We’ve got T. Striker again, but this time he’s trying a genre new to him and a game that should be new to most of you: Blizzard’s Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)-in-progress (?), Heroes of the Storm. I’m intrigued by what Blizzard’s done with the game, but at the same time, I really do wonder if it’s the best MOBA to start people on.
Let’s face it: MOBAs games have a reputation for having a poor community. I feel like a Blizzard MOBA in particular could be a breeding ground for this sort of community because Blizzard makes games with mass appeal, which means both “skilled” and “unskilled” players with poor attitudes can come in and wreck the environment for everyone else. However, as noted, Blizzard does also make mechanics that are more accessible to your average player, so perhaps things would balance out. I figured Striker would be a good candidate for testing how your average, non-MOBA player reacts to Heroes of the Storm as their first MOBA.
So, quick background. For those who may have forgotten, T. Striker is someone I’ve been gaming with for many years, even before we both played Asheron’s Call. Now, I must admit, he’s played less than an hour of DOTA, but that was years ago. He’s played many genres, such as racing games, fighting games, a few FPS and TPS, RTS, puzzlers, and of course, MMORPGs. He’s done gaming as a student and as a manager, and raided while holding down both positions, often with real life friends. I figured, he’s well rounded enough that he should be able to represent the average gamer at the very least.
For those not familiar with the game, HotS is a MOBA that cuts out a lot of the more tedious/difficult/”unfun” parts of MOBAs. There’s not a ton of jungling, There’s no item shop. You gain levels as a group, as well as kills, and there’s no last hitting. Instead, you start the game with nearly all your abilities and choose “talents,” including your ultimate, as you level throughout the game. After the game, you as a player gain levels that give you rewards (such as gold to buy heroes with or the “privilege” of doing dailies) and your hero levels, unlocking additional talent options, skins, and color variants for the hero.
Like most MOBAs, you have 3 lanes you run down, killing minions and towers along your path to the base or “core,” whose destruction leads to your victory. The “jungle” is inhabited by NPCs or “mercenaries” who, once killed, will join your side and charge down the lane towards your enemies. A bit different is the addition of various side quests, such as the opening of mines to collect skulls and summon a monster to fight your enemy, or paying pirates in gold coins found on the map and through mobs so that they will fire canons at your enemies. They’re a bit of a fun distraction and add some spice to the maps, but they’re not revolutionary.
Sadly, from the tutorial, Striker barely learned a thing other than to kill mobs and take mercenary camps. The UI helps a little, but the font is so small that Striker didn’t realize the “Z” and “B” were trying to teach him the controls for mounting and “hearthstoning” (recalling to your base). This is a genre he really would have to learn, but he had a very small experience he could build on.
What Strikes does know about MOBAs came from his little time playing DOTA, but he mostly learned that MOBA players are impatient and he’s consider a “feeder,” even though he wasn’t intentionally dying, just trying to learn the game. Sadly, his friends, like many random, anonymous MOBA players, invited him to play, jumped into the game, and expected him to learn the game on his own while people berated him while he tried to learn what to do.
HotS’s alpha community is not different, with unhelpful comments such as “Uninstall,” or “Stop being bad” being among the tamer quotables. We met helpful people, but very rarely in game, and one of the first things I had to teach Striker was how to ignore people and how to report people. While that may sound bad, Striker still wanted to play, which may say something about the game.
Our first matches were typical for a new MOBA player. Striker was feeding, but unintentionally. Many games these days, especially MMORPGs, downplay death penalties, so he was often careless, fighting near enemy towers and being lured away from ours as a ranged assassin character. I explained that, as the match went on and he died more, that respawning would take longer and the rest of us would need to pick up the slack, and he understood.
However, people yelling things like, “Why don’t you go uninstall?” honestly did effect Striker’s focus and performance. He swung back in the opposite direction, becoming far too cautious, which contributed to several deaths by nearly dead opponents. In fact, he was told to “stop standing there” as a character that required careful positioning and timing due to “skill shots” (abilities that don’t auto-target and require aiming and timing to use properly). Given the option between being seen as a “feeder” and being taunted in general, I was the only feedback available to try to motivate him.
I have to admit that, at several points, I felt the need to stop and type out responses to the trolls. And I did, often pointing out that the time they were spending taunting Striker could have been spent pointing out specific flaws or ways to help him. You would think that unranked games of a game in an alpha that can’t be bought into would have a kinder community, but you’d be wrong in the case of Heroes of the Storm. We met exactly one decent human being who at least welcomed Striker to the genre and offered a little advice. That person was then attacked by another player who honestly wasn’t as good as he thought he was (taking the team’s hard-earned power up and trying to solo the other team isn’t a good idea).
While this might be somewhat expected in many genres, the fact that this comes from one’s own team is depressing to say the least. In a team based game, you’d expect your team to want to win, not spend the whole match fighting itself, pouting in the corner afk hoping that, for some reason, the next game might be better because they’re paired with more strangers for them to alienate and offend should the game not go well. Other games have been fighting this reputation with varying degrees of success. Blizzard, at the moment, has no official updates on how they plan on handling poor sportsmanship by players beyond a simple “Report Player” option, though they have acknowledged this problem with the genre.
Admittedly, this toxicity has taken up so much of this article because it is exactly what prevents me from inviting new players to the genre. If Blizzard is aiming to pull off another World of Warcraft in the MOBA genre, they’re only preparing to fail, as the current community will scare off any new comers. Striker admitted that, had I not been there, he would have quit. He said, “I know I suck. I’m already sitting here beating myself up. I don’t need other people constantly reminding me about why I suck!” Tips on how to use a character, positioning, or even referencing a good website would have helped a ton, but like many other MOBAs, people who wonder why they die 1 vs. 4 can’t be trusted to understand the finer points of human social skills.
That being said, the people on the forums are actually more friendly than those in game. I don’t often get to say that, especially in Blizzard games, but I’ve seen several posts where people even defend new players from elitists. If Blizzard can foster an environment where people like this stand out in game, not for skill but the ability to, you know, be human, it’d really do a lot of the game.
The forum replies certainly helped Striker’s outlook on things. Despite continued taunts, he still wanted to keep playing, so we had a few more sessions, but always together. This wasn’t a game he felt like playing solo, but he liked seeing the different maps. However, as he tested his MOBA jargon, he rarely got positive feedback. His basic questions (like, “Should I be laning?”) were often met with extreme hostility. I must admit I got upset with other players a few times, but never took it out on the unless they had started to mistreat other players.
And that was when I noticed something about myself. I don’t talk much in MOBAs, and almost only offer aide when people warn me they’re new, trying a new character I’m familiar with, or if I’m really in the mood. For the most part, I assume other players aren’t really going to care about winning or losing, don’t want to team up, and don’t want to improve their game. It’s what I think we experience in a lot of shooters and battlegrounds, but perhaps the respawn timers in MOBAs somehow make death more upsetting? I’m not sure, but the hostility is palpable, yet the desire to win is still absent I feel.
I feel, if anything, people just don’t want to be angry since, if they wanted to win, a simple explanation is usually all you need to fix the problem. Situations like these are rare, but at least lead to people performing a bit better in future games, if not the immediate one:
“Why are we losing?”
Because I’m the only one collecting coins, so they keep bombing us. Does anyone want to help?”
Again though, this is something that almost never happens. When I was new and asked this sort of thing myself, people just exploded. When Striker did this and I taught him what to do, we started to win more. In fact, he specifically said that seeing himself win more and outperform other players was one of the biggest reasons he wanted to keep playing, but also why he specifically didn’t want to play alone.
So after playing over at least ten hours, not including the tutorial, Striker seemed to be getting the hang of things. He had vague ideas of how to play, like retreating, grouping up, diversions, and map goals. Staying near towers was something he’s kind of got down, but he still gets the blood lust like the best of us. He still only feels like this is a game he’d play with friends. It’s certainly a team game he says and he can’t imagine playing it with randoms. There’s been some nice guys, but it’s just more difficult and less fun trying to find them.
Heroes of the Storm is currently the only MOBA Striker would play. From what he’s seen, it’s the only one he’d probably play in his free time, even if offered a similar MOBA. It’s not that it’s Blizzard characters, but it’s difficult for him to imagine trying another one at this point in time, and maybe that’s a strength we saw from Blizzard in World of Warcraft. People introduce their friends to games, and Blizzard has Battle.net working across games. It’s easier to have a home with Blizzard now, and despite some less-than-pleasant community members, the friends you do make can hop around other Blizzard titles with you. The community is still pretty hostile, but Striker feels Star Craft 2‘s is worse (or at least, last time he played 3 years ago).
After all this, I have to admit, I’m recalling another MOBA I’ve heard about that is supposed to have streamlined mechanics, short games, and no chat. I personally really enjoy it and have found another MOBA newbie to
sacrifice, er test on play with. However, perhaps you Junkies have some suggestions? Do you think Awesomenauts is worth the cash and is a MOBA I should experiment with? Is Smite’s third person action something that makes it easier for your average gamer to adapt to? Prime World’s got city building and fun game modes, Infinite Crisis has my super hero fix, and there’s loads of other MOBAs, but which do you think is the best for introducing someone to the genre*?
*Note: I won’t be taking a MOBA virgin into anything super competitive like LoL, DOTA2, or HoN, simply because the communities are too toxic. The genre’s popular, but there are many gamers who avoid it, and my mission is to skip the toxic ones and find one that can really draw people in next time someone asks you or me, “What MOBA should I start with?”
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