It has been said that when men compete, only three results really matter for bragging rights – who won first, who won the most, and who won the final game. The 1998 movie Rounders talks about winning and losing in poker thusly: “Few players recall big pots they have won, strange as it seems, but every player can remember with remarkable accuracy the outstanding tough beats of his career.”
Recently I’ve been on a pretty long losing streak when it comes to Heroes of the Storm. When it comes to raw statistics I’m at a 40% win rate across all game modes in the last 30 days, but it feels like I lose far more often than that. Whether the game has determined that I should be playing against more challenging players or if I’m in a rut, I’ve come across a fairly long skill plateau, and I’m sitting in the doldrums.
These plateaus come with every skill and nearly every activity, be it learning a foreign language or playing a sport. In weightlifting for example, people trying to lose weight will see a sharp reduction for the first month or more, and then may hit a month or two where they don’t drop a pound, before their progress continues. In learning Russian I felt like I was banging my head against a wall until something clicked and I could correctly use “пьёт” correctly without looking it up, among many other words (even getting comfortable spelling “мальчик” was a victory).
In HOTS, there are a multitude of characters, a wide variety of maps, and almost innumerable trait and team combinations that make each matchup wholly different, even before one takes into account the skill levels of the players involved. In an effort to break out of my current rut I’ve been playing different or more varied characters than I may with my usual team, wherein which we typically have our assigned roles and predefined synergies. Though I have seen a little success in trying new things, largely I haven’t found anything that really “clicks” for me (aside from perhaps the audio medic Lúcio, for whom I have a soft spot).
I believe I have both learned a great deal from and yet had my progress hampered by playing with my friends and teammates, most of whom are seasoned veterans of the MOBA genre and of HOTS in particular. On the one hand, I’ve benefited from their experience in learning finer aspects of strategy and mechanics that I may not have understood on my own, or at least at a greatly increased rate. Alternatively I’ve come to rely heavily on a capable, organized team to either perform cohesively or to carry me in moments of shortcomings.
When playing by myself, I still have the knowledge and experience they’ve granted me, but without the reliable backup of the rest of the team – I don’t have a history of self-reliance and needing to handle situations without the aid of others in this game. Thus when a team doesn’t do as I expect, such as fighting to the last man for an objective that won’t actually help us win, I get frustrated and look like the heel for not diving in and throwing my life away. This is especially true of playing with other healers, the skill levels of which vary dramatically. The two other people in our group who play healers are very talented and have specific playstyles that we’ve learned to rely on. Even if a “foreign” healer is playing a character I work well with, I usually can’t rely on them to be as effective – or perhaps “synergized” would be a better word – as I may otherwise prefer.
Playing different characters and playing without a practiced team behind me has at the least allowed me to focus on my own shortcomings as a player, and where I need to improve in order to continue helping out the team. I believe I’ve said it before, but the #1 reason I play HOTS on my own is to improve my own play, to help our collective win rate increase. Below are a select few lessons I’d like to work on, broken down by hero category:
- Balancing my prevalence for taking damage (which recovers quickly but can leave me weak for unexpected team fights) in lieu of having our structures assist in defense (which do not recover health, but are very strong)
- Becoming more familiar with additional characters; I have the 3 tanks I play currently (Diablo, Johanna, and Arthas) but there are many more that are worth revisiting (Stitches, Muradin, Tyrael)
- Positioning; my play still swings from too conservative (meaning other teammates become targets) to too aggressive (meaning I risk death with little team benefit) during team fights. I’m getting better about “zoning” an area and keeping foes out, but it’s also a matter of when and how to use my abilities to (dis)engage once a fight begins
- The proper time for when and how to engage on a target. Whether I’m playing a twitchy character like Genji or a sniper like Nova, I’m still not practiced enough on exactly when I should jump in – should I be an opener, a finisher, a chaos-spreader? Does that change depending on the map, or is it character-specific?
- How to do the most amount of damage. I’m currently not seeing the damage or kill numbers I believe I should be when playing an assassin-class hero, and often get a lot of guff from my teammates for that shortcoming. Kael’thas the fire mage plays a lot differently than Junkrat the demolitions expert, but both have their specific uses and builds geared toward those uses
- There are some very high-skill characters that I’d like to learn, such as Valeera and Illidan, but I think I’m much more likely to be a liability on my team when I log in as them than of any actual benefit, owing to their complexity and my inexperience
- There are a number of healers in the game with which I have zero familiarity, even ones I have played before. I understand in theory what Brightwing’s role is, or how to utilize Deckard Cain’s potion distribution, but I haven’t really sat down and spent time looking at the ins and outs of these heroes and how best to support the team
- My mana management has always been poor, so I definitely need to work on the sustainability of my limited resources
- Proper scaling/ability ramping. I love playing specialists, but they are just that – extremely specialized. With characters like Nazeebo, who starts off weak and has the potential to become a true end-game powerhouse, I need better strategies to guarantee that final success, because mistakes early on can make it all but impossible
- I play a lot of Nazeebo and Murky, and am practiced with Azmodan, but there are other high-skill characters such as Sylvanus and Gazlowe that would be powerful additions to my roster that I just can’t seem to get the handle of