What are MOBAs ?

MOBAs are online video games involving a battle between two teams, usually teams of five players. M.O.B.A. actually stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.

Strategy, smart moves, skill and luck, many skills are required on the road to Victory. However if individual performances can be balancing the game, it is hardly impossible to win without at least some cooperation: team spirit, which implies the need of people listening, talking, or whatever builds up a good cooperation.

To make it short, in that type of game, players have to chose distinct heroes, with several abilities, different spells with many possible effects. A team has to pick heroes depending on its need. It means that some heroes are supposed to be supporting others, healing, saving them, while some others are fighters, main key of the battles, and carries the team out.

However winning fights and killing enemy players is not the goal of the game.dota_2_minimap

On the arena, there are buildings belonging to the different teams. The arena is globally symmetrical (as we can see in the picture below, the map of DotA2) and there are towers standing on different paths, called “lanes”.

The teams have to destroy those towers which deal damage by themselves, and once they reach enemy base they have to take down the other buildings, until the biggest building, center of the base, is destroyed, which leads to victory.

There are several strategies and metas that exist , the most common one being defeating the enemy team in a team fight, before attacking the buildings. Another one consists in fighting four on five while the missing player attacks the buildings far from the fight.

In most mobas, there are different game modes and also ranked modes.

Let’s take the example of DotA 2 ranked mode. After doing 10 matches, your ranking level is calibrated, and is often around 3,250 which is the average level. Winning allows you to gain points, being defeated makes you lose them.

ranked_explana* : sometimes there is a variation in points depending on team level difference. For example: if there is a 100 points difference in the average ranking difference between the teams, if the lowest level team wins, they will earn more than 25, and if the highest level wins, they will earn less.

The ranked mode makes the matches more serious and more competitive, and allows players to have an idea of their level in game. It also can build games on a fairly basis, as players get matched with other same level players. It can be falsified though, as expert players can make another account which will begin with a low level, in order to easily win, or have fun.

Most well-known MOBAs

MOBA is a wide term and there are a lot of MOBA games on the market, so let’s make a tour of the most popular ones.


In term of players number, the most important is by far League of Legends, released in 2009. With over 67 million active players, the Riot title is way ahead of the others in term of popularity. It has some pros (quick matchmaking, a lot of community creations), but also some cons (more than average toxic community). Its relatively high accessibility in comparison to DOTA for example makes it a little bit less tactical at the end of the day, but it makes its learning curve low enough for people new to MOBAs to begin with it. It also has the biggest character pool of all MOBAs and a big competitive scene (the World Championship Finals have been watched live by 40 million people on average in the last 3 years).


Number two is DotA2 -DotA stands for “Defense of the Ancients”-, which was fully released by Valve in July 2013 after some years of alpha and beta testing. With around 8 million active players, the game is harder to learn than League of Legends -because of more complex mechanics such as denying and item-shipping- and this makes it pretty hard to really enjoy it in the beginning, but its tactical depth makes it really fun if you persevere. While most people agree this is probably the most complex MOBA on the market, it also has the biggest competitive environment in term of prize pool, with a $20,000,000 reward shared by the participants of the last International.


Just behind DotA 2 comes SMITE, with the same amount of players. The title was released by Hi-Rez Studios in May 2014. Unlike other MOBAs, it uses a third-person view that is its most attractive feature. It makes it closer to an action game and can make teamfights pretty chaotic. While it makes it a bit trickier to play because you have to move with the keyboard instead of the mouse, so you use more keys, the added dimensionality definitely has its advantages and some spells make a good use of it. The fact that it doesn’t need a mouse allows it to be a multi-platform title, also playable on XBOX One and Playstation 4. Its atmosphere and its character pool only made up of gods makes it quite special too.


The last game of what we could call the “core” of MOBAs, and the most recent one, is Heroes of the Storm -or “HotS”. The game was released in June 2015 by Blizzard and is very newcomer friendly. It features no items, no gold system and no last-hitting, making it really easy to begin with. It is expanding its roster at an impressive rate, having already half as many champions as DotA 2 only one year after its full release. The matches are a bit more fast-paced than in LoL or DotA and rarely go over the 30 minute mark. It doesn’t use a single map in its main game mode like the other MOBAs do but instead features a variety of maps with their own unique objectives.

Those 4 games are commonly considered as the only relevant games when talking about MOBAs at the moment. Others exist of course, but they are either still in development or just not played by a high enough number of players in comparison with the aforementioned games. Just to give a few names, Battleborn, Gigantic, Paragon, Strife and the Android game Vainglory make a list of smaller or promising MOBAs. We will now mainly talk about LoL and DOTA 2, by far the most influencing MOBAs.

Communities in both games

League of Legends and DOTA 2 are the two giants of MOBA games not only because they are the most played ones, but mainly because of the activity of their respective communities. Both games have a lot of fans creating content about their favourite game, for example songs, artworks or fanfictions. Both games are also time-consuming enough so that it’s almost impossible to play both and it creates a little “friendly war” between LoL and DOTA players.

League of Legends has a very active community based around its subreddit -Reddit is a discussion website with topics about almost everything- and a lot of YouTube channels dedicated to the game. Among the most popular ones, we can name Instalok, a music group well known for its League of Legends parodies of famous songs. Their YouTube channel has more than 1 300 000 subscribers and a total number of 483 million views on their videos.

LoL is also the most streamed game on Twitch -the biggest streaming platform in the world- and the amount of gameplay videos released on YouTube is incredibly high.

Some people also like to write a lot of backstories for their favourite characters. The small amount of lore written by Riot about the LoL world is not enough for them and they like to give their own point of view on the origins of the champions, sometimes creating pretty long and complex stories.

The DotA 2 community is less active than that of League of Legends which can mostly be explained by the difference in the amount of players involved in LoL and DotA. There are a lot of forums, just like for LoL. Yet, DotA 2’s community is the most active around Steam -Valve-run giant game platform. As Valve is also running DotA, all the news, updates and such are being posted directly on Steam. Valve then allowed players to create content for DotA such as mini-games, or heroes cosmetic sets. It is a way for players to create whatever they want to see in the game and vote for what pleases them. From then on, updates insert the community’s work in the game.


DotA heroes have pre-defined stories, and some of them may even know each other. Players or fans like creating videos that illustrate the story or making short movies about the game’s heroes. Movies can then be submitted to Valve on competition times and sometimes win a prize.

Let’s now explore the competitive world.

E-sport and competition: LoL vs DotA 2

The two MOBA games are by far the most famous, the most profitable and have the largest gamers community. So no wonder why they made competitive gaming so popular. At first, it was some local competitions involving local teams, then it became bigger. Some “leagues” were established in Europe. All European teams could participate, also including some Russian teams.

DotA 2 :

After the success of small leagues, Valve decided to organize bigger tournaments, with bigger pool prizes. The International (TI) was born. At first, Valve managed to organize the tournaments using the company’s funds. The first prize pool was about $1,000,000 which was already at the time a great amount of money.

Then with the development of the workshop, and the ingame purchases, Valve decided to allow the community to participate in the pool “indirectly”.

Indeed, when tournament time drew close, Valve introduced a “compendium” -a sort of virtual book which contains in-game challenges, rewards and a close follow-up to the tournament. Valve earned $1,200,000 at the release of the first compendium.

Moreover, 25% of the in-game purchase money was also contributing to the pool.

Then the 2016 TI got more than $20,000,000 prize pool which is one of the world’s biggest game pools. As it represents only 25% of the takings, Valve earned $60,000,000 in a 3 months period. DotA also allowed people to team up, and to build their lives.

Valve released a documentary “Free-to-play” on the competitive gaming environment. It is about professional players and how they deal with the competitive environment. It takes the example of three players, who actually had difficulties in their lives before starting their e-sport career. It is sort of a dream they are living, as they sacrificed a lot of things to become e-sport gamers, and they barely had any support from their family, considering that e-sport was not well-seen at all until recently.


LoL :

In the first 2 years of LoL’s existence, the competitive scene was only made of multiple tournaments with cash prizes throughout the year, which ended with a World Championship that eventually gathered the most successful teams of the year. The players had no regular revenue and they had to be very good to make a living out of their passion, because they really needed to be top 3 in their continent to make enough money.

The 3rd season saw the creation of 5 major regular pro leagues in the following regions: Europe (EU LCS), North America (NA LCS), China (LPL), Korea (LCK) and Taïwan/Hong Kong/Macau (LMS). Smaller leagues also appeared in the following years in Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Japan, Oceania, South America and Southeast Asia. Seasons were separated in two splits. The first one from January to April and the second one from May to August. A 3-day international tournament confronting the regional champions was created between those two splits. Today, the season still ends with the World Championship. The number of teams attending the World Championship grew with the competitive scene, starting from 8 teams in Season 1 to 12 in Season 2, then 14 in Season 3 and now 16 since Season 4.

The main event of the year got bigger and bigger with time. It started in Riot’s offices in front of a small bunch of people and as soon as 3 years later, the Finals took place in a football stadium in Seoul.


The number of online viewers grew accordingly until it reached 40 million viewers in 2014, and has remained stable ever since.

The World Championship now gathers 16 teams coming from the 5 major leagues -3 from EU, 3 from NA, 3 from Korea, 3 from China and 2 from the LMS region- and the best 2 teams of the rest of the world, determined through the International Wild Card Invitational. The latest world champion went away with… $5,700,000.

The 2016 World Championship ended in October 30th with the victory of SKT T1, South Korea’s Telecom team. It was the 4th time in a row that a Korean team would win the Summoner’s Cup and the third title for SKT T1.

The legendary players Faker and Bengi became the first two 3-times World Champions, after winning it in 2013 and 2015.


The growth of e-sport has not ended yet. Big investors are coming to the competitive scene. In October 2016, the French football club Paris Saint-Germain created an e-sport section, managed by retired LoL player Bora “YellowStar” Kim. They immediately bought two FIFA players and a LoL team, yet they are planning to expand quickly. In North America, some former NBA players like Rick Fox or Shaquille O’Neal also invest a lot of money in e-sport. We may soon see competitions on our regular television channels. Brace yourselves, e-sport is coming!

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