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Newest Heroes of the Storm balance update shakes up competitive hero pool

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In the wake of the most recent Heroes of the Dorm, where we saw a lot of interesting (read: bonkers) picks from UT Arlington, the seemingly stable meta was considerably shaken up. Blizzard’s recent balance changes seem to reflect a strong focus on restabilizing the meta, while deepening the pool of competitively viable heroes. As a result, assassins and supports were the primary focus of this week’s balance patch.

Assassin

  • Falstad, who was banned through much of last weekend’s tournament, saw an increase to the cooldown of his Mighty Gust ability, just as it was starting to see more action in competitive play. The cooldown increase seems drastic (now 60s, up from 40), and may hopefully be scaled back a bit in the future.
  • It was a mixed bag for Illidan, a staple of the competitive scene, when he saw a moderate reduction to his sustain through nerfs to his self-healing and survivability. He did get a few small buffs to some lesser-picked damage talents (Battered Assault, Unbound) to try and expand his build diversity, but it’s hard for Illidan players to walk away from this balance patch feeling great.
  • Kael’Thas received significant buffs across the board: more health, increased range and damage on spells, and reduced cooldowns and mana costs, leaving him in a very nice spot. His win rate was low, and he should now be a much more competitive assassin pick. Just don’t be surprised to see some of this getting scaled back in a future patch.
  • Li-Ming, who has essentially been permabanned throughout most drafts, has finally lost some of her burst potential and hopefully gained new build diversity. A lower cooldown and lower mana cost on Arcane Orb means more pressure and sustained damage from her, but it comes coupled with 10% damage reduction to the ability. Finally, a 1.5x increase to her Disintegrate cooldown (from 20 seconds up to 30) slows her lane-clear capability with her heroic without significantly reducing her teamfight potential. Overall, Li-Ming escapes this balance patch relatively intact. While players loved her burst, they were rarely able to play her because of high ban rates. This may let her see the light of day a little more often.
  • Thrall lost a quarter-second of stun duration on Sundering, but this Heroic remains devastating when aimed properly.
  • Everyone’s favorite ex-convict Tychus saw a noticeable health increase, and refinement of his role as the anti-tank assassin. His Minigun and related talents received strong buffs to their percentage-based damage, which coupled with the HP boost will let him focus tanks more easily in group fights. Expect to see Tychus rise in popularity as a viable counter-pick for Johanna, E.T.C., and other beefier frontline heroes.

Specialist

  • Abathur was the only specialist that saw any love this patch, and it was solely focused on minor buffs to his lesser picked Heroic ability, Evolve Monstrosity. Regardless, without stronger buffs or a rework to Monstrosity, Ultimate Evolution’s Clone just gives Abathur too much adaptability and battlefield presence to skip.

Support

In general, the support changes add a little more healing throughput to a few heroes, and two significant offensive Heroics received large buffs. Blizzard seems to be focusing on build diversity for supports, and opening up the damage options as potential choices.

  • Brightwing received a buff to Soothing Wind through her Emerald Wind, so Faerie Dragon fans around the world can rejoice.
  • Li Li got significant buffs to her damage output, specifically through Water Dragon’s massive damage increase, along with mana cost reductions (100 -> 50). Due to the stability of her current healing, don’t be surprised if you start to see her offensive Heroic ability getting picked competitively.
  • Malfurion got some passive Mana Regeneration added to Twilight Dream, which won’t shake things up too much, but is a strong Quality of Life change for him.
  • Tyrande got across the board buffs to Starfall: a large damage boost, cooldown reduced by 20%, and mana cost reduced by 25%. You may see it become more viable competitively, especially with Tyrande as a hybrid support pick behind a full support. Starfall’s significant zoning capability may turn a few heads in the Nexus.
  • Uther’s stun duration got a mild increase, but no other changes for everyone’s favorite Paladin.

Warriors

The Warriors walked away from this patch with mostly damage-centric buffs.

  • E.T.C. got a decently sized damage boost to Power Slide, which just further increases his power as an initiator. If he was a staple pick before, he’s now that much closer to being inducted into the Warrior Hall of Fame.
  • Johanna’s Falling Sword Heroic ability damage went up quite a bit, but without the multi-stun component of Blessed Shield, it’s hard to envision pros picking it consistently.
  • Muradin’s Heroic Haymaker ability hasn’t been seeing as much competitive play lately as Avatar, but this patch increased its collateral damage effect to match that of initial targets.If properly aimed, it could result in some truly massive damage output. Teams may start seriously playing around with Haymaker.
  • Lastly, the persistent Kael’thas infinite Living Bomb bug has finally been squashed, and he has been reactivated. Coupled with his changes this patch, expect to see a lot more Flamestrikes in the Nexus.

Wrap

With the buffs to Starfall and Water Dragon, Blizzard seems to be nudging some frequently picked “hard support” heroes into viable hybrid roles. Coupled with throughput increases for Brightwing and Malfurion, and bigger stuns from Uther, the support game is as fluid as ever.

Considering these support changes in the context the damage buffs to several key warriors, this could create a very interesting dynamic. If we see supports shedding their healing for higher damage output, and assassins and warriors are also dishing out more damage, team fights are either going to be ending a lot quicker, or we’ll see the full engagement fights fall by the wayside in favor of a return to the poke-pick-push playstyle.

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