Matthew Cooper has a difficult job. As senior game designer on Heroes of the Storm, Cooper’s team is responsible for all balance in the game. This means taking into account how certain heroes may impact not only the pro scene but also the vast majority of casual players, as a slew of new heroes are being introduced at a breakneck pace.
And on top of all this, the balance team must keep in mind a variety of different and newly added maps (called battlegrounds) — all of which see regular play in competitive play. Despite challenges, Cooper is committed to adding yet more characters, maps, talents and depth to the game.
A heroic effort
As the centerpiece of the game, hero design is vital to balance. With a nearly endless array of characters across three different Blizzard IPs, it’s possible for Cooper’s team to fill just about any role they want. “We do have a list,” he told us. “But it’s not a list we’re trying to get through anytime soon. It’s literally a list of 200-plus characters.”
Luckily, as Cooper explained, “We’re pretty open to being able to break the rules.” This freedom along with a list of StarCraft, Warcraft and Diablo characters means there are no real constraints in working solely with Blizzard properties. In fact, there can often be too much content to work with — Diablo’s multiple iterations across three games made him a challenge to design. Heroes is already providing new champs at the pace of about one every three weeks, and “the team has been growing to match that cadence,” Cooper said.
While developing heroes, the balance team tries to keep in mind any and all impacts a new talent or ability would have on the game. However, with a pro scene far removed from casual and ranked play, it’s often impossible to predict how heroes will be used.
“It can get a little challenging when we see a hero like Zeratul dominating the eSports scene, but in Hero League where most of our players are playing he’s actually in a good spot,” Cooper said. “So then we have to figure out what a buff or a nerf would be for both groups or players.”
A balancing act
Once a hero is introduced to the game, Cooper’s team is responsible for these adjustments, looking to professional tournaments, forums and internal statistics for what changes need to be made. Another factor they must keep in mind is the nine different battlegrounds, with more on the way.
In fact, there are so many maps at this early stage of the game that Blizzard is already considering a map rotation. A team of four or five designers is dedicated to working solely on battlegrounds, and as Cooper explained, “They want every battleground to play differently.” And again, these maps must be optimized for both regular and pro play. Cooper said the way pros play the Dragon Shire map was unexpected and never seen in internal play tests. These map designers are well versed in all types of play, from competitive to casual. The lead battlegrounds designer is Chinese and regularly watches Chinese tournaments, bringing even more complexity to the team.
With so many cogs to keep working at once, Cooper’s team has a tall order. But they are all experienced fans of the genre, and they are committed to keeping up with the ever-expanding hero and map pool.
Cooper believes that in Heroes of the Storm, Blizzard has captured many of the most fun elements of MOBAs — from the original DotA to League of Legends. When asked what makes Heroes stand out to him, Cooper said: “Multiple battlegrounds to play on, 20-minute games and unique Blizzard heroes.” And if his team can maintain balance in all aspects of the game, there should be no end in sight for inventive new heroes and battlegrounds.
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