As it heads into its third year of release, multiplayer online battle arena game Heroes of the Storm finds itself in a moment of transition. Developer Blizzard has announced a massive overhaul of the game’s struggling esports scene, looking to give it a shot in the arm. The game is about to launch its 60th hero, Ragnaros. And now, the team working on the game is seeing some shifts as well.
Blizzard announced today that current game director Dustin Browder has transitioned off of Heroes of the Storm to work on “other projects.” Browder previously served as a lead designer on StarCraft 2 before moving into the game director role on Heroes of the Storm sometime in 2013.
“This was not an easy choice to make,” Browder wrote in a post announcing the news. “I still play Heroes five nights a week, and sitting in the bullpen surrounded by this team has been the most intensely creative experience of my career. But one thing that’s making this decision easier is knowing the future of Heroes is in the right hands.”
The hands he’s referring to would be those of the game’s new director, Alan Dabiri. Browder revealed in the post that Dabiri has been ramping up his involvement on the team for months now, with Browder shifting off of “daily involvement” as far back as September.
Dabiri has served as the technical director of Heroes of the Storm since its inception, so he’s already very familiar with the project. But his history with Blizzard goes back much further. He’s been with the company for 20 years, beginning with work on a Mac port of the original Warcraft: Orcs and Humans and then creating the user interface for Warcraft 3.
“We’ve been discussing [my shift to game director] internally for a little while now,” Dabiri told Polygon. “I was already responsible for handling large portions of the game, so when Dustin decided to explore some new ideas, it was a great opportunity for me to step up and support the game in an even more impactful way.”
While technical director and game director may seem like very different roles, Dabiri said he was surprised to discover that a lot of his new title’s responsibilities are things he was already on top of.
“The main difference is that the technical director is mostly focused on the technical side of the user experience, while the game director is responsible for overseeing the entire game experience,” he said. “I’m sure there are an incredible number of things I need to learn, but thankfully we have an amazing group of developers on this team that will support me along the way.”
One of Dabiri’s biggest contributions to Heroes of the Storm is already live in the game: the recently launched Heroes Brawl mode, which spun out of a previously announced “arena” mode that Dabiri was strongly in support of.
“As we progressed into developing the original arena idea, we realized we could make this mode something much more substantial than what we were originally planning,” he said. “Heroes is already a game that breaks the rules of the MOBA genre, and we thought that Heroes Brawl could take that design philosophy a step further and break the rules of our own game. It’s pushing the brawler aspect of the game to a higher level and gives us a place where we can really explore some crazy ideas.
“What I’m most excited about is the future [of Heroes Brawl],” he added. “Now that we’ve got a place for this experience, I think you’re going to see us try out some really crazy things with this mode in the future.”
Another major focus for Heroes of the Storm in 2017 is esports. Dabiri says he’ll be looking at new ways to push and improve the esports experience inside the game itself for fans.
“For example, we’re adding a tournament draft mode with draft observer support,” said Dabiri. “It’s been a long time coming, and we’ll be glad to finally get this into the game. This also includes an early version of a ‘hero swap’ phase to support esports in custom games.”
Dabiri also assured us that the team is continuing to look at in-game match spectating for esports matches, a long-held community request that the developer has not yet been able to deliver. He said the team has “a strong desire” to get this feature working and “some cool ideas” on how they might do so.
During our interview, Dabiri clearly recognized that he has some big shoes to fill, pointing to Browder and the rest of Heroes of the Storm design team as “the heart of this game.” But he also expressed excitement for the current state of the game and his team’s huge plans going forward.
“We have made massive improvements to the game over the course of the last year, and we’ve got a ridiculous number of developments coming in the first half of 2017,” he said. “We’re looking at a complete rework of our progression/reward systems and a ton of other things that I can’t wait to share with everyone. Of course, we have lots of exciting new heroes and battlegrounds planned in 2017 as well. We’ll continue to smash right through every expectation that players in this genre had.
“I’m pretty damn excited!”