On a Deeper Level : “Heroes of the Storm” and Familiar Identity

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Image via forbes.com

By Michael Dellapi, Highlighter staff columnist

I was surprised and mostly delighted to find that the “Heroes of the Dorm” finals were
being showcased on national TV recently when my suitemate was trying to watch a college
basketball game on ESPN2. “Heroes of the Dorm” is a Blizzard-sponsored tournament for the third-person MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) “Heroes of the Storm.” I’ve taken a liking to the game recently, primarily because it offers something distinctly different compared to the game that previously dominated my time, “League of Legends.” On release, “Heroes of the Storm” was largely ridiculed by players because it was assumed to be a cashgrab appealing to the increasingly popular MOBA scene. However, Blizzard has exhibited a clear effort to set apart their game from other titles in the genre, and I believe that the way they accomplish this best is by offering players access to characters who have preexisting identities from the company’s other works.

Almost all of the characters in “Heroes of the Storm” have appeared in other Blizzard
works, whether it be “Diablo,” “World of Warcraft,” or “Starcraft.” While it appears at first glance to be an example of a company’s ability to generate original IP’s for their game, it becomes increasingly evident that Blizzard is taking a unique approach to how they treat the representation of characters in their game. More accurately, it feels as if each of the playable entities in “Heroes of the Storm” simultaneously belongs in the MOBA itself while remaining familiar to their source material. The recently released character LiMing is a prime example of exploring how to make a character simultaneously feel fitting while still offering an experience unique to the MOBA genre itself. LiMing is meant to replicate the Wizard class from “Diablo 3,” a fast-paced action game where hordes of enemies are approaching the player from all directions. The Wizard class specializes in large, explosive maneuvers to quickly decimate the group while they try to re-position themselves to a safer location.

This power fantasy would be undoubtedly hard to replicate in a setting where players are pitted 5v5 against each other. Blizzard capitalizes on this identity by giving LiMing a low health pool but a reset to the cool down of all her abilities if she contributes in killing an enemy. This constant tension makes the play style of LiMing simultaneously feel recognizable and unique, forcing the player to dash around the battlefield quickly as if she were among the hordes of the undead in “Diablo 3.” Most recently, Blizzard has announced adding the character Tracer from the unreleased first-person shooter “Overwatch” into the game, once again aiming to bring together two typically unrelated means of play. In order to replicate the sensation of playing a shooter, Tracer is allowed to attack while moving and uses a reload mechanic. This design is rather unorthodox, but does work in catering to a multitude of different of power fantasies. Like the popular fighting game franchise “Smash Bros.,” Blizzard’s MOBA is able to stay relevant by bringing together characters that are not just understandably aesthetically, but mimics styles of play that are unique to their source material.

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