Hello! I’m Kevis Tsao. I’ve been an avid moba gamer all my life, from the earliest flash games like Minions and VORP! to the largest franchises today like League and Dota 2. I love all kinds of games, especially roguelikes, deck-builders, and strategy turn-based games, but the genre that holds my heart and my mind is the MOBA.
MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena and is synonymously known as the RTS, or Real Time Strategy. Mobas take two teams of players, from 3v3 to 6v6, and place them within an arena in which they select characters to outfight and outwit the enemy team. Many believe that games are just that: games. Things to waste time. Some games might not have any effect after finishing it, but I think mobas have lessons to teach.
Mobas boast some of the greatest complexity and highest learning curves of any games. The most popular games in this genre boast over a hundred different playable characters and different playstyles for each. The largest factor for the difficulty of mobas is the vast number of interactions and information to consider within the game. Each “champion” performs differently at different stages of the game, and strategies revolve around many in-game factors.
These games have some of the largest player bases of any game type, as well as the largest and most established esports tournaments.
I have extensive experience with many different Mobas, and have reached some of the highest tiers of play within them. I achieved the highest rank in Vainglory, a mobile MoBA, a peak rank of 5400 MMR in Dota 2, placing me in the top .5% of players, Diamond III in League of Legends, placing me in the top .3% of LoL players, and Diamond in Paragon, ranked 101 at the end of the Early Access season in the top .03% of players.
Aiming for the highest tiers of play in these games is an amazing, frustrating, depressing, humbling, and rewarding adventure. Like any skill or sport, it takes discipline and time to improve. Establishing a positive learning cycle is essential to improving quickly and I’ve found that many skills and learning habits follow me through these games and help me in real life, from self-care to coding styles.
I believe one of the most divisive aspects of this genre is the interaction between players. Players have the option to play with a premade group of friends, but the most respected competitive setting has players queue “solo”. Playing with 4 strangers is challenging. Whether in a work or gaming setting, one meets many kinds of people and attitudes and must deal with different situations that arise. As always, people make judgements and have prejudices when meeting others. Conflicts appear during the course of the game and one of the most important aspects of mobas is the way players deal with these interpersonal conflicts. Unless one player is much more skilled than every other player in the game, it is difficult for one player to win alone. If even one other person does not care about the outcome of the game, it can become difficult or even impossible to win. Players will have the same range of responses that can occur in real life, and these are often amplified by the anonymity of the internet. Players can be conciliatory, encouraging, aggressive or withdrawn. Since the course of the games relies on a team of players working together towards the common goal of victory, the mental state of each of the players has a huge impact on the game result. Improving mental state is more than just being a “team player”, it’s understanding when to ignore another player, it’s when to humbly receive criticism that has merit, it’s how to motivate your teammates that the game is worth playing out, and that it is possible to reach success: victory.
Many of the top players have certain universal habits and methods. Mobas require skills that I believe are transferable to real life. These games are not necessarily highly mechanically difficult, but deal heavily with information control, instant decision making, and flexible strategies.
No player can instantly become top level at a moba. Players need improvement plans to improve their gameplay. Apart from a few aspects of play, such as mechanical ability and positioning, improvement is closely tied with working with fellow players. A lot of the frustration people have with trying to “climb”, or raise their ranking, is that all their progress and improvement is always in relation to not only them but their team. A teammate having a bad game or unlucky factors can lose a player the game despite their improvements. Everyone wants to see growth, and it can be frustrating to not see it as a result of something outside one’s control. It becomes very easy to blame others for one’s losses and mistakes. But progress happens by taking a critical look at things that could be improved in their own play. Learning to control emotions and perform consistently is one of the challenges of mobas and interacting anywhere else.
“Some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command, and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions,” Epictetus, Greek Philosopher
Mobas do what many other games cannot. They bring out the best and worst in people, because these games matter so much to them. They make others’ actions matter to them. They can bring out the friendliness in people that creates relationships thousands of miles apart, or bring out the most horrid cruelty in people, saying things that they usually wouldn’t consider saying in real life. People want and desire in a game like League or Dota or Overwatch just as they would for anything attainable anywhere else. The way people interact feels so real, and improving at this game exemplifies playing nice with strangers.