Blizzard’s multiplayer online battle arena, Heroes of the Storm, has struggled to seize market-share from genre heavyweights League of Legends and Dota 2 since its launch two years ago. Blizzard has relaunched the game with an update it calls Heroes of the Storm 2.0, which completely reorganized the game’s cash store and in-game rewards system.
The changes are complex, but the simplest way to explain it is that the old Heroes of the Storm economy was organized like the shop in League of Legends and the new version is like the loot system from Overwatch.
This is an in-depth explanation of what’s new, what we’ve lost in the transition and why one of the worst values in the HotS 1.0 store is now one of the best values in 2.0.
Heroes of the Storm now gives you a loot box every time you level up a character.
A loot chest will contain four items, and items can be of common, rare, epic or legendary quality. Here’s how that shakes out:
- Common items are things like voice lines for characters, emoji you can use in chat and sprays you can graffiti on terrain
- Rare items include basic skins and mounts
- Epic items are things like new heroes, fancier skins or mounts and different announcer packs, so you can get characters like E.T.C. to perform your game’s play-by-play
- Legendary items include the newest heroes, the most ornate skins and the fanciest mounts.
So, for example, a basic pinto horse is a rare mount, an armored warhorse is an epic mount and a demonic hellsteed that is constantly on fire is a legendary mount.
Most boxes will contain at least one rare item but, unlike in Hearthstone and Overwatch, there is not a guaranteed rare. About one box in four will include an epic item, and you should get a legendary item every ten boxes or so. There is a “pity timer” mechanism that gives you a guaranteed legendary item if you get to your 18th box in a row without finding one.
If you already own an item and you get a duplicate in a box, that item is broken down into a new currency called shards, which can be used to craft any item in the shop. Duplicate commons yield five shards, rare items yield 20, epics give you 100 and legendaries are worth 400 shards. Rare items cost 100 shards to craft, epics cost 400 and legendaries cost 1,600. This is a lot like credits in Overwatch or arcane dust in Hearthstone.
There’s also a new reroll mechanism where you can spend the gold you earn from playing games to reroll the contents of a disappointing loot box. It’s like trading in the contents of a box you don’t like for a new box. The first reroll costs 250 gold, which is about the equivalent of one daily quest, and the cost doubles each time if you want to reroll the same box more than once.
You can also buy loot boxes with a new currency called gems, and you buy the gems with real money. 100 gems are the equivalent of $1, but you get extra “bonus gems” when you buy larger quantities. You get 5,500 gems when you spend $50, which is like an extra $5, and you get 11,500 gems when you spend $100; a bonus worth $15.
Loot boxes cost 100 gems each, but you get a few bonus boxes if you buy bundles of those as well. 2,000 gems gets you 25 boxes, or five free, and 4,000 gems gets you 52 boxes or 12 free.
Here’s how the discounts on the bundled gems and the bundled boxes combine to affect the price of a loot box in some real-world situations: If you spend $5 on 500 gems and then spend the 500 gems on five boxes, each box costs a dollar.
If you spend $50 on 5,500 gems and buy a bundle of 52 boxes for 4,000 gems, a bundle of 12 boxes for 1000 gems and a bundle of 5 boxes with the remaining 500? You average a cost of about 72 cents per box.
If you spend $100 on 11,500 gems and then an extra $5 for an additional 500 gems to get an even 1,2000 gems so you can buy three 52-box bundles, you wind up paying about 67 cents per box.
So if you want to buy these, it’s best to save up and then buy a bunch at once, rather than getting a few at a time, in order to get the best deal.
You can’t just buy a specific skin anymore
Previously, if you wanted a cosmetic upgrade for one of your heroes, like the super-fancy mecha skin that turns Protoss templar Tassadar into a Transformers-style robot, the only way to get it was to buy it with cash. There was no way to earn it through play. That skin was regularly priced at $15, and was occasionally marked down as low as half-price.
Every cosmetic item is now available through loot boxes. While you potentially have access to every cosmetic item in the game without spending any money, you can no longer purchase the skins you want a la carte for cash. You have to get them through the loot system, generally speaking.
That means, if you want a specific legendary skin right now with no waiting, you have to get 1,600 shards to craft it. You’ll probably have to buy at least one 4,000 gem bundle to get that many shards.
There are also a few “featured” skins which you can buy with gems, if you’re willing to be patient. There are currently a half-dozen skins available, and legendary skins on this list cost 500 gems, while epic skins cost 330.
That’s a third of the price legendary skins cost prior to this update, but this discount comes with a pretty significant caveat: When you bought a skin in HotS 1.0, you got the option to swap between three color palettes, which unlocked based on your level-up progress with that character. So, Mecha Tassadar’s default paint job was yellow, echoing the color of the robes Tassadar the templar wears, but if you leveled him up, you could use a blue or a red color scheme without paying any more money.
HotS 2.0 treats each color variation as a separate item, so if you unlock Cobalt Mecha Tassadar from a featured sale or from a legendary drop in a loot box, you only get the blue one, and if you want red or yellow, you will need to unlock those separately.
Luckily, if you owned a skin before the update, you get all three versions in 2.0. Is Blizzard not merciful?
Stimpacks are a great deal now, if you’re a hardcore player
This new economy also dramatically changes the value of an item we basically dismissed originally: the stimpack.
A stimpack gives you a bonus of 100 percent of the base experience earned per game, and a bonus 150 percent of gold earned. This buff costs 1,000 gems per month or 9,000 gems for a year.
If you want to buy the annual stimpack, you can get it either by buying 3,750 gems for $34.99 and 5,500 gems for $50, a total of $84.99, which will leave you with 250 gems left over. Or you can buy 11,500 gems for $100 and have 2,500 gems left over to spend on other stuff.
The same 9,000 gems buys you two 52-box bundles and a 12 box bundle for 116 boxes in total. So you have to get that many marginal boxes from the stimpack — boxes you would not have earned if you’d played the same number of games without the stim — to break even.
The base experience value for a 15 to 20-minute game is usually around 75,000 — a bit less than that if you lose, and a bit more if you win, since the number of kills your team gets and structures you destroy feeds into that number.
You also get an extra 50,000 bonus points for winning, an extra 25 percent of the base for playing with a friend, and up to an additional 50 percent of the base for playing in an organized group with other players as opposed to playing with randomly matched teammates.
But the stimpack doubles the base, so it’s worth about 75,000 experience each game. You can dramatically increase your experience haul by purchasing stimpacks and organizing your play with skilled friends.
The amount of experience you need to get a loot box varies depending on how far you’ve progressed the hero you are using. If you just bought a new hero, the first level-up requires only 100,000 experience, which you can earn in a single game without much trouble.
The second level requires 250,000 experience, the third needs 400,000 experience and each subsequent level requires 100,000 more than the previous, until level 12, which requires 1.2 million experience. Each subsequent level on the same character requires an additional 1.2 million experience.
It takes 5,250,000 experience to level a character from one to 10, earning nine chests along the way. If you generally play with at least one friend to collect the friend bonus and a party bonus, earning that much experience should take about 25 games with a stimpack active.
If you are leveling characters from one to 10, then your stimpack will net you a marginal extra box — a full box more than you’d be getting without the stimpack — every eight games. If you’re playing higher-level characters, the stimpack will earn you a marginal box roughly every 16 games.
That is 928 games if you’re just leveling from one to 10, and you’ll need 38 new characters in order to be able to play that many games at those levels. There are 65 heroes currently in the game, so that’s possible to accomplish.
But most players in games like these gravitate toward favorite “main” champs who they play a lot. If we assume you are willing to level 20 new champs from one to 10 over the course of the year and spend the remainder of your time playing higher level characters, then you’re looking at something in the ballpark of 1,364 games to earn 116 marginal boxes from the stimpack. And if you level no new characters and only play higher-level characters, you’ll need to play 1,856 games to earn 116 marginal boxes.
Those numbers may sound kind of bonkers, but that’s an average of fewer than three games per day for the player who only plays low-level characters and an average of about five games per day for the player who plays only high-level characters. The 1,364 game middle range is probably pretty realistic for the play patterns of many players, and that requires a little less than an hour and a half per day. There are millions of dedicated MOBA players who play twice that much or more.
When I previously calculated the value of a stimpack, I treated the experience boost as being effectively worthless, since experience-based rewards weren’t a huge deal in HotS 1.0, and I focused primarily on whether it was feasible to get your money’s worth on the 150 percent gold bonus.
Now that Blizzard has dramatically increased the rewards for earning experience points, you can break even on your stimpack purchase from the experience bonus alone. That’s what we’ve looked at in calculating the value of the stimpack thus far. But you also get that extra gold, and gold is still valuable in Heroes of the Storm 2.0.
Gold is the currency you earn from playing HotS, and its main purpose has always been buying new characters. That is still the case in 2.0. New characters are introduced at a price of 15,000 gold, and drop in price to 10,000 gold after two weeks.
You get 30 base gold for a win and 20 for a loss, so that means you get 75 gold per win and 50 per loss with a stimpack active. If you win about half your games, that nets you an extra 37.5 gold per quick match game on average. You also get a daily quest each day worth an average of about 300 gold, which is unaffected by stimpacks.
If you play 1,364 games to earn your loot boxes, you’ll also get more than 50,000 extra gold from your stimpack, meaning you can buy five more of the newest characters, just from the stimpack.
Blizzard releases a new character every three to four weeks, and that extra 50,000 gold on top of your daily quest earnings should assure that you can comfortably buy every new hero when their price drops to 10,000 gold without ever needing to spend more real money, and still have some gold left over for rerolls. And since new characters earn loot boxes faster, getting all the new characters means you can earn more boxes.
Also, keep in mind that this whole discussion has been about marginal boxes, not the total number of boxes you’ll earn. If you earn 75,000 experience from your stimpack on a game, you’ll also get 75,000 in base experience, 50,000 if you won and 37,500 if you played in a party with one person who is on your friends list. So if you play enough during the year to earn 116 boxes from your stimpack, you will earn close to 300 total boxes.
That’s enough to get you a large selection of cosmetic items, and enough shards to craft a few of the skins or mounts you really covet. My advice to hardcore players? Never play without a stimpack active.
What if you’re not hardcore?
If you’re an occasional player who occasionally likes to buy a skin — but plays too little to get your money’s worth from the stimpack — you’re probably going to miss the ability to buy cosmetics a la carte. Your best option is probably to wait until the skin you are looking for pops up in the rotating featured sale, and get it that way.
The good news is that you can still earn a bunch of boxes even without the stimpack. If you buy 10 new champions during the year, and play about 10 games per week while grouped with a friend — half an hour a day, or a couple of longer sessions per week — without a stimpack active, you should be able to get about 100 free boxes over the course of a year.
Not too bad!
2.0 makes it easy to get lots of random stuff, but harder to get specific stuff
The loot boxes give you an opportunity to get a lot of stuff that used to cost money for free, or for cheaper than it used to cost. But the random distribution of loot means you can no longer buy a specific skin unless you wait for a featured sale or you’re heavily enough invested to accrue the shards you’ll need to craft the item you want.
If you play this game a lot, a stimpack will still earn you the same pile of gold it used to, enabling you to buy all the new characters, and now you’ll get a big pile of cosmetic items as well.
The commitment required to make the stimpack worthwhile is still significant, but it is much more reasonable than it was before, when you had to try to get your money’s worth out of just the gold.
If you play an average of at least three games per day, this is the best value in the HotS store. This stuff is complicated, but you can maximize the amount of unlocks you earn by playing smart, and understanding how the systems are set up. Good luck and have fun out there!
Daniel Friedman is the Edgar award-nominated author of Don’t Ever Get Old, Don’t Ever Look Back and Riot Most Uncouth. He lives in New York City.