A Brief History Of The Battle Arena, Part One

Inspired by DOTA2 and League Of Legends soaring in popularity, and dominating the pro-gaming world, Yannick LeJacq decided to take a look at where Battle Arenas came from, and how history had conspired to make this the most competitive genre in PC gaming. Read on for his history. Obviously it’s not comprehensive, these are just Yannick’s own impressions – hence “brief” history – from conversations from people who were involved over the years.

In the game industry, as with any industry, success is usually defined by numbers. Big numbers, that is. And today, few if any game companies can boast more impressive figures than developers like Valve Software, Riot Games, and S2 Games.

To give a quick example, I recently attended a conference in New York City to speak at a panel boldly titled “The New Economics of the Game Industry.” The people in attendance were a mixture of big media types, business analysts, and eager members of New York’s startup scene. The elephant in the room was the bitter fact that the traditional retail models of console and computer gaming was trembling in the wake of free-to-play’s challenge. Confidence in an entirely freemium marketplace, however, has been shaken by Zynga’s post-IPO erraticism. In response, I mentioned Riot Games’ flagship title, “League of Legends.” Possibly because he noticed confused looks across the audience, one the other panelists said Riot is “the most successful game company you’ve probably never heard of.”

Of course for anyone who plays games on their PC (and not just on Facebook) regularly, Riot is not an obscure company. But his statement illustrates the quiet revolution that companies like it have sparked in little more than five years. Along with that, they’ve also reasserted the prominence of the PC gaming despite ever-present debates about the desktop computer’s future viability. As the rest of the game industry is stuck in an identity crisis between making “casual” and “hardcore” games (the new buzzphrase seems to be “console quality midcore games,” don’t ask me why), selling their products or figuring out more clever ways to make money off of them, Riot, Valve, and S2 have attracted millions of fiercely devoted fans and, in return, handed out millions of dollars in prize money to their best players.

In August, Valve told me, the company had about 1.5 million unique users logging into to its server to play a game that hasn’t even been released yet. By its latest calculation in 2011, Riot Games had more than 11 million active players, with about 1.3 million playing at any given time. These numbers may still pale in comparison to, say, Zynga’s mammoth presence on Facebook. But then you haven’t heard about many C-level departures or insider trading lawsuits at Valve.

What is the magic recipe? One word: MOBAs. Well, okay, maybe that’s four words. But the point is that the secret sauce lies somewhere in the term “multiplayer online battle arena,” a phrase that even the developers themselves admit doesn’t make much sense. The phrase “MOBA” itself, when picked apart, just sounds like a bunch of gamers wailing on each other. And that could describe anything from the highest level match of Starcraft 2 to Words With Friends.

So where did this genre without a real name come from, exactly? Who, or what, first sowed the seeds of its quiet revolution? To understand what a MOBA is, exactly, one can only look back to how they were first created.

Ascent of the Ancients

Like any story of a vibrant online community being snatched up by commercial interests, the exact origin of MOBAs is a murky tale. Many of the formative figures who created the genre’s first games now work at the companies that caught an early whiff of its immense potential, and thus remain shielded behind a wall of PR and intellectual property tip-toing. And like any knowledge produced on a rapidly evolving digital platform online, much of the potential archival material is lost to information decay. Even the name “MOBA” itself is subject of myth-making and bickering across countless forums dedicated to its core games. A lot of the knowledge that exists today about MOBAs therefore lives on thanks to the memory and history of the original DotA myth itself, a name still so resonant that many casual onlookers confuse it with the genre itself.

DotA stands for “Defense of the Ancients,” and is by many accounts the most popular game borne out of the modern institutionalized game factory to never have a proper commercial release. But even DotA came from a much smaller slice of the modding community for Blizzard’s original “Starcraft.” Being one of the most important games ever made in the real-time strategy genre, “Starcraft” had a natural advantage of a rapt audience and a fiercely competitive online community that prided itself on customization — using units in unconventional ways to surprise opponents, and of course designing the most effective and intricate maps for matches.

But the Aeon Of Strife map took this one step further into the customization territory by departing from base-building and unit management entirely. Instead of running a factory to churn out new marines or zerglings to rush the opponent, the player was handed a single overpowered hero unit, like the unique characters that peppered the original Starcraft campaign. The base still existed, but all of the minutiae of upgrading buildings and producing units was left to the AI, which periodically sent the units down three different lanes. Towers were peppered throughout each of the lanes, and the player’s task was to destroy the towers and eventually destroy the opponents base itself.

That still defines most of what happens in any given MOBA. But it says nothing of the intricacy or intense difficulty of any given match. Nor does it explain why they’ve proved so captivating. Tapping into the ferocity of the gamer-cum-tactician-cum-professional athlete was certainly part of it. But it also located a much deeper need for a new type of game, as evidenced by the frequent botched attempts to mix the rough-and-tumble elements of action games with the dorky, data-driven intricacies of any RTS or RPG. Take any of the botched attempts to wed the two even just by name alone — the unfortunate Command and Conquer: Renegade, the non-existent Starcraft: Ghost, even (forgive me for bringing consoles into this) the Shaolin-styled Dynasty Warriors — and you’ll see the same urge to be in a battle rather than simply overseeing one. Suddenly, gamers had a way to do both. And they could do it all in the closest thing videogames yet had to Calvinball, making up the rules as they went along.

One DotA To Rule Them All

In 2003 with the aid of the same Blizzard modding community that first populated Aeon Of Strife, as angry Starcraft fans realized that Starcraft 2 wasn’t coming as soon as anybody thought or hoped, the game transferred over to the company’s newest RTS game, Warcarft III: Reign of Chaos. A particularly eager and talented modder that went by the handle Eul built a map in the AoS tradition that would support five versus five matches, and bequeathed it the title Defense of the Ancients.

DotA introduced more RPG elements than AoS originally offered. Units now gained experience and cash for killing creeps and the opposing heroes, earning different metrics that went towards advancing and customizing hero characters. The RTS flavor was preserved in the isometric perspective itself as well as the keen sense of timing and tactical advance the games required. The death of a hero, for instance, resulted in a lag until a teammate could get back up to fighting speed, offering valuable seconds to exploit any hold in the enemy’s defenses.

Eul stepped down from the reins shortly after DotA was first released to the internet, and his place was soon taken by Steve Feak, who went by the handle Guinsoo. Shortly thereafter, Steve Mescon, better known as “Pendragon,” joined him. Guinsoo developed the robust infrastructure for the game, adding layers upons layers of new items and abilities, heroes and neutral characters pooled from all the different mods he saw pop up around the original DotA concept. Pendragon, meanwhile, built the forum that first created a townhall for the vast DotA collective that gathered around Guinsoo’s version, which he called “DotA Allstars” to solidify its position above the fray of a massive and distended modding community.

A MOBA By Any Other Name?

By 2005, DotA’s rapid growth had drawn the curiosity of prospectors. About a dozen developers at Gas Powered Games, creators of the first few Dungeon Siege titles, had started playing the game during their lunch breaks. “It seemed a shame that nobody had ever brought that intensity of gameplay to a finished market product,” Bert Bingham, a producer at the company recalls. By December the following year, they had assembled a pitch for a DotA-inspired game they called Dungeon Siege Commander.

That same year, Riot Games was founded by Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill, two unabashed gamers with strong business acumen. Tom Caldwell, Riot’s design director, remembers the team seeing DotA and thinking that “the primordial soup was there” for something much larger. But like GPG, Riot also noticed the limitations of supporting such an immense community on mods alone.

“We believed that a standalone game could bring players much-needed functionality like matchmaking, persistent game features, and so on,” Caldwell tells me in an email. “And we also believed there was a ton of room for exploration and improvement in terms of game design there.”

By 2007, Gas Powered Games had given the greenlight to their office DotA fans, and the company began production for a game they’d recast as a unique IP named Demigod. The same year, both Guinsoo and Pendragon joined Riot Games to begin work on League of Legends. By that point, control over the original DotA All-Stars had been handed over to Abdul Ismail, an obscure figure who went by the name “IceFrog.” Rather than focusing on adding droves of new content like his predecessors, IceFrog approached his work with a ruthlessly focused editorial mindset, constantly tweaking and adjusting the game to make it as fine-tuned and balanced as the classic Blizzard titles from which it was born. And alongside his work, Pendragon’s original community continued to grow.

The problem each of these teams faced, of course, was that they had little more to go on in terms of guidance than the name “DotA” itself. Recalling the time now, all of the developers admit they had no sense of the term “MOBA” at all. And working in isolation from one another, they lacked the natural cross-fertilization of ideas a selflessly devoted horde of modders and eager forum users can offer.

“There were really only two datapoints to draw from by the time we released Demigod,” Bingham says, referring to DotA and Demigod itself (the team wasn’t even aware of Aeon of Strife at the time). “Tower Defense and Action-RTS were the terms we used back then interchangeably,” he adds when I ask him how they described the project. “Environmentally augmented team PvP was really our spiritual objective.” At first, they only considered AI-driven creeps to be the essential ingredient to retain from DotA, though Bingham notes that towers quickly became “essential to lock down the starting landscape.”

GPG thus approached Demigod with their design mentality as creators of role-playing games. Bingham explains that they wanted to “deepen the character depth and add more complex advancement schemes for both the Demigods, and the team.” They created a comparatively small set of hero characters — 8 upon initial release — and a wider variety of maps, each component offering greater depth than their predecessors could afford.

Riot, meanwhile, wanted to make League of Legends a sport from the very beginning. Describing the initial iterations of the game, Caldwell says the team hoped to move away from some of the “rock, paper, scissors” mechanics that often describe RTS games. For the original mods, he felt the pre-existing design meant “decisions made at champion [selection] or in the purchase of a particular item would pre-destine a particular engagement, or one specific ability could determine a fight entirely and effectively strip out the opportunity for additional skilful play by your teammates or opponents.”

“In traditional game design,” Caldwell explains, “you mostly try to create interesting, skill-differentiated mechanics for the player using the mechanic. Whereas in multiplayer game design, “You want actions a player does to both be skill-differentiated for the player using them, and skill-differentiated and interesting for the player making a response to them. Much like you can execute a kick at multiple levels of skill, there are also many ways to counter it, widely ranging in difficulty – you could dodge, try a variety of blocks, or counter-attack.”

Caldwell emphasized that he wanted these responses to be “subtle and multi-layered—not as simple as ‘I press B to stop your A.” Thus the “A” or “ARTS” was highlighted.

As Demigod and League of Legends entered the final stages of their development, DotA itself continued to expand unchecked, attracted more developers along with it. S2 games, a small independent game studio based in Michigan began to retool the Newerth setting from the Savage games, which had already been toying with various combinations of first-person shooters and RPG elements in RTS games as far back as 2003.

“There was a group of people at Valve that had heard about a Warcraft modification named Dota. And given that many of those people had started in the mod community themselves, we wanted to, ‘check it out for a couple of nights,’” Erik Johnson of Valve Software tells me in an email. “Checking it out for a couple of nights turned into months of late nights turning into early mornings playing Dota, coming into work tired, and then talking about Dota all day at work. We pretty quickly wanted to meet the person that was behind building it.”

2009 finalized the hybrid genre’s transformation from mod to an institutional fixture of the commercial juggernaut that is the game industry. Demigod was released on April 14th in North America, coming to Europe the next Month.

On October 5th, IceFrog interrupted his usual announcements about bug fixes and balance adjustments to note in a brief forum post that he was officially joining Valve, noting with excitement, “I finally have all the resources needed to do some very exciting stuff that you guys will love.”

24 days later, Riot Games released League of Legends.

All that, and the genre still didn’t even have a name.

Part two will appear tomorrow.

Yannick LeJacq is a technology reporter for the International Business Times, though he also writes a lot about video games for Kill Screen, Bit Creature, and The Wall Street Journal entertainment website, The Speakeasy. His work has also appeared in Salon, The Atlantic, and The Huffington Post. You can follow him on Twitter @YannickLeJacq, and will almost certainly kick his ass in Dota 2 or League of Legends.


  1. YogSo says:

    I thought we had agreed, during the course of Cara’s articles, to forget about that silly “MOBA” moniker and start calling them LPGs (Lane Pushing Games).

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I’m still up for Team-Based Bilateral Unit Micro-Fiddler.

      • fooga44 says:

        Why don’t we just call it what it is : An action game with RTS controls focused on PVP. The only difference between MOBA’s and traditional multiplayer games say in first person shooter is camera perspective and the ‘abstracted’ rts controls.

        • MaXimillion says:

          SMNC and Awesomenauts are clearly either part of the same genre or at least borrow significantly from it. Lane Pushing Games would encompass those titles as well, whereas ARTS doesn’t.

          And MOBA is just completely generic.

    • Chris D says:

      How fundamental to the genre are the lanes really? If you had a game taking place in an open arena (like Demigod’s prison map) or broken up by terrain like a more traditional wargame you’d still have pretty much the same thing wouldn’t you? There’d be some tactical changes but it wouldn’t be a different genre.

      Do we really want to name the genre after a secondary characteristic? MOBA isn’t great but I’m not sure Lane Pushing Game is an improvement.

      How about something like Single-Unit Team Strategy games? (Really I’d like to propose Single Hero in Team Strategy games but that’s mostly just for the acronym.)

      • Brun says:

        Er…proper laning strategy is a huge determining factor at higher levels of play. Games can easily be decided by one player screwing up and dying on his lane early, meaning that lane gets ahead, more creeps push further, etc., etc.

        What you said might be true if the objective of the game were to kill other players. But it’s not – the true objective of the game is to kill towers and ultimately bases. Because the goal remains the destruction of the enemy base, the flow of the game will be intimately tied to laning.

        • InternetBatman says:

          People dying early game is less of a problem than people dying mid game, when towers start getting downed. Early game is full of self-correcting measures. If you push too hard too early, you get exposed (easily gankable); the wards that prevent that cost money – also a corrective measure, also, players can pull creeps past their own towers, denying experience.

          • Brun says:

            It’s just an example. The point was that the outcome of the game is influenced heavily by the balance of power in the lanes.

          • InternetBatman says:

            Oh absolutely. I play Shadow Shaman in Dota 2, and he’s less of a team fighter and more of a bomb that you drop on the enemy base.

      • Vorphalack says:

        It’s always going to have ”lanes” as long as the games use computer controlled units moving along a prescribed path, even if the path was obfuscated by design. If you took that out of the game I think we would be in different genre territory.

        • The Random One says:

          It’d be the difference between a gun having the accuracy stat 15% higher in an RPG and a gun having 15% less bullet spread in a shooter.

          Which is to say, it’s a matter of obfuscation. If you want your game to be played on e-sports level, obfuscation is useless, because the community will figure it out; you are essentially creating a bad UI.

      • YogSo says:

        @Chris D: I’ve not played Demigod, so I can’t comment on that map you mention, but I think the lanes are pretty crucial to the genre itself. And I’m not talking about the ‘physical’ lanes – it doesn’t matter if instead of an open road you have to traverse through a vast desert or a thick jungle, the question is, you have to protect the little minions on their way to the enemy base, because without them you aren’t going to be able to take out the towers while taking care at the same time of the opposing team’s heroes. And without taking out the towers, you are going to have a very hard time having a crack at conquering the enemy base.

        TL;DR version: What Vorphalack said much more succinctly than me :P

      • Chris D says:

        @All above

        Fair enough. It does make more sense when you think of lanes as creep pathways rather than just physical terrain as I’d been assuming. I shall withdraw my objection.

        Still generally in favour of some kind of vaguely rude acronym though.

      • Miltrivd says:

        Bloodline Champions was a MOBA, no lanes, just deathmatch (when I played), top down view, abilities and leveling up, so basically was the same without lane pushing and base destruction. It was a completely different game, clearly outside the genre.

    • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

      Strategic Area Under Siege; Assault Groups of Enemy Soldiers

    • Brun says:

      I actually liked Action RTS (ARTS) as it’s a pretty succinct way of describing the game in the most general way (in the same way that First-Person Shooter is a very general term that can be applied to a wide variety of games).

    • tomeoftom says:

      Wait, what’s not communicated by “dotalike”? It’s a genre that essentially wouldn’t exist were it not for the original game. Calling something a “roguelike” is not in any way derivate, and it instantly says a lot of useful things about the game’s mechanics. Besides, dotalike rolls so well off the tongue.

    • Unaco says:

      Herzog Zwei-alike.

      • Raiyan 1.0 says:

        Ah, Herzog Zwei! Two decades old and a console title, but still a better ARTS than all these MOBA games.


    • Eschatos says:

      Guys, I have an idea for a name that might satisfy everyone. I propose that the genre be known as “tower offense.” Think about it. Grounded in established game terminology yet non-specific enough that any MOBA/ARTS/LPG can fit underneath it.

      • Midnightoil says:

        But tower defense is already a genre of its own

      • InternetBatman says:

        That genre already exists. Anomaly Warzone Earth is an example.

      • f1x says:

        Thats why he wrote tower OFFENSE

        not like the best idea anyway, but in some way it is a good description

        edit: Aye, anomaly warzone earth would be tower offense :p

    • Midnightoil says:

      but its not only about pushing a lane, that is just stupid

      • Baines says:

        First Person Shooters are about stuff besides shooting in a first person view. Running, jumping, knifing, stealing flags, standing in zones, etc. You can win FPS matches without ever shooting anything.

        And on words alone, “first person shooter” would describe Duck Hunt, but no one would expect you to mean Duck Hunt when you said “FPS”.

        Lane Pushing describes a fairly consistent mechanic across games that currently get the MOBA label, and even draws in other similar games that get excluded from “MOBA” for less important reasons, like Awesomenauts being side view instead of overhead view. “MOBA” itself doesn’t really mean much at all.

      • Chriller says:

        But it is, though. The one and only goal of the game is to push the lanes. The team to first fully push a single lane beyond the throne wins. Everything else is just meta-objectives, so that your team in the end will be the first to push past the throne.

        • Baines says:

          Lane pushing is also the mechanic that sets these games apart from generic deathmatch games.

      • TCM says:

        Yeah, it pretty much is about pushing the lane, because that is what will win you the game — everything else is a side objective to help you push lanes more effectively.

        This does not mean MOBAs are not unique, complex, nuanced, and full of depth — any game can be reduced to a single goal. But trying to pretend that the game is not about accomplishing that goal is somewhat silly.

    • Therax says:

      I personally like to call them “Tug of War” games. It’s quite similar to the proposed LPG title, but I feel it emphasizes more the symmetric nature of the game: each team is simultaneously trying to push the lanes in opposite directions. “Lane Pushing Game” and particularly “Tower Offense” suggest to me an asymmetric game more akin to a straight-up inversion of tower defense, like Warzone: Anomaly or the attack mode of Gratuitous Tank Battles.

      There is a bit of an issue of push vs. pull, but I’ve heard the shifting of a fighting front in wartime referred to as a tug-of-war without any real confusion.

    • Crazy Horse says:

      My vote is for ORQS.

      Online Rage Quitting Simulator

  2. spindaden says:

    Clearly Alec is running out of bodies in XCOM and needed to get some new writer names.

  3. KikiJiki says:

    The comment about ‘interesting, skill-differentiated mechanics for the player using the mechanic’ From Caldwell makes me laugh so much after the crap that Morello and co spew about ‘Anti-fun’ and ‘Burden of Knowledge’ because they get owned by babby’s first ultimate ability, Rupture, in pub games.

    Might also want to not omit why most of the Dota community would love to see Pendragon take a long walk off a short pier -> he nuked the community site and put a League ad up when he went to Riot. Icefrog not only had to fix all the awful heroes Guinsoo left him, he had to rebuild an entire community.

    It should probably also be noted that there are a few Dota map curators that have been left out.

    Good start to the article, but a little to Riot focused and lacking in timeline for the other games imo.

    • Brun says:

      This really. By the time I got into DoTA (2007-2008) IceFrog was virtually the only name known to the community, Eul and Guinsoo only appeared on item names. It seems odd that the article only mentions him in passing when he played such an instrumental role in DoTA’s later life.

      • dontnormally says:

        “Part two will appear tomorrow.”
        I imagine Part two will heavily feature Mr. Frog.

    • Ahahahah says:

      It’s normal for it to be Riot centered considering this is part one…

      I wonder why the hell there’s no HoN in here, but Demigod gets a place, though. I mean, what the hell? Demigod was such a big flop on release people were dis-hearted, but HoN still managed to have a run for a life.

    • Evilpigeon says:

      I’ll never understand why people seem to have so much difficulty with these design guidelines. Do you seriously think that it’s a good idea if you’re trying to make a widely played game to make it as hard to learn as DotA?

      Valve are going to have to go to some really extreme lengths to deal with this if they want to grow their playerbase outside of dota fans (I think they’ve already made some good decisions in terms of removing some of the pointless difficulties.)

      It is nigh impossible to enjoy DotA casually because it’s impossible to play without memorising large amounts of information first. Simply because you won’t understand what your opponent is doing to you and it’s often not particularly evident visually unless you’re already familiar with the interface and effects.

      I played dota, quite a lot and only really understood the reason to avoid a burden of knowledge or mechanics that simply aren’t enjoyable to play against til I tried HoN. It’s similar but they’d redesigned everything and I genuinely couldn’t tell the hero models apart to begin with because they tried so hard to make it look cool rather than making it readable.

      Making a deep game with a high skill-cap doesn’t mean you have to go about things in a way that are almost deliberately designed to ward off new players. It’s retarded design left over from this being based on an amateur project. Making something difficult or obtuse for no reason other than being difficult or obtuse is retarded and really only serves as a circle jerk to for the mediocre players who have just managed to learn these basics so that they can feel superior to slightly newer players who haven’t learnt yet. If you’re actually good at the game, then it’s nothing to you because everyone knows all about this stuff already.

      • KikiJiki says:

        That’s why there are now Matchmaking brackets provided in Dota 2, so you can play with people of approximately the same skill level and learn things in a slightly more relaxed manner.

        The alternative is you could do what so many of us grew up doing, which is to read the damn manual. In this case that means going to Playdota.com and reading the hero abilities.

        Your assertion that it’s nigh impossible to enjoy Dota casually is just wrong, currently over a million players enjoy Dota 2 casually, and tens of millions enjoy Dota 1, only a tiny fraction of these people are ‘pro’ level players.

        • Evilpigeon says:

          I think we mean different things by casual. Lemme re-phrase. Without a fucking massive time investment, or someone else to introduce you to the game and help you acquire the game knowledge or tutorials (have valve added this yet? Been a while since I played DotA 2) you can’t really enjoy Dota. You can’t get any real enjoyment out of it casually in terms of if you pick it up with no knowledge or help you are not going to enjoy yourself or even necessarily work out what’s going on.

          Sorry if |I wasn’t clear, I didn’t mean casual in terms of ability, more in terms of time required to understand how to play the game. The idea of picking up and playing Dota is totally and utterly ridiculous and not all of the things that make it so difficult actually benefit the game for the those playing.

          The idea behind those design tenets is to keep things out that might make the game unnceessarily hard for people coming that also don’t really add much for those already playing. I’m not trying to claim it works perfectly however or that it doesn’t unfairly rule out some things that might benefit the game overall.

          • karmafarm says:

            I’m a newish DoTA 2 player, and a massive part of the fun for me has been learning the game. I’m definitely a casual player, I manage 3 games a week if I play nothing but DoTA. The addition of matchmaking brackets means that I now draw matches against equally incompetent players and that means I have a fighting chance of winning any particular engagement. I have a better than fighting chance if I’ve managed to improve my game, and the more I play the better I get. For me those factors combine to create a difficulty curve that’s long and slow, but with lots of small well earned successes- like “Radiant wins the teamfight because you initiated right!” That’s a proper hit of dopamine, right there. And there is so much to learn, and all of it helps your play, so the game stays rewarding for a long time.

            DoTAlikes break lots of the ‘rules’ of accessibility, but for some gamers, those rules make for shallow, unrewarding games. It’s fun to figure shit out, and it was the reason a great many of us got into games in the first place, no?

          • PopeJamal says:

            I’m closer to the age of 40 than thirty and much less willing to try something new if I think I already know what their “gimmick” is. At this point, I have a relatively new philosophy for gaming. It goes like this:

            Oh! Hey there, that’s a nice looking game you’ve got. Oh, you want me to try it? OK. I’ll make you a deal. I’ve been playing games for well over 20 years, easy. So I will bring my years of experience and my extensive, multi-genre gamer “vocabulary” to the party. Your job will be to ENTERTAIN ME. You’ve got at least 5 minutes. More if you’re doing something interesting. If you can entertain me for long enough to learn to play and, most importantly, have fun, then I will submerge myself into your game subculture and partake of it’s honey roasted strats and lingo. Ready? GO!

            I think that’s a pretty reasonable way to approach things. That, however becomes a problem if you expect me to watch a 5 minute video about lane strategy and farming in the midlands (or whatever the hell they call it). You also shouldn’t have to read a three page forum post about optimizing your store purchases or what order to upgrade your boots in. I’m not doing prep work just to try out a game that might suck. There are WAAAAY too many other ways to kill time for me to take the risk.

            Generally speaking, success = growing your customer base, and you generally don’t grow your customer base by forcing people to do things that are annoying. So sure, making a game “interesting” by adding complexity is good, but you have to balance that out and not scare away new people.

          • Midnightoil says:

            @popejamal I think this type of a game is not for you then. Its a game that requires a hard and commited investment and in return gives limitless amount of pleasure and satisfaction that literally no other game has ever achieved on me. After playing dota for 5 years I literally cannot play a single player game anymore as they just bore me to death.

          • Herzog says:

            @Midnightoil: Maybe after some more years you will come back to singleplayer games. After playing QW and Q3 online straight for 10 years I was done with competitive gaming and I am enjoying sp games again. Actually you are just building a massive backlog now with singleplayer games you can play in a few years ;)

          • Solanaceae says:

            I disagree. I got into the beta about 6 months ago and in some ways, I was having more fun at the beginning than I am now simply because there was so much depth to the game that I hadn’t even touched yet. Now I understand much more of course, and I’m a lot better at it, but there’s less “secrets” to learn ( which is why I’m eager for the release of the remaining heroes), I remember for instance the first time I saw Invoker drop a meatball on an entire enemy team… pretty impressive especially since I was coming from LoL and there’s nothing even remotely similar to that….

            The biggest problem with the game isn’t the difficulty curve IMO (there are heroes who are pretty simple to play btw), but the amount of flaming at low level play. I finally moved into a higher skill bracket and it shows… flaming out players is much more rare than at the lower MMRs where it’s basically every single game.

      • Midnightoil says:

        I wish I could go back to the time when I knew nothing about the game, I loved learning new heroes and items and randoming in games, it was fun to play casually, otherwise I would have obviously stopped playing it. But I continued on and on and as I learned the game didnt bore me, it just got me more interested. I don’t know why you think there is a problem with the dota not catering to casuals when there have been millions of people playing it just so for the past 7 years

      • Chriller says:

        And I’ll never understand why people seem to have so much difficulty grasping the concept of lots and lots of people finding it incredibly satisfying to play a game so deep, that even though you’ve been playing it for years and years, you still learn new stuff every day. Counter question, do you seriously think that it’s a good idea if you’re trying to make a game not only widely played, but also still played in 10 years from now to make the mechanics as simple as CoD: Modern Warfare?

        There is a reason DotA (1) is the single most popular game out there right now. It might be daunting at first, but learn some basic stuff and it’s the most insanely rewarding game there is.

        Then again, I’m also not the kind of person to associate “knowledge” with “burden” :)

  4. Brun says:

    WTB a Brief History of MMORPGs. These articles are great and would be awesome if you guys did one for lots of different genres.

    • Oathbreaker says:

      Amen to that. Good article about a type of gaming I have ZERO interest in.

    • f1x says:

      Actually, I would fervently read a very extense book about history of RPGs overall, since the very beginning (videogame RPGS tho)
      is there any you know that I can grab which is quite updated until pretty much now?

  5. Timothy says:

    By that point, control over the original DotA All-Stars had been handed over to Abdul Ismail

    Could you cite your source for this please? As far as I can tell, this rumor stems from the “icefrogtruth” blogspot; hardly a reputable source as the author clearly has an axe to grind.

    • mr.ioes says:

      This blogpost was officially declared as fake a long time ago by IceFrog himself. Couldn’t find the post though after couple of minutes of search.

    • Magnusm1 says:

      I’m fairly sure Icefrog never revealed his real name, or where he is from.
      Little is known.

    • Xerian says:

      Yeah, it was proven false by Valve themselves, and his name is not Abdul according to him (or HER!)self. Icefrog still remains anonymous, and whoever wrote this should’ve done a tiny bit of research on it first I’d say. Quite interesting really person.

  6. MrNash says:

    Try as I might, I still can’t get into the genre. About the closest that I’ve come is Awesomenauts, and I think what appealed to me about it is the platformer elements. Other than that, MOBAs have yet to click with me. Still, it’s impressive to see these games becoming so popular, especially over the last couple of years.

    • fooga44 says:

      Moba’s are just RTS style controlled action game with one unit /w competitive game rules.

      • MrNash says:

        That’s probably part of the problem for me: the relatively slow RTS-y movement of the characters. If they all handled really fast and twitchy like, say, Power Stone, I’d probably enjoy it more. I guess it also explains why I lean more toward Awesomenauts in that regard, as the characters there are a bit more agile to play as.

        • fooga44 says:

          RTS style controls are really casual gamer controls, thats why league of legends is the big thing it is. If LoL was a full on action game many millions of gamers couldn’t compete and would quickly get trounced by those with superior reflexes. The RTS controls minimize skill and reflex and slow down the battle to a pace where most casual gamers can manage. Hence why it blew up so big.

          Traditional RTS are hard because there are so many units and things to manage, league of legends and the like just discovered that it was a bad design and went back in the direction of being an action game. You could take out the awkward RTS controls and make an awesome realtime PVP game out of it.

          I agree with you awesomenauts is awesome. It all has to do with distance over time between events and the time we need to see consequences of our actions. If they don’t happen at a speedy pace we get bored because we are being slowed down by the awkwardness of the game and the interface.

          The delay between action and result matters, thats why most games are unfun – an issue of timing. I loaded up Kingdoms of amaulur again on a whim and I noticed right away that the actions and fighting happens to slow so while the fighting system is well designed they didn’t tweak it enough to make sure the fighting is fast and furious instead of painfully slow because they were obsessed with making everything ‘look good’ instead of gameplay.

          It’s a damn shame too because they did a lot right as well as a lot wrong in that game.

          • InternetBatman says:

            That argument doesn’t make sense given the match-making software in LoL (and Dota 2 to a lesser extent), because if millions got trounced by people with superior reflexes, wouldn’t they just end up playing each other?

          • Brun says:

            So what you’re saying is that LoL isn’t as “intense” because it’s not a Quake-style twitch game?

            Methinks that you’ve never played a Tank or Disabler in LoL, else you wouldn’t be saying that. A precisely-timed taunt or CC can completely alter the outcome of a late-game multi-hero engagement. Certain abilities require very accurate timing – I played Shen for quite a while and one of his abilities (at the time) was an instant-use, very short (< 3s) duration shield that could absorb a single attack (up to a certain amount of damage). Your effectiveness as a tank increased dramatically if you learned to time that shield to block specific attacks from the enemy team.

            I’m not saying LoL is a twitch game on the level of UT2004, but it does require some level of reflexes – and more importantly, the ability to reflexively apply tactical knowledge.

          • darkChozo says:

            I’m don’t think you can really say that RTS controls are any more “casual” than anything else. While I will agree they make reflexes less of a big deal than a twitch shooter, the existence of a pro tier basically invalidates the idea that they take skill out of the equation; if there wasn’t much skill then there wouldn’t be much of a skillcap and that means that there wouldn’t be much point to professional play.

            Also, I’m curious how you think a topdown MOBA/whatever could be made into a realtime PVP game. Not being snarky here, I just think that if you lose the topdown perspective you also lose a lot of the skill variety that makes having 100+ chamheropions interesting. Games like Smite and Awesomenauts lose a lot of depth as compared to LoL/DOTA because their skills are basically limited to shooting, and there aren’t that many ways you can mix up shooting (simplifying here but I hope you know what I mean). Maybe a two-stick shooter kind of setup? Actually, a WSAD + mouse top-down game with MOBA sensibilities and a dynamic ability-based system could be pretty cool…

  7. Blob-World-Eye-Weary says:

    Just call them an “AOS” already geez, MOOBAAA you got to be kidding me, COWSHEEP.

    • Pindie says:

      I think you guys should calm down and wait.
      At least wait to see if it survives as a genre long enough for it to deserve a name. After there is a dozen of games out it’ll solve itself. It’s still a fairly new trend.

      • Brun says:

        It’s survival is all but assured due to the competitive nature of the game.

        • Pindie says:

          Out of curiosity: how?
          Arena shooters are a niche genre nowadays despite the e-sports appeal.

          • Brun says:

            Being a niche genre still means survival doesn’t it?

            The best historical analogy for DotA and its descendants is Counterstrike (one of the “Arena Shooters” that you mentioned). Think of where Counterstrike is now, and you’ll get a pretty good picture of where DotA will be.

      • Blob-World-Eye-Weary says:

        New trend for general game industry maybe but I spent around 5 years on warcraft3 playing AOS type maps; advent of the zenith, age of myths, EOTA, desert of exile, tides of blood, and a tiny bit of dota. Beside it more out of respect to name it AOS, else who knows when someone else would come in along with this game type play type of gaming type of COWSHEEP.

  8. Ahahahah says:

    “Abdul Ismail”

    Oh god someone ACTUALLY believed that crap?
    Icefrog appeared on camera on two ocasions, and while there’s no face, it’s obvious he is, one, caucasian, and 2, still can be just about anyone in the world with a male tall slim figure, so anyone could imporsonate him.

    Also genre name: Team Hero Defense! Because no one will ever marker FAG – Fortress Assault Games

    • HisMastersVoice says:

      Make it BAG -Base Assault Games.

      Though frankly, DOTA is a genre name, juts like Diablo is. Maybe people should just deal with it.

      • Therax says:

        There was a time when the world was filled with “Doom-clones” (or “Wolfenstein-clones” if you were so inclined), and then that genre became generalized as FPS. There was a time when the world was filled with “Diablo-clones” (I’m sure someone will pop out of the woodwork to name a generally-unacknowledged predecessor that I can’t recall at the moment.), and then those games were sucked into the Action RPG label. MOBA may be the equivalent for “DotA-clones” (or “AoS-clones” if you’re so inclined), although the jury is still out.

        This is all necessary because it’s a little bit awkward and downright dangerous, legally speaking, to use the name of your competitor’s trademarked product when advertising your own commercial game.

  9. MrLebanon says:

    I remember Demigod. I still hold it unique in the MOBA realm as graphics wise it looked AAA, and more importantly, the upgrade trees going deep into economy/tower upgrades/minion upgrades.

    Even the character skill trees were much more vast than “pick skill 1,2,3, or 4!”

    Shame for the horrible net code, the first update breaking the game, and it never seeing any updates again

    • LintMan says:

      I never played Demigod over the internet, but it’s quite good for LAN play.

      It did get more than 1 update, including 2 new demigods, but support really dropped off quite quickly. I’m not sure it that’s more GPG’s or Stardock’s fault, but it’s a shame in any case.

  10. fooga44 says:

    There’s no magic to “MOBA genre” all it is, is RTS scaled back into an action game, it’s RTS style controls managing a single unit /w actual video-gamey mechanics (i.e. automatically spawning waves of AI controlled units, defend base, attack base, etc)

    It’s actually just a rebirth of old arcade design methodology but newer gamers aren’t the most experienced with games. Traditional RTS has always had issues with the games design, it took modders to find that controlling 20 units fragments player focus and makes the game become more of a chore. When focusing on a single unit each player can invest in that unit, enjoy battle and the action. Instead of managing from orbit like in traditional RTS where you can’t actually enjoy the battles since you’re busy moving the camera from battle to base, to battle and back. Fragmenting your attention.

    • misterT0AST says:

      I feel like Mobas are as much RPG as RTS.
      Think about it. One could describe Dota as being just like a PvP online RPG, but divided in matches where characters start over every game rather than growing in months of progress.

      It’s a small, balanced version of MMORPG battles, where characters have a lower maximum level, a very limited number of skills, and it ends with a “Victory” or “Defeat” every hour or so.

      Try Smite, you’ll see it’s much closer to this mentality rather than resource managing and strategy.
      And Monday Night Combat and Awesomenauts sure as hell are not ARTS games, and yet they have undeniable similarities with Dota.

      • fooga44 says:

        The problem is you’re thinking in terms of “Genre”. There really is no such thing. You and most gamers define “Genre” is arbitrary, when you compare mathematics the games are much more similar then they are different. Quake 3, League of legends and say warcraft 3, all have hitpoints, damage, powerups, progression in terms of their multiplayer. Genre’s are largely arbitrary distinctions as a matter of gamers sloppy attempts to slot games into categories. When you look at the mathematics and what is actually occuring (combat). Things are much more similar then they are different. LoL is PVP with items and stat progression, quake had items and stat progression (armor + mega health, regen, haste). Just not as many. Just because powerups are spawned on field and not bought in a store doesn’t mean they don’t function in the same way.

        • Midnightoil says:

          yes it does

        • JackShandy says:

          Items on the ground make the game revolve around territorial control, items in a store make the game revolve around economic control. Completely different types of game.

          • fooga44 says:

            When doing mathematical comparison genre is irrelevant. Trying to say “they are completely different” is wrong because we’re dealing with mathematical similarities between the two. i.e. there are relationships that all games share even if you believe they are ‘completely different’ you can’t escape the laws of mathematics. Reasoning via language is vague and slippery, just because a word exists doesn’t mean it is actually conceptualized and used correctly. The way we as gamers have come to define games is not good when talking trying to get at how games function and what ‘gameplay is’, when you start to reverse engineer gameplay (I as a game designer) you can’t take 99% of what most gamers say seriously because they just aren’t educated enough.

          • Chris D says:

            But why should we ve doing a mathematical comparison in the first place? Games are played by people and people are all about the squishy, not-easily-pinned-down-by-numbers, subjective bits.

            If you can use maths to bring something interesting to the discussion then great, but you can’t just say “It’s not maths so it doesn’t count.”

            How you interact with the game, how you perceive it, how you relate to other players, which skills a game primarily tests are all as much a part of how we play games as the underlying systems are.

            Maybe you can mathematically describe too games the same way but whether you control one unit or many and whether you see the whole battlefield or only a limited perspective along with many other factors can make the difference between one genre and another.

          • JackShandy says:

            How is “all have hitpoints, damage, powerups, progression” a mathematical comparison? Almost every game has these elements, yes. How does that serve as a useful way of talking about games?

  11. Daniel Klein says:

    We’ve released new numbers since the November 2011 numbers you quote:

    link to majorleagueoflegends.s3.amazonaws.com

  12. shostakovich says:

    The article was pretty interesting, until the point you called Icefrog “Abdul Ismail”. Now point me where’s the source you’re using for this, one that isn’t “The truth about Icefrog”, and then I’ll be able to take this article seriously again.

    • MrLebanon says:

      whys everyone so offended by this?

      • Midnightoil says:

        Because it has no evidence to back it? Maybe thats why? Maybe they don’t want lies being spread?

  13. Jenks says:

    My personal favorite from the WC3 days was Tides of Blood. Less heroes than DOTA but they all felt far more unique, and the map is better.

  14. teapoted says:

    There’s no remotely reliable source which says that Abdul Ismail is Icefrog. You got that from some random conspiracy theory blog, please check your sources better.

    Also, no one argues about where the term Moba came from. It was created by Riot, which is why it is rejected as it’s completely asinine. (The reason Dota was so big was because of LAN, and yet Online is in the genre name? Please)

    I feel this whole article fails to paint a proper picture and people are better off just looking through this infographic. link to i.imgur.com

    “Riot, meanwhile, wanted to make League of Legends a sport from the very beginning.” Are you high? I know the developers told you this, but they didn’t add spectating until this year. They still don’t have a replay system. A sport? Please, it’s a marketing campaign that didn’t even start until long after release. The only intentions which LoL had from the start was to make Dota stand-alone and easy. They even advertised on Dota forums saying this. Next time, less marketing speak from Dev’s trying to re-write history would be lovely.

    • Kakkoii says:

      WOW, I wasn’t aware about that part at the end of the timeline, about Riot filing for the DotA trademark right after seeing Valve do it, and then handing it over to Blizzard. Seems like they wanted to try and strong arm Valve out of being able to make a competing game… =/

  15. str4 says:

    This was a great read. Can’t wait for part 2.

  16. cyrenic says:

    This is a fantastic article. I especially like how Demigod’s early development is talked about with no mention of Stardock, because most people remain confused about Demigod’s development.

    Eagerly awaiting part 2.

    (And everyone please ignore all the crazy tribalism in this thread.)

  17. TCM says:

    Anyone looking to get into a MOBA game has to realize that, much like many complex board games, Paradox games, or even sports, you are looking at a significant initial time investment before it becomes enjoyable. You have to learn not just the ‘basics’ of the game, and the genre, but also individual items, the traits of maps, the strengths and weaknesses of dozens of characters (including those you don’t intend to use), the ‘role’ characters play…

    It is absolutely fun once you get the hang of it, but the wall to climb will turn many off.

  18. LintMan says:

    I enjoy and still sometimes play Demigod on LAN, but don’t really know the rest of entries in the genre at all. I’m looking for a current or upcoming DOTA-like to get that has some depth to it, is LAN-playable and isn’t tied into some F2P monetization scheme to get you to buy endless items, etc.

    Any suggestions?

    • Brun says:

      You’re not going to find any that meet those requirements. Few, if any, will be LAN-playable and all of them will be F2P and have some sort of monetization.

      • LintMan says:

        Damn, I was afraid of that. I’d be fine with expansion pack style DLC, but just don’t have any interest in being nickel and dimed per item. I am surprised about the lack of LAN support, though, I’d have thought that was a basic feature.


        • Kakkoii says:

          DotA 2 is the only one that doesn’t give you any kind of advantage with money. Everything they sell is purely cosmetic, and those cosmetics also drop for free as you play. All the heroes are free to use from the start and there are no special runes or stat boosting items for you to use real money to get.

          The absence of LAN is a sad reality of the current game industry. But also games are providing so many in-game stats and services that are core to the game and require the internet to work.

  19. age says:

    Really disappointing and frankly innacurate that Warcraft 3 is such a minor footnote in this article. Yeah AoS came first but WC3 popularized the fusion of RPG and RTS that is the trademark of MOBAs. The fantastic custom map community that developed out of WC3 improved map editor was a massive factor in the burst of popularity DotA experienced. WC3 was the first actual MOBA (an actual game rather than just a mod), and the genre owes it far more than AoS in a similar way that WC2/CnC were more significant in the history of RTS than Dune.

    • teapoted says:

      It really seems like whoever wrote this never even played the original DotA and if they did they should be able to acknowledge how many of the mechanics are really just carry overs from standard WC3 units and mechanics.

      This is “part 1” of the history and half of it is about League of Legends? And there’s more mention of Guinsoo than Eul and Icefrog? The writer says that “pendragons community” continued to grow during Icefrogs development? The irony in that statement brought about by the ignorance of the writer is mind numbing.

  20. Xerian says:

    This is honestly the most mind-numbing, face-palm enducing post I’ve ever read on here. Not only is a lot, and I mean LOADS of the information false (Icefrog is NOT named Abdul, all that is known is that he’s A: Male, B: Caucasian. The Abdul is from one (also proven to have been fake) source).

    And the fact that this states that League of Legends was built as a “sport” from the start is also utter bull, taken directly from Riot’s mouth. It didnt even allow for spectating until recently, nor replays of your matches. And the bit about it being Pendragon’s community is… Idiocracy. Even worse is the sweet-talking of Guinsoo despite him wrecking and utterly ruining the game, leaving its shattered pieces for Icefrog to fix, whilst he ran off and earned money off of it.

    And please, I beg of you, rectify these mistakes in the second issue, and mention the developers some more, and warcraft. There really was a lacking mention of some of the most important things in this article. Oh, and theres literally no discussion over whom coined MOBA, Riot did, and its a crappy term considering its a genre that was mainly played on, and literally was born from LAN-games. (Online my arse..) So to summarize: check your sources properly, and then again, and once more after that.

    This is definitely well-written, but you can really tell its by someone whom isnt very involved with the community of such games, and I would like to bet the writer wasnt involved in Dota back before LoL and all the other horseshit-ripoffs, as it shows in the slight ignorance of this article.

    And no, this is in no way meant to be offensive, and if it is, I truely apologize. I’m writing this due to the fact that I wouldnt want anyone to read this and take it as fact, because much of this article isnt.

    Also worth noting is that Icefrog never made any money off of his work, whatsoever (as far as we know). Both of the Dota-websites which he hosted for years after taking over were both completely ad-free, and he never sold any material, at all. But it seems to have paid off, since he was hired by Valve and all.

    If you read this quite badly written rant / mad-ramblings of mine, you deserve a cookie and a hug.

    • somberlain says:

      I will never understand this “butt-hurt” behaviour of hardcore Dota players. Why so much hatred and bile against Riot or other MOBA’s…hummm sorry DOTA-like (don’t want to get shit-faced, sorry sorry sorry for using the unholly word created by a unworthy satanic reject) ?
      Why all Dota fans can’t accept other games of the same genre naturally without looking like 2 year old half-retarded angry kids?? We are all playing video games, we are all part of the same gaming culture, can’t we enjoy different games together? Can’t we say “Hey, Dota is a really cool game and created the “modern” moba genre / hey, Riot’s success helps spread the genre and they do make some cool things too”.

      Do you have to be a bunch of horrible and rancid haters?? Is your life that sad??

      • KikiJiki says:

        This post isn’t mad at Riot and dumping all over League of Legends for no reason. The article takes PR spew directly from Riot and doesn’t bother to find out if it’s actually true or not.

        As said, there is no way League was built as a competitive game from the start, they STILL don’t have a way to save game state and resume tournament games in the event of a crash or internet dropping. The recent big tournament had a match remade about 3 times due to this.

      • Kakkoii says:

        That didn’t sound butt-hurt at all. He was bringing some factual information this this fairly inaccurate article. It seems more like LoL players get butt-hurt when the truth about Riot is spoken.

  21. Frank says:

    Y’all deserve your reputation for vitriol and insularity. Sheesh.

    Let me know when they switch the control scheme away from RTS. I rather liked S2’s Savage back in the day…

  22. The Random One says:

    I will never enjoy MOBAs. Never. It’s an irrational thing, like my hatred of medieval fantasy, but I can’t abide by a game that lets me play as the über-powerful megadude and my goal is just to escort a bunch of tiny craplings who actually do whatever the objective is. I AM HUGE LET ME KNOCK DOWN THE DAMN BALL OR WHATEVER

    • Kakkoii says:

      Huh? That’s not at all what these games are like (well, at least DotA 2). Hardly any of the heroes are “uber-powerful megadude”s.
      Your job isn’t to escort the creeps. The creeps are just there to be killed by the opposing team for gold and exp, and to take hits from the tower for you when you want to try and push it down (or else the tower would be hitting you, HARD). And since you can attack your own creeps when they are below 10% HP in DotA (not in LoL, cause they over-simplified the game), you can kill your own creeps too before your opponents can last hit them, denying them that gold/xp, and thus giving your team and advantage by how well you do that. (But obviously you have to keep on eye on all the creeps and decide if it’s a good choice to deny, or if there is a last hit you’re going to miss by doing that.)

      The main meat of the game is the team fights and ganks that happen, which are exciting and test your skill to visually understand what is going on and react appropriately, remembering the type of skills the opposing heroes and your teammates have so you can react appropriately and know how much distance you should try and keep, or whether your hero has enough power to take down one of the heroes in that fight. It’s all rather complex and exciting, and I would really advice you to give DotA 2 a try!

  23. elfbarf says:

    As some others have said, this article is fairly inaccurate and seems to be biased in favor of Riot/League of Legends. I’m a bit disappointed that RPS would allow such an article to be posted here.

  24. innociv says:

    ARTS. Jesus.

    Valve don’t call Dota2 a “MOBA”. I don’t think S2 calls HoN one either.