Rise of the MOBA
The Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game has been around for a
fairly long time now, since the days of AOL and dial-up internet. They
kicked around for a few years, but didn't gain much mainstream attention
until people began getting addicted to EverQuest.
And then, a few years later, along came World
of Warcraft, and everything changed.
More than any other game, World of Warcraft defined the MMORPG. WoW was
not the first, nor is it even "the best," but its influence and success is
undeniable. Blizzard created a perfect storm: they had a popular IP, a
product that appealed to a very broad audience, an outstanding reputation
as developers, and enough money to build a juggernaut of media hype,
complete with celebrity endorsements. WoW continues to be so successful
that its influence is still seen in games being developed over ten years
after its launch. Start into any new game at launch and you'll see WoW
expatriates making bold comparisons, often decrying such things as "this
game is a WoW clone."
But there's a new wind blowing through the online gaming community. Many
gamers are growing less interested in immersing themselves in a deep
story, or they prefer to get their deep immersion from single-player
games. They want to get right into the action, but they don't want to have
to commit hours to just one dungeon. Players want to get right into the
game with powerful characters that don't take weeks to level up and outfit
Enter the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Matches are relatively short
and intense, there's no lumbering "story" getting in the way and no
tedious leveling needed. You can get in and play a half-hour match a
couple times a week without feeling like you are lagging behind. And most
of them are free-to-play, so there's no need to live up to any financial
commitment. It's the perfect solution for the ever-shortening attention
span of the average F2P gamer.
The genesis of the MOBA can be traced back to Blizzard real-time strategy
games, to custom maps for Starcraft and Warcraft III. The Defense of the
Ancients map for Warcraft III spawned a separate standalone game that
became popular enough to spawn its own sequel, Dota
2. Dota 2 is the EverQuest of MOBAs - the first game of its
type to gain widespread attention outside of a niche community. And that
makes League of
Legends that genre's WoW.
League of Legends hasn't been around as long as World of Warcraft, but it
has built up a large player base that is just as passionate and dedicated.
Released in 2009, LoL is currently the biggest name in MOBAs, and has been
called the "most-played PC game in the Western world." Dota 2 is not far
behind, but LoL is the king of the hill at the moment, with millions of
players worldwide. It's only natural that other developers are noticing
this and seeking to cut themselves a piece of that pie.
MOBAs are popping up everywhere now. Even Turbine, who made their bones
with a string of outstanding MMORPGs, is throwing their name into the ring
Crisis, a battle arena set in the rebooted DC Universe. It's
kind of interesting that they went in that direction rather than
continuing their work with the Lord of the Rings, but their parent company
(and owner of the Lord of the Rings IP), Warner Bros, decided to give that
job to a different studio. Guardians
of Middle-earth, the Lord of the Rings-themed MOBA, is
currently available on consoles and is scheduled for a PC release later
The MOBA might be the genre of the moment, but it's not likely to
out-and-out replace the "traditional" MMO. The gameplay is very, very
different - MOBAs have no real Player-versus-Environment content. They may
have deep and intricate lore (Infinite Crisis draws on 70-plus years'
worth of DC comics, graphic novels, cartoons and other media), but players
are not adventuring their way through immersive storylines. Hero
characters level up in a match, and players gain rank by completing
objectives and such, but it's not the same experience as gaining levels in
a MMO. These are the things that some of us live for.
And the MOBA is pretty much pure PvP. A lot of players prefer the
cooperative aspect of MMO PvE content, and don't care for the competitive
environment of PvP. PvP is usually a major aspect of the modern MMO, but
it's usually optional and players can reach the endgame without it. MOBAs
are PvP-only. You can train against bots, but it's not the same thing as
The MOBA offers a very different gaming experience than the traditional
MMO, and in effect replaces some aspects of them. The new genre is a
central pillar of e-sports, and professional, sponsored teams compete in
MOBA tournaments. What started out as a single custom map has
blossomed into triple-A titles. But this sort of game isn't for everybody.
Because the traditional MMORPG satisfies a very broad range of gamers'
needs, the genre isn't going anywhere anytime soon. But neither is the
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