What the hell is a MOBA? Who plays them? More ultimately, why the hell have they become so popular as of recently??
MOBA is a genre of game and it stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Yes, and it’s as awesome at it sounds. I will dive into how they work soon, but lets talk about where it came from. Anyone that can go back and remember the glorious RTS (Real Time Strategy) games of old such as Starcraft and Warcraft from Blizzard, you may notice that the visual look and control of MOBA’s resemble those very closely. They use an above view that’s slightly diagonal in perspective to those epic Blizzard games.
The original MOBA powerhouse was DotA, or “Defense of the Ancients”. This was a mod created for “Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos” based off of the custom Starcraft map “Aeon of Strife”. In the map “Aeon of Strife” you would control a single unit (which was much different that controlling a whole army you were used too), and you would fight against AI-controlled enemies through-out three lanes. The roster was limited to 8 units and there were no special abilities for those heroes, instead you would spend the currency gained by killing the enemies to upgrade your armor and weapons.
DotA took this idea of having separate hero to control rather than a whole army to battle, and took away the base building and resource management that Warcraft was known for. This allowed the player to focus solely on making his player better to defeat the other players and ultimately their base. DotA in its later years had 112 heroes that players could chose from each with different abilities, skills, and advantages/disadvantages over other players. There were computer controlled enemies on the map which were either with you, against you, or neutral. Killing the enemies that were neutral or against you would net the player experience points as well as gold. Once you reached the next level your base stats will raise and you were able to level a single skill. The gold was used to purchase new items to strengthen your hero or grant them new abilities (or both). Gold was also auto generated over time and granted after you slay an enemy hero or your team destroys an enemy structure. It was a 5v5 battle. Players would grind out their lanes and battle to their teams Ancient (base). Once the Ancient was destroyed the match was over. I remember playing this “game within a game” in Warcraft III years ago and was completely blown away by how simple it seemed but how much strategy and team work was needed to succeed in winning the match.
The image above is the basic map for MOBA’s that is still widely used/copied today. Split diagonally from northwest to southeast the teams and their bases are on opposite ends of the map. Now depending on the type of MOBA you are playing the map will look very close to this above. (I will not go into full detail in this writing of each major MOBA but when I break off into the separate articles later this month I will try to dive deeper into them.) Stemming from each base are three lanes; top, middle, and bottom. (Team strategies usually have two players each on the top and bottom lanes and have a solo player in the middle lane). Each lane will consist of approximately 3 defensive towers on each side (represented by the dots on the map). Your heroes will need to (ideally) destroy each tower as you push through to the enemy’s base. Each base will spawn creeps (computer controlled minions that will blindly attack) that will travel down each lane, they spawn on a timer you have no control over them. In today’s MOBA’s the jungle have become a huge part in the strategies needed to win. They hold neutral creep camps which will grant more gold and XP than the base spawned creeps. They also have hiding spots for players to hide and attempt to gank (attack from behind making it hard for the attackee to escape), trees and obstacles to aid you while escaping. DotA 2 also holds a secret shop where you can buy items not sold in the shops located in each base. These shops are neutral. There are also neutral basic shops located between the first towers of each side on the top and bottom lane, these hold items like small healing items and such.
Again that’s just a quick run down on the theory behind them, but makes them so damn fun, or appealing for people to watch them? I believe its the strategic challenge mixed in with the high competitiveness. It takes team work. Not one player can carry a team to victory. You also just cant have group of ranged fighters, you also have to plan out what player would help your team out more. Each round on average lasts (for me) around 30 minutes to an hour. You can almost think of a MOBA as a digital five player chess game. Knowing when to strike, when to back off, and when to sacrifice if it will help your team. Imagine that five player chess game with each piece being complete different with 3-4 skills each that you have to manage as well as but items for to boost its power. But I do feel because of its competitiveness the community of each MOBA is very toxic to new/learning players. You can and probably will be called out very quickly for being a noob and to disconnect and uninstall the game. I have gotten many of these comments and they are demoralizing especially as a new player. If you “feed” (dying at the hands of the other players a lot causing them to not only level faster but to get gold quicker for better items) it ruins the game for everyone. The anonymity of the game allows people to feel like they can bitch and cuss enough to break anyone down. Now this isn’t every person or every player you meet, if you find someone who helpful or you get along with, add them as a friend and team up the next match!
Now one of the biggest pull for MOBA’s are that they are free. Totally friggin free! There are pay elements though for all MOBA’s that I’ve seen. DotA 2 heroes are all free, while LoL and Smite (and others) only give you a couple of free heroes making you either pay or play enough to gain in game currency to purchase the hero you want. You can also purchase new sweet looking skins for your heroes. The skins either are sets where you can purchase the whole outfit or just update pieces. These are purely cosmetic and have no effect on gameplay. Smite to me have the most humorous skins, then LoL, then lastly DotA. DotA will even go as far to allow you to change your HUD, cursor, even announcers in game…and allow you to share them to everyone that is playing in your match. Not all of these items have to be purchased, some can be unlocked through gameplay. On DotA 2 you can buy and sell items through the Steam marketplace. So you have something you aren’t going to use, you can sell it for cash! Rare items can go for some big bucks.
So now whats with widespread love of people wanting to spectate this? Who the hell wants to sit around and watch the game? Apparently everyone. There is also BIG money in eSports for MOBA games. The DotA International 2014 was the biggest eSport winnings in the history of eSports. There were 14 teams that battled for a growing $10,931,103.00. Split that five ways? You just got a cool two million. That pot was boosted by creating a compendium that 25% of the purchases went into the pot. 2015 just started and I already dropped by $10 on it. Its already at 4 million and there are milestones where more items unlock for you the more you play and update your compendium. Here is a screen shot I took of Twitch top games by viewers on a Sunday morning.
One of my favorite aspects of MOBA’s are the play by play announcers. They in themselves are impressive. They know every player, every hero, every skill, and every item. And they have the hype of a soccer (futbol) announcer. Some games have installed announcer channels so when your spectating you can hear someone talk about the game live, some even have installed options where they can draw all over the map like John Madden. Here is a pretty slick video with good examples.
So which one is for you. That cant be told. I know a lot of friends that play a ton of League of Legends, but I play more Dota. Smite is also fun because unlike the other MOBA’s, this one is in a 3rd-person view which changes alot of dynamics. I’ll post the links to each one so you can download them and try them out yourselves. I hope to break down each one below through out May as well as live stream them! Stay tuned!!