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Two Problems With MOBAs (and How To Fix Them)
I want so desperately to enjoy MOBA’s, the frenetic and white-knuckle strategy games that include the likes of the immensely popular League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients, and the upcoming Strife. But two major problems keep the genre from ever being a complete hit with me.
Diving In Head-First
Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas stem from, in their earliest days, modifications of Real Time Strategy format games, in particular Blizzard’s Starcraft and Warcraft 3. The games have since taken on their own identity as a form of “action” RTS, maintaining the look and feel of their strategy forefathers with team-versus-team based combat.
All of this is old hat for anyone who has had a history with multiplayer strategy games, to a certain extent. The pacing, however, could not be any more different. The time-consuming resource management and structure building of strategy games is tossed, in favor of a direct focus on combat. While there is a small sort of minion-based and “quick-attack-their-turret because-of-reasons”-based combat, the primary focus is player versus player. And this is hectic. And terrifying.
Tutorials are offered, but they exist to simply get a player’s feet wet in perhaps one or two of the hundreds of character types available in the game, and even then, only against simplistic automated AI. There is no form of a “singleplayer,” which, personally, is my favorite place to cut my teeth and take the time to wrap my head around the mechanics of a game. If I can, I will always blast through as much of a standalone version of a game as possible before even considering multiplayer. To have that stripped, and to find myself a soft-skinned scrub standing face to face among battle-hardened teammates duking it out in a world with unfamiliar mechanics that I just downloaded yesterday is a tiny bit overwhelming.
It’s taken one step further with each game including a roster of characters dense enough to make your head spin. While this is exciting, it’s also next to impossible to find out if you’ll enjoy a particular avatar and skillset before you test it, and therein lies the problem.
And it never gets any easier. You learn to harness the chaos, and to manage the madness, but I find it hard to imagine a more frenetic trial by fire. What the tutorials lack is that unpredictability of playing against a team of independent-thinking, (mostly) intelligent other people.
Perhaps a network of training servers could be implemented, or some form of administrator-managed low level battle system that could allow newcomers to truly stretch their legs in this new world before having them crushed by the Great Hammer of Legendary Bobsmithman. Bot combat can only do so much, and to see a dedicated collection of matches arranged for the sole purpose of training would do a lot of favors for newcomers who may be just entering the strategy genre for the first time.
Oh God, That Community
First-Person Shooters tend to get a lot of flak for housing an overpopulated virtual world of fratbros and “yo momma” jokes, but I have never seen a community more ruthless and more beautifully insane than those that exist in MOBAs.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing! There are people who take to these games and completely fall in love with it, just like anything else that one can feel passion for and a desire to excel within. And there are people who do excel, and who rise to the top, and can truly strut the skills they have honed within the system of the game.
But online interactions tend to have a funny way of drawing out the darker side of people. Just spend thirty seconds in a YouTube comment section. Bring some brain bleach.
Sure, any online game is about pushing past the occasional troll, but I have never seen as much absolute impatience and venom spat towards other players as I have, even spectating some of the best Twitch streams of MOBA matches. For a teamwork-based game, there’s a strange lack of empathy that seems to breed inside the genre, and forgive me for feeling that it keeps me from wanting to return to the world.
How to go about fixing this, though, is a difficult task. Communication is key in a team-based genre, particularly in a game where subterfuge and deception can make or break a match.
My proposal is the removal of in-game chat.
This would turn the games into fascinating lessons in skill, trust, and some form of symbolic communication. If it became a more instinct-based game, I feel it would add a whole element of excitement, seeing how players devise ways of communicating without conversing. Strategies could be plotted in a pre-game team chat, and reviewed post. Consequently, both trolls and aggressive hate conversation wouldn’t have any form of cesspool to breed.
This does, however, present an issue in the fact that more organized teams can find other ways of communicating off-game. But this would add to the true sense of camaraderie that the games currently have in such short supply, bringing together tighter networks of teams in a genre that, in the end, is really team-based multiplayer.
MOBAs have come to redefine the prospect of eSports and lay the framework for the future of organized gaming. But just like with any sport, there needs to be some small informal window of pick-up games for the little guy to jump into for the first time, without the fear of blazing harassment. While an ideal online world could never exist, it would be nice to see some steps towards making the genre a more accessible experience for players, old and new.