The competitive gaming scene has proven to be both chaotic and explosive in its growth over the course of the past few years. MOBAs, like DotA and League of Legends, have particularly seen a lot of success from this amount of growth, with DotA’s fourth International tournament broadcasted on ESPN, and with its competitors all vying for a roughly 11 million dollar prize pool, 11 times larger than the first International which had been hosted only three years previous.
FPS games the likes of Quake and Unreal Tournament, with their fast paced matches and need for twitch reflexes, helped to set the foundation for successors like Halo and Call of Duty to make their names recognized as among the most competitive game titles available. Yet these games rarely ever see the same type of glory, recognition, and hype that their MOBA counterparts enjoy.
Why is this? To answer that question, we have to look at the two genres and how they operate as a whole.
Both genres work on a simple formula. A FPS title requires that you, the player, work with a similarly armed and prepared group of players in order to complete an objective, whether that be capturing the enemy flag, killing the enemy team, etc. A MOBA requires team coordination between yourself and four other individuals. It further requires that each player fill a particular role within the team, and that the team, once adequately prepared and coordinated, destroy the enemy team’s base.
MOBAs are a lot more popular as a competitive game than any FPS, and there are plenty of reasons why, but the two most critical reasons can be gleaned from the formula of how these two genres operate. The first is variety, and the second is teamwork.
A first person shooter gives the illusion of variety. Go on any modern shooter today and you’ll see at least seven or eight different game modes. The problem with each of these game types however is that they all can be broken down to the simple actions of running, shooting, being shot at, dying, respawning, and then repeating the process until the mind is completely numb.
A MOBA, in stark contrast, gives the illusion of being completely stoic in its gameplay. The objective is simple and unchanging, and yet the subtlety of the game’s mechanics make anything possible. The choice of a particular hero in DotA, for example, can completely alter how the game will be played out. DotA has over 100 heroes, meaning there are endless permutations of team compositions among the ten players that make up a game. Add in the numerous items and the abilities that come with them, and you have a simple formula that promises a different experience every time you play. Where modern shooters have fallen into stagnation by pumping out the same games with different names on every box, MOBAs today offer true variety by giving such a grand amount of diversity that players and audiences alike don’t know what to expect.
The other deciding factor that has contributed to the success of the MOBA genre is its approach to teamwork. Call of Duty does not require teamwork. Halo does not require teamwork. No modern shooter requires teamwork, especially to win. A single player can carry the team to victory despite the mediocrity of his fellows, to the point where the game may as well degenerate into a one on one game rather than one team against another.
There is a reason why people watch football, and don’t watch golf. There is a reason why people watch the International, and don’t watch the Call of Duty Championships. One is team-oriented, and the other is not. Watching a team work together to achieve victory is far more satisfying to an individual than watching one person work alone, and in a game like DotA or League where the mistake of one teammate can cost the game for the entire team, it adds a level of meaning and tension to every decision that a team makes that doesn’t exist in any other genre.
The esports scene today is incredible in its growth and in comparison to where it first began those years ago, and a lot of that growth can be traced back to the huge influence that games like Quake brought to the table, but in my experience MOBAs are currently in a league of their own, and are making the biggest splash in the growth of competitive gaming today. They deliver what people ultimately want: something new in every match, and someone to cheer for.