When a small group of Warcraft III fans first released multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) mod Defense of the Ancients (DotA) in 2003, hardly anyone had any idea how popular would the MOBA sub-genre of strategy video games one day become. In 2018, PC gamers can choose from a wide range of different MOBA games, many of which host tournaments where professional players from around the world compete for the champion title and prize money.
Since its initial release in 2009, LoL has become one of the largest e-sport titles, with tournament prize pools of several million dollars not being unheard of. In fact, the 2017 League of Legends World Championship series, which concluded in November 2017, had a prize pool of $5 million.
What motivates more than 100 million unique players to log in to play LoL each month is its large roster of 134 champions, frequent updates, new custom game mode every second weekend, and traditional gameplay mechanics that are easy to learn but challenging to master.
Perhaps because of its highly competitive nature, LoL player base can be quite hostile towards beginners who are just learning the ropes and sometimes make regretful mistakes. Games can sometimes drag on, locking players in front of their computer for longer than they might like to. But despite these problems, LoL deserves to be experienced by all fans of the genre, if only because of its tremendous influence on other games.
As a follow-up to the original DotA, which was a community-created mod for Blizzard Entertainment’s Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos, Valve Corporation developed and, in 2013, published DotA 2 as a free-to-play game for Windows, Linux, and macOS.
Compared to LoL, DotA 2 has more complex gameplay mechanics, requiring more time to learn and more skill to excel at. But with the steep learning curve comes an immense feeling of satisfaction after every kill and every win.
Whereas LoL, with its large roster of 134 champions can be noticeably unbalanced, DotA 2, which also has over 100 playable characters, is surprisingly balanced. This can be attributed to the greater flexibility in laning and also to gameplay mechanics such as creep pulling and creep stacking, which allow teams to share experience between heroes.
Unlike LoL and DotA 2, Smite is played from the third-person perspective, which makes the game feel more immersive and, at times, action-packed. Developed by Hi-Rez Studios using Unreal Engine 3, Smite was originally released on Windows in 2014, and the game was eventually ported to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and macOS.
All characters in the game are derived from mythological gods, and the current roster consists of 93 playable gods. Each god has either ranged or melee attacks, which are further subdivided into magical and physical attacks. There is absolutely no auto-attacking in Smite, and even basic attacks are skill shots that can be executed with perfect accuracy only when sufficiently mastered.
Smite is often praised for its friendly community, which cares more about having fun than winning. The game itself is also very beginner-friendly, and microtransactions are only used for buying items with a cosmetic effect.
Because Blizzard Entertainment believes that their game offers something different than other MOBA games, they call Heroes of the Storm an online “hero brawler.” Think of HotS as a streamlined take on the MOBA genre, one that decreases the importance of laning, which is a time when the players separate into different lanes and kill minions for money.
Instead, HotS places an emphasis on team fights and map objectives. Players play as characters from Blizzard games, which include the traditional archetypes such as tanks, support characters, damage dealers, and so on, but also characters that break the mold and allow for diversity in how the game can be approached. To help inexperienced players pick the right character, each character has a difficulty rating that clearly shows which characters are the most difficult to play as.
Many MOBA fans also like that matches in HotS rarely exceed 30 minutes, making the game more manageable for those who can’t be locked in front of the computer for an hour or more.
Paragon is the most recently released MOBA on this list. The game is developed and published by Epic Games and powered by Epic’s Unreal Engine 4, the same engine behind games such as Abzû, Ark: Survival Evolved, Darksiders III, Gears of War 4, Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, or PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. As such, Paragon has easily the best graphics of all MOBA games that are currently available, but it also means that you need a powerful computer to enjoy it the way it is meant to be enjoyed.
Despite Paragon’s third-person perspective, the game still largely plays like a traditional top-down MOBA, being all about pushing lanes, capturing important strategic points, and obliterating enemies using a wide range of powerful skills.
Keep in mind that Paragon is still in open beta, so bugs and little quirks are to be expected. The good news is that Epic Games is releasing updates for the game on a regular basis, but the bad news is that the updates sometimes break gameplay mechanics, forcing the players to constantly learn new things.