How to Fix MOBAs and How Blizzard Already Did It
Pictured: Average MOBA player
Why are MOBA players such titantic pricks? MOBAs are still gigantically popular despite being frustrating to play and despite their objectively horrible communities. Somehow they manage to keep attracting new players despite being famously obtuse and non newbie friendly. There is a reason for all of this, and the way to fix it is simpler than you think. No, the answer is not to burn their communities to the ground, as cathartic as that would be.
Let’s say you’re playing an online multiplayer game for the first time. You haven’t read any wikis or other documentation; you just want to play a new game. So you get online with a few other random players and you begin to feel things out. You want to play for a bit, try stuff out, see if you enjoy the game or not. A nice low-stress kind of experience. But five seconds after you start the game, your teammates tell you “WTF IS THIS NOOB DOING” and “GO BACK TO ANGRY BIRDS YOU SCRUB FILTH!”
What just happened? Other genres’ player bases aren’t this hostile. A Starcraft or Street Fighter IV player would probably give you some tips even while he demolishes you, assuming you speak the same language.. But if you’re playing a MOBA, they probably will be the most unpleasant scum this side of Congress.
This is because, as the hosts of Video Games Hot Dog have said, in MOBAs, every second that passes presents the player with hundreds of options and almost all of those options are sub-optimal. In a highly competitive genre, anything less than the most tweaked out munchkin builds is the sign of an untalented noob who is ruining the game for everyone else because it’s a team game. This puts new players in the uncomfortable position of having to study the newest of the constantly-changing methods for succeeding at the MOBA before they even install it. And even then, it might not be good enough for their teammates, who probably won’t be as chill as the new player.
When writing on this subject before, I said the solution was better tutorials and a simplified noob mode. And it still is. League of Legends, for example, could use a single-player mode to teach you how to last hit on minions, when to push towards the enemy base, and when and how to buy items. This would not be hard to implement and would go a long way towards helping new players, but since the game is already immensely popular, its creators unfortunately have no need to attempt to make it even more so.
Another big problem with MOBAs is the lack of ability to drop in and drop out of a game. 10 (in most cases) players agree to a game and have to commit to it from 30-60 minutes and if any of them ragequit or disconnect or have other internet issues, the whole game is ruined for everyone. This leads to a volatile atmosphere where anything other than a complete desire to cooperate and having a lag-free connection makes the game less enjoyable than paying taxes to the ultra-rich who control this stupid planet. Compare Team Fortress 2, where games go a certain length of time and players and enter or leave at will without ruining things. MOBAs, instead of giving meaninglessly minor penalties to quitters like they do now, would benefit from something like a checkbox saying “I want the option to join a game in progress” when searching for games. I’m sure someone would find a way to abuse this, but it’s a start.
Another suggestion I got from VGHD is that personal coaches telling you what to do every step of the way would help you acclimated to a MOBA. I was lucky enough to get this. When I first started playing League of Legends, I remember asking my expert roommate questions like “Should I level all of my skills or put all of my points into one skill?” He gave the answer that would both help me to learn the game and ensure my experience was not frustrating.*
There is another way, one that I didn’t perceive before because I didn’t consider the power of unlimited funds. Yes, Blizzard made their own MOBA, but theirs has a twist that sets it apart from all of the others: It’s simple. In Heroes of the Storm, you pick your character and occasional level-up perks during the match and that’s the limit of your flexibility. This does mean a lack of options but it also means much less of that famous MOBA frustration that comes from not knowing the best builds for every situation.
Blizzard can afford to make a game this simple because they have billions of dollars to experiment with, and the rather basic gameplay means it’s not directly going against the juggernauts of League of Legends and DOTA2. Heroes of the Storm itself serves as a tutorial for the genre rather than competition with its ultra-complex and ultra-confusing brethren. If a player wants something more challenging than Heroes of the Storm, there are plenty of options wherein he can expose himself to endless spreadsheets and verbal abuse. But Blizzard has shown that, so far, they’re the only ones who care.
Now if only every MOBA would have all characters permanently playable from the start and only charge money for cosmetic changes. DOTA2 proved it can be done and still make a profit.
*The answer is, of course, to put at least one point into all skills for variety and then put one skill as high as possible, then follow that process with the others after that one skill is maxed out. This applies to almost every character.