What is MOBA? [Gaming Definition, Meaning]

If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably never played a MOBA before, right? You may have heard this term a lot online and you may be wondering what the fuss is all about. Well, get ready to learn. It may seem complex at first, but MOBAs are extremely fun and anyone can get into one, even without any previous knowledge.

The term is a video game genre that actually stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), it is sometimes also known as Action Real-Time Strategy (ARTS). Essentially, in a nutshell, the game is played between two teams of several players who choose a character from a roster of playable characters to level up and battle on a map with certain objectives.

Playable Characters

Each MOBA has their own roster of playable characters, which are sometimes known as ‘Heroes’ or ‘Champions’. Each hero has different stats and active/passive abilities, which requires different play styles. The heroes are usually balanced in relation to their stats; for example, some have better offensive capabilities that may compensate for lower defensive stats, or perhaps a higher defence in place of lower speed.

A number of free playable heroes are rotated after every week, update or season depending on the MOBA. Beginning players are able to only choose one of these heroes, unless they have purchased or unlocked the other ones that are not in the current rotation. Each hero also has a number of different skins that change the appearance of the character and their skills, which can also be purchased or unlocked.

Generally, all MOBA heroes can be categorized into 3 broad categories from their specialities: Laner, Jungler and Supporter. Certain heroes are more suited but not limited to a specific role, you may find that players use a hero for a different role or partake in a hybrid style of play. The meta-game always changes with every update as new heroes are introduced and the existing heroes stats are balanced to prevent any one character from dominating the game.

Each player chooses one hero for the duration of the match. When the hero dies, the player has to wait for a specific amount of time before they are able to respawn; as the game progresses, it takes longer for the hero to respawn.

League of Legends

  • System/Platform: Mac OS, Microsoft Windows
  • Publisher: Riot Games
  • Developer: Riot Games
  • Release Date: Oct. 27th, 2009

One of the most popular MOBA that at one point, every MOBA player has most likely played, is known as League of Legends (LOL). When the game launched in 2009, there were only 40 heroes. Now there are over 134 champions, each with unique traits and abilities. New heroes are introduced all the time and every week 10 free heroes go on rotation.


The Laner role

One of the most demanding roles in the game is being a Laner as it takes a higher level of concentration to kill the enemy team’s lane minions to get the gold and experience. Only the kill shot is important because if your team minions kill the enemy minion, the player does not receive anything. Their task is to level up whilst competing against the opponent Laners doing the same thing, avoiding their attacks and trying to sabotage them whilst looking out for potential ambushes from the Jungle. Ultimately, gaining enough power to ‘push’ the lane to take down the objectives to get to the enemy base, sometimes this role is also called a ‘Carry’.

The Jungler role

A less intensive role when it comes to gaining gold and experience, because as long as the enemy doesn’t invade your side of the jungle, you are able to level up easily. However, this role requires the player to engage with the opposing team to get the kills and steal the neutral monsters in the jungle to prevent the opponents from levelling up before you do. The team relies on the Junglers to make the power moves and to initiate the team fights by usually jumping in first, usually focused on taking down the enemy Laners. Once the Junglers have reached a high enough level, they may focus on helping the Laners to push the lanes.

The Supporter role

The final role doesn't appear as exciting to play to most, but it is detrimental to either winning or losing a game. The supporters’ tactical setups and supportive skills are what determine if a team member survives. They are also the ‘Tanks’ that protect their team members by taking the enemy damage on the front line, whilst the Laners and Junglers are able to either kill from a distance or be able to jump in and out of the battle. Their abilities are usually catered more towards teamwork, in some way helping their team members or trapping the enemy for them to get the kill. Their main task is to ensure the protection of the team members and to be equipped with items that serve to heal or sabotage the enemy. It is important for this role to focus only in assisting rather than playing offensively; however, there are some players that play differently to surprise the enemy team for a specific advantage.

Vainglory

  • System/Platform: Android, iOS
  • Publisher: Super Evil Megacorp
  • Developer: Super Evil Megacorp
  • Release Date: Nov. 16th, 2014

A game where we can see these roles effectively would be Vainglory. In this game, an example of a Laner would be Ringo. He is suited for open areas where he is able to farm and is able to retreat to the turret when danger arises. An example of a Jungler would be Koshka. She is able to quickly dash through the jungle to farm and is also able to pounce in and out of fights. A hero that fits the supporter role would be Catherine. Her defensive capabilities allow her to be quite tanky and also her stun is able to stop enemies in their tracks for chasing or retreating.


Items

The items within each MOBA are different, but all follow a similar structure, where they can be categorised into: Offensive, Defensive, Tactical and Boost items. Each item differs in costs depending on how much of a benefit it allows, and reselling the item returns lesser money than originally used to buy it. Players are required to strategically ‘build’ their heroes to carry out the objectives whilst being able to attack and defend against the opposing team.

In most MOBAs, there is a system in which a player can build items in a tree-like structure, where certain items are required to upgrade to a better item. It may be daunting at first to look at the item shop in a MOBA, but once you understand what each item does, good players are able to ‘counter build’ their heroes against the opposing team, especially if there is a certain hero that needs to be stopped.


Smite

  • System/Platform: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Mac OS, Microsoft Windows
  • Publisher: Hi-Rez Studios, Tencent, Level Up! Games
  • Developer: Hi-Rez Studios
  • Release Date: Mar. 25th, 2014

In Smite, a player can choose to upgrade passive items that branch into stronger versions or tiers of the original item. A player can only purchase these items and upgrades at the store at the fountains of their base, if the item is sold back, a player only receives 66% of the original item cost.


The Map

In a normal MOBA map you will find two bases, opposite from each other, where each of the main objectives are located; each team is tasked with attacking and defending their respective objectives. There are usually one or more ‘Lanes’ that connect the bases to each other. The base and lanes are protected with a number of ‘Turrets’ or subsequent self-defending objectives that if destroyed, grant benefits. Amongst the areas surrounding the lanes, there are ‘Jungles’ which house smaller objectives or monsters that serve to benefit the team that defeats them. There are also areas of grass that can be found around the map, these are hiding spots where the enemy team cannot see you unless they are within the same patch of grass or use a tactical item.

In some MOBAs, there are also hidden tactical spots that only good players know of and can utilize effectively. By using a skill, they are able to pass through certain objects or manipulate minions in a way that can allow for some interesting gameplay.

Dota 2

  • System/Platform: Mac OS, Microsoft Windows (Steam)
  • Publisher: Valve Corporation
  • Developer: Valve Corporation
  • Release Date: Jul. 9th, 2013

Dota 2 has a classic MOBA map comprising of two bases diagonally from each other, with 3 lanes surrounded by a number of jungles. There is a monster known as Roshan is able to grant the Aegis of the Immortal, which gives a player the perk of instant resurrection upon death.


Vision

Another well-known aspect of MOBAs is the system in relation to vision. Normally, a player is only able to see for a certain distance, this differs in every MOBA. For example, in some MOBAs you are only able to see within a ‘spotlight’ around your hero and nothing beyond, unless you clear the enemy objective. In others, you can see the whole map, but minions and enemy heroes don’t appear unless they are within that certain range with your hero.

There is also usually a mini map that shows where the players are on the map. Players remain hidden unless they are attacking the enemy, enemy minions or objectives, or in some games, are pinged by equipment that is setup to increase vision.

Heroes of the Storm

  • System/Platform: Mac OS, Microsoft Windows
  • Publisher: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
  • Release Date: Jun. 2nd, 2015

In Heroes of the Storm, vision follows a line-of-sight rule, but is 360 degrees around the player at all times. Players are unable to see through impassable objects, such as forts and pillars, and also bushes if the player is not in them.


Gameplay

One of the most well known aspects of MOBAs is that every character needs to level up at the start of every game and is required to kill AI controlled ‘Minions’, enemies, and clear objectives to gain experience to grow stronger. Gaining money to buy better items and ability points can further boost the character’s stats up to a certain cap. This can only be gained from the ‘last hit’ to minions, as any other damage before the kill shot doesn’t count for anything, whereas destroying a turret grants benefits to the team as a whole. In MOBAs, only the kill shot is important, this is the same for monsters in the jungle and enemy heroes, as the player who gets the kill receives the bonus.

Each hero only has a few active abilities they can use and usually has a passive ability that helps to strengthen the hero in some way if a certain condition is met. For example, extra damage to enemy heroes for the next hit after killing a minion.

Minions are spawned in small waves and automatically target the opposing enemy minions or the closest enemy turret down the lane. If the enemy attacks the hero or the turret, then the minions will attack the enemy. In most MOBAs you can only kill the enemy minions. But in some others, you are able to kill your own minions as to starve the enemy of experience and gold, or items can be used to affect the flow of the minions.

A typical game lasts usually around 20-30 minutes or sometimes even longer, the game continues until a team destroys the main enemy objective. In some MOBAs, you can find time-activated special monsters within the jungle, that if defeated, grant a perk or advantage to the hero or the team that defeated it.

The MOBA culture

Today, there are many MOBAs that cater to different types of players and they are usually released exclusively for PC, such as Dota2 and Heroes of the Storm. However, recently, MOBAs are also being released on smartphones, such as Vainglory and Mobile Legends.

There are a lot of misconceptions about which games fall under this category, as there are a lot of similarly styled games, but not created as a MOBA. One such game that has caused a controversy is Overwatch; whilst there are elements of a MOBA apparent in the game, it is not considered to be an actual MOBA by the developers.

There is a highly competitive scene in MOBA games, as it requires a lot of skill and teamwork to be able to win. Many tournaments are held around the world for different games and they usually have an insane prize pool. The largest so far being ‘The International 2016’ for Dota2, which was over 20 million US Dollars.


Final Thoughts

MOBAs may seem pretty intimidating to start to get into, as most people wouldn’t know where to start. The only advice we can give you is to go out there and try one out for yourself. The more you play, the more you will understand the mechanics and get better, as with everything, practice makes you better. Don’t be afraid if you mess up, as most MOBAs group beginners and pro players separately, so you’ll only play with people on a similar level to you.

Have you ever tried a MOBA? Which ones have you played and would recommend to others? Please tell us about it and leave a comment down below. We’d like to also know who are your favourite heroes in the MOBAs you play?

Karu

Writer

Author: Karu

My name is Karu and I am from England. Currently living in Japan, I came here to the land of Anime and Manga in hope to one day achieve my dream. Anime has always been a big part of my life and is something that I hold dear to my heart. Every since a young age, I have been watching various different styles of anime.

Previous Articles

Top 5 Anime by Karu


Recommended Post

Top 10 MOBA Games List [Best Recommendations]