With Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard’s making a big push into the increasingly lucrative multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) scene. That makes sense: thanks mostly to eSports’ growing popularity among both players and viewers, MOBA games are the fastest-growing PC gaming market, with titles like Riot’s League of Legends and Valve’s Dota 2 on track to generate over $500 million this year alone.
In order for Heroes of the Storm to succeed, Blizzard’s going to need to do two things. For one, the company needs to build brand awareness; League of Legends and Dota already dominate the market, and time goes on it’s going to become harder and harder for new titles to gain traction. Blizzard’s a big name, however – World of Warcraft, StarCraft, and Hearthstone, anyone? – and the studio wisely decided to leverage its existing IPs when developing Heroes, creating a game that combines traditional MOBA gameplay with Blizzard’s existing slate of intellectual properties.
The other obstacle will be proving to the eSports community that Heroes of the Storm is a nuanced and viable competitive game, and while Blizzard’s on the right track (before the game came out, the company hosted Heroes of the Dorm, a Heroes of the Storm tournament that controversially aired on ESPN), it might’ve hit a snag. Recently, one of Heroes of the Storm’s characters, StarCraft’s Dark Templar Zeratul, ended up so broken that Blizzard’s banned him from competitive play right before a major tournament.
The exploit comes from Zeratul’s Shadow Assault skill, one of the “Heroic abilities” that players can unlock when the character reaches level 10 (one of MOBAs’ main gameplay staples involves making characters more powerful as matches progress, unlocking new abilities and making them harder to defeat). Shadow Assault is supposed to kick Zeratul into overdrive, making him attack roughly 20% faster.
However, last weekend, a Korean eSports player started using Shadow Assault to teleport all over the map. Apparently, switching targets mid-attack let Zeratul move much faster than expected, showing up out of nowhere to kick enemies’ butts. That makes the move much more powerful than it’s supposed to be, and Blizzard responded by temporarily removing Zeratul from competition.
Ultimately, this is just a small hiccup: Blizzard’s already released a fix, and a Blizzard spokesperson told Kotaku that the ban was temporary. However, the timing couldn’t have been worse: Zeratul’s a popular character, and his removal forced many big eSports teams – particularly Team Liquid, one of Europe’s best – to completely revamp their strategy just hours before the first Heroes of the Storm 2015 European Championship qualifying event. From the looks of things Team Liquid didn’t make it past the second round; Zeratul’s temporary removal from the game likely had a lot to do with that.