Battle For Two: Heroes Of The Storm Shrinks Ranked Party Size

So here’s an interesting development. Heroes of the Storm’s ranked play option is limiting party size to two people.

In a mid-August patch the party size for Hero League was set at a maximum of four (you could actually play as a full five stack but it would put you into the Team League queue to play exclusively against other groups of five instead of mixed opponent parties). After listening to the feedback and seeing how the patch played for a little while, the maximum party size has been shrunk again. Here’s why:

“When we look at the data for parties of three and four players in Hero League, we often see large skill gaps among party members. This is fine for players in a party of four, for example, who have agreed to queue together despite any differences in skill that may exist. However, the matchmaker needs to complete the team by pulling in a fifth player who queued up alone, and did not necessarily want to play with teammates of varying skill levels.

“This can also create situations in which party members will discuss strategy with each other, but don’t end up communicating the game plan to their fifth teammate. On the other end of the spectrum, solo players may disagree with the party’s decisions, or show unwillingness to help the team. This can result in a friction for both sides if communication doesn’t improve.

“What’s more, parties of three and four players appear in Hero League queues far less often than solo players and parties of two. As such we feel that large parties represent a small enough portion of Ranked games that we’re comfortable removing them from Hero League in order to improve overall match quality.”

As a point of fact, Dota 2 acknowledges the problems of the four stack plus a lone player scenario by preventing parties of four people from queuing for ranked games.

The second paragraph of Blizzard’s explanation, that it can cause friction, is the one I’ve seen manifest most often. Not in HotS, because I don’t play that much and when I do it tends to be as a five or a three in unranked. But in Dota sometimes I will play unranked as a four stack if that’s the number of friends available. We jokingly refer to the spare spot we haven’t managed to fill as the “blame space”.

I want to stress that this is entirely jokingly and we never make that extra person feel unwelcome but amongst ourselves on voice chat it can be cathartic to pretend everything that went badly was none of our faults. Miss a skillshot? Clearly player 5 was distracting you with their silence and competent play. Forget to buy wards? Obviously player 5 should have used his or her carry gold to pick them up. Game crashes? PLAYER 5 WHY ARE YOU HEXING MY PC?

But despite the joke there’s a real disconnect in that scenario – four people on voice constantly updating one another on their plans and one person needing to use what information is available and fill in the blanks for themselves. I’ve been on the receiving end of that setup too as a solo player – some games it works out, some games you get Mean Girled. I can definitely understand why you would excise it from ranked play where people can get really antsy about YOUR TERRIBLE IMPACT on THEIR PERFECT SCORE.

The change will go live with the next game update and Blizzard say they’re interested to get more feedback once people have had a go with the changes in place. I wonder if they’ll settle on this or compromise on parties of three? I get that fewer people queue as a three but I do like the neatness of putting a two and a three together to form a team instead of faffing about with remainders. Maybe that’s why I’m not in charge of the party size strategy.


  1. Zankman says:

    From my experience in LoL, where a pair of players is the max size for Queuing up for SoloQueue, even two people being together can be an issue: they work as a pair and work less effectively with any of the other 3 teammates, they often blame everything on one of the other 3 teammates, as well as flame them and, of course, report them.

    Would be great if Ranked was just for Solo and nothing else.

    • QSpec says:

      Not to mention that at least in LoL, they up the duo queue’s relative MMR since they assume (not wrongly) that being able to communicate is an advantage.

      So now you end up with two people who think they can do no wrong, punching up a weight class, demanding lanes, backed up by their friend’s “if he gets mid, we win”.

      In my experience, there is always a stronger and a weaker player. The game seems almost entirely decided on the basis of whether the weaker player feeds harder than the good player gets fed.

      In any case, I think it is a smart move by Blizzard. It won’t be popular among a handful of people, but it’s the right choice… though I, like you, would like to see solo be solo.

  2. Freud says:

    It’s a good change. HotS have team league (five man teams) which no one plays because players preferred to just make a four-man team and stomp solo queuers in Hero League. That ruined the game for others. It screwed up the leaderboards. It made match making broken.

    With this change, you either have to play as a five man team if you want to play as a team or play one or two players in the normal Hero League.

    • Anti-Skub says:

      Yeah, and if you are a solo queuer or you only have one friend it’s a slight improvement to your experience.

      If however, like me, you regularly play HOTS with 2 or 3 friends this change basically removes the option to play ranked.

      • keithsboredom says:

        this, i don’t play to “stomp” or to blame the 5th player. We play because there happens to be 3 or 4 us.

        With this change we can no longer play HOTS

        • jrodman says:

          Really? I read that you can no longer play it on ranked. Is that the whole game to you? Is it the whole game to many players? (These questions aren’t snarky, I’m asking seriously.)

  3. trn says:

    I think it is good that after 12+ months Blizzard have finally acknowledged some of the issues that the Hots community have been bemoaning. I’m not sure this will fix them though. There are three perennial problems raised with matchmaking:

    1. The wide variety of skill levels permitted in individual games (which may well be down to groups queuing together, but given previous stats Blizzard have released this shouldn’t be happening do frequently to cause the widespread difficulties reported by the community since alpha);
    2. A (hidden) MMR system that doesn’t take number of games played into consideration. A player with 20 games can have the same MMR as a player with 2000 games and be matched together. Number of games does not guarantee skill, but it does suggest a better understanding of core mechanics, of timings on objectives and camps and on familiarity with maps and heroes;
    3. A lack of compensation for players who end up with a disconnecter, AFKer or intentional feeder on their team. That someone can lose their internet connection, be replaced by a bot and you risk losing rank if you don’t win is bonkers.

    I continue to actively monitor the US and EU forums for Hots in the hope that one day I’ll see a thread which is not about how broken matchmaking is. I think Blizzard either have to make a decision: is this a serious Moba to content with LoL or Dota, or a jokey, doss game that doesn’t take itself seriously? If its the former, this is not enough of a fix to ranked play; if its the latter, why have ranked play?

    Anyway, just the random thoughts of a disgruntled ex-Hots player.

    • jrodman says:

      I’m not sure why you feel a ranking system should use game-count.

      A system built on the difference between the estimated and actual results and correction feedback shouldn’t need this additional system to get reasonable results. It’s definitely possible to have someone playing on a new account in, for example, a new region. Or smurfs. Or people who have played lots of games and aren’t very good.

      New players will obviously have lower accuracy in their rating than players who have played many games, but that’s pretty much true for any matchmaking algorithm. I don’t think it’s a winning strategy either to fully “insulate” longstanding players from newer players. Given enough influx, putting first-5-games players together during placement might be a win, but by 60 games they really are going to need to play with the people their estimated rating puts them with.

  4. Horg says:

    I miss the solo que option in DOtA more than any other facet of the game. Those were good times, I had more consistently enjoyable and skill balanced games when everyone was queuing solo. Once they removed that option, The quality of games declined dramatically. Report abuse has been a problem since they introduced the failed chat mute experiment some time ago, and more than anything you dread being matched with a 4 stack on your team. Even when you win convincingly, more often than not the random gets sent to the low priority que. I expect HotS has proportionately more people who que solo just because of the nature of the game, so I can understand why they did this. Partial stacks cause far more problems than they solve for solo players.

    I did not know that DotA ranked mode limited stacks to 3 players though, I might have to get back into the game and try it out. Never really bothered with ranked before. I think you need at least 4 reports in a single game to get an automatic punishment so a limit of 3 in a stack might help mitigate the report abuse.

    • Yazid says:

      Dota have 2 ranked queues, SOLO and Party (2,3,5) so i don’t get what you miss here, maybe you played a long time ago?

      • Horg says:

        Oh there’s a proper solo ranked as well? Cool, as I said earlier i’ve never bothered with ranked games so this is all news to me.

      • kronpas says:

        Real solo queue means you only plays against other solo players whereas in current solo queue you can face (and play with) up to 3 players queued as a party. The reason? Queue time.

  5. kronpas says:

    Real solo queue means you only plays against other solo players whereas in current solo queue you can face (and play with) up to 3 players queued as a party. The reason? Queue time.

  6. Deano2099 says:

    What’s a “stack” in this context?

    • jrodman says:

      Game lingo for a group of people who decide to queue as a group. E.G. a four-stack is four people who all form a game-recognized group (group, party, etc) and then queue for a game and will all be placed in the game together.

      The term implies that the people know each other, and plan to play this way (which is usually true, I’ve only ever seen people forming stacks with strangers is in the PvP MMO era when it enabled such a massive advantage that you didn’t even need to know anyone in the stack).