One of the more prominent nerdy hobbies that seems to be making its way into the mainstream is “eSports,” tournaments based around competitive video games and the so-called professionals that play them. Whether or not eSports should actually be considered a sport seems like a needlessly trivial argument to address here, so instead I'm going to break down one of the most well-known eSport genres, as well as what may be the least accessible: the MOBA — multiplayer online battle arena.
Games in the MOBA genre all follow a pretty straightforward formula — players form teams and battle in a virtual arena where the goal is to wipe out the other team's base while protecting your own. Players can choose from a wide range of characters with different abilities, and instead of following the typical video game format where characters get stronger the more you play as them, each match starts with all characters at their lowest level. In every match, competitors work on killing enemy minions and players to gain new skills and buy better equipment, in the hopes of overpowering the enemy with their strength. But what is it about this genre that makes it so popular? It's hard to say for sure. It could be that, because the characters reset to their first level at the beginning of every match, MOBAs are more dependent on a player's skill than most other game genres. It could be that the fast-paced team action, combined with the bird's eye perspective that lets you see more of the arena, mean MOBAs closely resemble traditional spectator sports. Or there might just be some addictive factor that makes fans want to play (or watch) matches again and again.
The one thing that's certain is that the MOBA genre is becoming incredibly popular. As in, there are tens of millions of people around the globe that consider themselves daily players. The biggest three MOBAs are League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients 2, and Heroes of Newerth, though of the three LoL has a massive monopoly on the genre, with about 67 million registered players as of last year. League is a video game phenomenon, and with the sheer amount of people who make it a part of their daily lives, it really shouldn't be a surprise to you if eSports become an even bigger deal than they are now.
Those who want to jump onto the MOBA bandwagon are encouraged to proceed with caution. While tens of millions of daily players means there's probably something here to like, you should know what you're getting into. MOBAs can be tricky business, especially for new players who don't know much about how the games work, as there's a lot to pick up and the matches themselves can be pretty intense. Despite being such a massive community, League of Legends players are also notoriously hostile to players that can't pull their weight, so you'd better know what you're doing before you start playing with others. Reading up on the characters and equipment and practising with AI before you play real matches is strongly recommended.
If only in terms of numbers and commitment, the MOBA community is a video game subculture unlike any other, and even if you're not on-board yourself, you have to admit it will probably be around for a while. To readers new on the subject, I hope you've found this entry informative, and to those who dare to test their mettle in the online arenas…
…Well, I salute you.