The Heroes of the Storm Blizzard multiverse is the spa treatment of fan service - a blockbuster version of the 3am who’d-win-in-a-fight conversation. Horde warchiefs charge at broodmothers who summon hydralisks to tackle murlocs who fling slime at brewmasters.
But it’s not without its compromises. StarCraft II’s iconic head-in-a-helmet, Tychus, has lost his trademark cigar - and that’s rubbed some of his most ardent supporters the wrong way.
Fans noticed the change at the tail end of a trailer for the new Heroes of the Storm open beta. A premium character skin showcased ‘Prisoner Tychus’ as he was in StarCraft II - minus his smoke.
Sure enough, Heroes’ ESRB page reveals it’s been given a clean bill of health where tobacco is concerned.
“We know smoking is bad, everybody does,” wrote HotS Redditor Ficherz, to the approval of 2000 others. “BUT! it's not Blizzard's job to make sure we don't do it anyway. It’s an iconic part of the Tychus character. BRING BACK HIS CIGAR!”
Ficherz argued that the detail was a matter of principle - a sign that Blizzard had compromised their fantasy to meet the sanitised demands of a broader audience.
It’s NOT your job to police kids and parents to NOT smoke,” said the Redditor. “Let people figure out their own lives on their own.”
Commenters were quick to point out that tobacco use carries dramatically different rating implications in various parts of the world. If Heroes of the Storm is to become an international sport as League of Legends and Hearthstone have before it, it doesn’t need character props keeping it out of the internet cafes.
League of Legends’ cigar-chewing champion Graves suffered the same fate, after Riot Games decided the risk of censorship or age rating issues wasn’t worth it.
“This kind of thing is pretty strictly enforced in parts of the world,” wrote artist RiotSilver six months ago. “And in this case it became clear that we needed to remove the cigar in his splash.”
In the past, Riot have created local variants on their characters to appease lawmakers - but now try to avoid sharding their game unnecessarily.
“It may seem like a small thing in this case,” said RiotSilver, “but we believe that being consistent with this artistic approach best allows for a common community and common stories for players to experience and share with each other.”
Perhaps Blizzard have come to a similar decision.
One of my favourite games, Deus Ex, took a particularly hard line on smoking. Cigarettes were interactive, but caused player damage and conferred no benefits whatsoever. Can you think of any other notable gaming depictions?