League of the Legends vs Heroes of the Storm: A MOBA Showdown

The League of Legends Challenges the Heroes of the Storm to a colossal showdown!

WHICH GAME IS BETTER??

SURELY ONE PRODUCT REIGNS SUPREME OVER ALL OTHERS! NO GENRE CAN HAVE TWO GREAT GAMES!!

This is more or less what I’ve been listening to since I started playing HotS on top of LoL. I’ve been playing League since Aatrox released and Heroes since its public launch date (a little over a month). The problem with writing this kind of column is someone will always disagree with a point or an argument or an opinion, and the truest fact of the matter is that the game you enjoy more is the better game for you. With that, I have one more disclaimer that this is my opinion. I do my best to be objective in evaluations, but it’s also my goal to end with a verdict on the matter.  Please do not take this article as a personal attack on your favorite games.  It’s just one objective viewpoint.

And with that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the matter!

Storyline

Both of these games are MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas), meaning that the story is more of a narrative excuse – a McGuffin, if you will – for how the arena came into being (because in the internet age, we demand canon for everything).  But, it is an important element of flavoring a game, so the first question is… what is each game’s premise?

League of Legends takes place on the world of Runeterra, where champions come to fight in the arena for various reasons. Some characters are driven by revenge (Lucian is hunting Thresh, who stole his wife’s soul) or some sort of sadistic justice (Morgana joined the league as a fallen angel to kill her sister Kayle in the arena over and over) and others are driven by something greater (Sona is a voiceless woman essentially under the control of her harp, which kills threats to her life). Generally speaking, LoL has a self-contained universe full of subtle clues to a woven tapestry of story.

Conversely, Heroes of the Storm has been pronounced as a game with no storyline.  Blizzard has been abundant in explaining the purpose of the game as an action-oriented strategy game, wherein players get to execute each other with their favorite characters from within the Blizzard universe.

While I love the idea of my favorite characters going head-to-head, the intentional lack of story is a little off-putting. Don’t get me wrong when I say that… The game is generally not affected by the story in this genre. Yet I find myself thinking; even super smash brothers found a way to link the multiple Nintendo-verses into a single narrative without requiring some fundamental paradigm shift in their game development process. For Riot to put in the amount of effort they did when it is virtually aesthetics only, and for Blizzard to outright and intentionally avoid storyline when all their characters already have so much history… It’s honestly a bit of a turn off from Heroes. League takes this point handily. Blizzard is simply being lazy by not coming up with at least a canon specific to Heroes, even if it doesn’t tie in to Blizzard’s main canon.

Customizability

This is easily one of the hardest ones for me.

League of Legends takes the classic MOBA approach of having items which you level up via the class tree system. You earn gold to purchase item upgrades. This gets funded by your ability to survive and kill in the arena.  On top of that, each player is granted 30 pages of custom “Master” skill trees (with one point unlocked at each level, for a final total of 30 pages of 30 points). Each of these pages has three categories – Offense, Defense, Support – with more points available than you could spend. This creates nearly unlimited potential in terms of customizable skills which follow the player and not the character.

Lastly, League has the rune system. Each rune gives a boost to a single stat in-game. This functions very similarly to the Master skill trees, except that the rewards are significantly different and have a much greater impact over the course of a game.

Heroes of the Storm has a much simpler customizability system wherein you start with all of your abilities (except for your heroic) and leveling up doesn’t give you points to spend on them, but traits to add.  This is nice because each character has their own custom traits and there are also some universal traits based on role. A character who focuses on summons will unlock the ability to grow more summons with a casting, or extend the life of their creatures. Another character whose role is support may get a trait which allows them to affect more of their team, and a different support may be affected by the number of teammates within a certain range. Some characters even unlock traits which change whether the ability affects their team or the enemy team.

Both games obviously have skins available, which are occasionally given away through promotions and must otherwise be purchased with cash. However, this section is where Heroes of the Storm gets the leg up. Every character who levels up to 10 (HotS levels players and champions instead of offering skill trees and rune pages) unlocks a Master Skin for 10,000 gold. Up to level 8, the player is unlocking color pallet swaps for both their heroes and their mounts. In this regard, the individual has much more control and every character can be uniquely yours without spending any cash.

So the question I’m stuck with is whether it’s more important to me to have customizability for overall output or more personality and a somewhat repetitive building process.

But there is one important detail that sways me here. Heroes of the Storm is not less fun than League of Legends. It seemed to me that the static trait leveling would be less exciting to play, since there is less overall customization possible. As it turns out though, that thinking was incorrect and there is still plenty of customization, on par with what League offers its own gameplay. There is one other thing that sets it above League of Legends, and that’s the option of two heroic (LoLspeak: Ultimate) abilities. They are usually paired as a standard or highly situational option, and help to keep the game balanced. All other things being rated equally, Heroes of the Storm wins for their character customization and multiple heroic options. Three custom pallets for each character and mount which are all unlocked naturally by playing the characters you love is just impossibly sweet.

Gameplay

Another really difficult one for me. The two games play so differently for being the same style. They share only a few traits which I particularly love in a MOBA:

  • Multiple unique game modes
  • New maps being tested and introduced
  • Team-focused combat

And that’s about it.

League of Legends has three regular PvP modes: Classic, Dominion, and ARAM. The classic form actually has both a two-lane 3v3 and three-lane 5v5 mode. The map designs are unique to each other and present radically differing challenges.  Dominion is a circular map wherein the goal is to control a number of towers and drain the enemy team of their towers. The game ends when one team hits zero. The inside of the ring is all jungle with random movement speed boosters and a few other fun jungle-y things spread about. League of Legends also has my favorite format of all time: All Random, All Mid. In this 5v5, there is a single lane and no neutral enemies. You simply teamfight and bash each other until one side finally caves under the pressure.

Heroes of the Storm takes a different approach. In this game, all maps have the same general rule: Lane until the objectives open, and then fight for the objectives. Objectives are map elements which, when your team acquires them, devastate the enemy. Every map has a version of this, ranging from giant spiders and curses to gods wrecking the battlefield. In this game, the objectives are far more important than anything else. Even on the standard three-lane 5v5, the objective grants the players control over a shambling plant monstrosity which annihilates siege structures. The objective system is fun, but it can still create some of the discrepancies people complain about in LoL, where the enemy team levels so far ahead that you simply can’t compete anymore. Winning the objectives even becomes pointless once your enemy has achieved a certain number of them over you. While this is just an element of the game, it is a little off-putting that my skill becomes a bit irrelevant in the face of a team fight for control over a flower. Speaking of which, the next aspect of gameplay is a critical component of deciding the victor here…

Teamwork

Both games are clearly and heavily built around teamwork and map awareness.  While you have some amount of prep in LoL with your runes and master sheets, the game balance is not broken because you simply can’t win without the entire team in sync. While the characters may not be perfectly balanced, a player’s skill is still crucial to success. During the laning phase, for example, every player has a specific role to fill and failure to do so can have disastrous consequences. Teamfighting doesn’t even start until at least one tower has fallen, so a lot of emphasis is placed on the individual’s skill and math (specifically, optimizing item purchases).

HotS conversely evolves into teamfighting within a few minutes of starting. Objectives become available roughly two minutes in, and from that point on, laning is more of a strategy of bringing combat to a place where your team can strike advantageously (timing and positioning). In this game, there is a ton of teamfighting from the beginning.

In League, each player levels up on their own merits. Your kill is yours and when you helped, you get less experience, but still some. In Heroes, the team levels up together and there is no “assist”. If you assisted in a kill, it counts as a kill for you. The game shows your XP earned as XP contributed to the team’s level. Everyone unlocking their abilities at the same time is not a terrible thing, but when the entire enemy team unlocks their heroic abilities and your team is two levels behind, it certainly feels less than pleasant.

How does all this translate back into gameplay?

Gameplay Pt II

As an eSport, each game brings unique elements to the table which radically change the dynamic of the interaction amongst players and between teams.

If you want the experience which challenges your ability to stand on your own as well as your ability to work in a team, where you’re required to pull your own weight and earn your own respect like an old-school warrior, then League of Legends is the game you want. If, however, you want a game where the focus is on the team’s synergy to the point that some players can even be dead weight and you win on the strength of your bond to the other teammates, Heroes of the Storm it is.

Community

This is important to a lot of people. How well do the communities of the games get along?  League of Legends’ emphasis on competitive ability and self-reliance to support your team creates a lot of pressure and teammates often flip on each other in anger or frustration. The honor system was put in place specifically to counteract that with players rewarding each other for good behavior. Enough honors earn you a banner to reflect your honorable trait (friendly, helpful, teamwork, and honorable opponent).

Heroes of the Storm has virtually no community. While there is certainly less bad-mouthing, a lot of that comes from separating players and removing post-game chat. For some, the inability to be harassed is a great thing. For me, it’s the inability to discuss the game afterwards that hurts. I love ending a match in league and discussing it with the enemy team, learning how another player thought and what caused certain actions. In Heroes, Blizzard offers players no such opportunity. While I understand that they are trying to prevent trolls from getting their hooks in and other flame wars, it still really sucks and I notice the communication among teammates is pretty horrible unless you are a group of friends playing together.

In one, there is a community filled with rubbish. In the other, there is no community. In both cases, the true potential of the team experience is cut short. Having said that, the disparate time between each game’s entry into the market makes me hesitant to make a ruling either way for this category. I do lean towards League, simply for the fact that people will respond consistently to their teammates. A player in LoL who is ignoring the chat could have many reasons mid-game to not respond. In HotS, the player is likely to just be amateur, or unaware.

I’ve experienced anger and flame warring in both games, so to those who have been insisting Heroes is simply a nicer community… you’ve just been lucky, and the game’s comparably tiny following also has an impact on the level of flame. In time, I suspect HotS will have all the same social problems as every other MOBA.

The Bottom Line

There is so much more that I want to discuss on the matter; however I’m already over 2,100 words, so I’m going to rein it in. I’ve covered the most major elements of each game anyway.  My one final note is that I love and respect both games and once the fall semester kicks in, I won’t be playing either more than once a month (as my true enjoyment of a MOBA requires several hours of binging).

League of Legends has established itself as the foremost MOBA, doing virtually everything right to bring enjoyment to millions for countless hours. The game offers multiple methods of customizing your characters and their power levels with multiple maps and formats and a story for every single character which ties them into the universe of the game.  While the game itself is great, there is simply too much pressure to perform for some players and the experience can become painful.

Heroes of the Storm comes into the MOBA fray touting your favorite Blizzard characters, with lots of aesthetic customization and streamlined gameplay that changes pretty radically, yet is consistent across games (get objective, break enemy).  The game’s de-emphasis on the individual creates a more united feel, but also leads to more battlefield chaos (good for some, bad for others). But most importantly, the game is much more free-flowing and each battle has a more unique feeling as a result.

This is a really tough call, but the bottom line is that League of Legends does less to make the player feel engaged and more to actually increase player engagement throughout the match by placing importance on every single person and their actions. Heroes of the Storm offers a lot more on the aesthetic side (which creates the feeling without engaging the player) and actually has the more repetitious mindset (objective, kill, objective, kill). HotS teams can win with two skilled players, one good player, and two who just don’t feed too much.

As a casual game, Heroes of the Storm takes the cake. As a competitive game, League offers the individual way more pre-game control and preparation is over half the battle. For me, personally, I hope that Heroes of the Storm competitive will completely win me over to the game. As it stands, the two are on pretty even footing.

Still, as a casual gamer, I have to cast my vote to the game that is simply more enjoyable a higher percentage of the time. For me right now, that’s Heroes of the Storm. It’s really a great casual MOBA!

Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve said in this comparison? Feel free to leave a family –friendly message in the comments!

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J Patrick Avery
'Trick is a linguistics major with an emphasis on culturalism. He hopes to bring accurate and thoughtful content to his followers and inspire others to create with his fiction. Downtime spent playing one of many instruments, training in Aikido, or geeking out to the latest Marvel/DC/Any Entertainment media!