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Nigma's Blog: Balance - Or: Why Your Opinion is Wrong

By X-Flame - 5th October 2011 - 12:41 PM

Balance is and will always be one of the hottest topics in any video game that revolves around winning. In a game like Heroes of Newerth, where there are over 90 Heroes, each with their own unique synergies with one another, Balance can often be somewhat challenging. Adding one new Hero to HoN every two weeks has been a controversial change among many players on the grounds that they don't believe S2 can balance the game fast enough.

As somebody who is very attuned with the Community of Heroes of Newerth, I observe a lot of balance complaints. It seems like there is always one Hero out there that the majority of the Community believes to be overpowered- currently this hero has a name; Emerald Warden. In a HoNCast Interview yesterday, balance guru DOGKaiser was asked what he thinks about the numerous complaints about Emerald Warden being overpowered. His response left a lot of the Community flabbergasted- "95% of Competitors think Emerald Warden could use a buff".

This isn't the first time Competitors and the casual Community have been in disagreement, it happens all the time, and while it is not uncommon to see a Hero that is both viable in Competitive play as well as pubs, a Hero that is viable in one but not the other is somewhat less common.

I'm frequently asked why S2 doesn't nerf such Heroes. It's hard to answer this question without offending somebody. Maybe this graph will help:

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Balance in HoN is done the same way it is done in every other (good) RTS (or ARTS) style game- from the top down. To a lot of people, this seems unjust. Is it fair that competitors' opinions are valued more than the average joe? No. Does it make sense? Yes. In today's world of the vocal internet forum, everybody believes to be a beautiful unique snowflake. Designers, not keen on being tarred and feathered, will never be seen uttering these words:

If you aren't the best of the best, your opinion is worth less.

To the majority of HoN players, this will definitely seem unfair. After all, if the majority of HoN players are in the 1500 bracket, shouldn't their opinions be valued more? Shouldn't the game be balanced around their metagame? Why should we balance a game around the smallest percentile of players? The truth is somewhere in this graph:

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The problem with balancing a game around the "sweet spot", or the area where the most players play, is that it doesn't work. This is because, depending who you ask, you are always going to get a very inconstant consensus. The further down the MMR ladder you climb, the more erratic the metagame becomes. If you ask somebody in the 1000 MMR bracket who they think the most overpowered hero is and why, they'd probably give you a Hero you almost forgot existed.

Competitors aren't perfect. A competitor is not a designer, he can identify a problem but not provide a solution, much the same way a designer can release a well designed hero without it being completely balanced from the get-go. But when it comes to balance, a competitor will always be held to a higher regard than somebody else, because he is playing in an environment where people will be utilizing their heroes to the highest possible potential, and that's where "sweet spot" balance drops the ball.

So where does this leave the players in the 1500 bracket? Are they doomed to be victims of Emerald Wardens, Trembles, Nomads and (if you can think that far back) Zephyrs? Sources say: No. While it is true that competitors will always be held to a higher regard, that 1500 bracket players are, in fact, not doing everything in their power to counter that Emerald Warden, that Tremble, that Zephyr, balance can often be changed in a way that it nerfs the Hero in such a way that he is less effective in pub play while retaining his skill in the competitive scene. This can be accomplished by making the hero less easy to play while keeping his overall strength intact.

Concluding, let it be said that just because a lot of people think a hero is overpowered, it doesn't necessarily mean he is, because HoN is balanced from the top down. Playing only one hero and getting to 1800 MMR without losing does not, contrary to popular belief, prove anything. Most competitive players could reach 1800 MMR without losing playing pretty much any hero, given the right team and communication. While Tremblerape & Crew are certainly an entertaining sight to see, they don't actually say anything about balance on a competitive level. This doesn't mean the Hero shouldn't be tweaked in such a way that he is less powerful in pubs, but it does mean the Hero probably isn't overpowered.

So, before you cry nerf, take a good long look at yourself. Who are you, and why do you think your opinion matters?

Author: [S2]Nigma


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Nigma, former Community Manager for Heroes of Newerth.