LANs. It's the thing you did with your friends when you were younger. You all lugged your computers and monitors to the home of the guy with the biggest basement and spent the next 6 hours playing *insert your favorite childhood game here*. These days, that may still be the case, though more likely than not the game you're playing will have some sort of online component as well. But these days LANs now hold an additional descriptor for the world of esports, a local event where teams come together to play in person, usually with a watching, cheering audience.
Heroes has always had some sort of a LAN presence even from the beginning at Blizzcon 2014. Most recently, this last year saw a few LANs with the advent of the Clashes and Mid Season Brawl, as well as the finals at Blizzcon. With the 2018 season about to start, I think now is a good time to bring up the discussion of LANs in professional Heroes of the Storm play, and their various impacts, pros, and cons.
So what are the benefits of LAN play? Heroes has come under some criticism as of late, alleging that the casters for Heroes are far more well known and publicized than most of the Heroes players. This is a somewhat fair assessment, as the casters are front and center every week, and at best, we get to see one player from the winning team in a skype interview at the end of the set. LANs allow the players to also be front and center. We get to see the emotions, the reactions, and from a sponsor standpoint, the jerseys and gear that help promote their brand. Most LANs also allow live audience participation. Having now been to two Blizzcon Finals, I can say without a doubt that there is nothing quite like watching esports live. The energy of the crowd, the moment to moment excitement as you watch the game and player reactions, and the energy that the players are able to glean (especially if the crowd is on their side) can’t be discounted. Another massive benefit for the players is playing on a near zero latency environment. Online, player latency to the server, their ISP, and their computer specs can all be a factor in how good, or bad, they play. A LAN environment “levels the playing field” so to speak, providing all the players with the exact same setup, letting mechanical skills fully shine.
LANs are not all sunshine and roses however. There can be a few drawbacks to the experience like...well, experience. You may have heard the term “LAN Experience” before when someone was referring to a certain team. This generally means that the team has competed in a more open environment with crowds cheering, noises going off, stage lights and cameras, etc. When you’re a team that has never done this before, it can be daunting, intimidating, and sometimes downright distracting while you’re playing. This has the potential to give teams who aren’t used to this environment a disadvantage against teams who have the experience, regardless of how good the players actually are. The other big issue is, as with many things, money. LANs are not a cheap endeavour, especially when done with any sort of regularity. They require extra facilities, crew, and travel, and lodging expenses that you don’t have while playing online.
So what do I hope to see from Heroes in regards to LANs this year? In an ideal world, all the Heroes teams per region would be located in the same area, they would come together at the Blizzard Esports Arena (or region equivalent) weekly for games, and the several hundred capacity of the arena would be full every weekend. Realistically, Heroes is relatively new in the esports scene, and very much still in the growth stage of its development. We can’t expect giant leaps when it will take time for the infrastructure, talent, and money to build up. The inaugural year of HGC in 2017 was a fantastic start to making Heroes more planned, streamlined, and watchable. Along with the changes to the 2018 season, I believe the next logical step would be to make use of existing Blizzard infrastructure (the Esports Arena/other region equivalents) and hold major region playoffs at a live venue. This would be a step up from last year where playoffs were held online, and would allow not only more player exposure, but would also allow those in the area or willing to travel a chance to watch competitive Heroes in a more intimate setting.
Regardless of what happens this year, I’m really looking forward to this season of HGC. Heroes is truly an example of a game that has gone from grassroots to building what it is today in esports. As long as Blizzard can continue this steady growth, the next few years of HGC should hold a lot of potential.