The Rise of the MOBA

Written by Chad

August 17, 2019

The MOBA genre, and particularly League of Legends, has risen to become a dominant force in the eSports scene

The MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena, has risen to become a hugely popular and recognizable game genre in modern video-gaming and that rise has been pretty meteoric.

One game in particular has come to define the sudden rise of the MOBA, League of Legends (LoL). League has been around since 2010 and now not only boasts a massive player base, which all video games covet, but is also a hugely recognizable title in the eSports industry.

League of Legends tournaments are easily one of the most popular and widely viewed eSports events, with a huge range of sponsors and some serious prize money on offer. In this article, we’ll be looking at the rise of the MOBA genre through the lens of League of Legends’ success.

Modified Beginnings

While League of Legends was released as a game in its own right in 2009, it started life as a community mod for Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne in around 2003.

The Frozen Throne was an expansion with updated for Blizzard’s immensely popular Warcraft III RTS (real time strategy) game which was then modded by a group of fans, including Steve “Guinsoo” Feak and Steve “Pendragon” Mescon, into a game called Defense of the Ancients (DotA).

The mod quickly became hugely popular and a burgeoning eSports scene began to be created around it.

From humble beginnings as a Frozen Throne mod, League of Legends has risen to become one of the most popular games on the PC

Riot Games and DOTA

Mescon and Feak, the lead designers on Defense of the Ancients, soon moved on to work for Riot Games – eventually producing League of Legends, a product very much based on Defense of the Ancients.

At the same time, another group of modders, working with games design company and Steam owners, Valve began working on a sequel to Defense of the Ancients, which would eventually become DotA 2 – another MOBA to rival League of Legends.

League benefited from the so-called “free to play” model and from the existing community already built around DotA, quickly rising to become one of the most popular games in existence by hitting an astonishing monthly user rate of 100 million players.

The Move to eSports

What makes League of Legends such an excellent fit for eSports is a trait it shares in common with many actual sports. It seems simple and plays complicated.

At its most basic, League of Legends pits two teams against each other as they try to advance to their way through the map and destroy and objective on their opponents’ side. To make things even simpler, most competitive games are played on a single map, Summoner’s Rift. This map rarely changes and is analogous to a football pitch or tennis court.

While the basics of the game seem simple, and are easy for the casual viewer to follow, the huge number of different Champions (nearly 130 in total) that gamers can play as makes for a much more complicated meta-game, filled with overlapping strategies based around Champion choice and map positioning.

This combination of easy to follow simplicity and tactical depth appealed to a wide eSports audience and led to the creation of the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS).

The monetization of League of the Legends comes from sponsorship, advertising and lots and lots of merchandise!

League of Legends World Championships

Traditionally, eSports tournaments based around particular games, such as Starcraft and Streetfighter have faired very well in Asian countries, like Japan and South Korea, while failing to find a consistent Western audience.

Riot Games League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), which debuted in 2013, bucked this tread, bringing with it the huge fan base from the game as an audience and drawing in talented players by taking the unusual step of providing them with minimum wage.

In a manner similar to football, other local leagues then popped up around the world, eventually coalescing around a single tournament in which the best teams from each league competed, the League of Legends World Championships.

A Lucrative Investment

The huge popularity of League of Legends, both in terms of players and eSports viewers has led to significant investment in professional teams by a range of backers.

Huge investment firms, like The Madison Square Garden Company and Bessemer Venture Partners – who raised $37 million for Team SoloMid – now compete with telecom companies, like SK Telecom, and even established sports teams, like the Golden State Warriors, and FC Schalke, to back the best League of Legends teams.

The combination of money and popularity has seen other MOBA games rise to challenge League of Legends crown.

DotA 2 tournaments became so popular that their prize pools are considered some of the biggest in eSports history, riveling established sports for the amount paid out to the winners. Valve has also begun to work on transitioning DotA 2 to VR, in an attempt to break new ground for the MOBA genre.

Given the success of League of Legends and DotA 2, it was only a matter of time before other MOBAs appeared on the scene, like Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Storm and Gearbox Software’s Battleborn.

While none of these games have gained enough traction to threaten League of Legends supremacy, they all have significant fan-bases and contribute to the domination of the eSports scene by MOBAs. The rise of the MOBA might have been rapid, but, with League of Legends and its rivals still going strong, it seems that it will be sticking around for the foreseeable future.

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