Heroes of the Storm has only been out of beta for a few weeks, but it seems like Blizzard’s newly-minted MOBA is already having an impact on Dota 2 and League of Legends—the two reigning kings of this idiosyncratic and enormously popular game genre.
Earlier this week, Riot revealed that it’s planning to remove debuffs from certain structures in League of Legends. Specifically, they’re making it so inhibitor turrets and nexus turrets—the last two lines of defense a team has in their base—will no longer slow down enemies by 10% or reduce their damage by 15%. This is revising part of a buff they gave to turrets last November in patch 4.20.
Unless you follow League of Legends very closely, you probably haven’t heard anything about this yet. It’s a pretty granular detail, even for a League obsessive such as myself. Plus, the change is only active in the game’s public beta environment (PBE), which means that a) it’s only available to a small slice of the game’s massive player base, and b) Riot could end up adjusting the turret nerfs before they make it into the main game. But what’s interesting about Riot’s decision here is that it’s one part of a larger MOBA trend.
Explaining the nerf on the League of Legends forums, Riot’s lead champion designer Meddler said that the current, relatively powerful inner turrets have lead to “slower, drawn out, low risk/interaction games”:
We originally added the slow (and a -damage mod) to the Nexus/Inihb towers as an anti split pushing effect, at a time where we were concerned that split push was leading to low interaction games. That’s currently not the case however, very much the opposite in fact, with heavy team fight comps crowding out split push almost entirely. We’re not looking to make split pushing a staple of every game, but do think we’ve limited it too much, hence the removal of those effects.
In terms of the broader purpose of towers it is intended that the risk they pose to enemy champions decreases over the course of the game. Early on they’re zones of sanctuary, where it’s extremely risky to try and go in for a kill much of the time. Over time they transition to a helper role instead. Towers will turn the tide of a close fight, but they’re not going to be more dangerous than an enemy champion anymore. Late game in particular, once everyone’s past the individual laning period, it’s the presence of teammates instead that provides substantial zones of safety/support. Powerful late game towers, particularly if they can be held by a couple of champions against a full enemy team, result in slower, drawn out, low risk/interaction games.
In other words: they’re nerfing the towers to make League of Legends games faster. Weakening the turrets means that players will be far less likely to get stuck in an awkwardly meandering late-game stalemate.
Late in April, Valve put out a massive and absolutely bonkers patch for Dota 2 that (among other things) yielded the same results: encouraging more teamfights in games, and weakening each base’s defenses in turn.
Dota and League are such big games that many (if not all) of their constant changes stem from gameplay balance requirements and the demands of their legions of fans. But at the same time, it’s really hard not to see these recent changes as being partly influenced by the new kid on the block. Heroes of the Storm has a lot in common with League and Dota 2—all three games sprung from a series of mods that, however ironically, were made for Blizzard’s StarCraft and Warcraft strategy games. But there are also many major differences between Heroes and its forebears. The biggest one of all is that Heroes games are really, really short compared to Dota 2 and League of Legends matches. Most Heroes matches take somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes to close out, whereas games in the other two can easily last 45 minutes or an hour (or even longer). The reason matches unfold so quickly is because Blizzard made structures in the game incredibly weak. They’re so weak that, in my experience playing 400+ matches, games will often end without a team making a big final push into the enemy’s base. Instead, a team’s core will simply destruct.
Cutting down the average game length is a huge part of Heroes of the Storm’s appeal right now. For seasoned MOBA veterans, the prospect of not getting stuck in an hour-long game every time you log into League or Dota 2 is hard to look away from. As for newcomers to the genre, well, they don’t have that same prospect to be scared by.
When you pile Heroes of the Storm’s relative quickness on top of its many other strengths—its gameplay is pared down and easy to learn, it’s packed with a cast of iconic characters, it has Blizzard’s strong PC gaming brand name to back it up, it’s free to play and therefore easy to try out, etc.—you can see how the game is already a very strong competitor to Dota 2 and League despite being so young. Valve and Riot will have to adapt to this new economic reality, or risking losing many of their less diehard players to HOTS. Shaving off game time shows that they both already are.
Regardless of whether or not a specific change like League’s turret nerfs is a good thing, I think Heroes of the Storm’s arrival stands to benefit all MOBA players. Dota 2 and League of Legends haven’t really faced much in the way of legitimate competition before...except from each other. And as the games themselves have taught me, being challenged is often the best way to motivate people to do their best work.