I like to MOBA, MOBA… you like to… MOBA! (Part 1 of 3)

I try my best to stay away from relating or leaning on personal anecdotes when writing an article. No one cares what my experience is, and a sample size of precisely ONE (that being myself) is never, ever indicative of reality at large. It also happens to bother me when other authors do this; and how silly would I look if I ended up committing the very act I decry on a regular basis?

Verily, I would look like an ass.

Welcome, then, to James making a complete ass of himself! In my defense, I’m going to set the tone of this piece as an examination of entry level MOBA play. Your mileage will certainly vary, but since all I have to speak on is my experience, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing. From the beginning. Keep in mind this is an article designed to help grow the eSports community by bringing in people who might not already be a part of the community. As a result, much of this will seem elementary.

It all began when a roommate of mine had decided to expose me to HuskyStarcraft. I’d played and beaten the original StarCraft, along with Brood War, and more recently StarCraft II; and I was aware of the tournament scene (this one’s for you, Jon), but it wasn’t really anything I’d payed much attention to. Multiplayer RTS didn’t appeal to me, largely because I was complete trash at them (I say “was” like it’s past tense… I’m still trash at them), but once I was clued in that it could be a spectator “sport,” I was sold. The act of merely watching StarCraft was so intensely cerebral, watching how the pros would adapt and re-prioritize given their opponents actions and strategies; learning those very strategies so you knew when something non-standard was afoot… I became addicted.

For the next several months I watched the likes of Sean “Day[9]” Plott, learning as much as I could about basic terminology and standard builds. Eventually, YouTube didn’t cut it anymore, and I migrated to live streams of StarCraft II tournaments and professional StarCraft II players on Twitch. To truncate the rest of the story a bit, from here my attention was called back to League of Legends, a game I had been lucky enough to have beta tested for, but a game I really didn’t understand too well at the time (I was embarrassingly unaware of Defense of the Ancients [DotA]). It was at this time that I was made aware of the term “MOBA,” and it was here, definitively, I decided to wade into the deep end, and see what the hubbub was all about.

This is Ahri, and as far as champions go, she couldn’t be more complicated to learn.

MOBA, for those who don’t know, stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, and it’s a genre name that was coined by League of Legends developer Riot Games, but has only recently been clawing its way into the common gaming lexicon. In years past, MOBAs were known as Action Real-Time Strategy games, which only included the DotA mod for WarCraft III and games of that ilk (or should I say game of that ilk, singular, since Demigod was the first stand alone game in the genre, followed swiftly by League of Legends and the minting of the phrase ‘MOBA’); however, more recently, the genre has broadened to a point where though Action RTS still occupy the core of the group, other types of play have begun to crop up, as well.

But I digress.

In this, part 1 of a heretofore unknown part series, I’ll be discussing my experience with League of Legends. Not just with the game, and the mechanics (which couldn’t be simpler), but also with the community, a little bit of the vocabulary and short-hand you’ll need to pay attention to, and the terrifyingly large pool of information you have to learn in order to compete.

Maokai- The Twisted Treant. My main in League of Legends… though I prefer his Christmas Tree skin.

First is the community. Especially in an exclusively multiplayer game, social aspects can make or break your experience as a nub/noob/newb. Just like the aforementioned Day[9] says, it’s much easier to deal with playing on a team, because if you lose you can always blame your mates… and League of Legends is only ever a team game. You’ll find your fair share of vocal accusers, especially if you’re new, but I was surprised to find that for as many people who called me out for being terrible, “feeding” the other team (the act of repeatedly dying to your opponents, thereby increasing the enemy’s gold and experience, and decreasing your chances of victory), or calling me names, there were two people willing to not only teach me the ropes, but defend me in chat channels, completely unsolicited. The League of Legends (LoL from here on out) community often gets a bum rep for how condemning they can be of newer, inexperienced players, but of all the MOBA games I’ve played (to be explored in parts 2 through I-don’t-know), they are easily the most welcoming, accommodating bunch. Riot Games has a Summoner (read: Player) Code of Conduct in place to coax the community to help newcommers and be excellent to each other, and it’s largely, perhaps surprisingly, taken very seriously.

Heroes of Newerth’s Cthulhuphant

On to the game, itself. It actually took me playing well over 100 games to really identify what was going on, but I could appreciate it out of the box. It’s streamlined when you compare it to its counterparts, as there isn’t a day/night cycle, nor are there “secret shops,” (both of which I’ll get into when I cover DotA2 and Heroes of Newerth); however, unlike the competition, every hero appears, to my untrained eye, to be completely unique and independent of  the rosters of other MOBA games. What I mean to say is, though DotA2 and Heroes of Newerth often clone heroes from each other, the LoL roster is largely original, complicating the amount of information you need to learn in order to be successful. Instead of playing Zeus in DotA2 and instantly being familiar with Thunderbringer in Heroes of Newerth (because they are identical, mechanically), you can only learn LoL champions in LoL. This is compounded by the fact that most, if not all MOBA games don’t give you access to every hero all at once. There is a set of rotating “free” heroes that anyone can choose from during the specified time frame, but in order to gain permanent access to any given character, you’ll have to spend money. It’s an effective micro-transaction model, one that isn’t “pay to win,” and it fits this genre beautifully; however, it’ll take that much more time to learn what every champion is capable of, and if you happen to be in a lane up against a hero you’re unfamiliar with, you’re probably going to die…

DotA 2: Tidehunter’s ultimate is considered by some to be the best in the game.

There are several phases to the game, and these, thankfully, remain blessedly similar across all titles. Laning, ganking, pushing, and picking team fights are all pretty much where you’d expect them to be in LoL, should you be transitioning from a different title; and if you’re going from LoL to, say, DotA2, you’ll feel right at home with the way the game unfolds. If you’re new to the genre entirely, though, you’re in for some intense studying. When I first began in LoL, I didn’t know what was really going on. I knew the general goals of the game, but there’re far more nuanced mechanics that are only apparent after you’ve been at it for a while. At first, I tried my best to push my creeps (the weak NPCs that path to enemy towers to destroy them) to the opposing towers as fast as possible, since that’s what the goal of every game is… but if you push too soon, you lose out on valuable experience and gold from killing opposing creeps, and you actually give your enemy an advantage, as they can sit under the protection of their tower and pick yours off at their leisure. It’s such a delicate balance to strike, and not readily apparent at all. This goes for all of these types of games, across the board.

And lastly, the items. As is the case with all of the MOBAs I’ve played, LoL does help out new players by suggesting items for purchase in the shop according to your hero, but as a quick trip about LoL enthusiast sites will show you, these recommended items are often completely different from the most effective builds that pros use. Also, there are a HUGE amount of items in the game, so I generally tended to completely ignore their intricacies and simply purchase what I had researched was best. Unfortunately, most items in LoL are static stat boosts, and completely uninteresting. Some provide buffs, and others have negligible on-use effects, but it seems that all of the interesting items appear in other games.

As a LoL newb, I had a surprising amount of fun, even though the learning curve is steep. I endured ridicule, and I was given aid by some truly benevolent souls; I learned a bunch of different heroes, became informed enough to select a main champion, and I’ve even played several perfect games at this point. As far as how easy it is to pick up and get into, I’d say it’s the best there is, even with the huge item pool, and vast diversity among champions. The most difficult part was learning the proper way to play through all of the nuance, but getting the hang of it is supremely satisfying. All in all, I highly recommend you give it a shot.

Next time I’ll be visiting both DotA2 and Heroes of Newerth, discussing much the same topics, and outlining all of the differences. Take care, everyone, and stay tuned!

-James Bacon