Heroes Of The Storm Babies Its New Players Too Much

Heroes Of The Storm Babies Its New Players Too Much

Over the weekend I created a new smurf account for Heroes of the Storm, "smurf" being an alternate account an experienced MOBA player makes, usually to play with friends who are just starting out in the game. What I found to my unpleasant surprise was a far less enjoyable game than the one I've been playing.

First there's the matter of playable characters. Heroes, much like its older competitor League of Legends, is a free-to-play game. The way its monetisation scheme works is: the game makes a small batch of its total hero roster available for free; the specific characters on that list alternating every week. You can acquire heroes by either spending real money, or grinding through lots of games to earn in-game currency to unlock them.

You can unlock a few extra free hero slots as you level up your player profile in HOTS. But when you're just starting out, you only have access to five free characters. Since I was playing with a newcomer friend of mine and therefore wanted to be able to help carry him if the need arised, I purchased Butcher and Zeratul, the two assassin heroes I'm best with in HOTS right now. That cost me $US20, and brought my total level of playable characters to seven:

Heroes Of The Storm Babies Its New Players Too Much

Not having access to the overwhelming majority of playable characters in a MOBA is a crummy issue that prospective League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm players always end up confronting. But there are merits to gating off people's access to this type of content. Dota 2 lets you play as any of its more than 120 heroes from the outset, which is an overwhelming amount of choice.

I don't think a developer should be expected to release everything they have made for free the way Valve does with its MOBA. It's easy to buy bundles for a game like HOTS or League that will give you a decent selection of characters, which is still less than the standard retail price of most mainstream big-budget video games that are released today. And if you like a free-to-play game and play it a lot, I feel like you should support the developer monetarily whenever you can. I still think HOTS and League are both too expensive, but that's a whole other discussion.

The real problem with the way Heroes of the Storm introduces new players to the game is that it arbitrarily blocks off your access to some of a hero's abilities and talents. These are the things you use to upgrade your hero over the course of the game, making them more powerful in a number of different and, ideally, highly customisable ways.

Take this level 1 talent selection for the Warcraft beetle monster Anub'arak, for instance:

Heroes Of The Storm Babies Its New Players Too Much

As you can see, players can apply upgrades to his ranged spike attack or beef up his shield spell. His other two selections are locked off. You don't get access to a character's full range of talents and abilities until you get them to level 5.

Each hero in HOTS has an individual level in your player profile, meaning that you have to level up every single hero to level 5 in order to acquire the full range of options available to them. Whether you bought a hero or you're simply using them because they're on free week doesn't make a difference here.

This limitation drove me crazy once I realised that it gated me off from building Butcher or Zeratul in what I think are clearly the best ways to upgrade them in-game. The Butcher is already a relatively weak character in the current HOTS meta, for instance, and the game itself was making him even weaker by denying me the ability to give him crucial upgrades that boosted his attack speed, damage, and healing abilities.

I had the same exact situation with Zeratul. The game wouldn't let me upgrade his damage-dealing potential in ways that I thought were crucial to his in-game ability kit. It wouldn't even let me use his ultra-powerful area-freezing ult "void prison."

Heroes Of The Storm Babies Its New Players Too Much

There might be legitimate reasons to gate off players' progress — particularly for newcomers — in any sort of game. But I think the way Blizzard is handling this in Heroes of the Storm right now is ridiculous. The game is literally denying you access to talents for certain characters that are crucial sources of power for them. Playing with an inferior build — particularly with a low-hitpoint assassin character like Butcher or Zeratul — usually means that you'll end up dying a whole lot more in a given match. And that just makes the game far less fun than it should.

This is the exact same kind of b.s. that Blizzard pulled with Diablo III, a game that almost all seasoned Diablo players agree is way too easy at its starting difficulties, when it forced players to complete the entire campaign once just to be able to unlock higher difficulty levels.

One could make an argument that while this type of progress-gating is frustrating, it's also necessary to help introduce newcomers to complex games. And that might be the case in Diablo — I'm not a high enough level Diablo III player to really have an opinion on it.

But when it comes to a MOBA like Heroes of the Storm or League of Legends, blocking off players' access to vital in-game assets is a really bad way to treat your own audience. It forces new players to grind through far more content than they would otherwise, and that's just if they decide to stick it out. I'm willing to bet there are many prospective MOBA players who've been scared away from the genre, or an individual game, because they don't believe they have the time to invest in just getting to a point where they can play a game the "right" way. Or more specifically: how many Heroes players might have had a bad first game or several with a character like The Butcher, and never want to play them again?

Blizzard has done a lot to position Heroes of the Storm as the "for fun" and "for everyone" MOBA in comparison to gruelling and notoriously inaccessible competitors like League of Legends and Dota 2. In many ways, they have succeeded in doing so. But if they keep handling newcomers the way they do now, I think they're going to face bigger and bigger onboarding problems as the game itself continues to expand.


Comments

    It's not babying that scares off new players, it's smurf accounts that destroy them in seconds and crack the shits at the new players for not being on their level.

      This. So much this. HoTS is the first MOBA I've found that doesn't have a ridiculous barrier to entry, so I've found myself enjoying it a lot more than the others I've played. But MOBA games are counter-intuitive for new players. Sneaking away from the fight and whaling away on undefended base structures seems like a great idea until you realise it will get you killed.

      New players need the time to learn that and the uses of building chars one way or another without being abused constantly for being shit by people on their fifth smurf account.

      Seconded. Sorry Yannick, but being a smurf makes you a jerk because you're just screwing over new players who have no idea what they're doing.

      As for the gating of content, I think the ridiculous thing here is that the skills are gated for EVERY character. Say you've played hundreds of hours with lots of characters and then suddenly try your hand at a new one? WHOA WHOA WHOA there newbie. You better play this character on easy mode where you can't build them however you like. Your poor newbie brain might get overwhelmed otherwise. I think that is the biggest problem here, but at that point if a player that invested in the game, that kind of player is probably going to stick it out and go through that annoyance. Or you know, they could just play another MOBA where that doesn't happen.

    As an actually new player, the gating of abilities hasn't bothered me in the slightest. I don't know how to build those heroes. I don't understand the actual ramifications of what half those abilities even do. By the time I've played a hero enough to hit level 5 or 6, that's when I'm starting to feel like I actually have some idea of how to play them and what are good abilities to choose.

    I can see how the gating of abilities is frustrating for an experienced player who can't execute a hero build they like to use, but that's not some that effects new players. New players don't have a build they like to use.

    What HAS been extremely frustrating for me is that lack of the ability to play ranked matches for freaking AGES. I play with a group of friends to have fun, and... Well, my win rate in quick match is something like 20%. My highest single map win rate is 45%, several maps I have less than a 10% win rate.

    I feel like if I could play a ranked mode, my rank would totally tank and then I'd play against other people as garbage as I am (like when I first started playing StarCraft 2, for example) and everything would be fine. As it stands, we get the occasional win and some of our matches that we lose are close, but I'd say at least 50-60% of matches we play we get stomped into the ground completely and utterly with no real hope of victory. Why are we stuck in quick match until we've played several dozen hours?

      You also have to own 10 heroes, too.

      So even if you've played the hours needed to unlock it, if you haven't got the coin to buy 10 heroes, you'll still have to keep playing to farm gold to get more heroes, or pay cash.

    Isn't this the same with a lot of multiplayer games? I remeber in Killzone where players had access to all these classes and abilities to screw you over and all you have are some measly guns.
    And what about the assasins creed multiplayer. When you first join, you're gettng shot at, poisoned, and tricked by a multitude of abilities....

    and these don't even follow the free-to-play model

    wait a minute.. the author made another account to help out a friend and then proceeded to rebuy 2 characters that he already had access too on his non smurf account? if thats not moronic i dont know what is

    My only beef with the game as a new player is the sometimes frustratingly long que times.
    Sometimes it says 80 seconds and then 400 seconds later it pops LOL. That and continually losing matches is pretty shit :P

    IMHO The new dota tutorials have made a lot of difference, and they encourage playing limited heroes until you are confident. Couple this with bot matches, and you are a fair way along to understanding the game play before you even start playing with "non-newbs"
    I keep going back to HoTS because i want to like it, but i keep feeling gimped, and gated at every turn.

    I guess it comes down to what you would prefer - an enforced slow path of something easy, or a difficult path at your own pace. Given my experience in gaming over the years, ill take the own pace every time - otherwise it just feels like an escort quest :P

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