Blizzard speaks to stealth design in MOBAs and the recent big Heroes of the Storm changes

Stealth is now more noticeable

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Stealth is minefield in any competitive game. If they aren’t stealth “enough” people who play that character will gravitate elsewhere, essentially rendering that roster slot underplayed and a waste of development time, and if they’re “too stealthy,” the rest of the userbase will get frustrated.

Many developers, Riot Games and Valve included, have experimented with stealth to varying degrees of success. Blizzard originally had a hard stance on it in Heroes of the Storm, but rolled out some drastic changes for that tough-to-spot formula. I sat down with Matthew Cooper, senior game designer for Blizzard Entertainment, to see how the new system was going.

For those of you that don’t play Heroes, stealth is now much easier to spot. Just take a look at this video — in the old system the stealth effect was commonly referred to as a “shimmer,” and now it’s more of a shader. Originally, stealth in Heroes was going to be more like Starcraft II. Matthew Cooper stated that “basically, you’d be invisible but there would be some visual indication of your presence,” but over time, they realized that Heroes is a very different game and altered it accordingly. The idea for the most recent shader change is to make it “less of an eye test” for players. According to Blizzard, a lot of the playerbase couldn’t even see stealth shimmers.

For this drastic change (among others), Blizzard put out a three week PTR (testing) period to get some feedback. Cooper says they’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from pro players, streamers, and casters on Valeera and Nova (teleport and clone baseline damage respectively). He explains that PTR is not always the most ideal testing situation (citing “limited matchmaking” as the culprit), and that the team is “excited” to see how they play out in the full game. Although they aren’t planning major changes anytime soon, “tuning” is in the cards if needed. Because of the shader system, Cooper says that they can make more “aggressive” changes without feeling like they will dominate casual quick match play.

If stealth characters start to tank in either winrate or pickrate, Cooper explains that they’ll adjust on a case-by-case basis, with the “easy tuning knob” for stealth characters pertaining to more damage, as well as the window of time for bursts. According to him, the team is not married to true sight on forts and keeps (read: buildings can now detect stealth) and could possibly change it in the future, although they do feel like it’s a “positive addition tot the game” as it makes them more effective.

So we have Blizzard’s design philosophy down, but how will it go down at the top? Cooper explains that he thinks at least a few stealth characters to see pro play, stating: “We expect to see Zeratul and Valeera be viable esports picks. Zeratul of course has been a viable eSports pick for quite some time. For Valeera, we actually saw her played in eSports when she was first released. Again, due to her dominating Quick Match, we had to nerf her at that time, which ultimately brought her out of eSports. We’re hoping with these changes that we can start seeing Valeera show up in eSports again. Samuro is someone we also hope could show up occasionally in eSports. We saw Samuro played once during Blizzcon in an epic match, so I think he definitely has the potential especially with all of the updates. We don’t really expect this round of updates to push Nova into eSports but are extremely happy with her play rate outside of the professional level.”

Personally, I’m jazzed to see stealth characters get more love (it’s weird to see them popping up so frequently again), even if I will miss the shimmer. I know that it was tough for some folks to see, but I loved the challenge of playing against it, and looking for a faint alteration on the battleground — and the joy of stunning and melting them. But I’d trade that all in for a chance to actually play against more of them on a regular basis, so I hope this whole shader plan works out.

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Chris Carter
Managing Editor - Chris has been enjoying Destructoid avidly since 2008. He finally decided to take the next step in January of 2009 blogging on the site. Now, he's staff!
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