Is casual MOBA play possible?

Since I got started with the DotA 2 beta, my time in League of Legends has dropped off significantly. At first I thought it was just that DotA 2 was a new game and that I might someday reach a point at which I was splitting my time between the two. That hasn’t happened yet, and I honestly don’t see it happening in the near future.

Every time I’ve gone back to League over the past couple weeks, I’ve been sorely disappointed. My games have been quick and unenjoyable, whether winning or losing. Those same kind of games have been happening in DotA on occasion, but with DotA I’m playing enough to balance the bad games with plenty of good. With LoL, that’s just not the case.

I think this is a core part of the MOBA experience, and something MOBA developers may have to address over the next couple years. Though I go into each play session hoping for a hard-fought, drawn out battle, I would bet the majority of games tend to be shorter and fairly one sided, at least to some degree. Once the lopsided game has played out, my inclination is not to walk away; it’s to stay and play until I get the game I was looking for.

This situation isn’t totally unique to the MOBA genre. RTS players have long dealt with a protracted gaming curve, wherein they might spend as much as 70-80 minutes developing a strategy only to be wiped off the map in 90 seconds. In a lot of RTS matches, though, there are things to be learned. Maybe I should have had more resource nodes. Maybe I needed more unit diversity. Maybe my micromanagement needs work. Most competitive RTS matches provide an immediate and actionable feedback loop. That is, the player knows what he/she can do in order to improve their next experience.

With MOBAs, it’s more like two teams of five people trying to throw darts at the same dartboard, all at the same time. If they all get a bull’s-eye, the game is a success. As players start to miss, the game deteriorates. A few people from a team may be playing well, but when there are two people who can’t even hit the board, the game gets dramatically skewed. That actionable feedback loop from RTS games is all but gone. It often doesn’t matter if I’m hitting the bull’s-eye every time (and let’s be clear, I don’t); the failed efforts of my teammates have a dramatic effect on the outcome of the game.

So back to the question at hand – is it possible to play MOBAs casually? I can’t do it. I’ll own that. I can’t just jump into one game, unless that one game is the 50+ minute back-and-forth that MOBA dreams are made of. How do you guys do it? Do you focus in on a small subset of champions? Do you save up your playtime for one long play session every so often? Do you even bother? Sound off in the comments.


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?


DotA 2 content is inbound!

As I mentioned yesterday, I’m finally a part of the DotA 2 beta. You know what that means: crazy amounts of new content to explore and report on. As a long-time DotA fan, I’m loving the chance to get back to that familiar map and a mechanic set that feels very different from League of Legends.

Not to worry, LoL fans. I will continue to write about the League of Legends scene in detail. If you aren’t interested in DotA news, you can opt-out by pointing your browser to the League of Legends category of the blog. Same for you DotA fans. If you’re done with League of Legends or new to Fearless Gamer, hit up the DotA category here for the latest and greatest.

I know comparisons can be a bit pointless, but I do think there are enough similarities between League and DotA for plenty of discussion. I will try to keep the two worlds separate when they don’t match up, but I’ll trust you guys to keep me honest on that. I’m not looking to bash either game. I’m truly interested in the development of this genre.


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.


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