When it comes to competitive online play, most of the Heroes of the Storm online community focuses on one or two specific builds or talent choices for each hero, depending on the team composition and map choice. While there are on average over 1900 possible combinations of skills and abilities per hero per match, most of them don’t synchronize or compliment each other, and so are discounted or have fallen out of favor. This is a story about unexpected synergy brought on by forging a new path.

Often serving my team in the role of tank (high survivability but low damage output), last night I was again on the front lines, trying to protect the squishier and more fragile members of my team from harm. Playing as a character named Arthas (aka the Litch King from World of Warcraft), most of my abilities had the power to slow or stop enemies in their tracks, which worked very well for teammates who had to hit tricky skill shots to make the most of their abilities; the slower an enemy was moving, the more easily they could line up their combinations.

Of Arthas’ two Heroic abilities, unlocked at level 10, darn near every guide and review demanded that players choose “Army of the Dead,” which summons a number of putrid helpers into the fray, which can later be sacrificed to regain health. Over the course of my tenure playing HOTS I’d never even considered the other ability, which is a slow and short-lasting skill which can disable enemy structures. Last night, in a feverish misclick during the middle of a fight, I suddenly realized that I had chosen “Summon Sindragosa,” and lamented to my team that I may have just lost us the game. Here was an ability I was both unfamiliar with and actively warned against taking, at what could be the most important turning point in the match.

The reason few (if any) pros recommend taking “Summon Sindragosa” is due to it’s high recharge time compared to its effect: enemy heroes caught within the blast are slowed for a whopping 3.5 seconds, while the skill takes 80 seconds to recharge and become available again. While my other skills only slowed or stopped enemies for 1 second, I could fire them off rapidly, more than making up for the small effect duration by virtue sheer application quantity.

An aspect of my gameplay that I need to improve if I am to rise higher in the competitive ranks, and help my team do the same, is to recognize potential synergy with my teammates and change my style accordingly. Much of my time is spent on specialist or back-line heroes, where what the rest of the team does has little effect on my play, so long as I’m not actively being assaulted by foes. In last night’s tournament game, the accidental selection of an unfamiliar ability turned into a powerful force multiplier for my team.

A 3.5 second slow may not seem like a powerful ability, but we happened to be playing on a narrow map with few opportunities for a team to scatter out of the way of an oncoming assault. This meant that, as the game progressed and teamfights became more common, both sides were tightly bunched in the corridors, lobbing arrows, magical bolts, and javelins back and forth in the attempt to gain an advantage. Summoning Sindragosa creates a wave of frost, chilling everyone caught in its path. Everyone in a narrow little area gets slowed, making escape difficult for a few precious seconds.

Conveniently enough it only takes about two seconds for a teammate’s ability, which requires he hit two different moving targets, to lash helpless characters together, drawing them into a pool of pain and despair. The first time I used my (mistakenly-chosen) Heroic ability, he locked up two characters and they both died, my team then overwhelming the rest. The second time, he killed two more.

I had discovered, through powerful synergy with this other character, that the “terrible” ability I had chosen would lead to a wave of kills every time I clicked the button. After the match, wherein which we did much more killing than dying, I realized that I could also form a great deal of synergy with other heroes that require slow or immobilized foes, provided we were both on the same page and could use our powers in conjunction with one another. It may sound like a simple idea not worthy of the title “realization” but after a year of being told that the ability was neigh-worthless, finding a great deal of utility was an unexpected ray of sunshine in a match where I otherwise felt I wasn’t contributing much.

It’s easy to get sucked into the thought process of “how should I best play this character” and trust that the rest of your team will play as competently as they should, with the skills, traits, and abilities that make the most sense for their playstyle. Please let my experience last night serve as a reminder that in a game all about a team winning or losing, it pays to be not just cognizant but also communicative with the rest of the team, to capitalize on unintended or unexpected synergies.