A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, back when DotA was still nothing more than a custom map in Warcraft III that people played alongside other horribly unbalanced just-for-fun "Hero Arena" maps, things were a lot more simple than they are today. DotA, when it started, competed directly with these other Hero Arena maps, but the core concept was the same; the player would chose one Hero out of a large pool and duke it out alongside other players. Since Map Makers were lazy in these days, many Hero Arena Maps would recycle existing skills from the game, often simply exchanging models or graphics while keeping the trigger intact. As Map Makers became increasingly skilled and more tools became available to them, however, more complex skills began to surface and the Heroes became more dynamic, something people appreciated because it showed effort and added complexity to the game.
Fast forward a few years and you'd almost think you've landed in some sort of dystopian future where designers create horrible abominations of skills, the stuff that Mary Shelley probably has wet dreams over. At least, that's what the community might have you believe. As I have pointed out in the past, the community will cry overpowered whenever a new Hero is released, regardless of what kind of Hero it is. But this special kind of gripe that the community holds isn't even about balance; I'm talking about complexity.
In order to properly experience the irony of today's complaints regarding skill and hero complexity you'd have to go back in time... or just have played DotA. The year was 2009, the place: The PlayDotA forums. Tensions were growing as Icefrog had just released his newest overly complicated, overpowered abomination: Huskar, the Sacred Warrior. But as it is today, balance was only half the story. The problem people had with this Hero was that he was too complicated, after all, DotA was just a "Hero Arena" map that (the majority of) people simply played to relax and have fun, why should they have to bother to try and figure out the rocket science that was a percent sign. Indeed, the Community was upset, it seemed Icefrog was forsakening the very values that had made DotA a success! Simple heroes with simple designs. Stuff like Sven, the Rogueknight, who, as many people love to bring up, was "easy to describe" and could be summed up by saying "he has a stun, a cleave, armor aura and double damage". Trying to describe a new Hero in a few sentences these days is indeed somewhat challenging, "He's got a charge that deals your auto attack damage, an ability that jumps over another player and knocks them back and slows them- and you can use it twice if you are fast, and an area of affect stun that also damages and also goes off twice- and a passive ult that makes you go faster if the enemy doesn't hit you, and it also lowers your cooldowns...." just doesn't have the same ring to it.
Damn kids! Back in my day we didn't have Spell Vamp!
As we know the present is doomed to repeat the past because it cant remember it. But back when people asked Icefrog why he didn't just create another simple Hero with a stun, an aura and a double damage ult, his answer went something like "because that's fucking boring and we already have a hero that does that". As Huskar aged and people began to accept him as a classic DotA Hero, presumably through rose colored nostalgia goggles, his "complexity" problem was quickly forgotten (and pressed onto the next Hero instead). Fast forward back to the future and we've got the same deal between the Community and S2 designers. People often ask S2 why they don't simply create a "simple" Hero that wont boggle their minds. Aside from the fact that there is an equally large pool of people who would be outraged if S2 recycled an ability 1:1 (something DotA used to do, how many Heroes in DotA have crit?), this just isn't exactly possible to create a brand new ability that is both simple and original. A New hero with recycled abilities would quickly be picked apart by the community and quickly dismissed as a boring pile of rubbish- hell, even Cthulhuphant, a Hero that is fairly original by most people's standards, was ridiculed for having "Magmus Stun" despite the fact that the abilities worked differently in almost every way imaginable.
Of course, there are those who link complexity to balance, an age old fallacy that I think I've spent enough time debunking in last week's article. Complexity or "the amount of stuff a Hero does that I can count" doesn't actually have anything to do with balance since everything is relative. A "simple" Hero like Hammerstorm can be viable and strong because his "stun", while simple, is actually an incredible un-missable AoE Immobilize/Silence/Perplex/Disarm that he can spam with a Blood Chalice. When people make simplistic comparisons like "Hammerstorm has a Stun, Monkey King has a Stun and a Slow, Monkey King is superior" they are leaving out important details like "how long does the stun last?", "how easy is it to hit?", "how much Micro/skill is involved", or "how much Mana does it cost?". Gemini has three stuns? That's nothing, Rhapsody has six!
Presenting: The most overpowered Hero in the game - 9 Stuns
In conclusion, it is my firm belief that complexity is not a choice, but a consequence. HoN has over 90 Heroes, each with 4 skills. When you set out to design a new Hero, odds are you are going to have to mix a few things together to create a skill that hasn't been done before. Whether or not mixing all that stuff together will make the skill or the Hero overpowered is something that remains to be seen.