This post is part of a series. Start from the beginning here.


While some trace it back all the way to video gaming’s earliest real-time strategy titles, the MOBA genre is generally believed to have gotten its start with the release of Aeon of Strife around 2002. At the time labeled as a “hero defense” game, this custom map in Blizzard Entertainment’s StarCraft pit a team of humans versus an AI controlled one. It introduced now staple features like a laned map layout, the healing fountain and unit progression, although the latter aspects were still quite limited at this point.

Eventually the original AoS would see further updates like multiplayer and expanded hero abilities, but by then Warcraft III had come along. This new Blizzard game featured much more powerful modding tools, which included features like item collection and hero progression out of the box. This greatly simplified development of AoS-like maps and while the original was ported to the new engine, it arrived there with many would-be rivals on its tail. One of these was Eul’s variant titled Defense of the Ancients.


The MOBA genre is generally thought to have gotten its start in custom StarCraft map Aeon of Strife. Picture credit: Lane-Pushing Games

While its name has survived, Eul’s map itself was actually relatively short lived. By the time Warcraft III’s Frozen Throne expansion came along he’d already stopped updating it, but others had taken up the torch. Using the popularity of the DotA name, and borrowing the most popular hero units from both Eul’s map and its direct competition, modders Meian and Ragn0r created DotA Allstars. This would quickly become the dominant version of the game type. Over time, the map was passed on by a long line of maintainers, each of whom updated it to fit their own tastes, while always taking direction from a growing community of passionate fans as well.

There are many versions of what transpired to cause this community to eventually fracture, but when the dust settled Riot Games had come along. Having hired several community personalities to develop a DotA title of their own called League of Legends and seeking to distinguish it from its competition, it was Riot who coined the term “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena” or MOBA.

Valve Software Corporation and Blizzard Entertainment followed with entries of their own, Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm. In time, these three became the top dogs of the genre, monetizing their games through the micro-transaction model that Riot had been one of the pioneers of. They also started promoting their respective games through for-money competitions, with both the first edition of League of Legends’ World Championship and Dota 2’s The International taking place in 2011.


Warcraft III’s World Editor greatly simplified custom map development and spawned many new evolutions of the genre.

Besides their action-packed nature, the large knowledge and skill requirements of these games turned out to make them ideally suited as spectator sports, to the point where an esports component has become kind of expected of new entries in field. While this doesn’t mean that our own MOBA will have to come with a million dollar tournament attached, the potential for it to be considered competitive is definitely a draw to new players. Indeed, it will be interesting to see how Heroes of the Storm will do without, although currently fan efforts are trying to prevent us from finding out.

Another thing the more successful MOBAs have in common is that they don’t rock the boat too much. After all, it took players years to develop their skills and insights and having to throw that all out of the window for a new suitor is a barrier to entry.

What does that leave us to work with though? How can you make the same game and still be original? We’ll explore this next time as we dive into the incumbents’ mechanical differences.


The MOBA (or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) is a subgroup of the strategy game genre, which pits two teams of players against each other across a typically symmetrical, laned map. The goal of these games is destroying the opposition’s base, situated at the other end of said lanes.


MOBAs typically feature two teams of heroes battling across a laned map, with the objective of destroying each other’s base.

The means to achieve this differ per game, but generally involve strengthening one’s team through the securing of various map objectives. Eventually this will then allow them to change the equilibrium of the NPC minion waves rolling across the lanes in their favor.

You kill stuff, you level up, you help your minions (or “creeps”) beat theirs and you win, basically.

It’s a simple formula, but it’s survived for nigh twenty years now. Even with the rise of the Fortnite phenomenon, three MOBA titles were in 2018’s top ten of largest prize pool esports and Valve’s Dota 2 comfortably lead that list with available winnings that almost doubled those of the runner-up. That game also saw its equivalent of a world championship draw in 15 million peak viewers, while competitor League of Legends’ World Championship final alone had an audience of almost a 100 million.


League of Legends’ Worlds 2018 final saw a world-wide viewership of a 100 million.

Them’s fighting numbers. And still, there’s only a few successful MOBAs out there. This is not for lack of trying by developers. Before everyone built a battle royale, a lot of people were trying to make a MOBA. Some still are, be it by leveraging new technology or by marrying the game type to another popular one. Yet few succeed.

In this series I will take a look at what makes a successful game in this genre and explore its different evolutions, both proven and new. I intend to do this not just through text, but also through code. Which is to say that we’ll be writing our own, fully functional, MOBA title.


Some have tried marrying the game type to another popular one, like the battle royale.

For accessibility reasons we’ll be doing so in HTML5, so if you’ve not done a lot of programming you will likely be able to keep up. If you have, however, I still hope to provide you with enough of a framework to continue on with the toolset of your choice, as well as give you plenty of interesting ideas to make it something special.

I’m aiming for this to be a weekly(-ish) series, which you can access directly through this link. Alternatively, following me on Twitter is usually a good way to keep track of the things I’m up to.

We’ll start next time by looking at the history of the genre and into the reasons why those which did survived. I hope to see you then!

Update: Since publishing this, Blizzard has announced its HGC plans. The news isn’t great.


If nothing else, the most recent edition of BlizzCon made clear that Blizzard Entertainment intends to go hard on classic Warcraft in 2019. Personally I’m less interested in the World-Of variant in this context. I don’t think that MMOs and their hodgepodge of systems and time-sinks hold much appeal for new generations of gamers, leaving the games to all fish from the same pool of existing players. Returning to their younger days will charm these for a while, but eventually there’s only one outcome for things that do not change.

Warcraft III: Reforged, on the other hand, could be something great. After a rocky start to the sequel, both versions of StarCraft are doing pretty well and there’s little other competition in the RTS space. Contrary to the fan-service that was StarCraft: Remastered, however, Reforged could be different enough to both benefit from the nostalgia fueling the WoW Classic movement, as well as draw in new people who never played the original.

That said, in the end its success will all come down to which Blizzard we’re getting. Don’t get me wrong, the team seems genuinely enthusiastic about what they’re doing and everything we’ve seen of the game thus far appears lovingly crafted. But there’s some cause for worry.

One could write off the original game disappearing from the Blizzard store for a month after Reforged’s announcement, a time during which there was a predictable increase in interest in it, as poor planning. The slew of patches and server upgrades required to deal with the influx of new players after it did reappear? I guess those could be seen as an unfortunate side effect of reinvigorating a 16-year-old game. Its current state of balance? Well you know what balance is like.

But throughout all of this the developer has stayed very quiet, any news having to be wrangled from them by prominent community members, which is not encouraging. It’s not just Warcraft III either, the Heroes of the Storm scene still doesn’t know whether they’ll even have a competition next year.

I understand that Reforged is probably not the largest team at Activision Blizzard and that the working environment there has been.. volatile. Then there’s always that sense of entitlement that seeps through anytime a player asks a developer for anything, which I’d like to avoid.

But the lack of communication creates a, undoubtedly unintentional, feeling of indifference, one of Blizzard not caring. This is the same feeling that almost killed StarCraft II around Heart of the Swarm, a situation which I’m sure we’d all like to avoid this time around. For Warcraft III to have its resurgence, more than throwing money at it, Blizzard needs to learn from the lessons of the past and talk to us much sooner. They have to re-imagine themselves, if you will. The Murlocs can wait.

Depending on where you start counting, World of Warcraft turns 14 this month. In that time, the game has seen a lot of changes, from Cataclysms to Azerite armors. Amongst those, the one which I personally dislike most is how exceptionally negative the community has become. This is of course not a Blizzard-specific problem and, in a way, reflects the state our society, but it’s BlizzCon this weekend so we’re in the spotlight.

There was a time when Blizzard only held its annual convention, which it operated at a loss, when it had big announcements. It has chosen to organize the event this year anyway, but sent its community managers ahead to temper expectations. After day 1, I think it’s safe to say that this strategy has failed.

It’s not that the announcements have been bad, with the exception of Diablo Immortal perhaps, they’re just smaller. And what people don’t realize about that game is that its not aimed at the west, but that realization would probably only serve to fan the flames.

While various subs melt down, however, I’d like to focus on the positives coming out of Anaheim. As more news becomes available over the next few days, I’ll update this post accordingly.

 

Diablo

Hearthstone

Heroes of the Storm

Overwatch

StarCraft II

Warcraft

  • New cinematics: Lost Honor and Terror of Darkshore
  • Classic will be released Summer 2019 as part of the regular subscription
  • New details for WoW patches 8.1, 8.1.5 and 8.2 were revealed as well, including a Darkmoon Faire rollercoaster
  • Patch 8.1 will hit December 11th
  • Whomper is a new charity pet and plushie supporting Code.org
  • And last but certainly not least, Warcraft III: Reforged has been announced

Other

  • Activision property Destiny 2 will be free for a limited time

Since the days of Molten Core the top raiding guilds have been racing each other for world-first kills on new content. Some have streamed parts of their progress, but even then new encounters were more often than not excluded from this as to not give the competition a leg up.

So when EU-based guild Method announced they’d be streaming all of their trip through Mythic Uldir, that was pretty cool even for a casual follower like me. That they then went on and got the first clear, adding the 10th such trophy to their cabinet, well that’s just bad-ass.

 

 

I have raided in the past, but world-firsts were never a serious concern of mine. You raided because that’s what guilds do and you killed bosses for loot and to determine your guild’s place on the realm’s totem pole.

Because of this secrecy and its status as just being part of guild life, raiding was never a spectator sport. Yet that may be exactly what Method’s created. There was humor, there was drama. Strategies were about more than dps-ing really quicklike or boss mechanics alone (it was their decision not to re-clear, forgoing new gear for more time on the final boss, that cost US guild Limit the crown). It was almost two weeks of diverse entertainment that you could tune in to at any time, not unlike any other big tournament in esports.

I’ve missed the birth of the Mythic Dungeon Invitational due to my WoW break, but I wonder what this’ll do for the All-Stars viewership at BlizzCon. Even with the different format I know I’ll be tuning in. And Method? Props, I’ll be seeing you in Zuldazar.