By Jamie Rivera Published 07/06/2015 06:38:00 | Views: 3028
A packed Benaroya Hall watches games battle during a Dota 2 video game competition in Seattle in 2013.

When it comes to MOBA games like Dota 2 and League of Legends, there are generally two types of people: those who don't get it, and those who know the mechanics and attributes of the more than 100 playable Dota 2 characters off by heart.

The MOBA (which stands for multiplayer online battle arena) has taken young PC players by storm, with a format that emphasises  teamwork and emulates many aspects of traditional sports. Making the best players and teams instant celebrities, it keeps fans glued to live broadcasts of big matches when not playing themselves.

As the genre continues to expand and becomes a dominant force in online competitive gaming (at its daily peak, Dota 2 regularly has more than 900,000 people playing concurrently), many are looking to transform the format from an incredibly popular niche spectator sport for PC players to the future of mainstream gaming.

Members of team Team SoloMid from the United States compete during a 2011 League of Legends contest in Cologne, Germany.

Members of team Team SoloMid from the United States compete during a 2011 League of Legends contest in Cologne, Germany.

Several big names in gaming have thrown their hat in the ring, either with plans for their own MOBA (like World of Warcraft developer Blizzard with Heroes of the Storm) or for a more accessible game heavily inspired by MOBAs (like Borderlands developer Gearbox with  Battleborn ).

Even Halo, a game that has led the charge for first-person shooters as eSports, is taking cues from the rise of the MOBA, recently revealing the marquee multiplayer mode of Halo 5 will take heavy inspiration from the genre.

This week, developer Hi-Rez Studios brings its established MOBA Smite to a home console, hoping to hook the casual gaming masses on a genre already experienced by millions and played in tournaments with prize pools of up to $11 million.

Fans cheer during a Doha 2 video game competition in Seattle in 2013. Sixteen teams from 12 countries battled for a total of US$2.9 million (NZ$4.3m) in prize money.

Fans cheer during a Doha 2 video game competition in Seattle in 2013. Sixteen teams from 12 countries battled for a total of US$2.9 million (NZ$4.3m) in prize money.


The MOBA began as a way to turn strategy games like StarCraft and WarCraft III into quicker, more action-heavy spectacles. Today games in the genre are not only played by millions but watched live as a sport on video services like Twitch. International tournaments give serious players a chance at the limelight and massive cash prizes.  

It's a style of game only possible in the age of ubiquitous internet, as isolated players all over the world can team up or watch in real time.

The rules differ from game to game, but in general distil the themes of strategy and role-playing games into a single sport-like arena match.


Two teams face off, usually with the aim of destroying the opposition's base to win. Joining the player-controlled heroes on the field are weaker computer-controlled units that march along set lanes to attack the enemy base and also serve as fodder for attacking heroes. The area surrounding the lanes is sometimes populated with computer-controlled enemies not aligned to either side that guard items or power-ups. 

Players do not "level up" a character over a long period of time, but rather each character starts at zero at the beginning of each match. Players earn gold constantly and can unlock new abilities by killing enemies or achieving goals. The order in which players unlock and apply abilities, experience points and items over the course of a match is a big strategic consideration.

Particularly notable MOBAs include League of Legends, one of the first widely-played MOBAs and still hugely popular today; Dota 2, a sequel to the game that literally started it all back in 2003; Vainglory, which is finding success with a take on the genre for iPhones and iPads, launching an Android version just last week; and Smite, the first hugely successful PC MOBA to attempt to cross over to the console market.

Adam Mierzejewski, who produces eSports content at Smite developer Hi-Rez, said top-level MOBA players have to put in as much time and dedication as professionals in traditional sports like basketball, and like traditional sports the game is so complex at a high level it needs to be broken down by a commentator (or "caster") when streamed online.

"Casters explain everything that's going on in the game as well as bring the 'hype' factor", he said. "Sometimes there's too much going on, but the casters explain it as simply as possible to keep new and veteran viewers interested in the game."

Many popular MOBAs, including all those mentioned above, are free to play. The developers and publishers make their money through micro-transactions that typically do not affect gameplay, like skin and voice packs to make heroes look and sound different. This accessibility accounts for some of the genre's huge popularity.


Smite  wants to be the MOBA of choice for those just discovering the genre.

Launched on PC last year, Smite clearly hoped to expand the appeal of the MOBA beyond dedicated LoL and Dota fans. This week the game will be available to play for free on Xbox One, making it the first established game in the genre to try and make the leap to the more casual couch audience.

Moving the camera behind the player character to create a look and feel more like a traditional action experience, Smite features heroes taken from various real-world mythologies and religions to create an instant sense of recognition for viewers and new players.

Following on the theme of accessibility, the game has also recently launched a new mode called Arena, which replaces the traditional MOBA lanes with a large, open oval with goals at each end, obviously inspired by traditional sports. Novice players have the option to automatically purchase the best abilities and upgrades rather than select them strategically. These points of difference make the game a good candidate to make the leap from PCs to consoles, says Andy Anderson, lead producer on the Xbox version of the game.

"The third-person view player movement just feels right with a controller, so that part was easy," Anderson says. "It was a challenge mapping the abilities, actives and consumables from a keyboard to buttons on the controller ... [but] we feel very good about the options we have in the game and continue to get good feedback."

The Xbox One also features the ability to broadcast and view gameplay on Twitch, plus video and microphone options via the Kinect camera, and Hi-Rez hopes to build a lounge-room following comparable to its PC fanbase.

Anderson says the impressive uptake of the PC game in Australia has prompted the team to make sure local fans feel catered to as the Xbox version becomes open to everyone. From next week, Xbox players will have the option of using dedicated Australian servers, meaning better performance when playing with other locals.

Mierzejewski also noted the game's popularity down under (there's even a skin available for Chinese god He Bo that transforms him into cheesy ocker surf dude from Sydney), pointing out the Oceania Pro League competition allows a pathway for the best Aussie PC team to get to the Smite world championships in 2016. The championship has the third-biggest prize pool of any MOBA tournament.

"There's also an Australian amateur scene which teams can compete in and eventually get to play against teams in the pro league to try and earn a spot [at the world championships]," Mierzejewski says.

"Having this type of competitive storyline for teams and viewers to follow allows for a successful eSport in the long term. We've seen great growth in the competitive scene in Australia and we look forward to see what they can bring to the table."

Players looking to get in on the ground floor with Smite on Xbox One can do so from Wednesday.

By Jamie Rivera 07/06/2015 06:38:00

Subscribe to comments feed Comments (0)

total: | displaying:

Post your comment. Registration not required

  • Bold
  • Italic
  • Underline
  • Quote

Please enter the code you see in the image: