Within the last half-decade or so, the gaming world has seen a massive rise in popularity of MOBA games. Standing for Massive Online Battle Arena, the MOBA game genre typically consists of one team facing another with the goal of destroying the other team’s base.
Everyone controls their own in-game character and must work with their teammates to win the game. The map design usually consists of clear areas called lanes which are surrounded by a jungle full of monsters that can be killed for buffs and experience points. With the rise of popular MOBA games, many developers and publishers tried to put their own foot in the door and create their own interpretation of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.
As with anything that gains sudden popularity, there were many low-quality MOBAs which flooded the markets; however, some video games have managed to create a unique and polished addition to the genre. Whilst, Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2 are 3 of the most popular and most played MOBA games.
League of Legends (LoL)
League of Legends is often associated with the major rise in popularity of the MOBAs is League of Legends and is arguably the most popular MOBA game to date.
League of Legends was released in 2009 and is credited with the rise and legitimacy of eSports in popular media, and with previous tournaments being featured on ESPN and having taken place in venues such as the Rose Bowl the claim seems to be somewhat true. The comparisons should start with LoL due to the influence it had on all other MOBAs.
In terms of gameplay, League of Legends has 4 game modes that you can play. There is the Dominion, ARAM, 3v3, and 5v5 mode. Dominion has two teams of five fighting on a circular map to gain control of the most designated areas as possible. Whoever fills up the point meter by constantly controlling the most areas win the game. ARAM stands for All Random All Mid, and has two teams of five playing as a random LoL champion with the goal of getting across a singular narrow path. This mode allows for you to simply enjoy League of Legends without a sense of competitiveness associated with the other modes. The random champion selection also helps to even the playing field across the player base. The 3v3 mode is two teams of three fighting on a map with a two paths and a jungle in between. The goal is to destroy the opponent team’s Nexus, which is placed on opposite side of the LoL map from your own nexus. 5v5 mode is where the competitive games of LoL take place.
Controlling a single champion in a team of five, you have the goal of destroying the enemy Nexus. The champions that you play feels both unique in nature yet confined to their role. This can make the popular MOBA game somewhat easy to learn due to the similarities in playstyle that each champion in a role has; however, it can also get repetitive due to the design. There is also the constant issue of balance. In higher levels of play you will most likely see the same ten champions selected consistently. While this top champion list does change due to the shifts in power that happen with every patch, it does get frustrating to realise that your favourite League of Legends champion is mechanically not as good as others.
Heroes of the Storm (HotS)
Heroes of the Storm, or HotS for short, was created by Blizzard with much of the complexities associated with MOBAs toned down.
While Blizzard states that Heroes of the Storm is not in fact a MOBA, it’s obvious that the online multiplayer game uses much of the same elements. Currently HotS has ten different game modes, but unfortunately most of them feel the same. Aside from the beautiful backgrounds and artistic changes, all HotS maps can be boiled down to two basic game modes. The first consists of collecting a currency to debuff your enemies or buff your allies. The second consists of controlling shrines for points in order to reach a collective total score to gain objectives. Both of these modes have the ultimate goal of destroying your enemy’s base core, which acts the same as LoL’s nexus.
HotS does rewards teamplay where all five of your team needs to work together in a different way as LoL where the main goal is to strategically push the lanes, and in DotA 2 where one champion can essentially kill off a whole team if it made a lot of kills early on.
HotS roster of heroes are also made up of previous Blizzard characters. This is definitely a cool feature for fans of Blizzard, who undoubtedly wondered at some point which of their favorite Blizzard characters would win in a fight. These heroes are also much easier to learn than the champions of LoL. Managing resources are a lot easier, and instead of debating which items to buy there is a talent system for each hero. This lessens the choices for each hero down drastically and allows for people to make choices easier depending on their style of play. Along with the positives, the simplicity of HotS also come with negatives. One glaring issue is that HotS heroes can only be played a certain way. While a certain amount of customizability is possible with the talent system, you can only customize in a way that the online multiplayer game essentially chooses to. This means that each hero can only do their job, only in different ways. While the lack of choice in Heroes of the Storm is easier for newer players, the lack of versatility is disappointing for veteran players. For the HotS maps, there’s a feeling that each map should have been made more mechanically unique. The art styles are distinctive and give each map its own feel; however, it’s unfortunate that all the current maps ultimately boil down to two types of play in this popular MOBA.
Defense of the Ancients II (DotA 2)
The start of the MOBA was Defense of the Ancients (DotA), a Warcraft 3 custom game.
This Warcraft 3 custom game got so popular that Defense of the Ancients II was developed and published by Valve Corporations. Popularly known as DotA 2, this popular multiplayer online battle arena game is as complex as HotS is simple. The complexity can easily scare new MOBA players and seem to have been catered to those who played the original DotA. This particular MOBA only has one mode of play with the 5v5. Yet unlike the other two popular MOBA games, which uses other maps and modes to avoid too many mechanics on a singular mode, DotA 2 attempts to make this one map as much depth as possible with fluid integration of mechanics.
There are three main mechanics that separate the 5v5 mode of DotA II from the others. The one most noticeable is the day and night system. As the game progresses, the map will shift between its night and day cycles. During the day the heroes have more than twice the vision radius as they do during the night. Some heroes also have abilities which can affect the cycle times or change their abilities depending on if it’s cast during day or night. The second difference is the hidden shop. Unlike LoL where the main shop has everything needed, DotA II has a shop hidden within the jungle. This shop is key due to most end game item components being sold at this shop. The final main difference is the destructible jungle. Items can be bought within DotA 2 which allows for the destruction of the jungle, which allows you to create your own path throughout the map. This can lead to you attacking, or getting attacked, from nearly any position.
In the competitive scene, DotA 2 is known for allowing you to play nearly any hero on a relative level. This is due to every hero being made strong, but with this strength comes difficulty. Unlike LoL and HotS, many DotA 2 abilities interact in multiple ways with both the environment and position of you and your opponent. Many also have longer cooldown relative to the other popular MOBAs. This makes each ability matter more in fights, decreasing the margin for error. Combat in DotA 2 can feel a bit out of place if you are already used to LoL or HotS. As a beginner to DotA 2 it is easy to underestimate the range of a skill cast by enemy making it feel like the enemy just attacked you from a range far greater than what it is supposed to be.
All three popular MOBAs on this list have depth created from their unique mechanics which gives them their own identity.
HotS is a more casual game where fans of the Blizzard franchise can play their own favourite characters. It allows players unfamiliar with the game genre to be eased into the genre. Unfortunately, its simplicity allows for little deviation from the norm and structure of the popular game.
LoL is in a comfortable middle ground, where you are given champions that are unique and moldable by your own preferences. These champions are still held within their role within the game and most champions within that role share basic gameplay similarities. It is by far the most played MOBA and economically successful one to date and has been a large influence on the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena gaming scene.
DotA 2 is for more experienced fans of the genre or those who are looking for a challenge. With champion and environmental mechanics adding complexity not found within the other two games, DotA 2 will take longer to learn. This coupled with the inclusion of only one mode of play implies that this game is more competitive in nature. Everyone plays on one map and strives to get better at it.
So for those looking to get into one of the most played MOBAs, LoL, HotS and DotA2 are all free to play. It should also be remembered that while there are differing levels of complexity, there is depth to be found in all three of the MOBAs. Getting to a competitive tier of play will be a challenge but should prove satisfying in the end.