What’s next for MOBAs?


Tomorrow is a big day in the gaming world. Tomorrow, more than a million people will have made a decision to either renew or cancel their subscription to SWTOR. I say it’s a big day because Star Wars was heralded by many as the “next generation of MMOs.” In my experience, it’s little more than single-player RPG wrapped around a near exact clone of a seven-year-old game. Nearly everyone I know who was interested in the game at one point either cancelled at pre-order or have cancelled in the first month. I think a lot of that can be attributed to the lack of innovation — people just know the current MMO scene too well for even a kickass license like Star Wars to save a game.

How does this relate to the MOBA/ARTS genre? MOBAs are about to be in the same position SWTOR is currently in. There are several highly successful models in the genre, but for something to be successful in the next few years, I think it will really have to innovate. I’ve been looking forward to DotA 2 for a long time, but I know the map and most of the heroes so well that I still find myself bored with the experience. Blasphemy, I know, but I like a little variety and sometimes the hero list just isn’t enough.

For a while I thought Dominion might be the answer, but a few months after that map launched it started to drop off the radar. Obviously I don’t have usage stats, but I know they aren’t what Riot would like them to be. I still enjoy Dominion on occasion, but it just wasn’t enough.

One thing I would really like to see is game mode variety. The original DotA had some truly fantastic variations (my personal favorite was -dmarem). I would love to have different options for games with similar developmental arcs to a Classic Summoner’s Rift or DotA match with some different game mechanics.

What do you see for the future of the genre? Will we be stuck with a branching DotA-clone, LoL-clone future or is the next big MOBA development something else entirely?


The surrender problem in DotA 2

Over the past few days my DotA experience has taken a significant turn for the worse. I’m not sure if my opponents have been getting better or my teammates getting worse. I haven’t been playing terribly. In fact, in some cases I would even call myself “decent.” Regardless, I’ve been losing a lot of games. Most of them, come to think of it. It has been a frustrating run, and the fact that DotA has no surrender has added to that frustration.

Yes, that’s correct. There is no surrender feature. But that’s not the surrender problem I mention in my title. The surrender problem is that the game does not have one, occasionally feels like it should, but ultimately should not. Confused? Don’t worry, I’m with you. I’m just as confused by my feelings about this as you likely are by this post. Just bear with me for a moment.

I don’t think DotA 2 should have a surrender feature, at least not like the one in League of Legends. DotA is a fundamentally different game, and I’ve come back from odds that were steeply stacked against me on more than one occasion. The games didn’t involve leavers or quitters or ragers. They were games like any other, the difference being that my team banded together and either made an epic push or started to turn teamfights in our favor or any number of other measurements of success. If Valve were to implement a surrender feature, most of those games wouldn’t have happened. My team would have thrown in the towel much earlier and I wouldn’t be learning what it takes to overcome a challenging deficit.

That said, I have had games in which my team was getting utterly stomped – stomped so badly we would be unrecognizable to loved ones – but the game dragged out beyond the 40-minute mark. The only recourse is to ask the enemy team to push to win. Compliance is rare, which I totally understand. We’ve all had games in which we pulled ahead of the enemy team and wanted to see just how farmed we could get. Unfortunately, staring at the business end of a hugely farmed Anti-Mage just isn’t a good time.

The one acceptable solution I can think up would be to implement a unanimous surrender option that only becomes available if certain conditions are met. Even this, though, feels a little bit dirty. It feels out of step with the DotA philosophy, which is generally to suffer through a lot of games until you are passably competent, followed by more suffering until you are almost “good” at the game. Really, DotA is a constant learning experience and what can be learned when you aren’t playing the game, even when the odds look insurmountable.


LoL to DotA: Getting Started

This is the first in what will be a series of posts dedicated to preparing players to make the transition from LoL to DotA. It is a bit strange to be making the transition back to DotA after leaving the game a few years ago for the newer mechanics of League of Legends. I’ve enjoyed both games immensely, spending more time in this genre than I’ve probably spent with any other game, including World of Warcraft. While they are definitely similar, the games are different enough that the transition will be difficult for a lot of players. Hopefully this guide will help anyone trying to make the switch.

The Most Basic of the Basics

DotA is a mechanically complex game in ways that LoL just isn’t. There is no way around that. It’s not necessarily a good or bad thing. I tend to prefer the complexity because I feel like it gives me more options for counterplay against my opponents, but that complexity can also be overwhelming and even unnecessary at times. I will cover those things more in depth with later posts. For now, we’re just trying to learn some of the basics.

Expect Longer Games

I am going to stress this first and foremost. I have heard a lot of complaints about game length for both League of Legends and DotA. While I have often been the source of complaints about LoL game length, I really like the longer game length in DotA. My biggest problem with game length in LoL is that the first 20 minutes is just one big farm fest. It’s not particularly interesting and often feels tedious. DotA has a much more active early game in most cases. There are times when it is a tedious farm fest, but the game seems to have a more balanced developmental arc to it.

You should expect an average DotA game to last 50 minutes. I would guess 20 percent of my games run longer than an hour and maybe 15 percent are done by the 45-minute mark.

Attributes versus Roles

In LoL most every champion falls under a small set of archetypes: tanks, ranged AD carries, AP carries, supports, junglers, bruisers and assassins. Some champions fill multiple roles therein, but the character type is basically determined by their skills and in some cases resistance scaling.

In DotA, heroes are divided up by their primary attributes: strength, agility and intelligence. Within each attribute tree you will see a wide variety of subclasses (the equivalent to an asssassin, for instance), but most attribute classes adhere to certain roles in some way based on the bonuses an attribute provides.

Strength: Provides health points and health regen. Strength also provides damage to strength heroes at a 1:1 ratio.

Agility: Provides attack speed and armor. Agility also provides damage to agility heroes at a 1:1 ratio.

Intelligence: Provides mana points and mana regen. Intelligence also provides damage to intelligence heroes at a 1:1 ratio.

As you may have guessed, strength heroes tend to be tanky, agility heroes tend to be carries, intelligence heroes are the casters. As I said, since this is just the basics I’m going to hold further analysis for a later post. For the most part, you’ll want to be seeking stats that augment your character’s primary attribute.

Active Item Use

League of Legends has relatively few active items when compared to DotA. That’s not a bad thing, just a fact. DotA makes use of active items to provide some of the mechanics seen in LoL through Summoner Spells, along with a few unique abilities. I would strongly suggest that any new DotA player spend some time in a custom game just reading through the store. You’ll also want to rebind your item keys away from the keypad and on to something more useful. Personally, I like Z, X and C for my top row of items. I’m sure you can figure out the rest.

A Good Place to Start

As this post is growing ever longer, I think I’m going to give it a rest and let you internalize all of this info until the next LoL to DotA post. If you want a good champion to start with, I would recommend Tidehunter if you’re interested in strength, Dwarven Sniper if you like to carry, and Lich if you want to play an intelligence hero. Those heroes are fairly straightforward but have enough power to make a big difference on the field.


DotA 2 is more than just extra mechanics

I’ve talked to a few people who have voiced concerns that DotA will be little more than a complexity buff to League of Legends, leaving players fumbling over mechanics and new champions for weeks. That may be true to some extent (although I have faith that players can pick the game up more quickly than that), but now that DotA is in Valve’s hands, there’s a lot more than just complexity on the horizon.

One of the first things I noticed about DotA 2 was the voice acting. Each hero has unique voice acting, complete with context aware clips for buying certain items, killing certain champions, or even missing abilities. Kunkka, a pirate-themed hero in DotA, casts a giant ghost ship that boosts allied move speed and stuns in an AoE on landing. It is notoriously hard to land. When the player misses, Kunkka says “now THAT was a failboat.” It’s little things like this that add a lot to the DotA experience. I know some champions in League have these kind of “hidden passives,” but to hear them for every hero in a game is really cool.

I’m not sure if this falls under the same umbrella, but I’ve also been enjoying the suggested items editor. League of Legends has gone on far too long without adding the feature. It’s so nice to not have to browse an ever-growing shop for the items I need. I find them once, add them to my build for that character and they’re available the next time I play. It’s even possible to save generic item builds that can be loaded for any character. I’m sure this is somewhere on Riot’s radar, but I would love to see it implemented sooner than later.


Machinima’s “All Your History” series covers the MOBA scene

I was really happy to receive this video from a friend today, particularly because it fits so well with the slight content shift you’re going to see at the site. Both DotA 2 and League of Legends have their roots in a game that was originally developed as a map mod for Blizzard’s Starcraft. While this video from Machinima doesn’t cover the history in full detail, it does give a nice overview of one of the fastest growing segments of the video game industry.


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