Author Note: Y’all better buckle in, this is a long one!
Like a lot of folks my age, my first experience with the MOBA genre was long before League of Legends and DOTA2. It started with the original DOTA, a custom map on WarCraft 3. After beating that absolutely epic game I turned to custom maps for two reasons. The first is that I just wanted more and the second was that at the time my family was pretty poor and my parents told me I had to make do with the games that I had for a while. I was luckier than some of my friends who’s PCs were sold to make the mortgage or heating bill. (Love you Mum & Dad)
So on I went to searching for custom maps finding the zombie invasion maps where your squad of space marines would have to defend a small area of your choosing against hordes of zombies and you would slowly be whittled down each. Eventually, getting zombiefied and having to fight your once allies to prevent them from getting on an evac helicopter. I didn’t, at the time, understand why these assets were in a fantasy game but I enjoyed it none the less. There was also a map that was basically what the new Among Us game craze is based on (you’d be surprised how many genres came from WarCraft 3). And finally, there was this map called Defence of the Ancients and that intrigued me just by the name. So I loaded it up and was immediately confused as to what my objective was, what the controls were and why everyone was mad at me for playing Uther. (The objectively second-best WarCraft character).
As a youth with very little patience, I was pretty put off by the whole experience but I kept coming back to it for some reason. It seemed so interesting with these waves of low tier units walking in perfect synch to their inevitable doom. Every hero unit I played seemed to be varying degrees of useful and confusing. Eventually, I just gave up because I was too shy to ask what I was doing and didn’t really think to google it. (If there was a google back then? I forget. I’m 27 and feel older every day).
So fast forward several years to when I was in a small voice acting group. One of them, who we’ll call Big C for no other reason than it just sprung to mind, played a game called League of Legends. I was pretty intrigued by this game so I thought to give it a whirl if he’d teach me. So there I was playing a cute fish lady being told what to do by someone way more experienced than me. He was actually a pretty chill teacher, didn’t mind when I died and just kept up with a “Hey, you’re learning” vibe, which if you’ve ever tried to self teach League of Legends is not the response you will get from the strangers that make up your team.
I’m not going to say I loved the experience. It seemed pretty tedious, confusing and hectic for my tiny teenage mind who’s wavelength was more or less on Sims and Zoo Tycoon at the time. But I persevered because my friend liked it and he liked teaching me. Eventually, for whatever reason, I stopped playing. I honestly think I just found something else to do. What I had swiftly learned at the time was you either dedicated your time to League or you quickly forgot everything you were taught.
So skip ahead another year or two and I discover this game called AwesomeNauts which was advertised as “A 2D Cartoony MOBA.” And one look at the trailer with its kick-ass music and Saturday morning cartoon vibes I was hooked. I downloaded it and began playing. So as the title suggests my relationship with MOBAs has never been a 100% positive one and AwesomeNauts was/is no different.
I want to preface the next paragraph or so with a more sentimental statement. AwesomeNauts is the reason I am where I am today. It introduced me to many friends I still have to this day. It actually introduced me to the editor of this wonderful website (editors note: yes it did he found me through an Awesomenauts video I did on my YouTube channel and he’s been stuck with me ever since). I would not have met the man who is going to be the best man at my wedding. Theoretically, I would not have met my fiancée if it wasn’t for AwesomeNauts because my life would have gone a completely different direction with different friends and then different choices.
So I played AwesomeNauts for well over four years creating well over a thousand videos for my now-defunct YouTube channel. (I deleted them all so there’s no sense looking) I became engaged in the forums. I grew a community of followers and I even became pretty well known on the forums. I created a podcast that has died and risen again (without me of course, which is fine.) and, as I said, made friends; playing the game.
Now I need to maintain a certain amount of journalistic integrity with anything I write on this website so I will refrain from extremes or anything inflammatory. I do not intend to touch AwesomeNauts again. The time I had with it was fun for the longest time until it eventually became very much not fun. Part of that was because I was producing content that did not seem to be enjoyed by its community (which is my own fault, not theirs) and also in part to the developer’s and, in my opinion, their ethos for developing a MOBA that, at the time, was not free to play and made its money from the initial buy-in for the game.
The people I played with and I had many ideas on how to improve the game that we were all very vocal about in my and their own videos. For whatever reason the community did not agree with these ideas and were very vocal about that, which is totally fine, it’s the internet people have opinions. Eventually I was happy to leave AN where it was and just move on with my life. Then the developers had to slam the final nail into the coffin and implement a bunch of things myself and said friends had suggested multiple times in the forums and in our videos (which we knew the devs watched) to which the community all clapped in unison and said “Finally, we’ve always wanted this.”
Well okay then.
Anyway, as I said. I owe a lot to my time in AwesomeNauts and am forever grateful to that. But, like I said, it’s the internet and people have opinions and mine of the game and its development team are not positive. Let’s move on shall we?
After myself and my friends, all decided, almost in unison, to pack-it-in with AwesomeNauts we all had a MOBA shaped hole in our gaming lives. My friends mostly tried to convince me to play more League; which I did quite happily but it never truly scratched that itch for me.
Along came Infinite Crisis! So if you are a fan of DC comics you may have heard that they once tried to make a MOBA themselves and as a DC household, it would have been remiss of me to not give it a whirl. It was pretty standard fare for a MOBA looking back but at the time it just felt better to be playing as Gotham By Gaslight Batman than it did some generic fantasy dweeb in League. (Editors note: This is the only MOBA I’ve ever been good and they axed it and I’m still upset with it)
However, that tryst was ever so short as Infinite Crisis died in its relative infancy not able to gain much traction and losing a lot of its trust with the community as they promised no account resets after a certain point but did it anyway costing people the skins and heroes they’d worked hours to acquire. (Editors note: I also dropped money on a founders pass and have nothing to show for it.)
After that came a little project called Dawngate. This was EA’s attempt at a MOBA and honestly, it was a real turning point for me as a MOBA player. It had this gorgeous art style and presentation that the, at the time, relatively blocky and unpleasant looking League just couldn’t provide due to its age. It also had a much greater emphasis on PVE or ‘Jungling’ as it’s referred to in most MOBAs. It was a lot less complicated to Jungle and more fun. Finally, when you got to the core it was an actual boss that fought back, isn’t that a novel idea?
Sadly, just like Infinite Crisis, that time was short as EA wasn’t seeing the unrealistic, world crushing numbers they wanted from a fledgeling title in a very hard to break into the genre. So Dawngate was permanently shelved. To tell you how passionate the community was for that short-lived title they are still, to this day, trying to get Dawngate running on private servers for them all to enjoy. Pretty wild for a game that lasted literal months before being axed.
So there I was. Left with my only option being either League or the newly released DOTA2 which took only a few dozen hours of my time before I realised it was just everything I disliked about League turned up to 11. An insane amount of items to look up guides on, a densely packed and yet somehow still boring map design and an obsession on a twenty-minute laning phase where NOTHING HAPPENS!
I want to take a brief pause and get real with the MOBA community here. If you like it, that’s awesome. I am not here to rag on your enjoyment. So if you’re a hardcore League or DOTA2 player and think I’m wrong, that’s totally cool. I just don’t get it, okay? Cool.
Where was I? Oh yes. There I was with this hole in my gaming life that I just couldn’t quite fill with my time in League with my friends. The times I truly had fun with those games was when we all decided to do something stupid like all play grappler characters and invade jungle or all play supports and try to succeed. That or I played ARAM with the sites editor and actually enjoyed the game (editors note: it was the only part I enjoyed of League, that and when we played ranked twisted treeline… curse you Riot for taking away my stupid 3v3 bronze team). What was little old me to do? It didn’t look like I was ever going to find a game to scratch that itch.
January 13th 2015: I receive my Beta key for Heroes of the Storm!
I’d been following Heroes of the Storm for about a year mostly as an Activision-Blizzard fanboy and ex-WoW addict. I was intrigued by its lack of items and removal of the ‘laning’ phase. Plus it was characters I knew and loved. Not character’s who’s lore was just a footnote in a badly written fanfic of a story. (Sorry, too harsh?) I could once again join the fray as Uther Lightbringer and Anub’Arak (The objective best Warcraft character) This was so exciting for me.
So the Beta came in and I played it obsessively with some friends from Denmark who eventually lost interest but the crazy thing was, I kept playing. This was the first time in a long time I played a MOBA without being prompted by other friends or a need to create video content. I played it because I loved it. I loved the talents system. I loved the map variety (as in more than one.) I loved that those maps had unique objectives that completely changed how you strategized. I absolutely adored the presentation, this smooth almost watercolour style that just gelled so well with me.
I tried my best to get my friends to play along with me but they were very very deep into the League hole at this point. Having invested thousands of hours and hundreds of pounds into the game and its skins/champions. Yet I continued to play alone. This game had me hooked.
Let’s skip ahead to December 13th 2018. Because no romance goes without turmoil. Activision-Blizzard announced they were downsizing the HotS team and they were cancelling all e-sports of the game. I. Was. Crushed. Yet another MOBA I had sunk time, effort and love into was once again going to die on the operating table with me banging on the glass and begging for their heart to start beating again. I tried to keep playing for a while but every game felt like it might be my last as Acti-Blizz might randomly decide to cut the servers.
So I stopped playing for about a year. Blizzcon-2019 rolls in and announces Deathwing and even that isn’t enough to really get me hyped. Every moment of the opening ceremony I was waiting for another jaw-dropping cinematic showcasing the new hero and a return to prominence for HotS but there was nothing. I was genuinely devastated. That might be a little extreme but to me, Heroes of the Storm was what I’d been waiting over a decade for. At that point, I basically gave up on the possibility of me ever getting to enjoy a MOBA again.
But! Like all romances, the love interest returns astride a white horse with long flowing hair and a beckoning hand! (Or something) One day I noticed that HotS had announced another hero after Deathwing and I thought “Oh, I wonder if there’s a community again.” Because for the longest time when I loaded up the game to try and find a game I was waiting minutes (which for MOBA terms is very long.) Could it be? I daren’t hope. I load up the game and select a hero. Seconds go by with my disinterest growing and my hope dwindling rapidly.
A game was found in five seconds. I thought it a fluke. I finish the game and try again. A game is found in a few seconds. The game was stable. The community was large enough to find games quickly and I wasn’t seeing the same three people like back in AwesomeNauts. I was having fun. It was happening.
And that leads us to the present. I convinced a few friends to come back and try HotS again and now I’m playing daily. Now I want to point out this article is not to convince you to play HotS over League or anything. (Well maybe a little.) It’s honestly just to give you a glimpse into my perspective. For every genre out there, there’s a me who just isn’t getting what they want out of it but still wants to play.
So maybe next time your friend suggests a new game in the same genre, don’t just ‘pshaw’ them away with excuses. Give it a try. If it’s not your thing that’s cool but at least your friend got to try it and maybe they loved it enough to play it alone. Maybe they’ll find their Heroes of the Storm too.
So this was a long one, probably why I don’t write editorials very often. Thank you for coming on this little journey through time with me. Maybe you learned something, maybe that something is that I talk too much. Either way, this was an incite into my rocky love affair with MOBAs.