Travel back in time to Blizzcon 2015. The Arena was announced, where 5-man teams would compete in “a 5-minute non-stop teamfight.” The preview video shows only the Temple Arena and Garden Arena, but makes sure to mention that the mode is under heavy development.
Almost a full year later, Heroes Brawl became available on October 18, 2016. Punisher Arena was first, and a fitting standard for what to expect. Heroes are selected by shuffle pick (everyone picks 1 from 3 hero options) with a small chance that all players will be the same hero. Control the objective and defend it from the enemy, but player deaths also contribute to scores. Pick your Heroic ability and go. This is the general format for Punisher Arena, Temple Arena, and Garden Arena, which are the most common Brawls so far.
That’s not to say there hasn’t been innovation, however. Hammer Time was the second Brawl released, and changed everything we thought we could expect about the Arena. Every player was Sgt. Hammer on Towers of Doom, starting at level 1, with Thrusters always active, and the game progressed as more or less standard otherwise. This showed off the idea of “mutators” that were presented in the video and the battle.net page, but also carried a message that some Brawls would take much longer than others by design.
The next Brawl brought us the first single-lane map in Heroes of the Storm, showcasing the first official ARAM (all random all middle) game type. Previously, the only way to get an ARAM was through custom games, having everyone select the Random Hero option, telling everyone that using Hearthstone was against the rules, and ignoring the map objective. Now, all you have to do is either wait for the Brawl to come up in rotation, or set up a custom game on one of the ARAM maps and force random picks. While many in the community still want a way to match make ARAMs (and other Brawl highlights as they rotate out), custom game support is a good step in the right direction.
At Blizzcon 2016, a brand-new style of Brawl was presented. Blackheart’s Revenge was the first asymmetric Brawl, with one team on defense and one on offense. It was still shuffle pick and set at level 10, but contained a unique objective; the general consensus was that the Brawl was imbalanced but entertaining. This was followed by Ghost Protocol, another Towers of Doom mutator Brawl. Every player was Nova, landing a Snipe was an instant kill, and every kill reduced the enemy core by 1 health. If Hammer Time showed the basis of mutator brawls, Ghost Protocol showed the potential.
For a quick aside: back in February, Blizzard released the Sandbox custom games modifiers. This allows the host to set team levels and change modifiers such as game speed, damage dealt, and damage taken on the fly. For four months, nothing has been done with Sandbox rules. Then, at the HGC Midseason Brawl, an East-West All Stars match took place. The 3-game series took place on Cursed Hollow (the only map that supports Sandbox rules). The teams did a full draft and quickly adapted a new meta to double damage, double speed games. Why has there been no Brawl in this style yet? Shuffle pick on Cursed Hollow, everybody at level 30, double speed and damage dealt/taken. Tributes, respawns, and cooldowns would happen twice as fast.
The loose pattern developing seems to be that an innovative, fun Brawl exists for a week, gets replaced by “standards” like one of the Arenas or ARAMs for a few weeks, then another new format refreshes our opinion of what Brawls could be. The long stretches of re-hashed Brawls like Hammer Time, Arena, Ghost Protocol, ARAM, Mage Wars, Arena, ARAM tend to come when other great things are afoot in the Nexus – this was exactly the release during the period of February through mid-April, when Heroes 2.0 was being prepped and released in the PTR.
As far as reception in the community, at large all the Brawls are well liked. Aside from a few hiccups on first iterations (things like Nazeebo’s Superstition talent in Mage Wars, being kicked as AFK between rounds, general imbalance in Blackheart’s Revenge), the only major issues with Brawls have been ones that last a full game’s length. Many players choose to play the Brawl at first for the reward, then for fun after. If getting the reward drags on for the better part of an hour, players will go for a regular match made game instead of another go at the Brawl for less XP and Gold. Obviously this is rectified if the Brawl is fun, as seen with Pull Party. The demand for more is evident, along with testimony of playing well over the two matches required for the loot box reward.
So what makes Pull Party so well-liked? The matches last around five minutes maximum, it rewards skill shots, there’s a random chaotic element to it, yet strategy and tactics can be employed to great effect. The themes behind it are phenomenal as well. The music and visuals of the map form such a tight theme of “Summer is here.” It’s worth mentioning that Pull Party is a re-hash of a Warcraft III custom game called “Pudge Wars,” which has also been revived in DOTA 2. So Pull Party has technically stood the test of time, but this new iteration stands to be removed soon, if Brawl history is anything to go by. At best, we can expect to see it one or two more times in the coming months, but maybe Blizzard will surprise everyone with an unprecedented move. Possibly another show match during the HGC, where pro players are thrown into a Pull Party match and exemplify top-quality combo hooks. It’s also possible they have another, even better brawl planned for the next spot in the Sun’s Out Guns Out event. Anything is possible.