Not Here to Make Friends: How Toxicity in Heroes of the Storm Affected Me

I've been playing a lot of Heroes of the Storm lately. I'm not really sure what's drawn me to the game other than it's similar enough to Diablo that I was able to pick up the mechanics fairly quickly, and I've got enough nostalgia for Blizzard's characters from all the years of playing their games that it's appealed to me in a way that something like DOTA or League of Legends hasn't. The fact that the games are generally shorter tends to help, too; I rarely have an hour to dedicate to a multiplayer online game, but I can find 15-20 minute chunks in the evenings and weekends easily enough.

One of the things that had me nervous about playing a game like this was the toxicity that I've heard of in games of this type (MOBA, which is short for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). You don't need to spend a lot of time searching online to find stories of people turning on their teammates when things go poorly and yelling at them for not playing well enough. And this is on top of the general nastiness that tends to happen online. I decided to try to put that aside given the positive things I'd heard about the game, especially since all the communication is done via either text or pings on the map, as opposed to voice, where a lot of the worst types of harassment tends to happen.

I've been playing the game for about two weeks now, and I've gotten at least the basics down. I know what characters I'm good with and those that I'm not, but one of the things that Heroes of the Storm strongly encourages is playing enough games with a character to get them up to level 5, where you get a bonus of in-game gold. This typically takes somewhere between five and ten matches, depending on how often you win and what bonuses are in place at the time. This incentive is usually enough to figure out how to play a character strategically, as well as whether it's a character you're interested in buying, either with in-game gold or real money. The game also encourages you to play games against other players, as opposed to against AI opponents, by offering more experience for games against human opponents, and it gives out "daily quests" to encourage you to play with specific kinds of characters.

I'm saying this all to explain that when I went into a quick match against human opponents today with Diablo, who is a character that I'm not particularly comfortable with, I did so both because I'm close to level 5 with him and there was a daily quest that could only be completed with a character from the Diablo series. Diablo is a melee character, and I hate playing melee because it's not my strong suit. I've got other characters who I'm much more comfortable with, but I wouldn't make much progress jumping into a game with them. (See how these incentives work?) So I went into quick match with random people to try to level him up as quickly as possible, so I could ultimately move on to a different character.

And then this happened.

I've been kind of waiting for this shoe to fall for a while now, but I've played so many games where nothing really toxic happened that it surprised me how much it affected me when it did. I responded that some of us are newer and there's no reason to be rude, and I was told to go back and play AI and stop wrecking the game for them. I did report the person after the game, which is why I blocked out the names in the screen shot; I'm letting the system work how it's supposed to, assuming it does work at all.

I'm surprised about how much this one encounter has completely changed my feelings about the game, though. I thought I'd be able to shake it off and go right back in, but I really don't want to right now. I've written at length about my self-esteem issues and how I usually deal with them; putting me into a situation where I'm upset enough at myself for playing poorly, compounded with other people on my team telling me to kill myself because I'm not up to their standards, is something that isn't fun for me. I thought I could deal with it when it inevitably happened. At least in the time since that match ended, it turns out I can't.

This is a big problem for MOBAs in general. They have a reputation for being terrible experiences because you can control everything in the gameplay, but you can't control players' behavior. Hearthstone manages this by reducing communication to predefined emotes, but Heroes of the Storm requires teams to coordinate, so that's not an option. League of Legends has some automated solutions to this problem, so hopefully this won't be an issue in a couple of years. In the present day, though, for as many people play these games, there are many more who either get turned away like it feels like I am, or who won't approach them in the first place for fear of this kind of experience. The time up to now where I've played the game has been great, but I honestly can't recommend it to anyone without a lot of caveats because of exactly this problem.

Will I go back in to Heroes of the Storm again? I don't know. Maybe I will, with friends or at least friends of friends who I can trust. Maybe I'll get up the courage to go in solo again. (It's worth mentioning that for every encounter like this, there have been two or three where I've apologized for making mistakes or having a bad game and my random teammates were extremely understanding, but those fade quickly.) But this single experience has completely overshadowed any enjoyment I've had with Heroes of the Storm over the past two weeks.

For now, I'm going back to Hearthstone for a while. At least there, the only person I can disappoint is myself.