MOBA competitors are gunning for LoL

This isn’t exactly fresh news, but I do think it’s interesting to see some of the tactics employed to unseat League of Legends as king of the MOBA world. As you probably heard, Heroes of Newerth went free-to-play over the weekend. The rollout included some interesting ads on various gaming sites. One such ad encourages players to “stop laughing” and “get serious.” I can only imagine that’s a dig at the LoL acronym everyone is using for League of Legends.

The more serious threat is obviously Valve and DotA 2. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the game would be unveiled at Gamescom – there had been rumors about the tournament for weeks – but the prize purse for the tournament shocked me. For those who aren’t up to speed, Valve is flying the top 16 DotA teams to Germany to compete for a $1 million prize purse. Yes, again, a million bucks. That’s not buy-a-new-computer-and-pay-for-college-supplies money. That is life-changing money, money that could support a professional gaming career into the forseeable future. The benefit to Valve for making that commitment is obvious – they want every competitive team to come play DotA 2.

Will it work? Absolutely. I cannot imagine any of the top teams in competitive strategy games not taking a crack at DotA 2 with that kind of prize purse available. As for HoN, well, I think the game has enough barriers to entry that players entrenched in other games are unlikely to leave.


The things we take for granted

League of Legends champions.

Riot senior producer Travis George put up a post on the forums yesterday evening asking what Riot had been doing well lately and for suggestions for improvements. It was a really nice way to ask for feedback, one that I think can easily be as valuable to a company as criticism can be. It can be tough to know, especially with a community as large as League of Legends. I’ve been trying to round out my MOBA knowledge lately, spending time with the few games that are out there and a couple different beta products. It’s been a great reminder of the many things that League of Legends does so well.

For one thing, it is definitely the most responsive game. That sounds like a strange thing to get excited about, but play a game in which the controls and UI feel sluggish and you’ll know what I mean. Even basic things, like altering the cursor sprite so that I know a spell is queued up, don’t show in several other games. The only game that holds a candle to LoL in terms of responsiveness (from the MOBA world) is HoN, but even that feels a little slow at times.

League of Legends is also hands down the easiest to understand by just watching the screen. I truly believe the downfall of many modern games is that they try to hard to look cool or edgy and just end up looking ridiculous. Demigod might be the only game that really made modern graphics look good (seriously, how cool was Rook), but even that game was a bit hard to grasp by watching the battlefield. I think any RTS player could easily sort out what is happening in a LoL match without much effort. I’m not sure the same can be said for several other MOBA franchises.

This last one is a matter of personal taste, but I like that the League of Legends UI attempts to teach the player the game. That little line from turret to target is a perfect example of a teaching mechanic in game. The player gets immediate feedback when he steps in range of the turret. It’s clear who/what the turret is targeting. It’s also clear when it changes targets, allowing players to analyze what action caused the change. I totally take it for granted, but playing games that don’t have those features makes me want to pull out what’s left of my hair.

I could go on for a while, but I would probably be violating an NDA or two with some comparisons, and that’s just not my style. The point here is that there is a lot of excellent design behind League of Legends that I probably don’t mention enough.


HoN is free this week

Heroes of Newerth splash.

This is just a heads up for all you MOBA fans. HoN is celebrating its one year anniversary by offering the game up as free-to-play for the week. If you’re interested in checking out the other mainstream modern MOBA, head over to the website and download the client.

I tried out a quick game this afternoon without much success. My team won, but I’m not entirely sure how or what exactly was going on during the match. I played a lot of Dota so I’ve always been surprised by my inability to make sense of HoN. I think there are a few issues. First, it’s totally unclear what skills do what in the game. One of the champions was puking black stuff all over the screen. Another was casting some sort of slow, which I only knew because I started moving more slowly, not because there was any sort of indicator, and another champion was somehow 3-shotting me at level 8. Remember, we were winning, so I’m not sure how that happened.

Then there’s the store. I had enough trouble with the Dota store, but this one is somehow worse. There’s more happening on the screen without any real explanation of how it works. The recommended items for the character I played didn’t make much sense, at least as far as skill synergy was concerned, and the icons for the items are as indistinguishable as the attributes those items provide.

Maybe I’m getting old, but I don’t want to work in order to learn a game, and I think that’s how HoN feels. I think I could probably come to enjoy the game – after all, I loved Dota – but it would take so much time just to get familiar with the items and champions again that it doesn’t feel worth it. Why a developer would make an exact clone of a game but change the names and styles of every item and character is totally beyond me.


Valve making a DotA clone?


Some of you may recognize the name Jon St. John. Yeah, he has a badass name in real life, but he’s also done voice acting for one well-known and incredibly delayed badass: Duke Nukem. Well, Jon St. John has a new project, and one that could be of interest to LoL players. He’s doing voice acting for Valve’s version of DotA.

I don’t really have any details, and frankly, the DotA moniker comes from JSJ, not from Valve. What we do know is that Valve hired IceFrog (the mind behind DotA (along with Zileas)) to make something to please DotA fans. Jon St. John posted to his Twitter account this weekend that he has been doing voice work for DotA at Valve Software. I’m not sure why he would call out the name of the game without hearing it from Valve, and if they didn’t give him the go ahead, you can bet he wouldn’t be talking about it.

This doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot for the LoL community, but it could be bad news for any HoN fans out there. I’ve played a bit of HoN and been completely unimpressed, so it’s not like the name DotA will kill a game like LoL. It could kill HoN, though, especially with the kind of money Valve has. What could be a problem for LoL is just that – the money.

Valve could very easily sweep in on LoL territory with more bank, more developers, but more importantly, more support. With better server uptime and the bankroll to back a quicker development cycle, Valve could make a dent in the LoL player base. That’s not to say Valve will do that, just that it could with the resources it has. Valve was notoriously slow with some of the TF2 developments, though, even if TF2 has a massive player base. Let’s also not forget that IceFrog did work on HoN, and we can all see how well that’s going.

In short, I think it’s totally possible that Valve is working up a DotA clone and it has the potential to make a bit of a stink for the big players in the MOBA world. There are so many variables, though, that Valve has a long way to go before


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