Major eSport 'Heroes of the Storm' faces a new challenge: Mind control

BY Andrew Lynch • March 22, 2016

Although it's by no means as complicated or renowned as some of its MOBA competitors, Blizzard's "Heroes of the Storm" is one of the world's biggest and fastest-growing eSports. As you read this, the annual "Heroes of the Dorm" tournament is playing out in front of a global audience, with the finals set to air on national television in the United States.

Yes, as March Madness marches on, there's a video-game equivalent -- and one you might not be familiar with.

But that's okay, because "Heroes of the Storm" as we know it is about to go through some pretty radical changes.

On Monday, Blizzard released a new patch for "Heroes of the Storm" to its public test realms, where players have a chance to work out the bugs and give feedback on heroes and balance issues before the game goes live. And this patch in particular has eSports watchers poring over the massive changes to the game, christening the brave new world "Heroes of the Storm 2.0".

Several popular heroes, such as Gazlowe, Illidan and Kael'thas, are undergoing complete overhauls, with talents being replaced and new abilities being introduced. For the most part, the changes affect Assassin and Specialist heroes that are capable carries, and those modifications should go a long way toward establishing a new meta-game with improved balance.

Yet there's one change in particular that has the "HotS" community taking a long look at the notes. Famed hero Sylvanas (from the "Warcraft" series) has long been a solid hero with builds that allow her to act as a capable ganker. As of this patch, however, Sylvanas is getting a new heroic ability: A mind control that some worry could be game-breaking.

Via the Heroes of the Storm patch notes:

New Heroic (R): Mind Control

-- After channeling for 1 second, gain control of an enemy Hero’s movement for 2.5 seconds

Dark Lady’s Call (Talent)

-- This Talent’s functionality has changed and now affects Mind Control

-- Now increases target’s Movement Speed by 100%

The implications are massive. In a MOBA without items or diverse talent builds, hero positioning is everything. Now, one hero can force control of your hero out of your hands and position them to get destroyed by a team-gank -- or, conversely, Sylvanas can take your support hero out of a fight, significantly weakening a team push. And it remains to be seen whether there will be a counter for her heroic ability, such as Leoric's Wraith Walk.

Fortunately for the sake of balance, this patch also introduces hero banning to the pre-game selection process. In the early stages of this new environment, we expect to see quite a few Sylvanas bans -- at least until the meta shifts again. And, on the plus side, some of Sylvanas' other abilities were either nerfed or reworked, decreasing her ability to debuff enemy heroes and her survivability. 

With "Heroes of the Dorm" in full swing, competitive HotS players must now balance trying to win the current tournament with dissecting the new meta game. Indications at this point are that Blizzard will continue the "Heroes of the Dorm" competition on tournament servers that won't be affected by the recent patch, which could be live as soon as early April.

Until then, "Heroes of the Storm" will be at the front of eSports conversations, both in the battlegrounds and in theorycraft discussions. When one of the biggest games makes such drastic changes, it's inevitable.

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