So, today will be a bit of a departure from our regularly scheduled programming. Normally I try to be educational, to impart some sort of insight or wisdom into the world of esports. Instead, I just kinda want to vent a frustration today.
Heroes is easily my favorite team-based esport at this point. The intricacies of draft and map preparation, emphasis on teamwork, and reduced game-length make it a really great spectator experience in almost every aspect. The exception, for me, is the draft lobby. I despise the current HOTS draft screen.
Now, let me be clear–I have very little issue with it from a gameplay perspective. I like having the 3D models, seeing what skins people will use is cool for potential coordination, it’s all great. However, that experience does not translate well to a good spectator experience. Let’s take a look at what we’re talking about.
Take a quick glance at the image–can you even see Tyrael? HOTS purple, cosmic aesthetic is super cool and consistent in-game, but when you’re gearing up for an HGC match it just ends up looking dark, like someone screwed with the brightness on your monitor. This is a huge problem when I’m trying to watch matches on my phone. It’s utterly impossible on mobile to see the hero names. If you’ve got a couple of the angels, or some particularly unique skins, there are times where I pull up a game halfway through the draft and literally don’t know who’s been picked.
Skins are another huge problem I have with the lobby. Overall, Blizzard has done a great job keeping the silhouette of each hero consistent across their various skins. However, when all you’ve got is a little window with the face, that consistency starts to fade. Let’s say someone checks out a game after not playing or watching for a few months. Are you 100% confident they’d be able to tell the difference between every single Muradin and Falstad skin? Can a new player really tell for certain whether a team picked Auriel, or has a bright tint for Malthael?
Staying on skins for a moment, they can be really distracting. When a team locks in a hero, the big 3D model pops up, which is cool, but then the player will cycle rapidly through a bunch of skins. I know this is a really shallow nitpick, but when you’re trying to listen to analysis or think about how the rest of the draft will go, it’s a pointless bit of fluff.
I want my draft lobby to scream esports. I want it to look professional, consistent, and clear. Beyond all that, it should provide more content! So much of the space in the HOTS draft lobby is taken up by useless fluff. Look at how Smite presents the draft during esports events.
Look at how clean and uniform it is! The heroes pop out, everything is clearly visible, and they use the hero splash art, meaning that it’s consistent. Even on a little mobile screen, you’ll always see the same image for Odin. There’s room front and center for interesting content. Go sit and watch an HGC draft with the sound off. How quickly do you get bored? You’ve got Gilly and Dread in a tiny window at the bottom, and literally nothing happening on screen as a team decides their pick. In this Smite screen, you can see that they show statistics as each hero is selected. It’s not a crazy amount, but it gives you something else to look at. Further, if someone is watching with the sound off, they know if this is a common pick or something unique.
Smite, Paladins, League of Legends–all these games have in-game draft lobbies and have since their early beta. However, none of these games use the in-game lobby for their esports presentation. Instead, they prioritize the spectator experience and offer something that makes the draft a more pleasant viewing experience.
I remember the awkward days of having to draft for HOTS matches with awkward browser clients. I’m beyond thrilled that we have an in-game draft lobby for custom games and tournament scenarios. It’s far better for the players and tournament organizers. However, that does not mean the same perspective is ideal for people watching at home. HOTS has the shortest game-length of any MOBA. There have literally been games where the draft was as long as the actual match. The draft should be interesting to watch. It should be visually distinct, filled with information, and not require the viewer to work to figure out what heroes have been picked.
Maybe I’m the only one who has that problem, but even so, I think so much more can be done with the presentation of the draft. With any luck, the team has something special in store for Blizzcon to level up the viewer experience. Having followed the scene since beta, it really is remarkable how far we’ve come. The production value for events is consistently top tier. We get awesome supplementary content like the Heroes of the Dorm doc, and the making of Kel’Thuzad stuff. As shown by the reversal of the Junkrat decision, the esports crew listens actively to the community. However, I’m never going to be satisfied with Heroes as an esport. I think there is always more we can do, and to me it is past time to really focus on the at-home spectator experience, starting with a revamp of the draft lobby.