Heroes of the Dorm is a rarity in the landscape of esports.
It's a well executed tournament that showcases amateur players with first-party support from its game developer, Blizzard. And while there are several examples of similar amateur leagues and tournaments that have cropped up in other games, Heroes of the Storm is still in its infancy. With a bracket akin to another 64-team bracket tournament, and with coverage from both Blizzard and ESPN, Heroes of the Dorm received plenty of attention in the past month.
The game also received top-notch commentary from Daniel "Artosis" Stemkoski, former professional StarCraft II player and one of the most veteran talents in esports. He also happens to be Heroes of the Storm's most vocal supporter, even lending his voice to the hosting panel during the live broadcast of the finals.
"The first year didn't have a lot of press, but this year, it was announced with a lot of news available on the net. There was more discussion online. They even brought us in earlier to prepare for the event, so there's certainly more preparation to make this a finished product," Stemkoski said.
The support for Heroes of the Storm starts with its game developer, Blizzard, which is supplying plenty of opportunity to showcase the game on a competitive level.
The Heroes of the Storm Global Championship, for example, follows a seasonal format (Spring, Summer, and Fall) that will ultimately culminate into a Championship Event per season.
Each season has qualifiers for each region to qualify for the final championship round. That gives professional teams from all over the world a chance to duke it out for the title of the best. This seasonal format is only the beginning for Heroes of the Storm and should provide a solid foundation for further progression down the line.
"Heroes of the Storm should grow because it has an esports-focused approach. There are three global championships and Blizzard is executing them very well. Many titles grow organically, but this speed of progression--I've never seen anything like this," Stemkoski admitted. "The growth is still in its infancy because there's a lack of storylines. But in esports, the quickest games grow over four years. Heroes of the Storm isn't there yet, but the support is accelerating the progress."
Heroes of the Storm is unique because it caters to both a casual and hardcore audience with mechanics that focus on teamwork over individual outplay. While the game identifies as a "MOBA," it differentiates itself because of its heavy emphasis on teamwork and fighting for neutral objectives on the map. Because of the relatively simple concept, it's easy for a new observer to understand which team is in the lead.
"It's a five-on-five game where you start as a meek hero, but grow as a team. Everyone moves together on the map. While a lot of games move slower, Heroes of the Storm is fast-paced. It's very team-focused," Stemkoski said. "I like how every hero is different and plays in a unique way. There are more variety in styles and the maps themselves. Each game feels different and plays differently from the last one."
By combining an appealing, easy-to-watch game with a collegiate community, Heroes of the Dorm made itself accessible to the casual watcher. Historically, a lack of narratives can hurt a game's potential, but with the addition of schools and the respective regions surrounding the institutions, it becomes easy for a fan latch onto a familiar name.
"It's a great initiative. It builds the game and amateurs up in a space that is usually top-heavy. A lot of focus goes to professionals, and Heroes of the Dorm is produced at a professional level, but for the amateur crowd," Stemkoski said. "Collegiate is appealing because it provides franchises and regions. You could root for an area. Franchises like Arizona State University will not go away. In traditional esports, professional players tend to not last 10 years, but a school will."
The ceiling for esports in the collegiate space is untapped and Heroes of the Dorm is one of the best examples of a successful transition from a professional league to a collegiate league.
When asked what the next step is for collegiate esports, Artosis pointed towards Street Fighter or StarCraft. Street Fighter because it's a classic title that translates well to a casual viewer--and StarCraft because it's a legacy esport that appeals to a hardcore fan base.
Artosis also thinks Hearthstone would be another candidate to grow because it's a game that's easily monetized and easy to follow. The biggest question is whether or not its first-party game developer, Blizzard, will push the title. It's certainly an appealing idea. With the success of events like Heroes of the Dorm, it may incentivize gaming publishers to put on more tournaments.
As for Artosis and his future in esports, he said he's in a good place, "A successful commentator should only have around one or two titles to juggle before things get overwhelming."
It's good advice from one of esports' finest. Between StarCraft and Heroes of the Storm, there's plenty for him to be study up on and commentate on. There will be plenty of Artosis in the future.
He's hopeful about the collegiate trend. The next step is to continue building the amateur scene with other esport titles. For Artosis, he hopes it'll be StarCraft--the game that put him on the map.
"StarCraft will always be number one. It's the title I love the most. It grabbed me in 1998 as the most complex game I ever saw. It's so strategic and mechanically-demanding that employs great mind games. It's a beautiful game and an never-ending challenge. If you lose, it's on you," Stemkoski said. "The lull for StarCraft ended. It will never go away. It's a great time to play now, it's very entertaining, people will just have to trust me on that."