If one thing has plagued the otherwise-fantastic Heroes of the Storm since the very beginning, it's matchmaking. In a recent Reddit post, the two-time top player in the NA region, Srey, has called out HOTS' matchmaking as the single biggest thing holding the game back, and I completely agree.
Heroes of the Storm has been going from strength to strength. It's releasing some very cool skins, meaningful gameplay and UI updates with comprehensive notes from the developers, and it hasn't stopped releasing heroes with bonkers control schemes that defy MOBA convention. That's a big reason we all love the game. There have been so many strong and interesting characters brought out in recent updates — Leoric, Johanna, Kael'Thas, Sylvanas, and The Butcher.
Some of these heroes have higher skill ceilings than others, but no matter how good you are, it's much harder to carry a team in HOTS than it is in, say, Counter-Strike. That's one of the main criticisms of the game — not only is it hard to have a big impact on a match as a lone decent player, but with the wild variations in heroes and roles, it's hard to even find metrics to measure your performance. The amount of times a lower ranked player would point at a more skilled teammate's damage stats and say "You're not doing your job!", without understanding their actual role in the team, is indicative of that. Experience is shared as a team in HOTS, so there's no traditional MOBA "carry".
Of course, rank in Blizzard games is usually a smokescreen, and your real elo number is hidden from you. That's why many have taken to HOTSlogs, a third-party system design to tell you your real rating, as well as give you some more in-depth stats.
So it kind of stinks when HOTS uses you as a counterweight to balance out the average rating between two teams. For the lower ranks, it's bad being matched up against better players who will bully them out of lanes in the early game. For higher ranked players, it's infuriating when your teammates constantly do the wrong thing.
In Hero League, where there's a draft phase of picking heroes before the game is played, sometimes bad picks and unworkable team compositions can decide the game right there, making the next twenty minutes a waste of time. In HOTS, comebacks are always possible and if you manage to win one or two teamfights towards the end, you can push the core for a win. But often, leaving your team without a support or going for a hero that's easily counterpicked by the enemy team spells disaster.
In the words of Srey:
While the recent changes to limit the party size of Hero League groups to 2 has helped to balance the teams, it has only accomplished this by placing extremely inexperienced players to "balance out" things. This is exactly what it sounds like. I, the #1 rated Hero League player in North America, am consistently paired with players that are not only not Rank 1, but not even level 40. This should never happen. Ever. Period. They first-pick Nova on Haunted Mines, take BFG on Sgt. Hammer, backdoor Wells at level 1 with Azmodan, don't body-soak or lay Mines with Abathur, rally for the potency of Li Li, die 25 times on Leoric or Murky, split-push the entire game with Robo Gazlowe, never hit combos with Kerrigan, always use Ancestral Healing late with Rehgar, and Void Prison the frontline with Zeratul. I could go on. Seriously, I could write paragraphs about the dumb stuff I get stuck playing with.
So, why is this happening? Well, in my opinion, there are two main issues. The first is that there simply are not enough players queuing. Not "too few players" but "too few players queuing." This is mostly because high level players have simply lost faith in the system. Hero League has such a bad rap that professional players outright avoid Hero League altogether. The demand to queue is there, which is why SEL (inhouse/invite-only games) was so popular for a few weeks, but there the current system simply doesn't live up to the needs of the players. If matchmaking is fixed, the players will return. Secondly, and far, far more importantly, is the infamous "360 y0l0." What is the dreaded 360 yolo? After queuing and looking for a game for 6 minutes (360 seconds), you are thrown in a game with literally anyone. Anyone at any account level or Hero League Rank can be in your game, and it can be (and often is) straight-up cancerous. This is (assumingly) done to cater to the casual audience, who are apparently extremely impatient and not will to wait for more than 6 minutes for a game. This feature (and I use that term loosely) needs to be removed. Period. A Rank 1 player should never be matched with Rank 35s.
One only needs to join the /ANZ channel in HOTS to see the community's best players organising games in Quick Match or Custom modes, instead of ranked play. The ranked experience has just become that bad — which as Srey rightly notes, is so paradoxical for HOTS. It's such a fun, well-designed game, but it does depend on your teammates being able to hold their own. I'd estimate the amount of good, even matches I've experienced in ranked play to be around 10%, which is just awful. It's a testament to how good the game is that I stick with it through that.
The situation isn't helped by a large number of newer players entering ranked play for the first time. New players have 20 "placement" games, just like Starcraft 2, to see where on the ladder they'll end up. The system is experimenting with these players, testing them out at different skill ranges, which means high ranked games can sometimes become a case of who carries their placement players the best. When nearly every match involves placement players on your team, what's the point of matchmaking at all? It effectively becomes random.
This is a match I had the other day. The players with stars next to their names are undergoing placement matches.
Cheers, HOTS. That was a fun loss.
Here's hoping this issue can be improved on. At some level it's just a MOBA problem, but there are fixes that can and should be implemented. Srey goes through a few in that post. Reducing the amount of placement players in high-ranked matches would be another. I don't mind waiting longer. I don't even really care about the illusory "rank" that HOTS shows me, I just want to be matched up with people who will give me a good game.