Which MOBA is right for you?


It seems that everyone has gone MOBA mad recently. A genre that was born as a mod for Warcraft III has transformed into a full-blown gaming revolution, with developers across the world seeking their slice of the battle arena pie. The question is, which one is right for you?

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Join us as we play a game of eenie, meenie, miney, MOBA…

What is a MOBA?

It stands for multiplayer online battle arena. The first big MOBA, Defense of the Ancients, carved out the basic tenets of the genre, which was then refined by its successors, including League of Legends and its own Valve-made sequel, Dota 2. 

Almost universally with the genre, the objective is to destroy the opposing team’s base, commonly known as a nexus. To this end each player takes on the role of a hero or champion with four abilities, generally grouping into teams of five. The two sides battle it out, racking up kills and slowly levelling up as the game progresses. In some MOBAs, players can also improve their stats by spending gold earned from kills.

The arena itself consists of three lanes containing defensive towers. These lanes connect the opposing team’s bases and AI monsters known as minions, or creeps, are sent down each route to attack the opposing team’s towers, and ultimately, their base. Players must not only combat one another, but stem the tide of minions in order to protect their own fortifications.

This is just the basic template - every MOBA presents a unique twist on this formula. Some will suit, others may leave you deeply unsatisfied. The list below should help you identify the right game for you.

League of Legends

League of Legends Play Now

Released: 2009

What is League of Legends?

The big daddy of the genre and by far the most popular game in the world. League of Legends boasts 27 million unique players every single day, and has become the vanguard of eSports.

Number of heroes/champions: 129

Payment model: Free-to-play with in-game purchases for champions and skins. Experience points awarded for playing matches can also be used to unlock champions.

How does it play?

League of Legends is to MOBAs as Quake III or Unreal Tournament are to the arena shooter: the now-recognisable blueprint that became a phenomenon, laying the groundwork for more unusual flavours. Several maps and game modes exist, but the five versus five battles on Summoner’s Rift are by far the most popular. Matches across the three lanes last between 30-50 minutes.

In this instance classic definitely doesn’t mean ‘lacking depth’. Enhancing champions with optimal item builds and choosing the perfect moment to take objectives are key to victory. For most, League of Legends strikes the perfect balance between tactical play and twitching skills for an experience in which anyone can find their niche.

Pros: Enormous roster of champions; honed mechanics; thriving esports scene

Cons: Community is vicious; not the simplest; matches can last up to an hour 

Does biggest = best for you? Then get going with the best League of Legends champions. Or try League of Legends now.

Dota 2

Best MOBA Dota 2

Released: Open beta 2011; full release 2013

What is Dota 2?

Valve’s own take on the the progenitor of all MOBA games, Defense of the Ancients. Its player numbers pale in comparison to League of Legends, but it’s won itself a secure second place. The Dota 2 esports scene is thriving, particularly in the west where last year’s world final, known as The International, saw the prize pool reach a jaw-dropping 18 million dollars.

Number of heroes/champions: 112

Payment model: Free-to-play and all champions available to players from the outset. Microtransactions allow the purchase of vanity items like custom couriers and hats (the classic Valve moneyspinner). 

How does it play?

Dota 2 follows the same formula as League of Legends but with added layers of complexity. For instance, it’s possible for players to kill their own creeps (minions) in order to prevent their opponent harvesting gold, a process known as ‘denying’. Players can also ship items to themselves across the map using a courier instead of having to return to their base. 

Most agree that Valve’s creation is the most impenetrable MOBA out there for newcomers - knowing effective item builds is totally non-negotiable, However, if you’re willing to commit to learning its intricacies, the rewards are plentiful. Its sizeable roster of heroes and deep tactical experience are bound to suck in those with the patience to persevere.

Pros: Tactical depth; all heroes permanently unlocked; item trading through Steam

Cons: Steep learning curve; hats

If it's Valve you're loyal to, get up to speed with the best Dota 2 heroes for beginners.

Heroes of the Storm

Best MOBA Heroes of the Storm

Released: 2015

What is Heroes of the Storm? 

Defense of the Ancients was originally a Warcraft III mod, so of course Blizzard couldn’t resist creating their own fully-fledged MOBA. Heroes of the Storm brings together characters from across the StarCraft, Warcraft, and Diablo universes in an ‘all star’ mash up. Considering its relative newness, Blizzard is expanding the hero roster at a terrifying rate and after only one year of full release the game features around half as many champions as Dota 2. 

Number of heroes/champions: 49

Payment model: Free-to-play; heroes and skins can be purchased using in-game microtransactions. Also possible to unlock heroes (very slowly) via earning gold from playing matches. Every week a small selection of champions are temporarily unlocked for everyone. 

How does it play?

Unlike League of Legends and Dota 2, HotS features no items. Instead, players choose upgrades to their abilities as they level up, allowing them to focus on utility, hardiness, or damage. Each hero also features two ultimates, of which only one can be activated during a single match.

Also unlike its competition, HotS features a variety of maps which feature unique objectives  that can turn the tide of battle. One sees players fight for dominance of temples that fire lasers at opposing fortifications, another asks each team to collect plants that spawn a giant controllable flower monster.

Blizzard has gone to great lengths to keep the focus on combat and objectives rather than number crunching - you’ll find no one boasting about their high attack damage ratios or critical strike chance here. Games are also significantly shorter, generally clocking in at the 30 minute mark. However, what is sacrificed in depth is made up for in sheer polish.

Pros: Variety of game modes; newcomer friendly; Blizzard crossover characters

Cons: Too simple for some; yet to bloom in eSports

Do Blizzard put the B in your MOBA? We've got the best Heroes of the Storm heroes for beginners.


Best MOBA Smite

Released: 2014 

What is Smite?

Previous games in this list are often influenced by ancient mythology, but Smite takes the gods of old as its direct inspiration. Players each take on the role of a deity and battle it out across a three lane arena. Ever dreamed of a muscle-bound head to head between Thor and Zeus? Here’s your chance to make it happen.

Smite’s eSports scene is thriving, featuring regular tournaments and a world championship with a massive 2 million dollar prize pool.

Number of heroes/champions: 72

Payment model: Free-to-play. Playing matches earns ‘favour’ with the powers that be which can be used to unlock gods. Those lacking the necessary patience can also purchase deities individually or unlock all present and future gods with the ‘Ultimate God Pack’ for £20.99.

How does it play?

Unlike its contemporaries, Smite is played from a third-person perspective. As a result long-range skillshots and maintaining awareness of immediate surroundings can be more challenging. Group engagements are often chaotic. 

However, the added dimensionality does have its advantages: Arachne, a spider goddess can crawl above her opponents and Thor can launch himself far up into the sky to then crash downward with his hammer. Smite’s viewpoint lends it the feel of an MMO, but with the mechanics of a MOBA. 

Pros: Insane abilities; a classicist’s wet dream; multi-platform (also on Xbox One)

Cons: Trickier than top-down MOBAs; sometimes chaotic

If this sounds like your cup of ambrosia, check out the best Smite gods.


Best MOBA Battleborn

Released: Currently in closed beta

What is Battleborn? 

You’d have to be locked in a prehistoric cave for the past year to have missed Blizzard’s upcoming shooter Overwatch (on which Ben has provided many thoughts) - Battleborn is a similar proposition, but features more of a MOBA’s DNA. 

If you’re more of a space cowboy than a fantasy fanboy, then you’re in luck as Battleborn’s eschews wizards and warlocks for a sci-fi setting. 

Number of heroes/champions: 25

Payment model: Instead of adopting the free-to-play approach, Battleborn with be available for retail purchase. Presumably this permanently unlocks access to all heroes, but this remains as of yet unclear. 

How does it play?

First-person shooter meets MOBA meets third-person action. Battleborn is the child of several genres, conforming to none comfortably - although in a good way, for the most part. Several game modes will be available on the point of release, one conforming to the formula set by League of Legends and Dota 2, but others which feature more traditional FPS mechanics, such as ‘Devastation’, a deathmatch featuring capture points.

A single player or co-op story mode has also been promised by Gearbox, a highly unusual proposition for any MOBA. 

Pros: Familiar first-person perspective; varied game modes; bold and bright

Cons: Small hero roster; sometimes lacks clarity; bold and bright


Best MOBA Gigantic

Released: Currently in beta 

What is Gigantic?

Developer Motiga probably says it best: Gigantic is a ‘shooter MOBA where heroes battle alongside a massive guardian in a fight for supremacy’. When the game was debuted two years ago its bold visual style and less-traditional take on the genre made quite a splash. Two years later and the release date finally closes in, though financial woes leave its future in doubt. 

Number of heroes/champions: 17 

Payment model: The developers have confirmed that Gigantic will be free-to-play, but have yet to divulge how they intend to earn back their development costs. The likely answer is in-game microtransactions. 

How does it play?

The focus here is on giant beasts called Guardians - each team fights alongside one of these enormous creatures. As members build up experience and rack up kills, they top up their guardian’s attack meter, lending it the advantage when it faces off against the opposing titan. 

Unlike every other game on this list, the game features no creeps or minions and a map design which doesn’t conform to the three lane formula. Sound appealing? We broke down the specifics of Gigantic’s monster antics here.

Pros: Sublime art style; smooth third person mechanics; no item system

Cons: Not yet received full release; not one for stat-fanciers  


Best MOBA Strife

Released: 2015

What is Strife?

Many recent MOBAs have launched and then quickly shut their doors, but Strife has persisted. It’s probably the smallest fry of every game on this list, but that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.

Number of heroes/champions: 25 

Payment model: Free-to-play with in-game microtransactions to unlock heroes

How does it play?

Three lanes, towers and creeps all feature, but Strife differentiates itself by one key objective - a giant gorilla monster by the name of Kratos. If players secure his assistance he tumbles down the middle lane, destroying everything in his path. This monkey is a tough nut, and taking him down will take the assistance of several team members, leaving other lanes vulnerable to attack.

Strife also claims to host a less toxic community than its peers - a common problem that both Dota and League of Legends have continually struggled with over the years

Pros: Giant gorilla; less n00b bashing

Cons: Small hero roster; no eSports scene whatsoever; future survival questionable 

Made your mind up? Let us know which MOBA you've plumped for in the comments below.

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Shriven avatar
Shriven Avatar
11 Months ago

I hear battle-born is bold and bright!