Let’s talk about MOBA’s, or multiplayer online battle arena. These games are recognized as a subgenre of strategy games and are relatively new in the gaming world, officially established as a genre in the early 2000s. They began on a custom map for Starcraft, called Aeon of Strife (AoS), where a team of players competed against the computer (GamesRadar). This game led to the creation of Defense of the Ancients (DotA) in 2003, a mod based on AoS for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. DotA revolutionized the world of MOBA’s by becoming the first game in the genre where sponsored tournaments were held, allowing a team of players to compete against another team and earn rewards. DotA inspired games like League of Legends (spearheaded by one of the original DotA architects) in 2009 and Heroes of Newarth in 2010, which were hugely popular, leading to the development of DotA 2 in 2013 and eventually Heroes of the Storm in 2015. These games have shaped esports, allowing for world-wide recognition and massive prize pools (GamesRadar). 

So how does a MOBA work? 

Well, each game is played on a specific type of map that is designed with an isometric perspective. In simpler terms, the map is symmetrical and identical on both sides as if it has been folded in half. During a game, commonly referred to as a match, a player controls a single character as part of a team. Teams are typically made up of about 5 players who will each control a unique character and work together. A team of players can then compete against another team on the map towards an objective or goal. This can take the form of a main structure, where players must destroy it while simultaneously battling against opposing team members and computer-controlled enemies. The first team to destroy the opposing structure and prevent theirs from being destroyed wins, signaling the end of the match. As seen in this map image which can be found in League of Legends, there are several areas players can partake in battle; a top lane, middle lane, bottom lane and two jungle areas respectively. Not all maps are identical to this one, however, most MOBA maps follow this same idea.

Choosing your Champion

In MOBA’s, such as League of Legends, players can pick from a wide range of characters often referred to as “Heroes” or “Champions”. Each character has their own unique abilities, perks and flaws making them better equipped for battle in specific areas of the map. Some characters work better in a lane fighting enemies and mini-structures, whereas others do better in jungle areas where they can hide and pounce on opponents. Nevertheless, each player must decide which playstyle works best for them and pick a champion accordingly. This is part of the fun of playing MOBA’s, as players can experiment with a handful of playstyles and a plethora of characters that make each match a unique and fun experience. 


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

MOBA’s can be a great experience for gamers who enjoy playing with friends in competitive environments. They offer an interesting, yet dependable map that allows players to really shine, demonstrating both their personal mastery of the game while also showing how teamwork makes the dream work. When I asked MOBA players what their favorite part of this genre was, nearly everyone conveyed that playing with friends is what makes a MOBA so fun. These games can also be extremely rewarding, as it is easier to track your progress and see just how far you’ve come through the ranking system. Gamers are able to decide what playstyle works for them and master characters that fit that role, allowing for plenty of unique and enjoyable matches.

However, like every video game, there are some downfalls to this genre as a whole. 

MOBA’s are known for having a huge learning curve, and this is because there is really nothing quite like games in this genre. To explain this better, let’s take a look at some games in other genres. Mario Kart, for example, is a racing game that involves driving a car. Even if players are in elementary school, the action of driving is relatively familiar and understood as most have been inside a car. Shooters are also fairly straightforward, where a player is tasked with shooting the bad guys or perhaps opposing team members. With a MOBA, such as League of Legends, there is much more going on. Players have a role, they fight enemies, destroy turrets, communicate with a team, strategize how they will level up and move across the map, the list goes on. It can be difficult for new players to find a groove, especially when there are dozens of characters to play and learn, that are all unique. To put it simply, MOBA’s are games that will require some dedication and practice to learn and eventually enjoy.

MOBA’s also have an element of competition. Competition can be a good thing, but it can also bring out the worst in people. MOBA’s are part of the strategy genre, and to have a good experience; they require team cooperation, but this isn’t always the case. It isn’t uncommon for competitive players to leave a game if they feel they aren’t going to win, and this leaves their team at a disadvantage, and ultimately a little salty. 

MOBA’s are also notorious for something called a “smurf”. A smurf is known as an experienced player who decides to start over from level one by buying a new account. There technically isn’t anything wrong with this, and there are a handful of reasons as to why experienced players may do this — youtube video content, to climb ranks, to play with friends new to the game, or to meme on new players, etc. Whatever the reason, gamers do it, and here is why it’s a problem;

the main issue with smurfing is that experienced players will then be placed with other players who are also starting from the very bottom, players who are truly beginners. Smurfs then have the opportunity to obliterate new players in a game, moving up the ranks at a speed far faster than a legitimate beginner. Smurfing has become a common culprit of discouraging new players, creating an ugly and frustrating side to the world of MOBA’s. It also creates toxicity, especially when it is done to meme on new players. MOBA’s require a foundation of good teamwork to be a positive experience, and smurfing eliminates any chance for new players to learn cooperation or how certain character roles and champions are meant to work together. It also isn’t very fun to play through a match feeling like you just don’t have a chance. So, be respectful and don’t smurf! 


A Genre for All Time

All this aside, gamers around the world are fans of this genre and find it to house some amazing games. League of Legends has been one of the most played multiplayer PC games in the world for years, with over 1.3 billion hours logged and 8 million people playing a day (twinfinite). This genre of games is here to stay and will continue to be enjoyed by millions of people who love a competitive atmosphere and ultimately love playing a game with friends even more. So, if you’re looking for a challenging strategy game that is unlike anything you’ve played before, go pick up a MOBA!

Andrew Groen (7 March 2012), Ask GR Anything: What’s a MOBA?Archived 30 June 2017 at the Wayback Machine, GamesRadar

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An indie game enthusiast, Zoe can be found creating her own video games, writing or perhaps daydreaming about her favorite food; pasta. Follow her on Twitter @zoe_doman.

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