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Heroes of the Storm designers discuss Rexxar, Kharazim, Artanis, the meta, and more

Over the weekend, Blizzard held the Heroes of the Storm Americas Championship to determine who from the region would advance to BlizzCon for the upcoming World Championships. As Tempo Storm and Cloud9 battled it out to eventually earn the right to represent North America, a roundtable interview was being held upstairs with Heroes of the Storm designers Matt Cooper and Hugh Shelton. Shacknews endeavored to also join in on the line of questioning to get some insight as to the design element of Heroes, as well as learn some of what's coming in the near future.

The first question was directed towards a recent addition to the game. Even as Rexxar saw some play over the weekend, with some teams using him more effectively than others, he hasn't been very warmly received since his arrival. In particular, some users have noted that the hunter himself is very weak without Misha around for protection. A question was raised about potentially expanding his arsenal with an array of hunter traps, but that's an idea that the designers are ruling out for the moment, since that's an idea that may be applied to a different character in the future.

"We have to think about keeping stuff open for the future," Shelton said. "Traps is actually one of those places where, if we want to add another hunter down the road, that's a way of differentiating them from Rexxar and Misha. As far as Rexxar having less to do when Misha's out, it's definitely intended. It's something we're happy with right now. We don't have any immediate plans to adjust that gameplay. You should care if Misha dies. She's important for Rexxar."

Some of the roundtable attendees observed that this makes Rexxar unlike any other warrior, to which Cooper and Shelton noted that "warrior" doesn't necessarily mean "tank." While Johanna fits the quintessential tank role, Rexxar fills a different warrior role, just as future warriors will have different roles. With that said, there are some changes headed Rexxar's way. Cooper noted that the idea of taking Rexxar and Misha into separate lanes is an unintended functionality and it will be addressed.

With all of the pro action unfolding just outside the second-story Convention Center window, the topic of the Heroes of the Storm meta came up. Inspired by some concerns raised by our own Chatty community, this writer asked about the game's current meta that was heavily tilted towards a small handful of Heroes and whether the team was happy with the current situation.

"We'd love to have more diversity," Cooper answered. "The meta versus top hero picks is a little bit different. Obviously, Kael and Leoric, those kind of characters, if they're picked all the time and they have high win rates, we'll nerf them, change them around, buff up some other characters, stuff like that. But the meta, it does change and it is different from region to region. Like in Korea, two or three warriors is pretty common and you don't see that as much in North America. I think meta-wise, I'm reasonably happy with how the meta has shaped up, but yeah, we'll definitely hit a lot of the top heroes you see all the time."

"We're never going to be that happy when there's a Hero that is picked every game with no reason to not pick that Hero," Shelton added. "There should be reasons to take one Hero over another."

A similar issue has started to emerge with the Heroes of the Storm battlegrounds. With the meta being what it is, some of the game's maps have received less attention than others. With these battlegrounds comprising a big part of what makes Blizzard's MOBA unique, the question came up about how some additional focus could be placed on these lesser-appreciated maps.

"I think we're already maybe at the point where we have so many maps that we probably have to talk about doing a map rotation," Cooper said. "When we're doing new maps right now, we do shrink the rotation for a week, so players can actually experience the new map. I'm not too worried about that, I think we can easily cycle out maps and cycle them back in during a different season. I think it's kind of interesting having the pros have to learn different strategies because they play on so many maps, even if you don't always see those maps being played."

With so much talk about the meta and making Heroes more viable, it seemed like an ideal time to re-visit an idea that Shacknews first raised back at E3 2015. With Kharazim proving versatile enough to have two distinct traits, would it be possible to go back and add second traits to existing characters?

"It's something that we have the capability of doing," Shelton answered. "But I don't think we've specifically talked about going back and tweaking those Heroes. That's one of the things that defines the Monk as being separate from other Heroes, besides what he brings to the table."

Cooper and Shelton noted that the "Choose a trait" was one of the design goals for Kharazim, noting the intrigue that comes with selecting a trait being the first decision of a game. That led to discussion about Hero design goals, in general. Shelton talked about the team's variety of approaches. Sometimes, the team will be focused on a distinct mechanic and apply it to a new character. Other times, they'll look at the existing roster and talk about a niche that has yet to be filled, a role that can be filled by one of Blizzard's rich roster of characters across its franchises.

So with all the talk about design and meta, it's important to note that there's another warrior still in the pipeline. Back at Gamescom, Blizzard revealed StarCraft's Artanis, so this writer raised the question of what the design goal is for this upcoming character. Interestingly, Cooper and Shelton noted that, in terms of design, Artanis is just about finished.

"By this point, a character that is that close to release is done," Cooper answered. "We've been done with a character like that for a while now. We've said a couple of things about him, about how he is an aggressive warrior that will be in the middle of a fight. He's a StarCraft warrior! I wish I could tell you everything about him..."

Even after some gentle coaxing from the room, Cooper and Shelton stuck to their guns and didn't spill everything about this next Heroes character. Still, the room was offered a small hint of what to expect.

"I can say that besides bringing in that aggression, potentially, he relies on being in the middle of a fight and staying in a fight," Shelton added.

Cooper and Shelton also offered a small glimpse at Heroes of the Storm's upcoming patches. Some notable balance tweaks will be going in, including some changes that will make a certain warrior a viable selection again.

"Stitches was a top warrior for a very long time, a top pick, really," Cooper said. "It was a couple of patches we nerfed him and we probably took it too far. We kind of wanted to bring him down a little bit. We weren't happy that Stitches was first pick every game. I've talked to some of the pro players a little bit. Our next patch has quite a few different warrior changes going in, so Stitches is getting some buffs."

What else is coming to Heroes of the Storm? Blizzard offered up a quick idea of what's coming next earlier this afternoon, so look for much more to come in the weeks ahead.

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