A Beginner’s Guide to MOBAs: Best Games, Terminology & More
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The Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. The MOBA, for short, is potentially the hottest game genre to come out of the 21st century, so far. With the release and subsequent rise of League of Legends, MOBAs took the world by storm, creating a massive influx of game entries on any device that allowed multiplayer. Computers, consoles, even smartphones got their own versions of the MOBA genre, each trying to differentiate from the others with some unique gimmick.
For those uninitiated, it’s a daunting task to even get started with the genre, let alone enjoy it, which is why some guidance may be necessary. Even before choosing a game, there’s plenty to learn and understand so that you have the best experience possible when first stepping into your lane.
Make no mistake: MOBAs are popular because you never stop learning. You can read everything there is, but the best way to improve would be to mute the game chat and play. This guide is here to get you started with the basics, give you some game advice, and then lead you on the path of discovery. Results may vary, play at your own risk.
What is a MOBA?
As mentioned, MOBA stands for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. Obviously, this is a bit ambiguous, so it boils down to any game where two teams of players fight to destroy each other’s bases. To do so, the opposing bases create little creatures to go fight each other in the middle of a map, and you try to help your creatures win out and move into the base. Generally, there are some towers that will shoot your creatures on the way, and maybe a few other nuances, but that’s the gist of it. Kill the base, win the game. Simple enough.
Along with the bases, each player selects a certain hero to bring into the arena, replete with a specific skill set to help the team in some way. Perhaps it’s killing, perhaps it’s healing, perhaps it’s moving faster. These skills are what define any hero’s role on the team, but we’ll get into this later. For now, you play the hero, they have powers, and those powers help destroy the base. Easy!
Before we can break down the different games and their quirks, there are a few (tons of) terms used within MOBAs to explain everything going on. For sake of ease, we’ll mostly look at the terms used in League of Legends and Dota 2. As the largest of the MOBAs, most other games took the concepts and lingo from these two juggernauts, so the terms are transferrable.
AFK – Not made for MOBAs, but certainly important to know. Stands for Away From Keyboard, meaning they’re in the game, but not playing. If you have a person AFK, you generally lose and everyone gets mad.
Back/B– To go Back means to return to your spawn point. Generally, this acts as a healing platform and shop, so you’ll frequently visit. If someone says they’re going b, they’re returning back to the spawn.
Base – the area where teams begin the game. Protecting this is the top priority, and you only win by destroying the opposing base. Goes by many names, such as Nexus, Core, etc.
Boss – Another shared concept that has a unique name in each game. Denotes the biggest neutral creature on the map that, when killed, nets a major bonus to your team. In LoL, it’s the Baron, while in Dota, it’s Roshan.
Carry – the hero meant to kill the enemy players. This hero is generally weak early on, requiring time to build up, but will then be able to win the game with just a bit of help
Creep – the actual name for the creatures spawned from each base. Killing the enemy’s creeps reward you with money and experience. Your Creep Score is the number of creeps you’ve killed in the game.
Creep Wave – a full group of creeps. Each game spawns a set amount of creeps, waits a time, then spawns another group, causing waves of creeps. Hence, creep wave.
Crowd Control – Shortened to CC, this denotes attacks or abilities that cause some detriment to the enemy’s abilities, be it a movement slow, stun, or a silence.
Dive – The act of attempting to kill someone while they’re close to a tower. A risky play, as towers tend to hurt, so it takes a full commitment. You’ll probably die and everyone will then get mad.
Farm – The act of compiling gold through killing creeps. More money means stronger items, which means that the Carry or carries on your team will need a lot of farm.
Feed – The act of dying to an enemy player multiple times. If you die a bunch, you are feeding, and the enemy player will get fed. This is to be avoided at all costs. If you’re feeding, everyone will get mad.
Gank – The act of traveling out of your lane to try and kill the enemy in another lane. Usually called for if the opponent has a stronger hero.
Inhibitor/Barracks – The structure at the beginning of each lane that, once destroyed, powers up the enemy creeps.
Jungle – Denotes the area filling out the map between lanes. Tends to hold groups of Neutral Monsters that give good amounts of gold and experience, allowing for a player to become the jungler. The jungler farms the neutral monsters and tries to gank all lanes.
Lane – The paths that lead from your base to the enemy base. There can be from one to three lanes in a game, generally denoted by where they are on the overall map. Bottom lane runs along the south, Mid lane is in the middle, and Top lane in the north.
Last hit – the act of getting the killing blow on a creature or player. In most MOBAs, only the player that gets the last hit will get the full amount of gold, so learning to Last Hit is an essential skill to succeed.
Neutral monsters – The monsters sprinkled throughout the jungle. They don’t fight for any one side, and don’t really move out of their spawn point, called a Camp.
Push – The act of killing the enemy creeps quickly so that yours can get to the towers and base, allowing you to destroy them. If the enemy’s creeps are attacking your stuff, you can say that lane is pushed.
River – not in all MOBAs, but the label is given to the center line that runs between the two opposing sides. In LoL and Dota, it’s a literal river and is where you find the Boss.
Roam – The act of traveling between lanes to gank the opposing players. Usually, a roamer is someone who forsakes any farming to visit lanes as often as possible and hopefully kill the opponents.
Skillshot – Abilities that must be aimed manually, rather than just right clicking an enemy. They take practice, and generally separate good players from great ones.
Spawn timer – Neutral monsters spawn at certain intervals in the jungle. For LoL, the spawn timer counts down from when they die, whereas in Dota, they spawn at set times in game. Spawn timers play a big role for the jungler and Bosses.
Split Push – the act of attempting to push a lane while your team accomplishes some other goal, causing the enemy to make tough choices.
Support – The role given to heroes who generally don’t cause much damage, but offer other benefits to the team. If you lose the game, a lot of people will point to the Support, and will subsequently get mad.
Tower – Structures on the map meant to protect your lane from getting pushed. Towers automatically target and kill enemies in range, starting with the creeps.
With any team game, each player should serve a different purpose for what you’re looking to do. In most MOBAs, there are four or five main roles that can be played. Dota’s weird, so I won’t be covering that mess, but this will apply to standard games.
Carry/ADC/Ranged DPS – Going by many names, this role is filled by heroes that have strong basic attacks. Though they start out weak and in need of assistance, they become the backbone of the team by endgame.
Recommended for: players with patience and a good eye for danger. Not an easy role to fill.
Support – As the name implies, the support helps the team with things other than damage. This can mean map vision, strong crowd control, or healing.
Recommended for: players who don’t mind staying a bit weaker so they can help the Carry grow strong. Good for beginners, as you don’t need to worry about last hitting or taking objectives.
Mid – The mid laner is generally someone with strong amounts of damage from their abilities. With the middle lane being safest, this hero is usually alone, raises level quickly, and puts out loads of damage in team fights.
Recommended for: players that want to depend on their own skills to win. Very tough as a beginner since a lot of the team relies on you to help lane, turn team fights, and bully the enemy.
Top – The top laner is similar to the mid laner, but with less safety. The top heroes are bulkier than their mid counterparts and are usually meant to soak damage while also pushing out a steady stream of punishment. with the lane being longer, top is more susceptible to ganks. Notoriously anti-social split-pushers.
Recommended for: players who like to tank or otherwise bully the enemy through not caring about damage or your own team. Moderate difficulty for beginners, so long as you select the right hero for the job.
Jungle – the jungler stays mostly between lanes, farming the neutral monsters. They’re responsible for threatening lane opponents with ganks and sneaky plays. It’s also the jungler’s responsibility to secure the boss monsters and other objectives.
Recommended for: those that want to get strong without having to last hit lane creeps, while also offering assistance to any failing lane. Relatively good role for a beginner once you’ve learned how to farm the neutral monsters. It’s an isolated role that rarely has any pressure from enemies, but your team will bother the hell out of you if you don’t help the lanes.
With the terminology in hand, we can now break down the pros and cons of the most popular MOBAs on market, currently. There’s going to be some opinion thrown in here, so perhaps take it with a grain of salt. Again, the best way to learn is to just play your chosen game, but if you’re undecided, this should help out.
League of Legends
One of the two heavyweights, LoL was the first major MOBA on the scene. It took off in no time and has created a worldwide audience for its competitive scene. LoL is a very big deal.
Pros: Well-established community built over many years, meaning there are plenty of guides, builds and other materials to help you learn. Wide variety of Champions to choose from. Most other MOBAs built off of LoL’s formula, so learning this can result in some very transferrable skills. Plenty of professionals stream, so it’s easy to learn how the pros play. The company, Riot, is relatively active in the community and listening to feedback.
Cons: HellaToxic. Like, it’s a real epidemic in LoL. Generally, if you aren’t playing against bots and the match is evenly-matched or worse, someone will get angry at you. The game has been constantly refined over the years to remove all simple Champion mechanics, meaning even the easiest of champions have complex mechanics to learn and master. Steep skill slope, so get ready to lose a lot. Unlocking characters can take a long, long time to do, and there’s 120+ currently, so unless you want to spend money, the game will decide who you can and can’t play.
Recommendations: if you really want to start with LoL, it may be best to begin as a Support player. So long as you stay behind your ADC and keep a ward or two on the map, you’ll be least likely to ruin your team’s chances. Jungle is also a possibility, but that takes a bit more game sense, and you’ll also need to learn the jungle routes. As for specific champions, Annie and Sona would be good Support starting points. Both keep aiming at a minimum, while offering much for your partner in lane. For jungle, go Amumu. He’s a crying mummy and I love him.
I’m only going to say this once, so listen carefully: Dota 2 is ass. It is, at no point, user-friendly, the mechanics are convoluted and unnecessary, and the people who enjoy it are most likely masochists. I’m going to write things down about it, but only because I’m obligated.
Pros: The heroes and their movesets are fantastic. Each hero does some crazy stuff, and it finds balance only because everyone has crazy moves. As an example, there’s a hero who can teleport anywhere on the map every 20 seconds. That’s silly, and it’s where the allure of Dota 2 comes into play. The game has tons going on, and you’ll always find something new to master. Guides can be implemented directly into your game so that you can see the recommended build, item choices, and brief explanations on how to use everything. Plenty of different game modes to get you out of your comfort zone. Perhaps the best part, though, is that Dota 2 comes as a complete game, with everything unlocked from the start.
Cons: Dumb mechanics that are completely unnecessary. Extreme learning curve. The stats can be tough to understand, and item choices can make or break your matches. You lose money if you die, but you’re always worth a good amount as a kill, so it’s not uncommon to constantly farm the same player. Nigh impenetrable game, with most mechanics being specific to only Dota 2. I’d avoid Dota 2 like the plague, unless this is the only reason you want to play a MOBA.
Recommendations: Always go to the safe lane. In Dota 2, the side lanes are asymmetrical, so one of your lanes will have a tower at the corner of the map. That’s the safe lane. Don’t play carry heroes; instead, choose mages and other heroes that rely on strong abilities. They don’t need a lot of gold to offer everything they can to the team. For specific heroes, Bristleback can be a carry, but none of his skills take any amount of aim. Dazzle and Omniknight can be two great supports that offer a lot for just a bit of research and game sense.
Billed as the #1 mobile MOBA, Vainglory is mostly here because they do technically have an eSports scene, so perhaps you’d enjoy it. A bit more of a streamlined experience, Vainglory features one lane and only 3v3 matches.
Pros: Easier to pick up (haha) and play, due to the streamlined content. Only 35 heroes, so finding your favorite and learning the matchups comes quickly. It’s a mobile game, so made for the touch screen, which translates to user friendliness. Generally uses the same basis as LoL, so practice here can translate to most other MOBAs. Matches aren’t the 30-45 minute slugfests we see in LoL and Dota.
Cons: It’s a much more shallow experience than what most MOBAs have to offer. Though the matches aren’t long, they’re still a bit longer than you may want to play on your phone. If you have those 15 minutes, just boot up the computer and play a fully-featured game. Not much of a market compared to the other games on this list, but still does the general F2P model used in phone games.
Recommendations: With the map being smaller, helping your teammates is much more critical, so don’t be afraid to run into a fight that’s already going. In fact, maybe pal around with whichever player stays in the lane. For heroes, Catherine is a good place to start, offering plenty of utility and survivability. Ringo could be workable, if you’re looking to try a more Damage-based role.
Heroes of the Storm
Blizzard’s take on the genre, HotS offers a cool champion pool pulled directly from their own games. If you have love for Blizzard properties, you’ll probably enjoy the hell out of HotS.
Pros: Recognizable champions mean that you’ll probably have a good understanding of what they can do right out the gate. Start the game with all your abilities, sans your ultimate, and no items to purchase in a store. A variety of maps with different objectives on each, keeping each round feeling fresh. Blizzard is pretty generous with the currency in-game compared to other MOBAs, and you get a loot box every level. Matches are quicker than most other games and focus on team fighting more than farming minions.
Cons: Abilities can feel underwhelming. There’s an emphasis on teamwork that can make for a very frustrating experience if you don’t coordinate. Very much objective-based, so if you don’t follow the tasks, the game punishes you hard. Not as much depth as Dota or even LoL.
Recommendations: This is the one, guys! If I were to recommend a starting point in the genre, this is it. HotS is a colorful game with some recognizable characters that lends itself well to rookies and veterans alike. No, it isn’t as deep as LoL or Dota, but it’s easy to get into and enjoy without the pressure of a toxic community. I’ll still stick to my Support role recommendation, but it’s a much more flexible matter in HotS. You could probably also start as a warrior or assassin if you wanted to try something else. For specific characters to play, Li Li is a simple support that can save whole teamfights. Diablo is a straightforward tank that smashes things real good. Raynor isn’t great later on, but he’s a solid starting point for those wanting to pursue the Assassin or DPS role.
A game that took the basic concepts of MOBAs and created a third-person action game. Rather than clicking around, you directly control your god’s movements through your standard movement keys, WASD. A fun take on the genre, it’s been steadily expanding over time.
Pro: The movement will feel much more natural to those coming from action games. It’s available on consoles, as well as the PC. You’ll know some of the gods, which adds to the fun of it. Aiming gets to be a bit easier when you’re in this over-the-shoulder viewpoint. Great variety in the champion pool, and plenty of different game modes to play.
Cons: Not a huge player base can lead to some long queue times. By necessity, the animations can look strange due to the freedom of movement. Art style is hit-or-miss. Auto-attacking has to be aimed as well, which can lead to some very frustrating tactics by assassins. Relies on some weird vision mechanics due to the perspective.
Recommendations: Smite is a fun change from the regular MOBA formula. With the different viewpoint, skillshots are much easier to aim, and the controls are more user-friendly. This does mean, though, that all champions will take some amount of aim. On the bright side, you can practically play whoever you want with a relatively similar amount of mechanical difficulty. There are some gods who lend themselves to beginners: Artemis is a great starting ranged character with good damage; Ra is a simple mage with strong output; Ymir is a fun tank that can put up barriers. Luckily, these are all permanently free gods you can use right when you get the game.
This is listed as a MOBA on the web and Steam, so I thought I’d address it here. I love me some Battlerite, but it is very much different than the other games on this list. Really, it follows the literal meaning of being a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, pitting teams of two or three heroes against each other with no other objective than to kill the enemy.
Pros: fun game focused on casting spells and abilities to stomp your enemy. The action is fast-paced, with a heavy emphasis on reflexes and aiming. A match doesn’t take nearly as long as the other games, and it will soon run an F2P model to get people playing. Not a lot to learn, other than the heroes and their moves, meaning the barrier to entry is relatively low.
Cons: Nothing like the other games on this list. Focus on hero combat, but a very limited selection of heroes to this point. Not getting a lot of support, and the player base is pretty flat. The matchmaking can feel a bit imbalanced when certain team compositions are outright better than others. Tons of aiming, meaning there’s the very real possibility you do nothing in a round.
Recommendations: Look, I have played my fair share of Battlerite, but it’s a very different beast. It’s a fighting arena where every shot is aimed, and practice is key. If you’re looking for a reflex-heavy battler, then Battlerite is for you. As for particular heroes to choose, Pestilus can do serious work with the proper teammate, and I think Ezmo is just a barrel of monkeys to play.
There you have it, guys. It’s a lot of information to take in, but this is where it all begins. At this point, you should have some idea of what game, role and perhaps character you want to play, so it’s now up to you to get out there and practice a bunch. These are just recommendations, so if you really want to play Dota 2 and use Meepo, you can do that. It may be frustrating at first, but everyone starts somewhere. Good luck, and please don’t play Dota 2.
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