PC gaming has gone through some interesting genre defining moments. In the early 90's Lucasarts pioneered the point and click adventure game that now serves as the basic DNA for most Telltale games you currently play. By the end of the 90s, the real time strategy (RTS) game, and the first person shooter (FPS) had taken a hold of the PC market, and one could argue that, save for the mighty MMO, that dominant hold has stayed for the better of two full decades. But something strange happened to the RTS genre. A little game called Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos came out during the turn of the millennium, and with it came a level editor that was promised as a modding tool for the community by Blizzard Entertainment; I'm sure you've heard of them! This modding tool gave birth to one of the most popular custom maps in the history of the RTS genre: the Defense of the Ancients, which played homage to the Starcraft custom map Aeon of Strife (AoS) . Three lanes, two teams, five players each - battling for supremacy to reach the other team's "Ancient." Whomsoever reached and destroyed the other team's ancient, was the victor. And so began the age of DOTA.
|What. The. Shit. Is. This?|
Fast forward to October 2009, and DOTA maps were still being played by the hardest of hardcore. But an interesting phenomenon happened to the DOTA game community. A group of programmers and designers from both Warcraft III and the DOTA modding team got together to design a game. The game would take the core values of DOTA and apply them to their own universe, a brand new game world that played with the rules of DOTA, but simplified things like itemization and leveling. To bring DOTA to new players with a less intrusive learning curve, and a new game engine to facilitate gameplay, along with the proper adoption of the title to properly describe the genre: Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. That game, amazingly enough, was not called DOTA 2 (that's a subject for another day, maybe) - that game was called League of Legends; and it is currently, arguably, the King of MOBAs. Games like Valve's DOTA 2, and Blizzard's own upcoming Heroes of the Storm, owe a lot to League of Legends dominance and success in the market. As of January 2014, over 67 million people play League of Legends per month, 27 million per day. Where, once upon a time, the genre bending custom map was nothing but the realm of the hardcore, now it's copied and repackaged by every game company under the sun; there's even a WB Interactive DC Comics version of the genre that uses Infinite Universe versions of heroes. And I'm secretly hoping that Disney, now copyright holders of the Star Wars universe, makes a Star Wars themed MOBA at some point.
|"So, I'm new here, who should I pick...?"|
Updated almost religiously, akin to an MMO, League of Legends dwarfs the competition by having at its disposal something to the tune of: 100+ champions, and those are retuned and updated regularly as well (at least 50% of characters from the first 30+ batch have been redesigned and visually upgraded since then), 4 maps/game types, seasonal events, and special attraction limited time game modes. Not to mention that they have a colossal fan base (being free to play and all), and most importantly, a very real e-sports presence in America, Europe, and even the holy grail of RTS/MOBA gaming, South Korea. The last League of Legends World Championship matches were contested in Seoul, South Korea for a very real monetary sum of $1,000,000 all while being broadcast on Twitch TV to a staggering 27 million viewers, and being simultaneously broadcast on ESPN(3) as an e-sports event.
But, what is it about this genre, and specifically League of Legends (if I'm being honest, Heroes of the Storm has taken that spot in the months I've been allowed to play in the beta before its imminent June 2nd release) that makes us come back over and over for the tedious "per match" leveling and item system? What makes us come back to try out new "Champions" (I.E. Characters) on a weekly basis? Why do we accumulate said champions and master them, only to start from scratch and learn a new one ever so often? Is it by a grand game design that we come back? Is it a need to collect ("Gotta catch 'me all!") both Champions and their alternate skins (the only item in the entire game to be sold with real money but to have zero impact on actual gameplay)? Or could it just be that both Blizzard (by cosmic coincidence) and Riot Games (by virtue of the designers that initially conceived the first DOTA mod) have tapped into something more primal and allow us, as players, to carry out fantasy team battles in ways we have attempted to before, but just couldn't due to elements unavailable to us? Could it be that the simplicity of MOBA games hide, underneath their shiny hood, a world of tactics underneath that we can't possibly understand or master as quickly as other games; especially since we need to rely on teammates rather than our usual selves? Or could it just be that we, as players, have taken such a simple concept, and added layer by layer of intricacies via mastery of game mechanics and character quirks? And, does it also mean, that the MOBA genre will see an evolution akin to the 2D action game when it transformed into the first person shooter?
Only time will tell, as evidenced by the gap between "custom map" and "genre" it took us to get here. The MOBA is here to stay, and League of Legends stands among the Kings of the genre. But next week we look at the new kid on the block. The company that gave birth to the very genre, via allowing its community to smash the rule book and bring its own, has an answer to this MOBA phenomenon with their own take on the genre. A genre dominated by point allocation and in-game item shops, min maxing, and "tested builds." Could we be on the cusp of eliminating the small deviations that alienate the MOBA community from the mainstream, or will we find a new stepping stool to bring us closer to the genre's acceptance, the solidification, and the legitimization of e-sports a whole by the mainstream? The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena evolves once more.
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