The idea of “space” in gaming is like an invisible bubble of safety that allows your team to take objectives and control the pace of the game. Controlling and manipulating that space is as simple as getting more vision and preventing your opponent from easily contesting objectives, but alas, there is no way to truly quantify the exact decision-making processes for easy learning. The topic of positioning is a complex topic with virtually infinite possibilities, and only experience can produce consistently positive results.
That said, there is no substitute for just practicing mental acuity: learn some of these concepts and think about them constantly as you play. As you get more comfortable with the ideas and translating them into appropriate actions, judging various situations accurately and responding to them will become quick and fluid.
Map Control = Free Objectives
Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem. -Sun Tzu
At the risk of making a sweeping statement, all decisions in Heroes of the Storm come down to map control. If you can, try to think of the minimap in terms of bubbles, small zones of influence. Wherever one team is pushing a tower or contesting an objective, wherever players are rotating through, wherever anything is happening on the map, zones of influence are created. Strong or weak, these zones are constantly changing and morphing into a different picture. Having “strong map control” means that your team has more zones or stronger zones (or both).
Map control dictates where your team can and cannot go (assuming fairly equal footing). If a boss is crashing into your opponent’s keep in the late game, they must respond to that, and you have a safety zone of pretty much the entire map. When you lose control of the laning phase on Tomb of the Spider Queen, and all lanes are getting shoved in hard, your safety zone is severely diminished to only small areas around your forts.
Map control also provides a sort of “buffer zone”. Creating pressure with a merc camp or pushing in a keep creates a timer for when the other team can put pressure elsewhere on the map. Greater threats typically correspond to greater timers. Buffer zones are important when trying to take a risky offensive merc camp or split between two objectives. Knowing exactly how much time it will take before the enemy team can actually contest is the difference between nabbing a Boss just in time or engaging in a full-on throw pit for the loss.
Say you’re on Towers of Doom and you destroy your opponent’s bottom bell tower just before the altar spawns, forcing them to go through the bell tower or around it to reach the altar. This is an example of a buffer zone. If going around isn’t an option, the enemy team must destroy the Bell Tower between themselves and the Altar if they want to properly contest the objective; this gives your team enough time to safely channel and score points.
On a macro scale, having good map control allows for easier objectives. It typically means your team can set up at the objective first—whether it be channeling a Tribute or contesting the Boss—and sometimes even give you the objective for free. Winning objectives means more map control, rinse and repeat. Of course, this doesn’t mean winning one objective wins the game. There are several ways to regain map control such as clever counterpushes or winning a teamfight, but the importance of map control cannot be overstated.
The Role of Tanks During Rotations
You may advance and be absolutely irresistible, if you make for the enemy’s weak points; you may retire and be safe from pursuit if your movements are more rapid than those of the enemy.
Tank players have a special role in map control on a micro scale. They provide proper zoning for their vulnerable back line and can help peel away those pesky assassins. The proper setup for a teamfight is almost always the same: the tank goes in front with the healer and whoever needs most protection behind them—to the sides, more mobile or aggressive Heroes look for flanks to get into the enemy back line. This setup is important because it means that the tank moves into the riskiest locations before the other Heroes to gain vision, bait out abilities, and put pressure on the enemy team.
A teamfight is a microcosm of map control as each team dances around the objective and tries to get the other team out of position. Tanks provide their team with a zone of influence—like a bubble—which drives back the opposing team while simultaneously protecting their allies.
They also play a huge part in rotations. Tanks should usually take the riskier, more aggressive route during rotations in a gank squad. Walking the more aggressive route separate from the rest of the group provides more vision while simultaneously creating a buffer zone for teammates. Additionally, it puts the tank in an ideal position to gank and bodyblock once they get to the lane. If you happen to run into a group of enemy Heroes in the jungle, a tank in front will properly soak up the damage without dying and even allow you to collapse and counter-engage sometimes.
This extra bit of vision extends your map control a bit further and creates a lot more opportunities for picks along the way. When you’re in control of the rotations, you gain control of the map and can dictate objectives much more easily.
We can form a single united body, while the enemy must split up into fractions. Hence there will be a whole pitted against separate parts of a whole, which means that we shall be many to the enemy’s few. -Sun Tzu
A key part to creating zones for your team is the notion of a “cut-in”. In layman’s terms, this simply means cutting into an enemy zone of safety to create two isolated areas. For example, I mentioned that tank should take a more aggressive route during rotations because it puts them in a prime position to gank someone who is out of position. This is because they can cut in between the towers and the enemy Hero and isolate them from safety, providing your team with the opportunity to converge and get a free kill.
Cut-ins are not limited to just ganks. They can also be used when pushing with an objective like the Punisher on Infernal Shrines (cut in between the enemy team and their fort so they’re forced to fight near the Punisher). In a teamfight, if there’s a Muradin blocking an out-of-position Kael’thas from rejoining the rest of his team, he’s very likely to die.
This isn’t to say that the tank should always be flanking. Cut-ins are simply the idea of positioning yourself in between two objects to create isolation. They’re what enable good ganks, tower dives, and aggressive playmaking to be successful.
“Bodying” the Objective
With regard to narrow passes, if you can occupy them first, let them be strongly garrisoned and await the advent of the enemy. -Sun Tzu
Zone control also extends directly to objectives. Say a teammate is trying to channel a tribute on Cursed Hollow: instead of standing next to them or playing defensively and waiting for the enemy team to come, you should be looking to take an aggressive stance and create some space between the enemy and the tribute so that they can’t stop your teammate. This is an example of trying to zone out the enemy team by creating a buffer and simply blocking them with your Hero. Not only does it help you block some predictable skillshots that might cancel channelling, it literally makes it difficult for enemy Heroes to walk toward the objective. Equinox calls this “bodying”, which is a term I’ve come to like a great deal.
Who should be bodying the objective revolves around your team composition, but usually that role falls to the tank: be a beefy wall with lots of CC and there’s no way the enemy team can get around you easily to stop your team from taking the objective. Of course, it’s important to know the distinction between bodying and suicide; don’t try to force space if there is none to take!
This idea can also be translated to taking mercenary camps or providing space for your team to set up in a pivotal position. Since the tank’s DPS is usually subpar, it’s usually more useful for them to be standing guard (though not always—it’s important to learn the distinction between when to guard and when to squeeze out that extra DPS for your team!). If the enemy comes, usually a slow or a stun combined with bodyblocks can delay them long enough for your team to finish the camp and secure it without a standoff.
The Use of “Human Warding”
Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. -Sun Tzu
Vision has been mentioned quite a bit throughout this article. It’s an important part of zone control and creating space because it gives your team advance notice of threats and increases your opportunities. Everything that tanks will do to generate extra vision—facechecking bushes, taking aggressive routes, or bodying for your team—is a form of “human warding”.
Unlike other MOBAs, Heroes of the Storm does not have wards to gain vision. Instead, all vision has be gained through Hero abilities (like Tyrande’s Sentinel) or human warding (or watchtowers). That said, Vision is very important and it can only be gathered in a handful of ways.
The unsung role of tank players is vision. It’s important to do as much “human warding” as possible, particularly as a tank player, because it gives your team a lot more information to work with. If you’re spending a large majority of your time as Muradin clearing waves in lane, you’re not doing your job properly. Look for ways to scoop up vision, do a cut-in, or zone for your allies. Be cognitive of your role during an objective; do you need to stick back and peel for your teammates or position yourself forward to block incoming damage?
He who knows these things, and in fighting puts his knowledge into practice, will win his battles. He who knows them not, nor practices them, will surely be defeated. -Sun Tzu
Now that you have knowledge of these ideas, put them into practice. Like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, there is no simple way to explain these concepts. You can’t learn how to control the map and your enemy’s position in five minutes. Learning how to react to your opponent and properly maintain zones of influence without putting yourself in danger takes lot of re-iteration and practice before you can get a “feel” for it. When you play, actively think about “bodying” or “human warding”, when it would be good, when it would be bad, etc.
Sun Tzu said it perfectly many years ago: think and practice, and you will find victory.