Blizzard Is Hurting Heroes Of The Storm By Not Calling It A ‘MOBA’

Blizzard Is Hurting Heroes Of The Storm By Not Calling It A ‘MOBA’

Ever since they changed Heroes of the Storm’s name from Blizzard All-Stars and, even more regrettably, Blizzard Dota, Blizzard has insisted on calling its excellent new MOBA a “hero brawler” and therefore not calling it a MOBA. It was a silly choice when Blizzard first made it. Now, it’s become a damaging one.

The term “MOBA” is a vague one. At face value, all it means is what it stands for: a “multiplayer online battle arena.” As the word has aged and become ever more popular thanks to the meteoric success of League of Legends and Dota 2, the first proprietary games to take the name from the original Defence of the Ancients mod that birthed all this wonderful content, it’s come to describe a number of things that are far more specific than a multiplayer online battle arena. Today, a MOBA in the purest sense of the term is a game that has all of the following characteristics:

  • It’s played from an isometric top-down perspective.
  • Games are played by two teams who compete to destroy a big building at the back of their opponent’s base.
  • Each base is protected by one or more lines of defensive turrets that attack any enemy who gets within range.
  • The game is centred around real-time player-vs.-player online multiplayer, but also features player-vs.-environment thanks to the inclusion of computer-controlled characters (“creeps” or “minions”) that spawn at regular intervals and push towards the closest enemy turret.
  • Each player controls a single “hero” character with unique assets and in-game abilities.

I could go on and on. But I won’t. Given all the above characters, we can at least determine that a MOBA is a game that combines core action-RPG (read: Diablo-like) gameplay with turret defence and real-time strategy elements to make for a unique competitive multiplayer experience.

All of my descriptors apply to Heroes of the Storm, just as they apply to League of Legends and Dota 2 — the two most popular MOBAs, and the ones that Blizzard has looked to for much of its inspiration when creating and releasing HOTS. But at least since 2013, the developers and marketers working on Heroes of the Storm have made a point to tell people that their game is not a MOBA. Speaking to GameSpot in November of that year, HOTS game director Dustin Browder justified the choice by saying that he felt “we’re making something a little bit different and a little bit new.” From GameSpot (emphasis added):

Heroes of the Storm is inspired by the original Defence of the Ancients: All-Stars modification for WarCraft III. The original mod went on to kickstart the genre that Dota 2 developer Valve now calls MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), and League of Legends developer Riot calls ARTS (action real-time strategy), but Blizzard instead opted to avoid calling their game a MOBA/ARTS and instead christen Heroes of the Storm a hero brawler.
Speaking to GameSpot, Heroes of the Storm game director Dustin Browder elaborated on that decision. “We fully feel like we’re making something a little bit different and a little bit new,” he said. Heroes of the Storm is “certainly based on a lot of the games we played in WarCraft 3 and even in Brood War that were made by our fans, but we’re trying to create something that’s very very quick, and can be played in about 20 minutes.”
Other than a shorter duration for matches, what else sets Heroes of the Storm apart from League of Legends and Dota 2? “It’s very much about map objectives,” Browder explained. “It’s about taking over the battleground and engaging with those objectives, and it’s very much about playing with your team. It’s about team levelling. We start you with all of your abilities, so you’re using everything at once. It’s a little bit more action-orientated in that sense, a little less about the RPG components. It’s more about playing with these iconic heroes that you’ve seen over many many years inside our games.”
“So we felt like the hero brawler was a better name for the game we were making, but whatever anybody wants to call the game is totally cool. We just feel that [hero brawler] made a lot more sense.”
“Coming from a bunch of guys that made real-time strategy, action real-time strategy didn’t make a lot of sense for this game,” Browder concluded.

“Action real-time strategy,” in case you don’t know, was one of the other major contenders for the genre name when things were first getting started in Dota and then League of Legends and Dota 2. Browder’s explanation is basically saying that since Heroes of the Storm is different than these other games thanks to the way it simplifies gameplay templates the genre is known for, and because it features a cast of already-established fictional characters pulled from other established game franchises Super Smash Bros. style.

Heroes of the Storm is a dramatically different game when you compare it to League of Legends and Dota 2. But is it different enough that it’s in another genre entirely? Genre classifications are useful if they help illuminate aspects of a game’s character for its players. They’re damaging, meanwhile, when they become too restrictive for game developers to express themselves creatively.

The best way I’ve found to understand Heroes of the Storm since I began playing it is to compare it to League of Legends and Dota 2, two similar games the make similar design choices that impact similar characters. I suppose one could also just look at Heroes of the Storm and think: “Hey, this ‘hero brawler’ is fun!” But to me as a gamer and an avoid MOBA player, it’s much more interesting and fun to think about where and how Blizzard’s design choices for HOTS differ from those taken in other MOBAs. The comparison is necessarily for fruitful analysis of the game that I love. Pretending they’re not in the same genre seems like a great way to stop a good conversation rather than help start one.

And what about Blizzard’s developers? Do they — or would they — feel trapped if they consider Heroes of the Storm a MOBA? Does calling it something else liberate them to be more creative and adventurous when developing ambitious new characters and maps?

I noticed a small bit of rhetoric at this year’s Blizzcon whenever the HOTS developers took the stage. They kept using the phrase “breaking the rules of the genre.” Game director Dustin Browder said it when he revealed a new two-player character and another map coming into the game that, for the first time in HOTS, doesn’t require each team to push towards the enemy’s core in order to win. Others kept saying it when they went into further details about all the very cool, and very experimental, things that Blizzard is bringing into HOTS soon.

Heroes of the Storm is indeed “breaking the rules of the genre.” But it can only break the rules of a genre if it’s actually in that genre in the first place. If something doesn’t exist within the ecosystem in which things like turret defence, single hero characters, and automated creeps pushing down specific lanes are considered rules, than how could it break those same rules? It couldn’t. That’s why you don’t hear Treyarch boasting about all the ways it’s broken MOBA rules with its new first-person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops III. If Heroes of the Storm actually was a “hero brawler,” Blizzard’s statements about it break rules would be meaningless.

Heroes director Dustin Browder continued to reference “other MOBAs” after Blizzcon when he tweeted a series of statements about Heroes of the Storm’s controversial addition of kill-death ratios:

It seems to me like Heroes of the Storm’s moniker as a “hero brawler” is nothing more than a clumsy exercise in branding. What frustrates me about Blizzard’s naming choice is that it makes the company seem like it’s trying to pretend like other major MOBAs and eSports simply don’t exist, or that HOTS is ignoring them. And that in turn makes the company seem tone-deaf. It’s like the way that HOTS game insists on calling ultimate abilities “heroic abilities” instead.

Ultimate abilities are the super-powerful abilities that each character in a MOBA unlocks over the course of a match. They take longer to unlock and level up than other abilities because of their game-changing potential — they can do things like wipe out an entire enemy team or save your whole team in a millisecond or two. Every other MOBA I’ve ever played calls them ultimate abilities. Even Overwatch, Blizzard’s now team shooter-ish multiplayer game, has similar moves that it calls ultimate abilities.

Is using “heroic” instead of “ultimate” a big deal? I think it is. Once you consider how Blizzard’s shoutcasters for Heroes of the Storm all use the word “heroic” instead of “ult” or “ultimate” the way that shoutcasters in Dota 2 and League of Legends do. Changing the name of an important feature and gameplay motif, just like changing the genre title, makes Heroes unnecessarily confusing and foreign to MOBA fans, eSports enthusiasts, and ultimately gamers as a whole. It’s more fun for everyone when gamers and game developers can converse with one another about why they think something works in HOTS (or whichever game) better than it does in League or Dota 2. Or vice versa.

Having a common language makes it easier to speak to one another in the same language. Blizzard trying to reverse course on established terminology and rhetoric just seems kind of…odd in comparison. “MOBA” and “ult” might be funny sounding words, but they exist for a reason: because a culture created and popularised them — the same culture that Heroes exists in, whether Blizzard wants it to or not.

It’s ultimately the developer’s decision to call its game whatever the hell it wants, of course. But it takes a lot of hubris to step into an established genre and the community (and industry!) that’s formed around it and try to demand everyone start using a different language. Genres are most useful and helpful for gamers when they help bring people together under a common barrier to bask in their mutual appreciation of something. Blizzard trying to plant Heroes of the Storm’s flag somewhere outside of the established MOBA and eSports communities helps divides gamers instead.


  • MOBA started out as a marketing term from Riot to establish League of Legends. For a long, long time, Dota and HoN players rejected the term because the newcomer made it. The problem was that every other suggestion was just as silly and nowhere near as well known. In the end, MOBA stuck.

    It’s completely arbitrary. Blizzard can insist that their game is a Hero Brawler. They can change the names of all the key elements. In the end, everyone knows that they’ve made a MOBA for players that don’t want to play MOBAs. That’s cool. That’s a hell of a niche that was begging to be filled.

  • I disagree, MOBA is a stupid term because even you (the Kotaku MOBA fan/writer) doesn’t seem to fully understand what it means.
    All of my descriptors apply to Heroes of the Storm, just as they apply to League of Legends and Dota 2 — the two most popular MOBAs
    Well firstly 2 games isn’t enough to base a pattern on so let’s at least include HoN and Smite too, but even without them, that simply isn’t true.

    It’s played from an isometric top-down perspectiveSmite isn’t.
    Each base is protected by one or more lines of defensive turrets that attack any enemy who gets within range.New heroes map would bg to differ.
    Each player controls a single “hero” character with unique assets and in-game abilities.Cho’gal? Lost Vikings?
    I don’t know that ‘hero brawler’ is really the best term but I really don’t think MOBA is much better.

    • Monday Night Combat and Super MNC are arguably MOBAs and they are played from a 3rd Person shooter perspective

  • The genre can pretty much be determined by taking an in-game screenshot – if you looked at a single game play picture of Dota 2/LoL/HotS/HoN they would all appear the same in essence. What distinguishes them most is IP and engine.

    There are other MOBAs out there though which are perhaps better described as 3rd person MOBA (eg. Smite) and of course the coming FPS MOBA Battleborn.

    To be honest though I don’t think people give a donkey’s bottom if Blizzard call it a hero brawler or MOBA.

  • I couldn’t care less if they called HotS a FPS with Simulation elements… I’m still going to play it…
    I don’t really think that Blizzard are harming the game by not calling it a MOBA…
    I mean I could call my cat a Gopher, but it’s still going to be a cat…

  • My friends have always referred to them as dotaclones. Heroes is the only dotaclone I’ve ever being able to get into because it doesn’t let balance get in the way of fun.

    • Most new game genres started out being known as “XYZ clones” where early on it was dominated by a particular game. Those names don’t usually stick when the genre expands.

      You would get odd looks if you referred to Call of Duty as a “Doom clone” these days rather than an “FPS”, or random sandbox games as “GTA clones”.

  • We all know the correct genre term is A.S.S.F.A.G.G.O.T.S

    Aeon of Strife Style Fortress Assault Game Going On Two Sides

    But seriously, Blizzards refusal to even acknowledge the genre that spawned their game is pure petty childishness

  • no interesting in any of those games personally but i bet some marketing consultant was paid alot of money to come up with “hero brawler”

  • In my experience by taking all those rules and throwing them out your therefore making an entirely new type of game, yes it looks and feels like a moba but it changes so much of the mechanics it literally doesn’t really compare to the other games as a moba. I personally play league, dota 2, and hots and I can see why blizzard doesn’t refer to the game as a moba.

  • In my experience HoTS is a hero brawler due to the fact it breaks so many of the well established rules of mobas. Therefore you can say because it breaks those rules it becomes something else entirely, making it both incomparable and comparable to mobas at the same time. I won’t deny it looks and plays like a moba, but I’ve always found heroes to be extremely different from league and dota 2, both of which you can win by not capturing objectives. Herod makes it to where you can’t ignore those making it impossible to win unless you do.

  • Don’t see the big deal lol…

    You and your friends call them moba’s. Others call abilities ults. Who cares? 😀

  • I’m not sure what part of everyone knows its a moba for people who don’t want to play mobas is all about I know plenty of people who are good DotA 2 and LoL players who choose to play HotS because not only is it something a bit different but also a lot more time manageable.

  • This article is much ado about nothing and The author just spent 6 paragraphs repeating himself. Are revenue figures hurting blizzard because they’re specifically not calling it a MOBA? I seems to recall something similar happening with Warcraft 3 when they started emphasising the heroes and not wanting to call the game an RTS. I mean, it was still an RTS, but with heroes. Same thing with HotS, and everybody just gets on with the business of playing games.

    • This is exactly what I thought. I was going to write a 6 paragraph reply as to why reading this article hurt my head, but I figured I’d just go play HotS instead.

  • Not calling it a MOBA when everyone knows that it is? That’s not what’s hurting the game.

    KDA is what’s hurting the game for many from what I’ve seen and read.

    It’s sad to see Blizzard taking the game’s team based focus away (which Takedowns really fostered) and moving to a more individual player focus (which is all KDA does).

    Before, ending a match with a lot of Takedowns was really satisfying and helped foster the idea that the team worked well together.

    Now, finishing a match with 2 or fewer Kills and a bunch of assists is extremely lacklustre in comparison and can lead to disappointment as well as potentially confusion and frustration.

    Whereas before players were seemingly more than happy to jump in and help a teammate in trouble, now I’m seeing more and more players hanging back from battles and waiting til the last second (usually just as the engaging player gets killed) to jump in and “steal” the kill for themselves.

    Why Browder would even think that his experiences with KDA in FPS games could be justification for not removing KDA in HOTS is ludicrous. They’re two completely different types of games.

  • Pretty stupid. MOBA could mean SW: Battlefront, or WoW Arena. Hero Brawler could also mean Streetfighter. What about if you had teams of pure villains in HotS like Diablo, the Butcher, etc. Is it still a hero brawler? Is it even Heroes of the Storm? It’s all semantics.

    While two players could control Cho’gall, they are technically controlling one “hero” still. Meepo has clones and that technically isn’t one hero… but it doesn’t change the genre. Even if you gave everyone two heroes each, the concept is the same. If you introduce WoW bg-type objectives, it still remains a MOBA. It’s just a marketing thing. Why? To avoid being the shi++iest of its genre? Put little Timmy in his own class so he’s the top student instead of being the worst? To appeal to those that have a moral objection to MOBA’s? Nobody cares… I’m pretty sure most people will call it a MOBA still.

    K:D(:A) ratios are informative. While players could be toxic over information, information is just the truth. Choosing to hide the truth or not for moral beliefs is censorship. Is that necessary for a happy little community? Who knows? But the benefit of K:D ratios is that it often helps to identify the current strength and liability of the players on the teams. Someone is going 10:0? Shut them down. Someone is 0:16? Call them out on it and encourage them to play more defensively. Your support hero is 0:2:12. They aren’t getting kills, they have died the odd time… but they have assisted a lot. With no kills but so many assists, they could probably really use gold. Help them get gold maybe. Maybe the gold and assist thing is more Dota2, but the rapid conveying of information and how uneven the playing field is, is important to players or spectators at a glance. The 10:0 Pudge is problematic and MvP! Vader has entered the dog fight! It’s a mental triage where attention is directed according to importance.

  • Hey, if Valve can hire some random arsehole who’s talking credit for someone’s else mod, and say their game is a sequel to DOTA, then Blizzard can call their game whatever the hell they want.

  • More Click fodder by using big name companies in the subject line (seems its blizzard turn recently). Great to see reporting with value.

    edit: if its not clear, no one will care nor does anyone report about it using something other than moba, the OP saw something he could get clicks out of and went with it whether its legit or not. Again, bravo for trolling for clicks.

  • Surely Blizzard was just avoiding the term MOBA in the hope that HoTS wouldn’t be directly compared to the 2 existing giants and subsequently slagged off because it’s different and for a lot of people different = SHIT. Now that people have accepted it for what it is and the game can surely be classified as successful (so far), perhaps not going back on it’s original genre classification is more about saving face than stifling the truth from the pitch fork wielding towns folk

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