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Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) Beginner's Guide
Introduction to Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) Games
Especially before recent years, the genre of Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games had not been particularly large and well known. However, with more companies and players directing attention towards the genre as a whole, its selection of games and player base have both drastically increased. For those of you thinking right now "What on Earth is a 'moba'? Sounds like a rare African fruit of some kind," let me attempt to sum it up for you!
A typical MOBA game is a combination action-strategy game consisting mainly, or completely, of PvP (player vs. player) elements. When you log in to a MOBA, you will most likely be greeted with a decorative home screen with an overwhelming amount of information and content on it, but don't let this frighten you! Usually there is a large, noticeable button ever-so-appropriately labeled "PLAY," and this is all you need to know for this portion of the article.
Once this button is clicked, a player is generally redirected to a screen prompting them to select whether they would like to play a 5v5 match, or a 3v3 match (some games have other team sizes or game modes, but I'll get to that later). After a player selects their preference, they will be placed in a short matchmaking queue until they are matched with players of a similar skill level to execute a game with. The next screen, normally called the "lobby" or "character select screen," is where a player will choose which character they would like to play as for this match, along with other options which, again, I'll get to later!
After all players have locked in their decisions, all participants will undergo a short loading screen before they are placed in their respective "bases" on opposite sides of a combat map. The idea of the game is to destroy the opposing team's central structure, which will be located in the center of their base. Players are forced to use teamwork as they fight their way through players, AI enemies, and turrets in order to invade the enemy team's base, and destroy their central structure! Different games use different gameplay variations of this general structure, along with different terminology and character types. Now continue reading to learn about how you will select your character, gear up, and begin the beat down!
Once you ever-so-masterfully navigate your way to the "play" button and choose which game type sounds appealing, you will be forwarded into the Character Select screen. Depending on the MOBA that you have chosen to play, characters may be referred to by different terms, but the most common two that you will stumble upon will most likely be "champion" or "hero." MOBAs typically offer a wide variety of characters to match the play style preferences of each individual player, but when you first begin playing on your account, it is likely that only a handful of characters will be available for you to play. A common practice of MOBA game developers is to have around 10 characters unlocked for all players at any given time; these characters are typically cycled weekly, and replaced with 10 different characters chosen by the developers. Characters can be permanently unlocked by a player through points that can either be earned by playing games or bought through micro transactions of real world cash. Each character has their own unique base stats and abilities.
Basic character types included in most MOBAs are typically known as the carry, tank, and support. A "carry" type character is one that is designed for dealing lots of damage and picking up kills on the enemy team, a tank is a character that is able to take a large amount of damage and sustain the attacks of many enemies at once, a support character is one that has abilities that benefit their teammates in different ways, such as healing them or buffing their stats.
For your first few games, I recommend that you simply choose characters that seem appealing to you and experiment with which type you like best. If you find one that you like, make an attempt to stick with it, experimenting with different strategies and item combinations until you get a feel for the general combat of the game! In addition to selecting a character, some MOBAs figure in other elements such as additional abilities available to all characters that you may select, or talent trees that you can construct and save to improve the stats or other features of your character. For more information on this, you may want to refer to another guide specified to the game that you are playing. Hopefully I will also be able to provide these in the future!
While MOBAs have different variations and sometimes completely different game types, all of them seem to share the same general structure. A typical 5v5 game can last anywhere from 25 minutes to over an hour, but on average, they will probably only last around 35-45 minutes. Once all players have chosen their characters and loaded the game, you will find yourself with your teammates on one end of the map, opposite of your enemies. Make a note of the place that you spawn, because you will be returning there frequently throughout each game for various reasons. The area in which you spawn will usually be a circle, stone, or pool of some type; in this distinct area, players are granted massive health and mana regeneration in order to get back in the action after being heavily damaged. Some MOBAs include an ability available to all characters that will teleport them back to this area after a short casting time to speed up the process of healing. You will also most likely find some sort of vendor in this area that may come in the form of an individual humanoid, or perhaps a cart or wagon of some sort that is able to be right clicked. This is used to buy items with the currency that you will earn each match, which I will go into greater detail on later in the guide.
As previously mentioned, the central goal of a MOBA is to destroy the opposing team's central structure. This central structure is located in the team's base, typically directly across the map from your own. In addition to the central structure, other destructible structures that each team controls also exist on the map to provide dynamic obstacles for players to overcome in their attempt to win the game. Once the game begins, periodic waves of "creeps" are spawned from each team's central structure. Creeps are AI monsters that travel down the map in a set path, attacking enemy characters, structures, and other creeps that get in their way. They are weak and easily able to be killed by your character in order to earn gold and experience.
A typical 5v5 MOBA map is separated into three lanes. Each team should split up and send characters down each lane in order to gain map control. When creeps are spawned, three groups appear at a time, each one going down a separate lane. The first enemy structures that you will encounter as you travel down your lane will be turrets, otherwise known as towers. These turrets will automatically shoot at your character and deal massive damage if you step within their range, however, turrets will target all creeps in their range before they target you as long as you step in range after these creeps. This naturally makes the most efficient strategy to stay behind your creeps until they move in on a turret, this is when you should take advantage of the opportunity to step in and deal damage while the turret focuses on the nearby creeps. In addition to this, once a turret has taken out most of the creeps surrounding it, it is natural for you to back off and maintain your distance, because once the turret finishes off the creeps it will focus on your character. Another point to note about turrets is that if you attack an enemy champion within range of a turret, the turret will automatically shift its focus on you, regardless of nearby creeps.
After your team has successfully destroyed the turrets in a lane, the next structure that will most likely be encountered is known as many different names depending on the game, but always has the same function. This structure is typically located right on the outskirts of the enemy's base. It is dormant and will not attack your character or creeps. Once it is destroyed, your creeps gain a massive power boost, giving a team who has destroyed this structure much more powerful support to aid them in pushing towards the enemy's central structure. Keep in mind, there is one of these at the base of each lane, and once one is destroyed, only the creeps spawned in its respective lane will gain the power boost; it is often recommended that at least two of these be destroyed before a team continues on into the enemy's base.
After these are taken care of, there are typically two more turrets defending the enemy's central structure which both need to be taken out before it becomes vulnerable to attack. Once these two turrets are destroyed, the central structure, which also does not attack characters or creeps, is able to be targeted for a typically quick kill. While lanes are the central focus of the game, the space in between the lanes is also important. If your teammates are having trouble fighting the enemies that are inhabiting their lane, it is typical that a player from another lane will briefly leave their central lane to assist their teammates by ganking or damaging the problematic opponents, forcing them to return to their base and allowing your team to gain an in-lane advantage. MOBAs also typically include neutral creeps in the spaces between lanes that stand still and are able to be killed by members of either team for benefits such as gold, experience, and sometimes even buffs. After they are killed, these creeps will respawn periodically throughout the game. Throughout the map, you will also typically see patches of tall grass, shrubbery, or something of the sort that characters can enter into. When standing in these patches, players are invisible to enemies outside of the patch, allowing for a character to get a jump on his unsuspecting enemy and gain the advantage in a fight. While some games use the aforementioned structure of awarding players with buffs when they kill certain types of neutral creeps, some MOBAs will instead (or additionally) incorporate gems around the center of the map that a player can walk over in order to gain a certain buff or attribute. With these basic elements of MOBA gameplay, you should be able to experiment with various tactics in order to gain control of the map and make your opponents sorry!
Gold and Items
Just like the levels you gain and the character you select, the gold that you earn and the weapons and armor that you purchase remain exclusive to the game that you obtained them in. If you haven't noticed the pattern here yet, each game is ENTIRELY separate from the next, and has no impact on outside games!
Anyway, there are multiple ways to earn gold throughout each match of a MOBA. First of all, from the time the game starts or creeps spawn to the time the game ends, players are passively earning gold without doing any work. Generally, you will generate one gold per second. In addition to your passive gold generation, you also earn gold from getting the last hit on enemy creeps. Depending on the type of creep that you score the last hit on, the amount of gold may vary from creep to creep. This leads me to the common strategy of "last-hitting," which is the act of standing behind a creep to creep fight and waiting for enemy creeps to be one hit away from death before engaging the individual creep. This allows you to maintain your distance from an enemy turret while also getting bonus gold for each successful last hit you score on an enemy creep. Keep in mind, killing neutral creeps between lanes can be a significant source of cash! Apart from killing creeps, you will also earn gold from killing, or assisting in the death of enemy champions, and also destroying enemy structures.
After you have earned a sufficient amount of gold, you can return to your base to spend it on items that can be purchased from your vendor. Items that the vendor sells will typically be split into easy-to-read sections such as attack, defense, magic, consumables, etc. You may click on these section titles to filter your search through the vendor's wares, and some sections may even collapse into subsections. For example, the "Attack" section in the popular MOBA League of Legends by Riot Games collapses into Attack Speed, Attack Damage, Critical Strike, and Lifesteal. Different stats affect different abilities for each character, one ability may have the effect of slowing a target and dealing 100 + (50% Attack Damage), while another may deal 200 + (30% Ability Power). Most MOBAs indicate which attributes affect certain abilities within the in-game ability description by means of stating it in words, or color coding of the text (a number in green may be referring to Ability Power while a number in red may be referring to Attack Damage). There will typically be a section of "recommended items" for your character to purchase on the vendor's screen, and these are often a good starting point until you start getting a feel for the items that will most benefit your character. Certain items in MOBA games require you to have two or more other items in your inventory before you buy them, and once you buy them, they will consume the two lesser items. MOBAs will often set up their vendor screen so that when you have an item selected, it is simple to navigate to all of the items that are necessary to build it, or all of the items that it can be built in to, its all a matter of getting a feel for the interface! MOBAs also typically include items that are "consumable," such as health potions, mana potions, potions to buff your stats, or items to place on the ground that may have functions such as granting your team sight of the area on your mini map.
Once you have gotten a feel for which items affect which abilities, you will be able to stray from the recommended items and start creating your own builds! Also keep in mind that items sometimes offer special passive abilities, or even abilities that you can activate by clicking on the item in addition to the stats that they add to your character. In the event that you need to free up space in your inventory or you have mistakenly purchased an item that you didn't want, you may select an item in your inventory while the vendor screen is open, and sell it back for a lesser amount of gold. This general vendor, gold, and item structure will vary from game to game, so keep an open mind!
The leveling system of a MOBA is typically quite simple. First of all, I don't believe that I've stated before that in a MOBA, a player is actually playing as an unseen being that controls their selected characters, rather than the character itself. Since I have used League of Legends as an example in prior paragraphs, it only seems fitting to remain consistent and mention here that this being is referred to as a "Summoner" in League of Legends. Therefore, you are playing as a Summoner that summons the character that you choose, and while in each individual game you level up the character that you choose until the game is over, your Summoner level is an entirely different level. Experience that increases your Summoner level is gained by playing games, whether you win or lose, you will typically be allotted a certain amount of experience towards your Summoner level, and as this level increases you are able to unlock portions of the game that were previously unplayable.
Now that the Summoner level issue is covered, lets get to the more direct in-game leveling system! When a game starts, the character that you have selected begins at level one and is unable to use any abilities (other than abilities that I mentioned that are included in some MOBAs that are available to all characters...remember those? Me too.). Your experience bar, which can typically be found somewhere near your character's portrait in the interface, indicates how close you are to reaching your next level. Experience can be gained by killing creeps, players, and structures, and for each time your character levels up, you will gain an ability point that is able to be invested into one of your abilities. The first ability point invested in an ability will unlock it for use, and the rest will be invested in order to increase its effectiveness (or to learn it if it hasn't already been learned). To invest a point in an ability, the norm for MOBAs is to display a small "plus sign" icon over each of your abilities whenn you have an ability point available to spend on them, simply click this icon and your ability will level up. Abilities generally indicate their level somewhere in the description. Typically, the fourth ability of a character in a MOBA is unable to be unlocked until you have reached a specified level because it is your most powerful, or "Ultimate" ability. Leveling up is fast paced in a typical MOBA game, and the level cap is usually somewhere around 18-20. Once you have found a character that you enjoy playing, experiment with which abilities you prefer to max out first!
The currency system for most MOBAs is typically very similar (you're getting used to that statement by now, aren't you?). Aside from game-to-game currency that I wrote about that buys you items and such in specific matches, there is also a currency that is earned from completing games that can be used to unlock more characters, skins for those characters, and more in the game's marketplace. Typically, a MOBA will include two forms of currency for these functions, one that is earned from completing games, and one that can be bought with real-world money. Generally, you can buy almost everything with game-earned currency that you can buy with the bought currency aside from character skins. Character skins are exactly what you would expect them to be, they change up the look of your character and their abilities while not affecting stats in any way. Most games incorporate a match results screen once a match is completed where players can see how they did and yell at the person that called them a "noob" at the end of the game; it is this screen where you will also most likely find the amount of experience and currency that you have earned that game. This amount will generally rely on whether your team has won or lost, the length of the game played, and sometimes your individual performance. Personally, I have never spent a cent on currency for a MOBA, and it generates absolutely no gameplay problems or disadvantages!
As with all online games, MOBAs have their own abbreviations and phrases relevant to the game. Here are a few to get you started!
Top, Bottom (Bot), and Middle (Mid) - These terms refer to the three lanes that a typical map consists of.
MIA, Mis, or Missing - Missing in Action. When a player says this, they typically mean that an enemy has left their lane, so teammates in other lanes should prepare for a possible encounter with the missing enemy.
Jungle or Woods - The space in between lanes.
Brush or Grass - The grassy or shrubby areas in which players are invisible to enemies who are not in the area with them.
Fed - This term is used to refer to a player who has become a significantly higher level than the rest by getting an unusual amount of kills. A player who has died many times to one enemy is typically known to be "Feeding."
KS - Killsteal. Players gain kills by scoring the last hit on an enemy, a killsteal is when a player last-hits an enemy that their teammate has done the most damage to, or has been fighting alone in a match that it was obvious they were going to win.
Well, by now you've pretty much learned all the basics to a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena! Pat yourself on the back! Anyway, one more feature of typical MOBAs to cover is their player base. MOBA players are typically very competitive. When you begin a MOBA, you will usually be placed with other new players, but be prepared to face criticism! As a beginner, don't take this criticism offensively, and don't take the time to get into a huge argument with those who are rude about it because it will accomplish nothing, just learn from your mistakes and keep progressive forward, you won't make progress in a game without a few mistakes to teach you the ins and outs! Just know that communication is very important in MOBA games. Teamwork is an extremely central element when it comes to keeping control of the map and organizing ganks or assaults, so when a teammate asks for assistance, be sure to listen!
MOBA Game Recommendations
Here are some suggestions of free to play MOBA games!
League of Legends by Riot Games
I HIGHLY HIGHLY HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS GAME TO BEGINNERS! It is where I began and still remains my favorite MOBA to date. Its graphics are stylish and crisp and its gameplay is well-structured. It also has an additional game mode that players can engage in called Dominion, which is a fast paced capture-and-hold territory based game.
Heroes of Newerth by S2 Games
Heroes of Newerth is another MOBA to try out, also free to play. It has a more competitive player base than League of Legends, along with darker and more realistic graphics rather than fantasy-based. It has a wide selection of heroes to choose from and is worth checking out once your knowledge of MOBAs has grown. Just don't mention that you play League of Legends while playing Heroes of Newerth...trust me, you WILL be verbally assaulted.
Rise of Immortals by Petroglyph Games
This is a relatively new MOBA that seems to be just starting out. I do not have much experience with it at all, but it seems to have an innovative social-based structure, with the option to play 2v2 games in addition to 3v3 and 5v5. It seems to be worth downloading to show the developers some support and keep an eye on for updates!