Warning: This article contains language that some may find offensive
You put in the work. Play the game. Watch it, read about it, write about it, join communities on Discord and within in-game chat channels. Still, you’re on the outside looking in. This, some say, describes the HotS scene. From getting better as a player to forging your own place within the community, there is not often a clear path for those looking to advance as a player, a caster, or in some way “give back” to the community of a game that you love. Who is at fault for these issues, for this lack of transparency? Moreover, who are the people affected? This last question is an existential one: why are independent HotS content creators giving their free time and energy to such pursuits, creating content for free? Ultimately, is Blizzard missing opportunities and, to a degree, marginalizing their audience by excluding support for such hard-working talent?
One person affected by this conundrum is Zexerous (a.k.a. Zex), self-proclaimed villain of Bush League and host of the HotS casting team Nexus Commentaries.
Zex was not born into the HotS scene, yet his 3+ year journey with the game has impact his perception. His villainous persona is something which has added a layer of fun to the weekly Bush League match-ups. While some of Zex’s taunts and threats to the other teams on Discord are mere works of fiction, his experiences and feelings about the game, the community, and its impact showcase a very vivid and real, personal story.
So, who is Zexerous— as a player, a caster, and a human being with dreams and ambitions? Where did he come from and what lead to his current podcast incarnation and his present status within the HotS scene? It turns out that Zex has a lot to share with us on these HotS topics. He is no longer holding anything back.
Jay “San” Kolo: Imagine that we both just met for the first time in a TL pick-up game. How would you introduce yourself?
Zexerous: Haha, I have a habit of something dumb like “Hello, I am a new Chen. Please forgive me.” And then I go out and proceed to do Chen things. Then they call me a liar and it makes me feel really sad.
JSK: How has your experience playing HotS changed over time?
Z: If fluctuates at times. Sometimes I get really pumped for Heroes and then some weeks it’s like I can’t even look at the game. I’m playing in Bush League to rekindle that love.
JSK: What state do you feel the game is in right now? (i.e. accessibility for new players, new content for existing players, the meta and map pool, etc.)
Z: I think it’s been pretty accessible for new players. Honestly HotS is probably the most accessible MOBA out there. The game is deep without being overly complicated. Everything about the game is pretty straight forward and easy to understand. Some of the newer heroes slightly worry me more. They’re not dumbfire heroes that you can be half asleep and lead in whatever [statistical] category you want. They’re complicated in their own way, which is a drastic departure [from] how they used to design heroes.
JSK: What can you share about your Battle.net tag? Does it have significance?
Z: I’ve been using the name Zexerous for things for almost 20 years now back in the old AOL dialup years. That and the “Evil Lord Willie” joke from my high school 21 years ago. Jesus that puts age on me, good lord.
JSK: Regarding the Nexus Commentaries casting team: Please tell us why we should be tuning into your casts and how to find them. Also, what’s up-coming for you all?
Z: Ha, well … we don’t have anything planned at the moment. Chair League kinda folded like a lawn chair and they’re going back to the drawing board for this. We were running a league called “rekt league” but we pulled teams from Chair League on that. So, plans are [currently] up in the air…
JSK: If you had the power to change one thing in HotS, what is it and why?
Z: 4 bans. There’s no reason there shouldn’t be 4 bans at this point. “Oh no, that’’ll just ban all the good healers.” That’s a tired argument. If that happens we’ll see a return of the instant blowup comp and I’m never going to complain about that. That’s just more exciting viewing for me personally.
JSK: How will you make Chen great again?
Z: They’re on the right path with recent changes. But remove Elusive Brawler, there’s zero reason for you to not take that talent. Baseline Brew[master’s] Balance, and shuffle some talents around. Move Stormstout Secret Recipe to 7, it’s the [worst] storm talent in the game. His whole kit is a mess.
JSK: Recently you stated “I like how the [Heroes Power Hour podcast] didn’t register on anyone’s radar.” Would you please elaborate on this issue: what is/was HPH? What happened to it?
Z: The Heroes Power Hour (HPH) was a podcast for Heroes of the Storm that I had been a part of for the past 3 years. We recently shuttered it due to the general disappointment of a particular portion of the Heroes community. What I meant by we didn’t register on anyone’s radar was we never got any kind of real recognition short of a few times we were on the Battle.net launcher. For me to commit that much time to something and feel like I came away with nothing to show for it has left me pretty annoyed…;[I feel] like I’ve wasted a bit of my time committing to something that didn’t really pan out. I hate failing. However, I’ve gotten to work with people over the course of those 3 years that I’ve pretty much considered to be some of my best friends. I’d hide bodies for them if they asked.
JSK: What was your goal with the HPH? What do you believe went wrong? What could have been different?
Z: Our goal was to grow our podcast into something meaningful and while I think we achieved that objective overwhelming again the fact that none of the community acknowledge aside from a few people such as Nexus Trolls and GankBush Squad. The work we put in had left me more than a little salty. I don’t think we did anything wrong per say, I think we had an excellent podcast with a great group of people who had great synergy together. We promoted our show on twitter and did as much work trying to bring people in via incentives such as free skins/heroes I was even spending my own money to give out B.net gift cards.
JSK: What are the barriers of breaking into the HotS community scene?
Z: You’re not going to get into the community without the approval of what I call the “clique.” There seems to be a group of people that [appear] to either approve or disapprove who gets promotional pushes and whatnot. It’s something that has chapped my ass for a long time now. Even when I started Nexus Commentaries, the Heroes community at large was largely quiet for the most part, save a few people here and there. Shit, I got more support from the DOTA 2 community. Shout outs to two awesome guys who I have worked with in the DOTA community for about six years now (you know who you are); thanks for believing in my [attempt] to make that happen. My personal experience is you’re not going to break into the HotS scene. Just work on building your own audience, have those people bring in their friends and go from there. You’re not going to get help from the people on the inside unless you practically kick the door in.
JSK: Do you have any more specific insight to the Blizzard “clique” system? Have you heard this from others in the community? What is one example of being denied or not supported or given a fair shot for promotion by Blizzard?
Z: I’d like to preface this by saying when I’m complaining about HGC and Blizzard, I am not talking about any of the casters in any way, shape, or form. The talent there is awesome and those individuals make the HGC absolutely enjoyable to watch (with Trik and Gillyweed being personal favorites).
So there was a situation where I was working on Nexus Commentaries and was gearing up to cast some EU Open Division when Gosu was still running the tournaments. Someone from the Blizzard staff stopped me before I started casting any games and informed me that Grubby had exclusive rights over the English casting of EU games. That -really- mind fucked me because those brackets can get rather large at times and that’s a fuckload of games that aren’t being casted and I don’t know of very many teams that would turn down the chance to be casted, to have their friends and family cheer them on. I asked the Blizz admin if there was some kind of process I could go through for the next season and he informed me he’d be in touch. Spoiler: he didn’t and then we had the nonsense Blizzard pulled with Heroes Hype getting exclusive rights to cast English games for NA Open Division. Now I’m not knocking Heroes Hype, they put in the fucking work and they deserve to run the NA Open Division.
They [Heroes Hype] have the resources and the skill to run the tournaments. I’m actually happy for them. The thing that pissed me off was that 1) iirc they [Blizzard] dropped that announcement a week before the OD started; 2) there was zero transparency about how this decisions was made; 3) Heroes Hype was granted exclusive rights to cast games that wasn’t on the Blizzheroes channel; 4) There was zero way to apply to be able to cast on your own channel, which was mega shitty to people like Bahamut (who is fucking awesome) LiQiuid, Gravesville and other casters who were looking to break into the scene. Blizzard essentially slammed the door in their faces. Granted, Bahamut has gotten a ton of work in the Open Division and I’m delighted for him. He’s an undervalued caster and he really needs a chance to do something bigger. We were in the middle of a hard prep for Open Division and then we were just shut out. We tried everything we could to be granted rights to cast Open Division games. Everything from plastering HH logos and everything on our page, to even asking to cast replays. We were pretty much what felt like the “Go ask your mother,” “Go ask your father” scenario. It was out of everyone’s hands apparently, which is bullshit.
JSK: Where has HotS gone wrong? What do you think might reverse or correct the current issues?
Z: HotS suffers from a horrible lack of promotion and various other issues. Take Overwatch for example, they have comics, large events, a consistent stream of information from Jeff Kaplan keeping those players informed of what is going on. Dustin Browder was amazing in staying in contact with people on twitter and was a fucking saint when dealing with people who would just bitch at him on Twitter. He wasn’t above putting the occasional player on blast for claiming something that was categorically wrong. Normally [such blasts] would deal with someone claiming they’d be falsely muted and he’d set the player straight. I don’t even remotely get that same feeling from Alan Dabiri. I don’t feel like that same stream of information that came from Dustin is coming from Alan. Sure, they do some Q&As from time to time when players bitch enough about an issue ([for instance,] see the recent Q&A Blizzard did for Hero League and other issues plaguing the game). Reversing it however…it may be too late to [undo] the damage that the game has suffered due to the seemingly lack of resources they put into promoting Heroes. I will give them credit for doing some cool stuff on occasion. Kel’Thuzad’s reveal was dope as fuck. I got a massive kick out of watching Hammer shoryuken Zagara’s face off. That was dope. The anime intro for Mecha Storm was also dope. Though a fan made it even better and ran the opening song to Megas XLR over it. Somehow it fit perfectly. That gave me a great chuckle.
But back to the point, Blizzard needs to push Heroes a lot harder than what they’re currently doing. They need to also encourage MUCH more fan interaction; [there’re] people out there who will do some amazing work that will bring more people into the game just from sheer curiosity [of what these content creators can do]. I’ll give another Overwatch example here. Take Geguri for instance. People are going to come watch her because she’s the one who officially broke the gender barrier in Esports in my opinion (your opinion could be much different). Not many people can make the claim that they’ve actually made a pro player quit because they couldn’t believe how skilled she is at the game. Heroes has nothing like that and they could have something like that. I know there has to be some amazing female players out there and I would fucking love to see a female HotS player come in and just turn everyone’s head.
JSK: In a recent Discord discussion regarding—as you previously put it, your “failing” efforts to break into the HotS scene— you stated, “…I am a bit salty over the whole thing, 3 years with next to no recognition left me a bit annoyed.” Where do you go next? How has the saltiness jaded you toward Blizzard, the HotS team, or any other part of the community?
Z: I suppose I’m just done with trying to create content involving Heroes. I’ll cast games upon request. I might cast some Tespa games when the next Training Grounds kicks back up. I’ve formed a few relationships with players from that scene, most notably Domovarian from IUPUI. I don’t really begrudge the HotS team [or blame them] for my shitty attitude over this whole situation. I still enjoy Blizzard games and Heroes. I’m not really going to create the kind of content Blizzard is going to embrace anyways. I talk way too much shit and speak my mind way too bluntly here recently for me to even give a fuck about what the Heroes community or Blizzard think.
JSK: Sometimes bitter feelings or a chip on one’s shoulder can be turned into a good thing; it’s sometimes en vogue and the audience enjoys the negativity or extreme sacrasm (i.e. Mewnfare). As they say, misery loves company. So, is there any possibility of you pursuing the creation of the “spitecast” show that you mentioned? If not, how might you release those bottled up thoughts?
Z: I don’t see anything good coming out of me being pissed at the situation at the moment. Really … while I met an amazing group of people that I’ve become friends with, overall I feel like I wasted my damn time trying to promote something that never really got any attention despite our content being amazing. Again, we did everything from engaging our audience directly to involving them in post show games. I really would love to do the “Spitecast” [show idea because] it just seems like something no one has thought of or had the balls to do, really. I mean there’s no lacking in content [for such a show,] really, just read any bug fix list or read bug threads on Reddit, or simply point out everything Blizzard is doing wrong in their respective games. There would be no shortage of content… and honestly I’m getting to the point where I’m done playing nice and trying to “save face”; I’m just going to call shit like I see it at this point.
JSK: Back to Bush League then: There are other teams in the League that have what you covet. How do you plan to take it from them?
Z: They have nothing I want because I have everything. If you’re talking about that loss to TowerBARRON’s [team] that was a pity win because we felt bad about smashing them so hard in the game. It was on coms everyone agreed.
JSK: In our community Discord I have heard the whispers of a plan to eliminate you and the threat you pose to other Bush League teams. Does this worry you?
Z: Of course it doesn’t worry me. They can whisper but until one of them steps up and actually takes us down from Bush League, I guess that’s all they can really do. Just talk. They’re not even remotely strong enough to take on the power and glory that is FTBRG.
JSK: Please share a warning— err, a welcoming note— to the current Bush League teams as well as to those who may join our community in the future.
Z: Hey, if you’ve every cheered on the villain, come root for our team in [Bush League]. We’re cocky and we can back up every little bit of it. We’re highly recommended for any scHwimpi fan. If you’re looking to play come and enjoy. It’s a 1 game a week format. You’ll actually be joining a legit great group of people.
JSK: Any final shout outs?
Z: I’d like to shout out Bahamut for having the best beard in the Heroes seen and [for] being an amazing human being. Also going to shout out to Daz from the Nexus Trolls podcast for having the most soothing voice ever. The guy needs to be on NPR or start reading books on tape. Literally, I would take any excuse to hear that man speak. He needs to cast. Also, shout outs to the GankBush Squad for being hilarious people who can lower their standards to my level. Not many people can do that. It’s wonderful. Also Bacon is pretty cute and I’d keep him in a pit [and] have him lotion his skin. But I don’t have a pit or lotions. Maybe I should fix that.
Side Note: I need to throw a shout out to Halorin for being one of the nicest and most personable dudes in the scene [and say] that really needs to be casting HGC.
Please consider tuning into the Bush League games. All teams will have one game a week on Mondays, starting between 9 and 10 p.m. ET.
Check out these Bush League Links:
- Nexus Commentaries Discord: https://discord.gg/4XQmGq
- Zexerous: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bush League Details and Sign-ups: https://trolls.gg/bush-league/
- GankBush Squad Discord: https://discord.gg/4QKv6sg
- Trolls.gg Discord: https://discord.gg/mE3DKmE
- GOONHOTS’s Discord: Bush League Game Analysis: https://discord.gg/cTMhJNQ