Heroes Of The Storm has been in closed beta since around January 13th but, since people can easily score beta keys or buy in (not sure on the latter since the Founder’s Pack was removed), now is the time when the more toxic players and feeders come into the fray. I have decided we NEED a simple guide for those of us that want to compete but don’t want to break out calculators or make Heroes Of The Storm a career move.. Oh, and have FUN playing the game; after all, that should be the first priority!
I will open up by saying that Heroes Of The Storm is the one MOBA I can wholeheartedly recommend to all my friends, unless they don’t like the overhead/isometric view or are graphics snobs that need bleeding-edge technology even if the gameplay sucks otherwise. Blizzard has done it again by taking a growing space and making it their own. Here is a MOBA/ARTS (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena / Action Real Time Strategy) game that is truly accessible and plays more like an action game than a weird, drawn-out experience of Farmville mixed with Archon: Battle Chess. It’s fun, even when you’re losing badly.. Well, maybe if you’re not a sore loser.
This game has tons of depth without the high barrier to entry. The tedious elements that ruin other MOBAs or make them good only in small doses have been removed. Rather than worrying on last-hitting, denying creep farm/score (CS), or calculating your effective DPS after AC, resistances, shields, debuffs, auras, and sun-moon alignment offsets, you can actually focus on strategies and adapting to dynamic scenarios that are always exciting and intense.
As such, we’ll be kicking off an exclusive GeekyAntics series called VGB (Video Game Brawls) where we’ll compare games of similar styles and give you our verdict on which one, as objectively as possible, is the best across quantifiable categories. But, for now, I’m going to share what I’ve learned on HotS since playing in the alpha.
It’s NOT Pay To Win
There’s a lot of salt about the pricing structure on HotS but people forget that the game just recently went into beta. I agree that it is pricey but it’s actually still cheaper than the ever-popular yet still ridiculous League Of Legends. The only thing that tips the scale on HotS are the premium mounts but, still, LoL has had $40 skins sooooo…
The important thing here is that you don’t put money into this game and suddenly start winning, which is the epitome of pay-to-win. In fact, I would recommend sticking to the heroes that cost 2K or 4K gold (in-game currency). These heroes will be easier for newer players to get used to and eventually master.
You might see a top-tier hero dominating but don’t think it’s the hero and not the player. The game is balanced so that every hero has a fighting chance and can contribute to the team’s effort. So, if you want to drop mad gold on a Jaina, Kerrigan, Thrall, or whatever, you may want to hold off. Heroes with unique mechanics like Nazeebo, Lost Vikings, and Abathur typically work against your team if you do not have sufficient experience. Let’s not even talk about Nazeebo body-blocking his own team with those damn zombies.. Oops, too late!
Whereas other MOBA/ARTS games have characters that are easily broken to the point of being unfair or, on the flip side, picks that are almost unplayable, Heroes Of The Storm is very well balanced. I’ve seen “never spend a dime” type players beat fully-invested players. Pick any hero.. It all comes down to skill and which team plays best together.
Don’t Get Stuck On Kills
Contrary to popular belief, the Takedowns stat in Heroes Of The Storm refers to assists or participation in kills. There is no formal KDA tracked in HotS, certainly not on an individual basis. Kills also represent a smaller XP gain when compared to taking objectives like destroying enemy structures, clearing lanes, and taking mercenary camps. Even when the kills are worth more, one must consider the time lost while other things happen.. Like your base being overrun (yes, this happens.. TOO often).
Killing enemies and dominating the opposing team is always fun but it mainly serves the purpose of creating opportunities, whether it’s pushing lanes, capturing mercenary camps, or taking map objectives (e.g. tributes, spider gems, and dubloons). The respawn timer prior to level 13 just isn’t long enough to make pursuing kills truly worthwhile when there are objectives that will push towards victory faster and more consistently.
The #1 mistake I think players make on any MOBA/ARTS game is that they get tunnel vision and focus on kills too much. This leads to frustration and missed opportunities. It’s very easy to lose sight of the objectives on any given battleground/map on HotS so don’t worry about falling behind on kills or even levels. In fact, when you fall behind on levels, it’s best to avoid team fights until it’s absolutely necessary.
Master The Mundane: The Basics Of MOBAs
You may hear die-hard MOBA veterans talk about how players should focus on the fundamentals. Practice more, play against bots, L2P, etc. But what does this all mean?
The basics are the things you will naturally get better at if you are aware of them and gain more experience. It includes…
- Map Awareness – Everyone struggles here to some degree. You have to train yourself to notice the minimap and see if any enemies are unaccounted for.. And possibly doing something that could hurt your team.
- Timing – Play a MOBA enough and you start to get a feel for when an attack will happen, objectives refreshed, or you should fall back/regroup.
- XP Soak/Laning – Most MOBAs require that you stay in lanes as much as possible to soak up XP as enemies die but in HotS there is no formal laning phase. Some might say it’s up to when you reach level 10 but that’s more a guideline than a hard-and-fast rule.
- Positioning – Fighting a battle at multiple fronts rarely ends well, especially when your squishy damage dealers are singled out, leaving the rest of your team somewhat helpless.
- Rotating – This ties into positioning and laning. Basically, when you rotate, you see a teammate change positions and you swap with them. This ensures there is always proper XP soak but, more importantly, it helps against mis-matched lanes situation where a hero keeps getting picked on. Rotating when taking objectives is key so that you maximize XP.
- Disengaging – Knowing when to back out of a fight is something that few people have mastered 100%. You have to make snap decisions and sometimes they will be the wrong ones but, ultimately, any fight you can walk away from is a good one.
- Initiating – When the fight looks promising and everyone is in position, someone has to take point and intiatie the fight/engage. This is usually the tank/warrior’s job since they can likely take a lot of lumps and live to tell the story later.
- Skill Shots– Abilities that require aiming are tricky because sometimes you have to lead shots and account for projectile travel speed, as well as likely jukes/pathing and obstacles.
For many, positioning and being aware of what is going on off-screen is easier said than done. I would say it all comes down to confidence in yourself and, more importantly, in your team. In my experience, losing streaks happen when teams get deflated and sloppy as a result, and not vice versa. You won’t ever be perfect at the aforementioned but practice will improve your performance. Until then, don’t beat yourself up over mistakes because once you start hesitating or doubting, things only get worse – TRUST!
Understand HotS Hero Roles/Classes/Types
Heroes Of The Storm has a fresh new take on roles/classes that I really love. MOBA veterans should be familiar with these concepts but some of it may be surprising anyway. Here’s what I found about how Blizzard classifies each hero:
- Warrior – a.k.a. Tank / Bruiser – Warriors in HotS have the lowest damage of all the hero types typically but what they lack in damage output they make up for with survivability, whether it’s shields, health regen, and/or large HP pools.
- Assassin – a.k.a. Carry / ADC – This is where you go for the high DPS (Damage Per Second). Most traditional MOBA players will fight over this role because it feels good to land killing blows
- Support – a.k.a. Healer / Cleric – Contrary to popular belief, support in HotS does NOT always mean healing. Support heroes usually have talents and abilities that allow them to do things like shield, buff, debuff, stun, blind, etc. This is why Tassador is a support hero and not a specialist.
- Specialist – a.k.a. Siege / Weirdo – Specialists all have talent paths that make them more effective against enemy structures but they also have other abilities in common such as mercenary buffs, bribe (which auto-recruits mercenaries), and summons. They are great for taking objectives, defending points, and pushing lanes. Some can also provide vision and aide in team battles but the latter is something that takes work.
Note that the role/type of a hero is not based upon their sole purpose but, rather, what they excel at. As such, support heros can deal damage and often keep up with assassins. Tyrande is a great example of this. I can’t tell you how many times I catch a Valla or Illidan off-guard when I burst them down out of nowhere – WINNING!
What I really love about HotS is that, no matter what role you play, you feel fully involved and useful. Here you’re not choosing to be a support because you don’t want the pressure of other roles or just suck – support is actually REALLY fun! Another breath of fresh air is that there is no formal jungler, though there are stealth and high mobility heroes that are universally known to be the floaters. These include Nova, Zeratul, and Falstad.
Shake Off The Trolls
Just today I played some Hero League. Half of the games had two or three toxic/salty players that ruined the fun for everyone and it will only get worse as the game gets more popular and competitive. The first match was the worst, with our E.T.C. dying lots and telling me to STFU for simply for pointing out that he was being a jerk. He kept laughing at teammates that made mistakes, including me. I will admit I missed four or five Nova skill shots but part of it was random lag spikes (thanks again Comcast). I owned my mistakes preemptively but he would not let up. At the end of the game, I led my team across the board and he had the worst record. LOL
The bad part about it all is that toxicity becomes contagious. Once he started to rag on me, our Li Li joined in and then Nazeebo said he was carrying the team. It all started because I went Nova, who is considered a newb pick, and then we got an Abathur. Our Abathur was actually REALLY good and humble so I was very encouraged… And Nova does well on Tomb of the Spider Queen.. Plus Sylvanas and Valla were taken, which were my original choices.
If I didn’t know what to expect from a competitive MOBA, I would have let my negative teammates de-moralize me and totally throw the match. I wish I took a screenshot of the pre-game lobby. I last-picked Nova and apparently that was a sin the way the chat went. Granted, she lacks the DPS compared to other assassins and our comp was already lacking DPS.. but I knew Abathur’s buffs and the lane-pushing of Nazeebo would make up for it. Li Li kept us topped off. E.T.C. soaked damage, CCed (crowd controlled), and talked crap while mostly doing his own thing. Note in the screenshot below that he was involved with the least amount of team battles (Abathur doesn’t count since he doesn’t lane up, per se).
*When I say “throw” I refer to moments when de-moralized, over-confident, and/or lax teams give up or play sloppy, giving up a match that should have been a victory. The term is often mis-used, IMHO.
The Hero League fun does not end there! I then proceeded to win four in a row with Sylvanas, regardless of pick order or battleground. It’s fairly safe to say that specialists are always a strong pick because they can solo many objectives and make tempo plays like taking out defenses or pushing a lane hard. This forces teams to make tough choices: stick together or split up to address the pest destroying their structures.
Some may say Sylvanas is OP (overpowered) and needs a nerf but I think she is very balanced. It’s easy to stop Sylvanas. The reason she is so good is because people underestimate her. The fact that she can silence an entire team presents a rare strategic advantage that no other hero offers that I can think of.. Besides Malfurion.
In my second Hero League game today, our Tychus was being very salty about how our comp sucked and we were going to lose. The match did not even start and he said it was over (a preemptive “GG” is very annoying, BTW). Then others joined in and said the other team “picked better”. Well, I’ll let the screenshot speak for itself…
In my last game I literally led in every category except for deaths. Even after being focused hard on the Garden Terror battleground and receiving very little help from my team initially, we were able to bounce back and make some plays. They bought into my plan to siege like mad and create diversions. We divided the enemy and conquered. They were overwhelmed. Again, the fact that I pressed the enemy base so hard forced double and triple teams. This allowed us to regroup, catch up on XP, and take objectives.
In all the games I played today (so far), one thing was common: the teams that talked less, had confidence/fun, and focused more did better. When we worked together as a team and had confidence in everyone’s abilities, things went well. When someone felt the need to troll and distract his own team, we started to fall apart until we shook it off. Once we got into our groove as a team, beautiful things happened and we forgot all about the ugliness that made us a little salty earlier.
Which HotS Play Mode Is Best To Learn?
First and foremost, before you buy any hero, look at the bundles as you can save a lot of money and get a sweet deal. These are limited-time sales as we’ve seen with the Founder’s Pack, Dire Wolf, and Cyber Wolf (DOH!). I also highly recommend that you try the hero before buying. The Try option will place you in a small arena where you can set your level and toggle minions on/off. The fact that Blizzard implemented this shows that they are not trying to sucker people out of money but people will always QQ that Heroes Of The Storm is a mere “cash grab”. I love this because other MOBAs entice you with free rotation but you may not get enough time with the character until you buy it (since everyone else will likely auto-pick the same character too).
Beyond specific hero mechanics, the best place to learn the core mechanics of each map and the MOBA fundamentals (as mentioned earlier) really depends on your personal preferences. As a new player, you usually have two viable options: Cooperative or Quick Match. For me, I like to solo queue Cooperative when I am not in the mood to deal with toxicity, friends are not online, and/or I am just not focused enough to take on human opponents. Here are the benefits of each play mode when you’re playing solo:
- Cooperative – I have yet to see any salt here because the AI is usually pretty predictable and easy. That said, Blizzard does have plans to make the bots grow in difficulty depending on your league rank/MMR. Still, this is the best place I find to complete your quests, experiment, and get to know other players.
- Quick Match – Blizzard has done tons of tweaks to the matchmaking system but there is still a good chance you’ll be matched against players at a much higher skill level. Quick Match is great fun to me because I love the random team compositions that sometimes happen like having three of any one hero type. You’d be surprised what actually works when you give it a real go. It can be frustrating, however, when you are matched against a fully or semi pre-made team and your team is all uncoordinated randoms.
- Hero League – This draft mode allows you to rank up individually, even when partied up with other friends. You can duo-queue like you do on LoL or go for the maximum party of five. There is no banning and Blizzard has no plans for it (thank God) so the dynamics are very different here. In solo queue, you really want to pre-pick and discuss your preferred choices before your actual turn to pick a hero comes up. This will minimize the potential toxicity. Like any draft, getting the most value from your picks is key. You have to strike a balance between, or better yet, find the overlap in denying the enemy counter-picks, securing a strong hero, and playing someone you’re really good at.
- Team League – Like Hero League, pick order, pre-match discussion, and familiarity with the current meta all help to improve effectiveness so you want to be comfortable in different roles, practice tons, and have a decent enough roster. Unlike Hero League, you’re hopefully playing with the same few people you play with most so you already know each other’s preferences and strengths. Team League, however, has a higher barrier to entry than HL as it requires Level 40 (that’s 10 levels more than HL) to participate along with the 10 owned heroes minimum.
According to Blizzard, 92.4% of the time, solo queuers will be matched with other solo queuers. This means that it is arguably the most level playing field as everyone is likely to be as uncoordinated and unfamiliar with each other’s play styles. Every now and then, however, you’ll notice that two or three people work WAY too well together… Then you know they’re a pre-made or just REALLY good, highly-aware players!
Simple Strategies And Disciplines For Winning
We talked about the fundamentals across all MOBAs and how they apply to Heroes Of The Storm. We also shared the paths for practicing and established that playing with friends is more fun but it can also be more challenging. But what about some simple strategies to practice and perfect?
I’d say that the strategies are not as important as the disciplines. You have to be aware of common pitfalls and simple opportunities before you should focus on executing advanced strategies and tactics. Here are some of the common mistakes you’ll see even seasoned players make:
- Pushing a lane hard when you have no nearby support or safe escape options. This is particularly bad when you have no idea where the enemy team is. An exception may be if you take out three or four enemy structures alongside strong minions or boss-level creatures.
- Face-checking a bush or big merc camp (i.e. boss) with no backup. Just like the aforementioned, you end up becoming a free kill and hurting your team.
- Sacrificing your base. I’ve seen this happen so much. On certain battlegrounds, you can afford to take some siege damage if you make a better trade. In most cases, once you’re down to your core/nexus defenses it’s easy for your opponents to backdoor and finish the game. Having an exposed core also makes it hard for your team to go off defense unless you win a team battle and can take advantage of a power play.
- Chasing an enemy. Generally, if an enemy is running he’s got friends or traps nearby; otherwise, he may be taking you away from something you should be focusing on.. Like defending your base or taking an objective. Every second spent chasing means you’re out of the action twice as long – or worse!
- Doing your own thing (a.k.a. lone wolfing). The biggest game loser and morale breaker is the lone wolf who thinks he can carry his team or do whatever he wants. If you don’t work with your team, you’ll lose as a team.
- Joining the party late. Similar to the lone wolf mentality, late party crashers hurt their team by joining team battles late or taking too long to help with objectives. This is what leads to one-by-one death parties, especially on battlegrounds like Haunted Mines and Cursed Hollow, where full team participation is often the only way to succeed.
Consider these rules of thumb. There are tons of dynamics and variables to consider but, if you are aware of these pitfalls and circumstances, you’ll elevate your skill the more you play! It all comes down to awareness, focus, and productivity. If you’re sitting around doing nothing, chances are your team is going to fall behind. Think in terms of objectives and not team fights, above all.
Now for the right things to do…
- Push lanes hard when your teammates can defend and you can get a worthwhile trade out of it. Siege damage scores heavy XP and is one of the most effect yet somehow under-rated ways to close a level gap between teams.
- Use vision-granting abilities and talents to scout key areas proactively. Tassador has enhanced vision with his “D” ability, Tyrande has an owl that can go across the map, and other heroes can use scout drones and similar abilities. There are no wards in Heroes Of The Storm but, when the options are available, it’s better than face-checking a bush or objective, which always runs the risk of you getting ambushed and exploding into smithereens.
- Assume if enemies are missing, they are coming after someone or taking a major objective. Make sure you ping to let your team know this because it’s easy to lose track of the mini map. Surprisingly, calling “MIA” or “SS” (short for “miSSing”) is not very common in HotS but it can make all the difference with reaction times and counters.
- Counter pick heroes when possible. Stealth heroes usually have lower DPS, making them opportunistic characters that float to clean-up low-health targets. Tyrande and Tassador are strong picks here, along with anyone that has AoE effects. Arthas and Jaina I find are particularly strong picks.
- Take advantage of your range. Azmodan can throw his fireball long distances and there are other heroes that have global and long-range abilities such as Nova with her Precision Strike. These are great tools for poking someone that is trying to turn in items they collected or capture an objective. Contesting objectives and checking likely ambush points with long-range abilities is smart and safe. Time them well and you can buy your team time to get into position and clean up.
- Use tanky heroes to peel enemies off your allies or use your crowd control to slow them down. Often you don’t need to enter a battle right away or at all. In fact, it may be more useful to disengage and regroup. Of course, you need to make this decision quickly before you potentially become food for the enemy team too.
- Know when to give up on map-specific objectives. Battlegrounds like Blackheart’s Bay, Garden Terror, and Cursed Hollow have map-specific objectives that can ruin uncoordinated teams. Sometimes you have to give up on these map objectives and focus on core objectives instead. While your enemies are focusing on the map mechanics, you can push lanes, capture mercenary camps, and create value in other ways.
In the next section, we’ll touch upon some of the less conventional, perhaps high-risk/high-reward strategies. We’ll also dig into the meta and what that really means for as casual players who don’t act like our W/L ratio will give us super powers IRL (it doesn’t but that’d be nice).
Following The Meta Vs. Oddball Strategies
The meta in MOBAs mainly refers to the popular character picks, team compositions, and early game strategies. If you’re playing with randoms in ranked modes, following the meta is a good way to play it safe. In simple terms, the meta refers to what is popular and acceptable by the general populace. Fortunately, Heroes Of The Storm is still young so people are more willing to try out crazy things.
To illustrate how the meta works, picking Diablo or E.T.C. as the primary tank/warrior are currently the most accepted and urged choices. If you pick anyone else and the enemy team drafts either of those, expect some BM (bad manners) in return. Ironically, Diablo used to be considered a terrible pick but his buffs make him extra tanky and persistent, since he can resurrect if he has enough souls stored up. It’s pretty annoying, especially if your team keeps focusing him.
Blizzard has been very clear that they want to remove any element of autopick in the game. They want players at every competitive level to feel every hero and talent is viable, because they are. With that in mind, there are circumstances where you want to experiment and others where you do not. Whatever you do, the #1 thing to remember is that you should make sure your team is on-board with your suggestions. Here are some of the oddball strategies that may make cookie-cutter MOBA players shudder, even though they work:
- Heavy Siege – Going with three or even an ALL specialist team that commits to lane pushing and structure DESOLATION actually works.. And it’s really disgusting if your team commits to it – in a GOOD way!
- Two Supports – Blizzard has released stats in the past that show that teams with two supports win 5-10% more games; however, anything more than two supports usually has diminishing returns since you typically will lack the DPS to do anything. You want your team to be smart about their positioning because, if your team is dead, who will you support?
- Deathball – When all else fails, an early deathball can be your ticket to winning. All this means is that you travel 5-deep everywhere and focus on team fights, never separating except when falling back to base. The problem with this strategy is that teams under level 13 will respawn quickly so you’ll have to clean up quickly, heal up, regroup, and repeat quite often. Be sure to use objectives as traps so that you can catch weakened enemies, and not vice versa.
- Turtle – If team battles are failing, sometimes you can play heavy defense until the opponent gets over-confident and makes a mistake. In order for this to work, your team has to actively communicate missing enemies or have super map awareness. You want to be able to soak up XP in lanes but not over-extend. Keep an escape option handy and a buddy around.
- Kiting Traps – If you can use an objective or teammate as bait, you can often kite people to traps such as team burst attack or traps/turrets (e.g. Abathur and Gazlowe). You’d think this would only work once or twice per match but people get surprisingly hungry when the bait is too good to pass up.
- Super Buffs – For those that like having a single carry hero, it’s possible to build around a single hero and synergizing thereof. It’s risky but it can be fun to break things. For example, Raynor can buff attack speed and movement speed for his team, which can stack well with a Valla or other auto-attack high-DPS Assassin. Abathur has been known to work well with Illidan and Kerrigan but it takes more skill to get it to work.
These are some strategies that may be considered weird or newb-ish but THEY WORK!! I have had the most success with the first two strategies. I love siege comps because when you split-push two areas that are far apart, the enemy team has to make tough decisions as their structures get obliterated. This creates opportunities elsewhere and stalls a bit while teammates respawn or objectives are taken safely. This is an awesome way to get fast XP and close a level gap, too!
Warnings For League Of Legends “Veterans”
A lot of League Of Legends players feel they are MOBA experts or “veterans” but, truth be told, unless you played other MOBA/ARTS games before or in addition to LoL, chances are that you never truly learned the core disciplines that apply across the board. They also feel that Riot invented MOBAs, which is wrong, but that’s besides the point… Heroes Of The Storm very unique in how it plays so you HAVE to empty your cup and start fresh.
LoL players tend to think that Heroes Of The Storm “isn’t deep enough”. That is simply not true. As I hope we’ve established already here, this game has tons of depth but it removes the usual overcomplicated aspects that make MOBAs feel less like games and more like work. No me gusta trabajo en mis juegos!
As I mentioned before, support heroes are fully involved in this MOBA. It makes playing support or being last/filler pick NOT feel like a consolation prize. In fact, this is the one MOBA where I feel any role I get to play is awesome and that’s a rare treat. I usually don’t like melee/warrior types but in HotS they are sooooo much fun!
League Of Legends players, approach this game fresh. Be receptive to suggestions and constructive advice. It’ll make the experience much more fun. Besides, no one cares about your LoL rank, whether you were bronze, diamond, or platinum.
Never Give Up, Never Surrender!
I say this about almost every competitive game, especially MOBAs, but matches in Heroes Of The Storm, above all, are always winnable; on the flip side, they are always losable (so don’t get cocky). All it takes is one good push or sneaky attack on the enemy core to win the game. Sadly, people focus so much on the early game and the race to level 10, where you get your ultimate, your heroic ability.
There is no surrender option with good reason: Blizzard wants players to work as a team and do epic comebacks.. Because they can! Games are typically under 20 minutes, anyway, though certain battlegrounds do allow for longer sessions approaching the 40-minute mark.
So, with all that in mind, go play some HotS and have fun!