The Hero League Dilemma
And the Problem with Educating the Player Base
Written by: SlapJack
Season 1 of Hero League in 2018 had a plethora of problems. People got placed into a wrong division, whether it was up or down, resulting in several ladder resets to fix the problem. Performance Based Matchmaking (PBM) was even disabled to ensure matchmaking was more precise.
Toward the end of the season, several highly ranked players noticed that they always got a negative personal rank adjustment, to which Blizzard admitted that high ranked players were receiving continuous negative personal adjustments at the end of each game in order to balance out the MMR disparities. After several complaints, the game developer was forced to again come up with a new approach in next season.
For the second season of 2018, Blizzard announced that the uncertainty after a reset was reduced and that players could no longer jump higher or lower then one division compared to their rank in the previous season. New accounts could only rank as high as Platinum 3. It seemed like a positive change, but it was too late too little.
Despite all the effort to improve the experience in ranked play, discussions on Twitter and Reddit began cropping up on the poor match quality at higher ranks. Across the board, it seemed that there were far too many players in the upper divisions with poor game knowledge and/or mechanics. Was it the result of matchmaking mishaps? Even if it were, how could the system right itself?
Tweets from Dreadnaught and Trikslyr about the player base’s lack of knowledge received several responses from pro players. Community members joined in the discussion as well by throwing in their opinion. Overall, most of the pros agreed that there were not enough resources available to the average player to help them improve.
Of course, this isn’t a new problem. The statement, that the player base knowledge is nowhere near where it should be, was made often times in the past by several pro players. The only difference is that now skill divisions have been jumbled beyond recognition and more games than ever are uneven. The questions that remain are: why it is still a problem, and how do we fix it?
Education with guides
According to Reddit and other popular discussion boards, there is very little educational content available for Heroes of the Storm players, especially from pro players. It’s a poor substitute to rely on progamers who spend most of their time practicing and resting, but even so, the occasional guide by a pro player does get made. Many pro players also provide educational content on their streams by showing how and why they do things and answering questions.
Beside the pro players are tons of content creators out there who publish educational content—even Blizzard’s editorial team did a series of five articles called “Opening Moves” about game basics with input from pro players! So the content is out there in the big world wide web, but it might not be easy to find it. Content creators asked Blizzard several times to help make these articles and guides more visible, but it hasn’t really happened yet.
There is some visibility though. Most of the guides get promoted by known organizations and pages in the scene and are posted on Reddit to get some attention. The content doesn’t reach the entire Heroes of the Storm population, but theoretically it should reach enough to make a difference and to make it easy enough to find educational content for players that are looking for them.
So why is game knowledge still a problem?
The problem is not the number of guides and the availability of them, it’s simply the fact that the player base doesn’t need them. It’s not because they know everything, they just don’t need guides and educational content to help them achieve their goals.
Blizzard recently confirmed that the ideal distribution of players in Hero League is sort of a bell curve with the 60% majority residing in Silver and Gold and very few at the very top and bottom. When asked why there were so few Bronze-level players compared to other games, a Blizzard representative commented that it was an unusual distribution based on making the player base “feel” good about their rank.
While this is a nice touch for players, it certainly doesn’t help to improve the player base knowledge. In fact, this does the opposite. People who feel good with their rank and with what they achieved don’t have the desire to improve themselves and therefore no interest in reading guides or watching videos or pro play. Some even just come back to the game for the new season, play a few games, and then stop until the next season to farm the rewards.
This is especially a problem for the higher ranks in Hero League. Players in Master league can play their ten placement matches and stay in Master league season after season. Even players who just continuously play hero league have a good chance to remain in their rank or even be promoted due to the grind nature of Hero League and the constant teammate roulette. The problem therefore is not the lack of guides and their availability and visibility but rather the fact that there is no need to improve for most players since they get everything they want.
How to solve this problem?
This is a hard question and it’s not easy to answer. One thing requested several times, even by pros, is to change how the placement matches work.
In the first few seasons of Hero League, the rank after placements was capped to Diamond 3 at highest. This would result in Master, Grandmaster, and Diamond 1-3 players getting mixed together into games and generating uneven and unfun games for everyone. In 2017’s Season 3, the cap was raised to 1000 point Master. The idea was to reduce the difference in ranks each game, but it also made it possible for players who had never reached Master league to inexplicably place higher than they ever had.
Placement matches need an overhaul, not the rankings
The players with the highest MMR can place in Diamond 3 if they win all placement matches or place all the way down in Diamond 5 if they lose all of them. Everyone else gets compressed accordingly, meaning that a Platinum 1 player would drop to mid-Platinum, bottom tier Platinum players would drop to Gold, and so on. A compression would enable fairer matchmaking by pushing average players out of the top ranks into the middle of the curve in Silver, Gold, and Platinum leagues. It also would give every player a challenge and a reason to play and grind Hero League, to prove that they are still able to reach their rank. Instead of immediately ranking up to the highest possible rank, players would be forced to play a set number of games. As a result, rankings would normalize.
To give the players enough time to play and climb the ladder, increasing the duration of the seasons to at least 6 month is recommended. The number of placement matches should also be increased to 15 or 20 matches to give the matchmaker a chance to place players correctly and also reduce the weighting of the first two matches. To help reduce the risk of players erroneously remaining at higher rank, the reseeding of MMR should happen if the player has less than 50 games played in the season. When a reseeding of MMR happens, then the players should not be able to place higher than the new player cap, Platinum 3.
Introduce MMR decay at higher levels
The next step is the adding of MMR decay (and Rank Point decay) at higher levels, a feature which has been requested several times by pros. People who don’t play for a longer amount of time are no longer up to date regarding the meta, recent changes and reworks, and mechanics. MMR decay also prevents highly placed players from continuing to take up “bandwidth” in the higher leagues and normalizes the league distribution better.
Rework ranked rewards
Ranked rewards should be reworked to increase interest in playing and grinding on the ladder. Currently, the rewards from Hero League and Team League are based on the highest rank you achieved during the season rather than the final result. This often leads to players peaking and losing interest in playing more.
The distribution of rewards should also be changed. Currently, Platinum and Diamond players get a mount, some gold, and a portrait according to their rank. Master and Grandmaster players get an additional version of that mount and some more gold. An improved system would look like this:
|Bronze–Gold||Gold and portrait|
|Platinum–Diamond||Gold, portrait, normal mount|
|Master||Gold, portrait, normal mount, special mount|
|Grandmaster||Gold, portrait, normal mount, special mount, special banner/skin|
Master and Grandmaster players should get something completely exclusive to make the rank even more rewarding. A special banner or skin that only Grandmasters earn would make the rank not only more desirable but also reward players who are willing to spend the extra time grinding. It also offers a unique way for them to show off their skill level and dedication. The same goes for Team League. Remove the option to get the Platinum and Diamond mount no matter your rank and make it more challenging to earn. Rewards need to be exclusive to ranks.
Bring back performance-based matchmaking
Performance-based matchmaking (PBM), whenever it finally comes online, could also help to reward players for improving beyond their personal bests, given that it is working right. Sadly, PBM didn’t get used as planned due to all the problems earlier this year. We don’t know yet if it will work properly, but there is hope that it will help sort players into their proper ranks better and reward improving players even more.
Benjamin "SlapJackNpNp" Herzog is a Electrical Engineer who found his passion for esports through Heroes of the Storm and is now writing articles for Team Liquid and working on Master League.
You can follow him on Twitter.
You can follow him on Twitter.