I’m not quite sure how much money I spent on Magic Online when it initially began to gain some popularity, but I can tell you that even trying to estimate that number results in no small amount of embarrassment for me. I love TCGs, and have spent a good amount of time (and cash) dabbling in a range of games, from open-ended classics like Magic: The Gathering to more discrete releases such as The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. I’ve also spent a good amount of time playing various versions of Duels of the Planeswalkers, and enjoy when TCG-like systems appear in other kinds of games, such as Diplomacy in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes.
There’s no shortage of trading card games to play, with a diversity of genres and complexities available. The same could be said, although less so, of online and mobile TCGs, but you can still get your trading card fix on your system or device of choice. Until Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft showed up, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find something as fully produced yet conceptually and financially accessible on the market. Blizzard’s entry into the online TCG market has made more than a little splash, with one adventure (Curse of Naxxramas) and one expansion (Goblins vs. Gnomes) already released since its launch in 2014, and a second adventure (Blackrock Mountain) planned for next month.
Hearthstone has a lot going for it: it’s thematically based in the World of Warcraft universe, reinforcing the zeitgeist around Blizzard’s flagship MMORPG and encouraging the buy-in into the developer’s game ecosystem. It’s also free-to-play, which means that you can easily play the game casually and have a great time with it before deciding to shell out money for packs or to support more competitive play. Most importantly, Hearthstone is one of the most accessible TCGs available, with still enough depth to allow for a wide variety of strategies and deck builds.
From what I’ve seen (and played) of Heroes of the Storm, it seems fairly obvious that Blizzard is attempting to give their new MOBA the same sort of treatment as they have with Hearthstone, in making a heretofore insular genre more accessible for a wider audience. Whereas popular MOBAs like League of Legends, DotA 2, and Smite have gone to great lengths to become more welcoming for new players, they still necessitate steep learning curves to become proficient and competitive. Heroes of the Storm seems to have distilled the MOBA formula in a similar fashion to what Blizzard has done with TCGs in Hearthstone, which could be a boon for casual players.
As I wrote about in my column a few weeks back, I’m speculatively interested in MOBAs, and am unsure if they are able to structurally support casual play. Several of our community members suggested alternate game modes like ARAM/Assault, as well as Heroes of the Storm, towards this goal. I think Heroes of the Storm could definitely serve the purpose of making the genre more accessible for casuals, and would have the added attraction of tying into Blizzard’s shared universes of the Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo series. But can it attain the same kind of success as Hearthstone?
I suppose, phrasing it in a slightly different way, my question should be: can a Blizzard-developed MOBA attain the same kind of success as a Blizzard-developed TCG? The initial response would seem to be negative simply due to platform constraints. Hearthstone is currently available for PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android, while Heroes of the Storm is only in development for PC and Mac. Even if both games somehow make their way onto Xbox Live and PlayStation Network at some point, it’s difficult to imagine Heroes of the Storm appearing on mobile devices with any sort of gameplay parity or popularity.
As much as Hearthstone has more or less blown the doors off of the TCG category of games and made it more approachable for casual gamers, and as much as Heroes of the Storm looks to do the same for the MOBA subgenre, I’m not so sure that the latter can reach the same widespread popularity as the former. It may simply be a question of genre, in that a collectible card game more easily lends itself to casual play among a diversity of platforms and devices than an admittedly streamlined multiplayer action battle arena. Heroes of the Storm may very well achieve a great amount of monetary success and critical acclaim as an accessible MOBA, but attaining the same kind of popularity as Hearthstone could be an altogether different task.
What do you think? Can Heroes of the Storm reach the same level of popularity and widespread success as Hearthstone?