Game Design

a study of gender and roles of heroes of the storm heroes

A year ago, I wrote a blog post analysing the gender and roles of League of Legends champions.  Unsurprisingly, the video game stereotype of females in support roles1 was reinforced by the distribution of gameplay roles amongst LoL‘s 150+ playable characters.

In today’s follow-up blog post, I want to tackle the characters in Heroes of the Storm, to see if the trends persist across games.  This time, my expectations of the results are based on what I discovered in my study of the League of Legends champions.

A Quick Overview of Heroes of the Storm’s Complicated History

Heroes of the Storm has had a troubled history.  Blizzard’s MOBA game arrived in 2015, and soon thereafter jumped into the burgeoning competitive esports scene.  The game went through several changes over the next few years as it seemed to struggle with direction.

In 2017, Heroes of the Storm released a new update called “Heroes of the Storm 2.0” that made big changes to the loot, currency and rewards systems.  Then, in December 2018, Blizzard abruptly cancelled the Heroes of the Storm Pro League and all the game’s esports events starting in 20192.

Although releasing new heroes was an important part of supporting the live game, the number of heroes released per year dropped dramatically as the game lost resources.

From about 15 heroes released each year in 2015, 2016 and 2017, Blizzard dropped to releasing 9 new HotS heroes in 2018.  2019, after the game officially lost support, saw only 4 new heroes, and 2020 had a measly 2.  Hogger, released December 2020, is the last hero on the HotS roster.

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Gender Split: There are Twice the Number of Male Heroes than Female Heroes in Heroes of the Storm

As of writing, there are currently 90 playable heroes in Heroes of the Storm.  For the sake of this analysis, I decided to exclude 1 hero, the Lost Vikings, who are three separate entities with separate playstyles all controlled by a single player.  However, I am including Cho’Gall, the two-headed ogre played by two people, as two male entities.

The Lost Vikings, three independent units on the battleground controlled by one player. Image from Blizzard Entertainment.

This left me with 89 heroes, which I expected to match the League of Legends split in gender, with more male than female characters.  LoL, as of my analysis 2021, had a 3 : 2 ratio of male to female.

It turns out that the gender split is even further skewed in Heroes of the Storm, with male heroes comprising of 2/3 of all playable characters.  This puts the ratio of HotS heroes at a 2 : 1 ratio of male to female.  In other wards, the number of male heroes is double the number of female ones.

Heroes of the Storm Heroes by Gender

Role Analysis: Distribution in Player Roles Amongst Male and Female HotS Heroes

Since the cancellation of its esports division, HotS support has been drastically scaled back.  By March 2019, the original four roles were replaced with new ones.3  Warriors were split into tanks and bruisers, assassins into ranged assassins and melee assassins, and support into healers and supports.  The old specialist role was removed from the game.

I used these six roles, which are currently still in the game, in my analysis: bruiser, healer, melee assassin, ranged assassin, support and tank.

Heroes of the Storm role descriptions. Image from Blizzard Entertainment.

From the League of Legends analysis, I expected there to be the highest number of female healers, and the highest number of male tanks.  And this prediction was rather accurate.

Out of all six roles in Heroes of the Storm, one showed an equal percentage of male and female heroes: support.  But note that this role had only 3 heroes.

  • Total male supports: 2 (24.47% of all male champions); Total female supports: 1 (25.00% of all female champions).

The other that was fairly comparable was, like in the League of Legends study, melee assassin.

  • Total male melee assassins: 6 (10.17% of all male champions); Total female melee assassins: 4 (13.33% of all female champions).

Female dominated roles in HotS are healer and ranged assassin.

  • Total male healers: 8 (13.56% of all male champions); Total female healers: 8 (26.67% of all female champions).
  • Total male ranged assassins: 18 (30.51% of all male champions); Total female ranged assassins: 12 (40.00% of all female champions).

And the male dominated roles for heroes, as expected, are bruiser and tank.

  • Total male bruisers: 14 (23.72% of all male champions); Total female bruisers: 3 (10.00% of all female champions).
  • Total male tanks: 11 (18.64% of all male champions); Total female tanks: 2 (6.67% of all female champions).
Percentage of Male vs. Female Heroes of the Storm Heroes by Role

The differences in some of these numbers is most dramatic with the male dominated roles.  There are only 3 female bruisers and 2 female tanks in all 89 characters of Heroes of the Storm.

Why Does This Matter?

When I did my analysis of the League of Legends champions, I pointed out how the characters’ role distribution reinforces gender norms.  I also discussed how this could influence players’ perceptions of each other, and how it could impact women gamers.

Women are already pigeonholed into the healer role by their male counterparts.  The options available to them in Heroes of the Storm and other games reflect this, which isn’t helpful in breaking through stereotypes.

Artwork of Heroes of the Storm heroes. Image from Blizzard Entertainment.

From this same look at Heroes of the Storm, it’s clear that these stereotypical roles are persistent across different games.  Whether consciously or subconsciously, there are preferences for how game designers present gendered characters.

Although Heroes of the Storm has a smaller pool of playable characters, it is telling that the same trends of favouring males in tank roles and females in healer roles exist.  It’s clear that there’s a long way to go for gender representation and equality in games.

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References Cited

  1. Angie. “Why do female gamers tend to play support characters?.” Backlog Crusader, 29 April 2019. Web. 28 December 2021.
  2. Brack, J. Allen and Jay Gresko. “Heroes of the Storm News…” Blizzard Entertainment News, 13 December 2018. Web. 28 December 2021.
  3. Blizzard Entertainment. “Hero Role Expansion” Blizzard Entertainment News, 18 March 2019. Web. 28 December 2021.