MOBA: The story so far

MOBA: The story so far

It allstarted with a mod. Well, actually, that's not necessarily true.

The origins of the MOBA are far murkier than that. The common conception is that they are the new kid on the block, but they have actually existed for decades.

You can trace the MOBA all the way back to the 1990s and the Sega Genesis classic Herzog Zwei. Credited with spawning the RTS genre, the title had players control a single unit across a sprawling battlefield and defeat enemies. That should sound familiar even to the most novice of MOBA enthusiasts.

Some track the genre back to 1998 and the release of the original StarCraft. The ‘Aeon of Strife' custom map was created by famed modder Aeon64 and it was the first to introduce the traditional MOBA gameplay.

But most gamers trace the beginnings of the MOBA – and the explosion of the genre – to the release of a community mod for 2002's Warcraft III named Defense of the Ancients (DOTA). And it's here that the rise of the MOBA really began.

DOTA was a massive cult hit, but it was limited by – among other things – its status as a mod,” says Tim Shannon, producer at S2 Games, creator of MOBAs Heroes of Newerth and Strife. The people involved in its development were by and large donating their time.”

Shannon is right. The early stages of the MOBA and the likes of DOTA were struggling to gain traction in the early 2000s, limited by the fact that its creators were just everyday people with everyday jobs.

But that all changed towards the end of 2009. The genre was attracting mainstream attention and ultimately came to a head as newcomer Riot Games launched their first-ever title. A little game called League of Legends.

And it proved to be the move that opened the MOBA floodgates.

Just months later in May 2010, S2 Games themselves entered the MOBA arena with its first effort Heroes of Newerth. Valve hired DOTA's original modders to help create DOTA 2. And Blizzard revealed at Blizzcon 2010 its intentions to launch a DOTA map for its hit RTS StarCraft II – something that would eventually become Blizzard All-Stars in 2012 and subsequently Heroes of the Storm at the end of last year.

Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends were different attempts to formalise the genre and see where it could go if a company were to dedicate their time to developing, supporting, and improving a MOBA,” explains Shannon.

As such, Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends remain pretty faithful to their forebear. This formula has driven the success of these two – three with DOTA 2 – titles and has been the engine behind the emergence and current global dominance of the MOBA genre.”

Succesful doesn't do the MOBA genre justice. After all, League of Legends now boasts over 27m players every day and a concurrent population of 7.5m. And then there's DOTA 2 and its 7.8m unique players.

But how did something that started as a mod gain so much popularity and notoriety that it has become a genre in its own right, filled with some of the most played games on the planet?

Awesome, isn't it?” says Dave Cerra, lead producer on EA's MOBA Dawngate. MOBA or ARTS [action real-time strategy] or whatever we want to call them are the most exciting thing in gaming.

Their popularity is the result of several different things that have evolved and converged in the world of gaming. Millions of gamers are mechanically familiar with the control scheme from decades of RTS gaming, so many were able to pick the games up quickly.

And as with any skill-based competitive experience, these games are intrinsically motivating: players play them to get better and express mastery, not just to consume content. All of this boils down to: once you get into MOBAs, they're just a ton of fun.

The traditional MOBA top-down isometric view is easy to watch, allowing the player to participate in the game as a consumer of the experience in addition to a participant. The games are more fun with friends so they spread socially.”

And as with any skill-based competitive experience,
these games are intrinsically motivating: players
play them to get better and express mastery, not just
to consume content. All of this boils down to: once
you get into MOBAs, they're just a ton of fun. The
traditional MOBA top-down isometric view is easy to
watch, allowing the player to participate in the game
as a consumer of the experience in addition to a
participant. The games are more fun with friends
so they spread socially.”

Dave Cerra, EA


eSports has definitely been a major driving force behind the success of the genre. According to Twitch, MOBAs like League of Legends and DOTA 2 account for over five billion minutes of content viewed on the live-streaming platform every month.

We're now seeing players of these games treated like superstars.There's even a League of Legends fantasy league. Forget Ronaldo, Messi or Bale. Now you can fill your pro gaming roster with the likes of Doublelift and Wildturtle. Or pit team Fnatic against SK Gaming.

eSports and MOBAs are a match made in heaven. But MOBAs shouldn't be judged by their massive presence in professional gaming alone.

David Nicholson, vice president of Jagex's MOBA-esque Transformers Universe says these games aren't just for die-hard eSports fans.

MOBAs appeal to a wide audience of gamers, wider than their eSports profile might initially suggest. They are both aspirational and accessible because people cannot only watch the elite gamers playing them, they can jump online with friends and others at a similar skill level and have a fun experience.

The good MOBAs are very well balanced in terms of learning curve; you can play a game and enjoy yourself as a beginner, but also see where and how you could improve.

I can watch the Premier League and appreciate the skills on display, but I can also have a kick-about with my mates on a Sunday afternoon. Playing the game at any skill level is still fun, and that's where I see a difference between MOBAs and shooters.”

WHAT IS A MOBA?

For some MCV readers, the MOBA might just be the biggest thing they don't understand.

Sure, it's difficult to imagine anyone in the industry having not heard of League of Legends or DOTA 2. But start throwing in terminology such as ‘lanes' or ‘junglers' and you're likely to be given vacant stares.

So what is the MOBA? The multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre is pretty vague and it's become a term that's thrown around quite a lot to generate hype. But the bedrock of the MOBA is a mixture of real-time strategy and role-playing elements.

Unlike an RTS like StarCraft, players control a s

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