Do you ever wonder why we label games the way we do? Yes, our distinctions and somewhat loose definitions of what constitutes a “type” of game are often heated debates that lead us down a path of hyperbolic assertions, but no doubt it is interesting to define exactly “what” a game is. From platformers to puzzlers, adventure titles to RPGs, these shorthand monikers become the stamp of approval that marketers and consumers use to quantify entire ranges of dissimilar creative endeavors.
Enter the MOBA, or Massively Online Battle Arena. A neologism if there ever was one, MOBAs are team-based fights that have a simple goal: destroying the other team’s base. While there are numerous complexities and strategies that one can discuss about MOBAs, the term itself is important because, in its infancy, it was spawned out of necessity from a game that one can argue has changed the shape of not only the RTS genre, but of the marketing behind games as a whole. No other game can claim to bring over 12 million players at a given time to its servers, nor can they change the very fabric of how payment and competition are handled in the real world. That game is League of Legends.
League of Legends was conceived by Riot games, an upstart company founded by Brendon Meck and Mark Merrill. The two men, fans of the popular Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, or DOTA, felt that the modded map would make a fair standalone title. Armed with DOTA modders Steve “Guinsoo” Feak and Steve “Pendragon” Mescon, they set out to create a stand-alone title based on the popular mod.
DOTA is perhaps the most successful fan-made game in the world today. First introduced during the heyday of Warcraft III on Battle.net, DOTA has spawned numerous versions of the game, and has become a competition-based title from the start, with one version, DOTA All-Stars, becoming a competition staple starting at Blizzcon in 2005 and the World Cyber Games Asian Championship in 2006.
DOTA itself was inspired by another modified map from the Blizzard game Starcraft, titled Aeon of Strife. While Aeon of Strife was a popular mod in its own right, DOTA took it to a level of underground popularity to the point where journalists began to pay attention. Michael Wallbridge of Gamasutra described DOTA as “likely the most popular and most discussed free, non-supported game mod in the world.”
Taking this to the next level, Riot announced League of Legends as being inspired by the DOTA mod, using many of the same gameplay elements and map designs for the basic, classic game. The twists added to League of Legends included the use of a metagame to enhance the abilities of a selected champion. The summoners, i.e. the player, level up and gain access to summoner abilities that give you an edge in battle. They can also use their influence points to purchase champions or runes for your summoners that grant further bonuses to your champion of choice.
From a gameplay standpoint, this sets League of Legends apart from the classic formula. Yes, items still play a role on the battlefield, but now preparations are more tightly controlled and necessary to be a successful player. Adding this second layer of strategy only compounds the game’s other main strength: diversity of its champion lists. Iconography and style also set League of Legends apart, as each of its champions are not just a reskin of what was seen in Warcraft III, but rather a unique individual that offers a design theme that makes them unique. Many underestimate the power design has in making or breaking a game, and for League of Legends the design of the champions is a key part of their success.
In addition, there are two areas where League of Legends cements itself as a Game Changer. Riot Games has single-handedly brought more prestige and power to gaming in the competitive field. The Season One World Championships in 2011 is still regarded as one of the most watched eSport events on the internet, with over 1.6 million viewers tuning in worldwide, and it has only gotten bigger since. Currently in Season 3, League of Legends is now one of the premiere competitive games in the world today, rivaling the high-profile competitions of Starcraft and Counterstrike in terms of prestige.
The importance of this cannot be understated. The recent announcement that the U.S Government now recognizes foreign eSport competitors as “athletes” shows how important League of Legends really is for the whole competitive subculture. Love it or hate it, the popularity, design, and team-based gameplay have catapulted League of Legends into a mainstream success of which most contemporary games can only dream.
Bringing this full circle, League of Legends is the most recent title to completely define a new subgenre of games: the MOBA-style. From classic iterations such as Heroes of Newerth or DOTA 2, to off-shoots that are already finding new ways to change the genre, like Awesomenauts and Monday Night Combat, we have seen a large influx of MOBA-styled games hit consoles, PC, Flash, and mobile devices. The competitive aspect is certainly driving much of the interest, as is the free-to-play model that allows anyone to download and play the game without paying a cent. Through this all though, the roots of the MOBA craze can easily be traced back to the explosion caused by League of Legends.
If the term “genre defining” has any meaning to it left, League of Legends fits the bill. Taking what was learned from its precursors, Riot Games created something powerful, both in terms of cultural and social impact, for the gaming industry. Thanks to the addictive gameplay and iconic design, League of Legends catapulted itself into history as one of the most played games of all time, while also giving birth to a whole subgenre and subculture.
If that is not changing the game, then I don’t know what is.
I hope you guys enjoyed this weeks episode. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them below, email me at Robert@BlisteredThumbs.net, or contact me via twitter @LinksOcarina. See you next time.