What’s a MOBA?

What’s a MOBA?  This is a great question, and as a parent of a gamer, an important thing to know.  This nonsensical term is tied to several of the most popular games in the world.  If you’re a parent of a gamer, chances are they either play – or know someone who plays – a MOBA game.

What's a MOBA?
League of Legends – Image courtesy of Riot Games

All right – So What, exactly is a MOBA?

At its core, what parents need to know is that a MOBA is a multiplayer game where 2 teams fight it out against both the opposing team and computer controlled opponents to be the first to destroy the opposing team’s base.

Now, of course, there’s more to it than that, these games tend to be very heavy on strategy, tactics, and to a degree – reflex and skill, that combination tied with a very very strong competitive structure all work together to make MOBA games so popular.

M.O.B.A Defined

Before we dig deeper, one important thing to know is that the word MOBA is actually an acronym – It’s shortened from Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.

  • Multiplayer – Pretty simple.  MOBAs are played by several players at once.  The “standard” flavor of the game is played by 10 people across two teams.  So, 5 versus 5.
  • Online – Another straightforward element, the gameplay happens online.  That pretty much goes hand in hand with it being Multiplayer, but I guess they needed another vowel for the abbreviation.
  • Battle – These games, as you’ll see when we get into more details, are about combat.  Players fighting it out with other Players and generally with computer-controlled opponents as well.  Something to keep in mind about the genre is that these are – in many ways – action based board games, so while it says “battle” here, it’s in many ways analogous to something like the “battle” in chess.  Generally, these kinds of games feature combat but are not hyper-violent.
  • Arena – MOBA Games take place in a relatively small space.  Generally, the gameplay takes place on very similar looking maps.  In fact, in two of the most popular MOBA games, there’s generally a single map.  The tighter space and repeated map further enhance the “real-time board-game” aspect of these titles.  Like chess, the board may come in a variety of colors.  It may offer a variety of unique detailing.  In the end, though, it’s still the same board.

Okay, I get it.  I know what a MOBA is – but how do they play?

Stripped down, a MOBA is the video game equivalent of an action and skill-driven chess match… played by 10 people at once.  One set of 5 people plays the white side, the other set of 5 people plays the black side.  Each person controls one piece.  So, there might be a 1 QueenBishopKnightRook, and King on each side.  MOBAs have pawns as well, though, the computer controls them, rather than the player.

What's a MOBA?
League of Legends – Image courtesy of Riot Games

So… It’s like Chess?

In some ways, yes.  But there are some pretty significant differences.  For example, while the above description gives some framing, a big difference between chess and a MOBA is the objective.  In chess, the objective is to capture your opponent’s king.  In a MOBA, your objective is to destroy your opponents base.  

Another key difference is the board or play space.  In chess, all the pieces can move anywhere on the board – as long as they follow their movement rules.  In a MOBA, the players can move their pieces most anywhere on the board.  However, they spend most of their time in specific areas (called lanes) that connect one base to another.  

A third major difference is that in chess, the different sides take turns, each moving one piece at a time.  In a MOBA, since it’s a video game all the Players move at the same time.

Conversely, where Chess and MOBAs are alike, is that each piece (Queen, Knight, Bishop, Rook, King) have specific rules, strengths, and weaknesses.  Similarly, the characters in a MOBA – the “pieces” that the Players use, also have specific rules, strengths, and weaknesses.  

Okay, I see all that, but I still don’t understand how it works as a game.

Well, as called out above, the objective of each match is to try and destroy the other team’s base.  There’s, of course, more to it than that.  So, as a parent, what do you need to know?

Well, at the beginning of the game, each player’s piece is relatively weak. Since they’re far too weak to attack their opponent’s defenses, players tend to follow behind their team’s “pawns” and try to defeat the other teams “pawns.” In MOBAs, players call these pawns “Minions”.  

These small battles increase the team’s power.  Over the course of the game, the teams try to get powerful enough to take down the other team’s defenses, and eventually their base, and thus win the game.  

So that’s it?  That’s a MOBA?

That’s a solid primer, yes.  That said, in future articles, I’ll be diving into specific MOBAs – like League of Legends and DOTA2 to provide specific details and information on those and other popular titles.  There’s a significant amount of jargon and things involved that can make talking with your kiddos about them a little difficult – but, as parent, you don’t have to know what an “AD Carry” is to understand how MOBAs work, just like you don’t need to know “descriptive notation” to understand how chess is played.  All you need is a simple understanding of the basic rules.

I’d love to hear from you out there if you have a kiddo that’s playing a MOBA – League of Legends, DOTA2, Heroes of the Storm, or SMITE are just some of the popular titles in the genre.  Likewise, if you have more questions on this topic you’d like to see answered, drop me a comment below.

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