The Complicated Nature of The Specialist

Human beings love to sort and compartmentalize things, our brains are hardwired to crave logical and neat organization. We can see this all over the place from advertising to shopping malls, but one place it shows through more than others is in video games. In an MMO you see damage dealers (DPS), healers, and tanks all identified clearly, and necessary for any sort of success, typically. In racing games all cars have statistics; acceleration, top speed, weight, handling, etc. The same is true in MOBAs. Blizzard has of course continued this with Heroes, classifying and sorting every character in the game into four camps; Assassin, Support, Warrior, and Specialist.

Now, aside from a new notable exceptions, the first three classifications are pretty standard across their rosters. Assassins deal damage and secure kills, supports heal the team and provide sustain for fights, and warriors soak damage and control the battlefield in any number of ways. Specialists, on the other hand, are a little bit harder to nail down. Do they excel at pushing a lane (Sylvanas), or are they supposed to fill the “Jungler” role of other MOBAs (Gazlowe), or are they simply supposed to be an extremely efficient damage dealer with a health pool rivaling some warriors, and the ability to completely lock down or zone out enemy players (Nazeebo)? While I’m (sort of) kidding about that last one, Nazeebo really exemplifies the nature of the issue I have with the Specialist classification; It seems like even Blizzard doesn’t really have a good definition of what a specialist truly should be.

Nazeebo_Damage

What can’t he do!?

Given their hesitance on even classifying Heroes of The Storm as a MOBA, and instead calling it a “Hero Brawler” or “Team Brawler” at various points in the game’s lifetime, Blizzard has made one thing very clear, this is a TEAM game, and your team should succeed or fail together. This raises some issues for many of the current specialists, in that their “job” is largely a solo one. Why would you waste man power by having someone accompany Sylvanas in a lane, when she can completely lock down defenses and clear a wave of minions in seconds, all without putting herself in any real danger, given her insanely efficient escape? Do we really need to send anyone with a Gazlowe who took Robo-Goblin to go collect merc camps, when he can effortlessly solo a boss? The answer would seem to be a resounding “No,” however, given the nature of Heroes of The Storm, it is very unwise to ever be on your own, especially if you are fighting an enemy team with any level of coordination.

Therein lies some other problems with the current roster of specialists. It seems, upon looking at both the abilities and talents of the current roster, blizzard isn’t exactly sure what they want specialist to mean. The most common thread is, of course, lane push or mercing, but once again, with how dependant the game is on team fighting, particularly in the late game it makes it very hard to justify this as the specialists role. Assassins deal damage for the entire game. Warriors engage, peel, body block, and control for the entire game. Supports, you guessed it, heal for the entire game. The pattern here is that whatever the classification’s job is, they do it for the entire game. Not the specialists though. their job changes throughout the game. Take Gazlowe for instance. He pushes lanes in the early game, or at very least bullies enemy Heroes out of lane. Then comes level 10. Gazlowe’s two heroics are almost complete opposites. Robo-Goblin makes him a hyper efficient jungler, capturing merc camps and being able to solo bosses.

gazlowe_roboGoblinOn the other side we have the Grav-O-Bomb 3000. One of the best heroic abilities for team fights, setting up insane combos left and right. Now, if we believe that Specialist=Lane Clear/Jungle the Robo-Goblin is the pick that the game would seem to point us towards, and according to Hotslogs, it is the less popular but most effective choice overall. Note, that at Platinum League and above that percentage drops significantly. But what does this all mean?

gazlowe-grav-o-bomb-630x358That question only becomes further muddied when heroes like Rexxar are released. Rexxar is labelled as a warrior, but is, to date, far and away the most efficient jungler ever to be added to the Heroes of The Storm roster. He can solo a boss camp as early as level 4, and with extreme efficiency starting at level 7, thanks to talents that he gains, Rexxar deals more and take less damage from non-heroic sources. Now that last bit is important, these talents not only increase his damage to merc camps, but also buildings and minions, making him an extremely efficient lane push as well, with his bear dealing huge chunks of damage, comparable to a boss to towers, walls, and other enemy defenses.

rexxar-misha-mercingNow, my guess is that if Blizzard decides to “Fix” Rexxar’s classification, they will do so by making him much more tanky and sort of forcing him into the warrior role. I feel that if they go this route it will be a mistake. Blizzard has a great character in Rexxar, but I don’t think that he is a warrior. The fact is, he has a hard counter in simply ignoring Misha. Simply put, if you are targeting Misha instead of just killing Rexxar, you are playing against him incorrectly. This mechanic makes it way too hard to peel, or effectively body block, two of arguably the biggest jobs of a warrior. In this player’s humble opinion they need to just commit to his job as a jungler/lane push, and given that this does not neatly fit any other categories, specialist.

Don’t get me wrong, I love playing specialists, and Sylvanas is one of my highest level characters. As players, we should all recognize that this game is still in its infancy. Blizzard has done an amazing job release content on a quick and reliable release schedule, and by and large this content has all been positively received. Is it Blizzard’s fault for not defining the specialist Role well enough? Even on their website, the specialist role is defined very loosely; “Other types include the siege and commander heroes, which are more specialized roles that bring different strengths as you build a team.” To me that sounds like “and if the hero isn’t an assassin, warrior, or support, they’re a specialist!”

nazeebo_ravenousSpiritI truly hope to see some further definition of the Specialist role in the future, and not have it continue to be the catch all of the hero classifications, the Hufflepuff House of Heroes of The Storm, if you will. Maybe that’s the point, though,  maybe players are meant to figure out what specialists do on a case by case basis. Either way, It’s safe to say that this game will be seeing changes upon changes in the coming months, and at that point perhaps Blizzard’s philosophy on the Specialist classification will become more clear, and our order-obsessed brains will be given that completion that we so desperately crave.

Personally, the big improvement that I would like to see is to give Specialists a job that is well defined, and has as much of an impact throughout the game, as the other classifications do. Failing that, defining specialists as the “Swing” characters, who have to play fluidly and change throughout the game, just so long as there is some sort of definition. If we have definition, I truly believe that we won’t get another instance of a specialist being released as a warrior. (Sorry, Rexxar/Misha!)

Article Written By: Jay Rich

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