Baelog: It's not a MOBA, it's a hero brawler!
Olaf: Hero brawler herba heybee, you made that up!
Erik: Nope, but Blizzard sure did!
The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), also known as ARTS (Action Real Time Strategy)note or Hero Brawler, is a relatively new game genre popularized in the first decade of the 21st century. While the Ur-Example was the Sega Genesis classic Herzog Zwei, the Trope Maker was Aeon of Strife, a map for Starcraft. It gained popularity and, when Warcraft III with its powerful Hero Units and amazing map editor came out, spawned a lot of similar maps which were referred to as AoS-style maps. Amongst others there were D-Day, various AoS direct ports, and Defense of the Ancients, developed by Eul. One of its own spinoffs, Defense Of The Ancients Allstars developed by Guinsoo, became the Trope Codifier by virtue of its astounding popularity, with a non-negligible fraction of Warcraft III sales driven solely by people who wanted to play DotA Allstars.
The heart of the MOBA genre lies in several basic qualities. First, it is relatively easy to play, being (typically) controlled through a point-and-click Real-Time Strategy interface but giving the player control of only one Hero Unit, with four or five skills, instead of a Command & Conquer Economy. In comparison of the other RTS games, this also makes the controllable character feel more unique and individual than just generic characters (which is quite ironic, because as far as this genre's plot goes, it's basically Excuse Plot). The player is assisted by a computer-controlled base and its minions, as well as four (sometimes two) Player Character teammates, each controlling their own Hero Unit, with the opposition consisting of the same. Second, it has Loads and Loads of Characters, making it easy to learn but difficult to master; not only is each character unique in its skills and abilities, but the large number of characters results in unique team compositions, with varying levels of synergy between them. Third, the objective is not to rack up enough kills, but rather to destroy the enemy's base. Killing the enemy heroes helps you with this, but is not a necessary step. Finally, Competitive Balance dictates that no Hero Unit can ever become powerful enough to win the game single-handedly; each character (or player) is deliberately limited in what elements they can contribute to the victory (crowd control, damage output, tanking, healing, etc), which is especially important once the teams start aggregating for five-on-five brawls. The result is a high emphasis on skill and teamwork, where communication and intelligent gameplay inevitably win out.
As the game progresses, AI-controlled minions (sometimes called "lane creeps" or just "creeps") spawn at each team's base and proceed along pre-programmed paths ("lanes"), traveling from allied tower to allied tower before assaulting the enemy towers. These minions will attack any enemy they come across such as opposing minions, opposing towers and opposing players. There are almost always fewer lanes than there are players - maps with three players per team typically have two lanes, while five-player teams typically brawl over three lanes.
In-between these lanes is a region known as "the jungle", containing un-allied units (referred to as "neutral creeps" or "monsters") more powerful than minions which attack any unit from either team they come across - however, as these units remain in the jungle, they almost only ever encounter the playersnote .
Many games also include several powerful monsters in the jungle, weaker than a player character but dangerous to a badly wounded hero. Killing these monsters give some bonus for a short amount of time. One or two monsters in the jungle which are considerably more powerful than any hero, requiring coordination from the entire team to take down but grant large team-wide awards for killing them.
Each player controls a single "hero" character unit. This character is considerably more powerful than any minion and the normal creeps in the jungle but less powerful than any tower, meaning it is easy for them to kill minions but assaulting a tower on their own is suicidal. Every hero unit has a unique set of abilities and statistics. A team is usually only allowed a single copy of any given hero. As a result, teams have a diverse membership of heroes, each filling different roles.
Hero units in the game grow inherently more powerful over time. Towers are either exempted from this or grow at a slower rate, meaning that the towers will inevitably be brought down by damage from both the minions and heroes. Player heroes gain power by killing enemy minions, neutral creeps, towers and enemy heroes. In many games, merely being around a killed enemy unit gives a hero Experience Points and/or money, but directly killing a creep will either give them a resource they don't gain passively (usually a Status Buff) or more of that resource - usually money. This mechanic makes up the core of the gameplay. The opposing heroes want to do the same thing, trying to kill the allied units in order to accumulate experience and moneynote . Due to the lanes, allied minions will always go directly into contact with enemy minions and there are only a limited number of neutral monsters in the jungle to kill, forcing players to inevitably come into conflict with each other.
This conflict is accentuated by three additional factors. First, killing an enemy hero provides large amounts of money and experience. In the original DotA, this is doubly harmful as the hero who is killed outright loses money, though many other games have dropped this penalty because it's too harsh. Secondly, if an enemy hero is killed or forced to retreat, there is no opposition while you kill enemy minions, racking up money and experience. This also denies the enemy hero the opportunity to do the same, damaging their ability to accumulate power and resources. Thirdly, if a lane is left undefended, it is easier to "push" the lane: leading allied minions in an attack on an enemy tower, which is typically programmed to prioritize killing minions, allowing you to damage it in relative anonymity.
As a result, a great deal of the interplay between the players and the teams comes from risk and reward; being more aggressive may make it easier to kill lots of enemy units, drive off enemy heroes, accumulate money more quickly, and damage enemy towers, but it also may leave you more vulnerable to counterattacks from enemy heroes, whether they be in the lane with you or ambushing you from the jungle (or both!). It should also be pointed out that the Instant-Win Condition involves demolishing the enemys central building; killing enemy heroes will help you do this by giving you EXP, Gold and the freedom to roam around the map in safety (at least, until those enemies respawn), but that's all it does. It's entirely possible to "backdoor" a base by dodging the enemy team entirely and going straight to their core; likewise, it's possible to "team-wipe" the opposition, killing all five of them with no losses to your own side, but then not accomplish any useful demolition while they're dead.
As heroes accumulate experience, they typically passively gain extra Hit Points and Mana, as well as deal additional damage, but also usually gain other benefits as well, such as gaining access to new abilities or more powerful versions of the abilities they already possess; in many games, the player gets to choose which ability to make stronger at each level. However, the really critical resource tends to be money; while levels are very important, money allows a hero to buy items or other upgrades, which make them more powerful and sometimes grant them additional speed or special abilities they would otherwise lack. Unlike experience, money can only be spent when the hero returns to base (or respawns at base after their death), meaning that heroes must periodically retreat from the front lines in order to buy items or upgrades at their base, leaving temporary holes in their teams' defenses, but making them more powerful and better able to kill enemy minions and fight off enemy heroes.
Many MOBAs have a few well-defined roles for heroes:
- The Carry: A character, typically a Glass Cannon, who outputs a lot of damage through basic attacks. They are named after their responsibility for "carrying" their team to victory in the late game after their early-game frailty has been mitigated. By the end-game, these characters may be capable of killing multiple enemy heroes in a single fight or bringing down a tower quickly. Carries typically rely on the Magikarp Power trope for balancing, allowing you to throw them off their game in the opening minutes of the match. Some carries are also considered "assassins", who are focused on killing off specific enemy targets.
- The Caster: Frequently acts as a secondary carry of sorts. Where the Carry puts out Death of a Thousand Cuts, Casters tend to be reliant on their abilities to do bursts of damage, but they can also place debilitating penalties upon enemy heroes or control the battlefield in such a way to make it harder for the enemy to bring their power to bear. Like the carry, these characters tend to start out weak but end the game with a great deal of power. Unlike carries, they may be poor at destroying towers: in some games, their main source of damage, their abilities, cannot be used on buildings.
- The Tank, a character whose purpose is to draw enemy aggression. They're typically good at forcing enemies to fight with them, either stunning, immobilizing, trapping, pulling in, or taunting enemies into attacking them. This allows their teammates to kill them while they are otherwise occupied. Simultaneously, the Tank needs to be able to take a lot of punishment.
- The Support, a character whose job is to grant some sort of buff or healing ability to the rest of their team, keeping important characters (such as the caster and the carry) alive, helping characters stay "in-lane" longer despite taking damage, and otherwise boosting the abilities of their team. In five-player games, these players tend to be the one forced to double-up in a lane with one of their teammates and allow their teammate to accumulate the bulk of the money, forcing them to find other ways to be useful which don't involve them having high durability or damage. Dedicated support players are often called upon to master the largest variety of characters, as the "support" role can also involve offensive operations such as running interference for the damage-dealers or even setting up opportunities for them.
- The Jungler, a character whose job it is to wander around in the jungle killing neutral creeps. Unlike other heroes, these characters may fill any of the other roles on their team (though usually not support), and also are usually expected to act as assassins, trying to gang-kill ("gank") enemy heroes - not only the enemy jungler, but also the enemies in lanes. They also are usually expected to stand in for allied heroes when they're killed or forced to retreat from a lane in order to keep the lane covered at all times. In many games, the jungler is also expected to act as reconnaissance, either directly keeping an eye out for the enemy jungler to ensure that they don't ambush their allies, or leaving "wards" around, which are sentry-type units which may or may not be possible for the enemy to attack but which grant sight to allies, giving them warning if an enemy is trying to sneak up on them.
Aside from these generalized roles, MOBA characters and items can have similarities a lot they make up their own archetypes within the genre. Check here for such occurrences.
Late in the game, after heroes have accumulated significant amounts of experience and money, they will typically take a more aggressive stance and start actively trying to destroy enemy towers, as well as try and gang up and destroy the special, more powerful monsters in the jungle to gain team-wide bonuses; frequently, this forces the enemy team to deploy against them in response. These situations where whole teams come into conflict are known as "team fights", and can frequently vastly shift the balance of power as multiple heroes from one team might be killed and forced to wait to respawn at base; a decisive team fight, where an entire team is trapped and eliminated, can frequently cost the eliminated team the game. Typically, respawn timers also get longer as the dead hero in question gains levels, making such losses even more painful.
While enemy heroes may have their own Hit Points, the health of your team as a whole is measured in its buildings. The core building, remember, is the Instant-Win Condition, and destroying it by any means, at any time, results in victory. Additionally, as you lose your outer towers, you lose map control; the Fog of War spreads, giving the enemy team more opportunities to ambush you. Finally, within your base are typically important buildings which, if destroyed, actually unlock extra mooks for the enemy team, tilting the game further in their favor.
Unstable Equilibrium is a big factor in MOBAs. Early-game mistakes can result in one team or another gaining an early advantage, which makes it easier for them to win later confrontations, giving them a larger advantage with every victory. There are plenty of ways to hand your opponent advantages too, from starting a fight you can't win to failing to show up at a fight you could've won, from being at the wrong place at the wrong time to being at the right place at the wrong time. The end result is that matches can often be decided long before either base is in even remote danger of destruction. Numbers are also critically important; at competitive levels of play, teams will often disengage after losing only one of their members, because their absence is already enough to virtually guarantee victory to the enemy team. Never Split the Party in a MOBA. Finally, because hero characters are (deliberately) limited in what they can bring to the table, a lack of teamwork can spell disaster. You might play a perfect game, execute everything correctly, avoid needless damage, get a ton of kills... and still lose, because someone on your team dropped their responsibilities. Even worse, if your team doesnt plan to do what you want them to, you might not be able to play your game at all; you may be forced to use your character to do things s/he isnt good at or even is designed to be bad at, leaving a sour taste in ones moutheven if said non-cooperative teammates go on to win the game (especially if).
The end result is that people can get really angry when playing a MOBA. Their communities are infamously toxic; they Suffer Newbies Poorly and blast weak team players. Many of these games have devoted communities who treat play as Serious Business, and due to the inherent difficulties in measuring the contribution of individual players on teams, matchmaking between individual players for pick-up games tends to lead to much more varied skill levels of players on a given team than for games with more individually-tailored rating systems, especially in games with five or more players on a side. This, plus the basics of human psychology, results in a recipe for G.I.F.T. and Griefing, and all of the DOTA clones, due to the relatively long matches and teamwork-centric game design, suffer from this to a great extent.
To mitigate the problem of having highly competitive people of variable skill levels, some of the newer MOBAs have tried to adopt different systems with varying levels of success, either by making it easier for the losing team to catch up or by making it so that matches end more quickly when one team gains a large advantage; both solutions are intended to give players less time to be unhappy with each other and to spend less time playing games where the outcome is already clear. In addition, most if not all the current MOBAs have some sort of player score-based matchmaking system, where all players have a personal score — usually known as "Elo" from the old days of League of Legends or "matchmaking ranking" (MMR) from present day Dota 2 — and joining the matchmaking queue will theoretically match you only with players with a score similar to yours, in order to guarantee that teams have a roughly even chance of winning.
Games in this genre:
The ProgenitorsThe games that incidentally possessed certain game elements that would inspire the creation of the first iteration of a MOBA. Pretty much the prototypes of the genre and they were created not to make this genre in the first place.
- Herzog Zwei - A Sega Genesis game that contains elements of team fights that would inspire the creators of the game below, particularly the 'Fight 'til you destroy enemy base', and 'Your hero always respawn after death'. This is the Ur-Example of MOBA.
- Future Cop: L.A.P.D. - The Precinct Assault multiplayer mode is pretty much the prototype of future MOBA genre. Aeon of Strife's creator was heavily influenced by this mode.
- Aeon Of Strife - Starcraft Game Mod, where the setting and concept of the genre was first defined (control single heroes, three lanes, etc.).
The GrandfatherThe game that eventually grew too popular and launched the genre. The one that started it all.
- Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars - A Warcraft III Game Mod, improving further of the concepts of Aeon of Strife and having its own dedicated patch team to ensure the game continues as a success. Has many iterations until the All Stars subseries becomes the standard map. Also known as DOTA, this is the Trope Maker.
The Big ThreeCurrently considered the cream of the crop and the most played games, more likely to get a lot of streamers on the video or rated as the best MOBAs to date, and more likely to have E-Sport presence. They held the greatest popularities and standing power through The New '10s, the era where MOBA took stride, and still continue to do so.
- League of Legends - A MOBA developed by several of the team who worked on DotA Allstars (including Guinsoo), it was the first to come up with matchmaking system, simplified mechanics to attract the casuals more and an actually deep lore to keep the fans attached to the characters on more personal levels. Released in 2009, it was also only the second "formal" MOBA (IE not a game mod) behind Demigod, listed below, giving it more room to shine. It took from World of Warcraft the title of "Most Played Game in the World" and retained it through much of The New '10s before being dethroned by Battle Royale Games.
- Dota 2 - Originally created as a straight port of Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars, remade on the Source engine (and later the Source 2 engine) by both Valve Software and one of the original's team, IceFrog. Though gameplay started off practically identical to DotA's aside from various quality-of-life improvements, superior graphics, and original character designs for the heroes (to avoid copyright issues with Blizzard), it has stopped sharing updates with its predecessor in 2015, and has since introduced new heroes, items, and mechanics such as the talent tree to evolve its gameplay. Though not quite as popular as League, it still draws a huge e-sports scene by virtue of having the largest prize pools in the world.
- Smite - Made by Hi-Rez Studios, who made Global Agenda. Notable for putting the action in over-the-shoulder 3rd person for a more action-packed experience, while still sticking faithfully to the genre formula. Based around mythologies from all over the word where you take control as gods such as Thor, Hades, Ra and many more. Also available for PS4 and Xbox One
The Former Stars
Unlike the Dead/Shut Down MOBA below, these titles are not dead. However, there was a time that these series used to be great and well liked... until something happened. Now they are no longer the juggernaut they were before, but it would be wrong to call them 'dead' or 'fledging', they may still attract a lot of players, but not as much as they used to.
- Heroes of Newerth: Originally developed as a direct port of DotA All-Stars to a new engine, since the Warcraft 3 engine was woefully out of date, it has over the years grown to be different in many respects. Most notably the larger part of heroes developed directly by S2 Games but also several nuances have been changed that Valve would not dare touch for fear of upsetting fans of the original mod. It was amongst the big titles and the only ones who could challenge League of Legends, but Dota 2 dethroned it and it lost favor against Smite and Heroes of the Storm. However, it's not dead yet, as it continued to receive update and lurks amongst Cult Classic status, as if waiting for the chance to strike back and reclaim its throne.
- Heroes of the Storm - A MOBA made with Heroes and characters from Blizzard's popular franchises and properties (and at least one of their older classics so far), crossing over and battling in new and original maps, each with their own objectives and twists. It features a shorter average game length and removes items entirely in favor of "Talents". Was originally called Blizzard Dota, and then Blizzard All-Stars, before settling on the current title. Unfortunately, Blizzard committed a certain mismanagement that caused them to pull the game from the e-sports scene, thereby losing a lot of attention and players. It's still played and is managed by its development team, attaining Cult Classic status like Newerth, but now mostly concentrates on non-e-sport scenes (such as quick plays), thus losing its spot as one of the big ones.
The Fledging Ones and the Cult ones
These MOBA are very much playable and have a chance to be a fan favorite, except they tend to lay kind of low, either not attracting E-Sport scenes, or they're not out of alpha/beta phase yet. But they still live.
- Awesomenauts: A 2D Sidescrolling game following the DotA formula.
- AirMech: A Real-Time Strategy in the vein of Herzog Zwei.
- BattleTanks: A less-well known Warcraft III Game Mod where the heroes are tanks.
- Bloodline Champions, which does not follow DotA's formula at all. Rather than having creeps, lanes, and towers, Bloodline Champions focuses entirely on player vs. player combat, making it a "Multiplayer Online Battle Arena" in the most literal sense of the phrase.
- Chaos Online, dubbed as 'Korean DOTA' at first, but has more similarities to League of Legends (though the map is designed like southeast-northwest as opposed to the typical southwest-northeast). Gains its notice when not only they feature crossover from Japanese games, so far Guilty Gear, BlazBlue and Valkyria Chronicles, it is also imported to Japan (under the name Chaos Heroes Online), dubbed with Names to Know in Anime, and those crossover characters get Role Reprises by their original actors. The English version lived under closed beta, managed by Aeria Games, and yes, the crossover characters get carried over, until Aeria Games closed it down. However, it's still going on in Japan and Korea.
- Clonk scenarios "Tower Attack" (focusing on the base and mook elements) and "Keepers" (with less Real-Time Strategy elements and more action combat and RPG Elements; freely combinable skills depending on class instead of fixed skillsets).
- Dungeon Defenders 2, a sequel to the original Dungeon Defenders which was going to have a Dota-like mode with many heroes and a third person camera, but was scrapped in favor of sticking to the original formula
- Fat Princess, a hybrid of the genre with top-down Action Game.
- Heroes Of Order And Chaos: another Mobile Phone Game take.
- Prime World (A game that seeks to integrate Facebook and the ability to play support with a Zuma-like mini-game if a player isn't that good with DotA-style games). Has its own Tower Defense Spin-Off, "Prime World Defenders", on smartphones.
- Realm of the Titans (Was supported by Aeria Games for about a year or two, support in the US has been dropped, but continues to be played in East Asia)
- Starwing Paradox is an odd example that mixes this genre with mecha combat like as seen in Virtual-ON. Defense towers and minions exist, but there are no lanes and the objective is to capture neutral points to expose the enemy bases core.
- Storm Of The Imperial Sanctum (StarCraft II Game Mod)
- Tides Of Blood (Another Warcraft III Game Mod)
Mobile platforms has a vastly high adoption rate. Therefore, it was perfect ground for the wildly popular genre and several of the mobile MOBA games have gained a great deal of popularity.
- Arena of Valor: A mobile MOBA by Tencent, an internationalized version of Tencent's Chinese-exclusive MOBA Wangzhe Rongyao/Honor of Kings, that eventually will make an appearance in Nintendo Switch, making it the first 'traditional' MOBA that would have a console appearance. Also notable for including DC Comics characters such as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and The Joker, after their own MOBA was shut down. Unlike a traditional MOBA, the game play area is smaller for fast paced and quick action gameplay, there are no wards and no fog of war, also the game uses console-esque virtual analog pad and face buttons for action buttons.
- Mobile Legends: Made by Montoon and surprisingly taking artistic and gameplay cues from League of Legends (along with Captain Ersatz of other popular anime and game characters) enough that at one point Riot Games sued them for infringement and recently Tencent, the new owner of Riot Games, also sued Montoon (due to very high similarities in user interface, controls, and art style to the aforementioned Arena of Valor) and won a fair share of lawsuit. It managed to still stand and continued to gain popularity, especially in Southeast Asia.
- Extraordinary Ones: An anime-influenced MOBA by NetEase Games. Has the unique honor of having "crossovers" with the likes of My Hero Academia and Mob Psycho 100 where main characters from those series can be played as special skins for certain fighters.
- Vainglory: A MOBA based around destroying the other team's Vain Crystal, surprisingly taking over the Tablet/Android scenes in a surprising pace and starts to have its own solid e-sport scene, which might make this game join the ranks of the MOBA Juggernauts above). Unlike Arena of Valor and Mobile Legends (which Vainglory predates them), Vainglory uses point and click controls.
- Kessen! Heian-kyō aka. Onmyōji Arena: A MOBA spin-off of the mobile RPG Onmyōji using the same characters from the game (surprisingly including several crossover characters such as Inuyasha and Sesshomaru).
Shut Down MOBAs
The genre turns out to be a very harsh competition between producers, so there are some that ended up having their plugs pulled. Some of them managed to make themselves known before being put down though.
- Atlas Reactor: A Turn-Based Strategy game based around Frozen Synapse (or Diplomacy, for the tabletop enthusiasts)-style simultaneous turns planned in advance.
- Arena of Fate: A game that was developed by Crytek, befor going to Sega featuring characters from mythology (Fenrir, Achilles) fairy tales (Red Riding Hood, Alice) and history (Nikola Tesla, Joan of Arc), but was quietly canceled.
- Adventure Time Battle Party: A free-to-play game featuring characters from the show Adventure Time. Was shut down in May of 2017 due to support for Unity games being dropped, as well as server issues.
- Crasher, a Vehicular Combat version.
- Dark Nexus Arena: A Warhammer 40,000 MOBA game. Cancelled in 2016.
- Dawngate: A fleeting game by a new company called Waystone Games that changes things by removing the standard middle lane in favor of a massive jungle, and adding "Resource Nodes", which are automatically mined by minions when captured and give resources to the team. While it became something of a fan favorite, EA decided to shut down Waystone Games and closed the Dawngate along with it.
- Demigod: A particularly high-budget attempt at the genre, with incredible graphics and sound and a lot of creative new mechanics; sadly, it failed to get off the ground (it wasn't Free-to-Play, which most of the successful titles are, and had a very small number of Hero Characters) and died in short order.
- Fates Forever, a MOBA made exclusively for tablets (iOS only).
- Gigantic, a third person MOBA by Motiga with a distinct cel-shaded art style. Gigantic eschews the normal jungle based combat with various side arenas which spawn minions for the team that controls them, as well as being based around the gigantic beasts who replace the normal crystal at the end.
- Guardians of Middle-Earth, featuring characters from Tolkien's Legendarium.
- Infinite Crisis: A MOBA set in the DC Universe, with the premise of numerous alternate universes colliding. Its creator, Turbine, announced its shutdown for August 2015, six months after its release. However, some of the DC heroes would make appearances in another mobile MOBA, Arena of Valor (See above)
- Monday Night Combat, a hybrid of the genre with Third Person Shooter.
- Its sequel, Super Monday Night Combat, followed the formula more closely, but still blended it with a Third Person Shooter.
- Orcs Must Die! Unchained originally had a Siege mode that mixed MOBA-style action with the Tower Defense gameplay of the previous games, but was eventually removed due to unpopularity to focus more on the PvE aspect of the game.
- Paragon, a Third-Person Shooter-MOBA much like Monday Night Combat, made by Epic Games of the Unreal Tournament fame, as well as running on the Unreal 4 Engine. Though not unsuccessful, it was overshadowed by Epic's other product Fortnite and shut down for financial reasons.
- Rise of Immortals: Lasted around 2-3 years, with a short relaunch as Battle for Graxia, but the service was cancelled in June 2013.
- Sins Of A Dark Age: By Ironclad Games, it mixed things up by introducing randomly selected quests during the match, each of which comes with a unique reward in addition to building an overall quest completion reward list. Released in March 2015, it was deemed financially unviable within a mere two months.
- Solstice Arena: a trend-breaker in several ways, being published by Zynga (!) exclusively for iStuff (!!), though a Steam release came later. It was described as a "speed MOBA" and did away with lane creeps entirely.
- Strife, a MOBA developed by the same people behind Heroes of Newerth. While introducing player customization such as custom recipes, the game was also balanced for a more casual experience by giving shared creep bounty, revising scaling for all heroes, and even removing wards.
- Universal Monsters Online: a Massive Multiplayer Crossover starring Universal Horror monsters, discontinued as of 2013.
- Vorp, A Space MOBA.
- Warhammer Online: Wrath of Heroes: A game that was being made by Bioware, did moderately well, but failed to meet expectations, and was canceled before it left beta.
- The Witcher Battle Arena: a free-to-play game based in The Witcher universe.
List of tropes prominent in the genre:
- Adaptation Displacement: DotA: Allstars is more popular and well-known than any of its predecessors. Very few people know about Aeon of Strife or Eul's DotA. Likewise, Guinsoo's tenure at the helm of Allstars is more historical compared to Ice Frog's tenure, due to Ice Frog maintaining Competitive Balance.
- Ascended Glitch: Some limits of the Warcraft III engine and glitches made it into metagame and are copied in other games. Notably, the concept of killing your own friendly creeps to "deny" XP and gold from the enemy.
- Boss Battle: The heroes may be considered Bosses. In addition, some MOBAs also include a powerful Neutral enemy which is difficult to face alone, but usually yields a powerful reward (like the ability to revive from death once).
- Bribing Your Way to Victory: The most common business model for these games is a downplayed version of this: players get access to a small portion of the roster of playable characters, which regularly rotates. Characters can also be unlocked permanently by buying them with in-game currency, but this often takes enormous amounts of grinding (especially for the newest characters, which usually have an inflated price tag when they are first released). If you want to play as someone you don't have unlocked but don't feel like grinding for days (possibly weeks if the game is especially stingy with its currency rewards), you'll have to cough up the cash. Some games also offer a special bundle which instantly unlocks every current and future character at a reduced price. This is not as bad as it may sound, as all characters are generally meant to be roughly equal in power, so having more of them to pick from does not always grant you an advantage so long as the game's balance is good enough.
- Can't Catch Up: Players intend to invoke this. In many MOBAs, there are many heroes who can't do much after a certain point in the game thanks due to lower scaling abilities/stat growth. In addition, by then, heroes who succeed in getting enough gold and experience will start to painfully maim their past predators
- Cast of Snowflakes: This is a standard feature of this genre. The characters have to be distinct and easily-identified in a chaotic teamfight.
- Casual/Competitive Conflict: Embodied in the rivalry between League of Legends and Dota 2. LoL isn't even the simplest MOBA by a long shot, but it's the biggest, and was deliberately designed as a much more streamlined version of Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars, Dota 2's immediate predecessor.
- Character Tiers: These are frequently debated by the various communities and monitored closely by the developers; due to the competitive nature of these games, heroes are frequently made more or less powerful in order to bring them into better balance with one another, with varying levels of success. Some heroes are generically strong, some can be used in multiple roles on a team, some excel at specific roles, and some may be useful for exactly one thing and completely useless otherwise. The tiers change frequently in many games due to constant small adjustments to various heroes, with older heroes tending to settle out to relatively stable positions while newer heroes tend to be more varied in usefulness as they are rebalanced as players learn how to use them to deadly effect, or counter them and render them almost entirely useless.
- Comeback Mechanic:
- In many games, if you kill a Hero who is in the middle of a Kill Streak, you get a big Gold bonus, not to mention a huge psychological boost. However, this is all too frequently subverted.
- See also the various other metrics of success. New players typically assume that leading in killscore equates to victory, and it certainly does up your chances... but "CS" (creep score), the number of mooks you've killed—and thus the amount of Gold you have—is critical too, because that results in better items. The number of demolished towers are also important, because it lowers the enemy's map control and makes it harder for them to farm safely. Finally, there's typically some sort of Bonus Boss (Roshan in the original DotA) that grants some sort of mega-buff when slain. In the semi-final round of the 2013 League of Legends world championship, a team that was behind in kills 2 to 1 nonetheless managed to keep equal in Gold and items, and snatch said mega-buff. It was enough to turn the game in their favor.
- The biggest Comeback Mechanic, though, is the way respawn timers scale with level. The higher your character's level, the longer it takes for that character to respawn. This can create very long periods of time in which your team is under-strength in comparison to the enemy team. In fact, teams who have been winning the entire game have been known to lose the match by engaging in a team fight, losing said team fight by any margin whatsoever, and being unable to stop the enemy team as they steamroll their way through the gap. (Of course, this requires your team to grab the Idiot Ball with both hands and the enemy team to grab the Smart Ball, neither of which are things you can count on.)
- Competitive Balance: You can have Physical Gods and Badass Normals in one setting, but they must be equal in power.
- Cooldowns: Your abilities will almost always have a cooldown period after being used. In some games, the most powerful ultimate abilities may have several minutes of cooldown, while more arcade-y games may have only a few seconds at most.
- Death Is Cheap: Downplayed. As mentioned, your hero respawns endlessly and will continue to do so for as long as the match goes on; you never have to worry about getting locked out of the match. Having said that, dying is literally the absolute worst thing you can ever do in a match (short of Throwing the Fight by dying on purpose), because your team is 20% weaker until you come back. (And that's before we get into funky math about how much further the enemy team got ahead while you were gone.) While it is extremely difficult to play a serious match without ever dying, that is nonetheless the standard you are expected to play to. (Again, Suffers Newbies Poorly.)
- Detractor Nickname: Haters prefer calling the genre "Aeon Strife-Styled Fortress Assault Game Going On Two Sides", a not-inaccurate description that has the amusing side-effect of shortening to "ASSFAGGOTS".
- Difficult, but Awesome: Sure, it can take a long time to adjust to even the basic mechanics of the game, even longer to get a firm grasp on the flow of the game, but if you can get past those (and the community), MOBAs can be a very rewarding experience for some.
- Dueling Games: The rivalry between League of Legends and Dota 2 is quite possibly THE most vicious and hate-fueled clash in gaming history, easily surpassing the Mario/Sonic rivalry of the early 90s or the more recent Call of Duty vs Battlefield conflict in sheer vitriol. The two fanbases simply cannot tolerate the mere existence of the other, with Dota 2 players treating LoL as a dumbed-down, childish rip-off played by immature, unskilled babies too pathetic to play a real game, while the LoL players consider Dota 2 to be an obsolete, clunky, intentionally-overcomplicated dinosaur of a game played by arrogant, elitist snobs who equate "difficulty" with "quality". The fact that both games are considered to have among the most toxic and unpleasant communities in all of gaming certainly does not help matters. Other games in the genre only avoid similar bashing from these communities by virtue of being smaller targets.
- Dynamic Entry: Pretty much every MOBA has at least one character that can use "stealth" or turn him/herself invisible before landing the first attack. Or a character that leaps so high in the sky and then instantly teleports to a certain far distance while generating a Shockwave Stomp on landing, usually nicknamed as the '(insert relevant thing here) Drop'
- Enemy Eats Your Lunch: A constant thorn whenever you play as a jungler. You are just minding your business beating up the jungle creeps, when suddenly, an enemy pops up out of nowhere and lands the final hit, so the rewards (buff, experience and money) goes to that enemy and you just wasted your time. Can also happen in a massive scale when the enemy in question is actually a tough Bonus Boss.
- Excuse Plot: Some games just think "Pick these people, now go fight."
- Follow the Leader: The standard 5-on-5 three-lane map described above is the most common setup for maps. However, this is becoming increasingly rare, as more and more games try different layouts, sometimes even having multiple different maps.
- Forced Level-Grinding: Farming is the prime sources of Experience Points for skills and gold for items, even with the much larger individual bounties for hero kills.
- Gameplay and Story Segregation: If the game has a backstory, expect it to have little to no bearing on the actual gameplay. Characters who are mortal enemies lore-wise will happily fight side-by-side if you pick one of them and a teammate picks the other.
- Item Crafting: Introduced in DotA: Allstars. Everything is sold in the shop, but high-tier items are built out of mid-tier items, which themselves might be built out of low-tier items. This is meaningful because Warcraft III only gave heroes 6 inventory slots. Forcing you to save up for the Infinity +1 Sword would basically doom your team to failure, since anyone who went for an Infinity -1 Sword would have it half a game earlier—and that edge, tiny though it seems, matters a lot. Hence item crafting, allowing you to suck less by building two -1 Swords and combining them into the +1 later.
- Limit Break: the ultimate spell which is more powerful and unique than any other spells, and it is only unlocked by reaching a certain level.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: MOBAs are expected to have a dozen unique characters minimum when they first launch, and often end up with several times that number as new ones are patched in. The biggest games in the genre have over a hundred each!
- Monkey King Lite: Due to the genre's popularity in China, most games have a playable Monkey King in some form. If it's not a flat out playable character based on Sun Wukong (or Wukong himself being part of the roster), a character will have a skin based on the Monkey King.
- Never My Fault: given the large amount of randomness that goes into the genre, this mentality is prevalent. It may also contribute for the genre's success: in a team environment, after all, all five people have to cooperate properly to win, and if you can simply blame those other four people for not doing their job, then you start another match to prove that you totally knew what you were doing.
- One-Man Army:
- Downplayed Trope for the players. Certainly the average playable character is this compared to the average (unseen) denizen of the gameworld, but compared to other playables, a character may only become a One Man Army if they get a massive advantage over the other side in the early game.
- If the game has a Bonus Boss, it will usually qualify, requiring multiple characters to take down.
- Pick-Up Group: matchmaking. Note also that the vast majority of players will get the vast majority of their play experience in PUGs, as the playerbase's toxicity can make it difficult to find anyone who is willing to lane with you repeatedly.
- Play the Game, Skip the Story: Being a multiplayer game; whenever a game attempts to have a plot, it's ignored.
- Serious Business: This is par for the course in any PvP game, but practically a genre trait in MOBA games.
- Silliness Switch: Many MOBAs have cosmetic skins which can turn a serious character into a walking joke, such as Dunkmaster Darius, Such Cold Skadi, and Kandy King Muradin.
- Suffers Newbies Poorly: Some people who treat you like crap when you're starting might be perfectly reasonable if you play them after getting better.
- Throwing the Fight: often described as "feeding," this is the act of playing to lose, often by dying on purpose to the enemy team and "feeding" them the Gold and EXP bonuses. Note that this can happen without treacherous intent, if the other player is just that much better than you. Doesn't stop you from losing, though. And, if a teammate sees you doing this on accident, they may start doing it on purpose, just to get things over with faster.
- Total Party Kill: Depends on the game. There are "Aced!", "Deicide!" or "Enemy Team Dominated!", or RAMPAGE!
- Unstable Equilibrium: MOBAs tend to have incredibly unstable equilibria. Remember that whole thing about "feeding"? If you die to the same enemy player three times or even twice, you can basically condemn your team to defeat. There is very little margin for error in a MOBA.
- Ur-Example: Herzog Zwei
- Weak Turret Gun: Double Subverted by the towers. Early-mid game towers are very dangerous and can kill heroes in only a few hits, but they don't scale according to hero levels, so past a certain point towers stop being a formidable threat. Their main Late-Game use is as glorified stealth detectors. However, generally played entirely straight and justified gameplay-wise with some heroes who may be able to summon turret guns.
- You Are Fat: Inverted. In this genre, "fat" is almost always a compliment: it means someone has been "feeding" you and are now overpowered as a result. This only applies to carries, though. If it's a support who somehow gets fat, they'll probably be criticized for being fat instead of stepping back and letting the carry become fat, which is what a support is supposed to do. (Keep in mind that carry characters are typically saddled with Magikarp Power levels of scaling, so being undernourished makes it impossible for them to carry the team to victory as they should.) (This is also an example of why the genre Suffers Newbies Poorly: if you're a healer, being a Hypercompetent Sidekick is good way to lose.)