What is a MOBA?
As you may or may not know, League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2) are competing games in the same Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre. They have a bit of history between them. The original creators of the Dota experience (Guinsoo and Pendragon) went on to found Riot Games and created League of Legends. IceFrog (as he is known) was left to continue supporting Dota after Guinsoo and Pendragon left, and was eventually hired by Gabe Newell at Valve to create Dota 2. Because of this, it’s easily arguable that both games offer the original MOBA experience. And they both certainly hit the mark in terms of what they offer. Let’s take a brief look at what makes them similar.
The competitive map features 3 “lanes” down which minions will constantly spawn and fight each other in an attempt to push to the enemy base. Each lane also has a series of turrets which protect against simple minion pushes. There are three turrets in each lane, with the home base protected by an additional two. Both games feature a set of minion controls (one for each lane) that, when destroyed, cause stronger minions to appear in the lane. In Dota 2, these are called barracks, while in League they are called inhibitors. Both games end in victory for the team that is able to push all the way to the enemy base and destroy the final structure. Throughout both maps, each game offers a variety of neutral monsters that will not move or interact with the map until destroyed. These jungle monsters are worth increased gold and experience in both games. For all intents and purposes, the maps in both games are identical, and intentionally so. The reason for this is what they call “emergent gameplay.” I’ll explain this a little later. Finally, both maps feature a special elite monster that provides very powerful benefits for the team which is able to kill it during the course of a given match. For Dota 2, teams will often fight over the rights to kill Roshan, while in League of Legends, Baron Nashor is hotly contested during every match.
The Heroes and the Treasure
Both games offer a large selection of heroes for the players to select and play with. These champions start at level 1 at the beginning of each match, and progress through the game by earning gold and experience by killing enemy minons or heroes. The experience is used to learn and upgrade a small selection of unique abilities. The gold is used to purchase items from a shop to enhance that character and/or his or her skillset. Both games draw from the traditional “holy trinity” of fantasy role-playing and offer a series of warrior tanks, agile damage dealers, and powerful wizards. This wide selection of characters to choose from can often lead to interesting team compositions of disablers, carries, pushers and nukers.
The base set of items in both games is fairly similar. Most heroes will want a set of boots which grant increased movement speed and other enhancements. Basic potions for mana and health are available. Wards that grant normal vision and invisibility detection are important for revealing enemy intentions at important objectives (such as Roshan or Nashor). In both games, basic items enhancing a particular stat will often combine into more powerful items for a recipe cost. Items are wildly magical in both games, offering a range of fantastical abilities to add to a heroes repertoir. These amazing items include the ability to teleport short distances, become invulnerable but immobile for a short period of time or even provide a short burst of speed for the entire friendly team.
The Core Experience
There’s no question that both games offer a very similar experience and follow much in line with the game design concepts that gave us Chess or Poker. Much of the base game is written in stone, beyond which the game can grow laterally. This is where much of the emergent gameplay takes place. If you’re not familiar with the idea, let me try to explain it. Take Chess, for example. The board, pieces, and the movements they can make have been solidified in the rules since the game’s inception. Beyond that, it has been up to the players to determine strategies, counter-strategies, and methods for victory. As it turns out, Chess is very condusive to that kind of player interaction. There have been great innovators for Chess’s meta-game, and many people have given their lives over to understanding, memorizing, and adapting the great strategies that have evolved, or emerged, from the game’s highly mutable yet stringent set of rules.
And this is where the games begin to move apart from each other. This is also where my opinion will factor into much of what is to come, for the rest of this article.
The Dota 2 Meta
In Dota 2, there is only one prevailent meta game. That is, only one real strategy has emerged in competitive play, due to map and hero constraints. The 4-protect-1 meta is fairly standard at higher levels of play, and rarely sees any deviation. The idea of this meta is to have a single “carry” on the team, and four other champions dedicated to defending that carry at all costs. I believe this single meta has evolved out of one of the biggest and most damning features developed for Dota 2 to set it apart from other MOBA games. You see, in Dota 2, when a hero dies, a portion of their accumulated gold is lost. This swing-action in the gold streams allows for two things to happen that you would never see in League of Legends. First, ultimate snowballing (and this is where the 4-protect-1 meta comes from) occurs when a player is able to repeatedly kill and consume a part of the enemy gold stream. To my knowledge, there are no diminishing returns for neither the gold gained by a player when killing the same player over and over, or from the gold lost when that feeding player dies. I’ve seen games where a player who has died a few times becomes a 6th gold stream for the enemy team, simply by virtue of the whole team circling around the feeder, looking for a chance to cash-in on that poor player’s forced stagnation. As he/she is unable to purchase items to become more survivable, so too does the enemy team constantly become more able to defeat him/her. This is a never-ending cycle.
In competitive play, all efforts on both teams culminate in an attempt to get this snowball started. Most games are decided very early on, with the victor of those early team-fights establishing a 6th gold stream (a portion of the enemy team’s 5 gold streams). The other 4 members of the team will do anything they can to keep the 1 alive, even as much as sacrificing themselves to allow the carry to escape. These suicide missions are very common at the higher levels of Dota 2’s competitive scene.
The LoL Meta
Currently, League of Legends also has a single prevailent meta-game. But it is important to note that the current meta is the inheritor of the lessons learned by at least a dozen meta-games before it. In League, the game constantly shifts the balance of power, and new methods for gaining advantages are found, practiced, proven, and adopted. I could go into great length about the “roaming tank” meta, or the “double ap” meta, or even more recently, as a newer meta just beginning to emerge, the “jungle support” meta, but I won’t. Currently, League is in the era of the “0 CS support” meta. Whether that meta transitions to the “jungle support” meta or not remains to be seen. There are other new metas being developed and practiced by the best teams in the game and every new tournament offers a brief glimpse at these new strategies (the “double teleport promote” meta is among my favorites, so far).
The “0 CS support” meta is a fairly standard setup. A bruiser will head to solo top lane, an AP (ability power) carry will travel to mid lane, a jungle champion will head to blue or red, and an AD (attack damage) carry along with a support will travel to bottom lane. The support in bottom has two objectives. The first is to protect the friendly carry by whatever means possible. Secondly, the support must attempt to prevent or limit the amount of gold and experience the enemy carry is able to gain in the lane. And the support must do this all while having no gold income other than the base amount earned over time. This creates some very interesting play/counter-play for the supports in the bottom lane.
So, in the end, why do I feel League of Legends is a better game? I would pin the tail on two donkeys here. And one of them might seem a bit backward to you. I hate the graphics in Dota 2.
The simpler graphics of League of Legends offers several advantages over Dota 2. The baseline for computer performance is leveled so that more players are able to play competitively, the game itself is crisper and lends itself to easier and faster interpretation of action occuring at any point in the game. There is no day/night cycle in League of Legends. The shading is consistent througout any given match, and harkens back to the idea of a Chess board. The immutable nature of the map itself provides consistent grounds for the game to take place upon. Where my experience is concerned, the night cycle in Dota 2 causes the beautiful game graphics to become little more than a splotch of gray wherein the heroes, and even the action itself, becomes a blur of shadows and fog. No such limitations on player perception are found on any League of Legends map. Surely, the stylized and often cartoony graphics in League of Legends is criticized, but I believe Riot Games has the right idea. Consider for a moment one of the contributing factors to the success of World of Warcraft. The simple graphics platform allowed for a much greater audience to contribute meaningfully to the game.
Persistence and Customization
I don’t discredit Valve for even a moment for attempting to monetize certain aspects of their game, but I don’t approve of the way in which they do it. Randomly (it seems) a player might be given an item at the end of a given match in Dota 2. This item (for me at least) has been a locked chest 66% of the time. These chests can only be opened by buying a key for $2.50 on the Dota 2 store. And even if I were to buy a key, it is a gamble on what the chest itself it contains, as it may contain a number of items, most of which are of common rarity. And even if I were to get lucky and receive a rare item from one of those chests, I can only customize 25% of a champion with it, as there are four “equipment” customization slots for each hero.
In League of Legends, the skins are certainly more expensive than what is offered by Valve at it’s Dota 2 store, but a) I can customize 100% of a given champion, and b) I know exactly what I’m getting. There is no gamble.
Additionally, the battle points system offered in Dota 2 is useless. Utterly and completely useless. In League of Legends, my online profile gains persistence experience to a level cap, which in turn offers deeper, player-level customizations in terms of runes and masteries. With three tiers of runes available, and new rune slots unlocked with each summoner level, I am able to grow as a player. In Dota 2, I just get a nifty progression bar indicating my next guaranteed locked chest.
So, the following is my open letter to Valve, with regards to Dota 2.
“Fuck you, Valve
Are you fucking kidding me, a death penalty in a MOBA game? What the fuck were you thinking, you stupid shits? Why the fuck would you punish someone for dying in a game where death is fucking inevitable? Are you fucking retarded? Seriously, how goddamn stupid can you be? Did you honestly think this kind of shit would fucking add to the game’s depth and complexity? Think again, you herp-a-derp motherfuckers. Where the fuck did you get your educations at? Fucking Walmart? Get with the fucking program. Riot Games is breaking it’s own records after every tournament because the game is consistent, and the core game is fixed. What the fuck is so hard about that? Poke yourselves in the eye with your fucking printer cartridges, you brainless fucking twits. A fucking death penalty. Un-fucking-believable.