Assassin or dice roll-- the troubling state of Hero League
Blizzard's grand master leader boards reveal a worrisome trend in the Hero picks. Assassins determine whether or not you climb the ranks and there isn't much you can do about it.
Why does it feel bad to play support?
I can't speak for everyone, but some of my most frustrating losses are when I am forced to play a support hero. It often feels like there was nothing I could do to change the course of the game and I was totally reliant on my team to make plays. The only support Heroes that are bearable to me are Kharazim, Auriel, or Tyrande as it feels like I still maintain some playmaking ability in the face of reckless allies that endanger my climb to Master.
I've stopped playing my favorite support hero, Lt. Morales. I feel wasted on the hero and no amount of healing numbers, superior positioning, or 0 death games on her can make up for the times my Assassin teammates just don't pull their weight.
A quick glance at the NA leaderboard reveals lots of red, which confirms the conventional wisdom any Heroes fan already knows.
Everyone plays Asssassin.
But a deeper look through the stats and you notice that there are actually very few support players who have made it to rank 1 Grandmaster. Those who have, hardly ever reach the 60%+ involvement rating with the support class. Assassin players routinely break above 70% as do the rare warrior mains.
The Rank 1 support players I found have, at best, a 42% involvement with support heroes in their games.
The most dedicated support player I could find was in China. This player has a 100% support involvement and has reached ranked 24 GM:
Thoroughly intrigued with these stats, I noticed a few other details:
- 16 of the 20 top NA GM's main Assassin
- 14 of the 20 top EU GM's main Assassin
- 13 of the 20 top Asia GM's main Assassin
- 13 of the 20 top China GM's main Assassin
- In all regions, the top 50 players had the least games played on Support heroes.
- Specialist was a close 2nd to least-played class.
The only class that came close to competing with assassins' grip on the leaderboards was warrior. We can attribute this to multiple warrior compositions being a traditionally accepted team composition, and because warrior heroes are the 2nd most populated hero class.
There are 22 assassins, 16 warriors, 11 specialist and 10 support heroes. Varian is multi-class, so just add 1 of each to assassins and warriors.
So what does all this mean?
The sad reality is it feels bad to play support classes because you have less control over your ability to win the game. This isn't a matter of opinion-- the statistics all seem to point in the same direction: players that stick to assassin heroes reach the highest ranks of the leaderboards with more frequency.
It feels bad to play support heroes because, by dedicating yourself to protecting your allies, you are simultaneously placing your ability to consistently climb the ranks in their hands. Your average, non-GM support player has the odds stacked against them. Any mastery, skill, or experience they bring into the game makes less of an impact because of the class they choose to play.
Instead, support players must hope and pray the 4 random teammates they were given can take advantage of their expert healing abilities. A master support player can make it easier for their allies to win, but that's about it.
If support players were to invest their time in mastering assassin heroes (and, to some extent, warriors) they would win more games. This is particularly troubling because, in the current state of the game, there is simply no incentive to play a support hero. Instead, you cross your fingers and hope someone else on your team gets stuck with the burden.
The Solo Queue problem
So it's no wonder no one wants to play support-- the vast majority of the top ranked players avoid the class consistently which is, in turn, why they are top-ranked players. With the introduction of season 3's solo queue Hero League, won't this problem only get worse?
In a duo queue scenario, players could safely devote themselves to playing support with the knowledge that at least one of their allies was a competent assassin or warrior. Now, support players have no such guarantee and no incentive to continuing playing a class that, on average, makes it harder to rank up.
This problem would solve itself if everyone could just play assassin heroes, but we all know Heroes of the Storm doesn't work like that. You need a support hero and any team without one is crippled. This is what prompted the matchmaking changes to Quick Match nearly a year ago, as Blizzard (and everyone that has ever played Heroes) noticed that a QM team that has a support almost always defeats the QM team that doesn't.
So in every game of Heroes, there are two players that are required to play support. Two players must relinquish a significant amount of individual control over the outcome of the match and, for the benefit of the greater good, take a statistically significant hit to their win percentage.
Draft screen tension
What type of play environment does this actually create? It seems that the dedicated Hero League grinder should stubbornly pick assassin and refuse to play any other role. I wish I could advise otherwise, but there doesn't seem to any better option.
You can't rely on your teammates to share the collective burden of occasionally playing support and mastering support heroes is just time that could have been spent getting mastering assassins or warriors-- two classes that can realistically take you to the top of the leaderboards.
I understand Blizzard's reluctance to turn support heroes into playmakers. Some of the most imbalanced moments of this game's history involved extremely overpowered iterations of support heroes. Rehgar, Tyrande, and Malfurion's wild swings from obscurity to "literal-god-first-pick" hint at the problematic power level of healing abilities once paired with damage, CC, and utility.
Hopefully, the upcoming changes to damage mitigation and the possibility of warriors receiving some sort of baseline damage prevention will allow Blizzard to ease back on support heroes' healing numbers. Once this happens, maybe supports will be given the tools needed to have the same impact on a game that assassins do.
In the meantime, those serious about climbing the Season 3 ladder should consider familiarizing themselves with as many assassins as possible. When that crucial promotion game is upon you, choosing a support hero isn't the type of dice roll you want to make.