Clash of Clans had a cute idea for a defensive building. What if a really big guy sat on a throne, whacking nearby invaders? It’s like a short-range gun but a little easier to destroy. To beef it up, the big guy can also join your attacks. He’s not great but he’s in addition and free. Combined, he’s an alright thing to unlock.
But there’s more. They realized the Bug Guy could give hardcore players more to do. He’ll only be improvable a tiny bit, and it will take 5 expensive upgrades each time. That’s such a terrible deal that regular players will pass, but hardcores will do anything to be 2% better than everyone else. Then they used him to add another timer: the Big Guy is tired for 15 minutes after attacking, pay to speed that up.
The WarHammer far future clash-like figured out another clever way to use these heroes, as leaders. All troops types are part of the Space Marines, led by Sergeants and such. Those fellows are your heroes. A nice thing is they tend to buff their troops, making them more the star of the show.
Pretty much every other clash-like has out-of-control heroes. Giving players a hero right away seems like an obvious plus. The super-tiny, expensive upgrades seemed too harsh. That meant you’d have an overpowered hero soon enough. You still needed an army, but clearly the hero was doing most of the work. Those games feel more like a Godzilla simulation.
The Transformers clash-like is an interesting story. By that time several clash-likes used 4 heroes at a time. They were collectable, came in Common, Rare, Epic and were highly upgradable. They had destructive special skills, equipment and “star levels”. Players seemed perfectly happy ignoring troops and instead leveling heroes like in a dungeon game. The Transformers team saw this and realized you don’t even need troops. You attack with your best 5 robots, and no troops.
I can see this two ways. A game about picking troops is distinctive and appeals to a certain crowd. Keep heroes weak and you make those players happy. On the other hand, the collectable hero market is popular but crowded. You can sneak into it by making a clash-like that gradually ramps up the hero part. That desecrates the sacred space of a true clash-like. Whatever.