Events and Features By: EsportsJohn
Progress is never linear, and it often takes quite a few missteps before you find your way. Heroes of the Storm has come a long way if we take a look at the state of the game now compared to last year, but admittedly it’s been a bumpy road.
The game we know today is the best it’s ever been, but it's only recently come into its own. With ranked seasons still less than six months old and plenty of kinks left to work out, Heroes is light years away from competing with polished giants like Dota 2 or League of Legends. Nonetheless, if we look back on our progress in 2016, Blizzard has done quite a lot in terms of pushing forward and continuing to burnish the game, even when it meant backtracking for the sake of progress.
Gameplay itself has evolved drastically since last year with the addition of scaling changes and multiple changes to towers, minions, and mercenaries. Power has slowly shifted away from talent tiers and big power spikes and toward more macro-oriented styles that reward thoughtful strategies.
While there were some obvious mistakes like the Relentless version of Cleanse, the bodyblocking issue, or a buggy Hyperion, Blizzard was quick (most of the time) to backpedal from their mistakes and resolve the situation in a timely manner. Core gameplay fixes like the scaling changes in late 2015 and the new Armor concept prove that Blizzard is willing to invest in the long-term health of the game.
The way we rank up has evolved too. Pros played together with others in loosely defined ranks with fairly poor matchmaking prior to ranked seasons, much to the frustration of both parties. MMR itself had become rather static due to thousands of games piled on top of each other, and many players sought out smurf accounts just to rank higher. While neither of these problems have been completely solved, ladder competition has improved significantly due to various changes to the system.
Ranked ladder (AKA Hero League) was a much-needed institution for properly gauging skill. The preseason ranking system was awful at placing people at the level they deserved; Rank 1 was nearly standard for anyone half decent at the game, and many players fluctuated wildly between ranks each week. Season 1 started in mid June with the updated league system, ending the poor ranking system we had prior.
The ladder still has some kinks to work out. Most ranks are artificially high and matchmaking still flounders to match people with both similar MMR and rankings, but it’s still an upgrade from the previous system. The only real solution to ladder woes is a sharp increase in player base to put HotS on par with other successful MOBAs, but in the meantime, Blizzard is doing their best to keep up.
Several adjustments have made matchmaking much more accurate, and the recent shift to solo queue only in Hero League represents individual skill much better. Meanwhile, the casual team aspect has been greatly aided by the addition of unranked draft and Brawls. A Blizzard-client voice chat system has also made it easy to talk to friends and even meet new people, though we could still use an in-game voice feature.
Over the last year, we’ve celebrated several in-game events and promotions. The Winter Veil event capped 2015 and brought a massive 50% discount to store prices as well as some of the coolest skins to date. Winter Veil 2016 brought us significantly less holiday cheer, but the Nexus Challenge provided several free heroes and mounts to make up for it.
Two new StarCraft-themed maps were introduced during the Machines of War event: Braxis Holdout and Warhead Junction. Haunted Mines also saw an extensive rework under the determined eye of Blizzard, though many would argue that it is still one of the worst-designed maps.
The greatest improvement in Heroes has probably come in the graphics department though. We’re still waiting on Blizzard to fix Arthas, but the introduction of floating combat text with Li-Ming as well as tons of visual updates for talents, hero models, and abilities has done wonders for advancing the in-game look. The UI has also undergone several substantial reworks. Don’t remember? Look at a game from 2015 and try to tell me you don’t see a difference.
Oh, and a clock was added to the Home Screen. We did it, Reddit.
There's still a long way to go, but we've made some significant progress, and 2017 looks to be a fruitful year.
Metagame By: Emperor
The metagame has seen lots of twists and turns this year. The year started off with a huge shift away from the stun trains of 2015. The Cleanse revert and new disengage tools like Horrify and Twilight Dream caused the meta to slowly shift toward sustained fights and globals due higher healing numbers. The fairly recent buff to minions has reinforced the importance of a global presence. Due to these changes, waveclear and wave management is now an important aspect of the game that was previously overlooked. If we were to look at a game from early 2016, we would see games that are totally different from today’s games.
The year started off with a stunlock meta dominated by heroes like Diablo, Tyrande, and Muradin. Cleanse was reverted to its earlier iteration of making a hero Unstoppable, and combined with stun nerfs across the board, it became possible to negate a lot of the old combos. As a result, stunlock heroes got significantly worse, especially Tyrande and Diablo.
Li-Ming and Greymane were among the first heroes released this year. Both had incredible burst and poke damage and were, without a doubt, the best overall heroes at the time. They would go on to become the primary damage dealers after the rework of Jaina and Kael'thas; the old combo-based mages could not keep up with the sustained damage meta.
Buffs to Zeratul, Stitches, and Anub'arak brought them to the forefront of the meta in early spring. With Stitches and Anub'arak becoming nearly immune to spell damage with Dampen Magic, it was a lot easier to deal with the burst comps.
Double warrior compositions arose to combat these new threats by allowing teams to protect their back line. Continuous nerfs to Muradin—the most significant being the removal of on-hit mini-stuns with Avatar—would lead to E.T.C replacing him as the go-to tank. Rehgar also received some attention during this time due to the healing and damage buffs he received after his rework, and Thrall replaced Zagara as the most dominant solo laner after a barrage of nerfs to her kit.
4-1 splits became the norm on most battlegrounds during the spring, and having good rotations became the hallmark of a good team. Waveclear became paramount so that teams could rotate faster and force mistakes out of their opponents. Xul quickly became a highly contested pick in this metagame due to his waveclear, survivability, and early game gank potential. Dehaka also saw some play due to his global mobility and waveclear but didn’t cause as many ripples as Xul.
Summer was the season of auto attackers. Heroes like Greymane and Illidan ran rampant due to their ability to stick onto targets and chew through HP bars. Valla and Lunara also saw play. Double warrior was still popular but with a heavier focus on bruisers, though hard carry compositions were becoming the norm. Among the top picks were Sonya, Thrall, Illidan and Greymane.
The story of fall season was sustained damage and global mobility. With the release of Auriel in August and rise of disengage tools like Horrify, Twilight Dream, and Emerald Wind, taking down a single target became nigh on impossible. As fights began to last longer, much more emphasis was put on sustained healing and damage output.
Reghar was nerfed into obscurity again, and Malfurion received significant buffs at the same time. Auriel, Brightwing, and Malfurion became the premier healers of the game due to their low (or nonexistent) mana costs and high sustain. Gul’dan’s synergy with these supports propelled him to new heights as the first sustain-based mage in the game.
In the Gul’dan patch, minions also received a 50% damage buff to structures. Large minion waves became fearsome and could easily take down keeps if ignored. As a result, global mobility and waveclear became the most important factors in the game. Falstad, Brightwing, Dehaka, and E.T.C. evolved into high priority picks on almost every battleground.
One of the most controversial changes ever entered the Nexus mid September when mount speed was reduced from an additional 40% to an additional 30%. Warhead Junction, the largest battleground yet, was released in almost the same breath. Combined with the buffs to Dehaka and Stage Dive E.T.C, global mobility became a must. Teams that lacked the extra mobility would quickly find themselves pushed in by minions and taking tons of free structure damage.
Not much has changed with the latest patch. Global mobility is still as crucial as it was, and sustained damage and healers are still the norm. Some new additions that have made their mark, though. Right out of the gate, Ragnaros cemented himself as a first pick/first ban hero. Boasting a trait that can stall objectives for extended periods of time and halt almost any siege, he is quickly becoming a staple in competitive compositions.
Some old timers that have also made a comeback. Diablo gained a lot of durability and talent versatility with his rework and has seen a surge in popularity. Recent buffs to Artanis and Dehaka have also made them some of the best in their class. With the rise of new warriors, it looks like the double warrior stunlock meta is on the rise.
From durable stunlock compositions to lock down one and delete one target, to long sustained teamfights with an emphasis on globals for wave management, to something somewhere in between, 2016 has been a wild ride. One can only hope we see just as much variety in the coming year.
Esports By: PROlane
2016 was the first full year of Heroes of the Storm esports. Across the globe, new challengers emerged, old powerhouses fell at the height of their reign, and the level of competition was higher than we had ever seen.
The Spring began with all focus on the strength shown by the North American World Champions, but Korea quickly drew global attention due to their next-level mechanical skill and shotcalling. Multiple teams from the region exemplified abilities above and beyond their competition and simply dominated throughout the year.
Cloud9 started the year off as the Heroes of the Storm World Champions after their victory at BlizzCon 2015. The championship roster, however, split apart quickly after BlizzCon. Superstar flex player, Fan ‘Fan’ Yang, left the squad to join the newly banded Bob Ross Fan Club (later Team Naventic) with former Cloud9 Maelstrom players and brothers Christopher “Zuna” and Kenneth “Kenma” Buechter. Bob Ross Fan Club faced off against Cloud9 in early January in the Heroes Rising grand finals and came out on top in an exciting final game. The new team had the talent to take down the reigning World Champions, and North America was looking like a very dangerous region in 2016.
The Spring Global Championship in Seoul, South Korea was the first major international Heroes of the Storm tournament of 2016. Twelve teams representing eight regions from around the world met to test their skills against one another for the lion’s share of the $500,000 prize pool.
Enter MVP Black.
Early 2016 was dominated by the Korean squad. MVP Black was undisputably the greatest team we had ever seen. Their game mechanics and shotcalling were far above the rest. On home soil, they put their skills on display and won the Global Championship without dropping a single battleground. This flawless victory was a significant part of their unbelievable streak of 41 consecutive battleground wins.
While MVP Black was dominating the pro scene, another team was dominating Heroes of the Dorm, Blizzard’s collegiate league. Between the Spring and Summer regionals, the game reached new heights as the Heroic Four event took place at the CenturyLink Event Center in Seattle, Washington. The premier collegiate esports event of the year was broadcasted nationwide on ESPN and showcased the talents of 20 students competing for financial freedom in the form of $75,000 tuition per student.
Still reeling from their loss to UC Berkeley in 2015, Arizona State University was prepared for their moment of glory. Captained by Mike ‘MichaelUdall’ Udall (captain of Gale Force Esports) and featuring other pro-level talent in Stefan ‘akaface’ Anderson and Austin ‘Shot’ Lonsert, ASU dominated the competition and claimed the title of 2016 Heroes of the Dorm Champions.
Meanwhile, the Global Championship circuit progressed from spring to summer, and Korea was once again a step ahead of the competition. The Summer Global Championship was at DreamHack Summer in Jönköping, Sweden. The roster of mYinsanity (now on Misfits) was the only hope for the West when they became the first non-Asian team since BlizzCon 2015 to advance to the semifinals of a Global Championship. To get to the finals, mYinsanity would have to overcome their biggest obstacle to date: MVP Black. As expected, Black took the series but not unscathed as they had in the Spring season; mYinsanity was able to take the second game in the series before falling 3-1 to the reigning World Champions.
MVP Black advanced to the Grand Finals to meet up with Tempest, the second squad representing Korea in the tournament. The Tempest roster boasted two former MVP Black members, brothers Gyeong Hwan “Hide” and Jae Hun “Lockdown” Jin. In an explosive best-of-five series thought by many to be the greatest single series in Heroes of the Storm history, Tempest arose victorious, three games to two and the recipients of the $150,000 grand prize.
As Korea crowned a new Champion and Summer was put in the books, everyone’s focus shifted to Fall—the Road to BlizzCon had commenced. Korea looked to be the region to beat as November approached, but North America was hopeful about their chances after Murloc Geniuses, an unsponsored squad made up of popular pros from various rosters, won both Fall Regionals and outplayed Denial eSports and Gale Force eSports in the process. The team was rewarded with a well-earned sponsorship from Astral Authority.
When the tournament began, it was clear that North America’s hopes were foolishly vested. Astral Authority only won a single battleground against the up-and-coming Taiwanese representatives Please Buff Arthas, lost 0-2 to Team Dignitas of Europe, and were quickly eliminated from competition. Both European representatives, Fnatic and Team Dignitas, succeeded in advancing to the semifinals to compete against the Koreans.
The reigning World Champions on Tempest had been competing under a newly sponsored banner as Tempo Storm but failed to qualify for BlizzCon—a failure that exemplifies the strength coming from their domestic competition in Korea. Representing Korea in their place were the always powerful MVP Black and Ballistix, an impressive roster of prominent pros from the defunct teams of Asia StarDust and Team No Limit.
In what would turn out to be the most talked about Heroes of the Storm series of 2016, Fnatic eliminated MVP Black three games to one in front of a raucous California crowd. Fnatic's European counterparts, Team Dignitas, were able to take a game off of Ballistix, but ended up falling 1-3 in their best-of-five.
For the first time since BlizzCon 2015, a Western team was in the Grand Finals of a Global Championship. The crowd heavily backed Fnatic going into the final series, but the mechanical skill, decisive rotations, and killer instinct of the Koreans proved too much for the boys from Sweden. Ballistix won 3-1 and were crowned the 2016 BlizzCon Champions and $300,000!
In retrospect, although the genesis of 2016 was predicated on who could dethrone the North American World Champions, the script was swiftly flipped with all eyes on Korea. From MVP Black to Tempest to Ballistix, the region simply dominated every aspect of international Heroes of the Storm throughout the year, from beginning to end.
Congratulations to everyone in the scene in 2016, a special nod to our Global Champions, and cheers for what’s to come to Heroes of the Storm in 2017!
Want to see Heroes of the Storm played at the highest level?
Check out the Top Three Series of All Time, all of which took place in 2016!
Check out the Top Three Series of All Time, all of which took place in 2016!