So you want to play a MOBA? The beginners guide to the fun new genre

One of the fastest growing genres is also one of the most complicated to play, I'll try to break it down for you!

Unless you have been actively avoiding gaming culture for the last year, you may have heard of the incredibly popular new genre of games known as MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). Recently even more developers are putting out their entries into an already crowded scene, and there are more on the way. The rate with which these games are being released, and the complexity of the gameplay makes this a tough genre to get into, especially now. Hopefully with this quick guide you can find a game you like, and give it a shot.

 

History of the Genre

MOBAs started as custom games for Starcraft and Warcraft, eventually being developed into a custom game for Warcraft 3 called “Defense of the Ancients," or DotA. The game became incredibly popular and within a few years there were already standalone games being published. One of the first MOBA stand alone games was “Demigod,” a PC game released in the summer of 2009. I remember seeing the game and thinking it looked a lot like “Age of Empires: Mythology” and that what was first interested me in the game, but without any other information I moved on and forgot about it. A few months later a friend told me about “League of Legends” and how it was completely free to play. I remember signing up for an account, then moving on and playing something else and forgetting about the game entirely. Recently I got an invitation from the same friend for the “DotA 2” beta on steam and decided that maybe it was time to try to get into this crazy new type of game. Since then I have played a few of the different MOBAs that are out, and I really wanted to share what I’ve learned.

 

Gameplay in a Typical MOBA

Let me start out with saying that these games are tough. They take up a lot of time, and because of the team driven nature of the gameplay, when you are new people will hate being on your team. That being said, once you start understanding how to play, and what a normal game looks like, they are some of the most rewarding matches I have ever played.

The tough part about this game is that there really isn’t any other game type that is like this. You control one character, buy items for them and you level up, but it’s not really an RPG. You try to control a map using minions, but its not really an RTS. The idea is that you choose a hero (or champion) and are teamed up with other players (usually teams of 5) and try and defeat the enemy champions. You are aided by constantly spawning and computer controlled minions (sometimes called “creep”) and follow them along paths (lanes). These paths or lanes usually are called out as “top” “mid” or “bottom” and depending on the strategy of your team you may split up in any number of ways.

Throughout the game, you will gain experience and gold by killing enemy players or their creep, you can then use these to improve your hero, and hopefully kill even more! Then once you have gotten the biggest baddest hero this side of the mid lane, the game is over and you start back at level 1 for the next game! Believe me, it’s a lot to take in at first, but after a couple games it all makes sense.

 

Champion Choosing

Most of the games in this genre have an incredible roster of characters, and on most occasions I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of choices, and ended up choosing the ones that looked the coolest. The key to choosing a character is playing a few different ones and finding out what you like, but here are some examples of how they play.

  • Ranged- These are straightforward for the most part. They hit hard, and from a distance, but usually have a low amount of health. If you have played a ranged class in any RPG they follow the same ideas
  • Melee- Another simple class, that follows the stereotypes. Hits hard usually in bursts, more health than ranged, less than tanks, but needs to be up close. Similar to the rogue class in World of Warcraft.
  • Tanks- A lot of heath, a lot of armor. Steady, but low damage. Typically these are Melee classes as well since they need to absorb the brunt of enemy attacks.
  • Support- These are the toughest class to play well. Most of these characters have abilities that will aid their team, but this often leaves them with low attack, health, or sometimes both. A good Support player can change the game completely, but unless you are playing on a team with people you know, they can be nearly impossible to play well.

Subclasses

These classes are variants of the classes above but can change the way the player approaches the game.

  • Jungler- These characters typically don’t choose a lane, but instead will run through the map killing some of the randomly generated jungle creeps that award the team gold and experience. These players will also “gank” champions who venture off alone, or try to escape after a fight. The stealth class is a subclass of this subclass.
  • Assassin- This class is best when they hide out of sight and then focus damage on a target when they aren’t paying attention. They might also be asked to try to draw attention away from other fights by attacking lanes by themselves.
  • Carry- This is usually a class that can “carry” the team to victory later in the game. They usually start out weaker, but by the middle or end of the game can devastate entire teams.
  • Pusher- Champions that can easily kill groups of minions or turrets, to help “Push” the team in certain lanes. Typically this class is weaker against other champions, but that’s not always the case.

 

Okay! Overwhelmed yet?

Most of the games will also have “Recommended” classes, or in some cases limit who you can play with when you are starting the game, to help avoid too much confusion, but the best way to learn is to try out a few different classes, and try to choose one that fits your play style. Just remember that each game starts new, so you don’t bring anything between rounds except hopefully, a better understanding of how to play your character.

 

Items? What items?!

Like I mentioned before, throughout the game you will earn gold. You can use this gold to buy items from an in game shop that will help improve your characters stats. This is very similar to any RPG that uses character items. There are weapons, armor, charms, and everything in-between. What is important to remember though is that you usually have a limited amount of spots to carry items. Most items are upgradable, and in most cases aren’t unique so if you want to carry 4 of the same sword into battle go for it! I saw someone with 4 of the same gloves last night, I suppose he just kept them on his belt. Most items are what is called “Passive,” meaning you don’t need to do anything to use them, but some are “active” and you need to activate their skills. It’s important to recognize the difference when you are playing, and hopefully investigate into it before you begin.

 

League of Ancient All-Star Awesomenauts

There are A LOT of MOBA games out right now, and more are scheduled out this year. It can be really tough to decide which one you want to play because for the most part although they follow the same rules and ideas, they all play differently. Here are some of the games I’ve played, and can talk to.

League of Legends

This is the biggest name in the game right now, and is almost single-handedly responsible for the genres popularity. It is a free to play game, that relies on in game purchases for their income. Because it is the most popular, and one of the oldest (still new all things considered) it has the most characters and the biggest play-base. It is middle of the line for difficulty, and is well directed. League of Legends is available for PC and Mac from the developers website here.

DotA 2

The game that started it all is back! After a few years of nothing the game developer Valve announced they were bringing DotA 2 to Steam. Right now the game is in closed beta, but invites can be found all around the web, or from people who play it (if you need one I have a few) The game is still a work in progress, but plays well, and looks great. Right now it is PC only, but a Mac version is coming soon. The Valve team really is putting together a great game and it might really give League a run for it’s money! The steam download page can be found here.

Heroes of Newerth

The only game on this list that I haven’t dumped hours into playing. This game is tough. REALLY tough. There are over 100 playable characters, and even someone who is familiar with MOBA games will need to really learn new tactics like “denying” kills by killing off your own team. It is free to play and if you have the time and mind for it, seems even more intense than the other games on the list!

Awesomenauts

This is the first MOBA I really put some time into playing, and once you try the game, its easy to understand why. It’s simple, the games are quick, and because its a 2D platformer, there is a lot less to worry about. Teamwork is ... optional but recommended. There are only a handful of champions, and only a few items and skills for each one. That all being said, it is the only game on my list that you have to pay for, and at $9.99 it can be hard to justify against all the free to play games. It goes on sale frequently though, and if you are looking to start out easy this game might be your best choice, it can be bought from steam here.

 

Are you still with me!?

Okay get ready for it to get really complicated....

Just kidding, that’s it for now!

 

These games are tons of fun and really worth the effort. The ranked matches and professional games, are fun to watch, and even after you lose you will want to come back for more. There is no better time to get into the genre than now, and more games are coming out everyday, so what are you waiting for!? 

GO FORTH AND PLAY!

Featured Contributor

My name is Levi Haag. I am a father of two amazing kids, husband, a writer, and most people tell me I’m a pretty good guy. It can be tough to find good games and take care of kids, so I decided to try and help other dads out by reviewing games that I can play with my kids or while they are asleep.

Published Aug. 4th 2017

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