What is a MOBA?

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So just what is a MOBA? As one of the newest game genres in the games market it’s no surprise that even people who have been gaming their whole lives aren’t sure what a MOBA is, but what is surprising is just how popular the game type has become. Open up twitch any day of the week and chances are that the top game being watched will be a MOBA. The tournaments fill stadiums with fans, and the players compete for millions of dollars. The genre is still young, but so far it’s shown no signs of slowing down.

The term MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and its no surprise that most game developers have been trying to change that for nearly as long as the term has been around. It’s very vague, and to be honest, nearly any online game could fall into the very loose definition the name gives. But the name itself shows no signs of changing, even with Blizzard trying to call it “Online Team Brawler”, Riot calling League of Legends a “fast-paced, competitive online game that blends the speed and intensity of an RTS with RPG elements” and Valve calling it a “action real-time strategy” game. MOBA for better or worse will be the name for a while.

So to help understand the game, it’s actually easier to learn its history, and how we got to where we are now. Don’t worry though, its actually pretty interesting.

Although the themes and game types were used previously, and the inspiration for the games started earlier its tough to say with any certainty, rather than get into “the inspiration could be….” or “some people believe this idea came from…” we are going to skip to the start of the game type, not the themes or inspiration. With that said the origin of the genre can be traced all the way back to Starcraft a real-time strategy game from Blizzard. The game came with a set of tools called “Staredit” and users could create their own games, and upload them for other uses to play. Using these tools a modder with the username “Aeon64” made a custom map called Aeon of Strife. In this game there were three “lanes” that would spawn “Creep” and the user would control a powerful character with the goal of destroying the base on the opposite side of the map. This was the basic structure of the game, and for the most part it hasn’t really changed too dramatically.

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A few years later Blizzard came out with Warcraft 3 with the accompanying Warcraft World Editor. A user name Eul developed Aeon of Strife using the new engine and called it Defense of the Ancients. The term Ancient may be familiar if you have played Warcraft or even World of Warcraft as the massive tree figures that defend elven cities. Shortly after making the Mod for Warcraft 3, Eul stopped developing for it, and the first players of the game were left to try and develop it on their own. A year later Blizzard released  the expansion Warcraft 3: The Frozen Throne. Using the tools in the updated game, a user Steve “Guinsoo” Feak collected all the best elements of the variants that had come out and released DotA: Allstars. 

This is the point in the story where things start to heat up.

After a year of the Mod being out it had developed a huge following. There were tournaments and teams starting, and the game started to explode. In 2005 Guinsoo left the game for his assistant Neichus to develop. After a couple of weeks Neichus turned over development to another modder, Icefrog who implemented a number of changes that increased the complexity and its ability to innovate on the original mod. These changes were very well received and it was after this that Dota saw its first million players.

Three years later the popularity of Dota and it’s staying power as a new game type had attracted major game developers. There were a few small flash games, and the first retail title in the genre “Demigod”. That same year Riot Games announced it was developing “League of Legends” and that they had Guinsoo developing the game for them. In October of 2009 League of Legends  was released and  Valve Software announced that it had hired Icefrog to work on a sequel to DotA.

In May of 2010 developer S2 released “Heroes of Newerth” which borrowed heavily from Dota Allstars. It was well received by the major teams and players of the original Dota mod, and most of the teams switched over to it while they waited for the sequel of Dota to be released. After a legal battle with both Riot and Blizzard, Valve released Dota 2 in July of 2013. So what had started as a Mod to a Blizzard game, was split primarily into League of Legends from Riot and Dota 2 from Valve. This split in the community still stands for the most part today, with many of the players finding a stake in a fight that started before they picked a side, the majority not even knowing why the division started at all.

So to recap Guinsoo never trademarked the name “Dota”, Icefrog built upon what others had started, and Blizzard was too busy counting their World of Warcraft money to realize what was going on till it was too late.

Today the MOBA world is massive. This past year the winning team of the biggest Dota 2  tournament took home $6 million dollars. The World Championship of League of Legends  drew an estimated 288 MILLION viewers LAST YEAR with no estimates for 2015 yet. Games like Smite  and Heroes of the Storm are gaining more players every day. There seems to be no stopping any of games in this genre, but who would want to? There is drama, excitement, and innovation coming from the world of MOBAs.

So what is a MOBA? Its a five vs five match up wherein players control a powerful character and attempt to destroy the other teams base. But hopefully by now you realize that this genre is so much more, it’s dramatic, it’s exciting, it’s the biggest thing to happen to competitive gaming since LAN, it’s the acceptance that video games are a career, and best of all it’s really fun to play.