Heroes of the Storm has never shied away from brazen experimentation. Hallmarks of the MOBA genre are poured down the sink like expired milk: last hitting, arguably the most important skill in DOTA 2 and League of Legends? Gone, along with individual leveling and the very idea of gold. A single map, on which to refine and perfect strategy through obsessive iteration? Throw it out the window; design twelve unique maps instead. Just look at Cho’Gall, a character that must be played by two players simultaneously. For the mad scientists of Blizzard Entertainment, nothing is sacrosanct.
Nothing is sacrosanct.
It’s in the spirit of this reckless creativity that the upcoming game mode, Heroes Brawl, which will be formally released on October 17th, was conceived. ““For a designer, we were looking for a mode where we could show off fun, goofy ideas that we didn’t think fit our standard battlegrounds,” said Heroes of the Storm’s Lead Battleground Designer, John DeShazer. “Heroes Brawl really is this area where we can experiment.”
Such experiments range from the familiar chaos of the “Lost Cavern” map, a single lane of nigh-constant teamfighting, to variations on existing maps and characters that feel like LAN party mods. What about a game where victory was earned through a good old bloodbath, and the team to rack up the most kills won? If everyone had to play the cloaked ambusher Nova, would anybody actually find each other? It is, as DeShazer said, goofy. It’s also irreverent, inventive, and in perfect harmony with Heroes’ approach to the genre.
Heroes is only the latest competitive multiplayer game of Blizzard’s to receive a Brawl mode, with Hearthstone and Overwatch already presenting weekly screwball ideas. But it’s a familiar idea for MOBAs, originating with the ARAM, or All Random All Mid game type from League of Legends, where players receive a random champion and battle it out in one lane. Originally a custom game type organized by the community, eventually ARAMs became a unique mode within League of Legends; the history of Heroes Brawl isn’t very different. “There were players who had their channel – I think /ARAM. They even had a website that would tell you where you could and couldn’t go on the maps,” said DeShazer. Eventually, the team decided to give the players what they wanted.
What actually mattered about the experience.
But as they have with every element of Heroes of the Storm’s design, Blizzard zeroed in on what actually mattered about the experience instead of creating a carbon copy of ARAMs. The ultimate purpose of Heroes Brawl, according to DeShazer, was “to give players a safe place to play. We’re trying to divorce a lot of the initial pain points to getting into the game … it’s a low pressure experience. I can go in, see how heroes interact, and no one’s going to yell at me.”
For all the criticism the MOBA genre gets about toxicity, that last point rings especially true. With shorter game times, no all chat and team leveling, Heroes of the Storm has devoted so much of its design to making people less shitty to each other. At the heart of Heroes Brawl is that same desire: to create an environment where, for a moment, players don’t need to concern themselves with the current meta, ideal team comps, or the way the game is “meant to be played.” Again, Heroes of the Storm has shown itself ready to embrace the oddball and the inventive, and leave rote to the rest.