The Art of the Tank
This guide holds a special place in my heart. It was the first guide I ever published for Heroes of the Storm way back in 2016. It was linked around and talked about by professional players at the time, some of whom contacted me asking how I figured this out on my own. In many cases it was by watching replays of their games and simply asking myself what they were doing and why.
Tanking has gone through a lot of refinement in the intervening four years. In this guide, we’ll talk about deconstructing the tank role to really illustrate how far we have come, but for now, for the basic heart of tanking in Heroes of the Storm I leave you with the original opening of The Art of the Tank:
Tanking, in HotS, was roughly about four things.
- Engaging for your team.
- Peeling for your team.
- Being a mobile ward.
- Being a damage sponge.
The explanations for those four things have not aged well. They are serviceable, but HotS ended up being a far more complicated game than people thought it was when I wrote this guide originally: we discovered that many assassins have strong engages; healers are, far and away, better at “peeling” as it was understood at the time; vision as a concept is nearly untouched but as a role is broken by many heroes; and sponging damage has been mischaracterized endlessly, to the point where Blizzard actually felt it necessary to remove damage taken from the statistics tab.
Thinking about those points, today I would classify them like this:
Tanking, in HotS, is roughly about four things.
- Being the Primary Engage for your team.
- Controlling and creating Space for your team.
- Controlling Vision and Rotations for your team.
- Having enough Survivability to reliably do all of the above.
Engaging means ensuring a specific hero takes damage from your team. There are three types of damage in HotS.
Point and click: all basic (or auto) attacks (AAs) fall into this category, as do abilities like Uther’s E and even things like Malthael’s Q.
Ground effect: skills, like Jaina’s W, that occur at specific places when put down.
Skill shots: skills which generally have some kind of travel time and need a certain level of mouse accuracy to hit like Li Ming’s W. For simplicity's sake we’ll call these Click Damage, Ground Damage, and Skillshot Damage.
If someone is hard CCed (usually stuns or roots but also things like Taunts that both silence and effectively root or leash), the latter two become extremely reliable forms of damage.
What tanks bring to the table in terms of engaging is usually reliable hard CC. When I say reliable, I mean that a good player can consistently get in range of the target they want to engage on without dying, create enough space that their damage can also be in range of the target, and then engage on the target in a way that allows their damage dealer to land their damage.
Malfurion’s Entangling Roots is a very good hard CC, but because it has a delay before it actually roots the target, it isn’t reliable. If Varian Taunts someone, Li-Ming can land her Orb and Missiles on that target reliably. Note that a Li-Ming could, theoretically, land her Q and W on a target anyway, e.g., from out of vision, they are standing still, etc. So while damage sometimes doesn’t need an engage to start, an engage always needs damage to follow up.
Thus the role of being a primary engage for your team is to use your abilities to manipulate enemy movement in such a way that your damage dealers can reliably do damage. That could be as simple as Muradin jumping over a wall and Qing a target that is near your Jaina who then drops W-E-Q on the target, and they die. It could also be as complicated as a Tyrael using E on his team for a speed boost then using Q to slow the enemy team, which would allow for Click Damage to be very consistent and for some Skillshot Damage to be more consistent then it would otherwise.
Controlling and Creating Space
The next two sections are actually two sides of the same coin, the ultimate tank game and a favorite childhood pastime for many people: Hide and Seek. In the original Art of the Tank this was simply “peeling for your team”.
That description ended up being somewhat simplistic and indeed almost inaccurate. It turns out that most tanks actually have very little of what we’d call “peel” in the modern understanding of HotS. Supports and even bruisers frequently have more peel than tanks. There are exceptions, Garrosh with Into the Fray immediately comes to mind, but by and large the best “peel” tanks have is their CC, and CC should almost never be used for peel because you sacrifice your ability to engage. This is not to say you shouldn’t CC people that attack your team, but your timing for it should be such that it works as a counter-engage, not just peel.
Instead you should think of Hiding. If the enemy team can’t see you, then you could be anywhere on the map they can’t actively see. This is scary because of the first thing tanks do: engage.
By simply being out of vision, everyone on the enemy team needs to be playing more safely. You might think I am exaggerating the impact of this, that you don’t really control everything the enemy team can’t see. I assure you I am not. In normal games you get an AFK warning at 90 seconds and get kicked after another 90 seconds. AFK detection does not exist in custom games.
There have been professional games where the tank player would have been kicked, because he didn’t soak experience or do damage for over 3 minutes. They were simply sitting out of vision, moving around the map to see if they could punish anyone. This was obviously somewhat rare, but being out of vision for over a minute was very common.
Every tank has a space around them that is threatening based on cooldowns. When you’re Hiding that space can be in a lot of places, but even when you’re in full vision of the enemy team that space exists. Understanding the exact range of your threat, which cooldowns it is tied to, and how those cooldowns interact with the enemy team is how you create space.
If you understand this, any tank’s kit is very simple to analyze in how it MUST be used to be effective. And, it goes without saying, that threat can rapidly vanish if you use your cooldowns incorrectly. Missing as a tank usually means “Back up and try again later.”
Controlling Vision and Rotations
Controlling vision for your team is the "Seek" part of Hide and Seek. You are trying to know where the enemy team is. If they are top, your team can push bottom safely. If they are on a camp, your team can potentially collapse and invade. If they are rotating slowly, your wave-clear heroes can step up to the wave.
On most tanks, wave-clear tanks being the exception, you should spend a lot of time mounted, looking at the mini map, thinking about where it makes sense for the enemy team to be, where they want to go next, and how you can slow them down. If this sounds simple it is because it is, in theory. In practice it is difficult because you are also trying to do the next thing as well: Hide.
You see because you are the Primary Engage, any time you are missing, the enemy team has to be afraid you are right next to them. Waiting. If they step too far forward, or use a mobility cooldown at the wrong time, they are dead. When you are Hiding, you are a version of Schrodinger's Cat: Every bush or wall is a box that could kill them.
It is the tension of these two things that defines great tank players. Sometimes it is correct to Hide no matter what. Sometimes you have to Seek so you have specific information. When you do which is the essence of great tank play.
I’m not certain how much explanation this really needs. If any average composition 5-man focuses a tank, they will die very quickly. Tanks don’t just have beefy HP pools, they always have some tool that enables them to survive, be it disengage, taking additional damage on top of their normal health, self-heal, or something else.
In the original Art of the Tank this was “being a damage sponge” and you can see how having a good chunk of health helps with creating space, hide and seek, and engaging… but a lot of people took the wrong message away from this section, thinking they were doing well if they took a lot of damage. They were not. Your health bar is a resource you can trade for doing the above, but it needs to be a trade, don’t take damage for free. It is incredibly easy to analyze a replay and ask “Did me taking damage here get me one of the three things above?”
In the near future I will make a series of videos, which I will link here when complete, for the various ways every tank can engage, control and create space, control vision, and survive doing it.
So ends the updated Art of the Tank… kidding! The New Sections:
How To Make non-Tank Heroes into Tanks:
The most important thing to note here is that while the default tanks all have survivability in their base kit – though sometimes it requires a talent – some of the heroes that have been played as tanks in high level games do not have this survivability. It is compensated for by another hero. In even more extreme cases they may lack other things on this list as well, which may be further compensated for by the rest of the composition.
In order to make non-tank Heroes into tanks, you need to break down the things a tank does and distribute them across the entire composition.
Medivh, with his Raven Form, can play Seek very easily. Find the enemy team, hover above them with impunity, done.
Zeratul, with his blink and stealth, can play Hide very easily.
Maiev has a reliable primary engage.
Drafting a second healer can make up for a lack of survivability. So there are two things here that you need to do: define what an entire composition needs (engage, hide and seek, wave-clear, camp clear, sustained damage, burst damage) which does vary a bit by map. Then go through the entire roster of heroes and find all the engages, then supplement the weakness of that specific engage with the rest of your draft.
This is complicated by level of play. Some things that work as engages at lower levels of play cease to work at higher levels, or at a minimum begin to have a higher execution requirement. Some abilities can actually be comboed together from different heroes to set up a reliable engage! I will save you from this 90 hero exercise. The following are engages I consider to be reliable, but the specific hero has a weakness that must be covered.
Note: Not all of these are equally good or equally easy.
Alarak: W-Q is semi reliable but silence stops movement abilities, not movement. Needs extremely rapid follow up CC and damage. Survivability can be questionable, so a hard cleanse is recommended.
Artanis: Engage is not reliable, needs a supplementary engage. Ideally run in double support comps that allow him to brawl over fixed points, such as Braxis control points, and you simply never fight outside of that situation unless you already have some other advantage.
Cassia: Ranged tanks essentially are backed up by double, or even triple, support and simply fight over fixed points. Cassia, with her armor, has enough EHP and damage to make this realistic. Valkyrie can both engage and punish retreats when used at max range or in chokes.
Chen: Barrel is your engage. Otherwise you reduce damage to your team with Withering Fire at 4, to yourself with E talents, and kind of stand there and drink.
Deathwing: Has no engage, draft with ideally multiple area effect stuns. Can zone, can punish CC dependent comps, save your R for escaping.
Dehaka: Supplementary engage is encouraged. It is very risky to play Hide and Seek. Works well in situations where the tank is not expected to rotate much.
Hogger: Hordapult! Little lacking in the health department, almost certainly needs double support. Shockwave with a Medivh or as follow up to a supplementary engage like Dragon’s Arrow has some potential.
Illidan: A lot of people are going to think Hunt is a reliable engage and it is… but Illidan isn’t survivable enough, even with double support, without Meta. If you want to run Illidan as a tank replacement you need Meta and the goal is to win fights of attrition. Preferably that start on your side of the map and you chase the enemy team all the way back to theirs. Bait them in and just keep chasing. Everyone needs to be able to keep up. It's a very tough comp to run, even when Illidan is strong. Speed and click damage.
Imperius: Engage isn’t reliable, however it is very close. Even a 15% slow makes it nearly reliable. Supplement with a reliable slow or an actual engage and he becomes follow up, which he certainly has the survivability for. Bonus is he does extreme amounts of damage.
Kerrigan: Reliable around certain types of terrain. Can be interfered with by CC and knockbacks. More reliable at 10 with Ultralisk. Isn’t great at controlling vision but has wave clear.
Leoric: Somewhat limited survivability and Entomb is his only reliable engage. Other than that, top marks in all categories.
Maiev: Cage paired with E is a reliable engage. Disc is not. No built-in survivability other than Vault of the Wardens.
Malthael: No engage. Can run people down with W teleports, actually quite similar to Illidan but with mana and no Meta.
Medivh: I add this one not because Medivh himself is usually considered a “tank” but because he automatically covers ¾ of the things needed for any non-tank tank. He has Seek covered in Raven Form. He has survivability covered in Force of Will and he has a version of engage covered with both Portal and either Heroic. Here is the caveat: his survivability works better if he is not getting hit, so he essentially needs a survivable dummy put in front of him to cast his W on. The classic example is Xul, because it also covers the lack of wave clear Medivh comps often struggle with, but several other heroes on this list work.
Nazeebo: No I’m not kidding. Late game has enough health to be survivable. Zones with damage. Wall requires a small slow to reliably be put on people. Probably never optimal but hilarious.
Ragnaros: Molten Core. Yes, thats right, his engage is his trait and you need to bait, force, or trick a fight around a building he can D, essentially so he can R from out of vision. If this sounds terrible it's because it is, but it has worked.
Rexxar: Despite Rexxar’s W being very similar to ETC’s Q his reliable engage is actually his heroic. The slow and, at 20, root allows you to catch. Survivability is a bit of a mixed bag but vision control arguably might be the best tank. Has a fantastic level 1 for it with infinite uptime and if you mess up with Misha it's like a Murky dying instead of your tank.
Sonya: Leap, survivability is based around either limited spin interrupts from enemy team or a lot of extra healing/damage prevention from your team.
Stukov: Let people hit you till level 1 procs, massively slow all of with them D, can hit the raw root combo post 13.
Butcher: Point and click engage! Don’t die.
Thrall: Sunder, especially from flanks.
Uther: Q people with Holy Shock to get them low and keep you high. Wait till someone is out of position and E them. Either allow a backliner to go ham with Divine Shield or Divine Storm enemy as they clump. Once you’ve used all your CDs, try to die first.
Xul: Point and click root. Needs a gap closer (speed or portal) and some health.
Yrel: E into team. W enemy into your team. Not good, but there are worse.
Zarya: Bully into choke. Expulsion choke. The end. ** Zeratul:** Void Prison. This is remarkably similar to playing Johanna. Clear waves until you have your heroic. Try to kill people on CD with your heroic. The caveat is fewer heroes can meaningfully and reliably follow up on VP than Blessed Shield, so very draft constrained.
- Being a TANK will make you a better DPS
- HOTS rigid role classifications cramps hero designs
- PSA: Tank’s aren’t the only role that can create space
More about Heroes of the StormPost: "CavalierGuest’s Art of the Tank 2.0" specifically for the game Heroes of the Storm. Other useful information about this game:
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