inherent variety due to its different maps, all of which are available in competitive play (except Haunted Mines … may it rest in peace), saves it from falling prey to a single dominant composition strategy. Team compositions aren’t just a numbers game based on hero strength, but are driven by what heroes are particularly suited to a specific map.

That’s not to say meta isn’t on the mind of the community — try picking Medivh in Competitive Mode and see how your teammates react — but the balancing of heroes lies less on the razor’s edge of numbers and items, and more on the innate strengths and weaknesses of the hero itself.

The starving support

One of the recurring challenges in League of Legends is the role of supports. Designed around providing utility to the AD Carry and the rest of their team, supports find themselves in a very difficult situation to balance. Supports get less gold by design, meaning that they’re expected to work without items for much longer than the other champions in the game. Depending on the year, this design has varied in reliability. In Season 3, supports stockpiled wards and little else, tasked with giving their team vision while the rest of the team actually played the game. Even now, supports are expected to act a certain way, practically required to build a Sightstone among other support-centric items. Given that supports are expected to roam for ward placement, they are nearly guaranteed to be at a lower level than their teammates come mid-game.

Supports also have a murky relationship around scaling with items. Giving support characters too much utility without scaling potential puts them head and shoulders above their peers, making them an insta-pick, while giving supports too much scaling potential can turn them into carries (Lulu and Karma can vouch for that).

But when there’s no gold for teams to fight over or individual experience per character to contend with, the situation changes. So instead of planning and designing around the fact that a hero won’t have resources, a supports in Heroes of the Storm continue to be on par with their team throughout a game. And with talents giving varied but structured upgrades, supports can feel empowered in the same way their teammates are.

Is a support going to carry the game like an accidentally fed Alistar can? Probably not. But there also won’t be a situation where a support is powerless to do their job.

The character crisis

This difference in design also seeps its way into the general character pool. Many of the champions currently available in League of Legends have significant overlap in terms of what they can do. The term "power budgeting" is one that gets thrown around in League design, and because of the choice given in the item selection process, it limits where power can be assigned in a champion’s kit.

There have also been moments of design trends playing a significant part in champion design. During the Rumble era, a significant number of champions got a dash and a shield. Then, several characters followed in Vayne’s footsteps and got 3-hit procs. More recently champions have had mini-game-esque setups to get the most out of their kit, such as Skarner’s Crystal Spire rework, Garen’s Villain mechanic, and Bard’s chimes. Newer champions have seen some pretty neat stuff, such as Aurelion Sol’s flying lane ganks and Kled’s cowardly lizard companion to mix things up, but even these interesting new mechanics are nestled soundly into well-defined archetypes.

Heroes and their subsequent mechanics in Heroes of the Storm, on the other hand, play it fast and loose. There are characters that fit archetypes, no doubt about it. Jaina and Kael’thas, for instance, are both fairly straightforward burst mages. But some heroes are just completely off the rails. The Lost Vikings are three heroes controlled by one person. Cho’Gall is one hero controlled by two people. Abathur doesn’t even engage in direct combat, instead hiding around the map and augmenting his allies. Nova and Zeratul have cloaking fields as their passive abilities. No matter where you look, heroes are pulling out the stops left and right.

The reason they can pull it off once again hearkens back to Talents vs. items. Items give nearly universal choice to players to build their character in whatever direction they’d like. The drawback to that is that abilities and roles need to remain static, or champions can break past what their roles are meant to be and become good at everything, like Tank Ekko did. But in Heroes of the Storm, hero talents allow individual characters to arc off in crazy directions in a controlled way. Attack speed-based tanks, combat-heavy supports, immobile siege tanks, and more are all possible in Heroes because the power budget lies completely within an individual hero, instead of being shared between that character and the augmenting items they buy.

The lone lane

League of Legends has continued to struggle with how to integrate top laners into matches during laning phase. Currently, three of the four laners in League live on the bottom half of the map, and with junglers battling for dragon control, the battling top laners often end up on an island by themselves. There have been some good efforts to change this, such as the Scuttle Crab and the Rift Herald buff, both of which ideally provide junglers and mid laners a reason to venture up to the top half of the map. But frankly, it hasn’t really taken — the top lane has continued to be a largely isolated position, that doesn’t see much map mobility outside the occasional Teleport down to the dragon pit or into a gank situation.

Heroes of the Storm approaches this convention differently. Mobility between lanes and objectives throughout a game is not only encouraged, in many cases it’s practically required in order to win. Heroes' mounting mechanic gives players a fast way to get from lane to lane, meaning that players fighting in a solo lane don’t feel chained to their position. Sure, leaving a push-heavy Specialist like Sylvanas in lane by herself isn’t a great idea, but leaving to assist in a gank or claim a map objective doesn’t guarantee a lost tower for your troubles — and when it does, you’re often getting something of equal or potentially greater value in return.

Two sides of the same coin

In all these comparisons, let’s not lose sight of the fact that League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm are markedly different games. While Heroes may have the solutions to some of League’s problems per se, the culmination of that is a wholly different experience, and one that doesn’t suit a lot of League players. In fact, the way Heroes plays causes some problems of its own for that player base: individuals have a harder time carrying games without personal leveling and power scaling, and the lack of a laning experience with things like the necessity of farm can feel downright foreign. And that's okay!

But one thing should be made clear. Heroes of the Storm is not the MOBA "easy mode" that it has sometimes been made out to be, and it deserves a fair shake on its own merits — not as a comparison to its genre contemporaries. If anything, Heroes proves that the MOBA can be a lot more than just a descendant of Dota, or an imitator of League.

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