I don't claim to be an expert in Heroes. I am not a progamer. Not even a very good gamer in fact. Most of the stuff I wrote were heavily inspired by posts I've read in the Korean community (such as this and this).
I wasn't always there to witness all the stuff that happened, so some of the stuff I'm just going by what I read/heard. I just wanted to share what I read, and also add a few spins of how I interpret the HotS meta as a spectate thus far. I'm sure there are parts where I'm blatantly wrong, so feel free to point those out so we can have a more complete picture of how the game evolved over the year.
Also note that what I say leans heavily towards KR meta, since I'm getting 80% of the content from the Korean post I linked, and it's the meta I've been following most actively in recent times. (Sorry NA/EU T.T)
Overview / TLDR(?)We have seen several big shifts in the HotS meta, and with the new Monk patch, I think we are about to see the meta shift in big ways again. Before we all get caught up in it, I wanted to take a time to look back on how the meta shifted over the years.
Here are patches and the big trends in meta that were prevalent in HotS so far. Patches before Jaina are ignored because I don't know much about it, and I believe Jaina Patch was when ranked play really started.
- Jaina~Thrall Patch - Double Support meta
- TLV~Sylvanas Patch - A table of two Tanks
- Kael'thas~Butcher Patch - Mage/Bruiser meta
Double Support meta - "You were not prepared!"Double support meta started to emerge from Jaina patch, due to the following factors:
- Buffs to Imposing Presence from 30%->50%, making it difficult to deal with the front line.
- Nerfs to assassins such as Nova, making damage (especially burst damage) hard to come by.
Stitches was the King in this meta, because you could simply hook an enemy and create a 4:5 situation. Not to mention his unbelievable tankiness and sustain at the time. Illidan was the perfect assassin for double support, because you can ignore the front line and jump straight into the backline and wreck the squishies, combined with his strong sustained damage, ability to reduce damage, dodge CC, gain more health, etc.
The meta game at this point focused heavily on Illidan and how to counter Illidan (CC-heavy comps).
A tale of two Tanks.I think we all know the two tanks that defined this era: Diablo and ETC. The TLV patch brought in fixes on Diablo's shadow charge had incredible effect on the hero's viability. ETC was already a rising star towards the end of Thrall patch with the discovery of his split-push build, and the slight nerfs to Stitches was enough to push him to the top spot. Buffs to heroes like Jaina and Tyrande, discovery of Azmodan dunk stacking, and introduction of Sylvanas started to supplement the lack of burst damage.
Double support + Illidan was still a very dominant composition, but it started to show its limits. The Lost Vikings also emerged to be very strong, and gained in popularity especially in China. You also the beginnings of double Warrior compositions with heroes like Tyrael and Arthas. We saw a fair amount of creative strategies come and go such as Blood-for-Blood composition, protect-the-Hammer, Azmodan stacking, Double-bomb Zeratul, Backdoor Abathur, etc.
Now at this point, people were wondering why Blizzard never once touched the double support comps when the double support / Illidan has been so prevalent for such a long time in the meta. We soon found our answer: Because Kael'thas was coming.
Mage/Bruiser metaKael'thas was the nail in the coffin to the Double Support meta. The level of AOE damage provided by Ignite build was enough to throwaway the thought of trying to win a sustain fight, as him alone could out damage at least one, even two healers. In addition, the reworks on Diablo and ETC turned out to be a miss, making it difficult to rely on a solo-tank at the front line.
It was inevitable for the mages, Jaina and Kael'thas to dominate the meta. But Blizzard most likely anticipated it, and already had an answer: the bruisers. Bruisers served as natural counters to the mages, because they could infiltrate the backline while tanking some damage and keep the mages in check. The bruisers can take advantage of the mage's lack of escape and hard initiate the enemy caught out of position. The fixes to Anub'arak, combined with rediscovery of Tyrael, tanky Johanna, and the relatively buffed Muradin made way to the Double-Warrior meta especially in KR/China. (Now did Blizzard purposely under-tune the solo-tanks during the rework to purposely make room for the bruisers to emerge as a counter to mages?) The emergence of Bruiser/Dive comps also signaled a rediscovery of Arthas as an excellent counter to deal with the warriors.
Taking advantage of strong sustain and respectable damage output of these warriors, 3-warrior compositions also rose in popularity (mostly KR). However, the anti-warrior-warrior Leoric and discovery of 3-warrior meta's weakness in early pushing power slowly pulled the meta back to double warriors.
Of course not to forget, Zeratul is also the star of this meta with his ability to snipe enemy squishies. The nerfs to Brightwing hurt the support pool to mostly Malfurion, Rehgar and Uther, with "Who get's the LiLi!!" strategy becoming a common occurrence in the competitive scene.
What is next?With the next patch, it seems like Blizzard is starting to address the issue of weak auto-attack damage dealers, and seem to shift focus to sustain damage. The rise of auto-attack dps should act as the counter to bruisers, as it becomes difficult for bruisers to find an opportunity to dive in, as they can get kited and focused down at any point in time. The increase in number of supports and Cleanse rework will hopefully shake up the meta a bit.