A MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) is a subset within the RTS (Real Time Strategy) genre of gaming. The goal of the game is to reach your opponents’ base and destroy their primary building. This is done via a team format, with each player controlling a single hero.
While the genre came into it’s own with DOTA (Defense of the Ancients), a custom map for Warcraft III, the earliest custom map to use similar gameplay style was Aeon of Strife, a Starcraft map. The map makers utilized the hero leveling system in Warcraft III as the basis for the heroes in DOTA. In most incarnations of MOBAs, streams of NPC minions, also known as creeps, flow out of each base; the two sides battle when they meet in the middle. They can be killed by players for gold to purchase items to make their heroes stronger. DOTA became very popular and was the most played map in Warcraft III and Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne. For many years, it was the king of the MOBAs.
While I am sure there are people who still swear by DOTA as thier MOBA game, its time has come and gone. Three new major players have arisen to lead the MOBA charge. The first is the current king of the MOBA: League of Legends, created by Riot Games. League is a free to play game supported by microtransactions. It embraces the idea that free to play games should not require gamers to pay to win. Heroes of Newarth is another popular MOBA at the moment; it launched with an up front price but has since emulated League’s free to play model. The final big MOBA is DOTA2. In their never-ending quest to avoid making the third entry of any series, Valve brought in the remaining develeopers of DOTA to work on DOTA2. Currently in a Gmail style beta, the game is invite-only, but there are a ton of invitations floating around; if you don’t have one, Valve probably hates you. This game is obviously the most like DOTA, and the learning curve is considerably higher than that of League of Legends.
MOBA games tend to have famously viscous communities. They do not take shit from anyone, in a bad way. If you enjoy being called garbage, having your sexuality questioned, listening to racial slurs, or being told to uninstall a game, MOBAs are for you. While all of the games listend are known for their harsh communities, Heroes of Newarth is infamous for having the worst. Riot Games is trying very hard to clean up their League of Legends community by issuing bans to the most toxic professional players.
Right now, League of Legends is the king of the MOBA. It is one of the most played, if not THE most played game, of any genre at the moment. It also has the largest eSports scene, and has dethroned Starcraft II as the king of twitch.tv and eSports. League of Legends is essentially the World of Warcraft from two or three years ago: king of the world.
Unfortunately, when a game arrives at king of the world status, everyone figures they can cash in. As I have said in my Why your MMO will fail article, this strategy normally doesn’t end happily. Since the rise of League of Legends, there have been a large number of MOBAs released. From Monday Night Combat rehashing a really fun first person shooter into a terrible MOBA called Super Monday Night Combat to quite possibly the worst game I have ever played, Rise of Immortals, everyone wants to make a MOBA. There is currently talk of creating a MOBA within the Marvel World, as well as one that takes place in Middle Earth. Dungeon Defenders 2 is going to include a competitive MOBA mode. Everyone is trying to cash in on this trend right now. While I am happy it gets people away from making terrible MMO games, I fear for those trying to exploit the MOBA craze.
While many MMOs have failed, they at least had successful releases and first months or two, only to lose all of their subscribers quickly after. With MOBAs, the games will have to be free to play like League to gain any success, removing any chance at a quick profit. Second of all, we are way too early in the cycle for players to start leaving League of Legends. The game is still kept fresh, and when burnout happens, players will want to stay away from MOBAs completely rather than switch to another one. This surge of MOBA games will fail, and fail quickly.
And I give it a year until we hear an MMO refered to as a “LOL killer.”