Written by: EsportsJohn
Table of Contents
- Damage Density is Dangerous
- Quality of Life Improvements Are Too Good
- Reducing the Overall Damage Output
Decided to do a bit of a short article about my thoughts on StarCraft 2…and then it grew into this thing. I want to be very clear that StarCraft is quite honestly one of the best things that has ever happened to me; it completely changed my view of the world, and I’ve never been the same since I first discovered it. Nonetheless, I think it failed to live up to its potential, and it’s important to look back on the history of the game, how it evolved, how it came to be, and really think critically about how it was handled. It’s important to do this sort of analysis, not just because I just want to disagree with David Kim, but because I truly believe the developers didn’t think through their design decisions properly, and thus the finished product was botched beyond belief.
I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs with StarCraft 2, and since I’ve taken the long way around to playing Brood War, I feel I’m qualified to explain the design failures of StarCraft 2 accurately with a sober and impartial approach free from “arguments of nostalgia”. StarCraft has been a huge part of my life, and I feel it’s necessary to put down on paper all of the things that have been bothering me about its design and development from day one—and hopefully in the process, I can explain why some of these things came to be in the first place.
Note: I have not played Legacy of the Void since the first few weeks of release. I know a lot of people believe that the final expansion has made a lot of progress and created a much better game, but through my own observations, watching tournaments, and seeing others play, there are still plenty of core issues that still persist and taint the potential of this beautiful game. I want to avoid making too many Brood War vs StarCraft 2 arguments, but I think it would be willfully ignorant to gloss over the things that BW did correctly just to avoid a comparison argument.
Defender’s Advantage is Dead
If you play Brood War for only a moment, you will immediately notice the insane power of defender’s advantage. With the right units, you can hold a base forever against your opponent. For instance, literally no number of marine/medic will ever break three lurkers on top of a ramp, and Protoss can camp out on one base with Templar, Dark Archons, and Arbiters safely for pretty much eternity.
This sort of defense doesn’t exist in StarCraft 2. It’s not necessarily bad that the sequel got rid of high ground advantages that relied on RNG, but the effects on the gameplay were numerous and adverse.
Perhaps the largest difference is the emergence of the “deathball syndrome”. I don’t necessarily mean the emergence of large armies, but rather the phenomenon where players will always expand outward from their main while using a rather mobile army bouncing between bases to defend. From this issue arises a whole slew of other problems, from hard counters to uninteresting economic models to unit design issues.
Here’s an example: in Brood War, one of the key concepts, particularly for Zerg and Protoss players, is to expand to other corners of the map and create two “main bases” to work outwards from. This means that you can defend one base from your opponent’s attacks while slowly building up a force at the other base. When the big doom push comes knocking at your natural expansion, you can stall out with defilers or templar while continuing to amass forces at the other corner of the map.
If you attempt this sort of strategy in StarCraft 2, one or both of your bases will likely be overrun very quickly unless your opponent doesn’t scout it. This was attempted many times in the game’s infancy, and there’s a reason why the tactic quickly died out.
A Thought Experiment
Think abstractly for a moment. Two kings are at war with one another. King Raynor has only one castle, but King Artanis has two castles placed a reasonable distance apart. If Raynor wants to take over Artanis’s empire, he will want to invade both castles. He can either split his forces and risk being unable to break either or he can overrun them one at a time; naturally, Raynor will decide to dedicate all of his forces toward one target to avoid splitting his damage too much.
Assuming unlimited resources, the king with two castles will always win. Artanis can stall out Raynor’s siege for a very long time while gathering his forces at his other castle, eventually gathering a critical mass that will allow him surround and crush the invasion or attack Raynor’s base directly; Raynor will have to either sacrifice his castle (which he can’t) or retreat with his forces intact. Either way, Artanis with his two castles comes out ahead in the war.
If you remove the defender’s advantage—say, the two kings own camps on large fields—there are few incentives to creating large camps far away from each other (though you do have the perk of being able to relocate easily). Instead, the kings will tend to clump up their resources and rely more on mobile troops who can switch very quickly between attack and defense to guard their land. History will show that this is often the case in less advanced regions, with examples such as the Huns during Atila’s reign or the Iroquois Indians in the plains region of North America; the group that was proficient on horseback and owned many horses was always on the winning side.
The second example is much closer to the accidental design of StarCraft 2. It’s not necessarily bad, but it does create a situation where bases must be tightly clustered and multi-purposed units with a lot of mobility reign supreme. If you need a more concrete example, look at the one exception in Brood War: ZvZ. In that matchup, Sunken and Spore Colonies simply don’t attack quickly enough to deal with swarms of mutalisks or zerglings, therefore negating a lot of the defender’s advantage. As such, players constantly had to match their opponent’s army in order to defend against potentially fatal attacks.
You could argue that ZvZ was borderline chaos. StarCraft 2 took this a step further into to the extreme when things like instant reinforcement (Protoss Warp-ins, speedlings on creep) and hyper utility units (like the Queen or the Mothership Core) were added to the game and even further weakened the defender’s advantage. The road since then has never yielded us a comfortable design that felt manageable. Without the proper checks and a stable set of rules, this sort of mobile warfare devolves from a brilliant allocation of troops similar to Risk into absolute chaos.
The Deathball: An Unintended Side Effect
The thought experiment above is actually great for understanding different systems of warfare and even understanding some of the asymmetric balance that occurs between the races in StarCraft, but as you can see, it comes with some serious considerations. If bases aren’t spread out, what’s the point of spreading your army out?
Deathballs were something that emerged almost immediately in Starcraft 2‘s storied past, beginning with the horrific 1 food roach swarms during the beta. Many reasons were stated in the past as to why this particular phenomenon seemed to crop up: it was the fault of “unlimited” unit selection, damage density, hyper-mobile units, weak AoE, boring unit design, economic mining behavior, etc. There’s no doubt that these things may have exacerbated the problem, but at its core, it all began with a lack of defender’s advantage.
If you have a weak defender’s advantage and have to rely primarily on numbers, then positioning becomes much more important. In the late game, a large army can only be defended by an equally large army. It’s difficult to spare even a single unit to defend outlying bases, much less split your army in two. Thus, it makes more sense to move your army in a large ball between bases, using small groups and vision to deter possible counterattacks.
Blizzard’s Attempt to Fix the Problem
Legacy of the Void has attempted to artificially solve this problem by starving players out (“expand or die”) and forcing them to take blind chances with their positioning; they must split up their army and do harassment on several different fronts to protect their own economy while slowing down their opponent’s. You will always lose something, so it becomes a battle to see who can lose less—it’s skillful, but not necessarily fulfilling. For multiple reasons, I don’t believe this is fun (though I know others believe differently). More objectively, however, it creates a world in which a “perfect game” is impossible, a sentiment that many Korean players and coaches have shared with David Kim and the design team over and over—it’s not just very hard to play well, it’s literally impossible.
One of the beauties of Brood War is that it can actually nearly be mastered. Basic macro and positioning is difficult to do, but very much achievable with many intermediate steps along the way. Most of the difficulty is in the PvE aspect, so you feel great if you played a game with high APM, great macro, and a well-executed strategy. From there, it’s a battle with your opponent to see who can out-multitask the other. That’s where the endless challenge of Brood War lies, and it’s an endless pursuit as long as players play the game competitively.
On the other hand, Legacy of the Void has an extremely low barrier of entry but forces you to make blind decisions regarding your tech, scouting, and army positioning. While this can be entertaining from a spectator’s perspective (for those “big moments”), it’s nigh impossible to practice properly because of the game’s ever-changing nature depending on the opponent, their build, and their playstyle; you cannot become proficient without either having innate godlike twitch mechanics or an uncanny ability to read your opponent and guess their next move.
To reiterate, this is a band-aid fix for a problem that runs much deeper than the surface. It’s not necessarily accurate to give the game an inherent property that actually means something, but for a game that is based on economics, Starcraft 2 fails on the premise of making economics meaningful. Unit interaction and throwing a wrench in your opponent’s plans take up a far more meaningful role than building bases and managing resources.
There are some potential fixes that could have helped to fix deathballs (such as better defender’s advantage, stronger space control, or some sort of innate base defense that can defend against small numbers of units), but a starvation economy and an increased focus on harassment has done nothing but destabilize the game.
Damage Numbers Are Out of Control
One of the key features of StarCraft 2 has always been its quick pace and smooth graphics. Compared to Brood War (or really any other RTS that came out around the same time), it runs on a beautiful, efficient engine. Everyone who’s seen a dragoon take 20 minutes to find the entrance to a ramp knows exactly the frustration that older generation RTS’s posed in terms of unit movement and animation. StarCraft 2, on the other hand, was revolutionary.
For the first time, units would glide over the terrain with precision and accuracy. Micro tricks like marine splitting, blink stalker micro, and ling/baneling wars were the apex of the game’s achievements; nothing in the world takes your breath away like watching a pro player split marines like a god. Anyone who argues for the wonky glitches and awkward unit interaction from older generation RTS’s is living in a fantasy world. Either way, we still have to face the fact that the smoothness of the engine did cause some unintentional problems.
The first inherent problem is the tendency for units to clump up. If you select a large group of units and click at a designated location, the engine will give each and every unit a command to walk to that exact spot on the map, hindered only by unit collision. Not a big deal, but it does create some issues in that groups will always travel in clusters. Add in “unlimited” unit selection, and you’ve got yourself a good old-fashioned “deathball”. One of the beauties of older generation games was that units moved in waves or small, kind of square-like groups that was messy and required micro management to keep it in line.
A ball, however, is the perfect shape for damage. With ranged units, it applies equal DPS on all sides and naturally protects itself from surrounds by eliminating the gaps in between ranks and reducing surface area. Most importantly, it greatly increases the damage density.
Damage Density is Dangerous
Damage density is the damage per second per square inch (or foot or meter or what have you). In other words, clumped up units do more damage per second.
So what makes this different from any other game? Critical mass. If you continue adding to the ball, eventually you reach a point where the diameter of the ball exceeds the range of the unit. When all of the units cannot fire at once, the ball has reached critical mass and cannot generate a higher DPS except through a concave. What happens when you can select up to 100 units at a time in StarCraft 2‘s ultra smooth engine? The critical mass almost ceases to exist in a realistic game.
Some have speculated that increasing unit collision size or refining some of the movement behavior through unintuitive engine rules might fix this problem, but it’s unlikely that these changes would ever create a more stable or glossier interface that we have currently; we do not want to go back to a clunkier system.
Assuming that the engine mechanics are here to stay, we can only influence the behavior of deathballs (which is difficult for reasons stated above) or find a way to prevent the critical mass from sublimating everything in their path.
Quality of Life Improvements Are Too Good
The second major problem arising from StarCraft 2‘s engine is the ease of utility and the smoothness of the way the units move and behave. Again, these are great improvements in quality, but they can cause some serious issues if left unchecked.
Things like smart targeting, lack of overkill, and smart casting all play a part in making the user’s experience easy and consistent. In addition, the animations in the game are clean and functional without creating visual clutter. It’s honestly a marvel in game development how few bugs and glitches StarCraft 2 has. However, these quality of life improvements also make it really easy to focus damage and gun things down very efficiently.
Smooth unit movement also makes it incredibly easy to close distances with melee units or move armies up and down ramps like a flowing river. It makes everything more mobile, more slippery, and above all, more dangerous. Added to the quick speed of the game, there’s hardly time to react to unit movements and you will almost inevitably take some damage if you’re not paying close attention. It’s not uncommon to look away at your base and look back to find your army melting to colossi beams and Psionic Storms.
To put it simply: the fluid unit movement and attack animations in StarCraft 2 are simply too good for the current damage numbers. Damage numbers have grown out of control. Again, we definitely don’t want to relive the past, but we must adapt to the new technology better than we have so far.
Reducing the Overall Damage Output
The most elegant solution is a damage nerf across the board. Oracles should not be able to clear an unattended entire mineral line in seconds. A group of marine/marauder/medivac shouldn’t be able to level a base in the blink of an eye. A group of 12+ roaches shouldn’t be able to one-shot basically any unit in the game.
The game of StarCraft 2 is actually played a notch faster than originally intended, but as the standard game speed increased, the damage numbers stayed the same. As a result, the hectic race of trying to drop in two places while maneuvering your army in an intelligent way on top of macroing perfectly has always been a delicate balance. Many games have been won and lost by a single mistake, a single moment of inattention, and it’s largely because things just die too fast. For the most part, we got used to it, but the insane pace set by Legacy of the Void sped up the game even more and created a frantic atmosphere of drops, small skirmishes, non-committal expansions, and crazy strategies. It’s become a game of making less mistakes than your opponent rather than executing thoughtful strategies perfectly.
If you ask me, the base attack of most units in the game could be toned down by 20-50%. It would feel weird at first, but giving players more time to react, micro, and play around attacks might create an illusion that the game is not so chaotic as it seems sometimes. Large spell threats like Psionic Storm, Ravager bombs, or Widow Mines could remain the same to retain those big moments where attention is absolutely necessary, but preventing critical masses from mowing down everything in sight instantly could create much more interesting game dynamics than we see currently.
Macro Mechanics Were a Bad Idea
I don’t think there should be any argument here, to be honest. Macro mechanics were designed as a way to keep players doing things and paying attention to their bases, a problem the developers appropriately identified when they simplified/smoothed out a lot of the UI. Increasing the ease of play by allowing workers to be rallied automatically, shift-clicking buildings, and increased maximum unit selection were all good things (it would be ignorant to say otherwise), but they had one major drawback: they made the game a little too easy to play. Working with the smaller maps and confined spaces to build at the time, the developers calculated that something needed to be worked out so that players had to look at their bases occasionally. The result was macro mechanics.
At the outset, it didn’t seem as if they posed any large overarching problems. Hilariously small maps like Steppes of War and Slag Pits were dominated by proxy cheeses which Terran and Protoss benefited from most, but macro mechanics allowed non-stop action during these elongated one base vs one base fights. On large maps, there seemed to be no adverse side effects other than 4-gate rushes and speedling openings. It was apparent that one-base tech was coming out a little too quickly, but that could always be solved with research time adjustments (like the ones for the bunker, warp gate timing twice, banshees, reapers, etc.); large scale macro games, however, showed no real signs that the macro mechanics caused issues. It was difficult at this time for the creators to actually gauge whether macro mechanics or some of the more common things like unit design, timing, and maps were the issues with imbalance.
In hindsight, it’s strange that they overlooked a core aspect of the game for more variable objects. While numbers or functionality of a unit can be changed to affect one circumstance, macro mechanics affected all parts of play in every circumstance. If something so core to the game isn’t accurately vetted and tested, there’s no telling what the long-term effects of it will be, and in this case, all it did was artificially speed up the game.
The Inject Larva Arms Race
When we finally reached open mapmaking that gave fair opportunity to all races and Zerg could freely take third bases, Inject Larva started an arms race. This is when we began to truly see the “three base cap” and big deathballs emerge, and it was all because Zerg could instantly remax their army off of four injected hatcheries. I personally believe the first time that macro mechanics became truly problematic was Stephano’s roach max build. This wasn’t some chimerical idea that had never been thought of before, but it did change the way that many players looked at production and defense. After that, Terran players began to build extra CCs earlier, Protoss players began taking bases earlier, Zergs got even more aggressive with their expansions—the greed got out of control because whatever drawbacks the player took from expanding early were more than made up for within a minute or two due to the macro mechanics. The economic boost gained through Chronoboost, MULEs, and Inject Larva sped up the early/mid game to an alarming speed and ushered in an artificial late game with monstrous armies.
Within a few months, the game had evolved from a mosh pit of one and two base aggressive plays and awkward macro play to a calculated game of risk that balanced greed and safety on a knife’s edge while abusing macro mechanics. Pretty soon, everyone was able to get to three bases rapidly without any danger, and we began an era of 2-base all-in or max. A few odd turtle strategies like mech or swarm host play emerged, but generally the game revolved around one thing: getting a third base and maxing out.
Legacy of the Void and Macro Mechanics
These problems persisted late into the second expansion and into Legacy of the Void. As the game grew into larger maps and freer bases, the developers began to realize they had made a huge error. The attempt was made to artificially slow down the rate of expansion and maxing out with their economic changes as well as the introduction of several more units who could break fortifications or harass mineral lines with ease. Following an outcry that the game was too difficult, the developers decided now was a good time to address macro mechanics and maybe even remove them altogether.
Removing MULEs, Chronoboost, and Inject Larva was probably the best thing they could have done with the game, but a surprising amount of backlash from the community pressured developers into bringing them back. Faux arguments that macro mechanics showed skill, allowed more choices, or were an integral part of StarCraft 2 were all fallacies backed by nostalgia; all of them failed to recognize that the insane arms race generated by macro mechanics are the reason why the game needed an economic adjustment to begin with. Removing them provides far more meaningful decisions in regards to your army positioning, how you harass, and your opening build.
Think for a moment of an early game where variations of 4-gate timings aren’t two minutes apart. Think about how much more predictable that particular pressure will be. All builds would take a little longer to get off the ground, harass units like oracles or cyclones would come out later (and at a much more reliable time), and scouting in the early game would actually be somewhat difficult. Mind games and proper control become paramount, but no longer does each player need to take risks to account for an impossibly early rush that might kill them instantly. Bases are taken somewhat more organically as players take a bit longer to mine out. There’s more early game interaction between units and less positional guesswork involved.
That’s the sort of StarCraft that feels strategic.
It’s been a while since I’ve sat down at my computer every day and made a concerted effort to write something. For whatever reason, I guess I felt like regressing to that “writing only as inspiration comes” method would somehow serve me better. Consider this post the first of what will probably eventually become a failed attempt at consistency.
It’s easy to talk about myself and how I have problems, etc., etc., but I’m going to try and focus on a more analytical approach to a random subject and try to get some ideas that I’ve had in my head out and onto the page. Today’s topic: the spectator-analyst and the hoax of qualified opinions.
In short, the spectator-analyst is the person who watches the game from afar without the burden of actually playing. A more direct definition: a backseat driver.
We’ve all seen it a thousand times. Zuna tries to make a huge play and ends up finding himself caught in the middle of the opposing team with no support. “ZunaFeed” and “LUL” fill the Twitch chat as the viewers work themselves into a frenzy over what appears to be the dumbest play ever, and Reddit posts immediately crop up criticizing the player for his poor choices and/or his mechanical errors. The casters try to make sense of it, but the one story on everyone’s mind is how “retarded” you have to be to make a play like that. If you’ve found yourself saying the same things, don’t worry—you’re not alone.
I’m just using Zuna as an example here, but this sort of thing happens to even the most consistent players in almost any competitive scene. Whether you play Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends, basketball, or badminton, there will always be mobs of people trying to tear down your play and explain the what the proper decision was.
But is that okay?
Let’s be real. The skill range of Twitch chat is comprised scores of Bronze-Plat players, quite a few Diamond/Masters players, and maybe a handful of Grandmasters. So it’s impossible to tell exactly who has an well-informed opinion on the subject unless you recognize the name. Still, all fall prey to the same pitfall: they all have the luxury of observing the game without having to go through the mental and physical rigor of actually playing it and worrying about the outcome. Spectator-analysts are movie-goers at a dollar theater with overpriced popcorn, worried only about the entertainment at hand and typically very little invested into the actual outcome of the match. They do not need to predict the movements of the players or make decisions themselves; they can simply sit back and watch the show.
This is the difficulty of being a spectator-analyst: knowing that you have full information of the game and a much clearer view of what either play should or should not have done in order to achieve the best outcome. While a player is juggling a multitude of things on top of the pressure of performance, the spectator can focus in on a single asset and analyze it well after the play occurred. They don’t have to keep up morale or make the next call.
That said, opinions from spectators with full vision and time to focus on the gameplay are not necessarily bad. An analyst almost always has full knowledge of the games he or she is studying, and their opinion can be valuable feedback from time to time; at the very least, it is good discussion for the fans and fanatics who make up a sports/esports fan base. The player themselves typically know what they did wrong (hindsight is 20/20), usually better than the majority of viewers. In the case of Zuna or other top tier players, the levels of decision making are usually far beyond the average spectator.
The Hoax of Qualified Opinions
Which brings me to my next point: everyone is still free to have an opinion. When Reddit blows up with bronze-level spectator-analysts trying to shove their way into the conversation and say something intelligent, it’s easy to call them out on their skill level on the basis that “they don’t know what they’re talking about”. In fact, this idea gets blown out of proportion to the degree that some will say only pros can realistically comment on other pros’ play, and sometimes even less successful pros get shit on for giving their opinions on top tier Korean players. It becomes a weird metagame of opinion-shaming those who are opinion-shaming pros by method of opinion.
This is unfair and unfounded. The best coaches and analysts in the world are nowhere near the level of their players. The best coaches in StarCraft and League of Legends were never the best players of all time, and some of them never even really played professionally at all—Coach Park of SKT1 and later CJ Entus comes to mind. As I suspected (and the Internet confirmed), there are many football coaches who have never even played organized football as well. Though it definitely helps to have a certain level of skill, understanding of the game comes in many shapes, and it’s not hard to put two and two together sometimes.
Therefore, I think it’s important to base your criticism of opinions on the merit of the argument rather than the player. One word posts that say “ZunaFeed” are poor excuses for actual analysis and can be ignored. However, even if someone is low ranked or not quite at the same level as the player they are criticizing, it is the value of their explanation that matters most. A logical rationale and thoughtful response demands some respect. If some of the details are wrong, feel free to set the record straight, but don’t be that person who assumed you have to be somehow qualified to have a good opinion.
TL;DR Be aware of your position as a spectator-analyst and have mercy on the players when they do what appears to be “stupid”. Criticism and discussion is warranted where necessary, but there is no such thing as a “qualified opinion”, only a good or bad one.
Anyhow, I have ranted for a bit. I haven’t slept in a while, so I’m going to try and sleep now haha. This post was inspired in part by Frictional Games’ developer blog, which I always enjoy reading.
The two keys to victory in any Heroes of the Storm game are battleground objectives and teamfighting. Combined, these two things are what makes or breaks a team in the late game. While there are many aspects to these two concepts, one can understand them almost entirely through role selection. What is your role on the team? How do you fit into the composition on the map? Controlling map objectives and winning teamfights is much easier for the team where everyone knows their role, and a self-aware team is a winning team.
A Word on Battleground Objectives
Most of this series has emphasized generalizations and avoided specific details, and a large part of that is due to the vast array of battlegrounds and objectives. It’s very difficult to explain rotations or solo laners without the context of the map. What’s the difference between a four-man rotation on a two lane map and a three lane map? Why is the solo lane more important on some maps than on others? Exactly how important is waveclear?
Different battlegrounds emphasize different roles, and certain heroes have higher priority over others depending on the battleground. For example, Towers of Doom is all about teamfighting since sieging is not particularly effective, but you can avoid teamfighting completely on Blackheart’s Bay as long as you have an effective jungler.
Poke is highly prioritized on battlegrounds with channeling objectives like Towers of Doom or Cursed Hollow because one or two heroes can almost indefinitely delay the objective while the rest of the team soaks experience or travels across the map. Objectives which require standing on a point tend to favor zone control heroes like Zarya, ETC, or Jaina. PvE maps like Blackheart’s Bay and Haunted Mines are dominated by good junglers who can take camps quickly and efficiently. Heroes that can sustain well on their own do particularly well on Infernal Shrines and Sky Temple where clearing the objective is a big deal.
Globals are obviously more valuable on larger battlegrounds than smaller ones, but they’re never particularly bad. Certain cheese compositions like Stitches/Medivh or Medivac Core rush even appear from time to time on specific maps.
I could talk for days explaining each of the maps, but suffice it to say that players must adapt to the map. Some heroes might change roles (like sieger to solo laner) depending on the map, the composition your team has, and what your opponent is doing. Knowing what your hero does best and understanding your role on the team will help you to quickly identify how you need to adapt to the situation at hand.
As mentioned in Part 2, your positioning is based largely on your role, with tankier heroes staying near the front while more fragile heroes stand further away from danger. This is the most important part of setting up a good teamfight, but once the teamfight starts, there are important interactions to consider.
Every hero, regardless of build, plays differently in and against every composition. The interplay between abilities, synergies, anti-synergies, and counters all play a big role in terms of knowing how to approach fights and swing them in your favor. Don’t straightjacket yourself into one role or think there’s only one way to play a hero. You must adapt to each situation as it comes.
Before the game even loads, think about how your composition works together and what potential dangers you have to look out for in the enemy team. You may normally play a very aggressive Greymane, but if your composition doesn’t support it or the enemy team has a lot of disengage, it might be necessary to take a backseat and wait for better opportunities in teamfights rather than immediately jumping in. Similarly, you might be used to playing the passive CC tank, but if you’re playing Muradin in a double tank composition, you have some leeway to be more of a bruiser while your primary tank peels for the team.
Interrupts are huge in teamfights. Channeled abilities like Mosh Pit, Ravenous Spirit, or 1,000 Jugs can be game-changing if they go off for the full duration. If you have an interrupt, think about how and when you’re going to use it and anticipate your enemy’s movements. Similarly, Heroics with small windups like Twilight Dream and Sound Barrier can be interrupted to ruin the enemy team’s engagement.
The same goes for big disengagement tools like Gust or Horrify. Time them well, think about the proper time to use them. If the enemy team has disengages, try to bait them out before actually committing to a full fight.
Another important aspect to teamfighting is knowing who to focus. The mantra “kill Morales or gg” isn’t far from the truth, but it’s not always the right call. If you can reliably get damage into the back line while trading favorably, you should go for it. Otherwise, it’s best to maintain the proper positioning and whittle away the front line.
Think about where your high-impact abilities fit in, and keep track of your opponent’s important abilities. If you can figure out even a simplified version of the complicated jigsaw puzzle that is teamfighting before the fight begins, you have a much higher chance of winning it.
Now that you know a bit more about hero roles and what each hero can do, it’s important to understand how that role plays into your positioning on both a macro and micro scale. On the macro scale, your role determines where you need to be on the map at any given time. On the micro scale, it’s all about positioning in teamfights and skirmishes.
Macro positioning is difficult to explain fully without an extensive guide on lane configurations, but I will do my best to lay out some of the basic ideas. On all maps, side lanes generally belong to solo laners while the other four members inhabit the other lane or lanes. Side lanes are generally “safer” from ganks compared to the mid lane but are also more isolated, especially on large maps where objectives can spawn far away. A few players tend to roam between lanes looking for ganks.
First and foremost, supports should almost always be with at least one other teammate to maximize their healing value—some exceptions can be made for double healer compositions or Rehgar, who also happens to be an excellent jungler. If you are sitting in a lane alone as a Lúcio or some other low impact support, you’re often in the wrong place. It would be more beneficial to join the rest of the team than to soak the lane, even at the cost of experience. This is a very common mistake, especially at low level play. Do not solo lane as your team’s solo support; always be next to the majority of your team.
Heroes with globals like Falstad, Dehaka, and Brightwing get considerably more value from side lanes. While soaking in a side lane they can still quickly travel to the other side of the map and help out with objectives or teamfights. In addition, side lanes build up more minions and push harder due to the extended length of the lane.
Tanks will generally lead rotations and look for ganks on other lanes, but that is not always ideal, especially in weird Quick Match compositions. The main thing you’re looking for in rotations is good CC and damage from heroes like ETC, Tyrande, or stealth heroes. In comparison, Lúcio, Zarya, or Nazeebo are usually not ideal for rotations due to their low burst, poor waveclear, and lack of CC.
Sieging heroes tend to have weaker rotations but excel at pushing an individual lane with their good sustain and/or long-range damage. On two-lane maps without big rotations like Braxis Holdout or Haunted Mines, these heroes gain substantially more value. Ideally, you want three or four heroes in a sieging lane (usually support, siege, and one or two DPS), but this may not always be possible in uncoordinated games.
Don’t forget to respond to your opponent’s composition either. For instance, if you’re playing Alarak into Chen, you know you always want to follow the Chen around so that you can prevent him from pushing. Heroes of the Storm is more dynamic than just choosing a lane and playing against whoever is there; you have to actively change tactics depending on the situation.
When it comes to fighting, your positioning is largely determined by role—the tankier you are, the more aggressive your posturing usually is. By extension, tanks should theoretically stand in front with assassins slightly behind them or to the side, and the healer should be standing safely in the back. This setup is never static and constantly changes, but it’s an important concept to keep in mind.
As a healer, your number one goal is to stay out of harm’s way and keep your team alive. When you play too aggressively as a support player, not only are you wasting your healing output on yourself, you are also putting yourself at risk and forcing your team to spend precious resources trying to save you rather than focusing on the proper targets. Certain supports like Kharazim and Rehgar lend themselves to a more aggressive playstyle, but a certain balance must be struck between passive and aggressive posturing.
Tanks have to maintain a distance between the back line and the enemy team. One of the biggest mistakes for newer players is to jump headfirst into a fight as a tank because it’s easy to stay alive. However, when they opt for this YOLO playstyle, they tend to neglect their primary duty as a tank, which is to shield the back line from danger.
Likewise, assassins should avoid a gungho approach. As a rule, the tank should be in front of the rest of the team (with a few notable exceptions), so if you’re an assassin, especially a ranged one, standing in front of the tank during a teamfight is probably a mistake. Ranged assassins should follow the tank during fights and allow them to soak as much damage for them as possible before making any very aggressive plays.
There are some assassins, particularly melee assassins, that excel in getting good flanks and deleting someone in the back line. I won’t go over this too much, but it’s important to constantly weigh the risk vs reward of the situation. Often, the safe play is better than an overly ambitious engagement.
Teamwork is the most important aspect of Heroes of the Storm. With other MOBAs, you can get ahead with pure mechanics and good decision making, but the shared experience in HotS prevents any one person from standing out from the rest of the team. As such, the team must come before the individual.
However, as far as practice goes, it all starts with the individual, and specifically, knowing your role on the team.
I talk about this subject all the time—and I’m certain I’ve written about this before—but there is always room for reiteration. The best way that you can make maximum usage of your team is by improving your own gameplay through understanding your role. Once you understand where you’re supposed to be, what you’re supposed to be doing, and how to do it correctly, you can enable your teammates to do better and win the video game.
Your role is determined by your hero
On a macro level, your “role” can be defined as support, tank, damage, or siege (or Blizzard’s own categories of Support, Warrior, Assassin, or Specialist). When you pick a front liner like Muradin or Johanna, you know that your role is tank; if you pick a hero like Valla or Greymane, you focus on maximizing damage output. The broad categories can be described as following:
- Support – Your job is to keep everyone alive and enable your allies to make big plays. Do not die. Your team cannot take a fight without you.
- Tank – The front line is designed to insulate the enemy team’s attacks from hitting the back line and engage the enemy team. Protect your supports and damage dealers first. You become a liability if you play too aggressively or leave your teammates behind, even if you don’t die.
- Damage – DPS characters generally make the “flashy” plays by pouring out the damage. While it’s never good to die in this game, assassins are more expendable when it comes to making trades.
- Siege – Some heroes excel specifically at dealing damage to buildings or pushing lanes. This is perhaps the most nebulous category, but this group usually provides lane pressure that forces the enemy team to respond.
Aside from broad roles, each hero has their own subcategories depending on their abilities. For example, the difference between Tyrael and Muradin on the front line is gigantic; one has speed boosts and a huge teamfight Heroic while the other one is a master of disruption with stuns, slows, and debuffs.
It’s difficult to pin down heroes based on their characteristics, but certain traits will shoo them into one category or another. Understanding the minutiae of these traits and how they interact with one another also makes a huge difference in your drafting ability and allows you to compensate for weaknesses or reinforce your team’s composition.
- Waveclear – Waveclear is one of the most important tools in the game, so it’s important to weigh the costs of pick potential, damage, or tankiness against whether you can clear lanes effectively.
- Crowd Control – Often referred to as CC, crowd control includes stuns, slows, silences, or any sort of debuff. Stronger CC often results in better picks, harder engage, and better peel.
- Disengage – Being able to stop or pause a fight is invaluable. Big Heroics like Mighty Gust, Sanctification, and Void Prison are particularly impactful, especially against hard engage compositions.
- Sustain – Sustain refers to your ability to stay out on the field without having to back for health or mana. Having good sustain is important for long battles, but sacrificing sustain for harder engage can sometimes be effective.
- Mobility – Some heroes suffer from a lack of mobility which can make it difficult to play with or against certain heroes. The trade off in damage, heals, etc. is sometimes worth the lack of mobility, though.
- Globals – Global influence is key in the current metagame. Being able to influence multiple areas on the map can net your team some extra experience, structure damage, or even just turn the tides of a fight.
- Raw DPS – Characters with high damage need the proper setup to deal their damage. When it comes to drafting, you need to have enough damage to deal with the enemy composition or justify a lack of sustain in your own composition.
- Tankiness – All characters have differing amounts of tankiness which allows them to position more or less aggressively. Tankier heroes can often play more aggressively than others.
This is by no means a definitive list, but it’s a good place to start thinking about the capabilities of your hero and how they fit into the rest of your team’s composition.
Even more specifically, there are roles like “solo laner”, “bruiser”, “jungler”, etc. which combine a lot of these concepts. For instance, a solo laner typically has good sustain, strong poke, and usually some form of global (i.e., Dehaka or Falstad). I will not go into all the particulars here, but just understand that every hero has a bunch of unique traits which define their role on the team, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
As of today, HeroesHearth is officially online. Touted as a Heroes of the Storm-exclusive social media network, HeroesHearth offers several standard networking features alongside some unique game-specific tools.
HeroesHearth is a social media site like Facebook or Twitter with one small twist: it’s designed entirely around the Heroes of the Storm community. Think about your Facebook account—now imagine your friends list with only people interested in talking about HotS instead of all of your relatives and friends from high school you never talk to anymore.
Formerly TheNexusGG, the site has undergone a complete makeover since the server crash three months ago. In addition to standard features like like status updates, likes, and comments, it also includes several tools specific to Heroes of the Storm including a blog tool, a build publisher, a tier list creator, and a LFG finder.
What makes this different from the Heroes subreddit or any other forum? HeroesHearth is a one-stop shop for all things Heroes-related. If you want to chat with James “Bakery” Baker—the real one—you can easily strike up a conversation or read his latest blog on how pro players aren’t necessarily great balance designers. If you’re looking for a group of similarly skilled friends to queue up Team League with, you can find them. If you want to show off a cool new build you just discovered on Gazlowe, go for it!
The site itself is sleek, modern, and professional. The main page is a standard news feed with a sidebar of recent blog posts, trending tags, Reddit history, and a list of streamers. Some of the controls aren’t very intuitive, but it doesn’t take long to figure out what all of the buttons do. Also, night mode is available, which is always a plus.
Unfortunately, the site does contain some ads, but according to the HeroesHearth Patreon, the site will be become self-sufficient at their first goal of $500 per month.
It’s not clear if the site will be self-sustaining in the long run, but it’s an interesting take on a classic idea in an effort to build a close-knit community of like-minded fans. At the very least, it’s worth signing up and trying it out.
For more updates, you can also follow HeroesHearth on Twitter.
Rumors that Blizzard has been hard at work on a remastered version of StarCraft: Brood War, the first major esport, are surfacing in Korea. But don’t get your hopes up—this isn’t the first time these stories have appeared.
According to a post by Waxangel on TeamLiquid.net, an article from Sports Seoul reported Blizzard’s plan to release an updated version of StarCraft: Brood War called StarCraft: Remastered around May or June of this year.
Industry sources say that the remastered version will include upgrades to graphics and the Battle.net service without changing the core gameplay. Further announcements are anticipated as early as next week.
The report cited “industry insiders”, particularly esports broadcasters and sponsors, who were secretly informed during BlizzCon 2016.
The original article also implied that the remastered version would be only a graphical update while maintaining gameplay—a feat which has proven impossible time and time again with games like Counter-Strike: Source and Halo: Anniversary. It was also mentioned that more information would be revealed “in November”, which many took to mean “at BlizzCon”.
BlizzCon came and went, and no further information about a Brood War update was released. The rumor died down in the following months, but now it’s been reignited eight months later for more speculation.
It’s possible that development has actually been taking place throughout this long chain of events—after all, Blizzard is notorious for taking time to perfect their projects. Then again, it could just be another baseless rumor. I guess we’ll find out in June.
Interview by: EsportsJohn
Table of Contents
I had the unique chance to interview Khaldor last week as he finally sorted out his visa issues and prepared for the move overseas to cast the Heroes Global Championship in Southern California. However, just as one door opens, another one closes; Khaldor is coming to finally claim his spot, but Kaelaris is unfortunately on his way out. The lovable Brit brought us plenty of laughs and epic Core rushes for the first five weeks of HGC, but for now he must part ways with HotS fans until at least the Mid-Season Brawl.
Fascinated by this revolving door, I felt compelled to get both sides of the story and reached out to Kaelaris for an interview. There’s lot of emotions involved in such a fond farewell, and it become quite evident during the interview that, despite his upbeat and optimistic attitude, this was goodbye (for now). Luckily, we also had a chance to chat a bit about the art of commentating and leading the analyst desk as well as his deep love for Ragnaros. All in all, Kaelaris a pretty stand-up guy, and he will be missed.
On Casting HGC
Let’s start off with how you ended up casting HGC. Obviously, you were filling in for Khaldor while he got his visa sorted out. Is there more to that story, or did Blizzard just call you up one day and ask, “Hey, can you come to the US for a few weeks and cast HGC?”
Well, initially it was supposed to be just one or two weeks. Overall, it turned out that Khaldor’s visa would take a little more work and time to figure out, so that turned into five weeks. But yeah, to begin with, they just reached out to my boss [at ESL] and the usual discussions happened from there for an external event. I’ve spent a lot of time in hotels over the now seven years doing this job, but never a full five week stint. It stirred up a lot of negative and positive emotions—from being homesick one day, to never wanting to leave the next haha.
Khaldor and I talked a little bit about how the HGC production has far exceeded a lot of expectations. After being there on a day-to-day basis, what were your impressions?
So being ESL, I’ve been involved in a lot of productions now, be it in front or behind the camera. In usual British fashion, I’m always sceptical going in and wait for results to prove themselves. Needless to say, I too was pleasantly surprised at how the first couple of weeks went. Leagues like this with usually have a one or two major technical hiccups to start, and many small ones. HGC, though, only really had a few small ones, skipping the larger ones. I think we did well to produce something that technically sound, that fast. There’s always room for improvement though. I have a million and one ideas about segments, additions, etc. But I’m not there full time so…maybe one day!
The crew there are a pleasure to work with. Everyone smiling and you get a real sense of family there. I felt so comfortable with them on Sundays after EU broadcast had finished, I would commandeer the conference room with our video editor Nick, and switch the screen to WWE PPVs haha. When the crew were on break, they’d come and enjoy the wrestling even though they had no clue really and were probably mocking it a little, but I don’t mind that! I’ll miss them dearly.
I believe this is your first time casting with Trikslyr? How was that? A lot of people on Reddit and social media commented about the playful synergy between you two compared to the more “serious” attitude of other casters like Khaldor or Dreadnaught.
So in terms of a long time partnership, this is the first time we’ve worked together so closely. However, we actually casted SC2 together five years ago! It was one or two times online for some smaller cups that were set up. So of all the people on that crew, he’s the person I’ve known the longest!
I mentioned this in a tweet at the end of last year, but I’ll say it again for sake of context: I have a lot of faith in Trik’s abilities to blossom. During the interview process, I had brought up his name as one of the better people to work with purely based on his outlook and personality. I’ve worked with a lot of people, and as such, I know what makes a good co-commentator. Attitude and personality make up a lot of that, so knowing Trikslyr has a brilliant perspective and upbeat mentality really confirmed to me that our duo would have great potential before we even stood at the desk for the first time. He may not have the technical brilliance of an international level commentator just yet, but the foundation is certainly there. He’s a fast learner with a splendid ambition to improve.
I’m glad the spectators and fans enjoyed our duo as much as we did. We both loved working together and were very sad when I had to leave. It’s rare you find that kind of chemistry with someone in this business where it all just clicks. Hopefully we get more chance to in the near future.
You also mentioned in a tweet that you and Dreadnaught “complement each other perfectly”. Is that a casting duo we might see in the future?
Ha, Dread and I are very good friends. We share intimate secrets and PIN numbers!—(not a recommended form of security). Unusual really, since we’re both just pretty introverted people in real life, but we meshed well together throughout 2016. I think we understand each other very well, and as such, have a different kind of special chemistry to a conventional casting duo. When looking at it from a critical perspective, I think that our strengths and weaknesses balance out each other perfectly. My hosting and play-by-play are very strong from doing this for years, and his analysis is very strong from being an ex-player/shotcaller. That’s not to say we’re not confident in each others proficiency categories, but we compliment each other greatly.
I don’t know when or where we’ll see this duo in the future, but I think we both would like to.
On HGC Teams
Back to HGC, what’s been your favorite storyline throughout HGC EU so far?
There were definitely tiers that we anticipated going in to the first five weeks of HGC. While it was nice to see “The Big Three” establish themselves convincingly, and while I love my Dignitas boys, one of my most eagerly awaited matches was indeed expert vs Dignitas. Just the idea of “What if?” was really delightful. Admittedly, I’d built it up quite a bit the few weeks before (narrative is our job! imagine that!).
So expert was definitely one of them. I’m certain in a few months’ time they’ll start rivaling those top three spots in an even stronger fashion as long as they continue to have good friendship and synergy within the team. I also really enjoyed watching the progression of Playing Ducks and Tricked eSport. They’re another two teams that can only grow stronger with time. Goes to show how deep the quality is in Europe.
Happy to see Sportbilly playing so well on Falstad and Medivh as well. It can be a treat to watch, considering their position in the league.
Do you think that EU is flat out better than NA at the moment, or do you think that the competition at the Western Clash will be close? What about the matchup between EU and KR?
Half the time, I give a troll answer to this, but I’ll be serious for a moment.
NA was in a really odd spot for a long time. I think ever since the era of Tempo Storm and Cloud9 [in 2015], the skill level of the region fell relative to the rest of the world. I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly, but watching HGC NA, my fears for them are drafting patterns and also synergy within the game. None of the teams really show the same level of coordination that we see out of “The Big Three” in Europe right now. I’m not saying they’re bad, I just don’t know if they can match up, especially against Misfits and Fnatic, whose power levels are very strong right now. NA can upset at the Western Clash, though. Team 8 showed promise like I would have never imagined, and in a month or two, they could easily be number one in America if they continue down that path. Overall though, I’m expecting an EU first, second and third victory unless some upsets happen, which they could. NA isn’t that far behind, just need to tighten the play.
As for EU vs KR? I think right now there is still a clear number one in the world, and that’s L5 (previously Ballistix). I hear a lot of opinion about MVP Black being number two in the world, but honestly, I think that title is currently up for debate. Fnatic proved that they weren’t invincible at BlizzCon (admittedly, I don’t think Black were playing to true potency in that series). We’ll see how the new MVP Black roster stacks up against EU come the Mid-Season Brawl. If Fnatic could cause that upset in 2016, who is to say Misfits couldn’t also play at that scale?
On the Role of Host and Commentator
I’ve always loved your role on the analyst desk throughout 2016, especially as desk host. How does that differ from casting for you? Do you prefer one role over the other?
The preparation is very different when it comes to either being a commentator or desk host. I’ll give you an example. So as commentator, a lot of my prep will be figuring out what teams want to play, builds they like, maps they prefer, who is playing what heroes, how they will synergise, etc. Desk host prep is figuring out what questions the panel have a good idea about, how I can weave the narrative of the tournament/teams better, what players and plays we can truly highlight, transitions in speech from break / to graphics / to games. As desk host, I take a lot more time to talk to production pre-show, take a look at all the video segments and graphics so that my lead into them is seamless. Nothing rustles me more than a host saying something like “Let’s take a look at this video”, or “Let’s hear from them now”. There are far more powerful ways to lead into content that can reinforce the message or continue a strong sense of immersion.
People probably don’t notice it, because I’m paying attention to my preview monitor when I do it, but as a desk host, I’m making a lot of intentional eye contact and hand gestures to the guys at the analysis desk, leading where the conversation is going and checking if others have something to continue a point on.
All too often do I see desk hosts going too deep in to the analysis themselves in an attempt to…I guess “look smart”? I don’t know what the reason is, but that’s not why you’re there! You’re the enabler! I don’t think anyone questions my knowledge of the game when I’m in that role, so I really try to act as the mediator to draw information from the other members of the desk. Gives it a strong structure, and I think people subconsciously appreciate that.
I used to like casting more, but at the moment it’s 50/50. A lot of my casting during StarCraft actually trained me to desk host, but I didn’t realise it until it came time to actually host a desk. Reason being, is most of the time I would just be put alongside either an expert of ex-player, so enabling them in a duo was the same as enabling a desk.
That’s a lot of insight. I think the vast majority of people who watch don’t realize that anything special is going on at the analyst desk at all. It’s so easy from an outsider’s perspective to just think, “Hey, they’re just talking about the game”.
Yeah, it’s actually a fine science that I’ve worked hard at. I won’t say I’m anywhere near perfect, but I suppose my methods stand out more than others because I just have more experience under my belt. That and I live my job—I don’t stop thinking about it 24/7 lol.
You’re also one of the few Heroes of the Storm casters who still covers other esports at the highest levels (StarCraft 2). How do you manage to balance watching, playing, and commentating both games effectively?
Well, I kind of summed that up: I live the job. It’s a little easier for me to do multiple games because technically strong play-by-play is easier to accomplish in more titles than just one at the same time. Analysing multiple games full-time would be the hard part, but I can’t say I’m doing that in SC2. Therefore, most of my time is dedicated to Heroes and being good at understanding how and why the teams are playing as they do…as well as using my play-by-play because I’ve done it for 1,000,000 years now.
How do I balance the watching, playing and commentating? Easy, really; I have no personal life currently haha. Almost all my time is dedicated to this craft. So, be it at home or on the road, I’m either playing, watching or commentating Heroes or SC2. Then even during travel, I’m reading and studying things that can improve my job. For example, I’m reading lots of books right now to up my lore game even more—people seem to enjoy my little tid-bits in casts about that stuff!
eSports has definitely hurt my personal life in the past a lot, it makes it very hard to have proper relationships because most people just don’t understand the job and my passion for it, I guess. I’m probably one of the most secretly introverted people ever because people see me on cam and are like, “dude’s chill!” But I don’t like going outside hahaha.
On Future Plans
Well, it’s unfortunate to watch you leave; we’re definitely sad to see you go. It’s been a wonderful five weeks watching you cast HGC. What are your plans from here?
Thank you, truly. For me, the five weeks doing HGC were a fantastic time. I feel like I’m meant to be there, despite negotiations in 2016 not going the way I wanted them to. Business is business. That being said, I want to be back to doing Heroes ASAP, specifically the HGC. I feel like I can contribute and channel all my energy into that project to make it the great thing we want it to be. I hope I get that opportunity one day, because my mind overflows with ideas for Heroes, as I love this game.
2017 so far is partially planned out. I know more SC2 stuff for me is on the horizon currently, with who knows what other projects/games that may come along. I’m speaking to a few other devs/publishers about their endeavours into esports with new titles currently. I’m very thankful for my own drive in this space, and especially thankful for how easy it felt to just do any game I wanted to. I think being a gamer who played everything since I was very young left me with a good mindset for adaptation. Thanks Dehaka!
Any parting words?
Thanks for doing the interview with me! Always happy to give my thoughts. Thanks to Blizzard for bringing me out to do HGC, I adored my time there. Shoutout to my mum because I know she reads and watches everything I do haha—love you, mum. And shoutouts to Blizzard again for not giving Ragnaros the Heroic Firelands legs, because that was the worst thing that happened to Ragnaros ever, and I would die a little bit inside if I had to play my bae with legs :D.
TL;DR wanna do all things Heroes, give me Heroes, Ragnaros is Bae. All hail the Firelord. Get off Sulfuras, you dirty insect.
Interview by: EsportsJohn
Table of Contents
When the Heroes Global Championship (HGC) league was announced in early January, Khaldor was slotted as a permanent member of the casting crew for HGC Europe. Due to some difficulties securing a proper work visa, he has been unable to cast for the first half of Phase 1, but luckily Kaelaris has been there with great commentary—and plenty of Core rushes gone haywire—in his stead.
Khaldor has a deep history with Blizzard games ranging a period of over 10 years, from his earlier days of shoutcasting Warcraft 3, to his big casting debut in GSL Code A for StarCraft II, and now over two years of continuous casting, commentary, and analysis for Heroes of the Storm. As such, there’s no doubt that he’s the perfect fit for the job, and many have been eagerly waiting for his return to casting.
I was incredibly fortunate to catch his attention in early January for an exclusive interview. After he finally acquired the work visa, we chatted about the next chapter of his life and the new adventure that awaits him across the ocean at Blizzard’s production studio. We also talked about his aspirations for HGC, plans for the next phase of his life, and the future of Heroes of the Storm. I’m proud to present his thoughts here, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the game as we head into undoubtedly the most successful year of HotS so far.
On Moving to the States
You’re about to embark on a journey halfway across the world again. How is this different from your move to Korea to cast GSL Code A in 2011?
Well, I guess the first difference is that this time I already know that I’ll be staying for quite some time. When I traveled to Korea to commentate the GSL, I was only supposed to stay there for three months and ended up being there for three years in the end.
With the move to the US, I’m from the start aware that I’ll stay long enough to justify things like renting out an apartment from the get-go, buying a car, and so on. That’s a big difference when it comes to the preparations. And even though the recent politics sure are a roller coaster for the US, it will be much easier for me to adapt to another Western culture compared to the Korean lifestyle I had to adapt to when I moved to Seoul.
How long have you been planning this move? Was it fairly sudden or have you been in talks with Blizzard for a while?
I expected for quite some time that there might be an opportunity in the US. In the second half of 2016, I was already pretty sure that I would not stay in Germany for too much longer. I was thinking about moving to another European country (Spain in particular), and one of the reasons those plans never became concrete was that there was a pretty big chance that Blizzard might want to establish a league system for Heroes of the Storm which would, by default, require the casters to be bound to a specific location. The rumors were around for some time, so it didn’t come as a shock when Blizzard revealed details that confirmed it.
For the casting team, those plans became more detailed during BlizzCon when most of us also had interviews set up for the open positions. The decision on who’d be casting the league was made after BlizzCon, [which is when I] also started the planning phase for the move and, of course, the necessary working visa.
It seems like all of the visa issues are finally sorted out now, though.
Yes, the visa process took quite a long time since we had to apply for a proper working visa that would allow me to move and work in the US for an extended period of time. Thankfully though, that’s all sorted out now, and I got my passport including a valid working visa a few days ago.
In my last interview with you, we touched on the difficulty of getting “in” with Blizzard during the early period of HotS…now you’re definitely “in”. How does it feel?
There were definitely moments in 2015 when it wasn’t really easy for me, but I have to say that I was very happy to be so heavily included in 2016. I casted at every major European and Global event throughout the year and the highlight was of course to be part of the casting team at BlizzCon—which was for sure one of my highlights in Heroes of the Storm thus far.
Coming back to your question though, I have to admit that this is now a completely different level of involvement. It feels absolutely amazing to be chosen as one of the four official casters to commentate Blizzard’s HGC. Even though I haven’t had the chance yet to be part of the live production, the team included me wherever possible, and I can’t wait to be on-site to do my part.
Another big plus for me is the proximity to all the other departments working on Heroes of the Storm. I was always very interested in the game outside of esports, and simply having the option to talk more directly to people that I so far could only contact via email is amazing to me. I’m super happy about the opportunity, and I can’t wait for it all to start.
On the Heroes Global Championship
We talked a bit before about your skepticism of online leagues. What were some of your concerns for HGC? Do you think Blizzard has done a good job addressing those concerns?
I think Blizzard has done an absolute fantastic job with the system they created for HGC. One of my biggest problems with league systems was always that most people have the tendency to try and imitate the established systems in Korea without realizing the big advantages that Korea has.
Korean esports was always very much focused in Seoul. Therefore, it was an easy decision for the Korean Leagues to establish permanent studios in which those games could be played and commentated. Since all of the players live in and around Seoul, there are no real infrastructure challenges to realize such a project.
In the Western scenes of Europe and North America, that poses a much bigger challenge. Especially since, for a lot of players in Western cultures, it’d be huge commitment that they might not be ready for yet. A move might include giving up another job and diving headfirst into a potentially risky career in esports or giving up a place at a university or even jeopardizing a relationship. To justify such a move, the financial benefits would have had to be enormous. I was always very doubtful if such a step would be justifiable at this point.
An online league, on the other hand, also faces a lot of challenges. One of them is the lack of having the players and commentators on site to provide the audience with live shots. The lack of opportunities for the Heroes of the Storm audience to meet the players and enjoy live events can also be problematic. I’m super happy that Blizzard identified all those issues and came up with a system that allows for a fantastic experience for the audience using several offline events throughout the year, a local studio to increase the production quality and including pre-recorded player shots, live interviews, and much more.
I was, by the way, extremely happy about their announcement to pay the players a fixed salary for attending the league. That alone opens up so many opportunities for the players, encourages them and Open Division teams, and allows for a penalty system to ensure that rules are being followed. So even though I was quite skeptical at first, I have to say that they did a great job, and the end result is amazing. The show has been doing very well, and I’m sure it’ll improve even more over the course of the next few months.
We’re only a few weeks in, but do you think the level of play has risen across the board in HGC due to more consistent competition and compensation to allow the players to focus on playing full-time?
Yes, for sure. The level of play has risen already, and I’m sure that trend will continue. It’s also reflected in the amount of time that players currently invest into their practice. I’m watching scrims on a daily basis at the moment to see how players adapt to the patches and changes in the meta. The new system also allowed the teams to prepare in detail for a specific opponent, analyzing drafts and preparing builds.
One still has to remember though that, as you pointed out, we are only observing the first effects of this new system. I’m sure that given time, the effects will be much more distinct, especially since other Open Division teams are eager to push into the league as well, which in turn raises the level of competition and play on the amateur level.
There’s also going to be a lot more international tournaments this year. Do you think that the regional metagames will continue to stay distinct, or will things start to look similar across the globe as regions learn from each other?
I think we will always have regional differences to some extent. There are quite a few differences in the way that Asian and Western teams approach esports, which has not only been very visible in Heroes of the Storm, but in other games as well. I believe there will always be some similarities and points of agreement between regions on which heroes are given priority, but I also believe that especially Western teams are very good at developing cheese strategies that can blindside their opponents and give them an edge.
One of the biggest advantages of Korean and Chinese teams, on the other hand, was always their mechanical superiority and their fantastic team coordination. But I personally believe that the gaps that we’ve witnessed in the past are becoming smaller and smaller in these areas. Fnatic was able to prove that during BlizzCon by taking down MVP Black, and I believe there is an actual chance that a Western team could have a realistic shot at winning BlizzCon at the end of 2017.
Differences in meta are also one of the most fascinating things to observe during international tournaments. Teams have to be able to adjust incredibly fast to challenges that are imposed by facing off against a different playstyle, and it’s super entertaining to watch. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited for all these events that we will have this year!
I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but if you had to pick one team in EU to root for, who would it be?
Haha, not a fair question! I think my two favorites at the moment would be Misfits and Fnatic. As a fellow German, I’m obviously always rooting for the “home” team, and I think Misfits has proven in 2016 as well as this year that they are an absolutely amazing team with incredibly strong players.
But I’m also very close with Fnatic and still admire the way they have been able to grow during the last year. Their journey from being a talented but over-aggressive team at the start of 2016 to the disciplined powerhouse that we all witnessed during BlizzCon was amazing. But at the same time, they are now of course in a very different position. They have to prove that they did not get complacent and BlizzCon was not a fluke. With the level of competition continuously rising, they have to make sure that they don’t start to slack off or other teams will be able to leave them behind.
Then entire scene in Europe is absolutely fascinating at the moment, to be honest, especially with the big three (Misfits, Fnatic and Dignitas) being under constant attack by challengers like Team expert or Dignitas themselves once again having to find their rhythm with a new player (Zaelia) joining the team at the start of the season. The dynamic within the scene is extremely fun to watch right now.
On Personal Projects and Future Plans
Do you plan on casting minor tournaments in 2017 or are you going to focus on HGC full-time?
I will still continue to commentate smaller tournaments. HGC will obviously be my main priority, but I’m very serious about continuing to commentate on my private channels as well. I still have several META Madness ideas that I want to realize once my transition to NA is complete, and I still want to cover online tournaments and also the occasional amateur league match.
One of my goals was always to help out the grassroots scene, and that has not changed. It’s important to me that smaller leagues and tournaments get more attention, and especially Heroes Lounge and Chair League have made fantastic progress in the last few months. There’s a lot of up and coming players out there that have potential, and those leagues and tournaments are a first step for them to receive some exposure and transition into more competitive teams.
On the topic of your personal projects, consistent quality is something that many people often lack in esports (in general). How do you manage to maintain excellent quality for all of your casting, VoDs, etc.? Do you ever find yourself struggling with the notion of cutting corners?
I feel it’s always a bit of a balancing act. When it comes to my livestreams and the VoDs, I do everything by myself. So during a broadcast, I talk to admins and players about upcoming games, make sure I get invited to the lobbies and look for upcoming games that might be of interest for the audience. Production, observing and of course the commentating itself are also all done by me including the post production, which entails the video editing of the games that I upload to YouTube.
Since it’s quite a lot to handle as a single person, I usually try to find a good middle ground when it comes to “cutting corners”. There are a few things that I would love to provide and technically could but where I simply lack the manpower to make it happen. A good example would be instant replays. I’d love to use those, but it’s not possible without a second person to help me with the production, and I’m simply not in a position where I can pay someone to do that. So there’s always a bit of a trade off when it comes to production quality. I try to provide the best show that I can to my audience, but there’s certain aspects where I will always have to make compromises.
I just have one more big question. You stated in an interview in 2015 that you expected Heroes of the Storm to beat Dota 2 and maybe even League of Legends in terms of viewers and players. Do you think the game still has that potential?
I just recently thought back to that interview. I think I also recorded a video back then talking about my hopes for the game. I honestly believe that Heroes of the Storm is the most entertaining MOBA game to watch. If I didn’t, I would not be casting it anymore. The game eliminates all the criticism that I have toward other MOBA titles, and things like the map diversity and short game length give it a big advantage in my opinion.
At the same time, things have obviously not developed that way in the past. I personally think Blizzard made a lot of mistakes in the past that made it difficult for the game and the esports scene to develop as quickly as I was hoping for at the time of the interview. I believe the game could be much bigger than it already is, but I still think that it will grow a lot more in the future. Blizzard has been working hard to improve the esports infrastructure for Heroes of the Storm and the game itself, and setting up HGC was a major accomplishment. A lot of the initial momentum has been lost though, and we will have to work hard to regain that momentum and continuously improve the game and the esports aspect of it. That’s also something where I see an obligation for myself. Quite often, I come across as overly critical. One of the reasons for that is that I believe in this game and its potential. I’m very passionate about Heroes of the Storm and I want to improve the status quo and raise awareness to aspects that I think should be improved upon, and I will do everything that I can to personally help Heroes of the Storm keep growing.
I don’t think the goal has to be to beat League of Legends or Dota 2, but it certainly should be our goal to do everything we can to show other players how much fun and how amazing Heroes of the Storm can be, especially on a competitive level.
That said, when do we get to see you cast again?
The next time I’ll be casting will be in Katowice for the Western Clash! Shortly after the event, I’ll be moving to the US and will start to commentate the HGC Europe matches together with Trikslyr once the second half of Phase 1 starts in April.
Written by: EsportsJohn
Outcast—no word better describes Valeera’s dark and muddled history. Left an orphan after her parents were killed by bandits, Valeera made a living off stealing from others and was soon imprisoned and sold as a gladiator. She formed a tight bond with her fellow gladiators Broll Bearmantle and Varian Wrynn and eventually escaped to find her own destiny. Now a member of The Uncrowned, a secretive order of rogues, she fights to take back what’s been taken from her.
To me, Valeera’s storyline is perhaps one of the most compelling in WoW history and one of the reasons why I’m excited for her entrance into the Nexus. Her cloak and dagger playstyle resonates strongly with her roguish lore and makes her an exciting hero to play. As a high skill cap hero, well-seasoned players with good positioning and proper timing make her look broken while players in the lower echelons have trouble maximizing her kit. This polarizing effect can be seen in her relatively low win rate in the first week, but like Medivh, she appears well-balanced in coordinated play. Let’s take a closer look at kit and abilities to find out why she has such mixed results!
Strengths and Weaknesses
- Powerful CC on a relatively short cooldown
- Huge burst damage
- Elusive abilities to dodge damage
- Poor initiation
- Relies heavily on getting picks
- Weak PvE and waveclear
If you’re familiar with WoW Rogues, you’ll probably be familiar with Valeera’s kit. Designed as a stealthy combatant who uses smoke and misdirection to confuse her opponents, Valeera can whittle away her enemies and prepare them for the killing blow. And, of course, she excels at quickly dispatching isolated enemy heroes.
Compared to similar stealthy assassins, Valeera’s base kit is perhaps the most devastating. Between hard CC with Cheap Shot or Garrote and the insane amount of burst she brings to the table, she’s incredibly dangerous during the laning phase, and can straight up one-shot someone in the late game. Unfortunately, her power falls off dramatically in teamfights where stealth-revealing AoE and burst damage is prevalent.
Her Trait Vanish is the defining characteristic of her playstyle. Using her stealthy tactics, she can gain vision on the map or wrap around an enemy for a flank while gaining a new set of game-changing abilities (Ambush, Cheap Shot, and Garrote). Keep in mind, she’s not actually invisible; Valeera will still show up as a shimmer on the screen, so wary opponents can anticipate her movements and knock her out of stealth before she combos.
Cheap Shot is by far her most powerful ability. With a 1.5 second stun on an 8 second cooldown, she is very dangerous in gank squads and CC chains. If you’re looking to shut someone down in a 1v1 though, the 2 second silence and raw DPS of Garrote tends to be the better choice.
Blade Flurry deals decent damage and provides minor waveclear, and Sinister Strike gives Valeera a small dash to dodge abilities or use as a gap closer. All of her abilities (including stealth) grant Combo Points when used against enemy heroes up to a maximum of three; those Combo Points can then be consumed for massive damage using Eviscerate. The most common combo is stealth ability into Blade Flurry and Sinister Strike before finishing the enemy off with Eviscerate, but various talents allow for several permutations of her basic combo.
Her Heroics are purely defensive and boost her survivability a great deal. Smoke Bomb creates a cloud of smoke that gives Valeera extra Armor and makes her Unrevealable for a short time, allowing her to escape danger and continue throwing out damage. Cloak of Shadows is usually used against heavy mage or burst comps, as it removes all damage over time effects, allows her to become Unstoppable, and greatly boosts her Spell Armor for a second. Smoke Bomb has usually been the favored Heroic, but it usually depends on the situation. If you’re against auto attackers who rely on right-clicking you, take Smoke Bomb; if you’re against lots of spell damage, Cloak of Shadows is the way to go.
Due to a strong base kit, Valeera’s build paths are quite flexible. The most common builds focus on empowering either Ambush for flat out deletion combos or Garrote for extra utility and damage. Either way, there’s still a lot of room for variation depending on the map and composition.
Valeera’s Ambush build is boosted significantly with talents like Assassinate and Death From Above which allow her to quickly close the gap and dispatch her enemies with extreme prejudice. Initiative and Cold Blood can be added to the mix for a huge boost in burst damage. If the opposing hero is a bit meatier, she can also use Thistle Tea sort of like Rewind to reset her energy costs and get two full combos off in a short time span.
The Garrote build focuses more on dealing sustained damage and effectively zoning out opponents from their team. Hemorrhage and Rupture are the bread and butter of this build and allow Valeera to deal massive damage if left uncontested. She can also pick up Fatal Finesse to power up Blade Flurry for even more damage over time. This build pairs well with Smoke Bomb because of its synergy with Rupture and the focus on damage over time.
The one downside to Valeera is that she is limited by energy costs for her abilities, but luckily there are talents to mitigate her energy consumption issues. Vigor at level 1 is a globe talent that helps her build up additional energy regeneration as well as a larger energy pool that allows her to stay in the fight a bit longer. Subtlety and Relentless Strikes are also good energy-efficient options.
On Kit, Design, and Implementation
Valeera seems to me like she stands somewhere between Nova and Zeratul—really good at player killing but not so much PvE like Nova, lots of potential maneuvers like Zeratul. In the hands of highly skilled mechanical player, Valeera will be really annoying to play against. But at the same time, she seems to be easily countered by stealth detection, which the game has plenty of.
KendricSwissh, Streamer and Commentator
Valeera is probably one of, if not the most accurate, class transfers from World of Warcraft to Heroes of the Storm. She looks, sounds, and feels exactly like if you were playing a Rogue in WoW. When I first played her, I was surprised by how resilient she can be, especially after unlocking one of her Heroic abilities.
The only firm opinion I have is that she’s a stealthed hero that has a 1.5 stun on an 8 second cooldown, and Evelynn got nerfed in League of Legends when she did the same thing on a much weaker level.
Her kit is amazing. She has everything: CC, good damage, high HP, a gap closer, an escape, and on top of that, the cooldowns are really short, plus she can restealth instantly. She can definitely snowball games right from the start, and her power continues to grow. Her talents are well designed. Seems like everything is optimal, but I think that’s due to the basic kit being so awesome.
Valeera is a special hero with two sets of skills. She’s hard to master and requires a lot of practice. She consumes energy very quickly, so it’s very important to control her energy consumption and deal as much damage as possible. Her Cheap Shot with a 1.5 stun is so imba that not only the back line is under pressure—when the front line is not with the team, they are also in danger when caught by Cheap Shot. I think Cheap Shot will be nerfed.
Wings, Super Perfect Team
Valeera has the strongest solo stun and highest burst damage with short cooldowns. For the Heroic ability, personally I prefer Smoke Bomb. With 5 seconds Unrevealable, she can keep attacking and wait for her trait, and the cooldown is only 60 seconds.
On Professional Play and Meta Changes
KendricSwissh, Streamer and Commentator
I am almost certain that Valeera is going to make an appearance in HGC very soon, as her kit designed to be most efficient if used by mechanically strong players.
As for competitive, she will have to fight for the spot with Zeratul who already needs to be respected in drafts, and I found out that the Protoss assassin has a really good matchup against her.
Her strength is insane solo hero control, burst damage, and great gank potential in the field, which can put a lot of pressure on the enemy team. Her weaknesses are slow wave clear and difficulty engaging in teamfights.
On Map and Composition Viability
I don’t see her having crazy winrates, but she will be played as a niche pick like Nova and sometimes get really good value, sometimes be completely useless and flamed for being first-picked.
Wings, Super Perfect Team
A big flaw of Valeera is she relies on her trait to engage with her combo. If she’s revealed, nearly 70% of her kit functionality is lost. So Tassadar, Valla, Diablo and other heroes with AoE damage are a great counter for Valeera.
Both of Valeera’s Heroic abilities are very strong. When facing a team comp focused on basic attacks, Smoke Bomb would confuse the enemy (she is Unrevealable); if there are mages in the enemy team, Cloak of Shadows could ensure her survivability. Above all, using her trait to engage at the right time is the key.
Huge thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts and opinions! You are the true Heroes of the Storm!
Also, props to yaya for Chinese translations!