"This team sucks," the Raynor player quipped once again. "I want to quit," he added a moment later. All I kept hearing was: I have the power to make your life miserable for the next twenty or thirty minutes, and I'm going to. But I wasn't going to let him.
Once the game starts to get away from you, playing a match of a highly competitive MOBA like Heroes of the Storm or League of Legends can start to feel like you're trapped in a subway car with the most virulent type of internet troll. They might start insulting you. Or they could moan and groan and stomp their feet in a more general fashion. During a recent Heroes match that I played, two of my teammates started to do both of these things at the same time.
I was playing very badly. We all were, really. Within five minutes the enemy team had established a strong lead, remaining consistently two levels ahead of us. This meant by the eight-minute mark, our opponents had already reached level 10. That's the moment when each character on a HOTS teams unlocks their ultra-powerful "heroic abilities." We were still at level 8. That's when the person playing Jim Raynor, a soldier from the StarCraft universe, and our Malfurion, an elf from Warcraft lore, decided to start crapping on all of us.
I wanted to prove them wrong. But instead I just kept dying.
Every time I looked down at the splayed-out corpse of Anub'arak, the large red beetle hero I was playing that you can see in these videos, his dead body gleamed like an unpleasant reminder. Whispering to me in an eager growl: Yes, these people are correct. You really do suck.
Defeats are never a pleasant thing to experience. But moments like these -- when one or more of your teammates starting venting their rage on whoever or whatever will take it -- are the only thing in Heroes that actually feels defeating. Once our Malfurion started bemoaning the way the game was going, I knew that winning wasn't going to only be an uphill battle against the mechanical gameplay odds we were facing -- the fact that we were underpowered compared to our enemies, the way they had diced through our outer defences leaving little more than a thin tissue between themselves and the heart of our base.
Securing a victory would also mean trying to revive our team's forlorn spirits -- right when two of us were doing their very best to make that impossible. Even when we managed to pick off one or two or our enemies, they wouldn't let up. "We don't even need our team," Malfurion jabbed after he and another teammate managed to kill someone. A moment later, we were all dead again.
Normally when I've come across people like this particular Raynor or Malfurion, I've called them out for their destructive negative attitudes. I've even indulged my own ugly tendencies and lashed out at people in retaliation. And I almost started to help them pick a fight in this game, typing: "Thanks for your contributions." It was the snidest remark I could think of.
But then I stopped, and decided to do something different. I decided to shut up, grit my teeth, and just keep playing the game, no matter what happened.
Somehow, we managed to take out the enemy team's Rehgar, a wolf-man-type hero from the Warcraft universe, while they were pushing hard against our last line of defences:
The surviving opponents started to run away. I noticed Valla, a live dual-crossbow-wielding assassin from Diablo, was low on health. I lunged towards her and didn't stop chasing.
Looking back, that wasn't a wise move. I was isolating myself from my allies, which was the same error that had kept getting us killed the whole beginning of the match. But it was so late in the game and our defeat was so seemingly probable that I didn't care. I just wanted to get the kill, to make her pay.
I should have died. But something incredible happened when I chased Valla across the map:
I managed to kill both of the enemy assassins with the help of Malfurion -- the player I'd grown to detest over the course of knowing him for fifteen minutes or so. Suddenly, the guy started to sound a very different tune.
"OK guys," he typed. "We can make a comeback. Just don't engage dumbly." We scrambled to capture two mercenary camps, sending the hellish monsters we'd overpowered to attack the enemy base for us. Then we ran back towards the gigantic angle and demon fighting at the center of the map. These are the two "Immortals" you're supposed to help or hurt in this specific HOTS map, depending which side you're on. The first team to kill the opposing Immortal gets rewarded with the big angel (or demon) jumping into the main battle and attacking the enemy base.
The Immortal was our only chance to turn things around. I died again when trying to take theirs down, losing myself to tunnel vision once again and not noticing the enemy team walking up behind me. But Raynor held them off until we could regroup.
Once we had the Immortal down, it was all or nothing. Too risky to bet that we'd manage to turn things around again if we didn't manage to win the game right then and there. We had to make one final push:
It's odd to rewatch this game after it ended. I played much more clumsily than I remembered. Not during the beginning portion of the game -- obviously that was bad. But during those triumphant moments that felt so spectacular in the moment. Taking out Valla and Nova, and feeling like I'd bought my team a second chance at life. Looking back, I was still faltering, still making mistakes even as my team began to rebound. I wasn't paying close enough attention to my surroundings, focusing entirely on the single target at hand that I'd chosen in my fit of desperation.
That's what makes a comeback like this feel so amazing, though, and what makes Heroes of the Storm so special. It's tempting to always focus on the superhuman feats that professional eSports players can accomplish. But what's revolutionary about MOBAs is the fact that they give everyone who plays them a chance to achieve something.
Something that feels truly great, even if just for a moment.