On Storm League, and the Evolution of Ranked Play in HotS
Tue 23rd Apr 2019 - 8:24pm
In this article, I’ll be discussing the new ranked mode ‘Storm League’. Topics that will be covered are the facts about Storm League and what exactly has changed, as well as taking a look back into the past at former ranked play modes. Lastly, we’ll go over some opinions on Storm League from the community.
The new ranked mode ‘Storm League’ is live. From now on, the two different queues of Hero League and Team League are merged into one rank again, with only one play mode to queue for. A new role selection was also added to the queue, so players can select the role they would like to play in the upcoming match. Other things that were changed with the introduction of Storm League are that you can visibly see the win count and rank of your party members while you are in the queue with them. You can also see the preferred roles that your teammates have selected. This makes it easier to determine who will play which role in the next match and that will save you some time in the draft. You can no longer queue together with players that are more than two Leagues apart from your own rank. This does not affect players that are yet to be placed or when you are playing in a group of 5 players.
To access Storm League, your account must be above level 50 and have 16 or more heroes available on it. The MMR of players is also being soft reset; Storm League ranks are seeded from your highest achieved rank in the last season in either Hero or Team League, clamped to a maximum of Diamond 5 MMR.
Let’s have a look back in time at ranked modes we’ve seen before. In this timeline, we can see how the ranked play mode within Heroes of the Storm has evolved itself to the Storm League it is today.
At the launch of Heroes of the Storm, there is one ranked mode available with numbers assigned to determined ranks.
August 2015: The ranked mode is split into two different queues where players can play solo in Hero League, or with a group in Team League. The matchmaking is still in the same pool, so players can queue in hero league if they are solo or in a party of 4 and you can only queue for teamleague if you are in a party of 5. 20 placement matches are added to get you seeded into a rank. MMR gets reset and reseeded from a players Quick Match MMR and the UI gets updated adding a ranked screen with the two queues.
March 2016: Two rounds of bans are added to ranked modes. The player with the highest MMR on each team gets appointed to be the banner. UI is once again updated to show and announce the artwork of the battleground that is being played when a match is found.
June 2016: Ranked Season 1 begins. Divisions and leagues are added to the game. Divisions are added to replace the number that was assigned to your rank. These are the divisions we still see today, going from Bronze 1-5 up to Grandmaster. Ranked requirements are updated to be at least level 30 and have 14 heroes above level 5 available to enter the ranked play mode.
December 2016: Hero league becomes a solo queue only play mode. Players in parties of 2, 3, or 5 players can now queue up for Team league.
September 2018: Solo queue becomes available for the Team League play mode. Players will need to select a play mode when they want to solo queue in ranked.
March 2019: Storm League is released.
We see that, over the years, the ranked play modes for Heroes of the Storm have undergone some changes. We see the focus in ranked play went from playing together to later on players trying to individually climbing the ranks in Hero League solo queue. With two different ranks to climb, some would say the rank you could achieve in solo queue would be more representative of your individual skill level than the one you would achieve while playing in a group. With the introduction of Storm League, this is no longer an argument, since we are returning to one rank and one queue only.
With this change to the ranked mode, queue times will be shorter because the playerpool will be bigger, with it no longer being divided between the two different play modes. This means that the system will find a match faster and with the roles selected should fill up a group with players that have an easier time communicating about drafting. For solo queuers, this means they can’t have their role ‘stolen’ as some players who hard-mained a certain role could sometimes experience when in solo queue. Blizzard also implemented a soft MMR-reset for the start of Storm League, clamping the high end of MMR to Diamond 5.
Old Rank UI
What does this change mean for the average player? For the average player, this is all looking positive. They get shorter queues and can select a role they want to play, which they will probably play during their game. Also for people who like to group up with friends, this is a very positive change as in a group of 5 you can still play with whoever you want and having a gap in ranks doesn't matter. This puts the focus on the team play side of the game, more so than the competitive side.
For the hardcore Hero League players, this change is less positive. These players love to test out their individual skill in a competitive play mode, where they are forced to adjust to other solo players and ‘fill’ in terms of roles that are to be played in a good draft composition. According to different high ranked Hero League players, the new Storm League feels a lot like playing Team League. Queuing into a full group of coordinated players devalues the competitive idea for them.
There is a parallel to be drawn back to the old days of classic World of Warcraft where the highest ranked Gladiators (PvP) would actively ‘queue dodge’ each other in order to climb the ranks. Some of the highest Hero League ranked players in Europe have said this might be the only way to climb back in ranks with the new system. This means they wait until all the high ranked players they know have found a match and then start looking for one themselves in order to get easier opponents.
When queuing for Storm League as a group of 5 players, you will probably have communication flowing, and drafting and games should go smoothly and be fun to play. When solo queueing, try to adapt to your team. If you don't end up playing the role you have selected, even though it’s what the role system is for at the end of the day, having a good draft composition is half of your way to winning a game.
Opinions from the community differ very much. Positive opinions are that you can get high level games in a short queue time, which is something some players felt that Team League missed. Even if you lose, games become more enjoyable due to the higher skill level that you are playing into. This means the consistency of enjoyment of your games goes up when you get higher level games in a 5-stack that has high MMR. Negative opinions I hear say that solo queueing is very hard, because you don't want to play into a 5-stack that has flowing communication. It’s a big disadvantage when you are a solo player, but this can also be seen as a challenge to prove your skill rather than a disadvantage. Most of the high ranked players are streamers and, in my opinion, the changes weren’t made for them which means they dislike the play mode. Even though people are still exploring the play mode themselves, they might believe the opinion that is the most audible in the community which is sadly a negative one. Keep in mind the change was made for the bigger audience in this game, which aren’t the highest ranked players. Blizzard listened to the complaints of the long queue times and in making the player pool bigger for the ranked mode, they did the best they could to solve that issue.
Another common complaint you might’ve heard from the community is about the matchmaking system. Matchmaking, however, is an area that is difficult to perfect, and it’s become a bit quirky due to the soft MMR reset throwing the ranks of players all over the place. I think the best way to move forward is to put in 200~ games of ranked play in this season just for the MMR system to get a good measurement, so that it can bring everything back into place. In my opinion, it’s easy to see the downsides in the short term, but there seem to be a number of long-term positives to the change. Try to look at the things from a long-term point of view and enjoy the new ranked mode, keeping in mind that Blizzard is working as best they can to continue to improve it as time goes on.
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