Is Heroes of the Storm's new ranked system really the best choice for the game's future?
Blizzard's MOBA game Heroes of the Storm is getting a revamp to its ranked system involving a complete rework of tiers, new rewards, and a league system instead of the current ladder system. The changes will involve several ranks for players to level through on both an individual and team level. Once players have reached the final rank, a newer tier that Blizzard is calling the "Master & Grand Master Leagues" will be available for the dedicated few.
Heroes of the Storm, while being a successful game in it's own right, has quite a lot of powerful contenders to compete against. With Steam's DotA 2 and Riot's infamous League of Legends offering steep competition for the MOBA gamer. This new system seems reminiscent of League of Legends' current system for advancement, but is it the right choice for Heroes of the Storm?
There are some very appealing additions to this update, such as a skill-level queue restriction that intends to pair players with other people of similar talent. There will also be encouragement of players being able to communicate by removing "silenced players" which is Blizzard's way of stopping the toxic community from even being able to queue into this game type. For people who believe that this may be taken advantage of, don't worry. Blizzard has recently made a compelling show of force to indicate they investigate these accounts just to make sure the system isn't being taken advantage of.
There are also some rather unappealing aspects for any players who may be trying to get into the series for the first time. Most noticeably the badges as pictured in the header for this article.
The designs are gorgeous, and definitely something to lust over if you prize digital accomplishment, but they also act as labels. MOBAs such as Hi-Rez Studios' Smite and the aforementioned League of Legends use similar systems such as visual portrait identifiers that allow your allies to recognize your rank, which is great for when you're on the top of your game, but makes you a mark among the MOBA community when you are not.
These identifiers are typically used as a means of separating the "good" and "bad" players simply by merit of having them, and being separated makes it all the harder to achieve them. Add on to this the additional incentives granted to higher ranked players such as exclusive mounts and character portraits that will only be available by season, and you add a layer of stress to succeed that invites frustration among your player base.
Now I'm not saying players shouldn't be rewarded for doing well, this game is, after all, a competition. Personally I'm a casual Heroes of the Storm player, and while I know I'm not the target audience for these rewards, I would still like to have at least some chance of attaining them. Perhaps making them available for cash after the season ends?
I would much prefer being able to play the game for fun as opposed to for whatever glory a rank 10-6 (because lets face it, once I get the mounts I'm going to stop) player would achieve among the hundreds of thousands of others out there sharing or exceeding my rank. Bear in mind, there are 50 ranks to power through. That seems like quite an investment of time, even if you are doing well.
I'm a huge Blizzard fan and why would they want to divide me so heavily between their own franchises? You already own most of my time with Overwatch and Hearthstone's latest expansion, can't I catch a break? I would like to imagine that maybe this is only my own personal gripes with the situation, but I can't be the only person who dances between these games on the launcher. Nothing turns me off of a game quicker than when I see completely unattainable items in it.
I suppose this has always been a theme for Blizzard though, with Hearthstone's monthly card backs and World of Warcraft's promotional material. In the cases of both of these games though, Hearthstone's only limitation to receiving the reward comes from reaching rank 20, a level achievable even to the newest of players, and World of Warcraft often re-releases its content with minor changes to make accessible to all players. Well, most of the time anyway.
So between labeling the player base on a skill level that primarily reflects time allotted into the game, and locking rewards for players who don't stay true to the season until the end, the additions do not entirely appeal to a casual player such as myself. However, I am completely at peace with the fact that I, and players like me, are most likely not the target audience for these improvements. I would actually be quite happy to see Heroes of the Storm start to build a larger community and make larger steps in competitive gaming. I just hope they don't forget about us little guys who enjoy the game too.