When we first set out to make Heroes of the Storm, we had an idea of how the game should play. We imagined Support characters as pure healers moving to help their allies. We imagined Siege characters (now called Specialists) charging into battle, and clearing away enemy armies and fortifications with ease to make way for friendly forces. We imagined heroes claiming objectives like the Dragon Knight, or collecting Doubloons to gain the power of characters like the undead pirate, Blackheart.
When we first started, we had individual hero leveling like many games in the genre. We liked how it forced players to split up into different locations, and coming together was a cost and a risk. We also liked how individual experience rewarded players for doing well, and really encouraged players to do their best; knowing that they were falling behind if they started to give away too many victories.
We made a large number of tweaks to this system to make Support and Siege heroes work with individual leveling, and everything worked. –but then we ran into Abathur. Here was a hero who never went into battle at all. He hid back in base, and attacked the enemy from afar. This helped inspire us to consider the possibility of more extreme heroes in the future. What if we had more heroes who supported the team in strange ways?
We were also running into trouble where players didn’t want to leave a battle in order to engage with a map objective or help an ally. Moving to capture a Dragon Shrine was a very risky move if it cost you experience and you fell behind in levels. Players were too fearful to move away from enemy minions to actually engage with the various locations and characters on our Battlegrounds. When we played, we noticed that the players that were actually doing the most to help their team by fighting over Battleground objectives were often several levels behind.
Moving from one part of the Battleground to another to heal an ally or kill an enemy was also risky. If you did it too often you would find yourself behind in levels. With individual leveling, all players had to stay in a lane next to a battle most of the time.
This was not the freeform strategic experience we were hoping for.
We started to experiment with team leveling. In this new system, many elements (like killing towns) give map-wide experience to the whole team, even if there is nobody near the town when it is destroyed. Enemy minions give experience so long as someone is nearby to collect the experience. If you have two heroes near an enemy minion when it dies you do not collect double experience. As long as you have a single hero next to a battle you are collecting the maximum experience from that battle for your team.
Team leveling solved a lot of problems for our game. Characters like Abathur just worked. All of our Battlegrounds were suddenly alive with possibility. Players had the freedom to go where they wanted to go, when they wanted to go there, with the knowledge that their allies were helping them by collecting the experience that minions created. At any given time one to three players on each team could be anywhere they wanted to be. They were free to roam to help their team, kill enemies, or complete map objectives with full knowledge that their allies were still getting maximum experience from the Battleground.
Teams that try to send all five players to one location can continue to do so, but at a severe cost. If the other team is split up, the team that is all-in at one location will find itself falling behind in levels.
In the end, this was what it was all about. Creating an environment where it was easy to cross lanes to help one another, or kill an enemy. We want an environment where you can all run to a Cursed Hollow tribute, or everyone can do a mad-dash for a Dragon Shrine, secure in the knowledge that your allies have your back.
I hope that helps people understand what we are doing, and why. As always, your feedback for our Alpha is greatly appreciated, and has already helped us make Heroes of the Storm a better game.