MOBA is unique in its status as a community-built genre.
The prototype of MOBA was a fan-made custom map on StarCraft called ‘Aeon of Strife’. Although it had its own dedicated community, the biggest pioneer of all MOBA is Dota (Defense of The Ancients).
A community-made spiritual successor to Aeon of Strife on the Warcraft III engine, Dota's unveiling turned a tightly knit niche into a major pillar of 2000s esports.
Its sequel, Dota 2, remains an iconic vanguard of the genre to this day but its neither the only nor the most popular MOBA.
All the following games further the MOBA formula in their own way.
1) League of Legends
Even in its competitive heyday, the original Dota was bogged down by the limitations of the Warcraft III engine. To address this exact issue, League of Legends was the first Dota successor built from scratch.
It obviously took some pages out of Dota’s MOBA playbook. The lead developers, after all, were people who worked on the Dota Allstars map.
But LoL had enough unique aspects to grow its own fresh fanbase. Today, it is the most popular MOBA in the market by a long shot and it won't be an exaggeration to say that the competitive MOBA field has very little recognition outside of LoL and Dota 2.
2) Heroes of the Storm
Heroes of the Storm was Blizzard’s own take on the MOBA genre, released in 2015. The game was originally touted as a sequel to Dota Allstars - a custom map on Blizzard’s game.
Interestingly, Valve also acquired the Dota IP around the same time Blizzard had its eye on the MOBA niche. In the midst of asserting MOBA supremacy, much legal tussle followed.
In its conclusion, Valve retained the Dota 2 title, while Blizzard’s project ‘Blizzard All-Stars’ was instead developed as "Heroes of the Storm."
HoTS does away with much of LoL and Dota’s economy. Instead of item choices, characterization is sought through talent trees and admittedly, Blizzard also opted to advertise it as an "Action Real-time Strategy" rather than MOBA.
Smite is the answer to the question, “What if Dota 2 was locked to the hero showcase camera mode?” By virtue of accentuating the traditionally isometric perspective, Smite remains an unparalleled take on the MOBA genre.
As expected, this also affects its gameplay in all aspects. For example, Smite is possibly the most skillshot-heavy MOBA out there.
Battlerite is the definitive hybrid between a brawler and a MOBA. If HoTS skins MOBA off its item farming busywork, Battlerite goes even further to put fighting as its first and foremost priority.
It immediately throws the player into the meaty teamfighting of a MOBA, no creeps, no objectives, no bells and whistles. Naturally, it is the perfect fit for players who like high-tempo ganking gameplay in a MOBA.
In a sense, Battlerite is closer to ability-oriented arena shooters like Valorant or Overwatch than it is to Dota.
Vainglory’s general gameplay does not go off the MOBA rails by any stretch. But it arguably has more fun, micro-skill-based gameplay than any other MOBA. It's impossible to forget its polished cast of original "avatars," a breath of fresh air in a genre where every game has a rock-themed tank and a Sun Wukong adaptation.
The skills of each hero can be upgraded through the overdrive system with the catch being that only one skill can be upgraded per game.
Vainglory thus achieves roleplaying MOBA flexibility through a unique process of elimination.
Sadly, the game is currently in a mostly defunct state. Rogue Games, the publishers, officially pulled the plug on it back in March 2020 citing unsustainable server upkeep.
Super Evil Megacorp, the developers, currently host the MOBA game on their own servers at a limited capacity. They plan to eventually give it away to the community, similar to the way DoTA was unofficially hosted by a budding MOBA community back in the day.
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Currently, the early-access PC port is unavailable on Steam.