How to Make MOBAs Newbie-Friendly

How to Make MOBAs Newbie-Friendly

Multiplayer online battle arena, or MOBA, is a term created by Riot games in an attempt to get people to stop referring to League of Legends as a “DOTA clone” (which is totally what it is). They can be best defined as real-time strategy games where you control a single unit as part of a team of other human-controlled units. The genre exploded in popularity after League of Legends somehow became huge (perhaps it filled the need for a Defense of the Ancients type game that wasn’t using the Warcraft III engine, despite not being the first to do so). But despite the genre’s heavily crowd-pleasing nature, MOBAs are difficult to get into. They present thousands of options to the new player: countless arrays of characters, skills, items, builds, and tactics. MOBAs generally have poor tutorials and some don’t even have an option to play against noob_I_hate_youbots. Add in the fact that people have been fighting hard to win at them since like 2005 and are openly hostile to new players and you have one confusing mess that drives away just as many who get into them.

The first thing that MOBAs need to do to be newbie-friendly is to have their communities stop being dicks to everyone. League of Legends, DOTA2, Heroes of Newerth, and others all have player bases with very well-earned reputations for treating everyone like garbage. Play a character in the “wrong” role, buy an unconventional item, or deviate from the groupthink in the slightest and you will get excoriated for your heresy. So many players have been so insulted and degraded while playing MOBAs that Phreak and IceFrog ought to charge for dominatrix services. I mean, in addition to the superfluous visual modifications.

Riot Games tried to implement a tribunal system in which users can report “toxic” players to be punished and the users can later vote on what to do with them. This was intended to curtail these obnoxious quarter-wits as well as quitters, excessive complainers, trolls who deliberately ruin games for the other nine players, and other fools who make the experience less enjoyable for all. To their detriment, Riot has been woefully insufficient in cracking down on these irritants; I’ve used the tribunal myself and found legions of absolutely wretched scum screaming the vilest things at the other players (and being an internet tough guy, I’ve seen a lot). Some of it is, to be fair, a collection of extremely creative insults but it’s mostly just the same old internet leet-speak gobbledegook spewing from the fingertips of these maddening imbeciles. They need to go full dictator on their userbase and weed them out so people can actually play games and enjoy them without being magnets for racial slurs because they built a Ruby Sightstone on an AP caster or something. Sadly, they are too tame towards offenders and they don’t even offer small amounts of in-game points to people using the tribunal, rendering it even less effective.

MOBAs also need better tutorials. League of Legends‘s and DOTA2‘s are nearly worthless, teaching only the most very basic of mechanics . No one should be forced to look up online guides just to get a basic understanding of how to play a character. It’s odd that a genre so dense and inscrutable became popular when they hardly help the new player at all. Pick the recommended items for most MOBA characters and you’ll be scoffed at and called a faggot noob for not knowing the details of the current, most optimal flavor-of-the-month build before the balancing team nerfs it.

This image is from like 2002. I don't know where I got it.

This image is from like 2002. I don’t know where I got it.

DOTA2 has a good thing going where all characters and options are freely available from the start and the only things that cost real money are cosmetic items. However, this also means that the options for new players are more overwhelming than the internet’s hatred for Nickelback. Riot accidentally made their game more accessible by locking champions, summoner spells, runes, and masteries until the player earns them through in-game grinding or spending real money. This means that most low-level players are actually as inexperienced as others; you may be thrown to the wolves and the occasional smurf account, but you’re generally in the same boat as the other noobs. This page indicates that they’re experimenting with putting useful information on loading screens; that’s a start towards better ease of use for the inexperienced. A more robust in-game tutorial would be the best goal.

Fighting games had a similar problem until recently. BlazBlue and Skullgirls are the only ones I can think of that teach players to understand the game on a conceptual level without having to beg for help at or other dodgy forums to ask what their character’s crossups are. If the intractable luddites of the fighting game community can be convinced to make this simple, obvious improvement, so can this genre.

MOBAs are making gigantic amounts of money both through players paying for stuff and from tournaments. Make them more accessible and they’ll attract more players for longer, increasing profits further. They may be hesitant to change an already-successful model, but the reasoning is sound. Encourage the users to be kinder to each other, punish the vicious assholes when they get reported repeatedly, and introduce more in-game tools to teach the game’s mechanics and intricacies. No teacher will compare to actually playing the game and gaining experience, but throw the newbies a bone here. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose except the snide attitude of those who want their favorite games to be enjoyed solely by those with decades of experience.

About Lee

Lee Laughead writes stuff about video games. Read his Twitter at even though Twitter sucks.
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5 Responses to How to Make MOBAs Newbie-Friendly

  1. YK says:

    In a way, this article feels like it was aimed towards me. Or at the least, people like me, who are hesitant to try this new genre due to how incredibly convoluted the gameplay is, as well as the incredible hostility of the community as a whole. We just talked about this on IRC not long ago, so I assume that’s where you got the inspiration to write this article. It’s really a shame when people defend this sort of acid-spitting, noob-hating foaming at the mouth as “part of the culture”, when it really *shouldn’t* be. This isn’t “good natured trash talking between friends”, it’s pure hate speech rattled off by insecure teens who have no power IRL, so they just attack anyone they can online. Bleh.

    But I digress. Good article. The MOBA scene would do well to take some pointers from this, but alas, many gaming communities *prefer* to be elitist snobs, I’ve found. Sigh.

  2. Strider says:

    Disclaimer: My friends and I used to play quite a bit of the original DotA and LoL, but I haven’t played either for quite some time.

    I’ve heard it suggested that part of the nastiness of the community is inherent to the design of MOBAs. The theory goes: It’s a team game with small teams, so there’s a lot of pressure on each individual team member to preform. Being down a member is bad, and having a poor player is even worse- the handsome rewards for killing another player make an easy target a major liability. It’s a mix that leads to a bunch of bad behaviors, mostly around coming down as hard as possible on people that you expect to leave the game or that you don’t think are up to snuff (usually determined at-a-glance by checking to see if they’re using the build-of-the-week that All The Good Players are using).

    I’m not sure what could really be done about this from a design perspective. Larger teams might help; as the size of the team goes up, how each individual player performs is less important. Some sort of rubber banding multiplier that reduces the penalties for death/rewards for killing players who are much lower-level than you or have a much worse K/D ratio migh help, though it could be difficult to implement the system in a way that couldn’t be gamed (EG by having one dude with a good burst-damage ability suicide until his revival penalty is really low, then kamikazie into enemy towers).

    I think LoL may have implemented some things like this- at least to a greater extent than the original DotA and its’ virtual clone Newerth- but it may not have gone far enough, and may also have picked up the critical mass of players from the DotA community necessary to make abuse commonplace. Of course, the loudest voices tend to take the lead in any community, and it feels like a lot of the big games have ended up with a critical mass of assholes who’re ruining it for everyone that isn’t hypercompetitive…. There’s a reason I tend to avoid pickup online multiplayer to begin with.

    – HC

    • Strider says:

      Better bots- ones that act more like real human players- might also help, because it’d give people a way to practice in a lower-pressure setting. It might also not be a bad idea for LoL, at least, to add a “Popular items for this character” section in addition to the “Recommended items”- last I checked, the ‘recommended items’ was updated by hand by the dev team, which means that it’s going to spend a lot of time out-of-date compared to the more current builds. An automatically- compiled “here’s what everyone else is using” list might be useful for new players, or ones who aren’t putting a lot of effort into hunting down third-party guides.

      – HC

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