What the hell is a MOBA game? Sounds kind of weird doesn’t it? Despite this weirdness it seems that the MOBA genre of games is the fastest growing trend in online gaming since sliced zombies. League of Legends, Heroes of Newarth and Defense of the Ancients being the major players. Let’s take a look at what they are and why so many people love them.
MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena and can also go by the name ARTS (Action Real-Time Strategy). A MOBA game consists of a summoner (the player) controlling a single champion on a field of battle. In a standard MOBA there will be five players on each team and their objective will be to destroy their opponents base. Protecting this base will be turrets with attack enemy units and small minions which attack in waves. Killing these minions yields gold and experience allowing the summoner to upgrade and level their champion.
The roots of the genre lie in StarCraft. A custom map was created called Aeon of Strife which proved to be very popular, soon after a Warcraft 3 mod was created, Defense of the Ancients (DOTA). DOTA quickly became successful and featured in several high profile tournaments. Since then there has usually been at least one MOBA game featured in most tournaments.
That’s all well and good, but why is it so successful? Why are literally millions of people playing these games at any time of day? Currently on Twitch there are 50,000 people playing League of Legends, five times the amount of any other game. More than the next 9 games in the list combined. Maybe it lies in the cost of the games?
The majority of MOBA games are free to play, with additional content available for purchase. LoL uses a system where there are two types of currency, Influence Points and Riot Points, Influence points are earned by playing games and allow you to purchase new champions and upgrades that make your champions stronger. Riot points are acquired by spending real money to purchase them, they allow you to buy the same things as influence points as well cosmetic features such as skins.
It’s important to build on the one champion mechanic. You do literally control one unit, there is no base building or unit production. You earn gold by killing minions, turrets, neutral monsters and opposing champions. You spend your gold at your base to buy items which strengthen your champ. This is all that gold is used for, it does not last between games so there is no benefit to saving it up. You earn experience by killing the exact same things but experience allows you to level up, unlocking and upgrading your champions skills. In League of Legends each champion has eight abilities:
Passive: Each champ has a unique passive which can affect how the game plays out.
Skills: There are four skills per champ, these are unlocked and upgraded as the champ levels up. One skills is an ‘ultimate’ which is unlocked last but deals the most damage.
Summoner Spells: There are two spells which the summoner can give to their champ, these can be given to any champion.
Recall: This is a spell which teleports your champion back to base so you can purchase items and heal.
The beauty of the MOBA genre is that it’s very easy to learn and play. Within an hour of playing the game you will have a good idea of how to play and what you need to do. Conversely they also have high skill ceilings. If a team of five champions are well organised and have a good strategy they will easily roll over a team of five strangers. MOBA games have a matchmaking system to prevent this from happening, meaning you should usually be placed against people of a similar ability to yourself.
It’s a perfect way to market a game (BOO CAPITALISM!). Let everyone play it for free – don’t make it pay-to-win -and if they don’t like it, no cost incurred. If they do, they can play it whenever they want and see if they get hooked. The numerous champions available mean that there’s usually a few that take the fancy of any player and you’re not going to get stopped by experienced players when you first start. For those who are new to the genre, I’d advice starting with League of Legends, it’s the most played game and has the friendliest learning curve.