When Blizzard Entertainment announced in 2011 that it was working on a multiplayer online battle arena game featuring some of its classic characters as well as favorites from the “StarCraft,” “Warcraft” and “Diablo” universes, fans were thrilled. These characters are beloved by Blizzard fans, they have lore attached to them, and so far no other multiplayer online battle game had used characters from other games, as they are all owned by the same developers.
After being renamed twice, “Heroes of the Storm” went into alpha testing on March 13, 2014, and was officially released to the public on June 2, 2015, quickly gaining a worldwide competitive eSports scene as well as more casual players -- but not everyone was happy.
As Blizzard’s first official foray into the “MOBA” genre, which includes extremely popular titles like “DotA 2” and “League of Legends,” many gamers doubted that the company, a subsidiary of California-based Activision Blizzard, could create a balanced and well-rounded game.
The biggest issue for many players (mainly those complaining about it on Reddit) is the way competitive mode, known as Hero League, is set out, and the fact that players’ matchmaking rating (MMR) is not shown in-game. Players often head to the website HOTS Logs to see how they stack up against others, but the rating is not always accurate.
One of the most annoying things for many players is that their criticism and suggestions seem to go unanswered by Blizzard, with the issues persisting and no end in sight.
To try to get answers to some of these questions, International Business Times called Blizzard Entertainment CEO and co-founder Michael Morhaime to talk about “Heroes of the Storm” and eSports.
IBTimes: You mentioned that your favorite character to play at the moment is Valla because you like the range; can you expand on that?
Morhaime: As a ranged assassin, Valla can bring a lot of power to a team fight. In addition to delivering meaningful damage from a distance, she’s also able to adapt to a wide range of situations and team compositions. I also enjoy abilities like Strafe and Vault, which make her very mobile and help her to get out of difficult situations.
IBT: Does Blizzard have any plans to create its own “Heroes of the Storm” league for teams to play in -- like WCS for "StarCraft" or the LCS for "League of Legends?"
Morhaime: We are currently in the middle of the Road to BlizzCon global tournament series. Our first-ever regional championships on the Road to BlizzCon are just about to get under way, with the Americas Championship occurring in Las Vegas Sept. 19-20. Earlier in the year we held Heroes of the Dorm, our first collegiate tournament, which was broadcast live on ESPN2. We look forward to announcing our future tournament plans in the coming months.
IBT: A lot of people have been talking about a trademark Blizzard filed called Compete. What is this, and how will it benefit the “Heroes of the Storm” community?
Morhaime: Compete is an online competition platform run by TeSPA [a network of eSports organizations] and it provides student competitors with a powerful but simple-to-use platform to organize their own online competitions. The system supports one-off tournaments in addition to complex league structures that last entire seasons.
TeSPA is a leader is the college gaming space, and we’re looking forward to helping them continue to build out the Compete platform. It’s great tool with a lot of potential to help cultivate local chapters and competitions for college eSports across the country.
IBT: You mentioned that Blizzard sees 2015 as the “foundational year" in terms of eSports, with announcements on structure and things to come later this year. Can you expand on that?
Morhaime: We have a dedicated eSports team who are hard at work on what 2016 looks like for Heroes eSports, as well as our other franchises, but we aren’t ready to announce anything yet. We think "Heroes of the Storm" has a very bright future for eSports.
Heroes just launched this year, and our Road to BlizzCon tournament series is a great fit for the game right now, but our plans will continue to evolve as the scene develops and the competition unfolds.
IBT: A number of fans have asked whether Blizzard plans to introduce male/female skins for some characters, like the monk Kharazim. Is this on your radar at all?
Morhaime: This idea is definitely on our radar. As one of our developers recently mentioned in a Reddit Q&A, there are still some production-related challenges we need resolve first before we’d be able to implement a feature like that, but we think it’s a cool idea.
IBT: Can you explain Grandmaster rank and the thoughts behind that for us?
Morhaime: We want to provide a better way to recognize the very best players in every region. While it takes a lot of skill to reach Rank 1, we got a lot of feedback that players would like more information on exactly where they stand compared to other high-end competitors.
With this upcoming addition, our top players will be assigned a Grandmaster rank and will appear on a leaderboard that shows the exact position of where they place among others at their skill level.
IBT: Are there any plans for a separate rank for players that prefer to solo queue?
Morhaime: A big area that we need to work on is matchmaking in general, making sure the matches that you get are more balanced. We’ve heard this feedback and the developers are actively discussing it, but we don’t have any plans to share right now.
[UPDATE: Blizzard announced on Wednesday that it is reducing Hero League parties to only solo queue and duo queue players after hearing feedback from the "Heroes of the Storm" community. This will be implemented with the next game update.]
IBT: Any plans to bring the MMR stats public? Or is Blizzard hoping the recent changes to matchmaking will satisfy players?
Morhaime: Our new ranking system calculates a rank based on the player’s MMR, and our goal is to make it so players can look at that rank to determine their standing relative to other players.
That said, we’re still refining the system. We recently revamped Hero and Team leagues, and we’re gathering the community’s feedback on these changes and will continue to make improvements as necessary.
We do know that some players would be interested in seeing their MMR number, and it’s something we’re discussing internally, but we don’t have any plans to make that visible right now.
In a follow-up with Game Director Dustin Browder about the "Eternal Conflict" campaign, he mentioned that Blizzard is looking to bring "Warcraft" and "StarCraft" campaigns into "Heroes of the Storm," which would see new maps, characters and mounts from those franchises. How long will each campaign last?
"We don't know how long future events will run and are open to player feedback on how long they should be," said Browder.
How long do you think campaigns should last, and what characters or maps would you like to see? Did any of Morhaime's answers surprise you? Is there anything else you would like to know? Let us know in the comments below.