Three Lane Highway
Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.
Heroes of the Storm is a bit like a game of Dota 2 where you don't get any items, your abilities don't carry much power, and you spend most of your time rushing from one end of the map to another trying to secure some kind of strategic advantage before your enemy does.
Heroes of the Storm, then, is either deeply unlike Dota or exactly like playing solo ranked as a support.
That's a joke, but I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between the two games over the last week. Reviewing Heroes meant playing a lot of it, but I haven't stopped playing simply because that process is now over. I enjoy it, both as a way to play with friends who would never otherwise touch a game like this and as a competitive challenge in its own right. It's less challenging than Dota 2, to be sure—and I'd be lying if I didn't admit that this was part of its appeal—but Heroes of the Storm is not without a few lessons to impart.
In particular, I think it does a very good job of emphasising the importance of strategic movement. In a lot of Dota 2 matches, the lanes are 'sticky'. Players really don't want to leave them behind to secure something else. Lanes are where gold and experience come from. It's where the enemies you've come to expect reside. Everything else can seem dangerous, unpredictable, inefficient. The attitude most common to Dota 2 pub players is 'let me get some farm and then I'll help'; this goes hand in hand with 'I'd love it if this laning phase lasted forty minutes, thanks.'
Heroes of the Storm matches begin at around the same point that the laning phase normally starts to break down. Power-wise, it feels like controlling a level 4 or 5 hero: you have all of your abilities, and but none of them are operating at the top level yet. There are also things you need to achieve beyond farming creeps and you should be making a plan to achieve them right away.
The sense that the lanes don't matter is sometimes misinterpreted as 'the game doesn't matter' and I suspect that this is related to a Dota player's tendency to over value their time in lane. Unless you're a hard carry, you should be moving. You should be the ones changing it up, not allowing your opponent to drag you around the map on their terms. Even if you are playing a hard carry, knowing where to be to maximise your gold-per-minute is your most important skill: and the answer isn't always 'tucked away on the safelane.'
Heroes of the Storm is a refreshing way to shake yourself out of that mindset. Not only does it feel guiltily liberating to be able to teamfight from the first minute of the game, it also encourages you to return to Dota 2 with a more open mind about where you can make plays and when. This is particularly true for support players, where the difference between 'competent' and 'good' is pretty much 'do they have an impact beyond the lane we put them in.'
Put it this way: there's no better way to boost morale in a solo ranked Dota 2 match as a support than by successfully smoke-ganking mid. The moment their mid is calling you a tryhard is the moment you have done your job. At its best, Heroes of the Storm is pretty much 'ganking mid, the game': a series of dramatic rotations enabled by smaller maps and an increased emphasis on securing map objectives.
This has got me thinking about the relationship that other post-Dota games have with the original. It says something about the genre, I think, that the quality of life for support players tends to be either a little or a lot higher in other games. This first occurred to me in Smite, where the supports I enjoy are beefy front-line initiators as well as the guys who stick down the wards—a vision of a parallel universe where Magnus was a viable position five. In Heroes, it struck me the moment I realised I didn't need to babysit anybody.
The support role is a good example of Dota's organic, community-driven growth. The role sits outside of most of the systems that are used to measure success in the game. Neither kills, items, gold or experience mark out a good support performance from a bad one (although they help.) Supports triumph or fail based on their ability to engineer an overall victory, often sacrificing their own personal gains so that somebody else can get ahead. The characters that can fill this role are the ones that need less gold, experience and so on. Therefore, they're the ones that engage less with the basic economics of a Dota match. The techniques that support players learn are often strange and unintuitive for exactly this reason: in a game that is basically about creating the most powerful character over time, they actively avoid doing so.
Other games bring the support role more in line with the themes and goals of the game as a whole. They're able to do this because of simpler and more proscriptive overall designs, and this in turn reduces the potential for the community to invent something truly new—to reinvent what support means on their own terms. It's this potential for creativity that enshrines Dota 2 at the top of the genre, for me, but I've come to appreciate the way that playing newer games can enhance your understanding when you return to the motherland. Rather than write off Heroes as a 'lesser Dota', then, see it as 'single-focus Dota': a way to quickly encounter specific strategic concepts that will benefit you in the long run.
That it's also a lot easier is a welcome bonus.
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