Holiday Special: The History Of MOBA Part 1

posted by Canegor, 3 years ago
Multiplayer Online Battle Arena or MOBA: how many times have you heard these words recently? I would guess a lot, as this is probably the most popular genre in the gaming industry and everybody who has been following the recent gaming trends has been talking about MOBA's. In the last few years, MOBA's have become so popular that they even surpassed the biggest phenomena in the computer gaming industry – MMO's.


How did this happen? All of the sudden, we have numerous gaming companies producing these types of games and millions of people all over the globe swarming to the virtual battlefields of "League of Legends", "Heroes of Newerth" and "DotA 2", just to name a few. Not only do we enjoy playing our MOBA's, but we also enjoy watching professional players compete in tournaments, we root for our favorite teams, read websites with strategy guides, follow the lore and the history of these fantasy worlds and spam the forums with numerous constructive criticism and well.. not so constructive opinions and comments related to our MOBA of choice.
The MOBA community is probably the biggest gaming community in the world and who do we have to thank for this? It's not some CEO of a big gaming company like EA or Activison, or some group of professional developers who spent years designing a new type of game for the consumers, it is the community itself that we should thank! Thanks to the hard work of some distinguished individuals from our own ranks and the support of their fellow gamers, we have a new genre of gaming that we can sink in for countless hours. However, let's not skip ahead of ourselves now. I'm inviting you now to take a trip back in time to explore the history of this new PC gaming phenomena.

The Foundations

During the 80's, household gaming was dominated by the consoles like the Commodore 64 and various editions of consoles from Nintendo and Atari. The gaming market became quickly saturated with numerous games made for these platforms and the popularity of consoles slowly started to decline. The 90's marked a renaissance period for the gaming industry as a whole. Personal computers started making their way into the households, replacing the consoles of the 80's and thus starting the first "golden age" of PC gaming.

For this little history lesson, we are going to explore the rise of the real-time strategy games that made the foundation for what we will later call MOBA.

In 1992, Westwood Studios released a game that was inspired by David Lynch's 1984 movie "Dune", an adaptation of Frank Herbert's series of science fiction novels. While not necessarily the first real-time strategy game(RTS), Dune 2 established the basic concepts for the genre that are still being used today. The main goal of the game was to harvest limited resources in order to build your own base and units and deploy them against the opposing team in order to secure victory on the battlefield. Two years later, Westwood released a new RTS game called "Command & Conquer" and a small company called Blizzard Entertainment released their own take on the genre – "WarCraft: Orc's and Humans". Even though the game was plagued with little issues, including a very simple, dare I say, stupid AI, it was successful enough to spawn a sequel that had an immense impact on the RTS genre. The same year that Westwood released the second game in their "Command & Conquer" series, Blizzard released the first sequel to their WarCraft franchise – "WarCraft 2: Tides of Darkness". Both games pushed the boundaries of the RTS genre, improving the gameplay, the visual feel of the games and added an immersing multiplayer component. Alongside Adventure games that were very popular at the time, the RTS genre attracted a huge fan base that created the opportunity for more companies to jump into this growing market.

Thus, the second generation of RTS games came to existence. Activison joined the fray and published two immensely popular games "Dark Reign" and "Total Annihilation" in 1997, which still have a cult following to this day. Blizzard Entertainment responded a year later, with the release of the critically acclaimed spiritual successor of their WarCraft series: "StarCraft".

Orc's in Space

The development of StarCraft was a long and taxing process for Blizzard. The game was initially built on the WarCraft 2 engine and met with some really harsh reviews during E3 in 1996 where it was presented to the public for the first time. People jokingly called it "Orc's in space" and Blizzard went back home with heads down. However, this was just a minor setback and Blizzard redesigned the whole engine in just mere two months, releasing what is considered the best and most important game in the genre in 1998.

More importantly for us, the MOBA players, the game came packed with a "World Builder", a map editing feature that we have previously seen in WarCraft 2, so players could create their own content. One player decided to create his own custom map: "Aeon of Strife". This mod was a streamlined version of the StarCraft experience. Taking out the resources and base building, he focused the game to controlling a handful of powerful units. Players could take control of a character of their choice and team up against computer generated opponents with the goal of destroying the enemy headquarters. The players had some help from the endless waves of computer generated units, giving them the feel of being part of a much bigger army. "Aeon of Strife" had a small audience and did not leave a lasting impression on the community. However, it did inspire one modder to create one of the most popular gaming mods of all time: Defense of the Ancients or something we commonly refer to as DotA.

Defense of the Ancients

In 2002, Blizzard Entertainment released a second sequel to their popular strategy franchise "WarCraft 3: Reign of Chaos". Soon after its release, a mapmaker/modder going under the alias Eul, used the basic concepts of the "Aeon of Strife" map to create his own WarCraft 3 versions of it. This mod was called Defense of the Ancients. The switch to WarCraft 3 game engine helped Eul to create an improved version of the "Aeon of Strife" gameplay. The characters could now level up allowing them to unlock better abilities over time. Furthermore, players could now further customize their characters with various items giving the mod a more dynamic feel and allowing the players to utilize different tactical approaches. DotA found a small but dedicated audience, but this version of the mod was just announcing the huge storm that was coming.

With the expansion pack "Warcraft 3: the Frozen Throne", Blizzard Entertainment released a new and improved "World Builder" that gave the modding community more tools to create their own content. These tools allowed modders to create various versions of DotA , each with its own set of distinct characters. Eventually we had loads of good DotA mods, but one guy decided to push the whole thing into hyper-drive. Steve Feak, also known as Guinsoo decided to refine one version of DotA called "DotA Allstars" that had gathered all the heroes from various different DotA maps into one version of the mod. Guinsoo tweaked the mod, and released the new versions of it over the internet. He had no idea that his version of the "DotA Allstars" will gather one of the biggest gaming communities of the time. Keep in mind that, in order to play "DotA Allstars", you had to buy WarCraft 3 and its expansion and download the mod from the internet. This was a really high entrance fee for new players, but nevertheless, the mod became one of the most popular community driven projects of all time.

To be continued…

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Seaside wrote at 26.12.2012, 01:21 CET:
I was never into MOBA games before I started League of Legends, I think this goes for most players. Have alot of friends who never touched these kind of games and got addicted to it; shows how attractive LoL is :)
DzejBee wrote at 26.12.2012, 01:40 CET:
I hated DotA so much, everyone wanted to play it, but I just couldn't find it entertaining. Now I play LoL, no idea why xD
locotoral wrote at 26.12.2012, 06:56 CET:
i used to play DotA, and i play LoL since the public beta. I think the main advantage of LoL over, lets say HoN or DotA2 is that the GUI of LoL is A LOT more friendly with the user, for example, u can see one player is carrying an oracle elixir because they have a big eye over the head and not simply a small icon buff if u select them. Or u dont need to read recipes or buy items in 2 differents shops in order to build items, smalls details that make the game a lot easier to play and understand, and of course, enjoy
Hazzeli wrote at 26.12.2012, 12:18 CET:
I think every MOBA player should know this and for the love of god stop fighting over MOBAs copying eachothers. MOBAs were created by copying the old concept and improving it, so three different companies improving their games and maybe getting some impressions from each others just makes the genre and indivitual games better
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Vizvezdenec wrote at 26.12.2012, 17:39 CET:
Played dota since 6.38 i think, it was great though, but the skill level was really really low, no one could even lasthit properly.
And what Icefrog is making from last versions is complete shit...

edited by Vizvezdenec at 27.12.2012, 04:52 CET
Beyond Limitless wrote at 30.12.2012, 12:13 CET:
Thanks for the Article, didn't know about "Aeon of Strife" and how "DotA Allstars" became so widespread. Had fun reading.)
LGDFUN wrote at 30.12.2012, 20:29 CET:
Vizvezdenec wrote:
Played dota since 6.38 i think, it was great though, but the skill level was really really low, no one could even lasthit properly.
And what Icefrog is making from last versions is complete shit...

same shit with LoL now i dont understand whats wrong with game :D
rsatori wrote at 30.10.2014, 17:30 CET:
I know this article is old, but you really got me mad when you forgot to mention Herzog Zwei and its influence on RTS's INCLUDING Dune II. Holy crap man. I made an account because of how infuriated I was.

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