Tidehunter ult in Dota 2
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How LoL and Dota 2 Show Us That MOBAs Aren’t Going Anywhere

The MOBA genre is here to stay no matter how much some people want it gone.

When I first played DotA v5.84b back in 2004 (the Warcraft 3 mod took 15 minutes to load), and when I said that DotA would be big eventually, I absolutely didn’t imagine that hundreds of millions of players worldwide would play MOBA games, casually and competitively. 20 years later, it’s one of the most popular video game genres, with many titles that came and went, but two remain on top to this day: League of Legends and Dota 2.

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Why Have MOBAs Become This Popular and Annihilated the RTS Genre

It’s somewhat poetically ironic that a company that was the master of creating brilliant RTS games has dug its own grave in the sense that it paved the road to the very becoming of the MOBA genre. For the birth of DotA, we can “blame” (thank?) Eul, Guinsoo, and IceFrog.

It started off as a mod inspired by Aeon of Strife, a StarCraft custom map, and it slowly but steadily started picking up pace in the community. One of the key reasons was that the barrier to entry was almost nonexistent, so everyone could join in and play, but the skill ceiling was very, very high if you wanted to compete at the highest level.

When you look at competitive RTS games, there’s so much micromanagement and macromanagement that you need to do even to enjoy a low-ranked game. On top of that, you need to be at your 100% all the time if you want to prevail in your 1v1 match. Compared to that, MOBA is a walk in the park, honestly. You (usually) control just one unit, with (usually) up to four spells, and you have nine other characters to worry about: four teammates and five opponents.

Soon enough, it was obvious that DotA outgrew the Warcraft 3 engine and that something big needed to be done. To avoid throwing an overwhelming amount of gaming history your way, I’ll cut the story as short as I can to the three key releases for the MOBA genre:

  • League of Legends was released in October 2009 as a free-to-play game.
  • Heroes of Newerth was released in May 2010 as a paid game and switched to a free-to-play model in July 2011.
  • Dota 2 was released in July 2013 as a free-to-play game.

League of Legends

League of Legends went on to do “its own thing” without limiting itself to the limits of the Warcraft 3 engine. Riot Games has adopted a lot from the DotA gameplay, but there were some key differences (no creep denying, jungle buffs, no gold loss after death, free teleports to base, etc.) which served to make the gameplay less rough, more noob-friendly, etc.

Back in the day, free-to-play games were not as big as they are today, and the monetization business plan was simple: microtransactions for skins and other visual shenanigans. And it worked. Big time. Releasing first and opening up the game for everyone to join in for free was probably THE winning plan for LoL.

Heroes of Newerth

Heroes of Newerth wasn’t as popular as someone would assume it would be, probably because of the price tag and being late behind League of Legends. Despite switching to a free-to-play model within a year, HoN was officially shut down in June 2022, but the small, dedicated community is keeping it alive. Kudos to HoN for mimicking the Warcraft 3 engine and staying true to what DotA was.

Dota 2

Dota 2 was released by Valve much later after LoL, and luckily, they managed to gather a lot of MOBA fans, including the DotA purists who just didn’t like League of Legends since it strayed too far away from the DotA formula.

Meanwhile, the RTS genre gaming population has been reduced to a handful of enthusiasts, and we haven’t seen many big RTS titles lately, meaning that the RTS genre is now just a mere niche. This is sad, especially because I grew up playing Warcraft, Starcraft, Age of Empires, Command and Conquer Red Alert, and Generals… The “strategy” video game meta has completely changed, seemingly overnight. But will this MOBA trend that took the spotlight from our RTS games hold? And for how long?

Why Hasn’t The MOBA Hype Train Brought Us More MOBA Games to Enjoy?

This is difficult to explain, but as my father said ages ago: “You either need to be the first to deliver something to the market, or you need to beat all of the competition.” That seems true for the MOBA genre, in my opinion. League of Legends and Dota 2 are seemingly holding a “duopoly” of some sort on the MOBA genre, with no MOBA titles coming anywhere close to them. It’s such a dominant stranglehold that the only notable examples outside of these two that most people will remember are SMITE and Heroes of the Storm (I tried at least a dozen more titles such as Strife, Paragon, Bloodline Champions…).

It seems that in the MOBA universe, there is a limited maneuver space to create something new, something unique, that will attract a significant number of players to switch away from the most popular MOBA titles and keep the game alive financially. HotS and SMITE tried to show their takes on the genre, but…

Heroes of the Storm was Blizzard’s attempt to get into the MOBA scene in 2014 (after they failed to acquire the Dota IP), but sadly, it didn’t go as well as planned, and it was discontinued in July 2022. Seems that the market has already been penetrated and that you’re either for LoL or for Dota 2 at that point if you are on the MOBA scene because most of the other MOBA games are dead. SMITE had potential, with the 3rd person twist that makes it look like a combination of League of Legends and World of Warcraft PvP, but sadly, it didn’t take off the way people expected it to, and now SMITE 2 is brewing for some reason?

How Long Until the MOBA Trend Dies Out? Are LoL and Dota 2 Going Anywhere?

Let’s face it… NOTHING resists the time. Both LoL and Dota 2 will have to stop existing at some point. Will it be this year? In 10 years? In 20 years? Who knows? Valve publicly shows how many players are playing each of the games on Steam, and I would really not be concerned for the future of Dota 2 as long as there are at least 100,000 players. I reckon that League of Legends is much more popular, and allegedly, there are over a hundred million monthly active players worldwide. I reckon that League of Legends ain’t going anywhere either with that amount of players.

However, gaming is changing. More and more multiplayer games are focused on delivering short matches because most players would rather play three matches of 20 minutes each or two matches of 30 minutes each rather than one match that lasts 60 minutes. It seems that attention spans are getting shorter and shorter on average.

Take a look at how Counter-Strike 2 recently reduced the amount of rounds you need to win to win the entire match from 16 to 13. Now, matches are no longer 45-90 minutes long. They usually last between 30 and 45 minutes, and that’s a huge difference, psychologically speaking. And not to mention a plethora of mobile games that focus on 5-10 minute matches. Dota 2 offers “Turbo Mode” for people like me who don’t want or simply can’t (afford to) spend an hour in a match anymore. League of Legends also offers a few fun modes for players who want fast games, and SMITE was the king with the variety of different game modes you can participate in.

The Esports Side of Things

The Esports scene is big in both games, but Dota 2 is taking the lead when it comes to prize pools. The International holds most of the top spots when it comes to the size of price pools in the entire esports industry that is counted by dozens of millions of U.S. Dollars, while the World Championship in League of Legends is more “humble,” based on esportsearnings data. SMITE once had a big crowd-sourced prize pool for their World Championship, but as years passed, that record dropped far below.

In addition to that, a lot of players eventually get fed up with the game for one reason or another and just leave, whether it’s permanently or temporarily. However, as long as more people are coming in than leaving, League of Legends will be in the “Too Big to Fall” category, so haters will have to wait for a while before they see the downfall of LoL. Mind you, it will keep getting harder for new players to join Dota 2 or League of Legends because of the constant addition of new characters and items.

On the one hand, you need to keep adding new content to live service games to keep the current players entertained and stop the game state from becoming stale, and on the other, you keep making the game gradually harder to adopt by the new players. Both “teams” have also attempted to make spin-off games, such as Teamfight Tactics and Dota Underlords, to try and keep the players “hooked” to their universes through a different genre, should they try and stop their respective MOBA counterparts.

All in all (and despite all the odds), Dota 2 and League of Legends have proven time and time again that they possess the winning formulas for their MOBA audience, and these games aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

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Nikola L
Nikola's been a member of GameSkinny since March 2024. He enjoys various game genres, but you'll most likely see him chasing quotas in Lethal Company with friends and grinding roguelike/roguelite games such as Vampire Survivors, Deep Rock Galactic: Survivor and Brotato. Loves 90s, driving, video making, and music.