“What is a ‘Tank’ hero in Heroes of the Storm?”
Not only is that the million dollar question within the game’s community but for the development team within Blizzard as well. In theory, the role of a hulking brute who can control the battleground while soaking up damage and dishing out crowd-control for teammates to abuse seems straightforward.
What about their ability to peel for teammates? How much initiation should they have within their kit? Are they better off in the solo lane where their sustainability can contest a hero such as Thrall? Do they have the tools to get out of danger that they put themselves in?
These questions, in addition to the above theory of what makes a Tank, is a careful balancing act for the development team when looking to release a new hero into the nexus or tweak an old one.
At the BlizzCon event in Los Angeles, California held last weekend, Adam Jackson, a Balance Designer responsible for making these difficult decisions, sat down with InvenGlobal to shed some light into the intricacies that go into creating this misunderstood role.
More than meets the eye
When presented with the seemingly simple question of, “What defines a Tank hero?” Jackson notes that answering those five words are much, much more complex than it appears.
“We talked about this a lot and we kind of went through a little crisis of sort a couple years ago of ‘What makes a Tank? What do people think a Tank is?’ The thing about the Tank is that it is a very nebulous role. So that it makes it difficult to exactly define what it is; which is why I think that is why there is a discrepancy between community members within each other and us and what makes that role actually work.
To give you an example: I would say most people would agree that (Tanks) need to be kind of hard to kill; they need to have some form of peeling for their allies to protect them; they need some form of initiation so they can start a fight and they generally need some form of sustain or survivability that they can control.”
End of the story, right? Nope. A delicate balancing act is needed when choosing how much of X and Y a hero should have, if at all.
“Those are reasonable things that I think everybody expects ‘Okay, a Tank needs this.” But when we look at Tanks, how much a tank needs in those categories actually varies quite a bit as some of them don't have some of those things. As an example, I remember a couple years ago we had to look at what a Tank is when ETC and Muradin were super popular and that was almost all of you saw at pro play. At the time, people jumped on the bandwagon that a Tank needs mobility to get in and out of a fight and control the fight as ETC has Power Slide and Muradin has his leap.
We looked at the past before that and when the game first came out and Stitches and Arthas were the Tanks that people said these are insane and this is as good as it gets. Stitches has really strong initiation and Arthas has really strong peeling and crowd control and this was back when I was doing Arthas’ rework and we were hunkering down and talking with each other about ‘Can Arthas be a main Tank?’ A the time he was a Bruiser and we really wanted him to be a Tank so as we added a more powerful Slow and an attack speed Slow. It worked out so now we are looking at ‘What is a Tank defined as?’ and I don't think it is as simple as some think.”
Jackson went on to mention that what worked for Arthas does not necessarily translate well to other Tanks. Johanna’s initiation isn’t the same as Diablo or Muradin’s but her peel potential may be stronger than others. Does that make her any less of a Tank? No. The development team wants to prevent chasing rabbit holes of what makes a Tank at the moment when that could change depending on the meta down the road.
The Blaze balancing act
Prior to BlizzCon, a balance patch was released that perplexed members of the professional scene as one of the most powerful heroes at that level of play, Blaze, saw significant buffs. Traditionally used as a solo lane hero in the professional circuit, Blizzard has been slowly turning into him the main Tank they have intended him to be for a while. They went about this by, over time, raising the mana his talents use and adjusting other pieces of his kit that are more Tank-like.
“As far as making Blaze a main Tank, the reason why we are kind of pushing him in that direction is we feel that his kit is a little closer to a main Tank and we think that we can work with that. He has a range Slow, an AOE Stun and things to set himself up more so than someone like Yrel as we are more accepting she can be a Bruiser because of how their kits work.
We are nudging his numbers right now because I do not want to overhaul and rebuild his kit and rip it up from square one. I think the pieces are there but they are not necessarily enough. I think it is more that he is a good solo laner not that he is a bad Tank so the optimal spot is that he is in the solo lane more often than not opposed to the tanking role.”
The development team hopes that changes over time as appealing to all levels of play is a challenge in and of itself.
When it comes to buffing a historically very powerful hero at high-level play, such as Blaze, Jackson notes that while the development team welcomes feedback from professional players, their experience is not always everyone else’s.
“This is a hard one because we do look at pro play and they often times have very strong opinions like, ‘Man, this is really ruining our games.’ The thing about game design and this is true for not just our game but a lot of games, in general, is that the better you get at a game the more narrow what becomes viable happens. I don't think that it is necessarily the end of the world if there are fewer things that are super viable at the top end as long as they have a place for the normal player because most players aren't at the top end. So we do absolutely make balance changes for the top-end. We have nerfed Bunker a few times and it was not the winning Heroic but it is just so good at competitive play. We like what it does, it’s a cool ability so we do not want to just like cut it or nix the core functionality because pros are good at it. But at the same time, like right now, for example, our last week's balance patch we buffed Blaze a little bit and nerfed the wave clear, right? If you look at stats, he is actually the lowest win rate hero in the game.”
A careful balancing act between buffing a hero that is strong in the right hands but not the general public, statistically speaking, is something the design team is not foreign to. According to Jackson, Medivh fits that bill to a T.
“Medivh was in that space for a long time. Genji kind of exist in that space now and he is a very, very low win-rate hero but is seen in competitive a lot. There will always be heroes that are kind of issues but I do not want to completely abandon the normal player and just say ‘You don't get to play this hero unless you are a pro player.’ At the end of the day, we want fun games for the whole player base but we also want competitive games that are interesting to watch and fun for the pro players to play. If we can work in the world where that is at least happening then these niche cases going to happen. It is kind of expected but we just manage it the best we can.”
Tim Rizzo is the editor and a reporter for Inven Global. He joined the company back in 2017.