Heroes of the Storm was always doomed

Heroes of the Storm was doomed when it began, but that didn’t stop Blizzard from creating their love letter to the Blizzard universe so their fans could enjoy it too. Blizzard pushed forward, creating a MOBA of a different kind: one that focused on teamwork, didn’t force you to perfectly kill minions, had no items, and had different maps for competitive play. It was a different way to play, one that many embraced.

Now we know that it just wasn’t enough, and, like all letters, they end.

Last Thursday, Blizzard penned the letter that the entire HOTS community was fearing. One that most of them suspected was coming after the month of silence from Blizzard regarding the Heroes Global Championship (HGC). In short, it’s over. Gone. Kaput. Blizzard has moved on to greener pastures, that pasture likely being Overwatch, judging by the increased resources it’s receiving.

They’re also moving development resources from Heroes of the Storm to other Blizzard properties.

Full statement from Blizzard can be found here, with a follow-up here from the team, and finally, a message from Kaéo Milker, HOTS Heroes Production Director.

“We’ve also evaluated our plans around Heroes esports—after looking at all of our priorities and options in light of the change with the game, the Heroes Global Championship and Heroes of the Dorm will not return in 2019.”

No amount of posts from the HOTS staff or the executives is going to make this blow to HOTS any easier. In fact, it was rough watching the outcry after the announcement last Thursday that continued throughout the weekend. Not just from the people over at Reddit’s HOTS group, but from the pros, the aspiring pros, and those that have dedicated the last three years of their life or more to creating a better community for HOTS.

Bad Beginnings

When I say that HOTS was doomed from the beginning I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. Firstly, there was the weird lawsuit around the name of HOTS from the onset. Initially, HOTS was slated to be Blizzard DOTA. It made sense, it was a Blizzard game and it was a DOTA game.

But Valve had DOTA 2, spawned out of the Warcraft III map editor from over a decade ago. Blizzard and Valve settled out of court regarding the dispute, but from an outside perspective it looked like Valve won, after all, they still use the name DOTA 2 while Blizzard change the name to Blizzard All-Stars and then to Heroes of the Storm.

Secondly, Blizzard was way too late to the game. By the time HOTS released in June of 2015 League of Legends had already been out for almost six years, DOTA 2 had been out for two years, and even Smite had been around for a year. HOTS entered into an over-saturated MOBA market and the only way it was going to grab players was through their love of Blizzard.

Despite the saturated market and the limited resources HOTS had, they soldiered on, creating what turned out to be a wonderful game and community. They expanded not only the HOTS universe, but the Blizzard universe as well.

But despite their love, dedication, and a massive first-year prize pool of $500,000 at BlizzCon, HOTS faltered.

Rough Middles

In 2017, Heroes of the Storm 2.0 debuted to a warm reception, even reviving the IGN HOTS review meme 6.5/10. Despite the rework, HGC still wasn’t pulling in the numbers.

As you can see, HOTS couldn’t even compete with StarCraft II’s numbers. HOTS Grand Finals tournament had the smallest peak viewer numbers for all of Blizzard’s esports.*

When you move out of Blizzard e-sports and look at other MOBA numbers in 2018 the situation looks even worse. League of Legends’ Worlds grand finals match brought in nearly two million peak viewers, and DOTA 2’s The International brought in over a million peak viewers, not to mention the insane prize pool of over $25 million.*

Resource management & responsibility to the community

Blizzard was in a tough spot at this point, though. Do they continue to devote resources to a game that has one of their smallest audiences and has to compete against at least three other games or do they look at alternatives?

With Overwatch League kicking off in 2018, it represented an opportunity for Blizzard to show their investors that e-sports is worth investing in. That it’s worth Blizzard throwing millions of dollars into every year and millions of dollars will be thrown at it in return.

Not only that, but Overwatch League was unique in how it was run and in the type of game it was. Where HOTS ran into a saturated market, Overwatch pushed forward in an under-saturated market, which is where Blizzard belongs.

As a company, Blizzard has always pushed the envelope when it comes to new genres. They kicked off the MMO market with World of Warcraft back in 2004, they’ve dominated the RTS genre for decades with StarCraft and StarCraft II, they brought trading card games to mass audiences with Hearthstone, and then they pushed into the team-based shooter with Overwatch. There’s a trend with each of those releases; each genre didn’t have a powerhouse already in the scene. Heroes of the Storm, however, had to compete with two.

I digress, the Overwatch League having a successful first year and a second successful franchising spelled the end for HOTS. Internally, Blizzard has likely dedicated more resources to Overwatch and the Overwatch League, which is why it succeeds so much more than their other titles.

But what about the players, the fans, the casters, and everyone else who loved this game? What about the college students who competed in Heroes of the Dorm for a full-ride scholarship to college?

Tough luck. It’s harsh, but it is the reality of the situation.

I don’t agree with how Blizzard handled the announcement of HGC being shut down after BlizzCon. The blanket radio silence is disturbing from a company that has always espoused itself as being for the gamer. What they did was decidedly not for the gamer.

Aspiring pros suddenly had their livelihood ripped out from under them as everyone goes home for the holidays, casters and analysts found themselves without jobs, and numerous organizations were likely left scrambling to adjust to the news, A.K.A. letting people go.

But I understand why Blizzard did it. In the month of silence after BlizzCon, the HOTS HGC team was likely exploring options. Trying to figure out if they could do another year of HGC or if they would have to shut it down. They didn’t want to tell anyone that their division was on the verge of being shut down in case they figured out a way to save it. No matter what Blizzard did there would be bad PR. Even if they told organizations about the possibility of HGC being shut down there would be a leak, which would have been even more destructive than the radio silence.

There still remains opportunity for a competitive HOTS scene. Numerous posts like this have already popped up showing community and third-party run tournaments. StarCraft has shown us that these tournaments have the ability to attract fans and players alike.

Personally, I hope that the wording at the end of the initial statement was deliberate in saying, “the Heroes Global Championship will not return in 2019.” While I doubt it means that Blizzard may revisit running HGC in 2020, there is a slight bit of hope. At the very least, I would love to see Heroes of the Dorm return if HGC does not.

For now, HOTS enters into a holding pattern. A smaller team will continue to support the game, but don’t expect miracles. We’ve seen what happens to Blizzard games when they enter the holding pattern, StarCraft II single-player content and Diablo 3 are prime examples for us to look at.

*All viewership statistics used are excluding Chinese viewers