In eSports, League of Legends is king and Dota 2 is the only contender to the throne. The multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre boasts tens of millions of players, hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue, and the biggest eSports events on the planet.
Blizzard has fallen behind. The publisher of StarCraft II, which ruled the world of eSports just two years ago, is now banking on a new title to tap into the lucrative MOBA genre and win back a big piece of the pie.
Like most Blizzard games, Heroes of the Storm has been a long time in the making.
First revealed at BlizzCon 2010, Blizzard’s version of Dota has gone through at least three separate evolutions and delays. Heroes of the Storm was originally aStarCraft II modification designed mostly to show off that game’s powerful map editor. As late as 2012, developers hoped to release it with StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm as a custom game downloadable through the Battle.net arcade system.
It transformed into a standalone title as its popularity with Blizzard employees and fans increased. Although Blizzard employees visibly try very hard to not say the words “Dota" or "League of Legends,” the ascent of those games undoubtedly moved Blizzard to try their hand in the space.
As of a year ago, Blizzard’s internal timeline aimed for a closed beta in September 2013 and and open beta by March 2014, according to a former Blizzard employee.
That’s another deadline missed. But with the first public playtesting taking place at BlizzCon this weekend and the closed beta signups finally launching on Friday for 20,000 BlizzCon attendees, Heroes of the Storm is slowly nearing launch. Beta will launch in the first half of 2014.
The MOBA genre owns the two biggest eSports ever and a few dozen other games that haven’t made nearly as big an impact. How can Blizzard make its offering distinct from what’s already out there?
Visually, Blizzard is taking its traditional art style—”Big, huge heroes. Over the top stuff. 15-year-old characters that people know really well,” said art director Sam Didier—even more over the top.
Working in the StarCraft II engine, Blizzard’s art team has significantly upgraded the art quality for their new game. And, in contrast to StarCraft II's relatively dark realism, expect the new title have a much more fun, humorous look to it.
"We want to make it a fun party game," said Didier.
[more on the new game here]