Friday eXcursion: Heroes of the Storm


How I Learned to MOBA

I’ve never really been a fan of the MOBA genre. Sure, I’ve played League of Legends a bit and dabbled in DOTA 2, but the genre never really sunk its claws into me. Then, I played Heroes of the Storm. Touted more as a “hero brawler” than a MOBA, Heroes of the Storm is, well… it’s still a MOBA, despite what Blizzard’s marketing department may tell you.  

Wait a minute, let me back up. MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. For those of you not yet familiar with the genre, the original MOBA arose from a WarCraft III mod titled Defense of the Ancients, more commonly referred to as “DOTA.”

Nowadays, there are several different takes on the genre, but there are a few static features that define all MOBAs.First, with some notable exceptions such as Wargaming’s World of Tanks, they are played on a single map. There are two teams, usually composed of five players per side, and each player selects a specific hero from a large roster.

Each team is in charge of protecting their own base, and if the enemy team reduces the opposing base’s hit points to zero, they win. The maps are typically split into three separate lanes. Each base is guarded by towers along the three lanes leading from one side of the map to the other. In many games in this genre, both sides regularly spawn “minions” (minor non-player characters) which attack along the lanes, fighting whatever gets in their way – be it enemy minions, towers, player-controlled heroes or the base itself.

In some cases (HotS included)  are also groups of neutral minions scattered in the areas between the lanes. Players can kill these for extra gold and experience as well as additional advantages such as powerful team buffs. Usually one player – termed “the jungler” – is in charge of roaming away from the main lanes and taking out the neutral spawns.

In most MOBA’s, a player earns rewards such as gold for being the last to hit an enemy minion or character. This is known as “last-hitting.” Only the player with the last hit earns gold for the kill. Gold is used at the shop to buy items which make your heroes stronger, in addition to the levels heroes gain for killing enemies.

This, in a nutshell, is the basis for the prototypical MOBA. There’s also a slew of terms unique to the genre. Check out this useful page for definitions of the many MOBA terms.

But why do I love Heroes and not League or DOTA 2? Maybe it’s because I love everything Blizzard is doing right now, and most everything from their past. I still casually play World of WarCraft. Hearthstone is an unqualified success on a scale Blizzard probably did not expect. Diablo III is a game that reinvents itself every season, staying fresh and fun. StarCraft II is still an amazing RTS. Drawing from the rich characters and history of these Blizzard games, how could I not want to throw StarCraft‘s Raynor at the Lord of Terror himself? Or have Thrall toss lightning at Tassadar’s mouthless mug?

Perhaps it’s because Heroes looks amazing. The characters are detailed and alive with dozens of lines of dialogue, some of which is only accessible when certain characters are on the same team. The first time I heard the interaction between Illidan and Malfurion, it left me all tingly and geeky inside. Blizzard excels at this kind of stuff and that makes a difference, particularly if you’re familiar with the various characters and their histories.

The Butcher and Morales prepare to throw down

The Butcher and Lt. Morales prepare to throw down.

Maybe I love Heroes because, although it IS a MOBA, it is different in a few key areas. For instance, gone is all the last-hit nonsense from most MOBAs; instead, everyone gets experience for any team kill, and the five heroes on a team level up together. This puts the emphasis on the team instead of the individual and is important to the game’s identity. Also, stemming from the lack of last-hits, players don’t earn gold individually, or even as a team. Nor do you need gold to buy items in order to upgrade your hero. Gasp! There’s not even a shop!

Instead, players are presented with a choice of talents. You gain new talents at levels 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 16 and 20, but you can only choose one talent per level. These talents often enable the same character to be very different from match to match.  

Simpler, perhaps, but like most Blizzard games, these mechanisms get deeper the longer you play. The depth of Heroes becomes more evident as you begin to understand the interplay of heroes, talents, and team compositions and then also factor in the different battlefields and map objectives on each. As of this writing, there are nine different battlegrounds and each is designed around unique objectives, keeping the game fresh.

For all of these reasons, I’ve learned to love MOBA’s with Heroes. I’ve barely looked back since I started playing, and the same is true of many friends who previously didn’t care for the genre, either. Blizzard is doing something right.

The Healer and the Demon

The Butcher overextends

The Butcher overextends, far away from his lifeline.

Recently, my buddy Secon and I decided to pair up as The Butcher and one of the newer heroes, Lt. Morales. He plays a great Butcher; however, I was just learning Morales. It takes a while to truly understand the intricacies of each character and then put your new knowledge to use. My aging reflexes make the latter a little tougher, but I try. We had a combination in mind and wanted to try it out.

You see, Heroes groups all of its characters into one of four categories: Warrior, Assassin, Specialist and Support. Warriors are either hefty meatshields like the Diablo Crusader Johanna, or bruisers like the recent Protoss addition, Artanis. Assassins pump out the DPS (damage-per-second), like the frantic leaping and slashing of WarCraft’s Illidan, or the stealthy burst damage of StarCraft’s sniper Nova. Specialists are heroes mostly useful for “laning” – taking down towers and pushing through minions – and can often destroy enemy camps fairly easily (roughly the equivalent to “jungling” in MOBA-speak). Diablo’s Azmodan is a specialist, as well as WarCraft’s Sylvanus. Supports are mostly healers, like WarCraft’s Malfurion, but they can also be a mix of healing and DPS like Tassadar or Tyrande. This is true of every category, actually. Blizzard hasn’t stuck to strict rules for their heroes and there is a lot of variety in each class.

Taking one of the tributes

Taking one of the tributes spawned on Cursed Hollow.

The Butcher, played by Secon in this eXcursion, is a melee assassin. He picks up fresh meat, looking like drops of blood on the map, in order to increase his attack damage. The Butcher’s main abilities are: a hamstring attack that damages and slows enemies, a brand which grants his basic attacks a self heal, and “Ruthless Onslaught”, a nasty charge that stuns one character on impact. When you hear him growl “fresh meat” just before he starts his onslaught, it’s time to head for higher ground.

For his Heroic ability, The Butcher has the choice of either “Lamb to the Slaughter” or “Furnace Blast.” Heroic abilities are powerful skills that only become available at level ten. Like the other talents, there’s always a choice between two. For The Butcher, “Lamb to the Slaughter” chains the nearest hero to a post for four seconds, keeping them in place.Furnace Blast” is a big, fiery area-of-effect explosion that, while it takes three seconds to charge up, and requires some skill to land properly, can be very effective. For this game, Secon went with “Lamb to the Slaughter.”

Lt. Morales, played by yours truly, is a support character. She’s very much a healer and has some of the lowest damage output in the game. Her trait is “Caduceus Reactor, allowing her to regenerate health every second after not taking damage for four seconds, which is great because she’s the only support incapable of directly mending herself. Her abilities include “Healing Beam”, which she can train on only one hero at a time, healing them every second it’s activated; “Safeguard”, which grants damage reduction to a single hero (even herself); and “Displacement Grenade”, a skill shot grenade fired in a straight line that damages and knocks away enemies. Her Heroic offers players the choice of either “Stim Drone” or “Medivac Dropship.  “Stim Drone” grants an allied hero a huge boost in attack speed and a smaller boost in movement speed. “Medivac Dropship” calls up a dropship in which allied heroes can load up and zoom to another location on the map.

The combination Secon and I were interested in trying out involved dropping “Stim Drone on The Butcher, who – when fully buffed out with fresh meat and talents – has an insanely high attack speed. Add “Stim Drone” to that and oh my… right?

An Old System

Heroes has some matchmaking issues at the moment. It’s based on the StarCraft II matchmaker, which works really well for a 1v1 game like SC2, but has had growing pains in Heroes. The system has gotten better in recent weeks\ but still has a ways to go, and Blizzard is working on a new matchmaking system from the ground up. On one occasion our team warped onto the battlefield at the beginning of the match we discovered we had a strange composition, but far from the worst I’ve seen. We had the bruiser, Artanis of Legacy of the Void fame, Brightwing and myself as healers (usually you’ll only have one full healer, if you get a healer at all in some quick matches), my buddy Felonis as the ranged assassin, Raynor, and Secon as The Butcher. The other team had a similarly strange make up: Valla as ranged assassin, Tyrande as half of a healer and Rehgar as a full healer, Gazlowe for pushing down the lanes and Sonya, another bruiser. There were no true tanks on either side, but plenty of healing to go around. It made for an odd match, but not totally unbalanced.

The Butcher lit up in Stim Drone

The Butcher lit up in Stim Drone blue, while my healing beam saves Artanis.

Selecting a quick match randomly chooses your battlefield. We found ourselves on Cursed Hollow. It’s a fun, three lane map. Every so often, the Raven Lord spawns tributes in a random location. If one side manages to gather three tributes, the losing side is cursed: forts will not attack and minions are reduced to 1 health each for the duration of the curse. These tributes force teams to fight over them. You can choose to ignore a curse here and there and push a lane or two instead but, as a rule – particularly in quick match – teams head for the tribute as soon as it spawns.

Throwing Down

The early laning was tough on both The Butcher and Morales. The Butcher needs to pick up a fair amount of fresh meat in order to truly shine, which takes some time (and he loses all or most of it when he dies, depending on talent choices). Morales, if she’s not careful, can quickly run out of mana in a fight and find herself without a heal to give. We lost the first tribute, and The Butcher suffered his first death when we were separated during the team fight. However, we easily took the second tribute, wiping out Valla, Gazlowe and Sonya in the process. From there, it was mostly downhill for the opposing team. We’d hit our stride, so to speak. Like in most sports this inertia, this teamplay, this momentum, is a real thing in Heroes of the Storm.  Sometimes it’s impossible to stop. Sometimes it runs straight into a wall and your team crashes and burns. One great thing about Heroes is the ability to turn a rout into a rally, often after a late game team wipe, meaning all five members of a team have been killed. But our opposition wasn’t so lucky.

We took the third tribute and burned some towers and forts on our way to the enemy core. Nearly the entire game we were at least two levels ahead of our opponents, which makes a huge difference in team fights.

But the most fun came at level ten when we all gained our Heroics. As I stated previously, I chose “Stim Dronein order to buff The Butcher and turn him into an even nastier death dealer. He’s a bit terrifying when he’s churning forward, slashing madly, with only the depths of hell in his soul. In this match, it worked out flawlessly. When I dropped the “Stim Drone on him – which lasts for a full ten seconds (an eternity in a team fight) – he would go nuts, often chaining someone with his “Lamb to the Slaughter” and then mercilessly chopping them down.

Gazlowe meets The Butcher

Gazlowe meets The Butcher’s Lamb to the Slaughter…and my Stim Drone. Good stuff.

Mopping Up

Ultimately, we won the game, taking down their core in twenty minutes –  the average length of a Heroes match for most maps. This is considerably shorter than most League of Legends or DOTA 2 matches, which another selling point for Heroes since matches in other MOBAs average around 45 minutes or more. The enemy team managed to grab two tributes, but never attained the third necessary to drop the curse on our team. “Stim Drone” was a hit, although we didn’t have quite as much luck in some of the other matches with the same duo. It happens. The enemy team did manage six kills throughout the contest. The Butcher died three times, but one or two of those deaths might have been my fault – sorry brother! I didn’t die at all, which is rare for Lt. Morales. She is generally targeted as an easy kill. My thanks to Brightwing, my fellow healer, for saving my arse more than once. It’s rare to have two full healers on the same team but, this time, it worked out.

Taking down the enemy core

Taking down the enemy core, hooah!

Fun Fun Fun

Yep, Heroes is fun, fun, fun. It’s also addictive and, although it’s free-to-play, it can be rather expensive if you start buying skins and mounts and such. These are not available for purchase with the in-game currency. I’ve already spent a small fortune. Still, I love the game and, as I mentioned, I’m not a MOBA kinda guy. This match was a blast. We won this one but, even when I lose, it’s still a hoot since you’re always learning the game. Heroes allows both casual and try-hard play, but the most fun for me comes from hopping into chat with friends and just playing for fun, whether it’s a quick match or a serious Hero League game.




Categories: eXcursions

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27 replies »

  1. I always an on edge waiting for the next 4x article. Then we get this MOBA crap.

    I hope this site does not follow the path like another Massive Multiplayer Online RPG site that has to add things that are not really MMO-RPG’s just to have something to talk about.


    • Greetings and Salutations.

      The problem with 4X is that there is a limited amount of games out there. We’ve tried to covering older games, and no one cared. We have videos and write-ups, forum posts, outside of one or three older games, no one even knows them.

      Friday excursions are just that, excursions. Sometimes they will be Strategy, other times they’ll be RPG or whatever. When a 4X game hits the market, we’ll be all over it. When it’s a good strategy game, it will be the same.

      That’s the best I can offer. I too am not a fan of the MOBA scene, or MMO’s or MP gameplay, but that doesn’t mean we won’t cover them.

      We have a write up for Beyond Sol that will drop next week. Another for Armello. Battle Brothers is ready to go, but we are waiting for the big update in Feb before putting that one out. There are other strategy games that are in various states, right now as well.

      You just need to hang in there, or suggest some in the comments or forums.

      Thanks for reading,



      • The Friday Excursions makes a lot more sense now knowing that they are designed to stretch beyond the boundaries a bit into the other genres.

        I really loved the info about what is coming up next week and in February. Perhaps this could be listed somewhere on the site as the content is being planned. This way it could tease people a bit about things to come.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Incredibly disappointed to see a moba review, and especially such a mainstream game like hots. Your credibility and interest for me just flew out the window, I SERIOUSLY doubt this is what anyone wants to see and I think a lot of us really despise these kind of games.


    • Sorry that you feel that way. As big a fan as I am of 4X games, and I am a HUUUGE fan, I play other games too. Friday eXcursions are a continuation of the last segment of the WeX. It’s a write up of games we’re playing.

      Until we settle on a proper format for reviewing non-4X strategy games, we also use it to cover strategy titles.

      The 5X method for 4X titles (it’s at the bottom of each review) doesn’t lend itself to regular strategy games. So, I am using the feedback from the FrieX write-ups to gauge what people look for, and I am compiling, with the help of the other eXplorminators, a non-4X review format.

      Also, Ponto, you are mistaken about what others want to see. if MOBA’s were so bad, they wouldn’t be a ESL favorite.

      Next week and the following weeks will have more 4X, 4X-like, strategy coverage. A Stellaris Q&A for one… in the works.

      So, hang in there, and just enjoy the ride.



  3. Don’t pay attention to the hate SGTShaggy and Nasarog. Its an excursion, its supposed to be different. I cant believe people can be so mean about these things.

    I enjoyed the article, it was fun. I used to pretty big into League of Legends, still love the game really, but don’t play it anymore. I was good at the game, was plat 1 at my peak, but it just took all my time, and nothing can make you rage like a MOBA.

    When I had tried Heroes of the Storm last year I got bored playing it, because of some of the reasons listed above, IE no last hitting and whatnot. It felt like there wasn’t much I was doing in the game. I think though, after reading this article, and having been away from LoL for awhile now, I can have a different mindset in the game, and maybe it will appeal to me. So good job SgtShaggy! Good excursion, keep it up.


    • Thanks!

      “…but it just took all my time, and nothing can make you rage like a MOBA.”

      Quoted for truth. There’s so much else to play and I was really starting to rage some nights, which is totally unlike me. The wife wasn’t sure who she had married some nights, lol. I’ve curbed my playing a bit, because of the time involved… Mostly I just chill with friends here and there nowadays :-).



  4. Nice to see some variety – Nothing like a breath of fresh air to avoid growing stale. It also helps to get a fresh perspective from other genres (even something as distant as a MOBA) to avoid getting stuck in old perspectives without any evolution.

    While I don’t play MOBAs myself as a rule, I really love Blizzard’s “oh what the hell, let’s make it as silly as we can” approach to the game. Watched someone play an ogre? hero that is too large for their mount – so they simply carry it around over their shoulder when riding.

    Love it!


  5. Yeah – wow – I am completely in disagreement with the haters here. I thought SgtShaggy’s article was great. I am not a MOBA guy by any means, but after I read his review I went ahead and downloaded the game. I’ve been having a lot of fun – to me, that’s what eXplorminate is all about. 4X or not. Mainstream or not. Just introducing, suggesting and celebrating great, strategic games.


  6. Thanks for a well written and engaging article Chris. I fully appreciate that not all games will appeal to everyone but I really like the Friday excursion format – I’d like to think there are a lot of folks like myself who don’t mind hearing about interesting games from other genres. I like to keep an open mind and I’ve genuinely had a lot of fun with games that I wouldn’t ordinarily have given the time of day to, all on the back of your enthusiastic coverage. Troy, Nate, Chris & co. – Please keep them coming!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I will have to agree with the “haters” on these kind of topics. Yes, we are not just 4X gamers and probably all of us have played or play other genres as well. But if I wanna read about them I go check out the appropriate fanpage/site. When there are no news for 4X/Strategy then… how about don’t write anything? Is there some sort of deadline in which you HAVE to write something or you get fired? If not, please don’t write irrelevant (so rude, but true) news on genre that I don’t and SHOULD NOT expect here. The time on that article would have been better on a Lets play for example.

    Maybe I just don’t see the appeal on growing the site in all kind of directions, maybe you wanna be the next IGN or whatever. But I came for the 4X and some strategy, and the second this turns into a jack of all trades is the day I will need to find a new home. I don’t want to scroll through article after article to find the news I want to read.

    Just my polite criticism on these kind of news. :P


  8. Also, while we are at it. This is also a Strategy site, I guess? (it says so in the banner). How about you try to get some inside info on Atlas. An upcoming RTS game. https://www.artillery.com/atlas

    Strategy genre has a lot to offer and I am sure there would be a lot less backlash from the community if you spent the void of 4X news on that. :)


    • It’s a shame the replies ended almost entirely focusing on a critic of editorial decisions, rather then the actual game being discussed. But I can sort of understand those who didn’t like the decision to feature a MOBA game. It’s perhaps so distant from what we traditionally consider 4x strategy, that it came as a shock.

      But readers should really understand that a place like eXplorminate can function, and function well, by also providing articles for other genres, while strategy in general, and 4x in particular, take the blunt of the show. It really is not reasonable to expect an exclusive treatment of the 4x genre in a community that is taking so many resources to put together. We have this website, an youtube channel, the steam group, a reddit hangout, a twitter account, a twitch channel, regular giveaways, podcasts, and, of course, the constant and tireless work and effort of all the staff. These things come at a cost that so far we, the readers, have not been directly or indirectly charged in any way whatsoever. Not even in the form of banner ads! Incredible!

      I personally don’t care about the MOBA/DOTA genres one single iota. In fact, I despise them tremendously! Not so much the technical aspects of the games involved or the obvious potential for incredibly fun gameplay, but instead for the community that tends to surround it, for their immature behavior and unsportsmanlike attitude. I won’t mince my words on this matter. There should be exceptions in every game, but I feel confident in generalizing it this way. (And please don’t try to convince me otherwise. I don’t want to hear it. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it. On several attempts to get into the genre.)

      I however have no argument against a MOBA game being featured and other genres to start being featured more commonly. And shouldn’t any other reader, really. Neither should the staff so quickly cave in to the, not thoroughly reasoned, demands of a few vocal members in a community that in fact stretches well into the thousands of readers.

      So, I *WELCOME* Chris post and hope to see more! In particular I *THANK HIM* for such a well written post and the obvious amount of work that he had to put it together. As long as eXplorminate maintains its focus on the 4x and strategy genres, readers will soon learn to appreciate the widening of eXplorminate coverage. And in a few months, if not weeks, any remaining protesters will just look weird to everyone else.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I can’t speak for anyone but myself but after seeing the uproar I just wanted to say that I’ve enjoyed many of the articles that aren’t strictly 4x related. Mezmorki’s (iirc) about rogue-likes and rogue-like features that are appearing more and more in 4x and other genres was really good, for example. Obviously I am drawn to the site mainly by the 4X coverage and mostly want to read/hear about those, but occasional coverage of other genres is fine in my book.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I don’t think you should change your approach because of a few negative comments. Yes this is a 4x site, but personally I’d rather the site was active even if it means the occasional article about other types of games – for example I really enjoyed your article on Mordheim and it got me interested in a game I wouldn’t normally have looked at. If people don’t want to read about a certain game then surely it’s easier just to not click on the article?

    Maybe some of the posts here are an example of negativity felt towards the huge money-making machine that is Blizzard and unfortunately it is has instead been directed at yourselves.

    eXplorminate has become one of my fav websites for games simply because the whole thing feels more personal and less corporate. I love the weekly exchange in particular, just listening to two fans talk about 4x strategy games with the cool banter you’ve got going.

    Keep up the good work!


      • Always online requirements even for single-players, some in-game cash grab market, a multiplayer focus attitude to every aspect of the game design… if these things materialize, as they usually do with Blizzard (once one of the most beloved developer studios in the world), then… yeah! My contempt for them and the entry on my blacklist will both remain. I don’t buy Blizzard, even when I can.

        Chris mentions in his article he loves everything they are doing. And that’s the thing, since WoW they got really very good at tapping into their newfound market. I can’t question their incredible talent and ability to create fantastic titles that drive millions of players. But that’s not my market at all. And much of the contempt and frustration of some players, myself included, comes from remembering who they once were. If Blizzard didn’t have the history they have, no one would criticize them for having taken the route they did. We would simply either adore them, or ignore them.


  11. Thank you all. These exchanges are very good. I understand why some people might feel the way they do, I certainly have games that I am not a fan of. Our goal is to cover 4X and strategy games. Some game might be less familiar than others, but if we can give them some attention (HotS excluded), it might improve the whole genre.

    Message received about RTS titles. We can certainly cover more of those.

    This type of discussion is what we are after by the way.

    Thank you.



  12. My main gripe with this article was that it looks like a very well done and thought out review, but many (me included) will not appreciate nor respect the article because it’s of MOBA nature. That means a significant amount of people that frequent this site can not find any value in it which is a shame. It’s a very focused Strategy site on 4X, many have high expectations and I am sure some elite players here don’t even want to be mentioned in 1 sentence with the term MOBA because of it’s immature community. If there was to happen a survey the average age of MOBAs would probably be 10-15 years younger than us 4Xers. :D

    We can see it as an experiment, and I am sure if you picked a different more indie game like Tharsis (survival space game) none would have complained. MOBAs are catered to the masses. While 4X usually only appeal a very niche group of players. Even RTS is not as popular as it used to be and without Starcraft 2 we would probably see very small RTS communities. Starcraft 2 is the Civ5 of RTS, we need them as entry level to our genre. I am going totally off topic now, lol.

    Anyway, our passion should be put in our beloved Strategy and 4X genre as we don’t need to worry about MOBAs dying out. :)

    Liked by 1 person


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