Based on the new ruleset for the Summer Global Championship published Thursday, Blizzard appears to have decided to allow live in-game coaching in professional HotS matches. The potentially wide-reaching impacts of such a drastic rule change have ignited an intense debate in the professional community.
The new rule appears in section 4.3 of the rules, which states that coaches may be present and communicate with the team both during the draft phase and the game itself. The wording of 4.3 permits coaches to view the game on their players' machines and communicate with the players "if hardware is provided."
However, the section includes the proviso that it is "at Blizzard's sole discretion," meaning that they could still decide to disallow in-game coaching during the Championship. theScore esports has reached out to Blizzard to clarify whether or not they intend to allow in-game coaching at the Summer World Championship, and will update this story if we receive a response.
Many pro players have already voiced their opposition the change, saying that it allows players to offload many of their strategic responsibilities onto a coach, who will effectively become a "sixth player."
"You can basically have the coach do all the mundane stuff that players will forget in the heat of the moment, like ult timers and mercs," said Long "Daihuu" Wang, who has both played competitively and coached for The PLEYZ. "Having that coach there constantly feeding you info is counter productive to the 5v5 team aspect. Unless you stay out of vision all game, it'll be hard to get ganked when you have that sixth man being like, 'THAT GUY GOING TOP WATCH OUT WHOAA!'"
He said he doesn't believe in-game coaching is suited well to the MOBA genre, and noted that in most conventional sports coaches can only speak to players during breaks and time outs.
Christoph "Cris" Gowitzke, who plays ranged/flex for Team Liquid, told theScore esports that he isn't against expanding the role of coaches, but thinks they shouldn't be able to communicate beyond the draft phase. "It makes the game 6v6, and people don't even have to communicate early game or stuff, because you always have a sixth person watching the minimap," he said. "It just takes away a lot of skill, and people already call this game casual."
Not everyone thinks that in-game coaching will be bad for HotS.
"The thing that excites me is that it's very clear that HotS esports wants to legitimize coaching as a viable and staple role for top teams," said Antherus "xcyteZ" Ha, who has coached for Cloud9 Vortex, Bang Bang and COGnitive Gaming. "As a coach, I'm psyched — what coach wouldn't be?"
He said he thinks the argument that adding in-game coaches will make HotS a "6v6 game" are a "cop-out."
"Currently I just don't see the arguments for why certain people are so against it," he said. "I don't see a problem with it — as biased as I may be — because at the end of the day my main focus is ensuring that my team performs to the best of their ability."
He said that even with the option for in-game coaching, not every roster will benefit from it. A lighter touch and letting the team play the game may be what works best for some teams.
However, xcyteZ agreed with Cris that such a sudden shift in the strategic importance of coaching could leave some organizations and their players at a major disadvantage, especially since the role of support personnel is so underdeveloped in the competitive HotS scene.
"Having a high-tier coach in HotS is currently a luxury. Until the game becomes more popular, that won't change," he said.
"If some of the bigger orgs want to invest in a coach, they have every right to proceed with that. However, there is a clear disadvantage to some of the smaller orgs that aren't even able to provide their players with a decent salary."
Heroes of the Storm isn't the only esport currently re-evaluating the role of coaches. James O'Connor, former coach of Team Liquid's Counter-Strike: Global Offensive squad, recently met with Valve after the MLG Major Championship: Columbus to discuss coaching, and published his perspective on the discussion in a TwitLonger.
"[Valve] want to protect the integrity of the 5v5 team experience for the lower levels who do not have coaches," he said.
"Essentially they want viewers at home who play the game to be watching the same game that they play at home. To keep the competitive pressure spread across 5 people and supported by a sixth, not a full 6v6 game where the brains of the game is outsourced fully to an out of game leader."
In addition to the changes to coaching, the new HotS rules also included a change to the residency requirements to participate in a region's events. Players will only be required to reside in a region for one month in order to play in a tournament in that region. The previous six-month residency requirement prevented Stellar Lotus's Haejoon "Wiz" Lee from competing in the North American scene, due to his Korean residency.
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury loves tofu. You can find him on Twitter.