Player Interaction in MOBAs

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.

League Champions
Different characters offered in League of Legends

These games have some of the largest player bases of any game type, as well as the largest and most established esports tournaments.

Dota TI Prize Pool.png
The largest yearly Dota 2 tournament, The International, with final prize pool $25,532,107.

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.

VaingloriousLeague RankParagon Rank

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.

Decision Chart League.png
A user-made guide for decision making in a game of League of Legends.

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.


Kevis Tsao


5 thoughts on “Player Interaction in MOBAs”

  1. Your enthusiasm and passion for MOBAs is contagious throughout the article, and I found it really refreshing to see your viewpoint on the state of MOBAs. I did find one aspect that I found particularly interesting though — the emphasis on playing with strangers rather than in groups. I actually thought that the most respected competitive setting would have been the group rather than the individual. As an outsider, I can’t really assert what the values of the MOBA community are; however, I have noticed that in each of these MOBA competitions all of the competitors are competing in teams. There is an added dimension to the game when communication between teammates is added to the equation. It would allow teams to cooperate better and would lead to more competitive games. They could communicate strategy and actions with each other and raise their heights to another level.

    1. Yes! I focused primarily on the aspects of solo play. Playing with a team of 5, with constant communication, is a whole other game. Professional teams and tournaments would always have players who constantly play with each other, and I was actually part of one myself at Vanderbilt. I chose to talk about improvement as an individual because I thought it was a lot easier to relate with non-gamers. I think being on a competitive gaming team does add that whole new dimension, but it’s not as easy to relate to as the process of dumping in time the time to personally achieve something. I think every person at Vanderbilt has had that, whether academics, extracurriculars, sports, or hobbies.

      I also think it’s a great thing to have to play with strangers. It’s not too hard to work with people you know of, and even easier to work with people you like. But what about people who don’t know anything about you? Or those who, for a reason not necessarily your fault, don’t like you? I think dealing with those people makes the difference! (even if they call me names)

  2. I really enjoyed reading this because as an outsider who does not game very often, I like to see the rationale behind many gamers’ actions. I played Vainglory as well, although I was never any good at the game. It can be frustrating to see players use the same character as me but somehow do significantly better when I feel that I’m doing everything I can. I’m the player that always gets enough votes to be kicked out. This is why I find playing on a team with friends is more enjoyable. I am less stressed about letting people down and I actually have time to focus on the game itself. My friends never pressure me to do something for them; instead, they encourage me and help me find a strategy that suits the character I have chosen. I truly believe that playing video games force players to think with ingenuity and it is a trait I truly admire because I have yet to acquire the skill for games like Vainglory.

  3. I’m really glad you came back around to having both the positive and negative aspects of mobas. As a newcomer to the gaming world overall, this blog seemed like all of the points you made for the positive aspects of mobas were obvious, and yet I never would have thought of them on my own. I am so unfamiliar with the world that most of what I know are stereotypes, especially those that you brought up indicating the worst aspects of people that mobas have the ability to bring out. I am curious to know about the outliers to your theory, who progress in a manner where they simply try to dominate the world and the players around them; a sort of dog-eat-dog mentality. I am also curious about what the draw is to spending hours in a virtual reality where things feel so real, as opposed to going out and physically doing things like hikes where the setting is similar to a game, or even live-action role-playing? Congrats on all your accolades in the mobas!

  4. I loved your take on not just MOBAS here, but on gaming and perceptions about gamers as well. You identify the common complaints that games are a “waste of time,” but proceed to tear down such arguments with your nuanced, enthusiastic account of what they mean to you. You are absolutely right in that they teach one “to control emotions and perform consistently.” Furthermore, I would expand upon your argument that MOBAS facilitate friendships to say that they deliver practical experience for many types of communication that are useful in life and the workplace—collaboration, constructive criticism, and respectful disagreement to name a few. Thank you for your post!

Leave a Reply to positivelytilted Cancel reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s