A brief history of MOBA Games

I Just finished my promotion match and my rank to Gold V in Season 9 of League of Legend. This 9-year-old game seems to be still vigorous and energetic. MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. It is a subgenre of strategy video games that originated as a subgenre of real-time strategy, in which a player controls a single character in a team to compete with another team of players. The objective was to destroy the opposing team’s main structure with the assistance of periodically-spawned computer-controlled units that march forward along set paths. Compare with its MOBA ancestor Starcraft and Warcraft 3, League of Legend combined their features and surpass them. It became one of the best MOBA games in the world. In 2016, Riot officially stated that League of Legend had 100 Million monthly players. That’s a huge number for a game. However, who know MOBA game was staring with a custom mod of Starcraft?

All started from a mod of Starcraft

Mod, short term for ‘modifications’, was an alteration by players or fans of a video game that changed one or more aspects of the video game, such as how it looks or behaves starting from 1980s. The fans of game played a popular mod called Castle Smurfenstein, which was a parody of the original Castle Wolfenstein on Apple II and the Commodore 64. The author said the original game was terribly fun but something was missing. So they changed the game. The nazi guards became Smurfs. They also created a new title screen, new ending screen, new opening narration, and an opening theme, and changed the setting from Germany to Canada.

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Castle Smurfenstein
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Castle Wolfenstein

Player loved the game that they would like to create mod for them. ID software saw it, thus helped their fans by packaging the maps, sprites and textures of their next game Doom into a WAD file. The fans could download them and use them to create the game mod. Later, mods became more popular when the game studio released their game mod editors. They had arguably became an increasingly important factor in the commercial success of some games.

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Starcraft campaign editor

Starcraft was a popular real-time strategy game. Blizzard released it in 1998 and it became famous in a short period of time. At the same time, Blizzard bundled the campaign editors with the game. Players could use it to create custom map. A player called Aeon64 created a map called Aeon of Strife, which was the first brick for MOBA game. In this map, the players controlled a single unit and fought with team against AI units in three lanes. The bases of the two teams were at the end of the three lanes. The objective was to destroy the other team’s base.

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Map of Aeon of Strife

Aeon of Strife paved the road for MOBA game genre. Due to the limitation of Starcraft, many features could not be implemented in the custom maps. Starcraft only support eight players in one game, so the map can only have 4v4 but not 5v5. Also, it did not have hero unit in Starcraft, so players could not level up and buy equipments. Despite this limitation, the rules of three lines and the objective was kept until now.

Develop: Defense of the Ancients

The successor of Aeon of Strife, Defense of the Ancients(DOTA), improved the MOBA game. In 2002, DOTA was released. It was a custom map of Warcraft 3 created by a player called Eul and his real name was Kyle Sommer. Eul learnt from Aeon of Strife and made many changes. He expanded the maximum number of players from 8 to 10. Heroes could level up and buy items. Players could fought with team against other players. Beside these rules, DOTA also had the jungle system, which was a new concept and affected MOBA game in a long term. In the patch version 4.0, the new author of DOTA Guinsoo released this version to feature Roshan. Roshan was the first epic monster of MOBA game and if you defeated it, you would get a Shield called Aegis of the Immortal. It became a symbol of DOTA later. From the normal monsters to the epic monsters, DOTA showed his successor a good model.

The rule of DOTA in the past was close to now but the balance, entertainment and competitiveness were very poor. The map focused on entertaining, so the author created many creative heroes like Tiny and Phantom Spear. These heroes were creative but not balanced. The competitiveness was based on game balance, so the game competitiveness was very weak too. At that time, all custom maps were not so good but DOTA was a good one, so still many players loved it.

DOTA was non-profitable because it was based on Warcraft 3. A lot of players joined the develop team with love for the game, but they finally left because DOTA was non-profitable. Guinsoo also left the team and Ice Frog became the new author. Ice Frog focused on the game balance. He attempted to altered all heroes and all items by buff or neff corresponding strength. His ideas were in line with the idea of the MOBA game. Many editor learnt from DOTA and created their own MOBA map. DOTA became more popular because of the balance and competitiveness.

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DOTA v6.60 loading screen

While the framework of Warcraft 3 helped to develop MOBA game a lot, it still had some problems. The maximum map size that Warcraft 3 support was 4 MB. In the later patch of DOTA, the map size became larger than 4MB. Ice Frog could not add new game content in the map therefore Warcraft 3 limited the development of DOTA. In 2009, Blizzard released Warcraft 3 v1.24 to fix this problem. It increased the maximum map size from 4MB to 8MB. This patch was good news for all map developer because they could add more game content in their map. Then Ice Frog could finally release the new DOTA version.

After the development by the authors, DOTA was constantly improving and it became the most popular custom map at that time. Later, Valve corporated with Ice Frog to develop DOTA 2. Meanwhile, another grand MOBA game was released and it was named League of Legend.

Peak of MOBA game: League of Legend

In 2009, the formal author of DOTA Guinsoo partnered with two guys called Brandon and Marc. They founded a game company called Riot and developed the game League of Legend, which was a MOBA game based on DOTA. At first, LOL was similar to DOTA. They had very map, rules and hero. The biggest difference of these two is: DOTA was a map that relied on Warcraft 3, but LOL was a whole new game. LOL was not limited by Warcraft 3 and it was free. Players could buy champion (Hero in DOTA) by coins earned in game or purchase Riot Point (Game Token). LOL also provided Skin for every champion, which brings the company plentiful profits.

New K/DA Skin in League of Legend

LOL took in many good features from DOTA, such as game balance, entertainment, corporative and competitiveness. In the later patch of LOL, it changed the major part of the rules which decreased the level of difficultness of the game compare to DOTA. For instance, In DOTA, players could hide in trees, they needed a long time to train up their skill to hide in trees but it was still difficult to manipulate. LOL was much easier, players had bush to hide. Additionally, LOL had a feature called ‘last hit’, meaning hitting the creep at last and you would be rewarded coin. However, DOTA not only had last hit, but also ‘deny’. ‘Deny’ meant preventing your enemy hero from hit the creep to get reward, so you could ‘last hit’ your creep.

In recent ten years, the pace of social was getting faster. Many players didn’t had time to play games. Riot wanted more people to play their game so they shorten the time of each match. In DOTA, a game usually took 40–50 mins. But in LOL, it just took 30–40 mins. Also, you could vote for surrendering after 20 mins. Indeed, a fast game match let more players to play LOL. In the last year, Riot shorten the match time again, it became to 25- 35 mins per match and every players could vote for surrendering after 15 mins.

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S7 Championship in Beijing

LOL had a clear rank feature, which initially expressed in score like 1000, 1300 or 1700. Getting a higher score brought you more abilities and honor. LOL updated the rank representation in 2013, which using bronze, silver, gold to represent your rank level. This rank feature was also emulated by various MOBA games. The clear rank feature encouraged the players to be more goal-oriented, and achieved a more fulfilling sense after achieving the goal, which made the MOBA team’s competitive spirit also play to the fullest. Every year, LOL held different offline competitions such as Seasonal Championship, Intercontinental Championship and Mid-season Championship. The audiences were enthusiastic about all kinds of competitions. Especially in the Seasonal Championship, the number of audience was continually increasing. At S2 in 2012, there were only 1,100,000 audiences watching the live game match, and there were 8,500,000 audiences watching the live game match in S3, it was 800% turned over. In the S7 game match last two year, there were 1,100,000,000 audiences watching the live match. LOL leaded MOBA the most entertaining and largest eSports sporting event.

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S9 LOL Rank Visual

Other MOBA gaming

Four years After LOL released, many game studio released their own MOBA game like DOTA2, Hero of Storm and Smite. These MOBA games had different features and game rules.

DOTA2 released in 2012, It was the successor of DOTA. They had similar rules and same game experience. Dota2 had higher resolution, new art style and better game experience. Players loved DOTA would loved DOTA 2.

Hero of Storm was released by Blizzard in 2015. It had short game match time and no items feature. Every hero in same team had same level. Interestingly, all the heroes in HON came from other Blizzard game, like Garrosh and Varian from Warcraft, Zarya and Genji from Overwatch.

Smite was a 3D game, the game rule was like LOL, it’s like a 3D version LOL. Many game released their MOBA game mod. They were not fine enough, so they was not fun to play.

New platform: smartphone

Apart from PC, MOBA gaming was release on mobile device in these years. Due to the 4G network and large population, MOBA game on smartphone became feasible. Players could play MOBA game everywhere. It had an innate social attribute. That’s the advantage of mobile device. There were many MOBA games like Vainglory, Arena of Valor and King of Glory. These MOBA games had different user-interface than PC, so simplified the user-interface and game control was very important. Also, these MOBA game usually shorten the time of every game. For LOL, one game usually took 25–35mins, but for these smartphone game, it would take only 15–25mins. The game ended very fast because many players of these game were using their fragmentary time like lunch time, waiting for plane.

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Arena of Valor

Mobile MOBA game was easier than PC MOBA game, players love them not because they don’t have time to play other game. It is because Mobile MOBA game was good at social and it was easier to get sense of achievement. Players had less learning costs on mobile than PC, so you could teach your friend to play it. When you hang out with your friends, you guys could played it when you were boring. In China, playing Mobile MOBA game became a hot topic in last years. The number of players increasing rapidly and it would chase the number of LOL one day.

MOBA in the Future

MOBA was a great game genre and it had million possible. Player liked it because it was mature and short. MOBA should still be hot in the future, it could have new platform like VR/AR. The user-interface need to be updated and hope MOBA game still be fun in the future.

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