Heroes of the Storm: Anti Snowball Mechanics
One of the most frustrating things in any multiplayer online battle arena game (MOBA) is just how bad the game can snowball. If the opposing side gets a slight advantage in the early portion of the game, it often allows them to keep abusing their small advantage and cause it to grow to a big advantage until they finally mop the floor with the other side. This can be very irritating, as one side knows that they're going to lose but still have to play out the rest of the game.
Blizzard Breaks the Mold
Blizzard recognized this weakness in the genre and created Heroes of the Storm using anti-snowball mechanics as the foundation of their game. They were successful, too, as there have been tons of examples that show how a team that's very behind very early on in the game is able to work hard throughout the match and eventually win the game. It makes both sides have to play at 100% the entire game, which leads to incredibly fun and engaging fights that have no clear cut victory until the very end.
How is the Accomplished?
Saying "I want to make a balanced game that doesn't feature snowballing" is much easier than actually doing it. Blizzard had to innovate in a number of unique ways and bring a ton of unprecedented changes to the genre itself. Let's see how they accomplished it.
Fair Leveling Mechanics
MOBA games feature levels, which is obtained from gaining experience from killing enemy minions or heroes and destroying the other side's structures. This is one area that can cause an imbalance much earlier in the game. One side getting to level 4 while the other side is still level 2 allows them to press aggressively and stay ahead, and that goes double at level 10 once the ultimate unlocks, so how does Blizzard combat this?
One major thing they do is decrease the time it takes to level up if you're behind. Even if you're three or four levels behind the enemy team, simply focusing on exp splitting and pushing one lane down as a team will allow you to quickly close the gap between the two sides. This wouldn't work on its own, as the other team could just stop you at each different push you make while still controlling the majority of the map. The reason it works is because there are multiple strategies for winning and several different objectives to obtain which incentivizes having the stronger team split up and spread out.
Multiple Strategies for Winning
Having multiple maps with unique mechanics that can be levered to help a side win is a new area in the genre thanks to Blizzard. In addition to gathering experience by soaking lanes, doing team fights, and hiring mercenaries, there's an additional area that can be used for leverage: the map itself. These are the dragon knights in Dragon Shire, the tributes in the Cursed Hollow, the gold coins in Blackheart's Bay, etc.
The way this works when it comes to anti-snowball mechanics is that it allows a weaker team to exploit a stronger team. You have to split up to engage in map mechanics effectively, so if the stronger team is split up around the map going for coins or seeds, then the weaker team is able to team up and hunt them down one by one. Even if there is a huge level discrepancy, a 5 v 2 is likely going to result in death. If the stronger team goes for the mechanics, the weaker team can go for mercenaries, and vice versa. That or they can go for the other mercenaries, or simply focus on pushing plan. There are a number of different strategies that a weaker team can employ to realistically regain their advantage.
One of the greatest things about the comeback mechanics is just how competitive in nature they are. Obtaining a map objective doesn't just mean your side gains a slight advantage, it also means that the opposing side gains a 'disadvantage,' which makes it all that much more powerful.
Only one side can have the Dragon Knight or Blackheart's Ship or the Spider Queens, etc. This allows a weaker team to instantly force the aggressive team into a defensive position while the other side can use the opportunity to go gain additional power.
How This Affects the Player Base
A more fair and balanced game is obviously good, but having one also affects the player base in interesting ways. People are generally much more open to team work and following the directions of more experienced players while playing in pick up groups. As you may know, some games that are competitive and team based can often lead to in-fighting or players simply giving up, causing a highly toxic game culture. While HotS does have this to a certain extent, players of the game in general are much more goal oriented and generally better mannered than others. This is why the game is growing so quickly and why it's easy to pick up the game immediately and start playing it, even if none of your friends have heard of it.
Anti-Snowball Mechanics: Final Thoughts
Implementing such well thought out anti-snowball mechanics was a great choice by Blizzard and a strategy they employed very well. It's going to set up the game to grow phenomenally throughout the years, which is what Blizzard has in mind, given the success of the other games they've developed. A Heroes of the Storm match is truly not over until one side's core is destroyed, which is why it's important to never get reckless or sloppy and always play as hard as you can.