I surprised myself, deep into the process of writing this article, with the realisation that Heroes of the Storm had become my favourite contemporary Blizzard game. I tested the theory: I worked through each menu item in Battle.net (sorry, 'Blizzard App') and spent a few hours with all of them. My best StarCraft years are behind me, and I'll probably never have time for World of Warcraft again. I've seen all that I'm likely to see in Diablo 3, Hearthstone's randomness frustrates, and Overwatch's longevity is bound up in having friends who play regularly - mine no longer do. And there at the bottom of the list was Heroes of the Storm, a game with the dubious distinction of being the only game on Blizzard App that did not redefine its genre.
Heroes of the Storm has finally launched! Brilliant. Top stuff. That's really great news.
Dustin Browder is the game director of Blizzard's new MOBA, Heroes of the Storm. He is also a rush character, I think, but one with a very short charge and practically no cooldown. Maybe he's been making multiplayer games for too long; who knows? Regardless of the reasoning, I suspect he has internalised his own hotbar, and his special ability involves getting so enthused about a topic that he starts to have a dialogue with himself. Seriously. He plays both sides.
MOBAs - or "online team brawlers", as Blizzard likes to call them, because every developer seems to feel the need to invent its own blanket term for these games - are the biggest games in the world, with one big problem. League of Legends and Dota 2 are fast-paced, skilful competitive games with great tactical depth, gigantic followings and a thriving eSports scene that can turn young players into stars. But they're not very nice places to be, especially for newcomers.
Despite Blizzard's bluster about avoiding the term 'MOBA' and wanting to make something different, the alpha of Heroes of the Storm still leans heavily on staples of the genre: two teams of five use the unique traits and skills of their heroes to repeatedly bash each other to death while gradually knocking down defensive structures. The complexities that bubble up in-between add the texture that makes MOBAs fascinating, but the core remains compelling and easy to understand: infinitely spawning waves of opposing AI 'creep' armies meet in the middle of the map to fight each other, but won't make any progress without help from players; destroy the defences that stop your AI guys from getting to the other side, and you've won. Peek beneath all the sorcery and blood, and you're basically playing American football.
Heroes of the Storm is a MOBA/ARTS/LMG/WHATEVER that existing MOBA/ARTS/LMG/WHATEVER fans are going to hate - and that's okay. The obvious comparison is to look at it and Dota in much the same way as Hearthstone vs. Magic: The Gathering. Actually play it though, and it quickly becomes clear that the better comparison is to see it as Super Smash Bros versus Street Fighter 2 - if only because it's going to be far easier to pick a character because they're your favourite. That's not to say there isn't scope for high level play, just that it's something to work up to rather than an immediate slap in the face.