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HoN and the Issue with Tanks

By LukDeRiff - 24th January 2012 - 00:39 AM

A couple of months back, if you told anyone that Tanks were dominating the competitive Meta Game they would have either called you a troll, told you that Tanks don't exist or that you should crawl back into your 1200 MMR dumpster.

The topic of tanks has always lead to heated discussions, so we figured we would take a look at the issue and ask ourselves: "Do Tanks exist and if yes, what are Tanks?"

1. The Typical Definition of Tanks

To understand all the hype about tanks we first need to know what a tank is. The term "Tanks" in gaming has actually nothing to do with real tanks at all, the term has it roots in MMORPGs. The Tank is a character that masses as much armor, health and protection through abilities as he possibly can. His job is to draw the aggro (attention/focus) of the enemies and thus prevent his allies from taking damage and dying. Reading this you might think:

"Well, that sounds handy. I totally dig that, we should get a tank every game and we will have 2000 MMR in no time!"

If you haven't thought this then you are most likely an experienced player, because a lot of newer players have this initial thought. While the basic idea of keeping your team alive through drawing your opponents attention ("aggro") is good, it doesn't work in HoN. The reason for this is that, contrary to the opinion of the general public, humans have brains. Unfortunately the opponents in HoN are humans and not some braindead, idiotic AI driven NPCs. They will ignore (at least if they use their brains) a Hero that has tons of health and armor, but is no threat whatsoever to them.

"Alright, I get it, the concept does not work in HoN as a consequence there are no Tanks in HoN."

This is a popular opinion in the community and it is right to an extend. You can't copy the MMO concept 1:1, and if you define Tanks this way there truly are no Tanks in HoN. However, as said earlier, the basic idea behind Tanks is good/viable and as a result Tanks do exist in HoN, we only need to adjust the definition.

2. The Definition of Tanks for HoN

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"Sometimes you just have to think again."

2.1 Basic Concept

The basic idea of a Tank is to have a Hero that draws attention/damage/disables away from his team onto himself, keeping his team alive through doing so. In MMOs, Tanks exploit the game mechanics and are able to "force" the enemy to attack the pretty non-threatening Tank. In HoN, only one Hero can do this, and only for a very short period of time: Legionnaire with Taunt. The duration of Taunt however is so short that the MMO concept remains ineffective.

So in HoN we can't abuse game mechanics in order to draw aggro, in consequence we have to find another way to do so. In order to understand how we can get human players to target us, we need to understand how human players choose their targets. This choice is affected by 3 factors.

1. Availability - If a Hero is not in sight, or far behind enemy lines, then he is harder to access and thus less favorable as a target. On the other hand, a Hero that you would normally not attack becomes a much better victim if he is way out of position.

2. Survivability - Heroes that are squishy, slow, have no disables and no escape mechanisms are prime targets, whereas Heroes that have lots of Health, Armor, AoE stuns and blink or pseudo blink abilities are much harder to kill and thus are less favorable targets.

3. Danger Factor - Heroes that have a lot of DPS, disables, strong buffs or heals are much more important to kill since their impact on a fight can be significant, whereas heroes that offer none of that are less dangerous and thus less favorable when it comes to choosing your target. Note that the danger factor can change throughout the fight depending on the hero. Tempest, for instance, can be a huge threat with her ultimate. Once she has used her ultimate or it is on cooldown she is not dangerous at all.

Availability is important but can be achieved by any Hero in the game. For a Tank that means offensive and risky positioning. However, MMO Tanks also have offensive positioning, so the problem can't be here. Being available as a target is essential, but is also entirely dependent on in-game decision making and does not require certain skills or abilities. As a result availability is something you can solely achieved by playing, thus is not dependent on the hero (even though you can support it with abilities and items).

Survivability and Danger Factor are heavily influenced by the hero and thus should be taken into consideration when trying to find out how players choose their targets. This leaves us with four basic types of Heroes:
  1. High Survivability and High Danger Factor
  2. High Survivability and Low Danger Factor
  3. Low Survivability and High Danger Factor
  4. Low Survivability and Low Danger Factor
With this list in mind we can now determine which type of heroes have higher target priorities in comparison to others. Again we will try determine four basic types of target priorities and assign the different hero types to those. From this point of view we can come up with three basic target priorities within the basic hero types, which are: High, Medium and Low.

High Priority Targets: Low Survivability and High Danger Factor
Since they are very dangerous but can be taken out quickly, targetting these is the ideal scenario before the fight. Prime examples for this would be heavy nukers like Thunderbringer, Bombardier or Chipper.

Medium Priority Targets: High Survivability and High Danger Factor, Low Survivability and Low Danger Factor
Both have their advantages as targets but also their downfalls. High Survivability and High Danger Factor targets are hard to kill, but killing them secures a significant advantage for your team. Low Survivability and Low Danger Factor
targets, on the other hand, are very easy to kill yet they don't really give you a significant advantage. Choosing between the two depends largely on availability and how big the gap between survivability and danger factor is.

Low Priority Targets: High Survivability and Low Danger Factor
They are no threat to your team but are hard to kill. Here we find the classical MMO tank, and looking at it from this perspective makes it obvious that the classical concept of tanking does not apply to HoN.

Now that we know the how players choose their targets we can try to change the definition of tanks so that suites HoN. As a tank we of course have to aim for the highest target priority possible, we also have to have high survivability in order to be able to take as much damage as possible. Looking back to the target priority list, there is only one basic type of hero that could possibly suite the tank role:

High Survivability and High Danger Factor
At first look it makes perfect sense. There is no reason to attack a Hero that is a hard to kill but is no threat to your team. If the hero however will kill your team or assist his team greatly in killing your team, then we are looking at a whole different story. These are the basic conditions a tank in HoN has to fulfill in order to be able to successfully tank it up. If a hero does not fall into this category he/she/it can not be a tank.

Still, these conditions are not very specific and could lead to a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions. In order to avoid this, and find the true tanks of HoN, we want to take a more precise look at the whole matter.