What Becomes of Heroes of the Storm?

From the launch of the original Warcraft: Orcs & Humans back in 1994 through until this year Blizzard has had a pretty amazing run of success.  They seemed to have the golden touch, producing best seller after best seller.

No offense guys, but you’re really just Blizz trivia

Seriously, people bitch about Blizzard and make pretty silly claims about their games.  I especially roll my eyes when we get into the “WoW is dead” area of conjecture.  A game that makes the top ten for digital revenues every single month… a game where they split it into east and west and both sides took a spot on the top ten… is not a dead game or anywhere close to dying.

When you peel away the complaints about Blizzard that are based on the fact that somebody doesn’t like a particular game because it either doesn’t cater directly to their needs or competes against a game like or has changed over time you really aren’t left with much.  Even the Diablo: Immortal fiasco from BlizzCon was more about introducing it to the wrong audience

But now we have Blizzard actively backing away from one of their live games.  In an announcement last week the company said that they were shifting some development resources away from Heroes of the Storm and on to other projects.  In addition the HotS leagues, the Heroes Global Championship and Heroes of the Dorm, would not be returning for 2019, leaving some esports professionals out in the cold.

This is strange new territory for Blizzard.  This is an online game that they give away for free, making money via the cash shop selling heroes and cosmetics.  They cannot just abandon it… and have, in fact, said that they are not abandoning it… but the cadence of new heroes and such will be slower.  The game will still be around, for now, just without as much attention paid to it.

Heroes of the Storm has had a long, strange trip, and one unlike many other Blizzard titles.

Its genesis was in the Warcraft III mod Defense of the AncientsThat mod inspired what would become Riot’s League of Legends, released in 2009 and would get Valve to hire the group that made the mode to create a stand alone version that ended up being DOTA 2.

Meanwhile Blizzard, whose game had managed to set the whole MOBA genre in motion, was still neck deep dealing with the overwhelming success of World of Warcraft and trying to get back to their core audiences around StarCraft and Diablo.  Blizzard had some catching up to do.

There was a StarCraft II mod called Blizzard DOTA and it was clear that Blizzard had plans to get into the MOBA scene with a game of the same name.  They got into a legal scrape with Valve over use of DOTA in the title which ended up with Valve keeping DOTA 2 as a name and Blizzard changing their title to Blizzard All-Stars while retaining the right to use the DOTA name.

Blizzard also bought the Riot subsidiary DOTA All-Stars, which had been servicing the original Defense of the Ancients mod.  Then Blizzard changed the name of their game to Heroes of the Storm.

But it wasn’t until early 2015 that Blizzard looked to be finally ready to go with Heroes of the Storm, announcing a founders pack that would get you some special heroes, skins, currency, and access to the beta.

By that time Raptr was reporting that what would ultimately be the key competitors for the game were already pretty well entrenched.

Three Blizzard titles on this list

And here is where SynCaine makes a key point.  By the time Heroes of the Storm rolled onto the scene, Blizzard was not facing an almost unclaimed market the way they were when Warcraft or Diablo launched, or a market with no clear leader, which Hearthstone faced, or even a market where the leader was assailable, the way EverQuest was when World of Warcraft launched.

Instead they were wandering into a market where the market leader had been allowed more than five years to cement its position.  Riot, for all of its faults, was no SOE foundering around trying to preserve its unexpected success.  By 2014 LoL had a huge following with millions of games being played daily.

And Blizzard had… erm… heroes from its various IPs I guess.  It wasn’t a complicated genre, so there wasn’t a lot of smoothing to be done, and Riot had the polish aspect down pretty well, so Blizz wasn’t going to stand out on that front.

I mean, Blizzard did better than Turbine, which squandered the company on Infinite Crisis, which was shut down before HotS even went live.

And for any other publisher Heroes of the Storm might have counted as a success.  It made SuperData’s top ten list for esports viewership in 2017.

SuperData 2017 esports Viewership Chart

But when you’re only pulling in 10% of your main competitor, and less than 25% of the second place player in the genre, then you’re barely a player in the market.  And if your Blizzard, who is used to being a player in every market they enter, that has to be something of a crisis.

So what happens to Heroes of the Storm?

If this were the 90s and the game had an offline mode, Blizzard could just leave it behind.  Though, I will admit, Blizz is pretty good about continuing to throw older games some support.  I think if you have a fully patched up copy of Warcraft II you can still get on Battle.net and find people to play with.  And StarCraft, they still have tournament play at BlizzCon for that.  But when you’re made your game require a connection to the mothership and it is right there on your corporate launcher for everybody to see, walking away isn’t so easy.

StarCraft II still gets some update, Diablo III has seasons with special gear and drops, so what will life after the change look like for Heroes of the Storm?  And how much will this foreshadow the eventual end game for World of Warcraft.  It cannot stay popular forever, can it?

14 thoughts on “What Becomes of Heroes of the Storm?

  1. Crasniya

    As a casual HOTS player, I am totally comfortable with a slower cadence. HOTS has never felt like it was a priority for Blizzard before, so it doesn’t seem like much of a shift now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Marathal

    There have been some comments I have seen calling out Blizzard for destroying the livelihoods of HoTS streamers and those who compete competitively. And I have to take the position that they just don’t care. Ask any High School guidance counselor what advice they give to the student poised to go to college on a sports scholarship, its never a guaranteed career. You may not make it to the pros. Always have a back up plan. What would any of the hundreds to thousands of people that make a living off of Blizzard products do if they ever closed their doors. Is it sad that the game will receive less attention going forward? Sure it is. There are a lot of fans. Nothing lasts forever.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Marathal – I have seen a bunch of that as well. I don’t want to mock anybody’s misfortune, but unless they have a contract that Blizz has reneged on, they don’t have a leg to stand on. Have they seen what happened to the H1Z1 pro league?

    Some of the complaining is that the announcement was sudden, after a period of quiet. But that is pretty much how these things always play out. Ask anybody who has ever been laid off or had their company fold. I’ve been through both. When the company is assessing things they don’t come out and say, “We might shut this all down in a few weeks… or maybe not.” People would panic and jump ship right then, including the key people you would need if the company decided against a shut down. So they do their due diligence, make a plan, and execute it. At that point there is no gentle way to let people down.

    I am somewhat interested in the players who were all-in on HotS and why their skills are not transferable to be competitive in LoL or DOTA 2. Are the games so different that you can’t move between them? Or is it, as I have heard it suggested, that the best talent stuck with LoL and so the HotS league just had a lower barrier to entry when it came to skill? Was HotS the Canadian Football League in this scenario, the place you go when you can’t make it in the NFL?

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Bhagpuss

    That’s a fascinating question, how long WoW has left. My guess would be decades, always providing the technology continues to support it. There was a lot of talk a few years back about the Personal Computer becoming obsolete but so far it hasn’t happened. I thought laptops would be the platform to vanish, with desktop PCs remaining for the gaming market and tablets/phones replacing larger portables but apparently people are quite happy to own a whole load of different types of computer. Most people I know now have a smartphone, a tablet *and* a laptop. Even my mother, who’s 86 and totally non-tech-minded, has all three.

    So, even if desktops go, which I now think they will, since offices aren’t interested any more and there are so many cheaper and more manageable options for home entertainment, WoW will still have laptops and tablets to fall back on. Plus no doubt there will be some kind of home version of a PC that isn’t called a PC for gamers to carry on spending insane amounts of money upgrading year after year.

    Anyway, all speculation aside, my feeling is that I will die before WoW does. I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it outlives my step-kids, the youngest of whom is nearly 30. I’m convinced that, had the Victorians invented the Internet, there would still be Victorian MMOs online today. These things become institutions if they last past a certain time and then they go on forever.

    Of course, if Blizzard and/or Activision go to the wall before then, WoW might get pulled down with it. That’s possibly the most likely way it’ll go.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Bhagpuss I don’t even want to start in on how long WoW might have left. Back in 2007 I was asking who would be playing EverQuest by 2011 and we just got the 25th expansion for that. So my track record there is pretty bad.

    I think HOW WoW might fade is an interesting topic though. Will it follow the rest of the genre into Free to Play and run with a cash shop before the end? I mean, it has gone all-in on retro servers now after 15 years. EQ played the retro server card at year 8 and free to play at year 13. Will WoW be an extended version of that? Can we use the same ratio? Does that mean WoW, depending on which ratio you like, goes free to play in or 2028, or maybe 2032, about 24-28 years after it launched? And where does it go from there?

    There is some spicy speculation to be made in that.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Shintar

    Yeah, I was kind of surprised by the uproar this announcement created. First off because HotS was clearly the unloved step-child in Blizzard’s stable as it is, and what do people expect? As others have said above, it’s one thing to feel bad for the people losing jobs, but hinging your livelihood completely on someone else’s product is always risky business and did anyone seriously expect Blizzard to send out a memo weeks in advance that they were thinking about shutting the whole thing down? Insanity.

    Also, as you said, Blizzard has historically been pretty good at supporting their older properties… I’m guessing the very nature of the game might be a problem though. I’ve seen people complain that queues were already quite long for something that’s supposed to allow casual hopping in and out, and that’s only going to get worse with reduced support and crowds of people screaming about how the game’s dead now. I do wonder how Blizzard would handle HotS effectively becoming unplayable for the casual audience due to lack of critical mass.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Marathal

    I’ve worked for the same company for 33 years. I have seen clients that were major companies close their doors suddenly, even been involved with jobs we were mostly complete to find out we won’t get paid. I have been through 4 layoffs, one a short time of 2-3 months, two that lasted 6 months, and the worst right after I bought my first new car, for 9 months. I know that a job can be gone in an instant. What would all of these people do if Amazon shuts down Twitch and decides it wants a different platform. They could say they won’t support any number of games because it goes against their corporate image. So many people feel that if they have a gimmick if you will, that it’s a free ride to gravy town. Look at any actor with decades of films that makes one wrong comment or is accused of something from 20 years ago. Take the experience and livelihood you are able to make, and do all you can, but never expect it will always be your sole source of income forever.

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  8. Marathal

    I am willing to bet possibly the next expansion, but more likely the one after that, that WoW will consolidate and go to a world server to compensate for server populations dwindling. That may buy them a few years provided that Classic doesn’t push the sub loss below a level Activision deems worth committing resources too.

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  9. Telwyn

    Marathal’s comments above speak to my own vicarious experience of the many actors I know. If you work in ‘entertainment’ (and esports pros certainly do) then you have a very uncertain livelihood forever. No actor is 100% guaranteed certainty in that regard, no matter how popular they are (for the moment). So any complaints about esports leagues shutting down, sadly, just point out the naivety of the writer/speaker – go ask the millions of poor actors who have zero job certainty ever.

    As for the future of WoW, then I expect Wilhelm has the right of it in his comment above. WoW will only end or drastically change model when Blizzard decides it should. Either when they have so much success from other games that WoW becomes an accounting irrelevance (thought experiment: what if Diablo Immortal overtakes WoW’s numbers with new mobile audiences?), or when their management tire of the endless complaining and impossible to please nature of their audience. I suspect the profitability of the game is way down from the heady days of Cataclysm/Pandaria and the WoW token has allowed a lot (myself and most of my closest gaming circle) to play for free for over a year now. That means no money at all being paid to Blizzard from us.

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  10. Wilhelm Arcturus Post author

    @Telwyn – While it is down from its billion dollar a year days, WoW is still easily the most profitable title Blizzard has. Only Overwatch has come close to even the reduced state of WoW, and that has faltered this year. Blizz remains stuck like its corporate siblings, depending primarily on a single title. Activistion has Call of Duty, King has Candy Crush Saga, and Blizz has WoW as the primary piece of the revenue.

    As for WoW Tokens, somebody is still spending $20 per to buy them. Nobody is playing for free. Some people have managed to get others to pay for their game time with gold. So, in effect, Blizz is getting more money out of those people using the tokens, since people who subscribe only pay $15 per month, and likely less if they subscribe in 3 or 6 month increments.

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  11. Redbeard

    I have to admit that I was kind of surprised that HotS didn’t end up becoming more of a player in the MOBA scene, because what Blizz typically does is take other people’s games, shine them up and make them more intro friendly, and run with it. League may be huge, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for more than one isometric MOBA like League and DOTA 2.

    From my perspective, this is more an indication that the economics at Activision Blizzard are changing. The bean counters have decided that growing HotS over the long term, something Blizz in the past would have been happy to do, isn’t worth the development and promotion money.

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