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Fixing the Meta - Mobility Creep


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Hello again, everyone!  It's been a while since I've had time to sit down and talk about the game's meta like this.  But I always enjoy doing these segments, because it gives me a chance to talk about issues that I'm passionate about.  And given recent comments from players and developers alike, I think it's time that we had a heart-to-heart talk about an issue that I feel is having a huge impact on the game to date.  No, it's not about Hero League (obviously, as you've no doubt read the title already).  I'm going to stay out of the Hero League discussion because there's nothing I could say that hasn't already been put more eloquently by much smarter people than myself.  No, I'm here to talk about mobility, specifically the issue of "mobility creep" as I feel that this game has begun descending down a path that is pushing older heroes out of the meta in a negative way.  For the sake of simplifying this discussion (since Hero League experiences can vary dramatically), we'll be focusing primarily on mobility's impact on the competitive front, namely the HGC.  Feel free to share your Hero League experiences, however, if you feel they will help contribute positively to the discussion at hand.

Now before we get into this, I want to be clear: I became a writer and blogger for this game because I am passionate about this game.  I worked really hard to get my friends into this game when they were skeptics, and I work really hard on articles like this to try and make sure that this game is always taking steps forward.  So when I discuss topics like this, I am not aiming to create ill will or add grief to the developers' already-busy plates.  And I definitely don't aim to create a hostile environment.  What I want is to see this game improve and grow and become an even better game than it is right now.  Sometimes that means diving into uncomfortable topics that not everybody will agree with, and that's okay.  If you get nothing else from this very lengthy piece, I at least hope that you'll be able to see the passion I have for this game and that I'm not doing this to tear it down, but to build it up even stronger.  To that end, I will try to steer this discussion in what I feel is a productive direction and try to avoid negativity as much as I possibly can.  And I encourage you all to do the same.  Please, do not use the comments section to attack the developers.  Let's have a truly productive discussion and try to push for constructive action to make this game as great as can be.

 
 

What is "Mobility"?


Alright, before we can discuss this idea of "mobility creep", we need to lay down some groundwork here.  First off, what exactly is "mobility"?  This is a tougher question to answer than it first appears, because while everybody's obvious answer is "anything that allows a hero to move out of the way of incoming damage", there's clearly a difference between the mobility of a hero like Tracer and that of a hero like Valla.  Some of you might not even consider Valla a "mobile" hero at all.  That's why, for the sake of this discussion, I'll be operating using multiple categories of "mobility".

Let's discuss mobility as a concept.  There are a number of ways that heroes can be defined as "mobile":
1) Moves really fast
2) Can attack while moving
3) Has abilities that allow them to "juke" incoming attacks
4) Can jump across the map to another location to engage in a fight or avoid an incoming gank
5) Can go over walls to escape danger or pursue a target.

As a result, it's very difficult to pin down what exactly makes a hero "mobile" without having some very....lengthy definitions of what you mean when you say "this hero is too mobile".  Which is exactly what I've done.  I've created a number of categories that are not mutually exclusive (meaning that some heroes might fit into multiple spots) to try and cover every single type of "mobility" in the game to date, so that we can thoroughly discuss the concept of "mobility".

And so, without further ado, here's what I've come up with.
Mobility Types Definitions
Non-Mobile Any hero which has zero abilities that provide them with the ability to avoid non-targeted damage (such as skill shots or AoE, basically anything that wouldn't be considered an auto-attack), and also lacks any special aspects that can grant them functional mobility through a global ability or speed boost.
Global Any hero with a single ability that has global range, which can (in a pinch) be used to avoid non-targeted damage, although these conditions are not necessarily ideal uses of that ability.  This also includes abilities which do not have global range, but have functionally large enough range that they can be used in the same capacity.
Speed-Based Mobility Any hero which has the capacity to dramatically increase their speed (even for short bursts or only under certain conditions) for the purposes of fleeing or engaging in a fight.  This does not include heroes which have the option to gain movement speed at significantly later stages of the game (such as Arthas with Death's Advance).
Target-Based Mobility Any hero which has the capacity to attack while moving in a fight.
Low Ability-Based Mobility Any hero which has one ability that provides them with the ability to avoid non-targeted damage.  This ability must have a range of less than or equal to 6 radial units (equal to Valla's Vault) from the hero's starting position with no direct means of increasing that range.  If the hero picks up this ability as a late-game talent (such as Bolt of the Storm) but does not have any mobility prior to that point, they may still be assigned to this category.
Medium Ability-Based Mobility Any hero which has one or more abilites that provides them with the ability to avoid non-targeted damage.  The ability or abilities must have a combined range exceeds 6 radial units from the hero's starting position, or have a cooldown of less than 15 seconds with no direct means of decreasing that cooldown.  If the hero would otherwise have fit in "Low Mobility" but has the ability to go beyond walls with their abilities, they can optionally be promoted to this level.
High Ability-Based Mobility Any hero which has two or more abilites that provides them with the ability to avoid non-targeted damage.  The abilities must have a combined range that exceeds 13 radial units (slightly larger than Anub'arak's Burrow Charge) from the hero's starting position or have a cooldown of less than 15 seconds, or has some mechanics/talents which can further alter their range or cooldown to fit within these parameters.  If the hero would otherwise have fit in "Medium Mobility" but has the ability to go beyond walls with their abilities, they can optionally be promoted to this level.
 
 

Okay, but Why is it "Creeping"?


And now, let's separate all of the current heroes in the game into these categories.  You may be questioning several of these categorizations, so I want to remind you that I'm using the above definitions directly.  Feel free to pick at my definitions as you see fit.  I'm doing this to encourage discussion, after all!  Keep in mind that some heroes may be placed into multiple "categories" due to their variable natures.  For example, Dehaka has both global and speed-boosting capabilities, and thus has been fit into both categories.

And so, after careful consideration, here's my list....
Mobility Types Heroes
Non-Mobile Ana, Arthas, Cassia, Chromie, Garrosh, Gazlowe (w/o Robo-Goblin), Gul'dan, Johanna (w/o Falling Sword), Kael'thas, Kel'thuzad, Lt. Morales (w/o Medivac), Malfurion (w/o Nature's Swiftness), Murky (w/o Slippery When Wet), Nazeebo, Raynor (w/o Revolution Overdrive), Rehgar (w/o Wolf Run), Rexxar, Stitches (w/o Putrid Bile or Hungry for More), Stukov, Tyrande (w/o Shadowstalk), Uther (w/o Divine Shield or Pursuit of Justice), Xul, Zagara (no creep and w/o Nydus Network), Zarya, Zul'jin (w/o Eye of Zul'jin)
Global Abathur, Alexstrazsa, Auriel, Brightwing, Dehaka, E.T.C., Falstad, Gul'dan (Demonic Circle), Illidan, Junkrat, Lt. Morales (Medivac), The Lost Vikings, Samuro (Illusion Master), Zagara (Nydus Network)
Speed-Based Mobility Brightwing, Blaze, Cassia, Cho'Gall, Dehaka, D.Va, E.T.C., Falstad, Fenix (Emergency Protocol), Gazlowe (Robo-Goblin), Junkrat (Tricky Shuffles), Li Li, The Lost Vikings, Lucio, Lunara, Malfurion (Nature's Swiftness), Malthael, Murky (Slippery When Wet), Nova, Probius, Ragnaros, Raynor (Revolution Overdrive), Rehgar (Wolf Run), Rexxar (Misha only), Samuro, Sgt. Hammer, Stitches (Putrid Bile, Hungry for More), Tassadar, Thrall, Tyrael, Tyrande (Shadowstalk), Uther (Divine Shield or Pursuit of Justice), Valeera, Valla, Zagara (on creep), Zul'jin (Eye of Zul'jin)
Target-Based Mobility D.Va, Lucio, Tracer
Low Ability-Based Mobility Azmodan, Chen, Kerrigan (conditional), Jaina, Li-Ming, Rehgar (conditional), Stitches (Hungry Hungry Stitches), Tychus, Valla, Varian (w/o Colossus Smash, conditional)
Medium Ability-Based Mobility Alarak, Anub'arak, Artanis (highly conditional), Brightwing (Blink Heal), Blaze, The Butcher (conditional), Cho'Gall, Diablo, E.T.C., Falstad, Greymane, Johanna (Falling Sword), Junkrat, Leoric, Lunara, Malthael (conditional), Medivh, Muradin, Sonya (w/o Leap), Tyrael, Valeera (conditional), Varian (Colossus Smash, conditional)
High Ability-Based Mobility Fenix, Genji, Hanzo, Illidan, Kharazim (conditional), Maiev, Sonya (Leap), Sylvanas, Tracer, Zeratul


Now, you may disagree with me on these categorizations.  If so, feel free to dispute them in the comments section.  But for the time being, let's operate under the assumption that these are the placements we'll be working with.  Using these numbers, we see the following counts for each category, out of 77 heroes (counting Cho'Gall as one instead of two).  Keep in mind that heroes who appear in multiple categories will prevent these percentages from adding up to 100%.
Mobility Types Hero Count Percentage of Total Heroes
Non-Mobile 25 32.5%
Global 14 18.2%
Speed-Based Mobility 36 46.8%
Target-Based Mobility 3 3.9%
Low Ability-Based Mobility 10 13.0%
Medium Ability-Based Mobility 21 27.3%
High Ability-Based Mobility 10 13.0%


At first glance, nothing seems to be too amiss here.  There's only a handful of heroes in the "High Mobility" column, after all, and most of the "Medium Mobility" heroes could probably be safely dismissed as not that big of a deal.  So what's the problem?  Well, let's take the above list and narrow it down to only list heroes that have been released since January of 2016.  When we do, you might notice a bit of a shift in the priorities....
Mobility Types Heroes
Non-Mobile Ana, Chromie, Garrosh, Gul'dan, Kel'thuzad, Stukov, Xul, Zarya, Zul'jin (w/o Eye of Zul'jin)
Global Alexstrazsa, Auriel, Dehaka, Junkrat, Samuro (Illusion Master)
Speed-Based Mobility Blaze, Dehaka, D.Va, Fenix (Emergency Protocol), Junkrat (Tricky Shuffles), Lucio, Malthael, Probius, Ragnaros, Samuro, Valeera, Zul'jin (Eye of Zul'jin)
Target-Based Mobility D.Va, Lucio, Tracer
Low Ability-Based Mobility Li-Ming, Varian (w/o Colossus Smash, conditional)
Medium Ability-Based Mobility Alarak, Blaze, Greymane, Junkrat, Malthael (conditional), Medivh, Varian (Colossus Smash, conditional)
High Ability-Based Mobility Fenix, Genji, Hanzo, Maiev, Tracer


And when this is broken down into counts and percentages, out of the 32 heroes released in this time period, we get these numbers.
Mobility Types Hero Count Percentage of Heroes Since 1/1/2016
Non-Mobile 9 28.1%
Global 5 15.6%
Speed-Based Mobility 12 37.5%
Target-Based Mobility 3 9.4%
Low Ability-Based Mobility 2 6.3%
Medium Ability-Based Mobility 7 21.9%
High Ability-Based Mobility 5 15.6%


As you can see, with the list narrowed down, things have changed somewhat.  There has been a decline in the total number of "non-mobile" heroes released in this time span, as well as a drop in the "low mobility" category.  All three of the heroes with "target-based mobility" came from this period of time, and make up a bit less than 10% of the total heroes made since 2016.  Also, nearly half of the "High Skill-Based Mobility" heroes came from this time period.  But to be fair, these are not radical shifts in percentage, so you might still be wondering what the big deal is.

But there is also something else to consider: some heroes received increased mobility through reworks.  Artanis, for example, gained the ability to cast his swap and Blade Dash at the same time, giving him the "Medium Ability-Based Mobility" that he now sits at, though it is highly conditional because it requires a hero target to use.  Without it, he would be at "Low Ability-Based Mobility".  Zeratul gained multiple new types of blink and can use Might of the Nerazim to provide even further mobility, pushing him into the "High Ability-Based Mobility" category he now sits at.  Diablo was given talents that provided him with longer range on Shadow Charge, which nudged him into "Medium Ability-Based Mobility". Dehaka gained his "speed-based mobility" during a rework, as did Malfurion (with his 2018 rework that gave him "Nature's Swiftness"), and Tassadar's rework gave him baseline mobility speed on Dimensional Shift, which also placed him in that category.  Valeera got more movement speed from the steath rework, as well as a conditional teleport that barely nudges her into the "Medium Ability-Based Mobility" category (up from "Low Ability-Based Mobility").  Medivh and Sonya also got their reworks in more recent history, making them more viable as well.  Totaling all of these up, I count at least 7 heroes who can directly attribute their current standing on the mobility list to reworks, and all of them were pushed up the ladder rather than down.  Only one hero in my recollection actually lost mobility in this time period from a rework: Tyrande, who lost "Sprint" (among other things....but let's table that discussion for now as there are a lot more things to go over).

This is why it is referred to as mobility "creep".  It is not a thing that happens overnight, or even over a course of a few short patches.  It is a steady process that pushes the game towards a state of imbalance by steadily making it harder and harder to play without running into heroes that are capable of evading your damage or pursuing you relentlessly while you're low on health.  And, of course, it bears repeating that this is not meant to say that every single hero in the "Medium" category or above is a huge balance problem singlehandedly wrecking the game.  Not at all.  This is merely me pointing out that the game has generally trended more and more towards mobile heroes as more of them have been released, without adequate means of compensating their less-than-mobile counterparts.

 
 

But Lots of Non-Mobile Heroes Work Fine!


One of the most common arguments against the spread of mobility creep is that there are plenty of other less mobile heroes that are still successful.  And indeed, outside of competitive play, this is very true.  There's a lot more you can "get away with" in Hero League than in HGC play.  And perhaps at least for your games, you don't feel the impact of this as much as the pros do.  I do not deny this in any way.  But many of the complaints about "unfair" or "frustrating" heroes have often tended to center on Overwatch heroes with high mobility, and that leads me to believe that while there's room to use other heroes, these mobile heroes remain a point of frustration even when you're not necessarily a "pro" player.

The devs have been questioned a few times about their stance regarding mobility in the past.  During an fairly recent interview with Invenglobal, Matt Villers (the lead hero designer) was asked about mobility creep.  Here is the question and his response, with all context provided.
 
Link to the Interview

There’s been a bit of a mobility creep happening with new heroes that are released into the game with Fenix having his warp and Maiev who, although she was intended to be an anti-mobility hero, is mobile herself. Not to mention Hanzo, Genji and Tracer all being quite mobile themselves. Do you think less mobile heroes are being phased out as they cannot keep up?


Villers: I don’t think we’ve hit that space yet as a lot of older heroes who are less mobile are still really successful. You see a lot of Jaina and Guldan in HGC and they are not necessarily heroes who can move around a lot. I don’t know if that’s something that’s going crazy but it is something we’re keeping a close eye on as it’s absolutely possible to go too crazy with it. Another aspect with that, and something we’re turning our attention to is, if a hero is too mobile, they can feel frustrating to play against them.  That’s the aspect we’re focusing on is that things feel fair and not frustrating.

After speaking with Matt Villers on Twitter at length about this topic, I think this was simply a case of stats confusion.  He likely quoted these two heroes in particular because their HGC win rates are known to be fairly strong, such that they have often shown up on infographics like the ones provided by Jhow.  In fact, Jhow's graphic from HGC Week 7 places both of these heroes very high in win rate, as shown below.


From a more casual viewpoint, it is easy to see where he made his mistake. Jaina and Gul'dan were two of the top performing assassins on the list, and neither is really what you'd call "mobile", so that seems to mitigate the concerns about mobility taking control of the league.  Similarly, other less mobile heroes like Garrosh are showing up, too, and supports are relatively low on mobility to begin with.  But the disconnect emerges from the figures right below those names, which show that neither of the heroes is seeing near as much play as Hanzo or Tracer.  And when you start accounting for popularity, Genji and Maiev both overtake Jaina and Gul'dan pretty quickly as well, even though they have failed to make this list due to their win rates steadily dropping off.

To showcase this, let's look only at the figures for regular season HGC play for the North American, European, and Korean regions through Week 9.  These will not include figures from either Clash.
Hero Picks/Bans Popularity Rate
Jaina 84 / 13 17.0%
Gul'dan 81 / 25 18.6%
Genji 242 / 257 87.4%
Hanzo 350 / 134 84.8%
Maiev* 84 / 126 81.1%*
Tracer 146 / 142 50.4%
* = Maiev was released after the start of HGC, and has only been available in regular season play as of Week 6.  Her popularity rate has been adjusted to only include matches where she was selectable.

As the above data shows, Jaina and Gul'dan might be more successful heroes, but they are being used so sparingly that the win rate is somewhat more deceptive than it might seem.  Neither hero breaks 20% in overall popularity in HGC so far, whereas every other "High Mobility" hero is very close to 50%, or in many cases, far higher.  It is very clear from these numbers that "high mobility" heroes have somewhat taken over the HGC, at least in the assassin department.

Now you might argue "but wait, if these high mobility heroes are so great, why aren't they clocking in with better win rates like Jaina or Gul'dan?", and that's a fair question to ask.  The answer is quite simply because often the team that is drafting these heroes is simply not the superior team.  For example, as I noted in a previous article about Maiev's success in the HGC, she had an 0-9 record going into Week 6 of NA/EU/KR when played by the team with a lower ranking at the time of the game.  That's a pretty significant statistic in my opinion, as it shows that while these heroes are abundant in play, they are still not "broken" in the sense that they cannot overcome significant deficits in skill between two teams.  Fenix is seeing similarly negative results in being selected by teams that are clearly not expected to win their matches, which has dragged his premiere win rate down somewhat.  And while Maiev remains a clear impact on the game even now, we're also seeing other mobility options emerge, like reworked Medivh, who grants mobility to an entire team when used right.  So while not every single one of these "high mobility" heroes is crushing the scene in every aspect of the game, it's very clear what the trends are indicating: mobility has become a problem for HotS, and heroes with mobility are highly favored over those which are not.

As for Garrosh, his increased dominance in HGC play lends itself primarily to the raw power of his combo attacks and the threat of the throw into a coordinated team setting.  He's successful in spite of his lack of mobility only because he creates plays that can displace and disrupt entire teams of players....which is sort of the point: we want heroes who can be big play makers without needing mobility to do the job, otherwise the tendency will always be towards having mobility over having none.

Finally, just to drive home how significant this creep has become, I'd like to show off one more table....a list of the top 20 heroes in HGC play right now in terms of overall popularity, categorized by their above-mentioned mobility labels.
Mobility Types Heroes
Non-Mobile Garrosh, Malfurion (w/o Nature's Swiftness), Rehgar (w/o Wolf Run), Stukov, Uther (w/o Divine Shield or Pursuit of Justice)
Global Abathur, Dehaka, E.T.C.
Speed-Based Mobility Dehaka, Malfurion (Nature's Swiftness), Rehgar (Wolf Run), Tyrael, Uther (Divine Shield or Pursuit of Justice)
Target-Based Mobility Tracer
Low Ability-Based Mobility Tychus
Medium Ability-Based Mobility Anub'arak, Blaze, E.T.C., Greymane, Malthael (conditional), Medivh, Sonya (w/o Leap), Tyrael
High Ability-Based Mobility Genji, Hanzo, Maiev, Sonya (Leap), Tracer

Starting to see the problem?  It used to be that the top 20 heroes was a pretty healthy mix of immobile and mobile heroes, but now, the list is more heavily leaning towards heroes with mobility.  And out of these top 20, three are brand new heroes from this year alone with strong mobility, three more are recently reworked heroes with strong mobility, and two more (Genji / Tracer) have been perennial mobility powerhouses since their releases, only fading in and out of the meta on occasion before coming right back in.  And this is only the top 20.  When I expand that list to the top 30, it adds a couple more heroes with Medium Mobility or higher: Diablo, Muradin, Leoric, and Junkrat.  Lucio would also end up on the list, though his mobility is speed-based, and the only "immobile" heroes that join the roster are Gul'dan and Arthas, the latter of whom is likely there because his slows and roots are a huge contributing factor to his continued relevance in a mobile meta.  Now yes, several of these heroes have been there for a while and are by no means "new" to the tops of the meta charts, nor are they "new" to being mobile.  But the fact that nearly half of the top 30 hero selections in the HGC are now dominated by heroes with mobility that ranks them "medium" or above, especially when several of them are heroes put out in the last year or so alone, is a concerning trend.

Furthermore, we see representation from a variety of roles: tanks, bruisers, off-laners, and damage dealers.  The only category that tends to feature primarily immobile heroes is the healer role, and that's mostly because there isn't a ton of mobility in that particular role to begin with.  That said, as I noted before, mobility takes multiple forms.  The most popular healer (Malfurion) is the one with a Lvl 1 talent that gives him movement speed baseline, and that particular talent is by far the most commonly selected one in HGC play.  So while he lacks mobility skills, he makes up for this with what amounts to baseline speed-based mobility at all times.  Lucio, while a much less popular healer (especially now that Stukov has taken over), was also relied upon for the extra mobility he could give to a team.  And while not a "support" in the strictest sense, Medivh also provides a sort of "mobility" to his team with his portals that can be used in the same variety of ways that regular mobility can be.  And so we can see that in nearly every role, the number of popular mobile heroes tends to outnumber the immobile ones, and the most popular choices are primarily clumped towards the top of the mobility charts rather than the bottom.

Having the ability to escape from incoming damage, or to dive into a fight and dish out some of your own, is a very big deal that has directly contributed to the "dive" meta that we now see before us.  And it's reached a point where it's no longer a situation that is going to go away on its own.  However, one of the other most popular healers is one that gives me hope and forms the basis of my upcoming arguments: Stukov, who emerged in prominence with the aid of a Lurking Arm build with Virulent Reaction under the exceptional play of Daniel "Shad" González.  This helps demonstrate that a very skillful support player with a diverse set of tools can help them survive against enemies that could otherwise dash circles around them.  More on that in a bit.

 
 

Alright, Fine.  Let's Say Mobility's a Problem.  So How Do We Fix This?


Well, that's a very tough question to answer.  See, the thing with "fixing" a nebulous problem like "mobility" is that mobility has so many different facets to it that there is no "universal" fix for mobility.  Rather, there are more than likely several fixes which need to occur.  Here is a short list of all of the things that I feel need to be done in order to stem the tide of mobility creep in this game.


1) For current heroes, we need to push existing mobility heroes into a more normal state by reducing the effectiveness and frequency of their mobility effects.  Tracer's changes were a good step towards this goal, though they overcompensated for her changes by giving her damage and health buffs which pushed her too far.  This methodology now needs to be applied to other heroes.

For example, Genji has a lot of mobility, with his intended counter being roots and stuns.  However, with the added survivability of Deflect, he often feels very difficult to kill outside of a coordinated team effort because he is able to absorb so much punishment.  To that end, he needs to make some sacrifices in his kit.  Recent changes on the PTR have increased his cooldowns on Cyber Agility and decreased Swift Strike's range, but I am not certain if these will be enough to curb some of his less desirable tendencies.  I still very much believe that removing his ability to Swift Strike through walls would be a good way to restrict his strength as a dive hero, and removal of the mana reset on Swift Strike would place greater mana drain on a character that currently doesn't have much of any, forcing him to choose his battles more wisely.  These changes would push him back towards the "finisher" style that he is intended to rest within, rather than the very aggressive initiator that he's started to become in recent months.

In the case of Hanzo, Natural Agility just received a cooldown nerf, but I'd like to go beyond that.  He also needs adjustments to this ability to make it work better with walls, so that the significantly increased range it was given (mostly to compensate for its buggy interaction with some walls) is no longer needed.  Also, his auto-attack range could probably stand to come down.  It's fine for him to rely on his Scatter Arrows and Storm Bow for his long-range poke as this forces players to aim his abilities more carefully to maximize their effectiveness.  But with a larger AA range, this actually in part reduces the skill level of the hero by allowing him to poke much more safely, and makes his mobility more valuable in turn because he doesn't have to go as "dive" as far or put himself as much in harm's way to get value from his auto-attacks.  It all totals to a hero that has more poke than many less mobile heroes designed to provide poke.  Ergo, a smaller AA range would help curb this.

When a hero is designed to be mobile, it needs to make sacrifices other than just having a lower health bar and relying on coordinated team stun-locks to defeat them.  They need to be treated more like a "generalist" hero, because mobility is a "generalist" effect.  Mobility provides a great deal of flexibility in how you approach the game.  It lets you flee, poke, rotate, and give chase with greater ease.  Because of this, the hero in question needs to be less capable of doing all of those things really well, or they risk becoming oppressive.  And while we all might enjoy a skillful use of Dragon Blade or a well-aimed Dragon Arrow, that needs to be tempered with the desire to avoid potentially frustrating game play.  Heroes with mobility need to have somewhat lower overall stats in general, in exchange for the higher degree of mobility they have available to them.  The recent changes to Hanzo, Tracer, and Genji (on today's PTR) are all a good nudge in that direction that needs to continue.  But it needs to go beyond just lowering cooldowns or raising health.


2) For future heroes, there needs to be a conscious decision-making process to determine when a hero should have mobility or not, how much of it they should have, and what restrictions will be built into their kit to compensate for it.  The last several heroes have been given mobility for good enough reasons, but when combined with other aspects of their kit, this mobility starts to become a greater problem.  In essence, an overabundance of kit synergies has been a major contributing factor in the creation of some seriously powerful (and seriously frustrating) new hero designs.  This leads to what Mr Villers referred to on Twitter as "the salt wall", a collection of really good effects that, together, create a very limited view of why the hero is actually frustrating.

For example, Maiev's mobility seems fairly reasonable on paper, as its range is long but somewhat predictable.  However, when combined with her Umbral Bind, she becomes a terror not for mobile heroes (as intended) but rather for non-mobile heroes who can't escape from her tether.  Combine this further with Warden's Cage to restrict movement, and now a relatively immobile hero is trapped in an unescapable scenario.  The combination of these effects creates a tether that literally only a mobility hero has a chance of escaping from.  And because her primary damage tool works best on clustered targets, everything works in perfect harmony to create a high damage hero with a ton of utility to boot.  As such, heroes like Maiev who are highly focused around utility should probably be lighter on the damage front, perhaps with a removal and redesign of her Fan of Knives to reduce the amount of oppressive damage that she herself can put out.  This would make her more reliant on her team to capitalize on her moves, which is the whole idea.

These synergies are obviously somewhat intentional, but the problems emerge when all of the synergies come together a little too well to create situations that immobile heroes cannot escape from.  That, in turn, pushes existing heroes even further away from a realistic chance at being competitive.  While I can certainly understand a desire for a new hero to see action right away in professional play or in Hero League, it's important that hero kit synergies are kept reasonably balanced and cannot be chained together into combinations of several different effects at once.  As mentioned in my prior point, mobility is a "generalist" effect.  So when designing new heroes, the developers need to be cautious not to give too many cross-synergies for players to exploit.  Because when given the option, players will always exploit any synergies they can find, and they'll also probably find several that you didn't even know were there!  A few synergies here or there are fine, but a kit with synergy upon synergy upon synergy can quickly become too much, too quickly.


3) Finally, there needs to be more investment in the idea of providing a wide range of counters, not just to mobility, but to any effects which can potentially create frustrating game play.  While some may disagree, what I feel was one of the best "newer" additions to the game was the introduction of talents that prey on shields and shield users in particular.  This came at a time when shield use was fairly abundant in the game's meta, and while they didn't directly lead to the reduction of shield use in the HGC, they did present a new method for players to deter excessive use of shielding to mitigate incoming damage.  Counters such as these are seen by some as creating too much of a "rock-paper-scissors" effect, whereby you feel inclined to mindlessly select heroes to counter very specific aspects of your enemy's hero kit.  However, I don't entirely agree, and the reason is because there are already some tools in the game which are considered "counters" to mobility, yet they are very often shown to not be the sort of "hard counter" that everyone claimed them to be.

I'll give you an example.  The most common "counter" provided by many to a mobile hero is to simply trap them in a "stun-lock", which means that you drop multiple stun effects onto the hero and then explode them with burst damage.  Since their health is lower than others, this theoretically means they are more vulnerable to this tactic than other heroes.  Yet in practice, a fairly good player on a mobile hero is very difficult to deal with, even with coordinated efforts on a pro team.  Look no further than Tracer's reign of terror throughout the HGC to date, especially in the hands of players like Vilhelm "POILK" Flennmark, who has often gotten away with multiple kills even when his team is down on members.  This demonstrates that as skill continues to increase, these types of heroes become increasingly harder to trap in situations like that, even when drafting with that "hard counter" mentality in mind.

However, as we've seen with Maiev, creating a hero designed to "counter" another hero archetype isn't always successful, either.  It can instead create a hero that ends up in other roles, or worse, a hero that punishes the opposite of what you intended.  Instead, I would point to Stukov as the perfect example of the sort of case scenario I'm looking to create: a hero who has various tools that don't outright shut down mobility, but in the hands of a skilled player, they can enable incredible plays that happen to work pretty well on mobile heroes.  I think we need to go beyond just creating heroes designed to weaken mobility, and instead look at ways to expand the game's mechanics so that several heroes have the option to branch into mobility-reducing effects, like how anti-shield talents have emerged as optional niche choices against shield-focused compositions.

Many have proposed a "bleed" or "rupture" status that deals damage based on distance traveled, but I think this doesn't achieve that goal.  Rather, it grants additional power to displacement-oriented heroes who can also abuse the effects of a "bleed", such as Junkrat or Stitches, without actually providing strong counters to heroes with smaller jumps like Tracer, who can minimize the damage by dashing around in circles while traveling very little distance from her starting point.  There's also a clear problem of how to properly convey to the affected player what is happening to them, which bleed effects are not very good at doing.  Plus, effects like a "bleed" could potentially creep too close into the realm of "hard counter" that many have feared and puts far more emphasis onto the draft, and that may be best avoided.  And finally, adding a brand new mechanic such as that of a "bleed" would likely require a great deal more work to develop, as it requires essentially all new mechanics.

Instead, I have two alternative status pitches that blend effects and ideas that are already present in the game for use on existing heroes, as well as opening the door for new heroes that can use these statuses as core aspects to their kit.  While any new status is going to take considerable time to develop, my hope is that by salvaging parts from existing statuses, the time consumed by that process can potentially be trimmed down.  And by adding them to several existing heroes, it means not having to wait for new heroes to introduce changes that can start pushing things in the right direction.

These two new statuses are "Cripple" and "Suspended".  Let's first talk about "Cripple".
Cripple: A status which lowers the movement speed of the target and disables their mobility skills, effectively blending the movement speed reduction of a Slow with the mobility-disabling effects of a Root.  This status can be balanced both by the duration of the effect and by the size of the movement speed reduction.

Some possible examples of heroes with talents that could gain an effect like Cripple include:
Valeera (via "Crippling Poison" talent)
Raynor (via "Hamstring Shot" talent)
Zul'jin (via "Lacerate" talent)
Muradin (via "Heavy Impact" talent)

While reading over some past comments of Mr. Villers on the forums, he made a point of saying that most Roots in the game to date offer visually recognizable features due to their nature as a movement-clearing effect, and so in cases where such an effect could not be achieved, they instead opted for a larger Slow.  I also noted that he made an excellent point on this subject: as the prevalence of Slow has increased, this can help fuel more value in mobility, since Slows do not have the same net effect on a mobile hero as they do on an immobile one.  Of course, this is partially by intent, as mobility heroes are meant to depend on that mobility, but it has also admittedly been a contributing factor in the mobility creep we've seen to date.  An immobile hero stacked with Slows is bound to an early grave, whereas a Genji or Tracer (or anyone with a sufficiently sized blink) can shrug off even a very nasty and large Slow with ease.

To that end, "Cripple" is an effect that could be easily spread across several existing heroes as a potential substitute for a standard Slow.  This would achieve two goals: a reduction in the overuse of Slow as a soft CC, and also a "new" CC essentially built from the scraps of existing ones.  Cripple would effectively be a Slow that places all heroes on an equal playing field.  This status more specifically targets the mobility of heroes like Tracer or Genji, and unlike a Root, this would not necessarily require a large and fancy visual effect, as it no longer has the need to clear move orders as a Root does.  This allows the developers to go with a more visually subdued manner of displaying Cripple as a status, reducing the work needed on fancy animations or effects and allowing them to add this status to existing heroes without as much of an overhaul to that hero's design.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Cripple doesn't change much about how an ability works, and is easily integrated into existing talents that provide Slows.  It is, in effect, replacing larger Slows that already exist in the game.  As a result, it needs considerably less numbers tuning to strike a good balance.  I've provided a few examples above, but basically anywhere that a Slow ability or talent existed, Cripple could potentially be used instead.  This provides a much greater variety in what the devs can do with abilities and talents, instead of needing to resort to a Slow every time.  And more variety is always a good decision.

The second status I've proposed is "Suspended", whose design is based upon a familiar niche hero that hasn't seen much action of late: Zarya.
Suspended: A status which traps the target up in the air for a certain duration of time.  The target's mobility skills are disabled during this time, though they can continue using other abilities.  This status can be balanced by the duration of the effect.

Some possible examples of heroes with talents that could gain an effect like Suspended include:
Zarya (via Graviton Surge)
Kael'thas (via Gravity Lapse)

Changes in Overwatch some time ago redesigned her Graviton Surge ultimate to have the additional effect of disabling mobility skills, and I've long thought that this would be a great thing to bring into Heroes of the Storm as well as a potential future status.  Graviton Surge is already designed with the idea of suspending targets in mid-air in mind, and all of the necessary animation work has been done to achieve the necessary visual "flare" of what Suspended would look like, so this status can be created by combining that airborne animation effect with the mobility-removing effects of a Root.

I also believe that this effect should then be extended onto other heroes, in particular Kael'thas, who also has an older ability that raises targets into the air.  Of course, his ability is coded as a Stun, so making this change would effectively nerf the ability by allowing people to keep shooting at him (which they could not previously do).  However, this can be compensated for by rebalancing the ability to have a lower cost and cooldown, essentially giving Kael'thas a new "niche" as a mage hero that can pick on mobility heroes to a limited degree.  I feel that this may be a good thing in a meta that has otherwise essentially left him behind.

Of course, the most obvious benefit to doing this is that once the status has been designed, it can then be placed onto other newer heroes as they are introduced, or even onto creatures.  Imagine, for example, if the tornadoes created by the boss on Sky Temple could effectively pick you up in this fashion if you stood next to them for too long.  It would certainly make this boss pose a much greater threat!  Now obviously, I'm not actually saying that should be done.  Just pointing out that the potential for a status which airlifts enemy heroes has fantastic design potential not only for future heroes, but future map creatures as well.  After all, it might be fun to run into a massive boss-esque creature that can pick up heroes (via an action like Suspended) and then fling them away!

Finally, before I wrap this up, I should note that I do not feel this is something exclusive to mobility.  I think that the devs should always be on the lookout for any aspect of game play which feels as though it has no real "counter" to it.  For example, some have pointed out that there really isn't a way to counter a "Protected" hero, which is part of what makes both Genji and Medivh so powerful.  Counter play is a critical part of what makes a meta function on its own.  It's what allows players to dynamically shift the meta for themselves, rather than forcing the balance team to do it for them.  The more tools you put into a skilled player's hands, the more options they will have available to them, and ultimately, the more unique and crazy ideas they can come up with.  And those are the life blood of what makes a healthy meta that can flow and adapt and change.  Change is very much needed right now.  So let's take a page from Dehaka's book and adapt this game in a way that helps drive player choice and puts the dynamics of the meta in the hands of the best players that the game has to offer.

 
 

TL;DR, Gimme the Short Version


Mobility has become a growing problem in this game for the last few years.  While there are plenty of heroes without mobility that see action in other game modes, the game's attempts to push itself competitively are being stymied with the rise of heroes that are more and more dependent on mobility.  The game has always had a number of heroes with decent mobility that it has shown preference towards, but with the advent of several more heroes in this vein since 2016, nearly half of the top 30 HGC heroes in terms of popularity right now can be considered fairly mobile, and a good percentage of those are newer heroes or recently reworked heroes rather than older ones.  By comparison, heroes with very little mobility or none at all are steadily falling by the way side.

The devs have acknowledged that they are keeping an eye out for this issue, but they seem to be content with their current approach of creating new heroes that have "anti-mobility" effects.  I believe this reasoning is flawed, and HGC data shows that even many of the popular "anti-mobility" counters continue to struggle against the hyper-mobile.  I feel that this is a problem that can't be resolved on its own, nor can it be entirely resolved with new heroes.  Rather, there needs to be a combination of solutions.  The dev teams need to continue to work on bringing existing mobility down by weakening heroes that rely on mobility, not just in health but in a larger number of key areas, so that they don't particularly excel and thus eclipse non-mobile heroes who also fill those niches.  Changes to Tracer, Hanzo, and Genji in recent weeks have been a good step towards this goal, but may need to go further.  The devs also need to be conscious of what a new hero can do and how their kit's synergies can stack up to become problematic.  The devs seem to be aware of this issue (referring to it as "the salt wall") and are trying to take steps to avoid it.

And finally, I suggested using a variety of existing effects and talents to create two new statuses ("Cripple" and "Suspended") that can be integrated into a large number of existing heroes with intent to reduce the extensive amounts of extra work that creating a new status can incur.  Placing more tools in the hands of players will help push back against the mobility menace, while also avoiding the problem of pushing the game even further into a rock-paper-scissors draft mentality.  My ultimate aim is to give players as many tools as possible and then let them shift the meta naturally with their creativity, and get away from the need for direct interventions like the Supportpocalypse.

 


I know that this was a very, very long read, so I very much appreciate those of you who took the time to read through it all.  As you can hopefully tell, I feel very strongly about this game and I absolutely want to see it continue to grow and expand upon its core designs.  But I believe that allowing mobility to continue its ongoing "creep" in the game's design is potentially crippling the amount of variety that this great game has available to it.  I want to see metas that shift and change in radical new ways, as they often used to do, and am afraid that on our current path, we'll be finding less and less heroes capable of keeping pace with the highly mobile unless some conscious design changes are made in the near future.

Do you agree with my thoughts?  Disagree?  Do you still feel that there's no real problem at all, or have I convinced you that perhaps there's something worth exploring here?  Feel free to let me know how you feel about this issue in the comments below.  As with all of my previous articles, I highly encourage both your feedback and your criticisms of my points.  I strongly believe that this game needs the thoughtful and constructive criticism of its community, as well as active engagement and involvement by the development staff, if it is going to continue to meet the needs of its player base.  So I really want to hear what people of all skill levels think about the mobility "issue".  Hopefully, our combined feedback will give the developers some ideas of their own that might inspire them to come up with new ways to approach this potential concern.

Finally, I want to give a huge thanks to Matt Villers, who has been extremely patient with me lately as we've had multiple extensive discussions on the topic of mobility and how hero design is being handled.  I want to be clear that while I have quoted him multiple times in this piece, I am not trying to pick on him.  Rather, I am trying to establish clearly both sides of the debate, mine and the devs', and explain in detail why I feel more is needed.  I am very appreciative of our development team taking the time to come out and chat with us about the issues we feel are impacting the game as a whole.  Please make sure to give this man the appreciation he deserves for all of the time and effort he's invested into explaining the development process to us!  If every game had devs like Matt, the gaming industry would be a much friendlier place!
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Love the suspend idea. That could be VERY useful.
To me, I've never seen mobility really as much of a problem largely due to the fact that it's simply more interesting to play with. Having mobility as a "defensive tool" is much more interesting to me than the alternative of simply making the character more resilient and provides greater room for better players to use these tools more effectively than weaker players.

Genji is a great example to me. His mobility is a great survival tool... in the hands of a skilled player. Weaker players struggle to use his kit effectively and end up dying due to his low base survivability. Skilled players will use this same kit to dodge enemy abilities, get better positioning in fights, and kite enemies. Simply put, mobility as a survival tool to me has a much higher skill ceiling than something like Raynor's Stim or Sgt. Hammer's new press W when the enemy is hitting you, allowing for them to be balanced around top tier play without being oppressive at low levels.

Where mobility strikes me as a problem is when the only counter to mobility is other mobility (see Maiev, the "anti-mobility hero." This is true mobility creep and is a problem. Blizzard will soon have to find ways for less mobile heroes to compete with the higher mobility heroes as right now, at the top level, the enemy team having a hyper mobile hero can drastically shut down your options for viable damage dealers. My favorite solutions are conditional targetted cc spells like Diablo's Shadow Charge, where there's more to it then just point and click, and the addition of new statuses that interact with mobile heroes like you mentioned.

The other one that I really like from another game is Battlerite's Spell Block. Spell Block usually only lasts a short while, less than a second most of the time, but if the enemy tries to cast a spell while Spell Blocked, that spell fails to cast and the enemy is silenced for a much longer duration. It's an interesting mechanic that allows for counterplay outside of simply dodging the ability. If the enemy is spam happy or you catch them midchannel, you land a complete silence. If they react appropriately, they only are "silenced" for less than a second as they hold their spells. I've wanted Valeera's Garrote to work like this for some time now as this allows for point and click cc abilities to still have some counterplay.

Anyways, great article and great read. Definitely gonna become more and more relevant over time.
Between all of the CC that exists in this game, we have the tools to counter mobility. I really think it's more of a numbers game to balance it all. Stuff like Tracer's Pulse Bomb nerf are what we need.
Great read. While I think the "mobility creep" is an alarming trend, it definitely makes the game a lot more fun to play. I've picked up Genji over the last year to great success, enjoying the high risk, high reward play style immensely.

Having said that, I think Blizzard are really going the wrong way with the recent changes to Tracer and Genji. The mobility is very SLIGHTLY toned down for MASSIVE buffs to health and damage. Genji on PTR has almost as much health as level 1 Illidan, with a ranged AA that does extremely high sustained damage on top of his Q poke and still considerable mobility. It's very much lowering the skill floor of the hero while having a base kit and stat line that still blows away older "hypermobile assassin" designs like Illidan and Valla.

We've already seen what happens when you buff the base stats of a hypermobile hero while slightly toning down the mobility as evidence by Tracer's meteoric resurgence into the meta after the Fenix patch.
Since high mobility is so fun to watch, I'm betting on seeing more of it in the future. Also, the only real counter for it seems to be stuns and roots.
ishb00 I actually haven't heard of Spell Block, but conceptually that actually sounds like a great way to handle heroes like Tracer who are very reliant on spamming abilities for their mobility. Would work a lot less on some of the others, but for the hyper-mobile, that's a pretty clever idea!
You know, you touch on this in the 2nd half of your introduction for this post but out of curiosity (I mean this in a very neutral way). Other than being willing to crunch the numbers and following the news...what are your credentials?

Are you someone on the net I would recognize by a different alias???
ThrowTime, you don't need to be a pro player or streamer to be a top-tier analyst. They are different skill sets.

The value of CriticKitten's content speaks for itself. This is the first blog article from him I've read, and it's clear he thinks deeply about the game and knows what he's talking about.
I like the idea of suspend as an abilitiy; it's something that is basically already in the game and has a strong visual language.

I'm not sure the same can be said for cripple. Cripple is sort of a slow but sort of a root but not really both. It's not clear or readable enough and I think it just muddies the water.

Why not just have slow affect mobility? Would the make slow too over powered? Possibly; but it would still be cleared by "teleport" type abilities that already have the cleanse effect. I think this would be an interesting change for Blizz to test internally.
SirSpamsalot

No, you don't.

That doesn't invalidate my question though since the game isn't purely numbers.

One of my favorite sources of knowledge in this game is actually a Diamond player who was only masters in S1. I actually listen to him frequently in lieu of some more well known GMs.

That said, I'm not looking to invalidate the value of his posts if he has no notable accomplishments but I do want to know the place of experience from which he's coming from since it creates a clearer picture.
That largely depends on what you mean by "credentials". As far as my level of HotS play is concerned, I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not nearly mechanically inclined enough to play this game at a high level competitively. I've got the reflexes of an old grandma. ;)

That said, I feel that my technical knowledge is respectable enough. I work very hard to make sure that I'm keeping up with the professional scene and providing accurate information, and wouldn't put out an article if I wasn't reasonably certain as to its quality. As far as credentials go, I have several years of game development experience both as a writer and a balance team member. That's where I picked up the bulk of my spreadsheet knowledge, my verbosity, and a number of other less-than-tangible qualities that I feel give me a bit of an understanding what the design teams are going through when they produce new content or try to re-balance existing content.
Lol nah, man never cared about your mechanical skils. When you start commenting heavily about drafting though without a ton of high level draft experience, we'll talk...at least till the day till all the heroes get broken down into numbers and we can draft team comps based on values or someone creates some badass machine learning simulator that's able to accurately predict comps ;)

That's heartening to know and thank you for humoring me, I appreciate it. You acquitted yourself well under fire I think which is also a big deal when you spearhead conversations like these. ;)
Funny story, I actually did at one point try to craft a spreadsheet capable of identifying the core aspects of draft composition and use that as an indicator of potential success. I'm not quite there yet, though. Still some intangibles to work out, and don't have enough time in the day to iron it out as much as I would like. Maybe if I can scrape together some time this summer, I can look into that again.

As far as draft experience, yeah, I would fully yield to proper coaches, analysts, and experts in that field. I have maybe more information than your standard player in that regard thanks to all of the focus I've put on research in the HGC this year, but I would never pretend to know it better than someone who does it for a living. :)
I would like to see how you assign values to those heroes actually, as it's those intangibles you're talking about that make me think we're a long ways away from distilling the draft into numbers. Then you add the head games and it becomes nigh impossible.
I look forward to seeing your prototype though!