Details of Blizzard’s efforts on their foray into the ‘brawler’ genre, as they prefer to call it, are starting to make their way out of BlizzCon in drips and drabs. Here’s our initial take on it from the BlizzCon floor, and many of those observations have been echoed by the TL crew.
It was rumored that the game underwent a complete reboot within the last year, and it very well may be that the reboot swung things towards the casual end of the spectrum. Dota 2 and League of Legends already had well established positions as polished games with large player bases that stuck pretty close to the hardcore feel of the original, and were both building to what was a landmark year in 2013. I find it quite plausible that Blizzard’s team was eyeing up a fight for third fiddle with Heroes of Newerth (even as lopsided of a fight that would be) as an unpalatable reality if things weren’t fitting together for them under a hardcore approach, and a switch was needed towards more open waters within the genre.
Regardless the reasons or the timeline, it’d be difficult to argue that Heroes isn’t a more casual-oriented game when compared to the genre’s dominant titles. The game is said to feature a lack of an item mechanic, a railroaded skill progression, shared experience across your team, no ‘last hits’ mechanic, and a set of maps with quirks that veer far from the traditional three-lane setup. All these features sound like they would make for a more enjoyable solo queue experience, as they would abstract away some of the complexities that makes games of this genre so notoriously difficult for beginners, but it also removes some of the depth that makes for an expansive skill ceiling and an enjoyable esport.
Considering the full landscape of the genre, deliberately taking Heroes out of the esports mix is probably the right way to go. I don’t think competing directly with Valve and Riot at this point is a wise strategy, and taking a more Hearthstone-like approach allows them to generate a new conversation as opposed to constantly being compared to other titles. At the same time, a new game with brazenly casual approach to the genre could spur further growth for all games involved, by acting as a sort of gateway drug for titles with a harder edge, with players moving on from Heroes once it begins to feel like less of a challenge for frequent players.
I think this change in focus could turn out to be a very good thing both for the game’s chances of gaining a large audience, as well as for the genre as a whole, and I’m definitely now more interested in seeing what comes of this project than I was before BlizzCon opened.