Thursday, August 13, 2015

Toxic Salt: Is raging ever justified in Heroes of the Storm?

The hate is real.
The internet is full of rage. Visit any forum, message board, or public social media that isn't strictly regulated and within a few minutes of browsing you're certain to stumble on a heated argument over something inconsequential. While it's difficult to find an accurate metric, it sometimes feels that video games attract an abnormally high level of vitriol; maybe it's because of the demographics or that games inherently spark a competitive instinct that translates to internet flame wars. Recently, I've been playing a lot of Heroes of the Storm which is a relatively new MOBA (a genre infamous for it's high levels of player toxicity) and have witnessed abuse lobbied over every facet of the game. I don't know why the Heroes of the Storm community is so salty but, with a few hundred hours of play time, I've noticed some patterns to the rage and wanted to explore if this anger is ever justified.

Let's get this started by saying that pure unbridled rage exemplified by comments that offer no constructive criticism is never justified. Getting angry is one thing, and that anger may well be justified, but if the cause of that anger is someone else's play then shouting obscenities is likely only going to make the problem worse. Further, if your intention is to maliciously inflict pain or you just enjoy venting through the anonymity of the internet, then you are a sociopath who should seek external help and stop ruining everyone else's experience. Also, let me caveat that, even if you're justified in your anger, that doesn't mean you should blast it out - being justified isn't license to flaunt it and be an ass. In my experience, the best course of action is often not to vent but offer a direct statement of how you would like the situation remedied or avoided in the future. In other words, offer feedback that can help the other player improve, or at very least, avoid repeating the most egregious mistakes. With this in mind, let's look at some situations and whether or not getting angry at another player is justified.

Murky - the rage-inducer.
Versus A.I. (rage not justified)
Heroes of the Storm is broken into three distinct matching queues that represent different levels of competition. Versus A.I. pits a team of five human players against five computer controlled opponents and is the least competitive mode. The computer generally offers little challenge and a couple players who know what they're doing can usually carry a team of beginners to victory. Versus A.I. is where new players are encouraged to start. Getting upset at a complete newbie trying to learn the ropes is a great way to hurt the community in the long run. The only time I feel it's acceptable to get upset in Versus A.I. is if you see another player trolling, afking, or otherwise blatantly disrupting a match. That said, in these cases it's best to just stay quiet because they are probably looking for a reaction in the first place.

Player Selection (rage sometimes justified)
In Hero League, otherwise known as ranked play, players alternate drafting characters. The generally accepted strategy is for the first players on a team to draft the best damage dealing heroes and the last to round out the team with healer and tank roles. This approach is useful for pick up groups because it limits the need for advanced coordination generally reserved for set teams who verbally communicate through external chat services. Rage on the player selection screen almost always results because someone hasn't picked in line with this accepted convention or has picked characters who are considered to be weak or easily countered. This anger can sometimes be justified as win/loss records are readily available and demonstrate that some team compositions flat out lose a greater proportion of the time. 

I say that the anger is only sometimes justified because there are occasions when it should be acceptable to deviate from the standard team makeup. The player picking third generally has the option of what role they want to fill and this can be a good spot to pick a utility character. I often see groups upset when the third pick is used on a utility character instead of picking the best tank, healer, or remaining damager. These non-meta third picks shouldn't be heavily criticised as they are unlikely to represent a major difference in the raw percentage chance of the team winning (assuming the fourth and fifth picks round out the team) especially if the player is confident in how to maximize the use of their character. A well played utility role can have a much greater impact on a match then an averagely played meta-pick. That said, if a player is picking a utility role last when a tank or healer hasn't yet been picked, then rage on.

How you can be angry when you're riding one of these?
A more grey area in the player selection screen is when a player picks to fulfill their team role but hasn't picked the best character available because they haven't unlocked it. Heroes of the Storm requires players to own ten characters before they can play in Hero League but there is no requirement that they own a mix of roles. I think it's obvious that a player shouldn't be in ranked play if they don't own a healer and can't possibly fulfil that role. Less obvious is where a player picks a healer considered to be weaker then others because it's their only remaining choice. I don't feel a player should be chastised for making the only choice available to them especially when they're completing a team composition. On the other hand, I also feel that a player should own a variety of characters so they aren't forced into that situation in the first place. At early ranks I think it's best to forgive a player for not owning a plethora of heroes for every role but the anger becomes more justifiable at high ranks as players should have had ample opportunity to build a reasonable collection by then.

Team Play (rage usually justified)
In all modes teamwork is the key to victory. The team that best coordinates capturing objectives and joining team fights are usually the ones to win even if they make a few strategic blunders. Heroes of the Storm distils team play into a handy ping system where any player can identify a point of interest on the map as dangerous, in need of backup, or a potential opportunity. Because the ping system is pretty easy to use and understand, there isn't an excuse for not using it or supporting a team mate when requested. In short, if a player refuses to join the team, then they are inducing justified rage.

One exception worth noting, is when a player believes that the pinged course of action will actually hurt the team more then help. In a pick up group, you usually don't have a designed leader who makes the larger tactical decisions and sometimes players have grounds to disobey a request for assistance. These circumstances are subjective but if a player pings back disagreement then you really shouldn't be angry at them for not following your orders - no one elected you war chief. Disagreement over strategy shouldn't induce anger. Instead, it should prompt players to reassess the situation and consider alternatives. Building on this, a few characters best serve the team by targeted objectives away from what the rest of the team is doing. If done right, these characters can split the opposing team's focus opening opportunities and strategies that would normally be unavailable. Inexperienced armchair generals often rage that these players aren't teaming up when, in fact, they are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing.  

Happy smiles all around!
I know I've only scratched the surface here, but this post is already getting on the long side and will probably be of less interest to those who have never played the game. In short, my intention is for players to think about why they are getting upset with a teammate and to limit themselves to those instances where they are actually justified. Less rage can only lead to a better community and a better gaming experience for all.