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The MOBA Genre

Joseph UndisNetwork and Systems Administrator

I.      What is a MOBA?
  a. Definition
  b. Origin
  c. Current Generation

II. The New Games
  a. League of Legends
  b. Heroes of Newerth
  c. Dota 2
  d. Smite

III. Comparison

IV. Conclusion

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I. What is a MOBA?

I.a. Definition

What is a MOBA? Well, MOBA stands for Massive Online Battle Arena. When you think of this, you may think of games like Call of Duty, or Halo, where you fight in an arena. That would be the wrong assumption. The Arena in an MOBA is a cut-down map. A classic example of the MOBA genre is Defense of the Ancients (DotA).

I.b. The Origin of the MOBA Genre

You may be wondering now, what is DotA? DotA was originally a map modification for the classic game Warcraft 3 for PCs. In DotA, you play as one of many heroes, and you attempt to destroy the other team and their base. Since it used the Warcraft 3 game, you had to own Warcraft 3 Reign of Chaos and Warcraft 3 The Frozen Throne Expansion. Using Warcraft 3 also meant DotA was limited to the standard array of graphics and abilities that were hard coded into Warcraft 3. DotA is still in development, and will be for a long time. DotA was the first Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, but not the last.

I.c. Current Generation

DotA is not a separate game itself even though it is played by thousands across the world. DotA is just a map for another game, so it is limited. In order to remove these limitations, people needed to create standalone versions of DotA... So they did! DotA started the MOBA genre, and many games picked up after it, League of Legends (LoL), and Heroes of Newerth (HoN), Dota 2, and many other small ones. These new games, produced by different companies, are competing rivals. Heroes of Newerth is directly based on the DotA model while League of Legends takes the MOBA genre towards another style. While DotA started the MOBA genre, it has grown massively in scale with many extremely popular spin-offs, as well as some that may have been forgotten. We will cover the 3 biggest up next.

II. The New Games

II.a. League of Legends

League of Legends (also known as LoL or just League) is a free-to-play game created by Riot Games, which released on October 9th, 2009. The game started off strong, with its open beta weekend before release, and has slowly grown to be the most played game in the world with over 1.2 billion hours annually []1]. This game, while it started out quite like DotA, strayed far from it within the first few months of the beta tests, which has made a much easier learning curve and opened the genre to millions who may not have been able to the understand DotA game mechanics and strategies.

The main map of League of Legends shares the same style as the original map from DotA. Two teams vying for control of 3 separate lanes of 3 towers and an inhibitor (known as "Barracks" in DotA, which had 2 per lane), as well as non-player characters (NPCs), neutral monsters in the jungle to fight that weren’t affiliated with a team. For non-MOBA players Lanes are the routes through the map used by characters to reach opponent's towers which are their bases and the targets for capture.

Riot decided to go for a different gameplay and art style than what was previously available with DotA and Warcraft III. They changed the item system, added new heroes, and made it a lot more cartoon-like. From the view of a long time League of Legends player and a former DotA player, game mechanics and strategy are definitely much easier to learn and play.

II.b. Heroes of Newerth

Heroes of Newerth (also known as HoN) is a now free-to-play game created by S2 games, the same people who made Savage and Savage 2. Heroes of Newerth released March 27th, 2010 at an original price point of USD$30, though it has since taken up League of Legends’ style with paid skins and paid unlocking of heroes due to lack of sales. Straight up, Heroes of Newerth is standalone DotA. They took the same heroes, same items, same skills, and renamed them, though they have released some new heroes and items since. Completely new graphics, new shopping system, and extra maps, make it different. If a DotA player started to play Heroes of Newerth, they would easily pick up on how to play, they would just need to get used to the graphics and controls; but it’s not very new person friendly, or easy to use due to lack of helpful community.

Much like its counterpart, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth has the same harsh learning curve of DotA, however it countered this later on in its development by allowing players to have their items automatically bought for them and skills automatically levelled up. It does have integrated voice chat, fan-made maps, and a few other great features, which League still lacks though.  I played HoN for a while and still go back for a game or two once in a while, and while it remains a fun game, the next game we’ll discuss will render it useless when it is released.

II.c. Dota 2

Dota 2 is a game currently in development by IceFrog, the current DotA developer and Valve, the developers and makers of Steam, the Half-Life series and games like Team Fortress and Portal. Dota 2, while it was closed to the public for a long period of time, released on July 9th, 2013.

Dota 2 is a direct clone of the original DotA map maintained by IceFrog, with the same characters and mechanics but with a wide array of new features that were only able to be made once it shed the limitations of the Blizzard Warcraft 3 engine. Such improvents include but are not limited to replays, spectating games, and watching tournaments inside the game client.

Dota 2 stands apart from the rest of the MOBA genre in a big way with the fact that instead of purchasing characters with points you earn in game or real money, you start with all characters unlocked. Instead of selling these characters, the game makes its profits from a store extremely like what the game Team Fortress 2 has (also developed by Valve). You are able to purchase individual cosmetic items, or entire sets, that can change the look of your character, the look of your interface, or even the sound of the announcer.

II.d Smite

Smite, stylized SMITE, is a game released by HiRez Games that is closely relate to the MOBA genre, but has one major difference.

Unlike DotA, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, or Dota 2, Smite is entirely third person instead of top down. This provides an entirely different way to play than the rest of the genre, as instead of just using an ability and selecting where it goes, you have to control where it goes by how your character is viewing, almost like a shooter.

Smite is based off the various deities that have existed over time, from Zeus to Ra, you can play as Gods from every different mythology.

Smite shares in LoL and HoN's shop system, in that it sells skins and characters which can both be purchased with currency you earn throughout playing the game, as well as currency you can buy for real money.

III. Comparison

Comparing Heroes of Newerth or Dota 2 and League of Legends is like comparing Team Fortress Classic and Team Fortress 2. They are both essentially the same game, League of Legends just has a more cartoony style to it and is easy to use. I am going to get biased here, do to my enjoyment of League of Legends. Heroes of Newerth is not all that fun if you can't play DotA due to the fact that the community is not nice to new players, to the point where many have quit just do to the bashing they get in their first game. League of Legends however is very easy to use, especially when you are no good at DotA. I personally sucked at DotA and once I started playing League of Legends, I became good in the MOBA genre and have since moved on to Dota 2. So if you are good at DotA either work, but League of Legends is more new person friendly if you haven't played a MOBA game.

Game mechanics in HoN and DotA/Dota 2 take longer to learn and in HoN particularly can be more punishing as losing teams can have gold and items removed.

IV. Conclusion

That was my comparison and history of the MOBA genre and the four new games. I hope you found this review useful to your future gaming. If you find an error, please feel free to correct me in the comments below. Thanks!

[]1]: League of Legends most popular MOBA by hours played worldwide

[]2] Heroes of Newerth - forums

[]3] Dota 2

[]4] The Official DotA Website
Joseph UndisNetwork and Systems Administrator

Comments (6)

Good article on this:
Jenn PrenticeContent Manager

Voted yes above. I'm not personally a gamer, but I showed this article to my husband, who loved it.
Joseph UndisNetwork and Systems Administrator


Yea I used word revisions and accidentally copied over what I removed so I'll be updating again shortly.
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Nice update on the state of DotA games and something to look forward to in the release of DotA2
 +1 vote
Most Valuable Expert 2013

Also good timing as HoN launches a patch today (v.2.6.11) which allows all current Hero characters to unlock permanently - unless you had a legacy account this was previously a paid option.


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