Blizzard will be having an event for Heroes’ third year anniversary dubbed “Echoes of Alterac.” It’s also one that falls in line with World of Warcraft’s next offering, Battle for Azeroth due this August. The WOW expansion goes back to basics with the infighting between Horde and Alliance. Somehow, it keeps things more grounded this time around. Echoes of Alterac will run from June 12 to July 9 and will feature a new map “Alterac Pass.” The map is reminiscent of the Alterac Valley battleground in World of Warcraft, added during the game’s vanilla period. It boasted up to 40 players per faction, a straightforward dash into enemy territory to take out that faction’s boss. It’s a standard 3-lane map modeled after Alterac Valley. The goal is to take out good ol’ Drek’Thar and Vanndar Stormpike. Oh, and there’s also the “Bridge of Death” in the middle lane. If you’ve played WOW, this is where everything becomes insanely hectic.
Echoes of Alterac already looks a bit nostalgic. I remember queuing for the battleground over a decade ago and enjoying how each and every battle played out. We waited for a countdown before the match started, the usual highlight being know-it-alls who told everyone what to do. Once this countdown’s finished, everyone just made a straight run for the bosses. Once the teams reached the dreaded “Bridge of Death,” however, it devolved into sheer chaos. It was an avalanche of players – Human, Night Elf, Tauren, and Orc alike. Fitting since the landscape’s covered in snow.
It was not uncommon to see two dozen Alliance players camping one end of the bridge, awaiting the Horde push from the other (obligatory “FOR THE HORDE!!!” by the way). That clash would last from a few scant seconds to several minutes. And at times that back-and-forth would reach nearly an hour. In the end, survivors and stragglers would smash the boss head-on. Meanwhile, the opposing team would be in a desperate struggle to stop them.
Those were awesome times I recall fondly from playing WOW, and I hope those who check out Echoes of Alterac will remember its significance.
Yrel, the Draenei Paladin
Apart from the Alterac Pass map, Echoes of Alterac also adds a new character — Yrel — the Draenei Paladin. The Draenei are exiles of the Eredar race, brought to Azeroth after homeworld was destroyed by Orcs and many of their kin turned to daemonhood. Draenei are competent wielders of The Light, and Yrel is one such hero. She made her debut in WOW’s Warlords of Draenor expansion in 2014. In Heroes of the Storm, Yrel is a warrior class, beefy and tanky, especially with her Ardent Defender and Sacred Ground heroic abilities. Both skills increase her survivability by a hefty ton, and her primary skills — Vindication, Righteous Hammer, and Avenging Wrath — provide offense and crowd control capabilities. Yrel is also the missing piece in Heroes’ cast. She is the first Draenei character in the game.
Apart from her inclusion, the Echoes of Alterac event also adds faction-themed skins for various characters. Garrosh donning the High Warlord’s Battlegear and Auriel looking like WOW’s spirit healer are perhaps the most obvious ones. And of course, we’ll also see the Stormpike Ram and Raging War Wolf mounts. These beasts are reminiscent of the ones that were present in the battleground years ago.
Heroes of the Storm esports
Why should you be paying attention to all of this? After all, DOTA and LOL both have a stranglehold on the MOBA genre and others, right? Well, it’s simple — because Heroes of the Storm has a vibrant competitive scene and new content is regularly provided. For instance, this past May we saw the “Nexomania” event wrap up. That’s Heroes’ version of AAA’s Triplemania, pretty much a pro wrestling-themed event where players obtained luchador masks and skins. We’ll also see QOL improvements, a third ban during drafts, and MMR and rank decay for the highest tiers of competition — all for Season 3 this June.
Things were not as easy as they seem though. The developers themselves admitted that turning the game into an esports craze was an uphill battle. This was due to issues with consistency and the difficulty in following the game’s competitive scene during its inception. That’s why Blizzard launched the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship (HGC), the game’s own competitive league which offered up to $1M in prizes. Of course, it’s also worth noting that this is a far cry from how much DOTA 2 or LOL provide.
Heroes often feels like Blizzard’s answer to “what if we actually owned the DOTA franchise instead of the original being an independent mod and the sequel handled by Valve?” Heroes is also their means to go toe-to-toe against the genre’s perennial front-runners – the aforementioned DOTA and League of Legends. Along with those two are a slew of bit players such as Vainglory, Smite, Battleborn, Mobile Legends, and many more. Heroes of the Storm is, therefore, the company’s way of sharing the spotlight in an overpopulated genre.
DOTA kicked off the MOBA craze 15 years ago and its Valve-ran sequel was introduced in 2013. League of Legends meanwhile has been around since 2009. In comparison, Heroes of the Storm has only been around for 3 years, and its foundations, while steady, mean that the game can take and adapt to new directions. Echoes of Alterac probably won’t rock the world, but the updates are appreciated.
Game director Alan Dabiri notes how passionate Blizzard and Heroes fans are. He also notes how the game can turn into an even bigger phenomenon and get a bigger slice of that MOBA pie. The HGC provides that competitive showdown, while Heroes of the Dorm — the collegiate tournaments — also helps with connecting with students. In effect, Heroes of the Dorm is like the development team’s learning process on how to craft a better esports experience. Meanwhile, teams such as FemmeFerocity hope to make their mark in the game and to help “legitimize feminine personalities as equal competitors in esports.” It helps that many of Heroes‘ characters already evoke that aspect in their writing from their original games.
Yes, Heroes of the Storm becoming a bigger esports extravaganza in the MOBA market will be an uphill battle. However, much like an 80-man slog through Alterac Valley, reaching that goal, and the moments in between will be more than worth it.