What is a MOBA? As gamers, we happen to be pretty familiar with them, even if we’ve never actually played one. MOBA stands for ‘Multiplayer Online Battle Arena’. MOBAs make up a large chunk of the gaming population, originally spawning from real-time strategy games. Blizzard played a large role in the story of MOBA games and their popularity.
With their iconic releases of StarCraft and WarCraft, (specifically WarCraft III), they set the stage for a more interactive experience and user-based content. Harnessing the creator’s toolkit via game editing programs, people modded these games to experience all on their own, only sharing color palettes and game sprites. All that said, what are the best MOBA games?
The Best MOBA Games of 2021
Released in 2014, Smite is still going strong into 2021. Developed by Hi-Rez Studios, Smite allows the player to take on the role of a god or goddess in a third-person perspective, then subsequently engaging in combat with other players. I was taken aback when I learned the stakes people played this game at it currently has a million-dollar esports pool. Maybe there’s something to it.
The big draw for this MOBA is Conquest mode, where 2 teams of 5 players go at it in the arena. Players are allowed resources to buy weapons and other upgrades before the round starts, (reminding me of Counter-Strike), and both teams begin the round at their teams’ ‘fountain’, or home base. The goal is to kill the other teams ‘Phoenix’ and ‘Titan’.
A feature of Smite that I dig is the level of customization. You can choose from nearly one hundred characters, all originating in myths from different cultures. As a mythology nerd, I’m already all-in with Smite.
They’re even adding another pantheon of heroes from the King Arthur stories. Don’t worry, Nintendo Switch players; you’ll get your chance to play one of the best MOBAs. The Switch version of Smite is planned for a February 19th, 2019 release date.
Heroes of the Storm
Blizzard makes its first appearance on the list with 2015’s Heroes of the Storm. It was released on Microsoft Windows and Mac. Blizzard shies away from calling Heroes of the Storm a MOBA game—instead, they refer to it as a ‘hero brawler’, and they’re not wrong: Heroes of the Storm includes everyone’s favorite Blizzard characters in the roster.
It’s veritable who’s who in gaming characters. Tracer, Genji, Gul’Dan, Leoric, and others all make an appearance, 85 of them in all. My personal favorite is The Butcher from the first Diablo. I used to be so scared of him while playing when I was younger, but now I can harness his evil power to beat my enemies—I’d say that’s pretty good character development.
Again, the prize pool is massive: the most recent tournament had a 1,000,000 prize.
Using Blizzard’s Battle.net, players are thrust into intense 5v5 battles on 15 different maps. It even includes mounts, something World of Warcraft players are familiar with. This is one of the best MOBAs around, and worth checking out long into the future.
League of Legends
League of Legends, aka LoL aka League, was developed by Riot Games for Windows and Mac in 2009. Defense of the Ancients, or DotA, directly inspired it. A feature I like from League is that every game takes place in its match, meaning that players all start on the same footing, leaving it up to the player to advance and get better skills and items.
League of Legends has a richly detailed backstory, with an original fantasy environment being written around the different champions, something I like over the other MOBAs. Destroying the opposing team’s nexus is the goal of the game, and you need to battle your way through a wide and wild array of character types: ranging from Eldritch horror to steampunk.
Riot Games is extremely active in the game’s development, even holding their own eSports league: League of Legends Championship Series. The 2014 world championship had a whopping $2.13 million prize. Game times vary, sometimes running up to 45 minutes, but players are in an agreement that it’s closer to 30 to 35 minutes in length.
The sequel to the originator of MOBAs, Dota 2 was released on PC, Linux, and OS X in 2013. This isn’t just a pretty coat of paint on an existing engine; it’s a massive upgrade using the Source 2 engine. In it, players control their ‘hero’, or player character, and face off against other players, usually in two teams of 5, something very common with MOBAs.
As with other similar games, during the match, your goal is to defeat the other players, collecting loot along the way. Dota 2 has been cited as being one of the best MOBAs and best games of all time—not a title to be taken lightly. I can see why, as the gameplay is very rewarding and downright addictive.
It’s only fitting that the sequel to the grandfather of MOBAs is one of the best.
Of course, Dota 2 has an insanely large competitive gaming scene. Tournaments and leagues all over the world compete with each other in this richly detailed environment. Valve itself outs on the largest one in Seattle. The prize pool of Dota 2 in 2018 was an unthinkable $25,532,177 split between multiple teams.
The first-place finishers in the International Dota 2 Championship were team OG, taking home their share of the massive prize—$11,234,158 between its 5 members. Matches can last up to 45-50 minutes. I read a player’s experience that he was in a grueling 2-hour long match, taking a lot of stamina to complete the game.
Can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, friend!
Strife was released in 2015 on Linux and Windows and was developed by S2 Games, a game studio based out of California. Something that immediately caught my attention about Strife and S2 Games was their aim to stop toxicity in the gaming community, something that I think can get overbearing and abusive.
They somewhat streamlined Heroes of Newerth into Strife to appeal to more casual players of MOBAs. Strife pits two teams of players against each other, with the main goal being to destroy the opposing team’s structure. The structure, dubbed ‘the Crux’, reminds me of the Nexus in League of Legends.
A player chooses a hero to stick with for a game’s running time, usually about 30-40 minutes, and can level that hero up outside of the game by winning experience points.
Vainglory advertises itself as the ‘no compromise cross-platform MOBA’ and comes in at the first primarily mobile MOBA on the best MOBAs list. Originally released for iOS and Android devices back in 2014 & 2015, Vainglory is currently in Alpha on Windows and Mac.
Published by Super Evil Megacorp, Vainglory was originally displayed at Apple’s iPhone 6 announcement to show off the hardware, software, and graphical power of their (then) new device. The player’s goal is to ultimately control the path between their and their opponent’s bases.
They can venture off of the path, avoiding or battling AI turrets and other monsters, to gain resources and help their team to victory. This is a cross-platform title, meaning people on all three different release platforms can play in the same match with each other.
That’s something I dig about this game, and frankly, it should be a mainstay in the gaming world by now. Vainglory’s version of the game’s hero is called the ‘avatar’, which the player controls along with 4 others on their team. The goal is to make way pass enemy turrets and destroy the ‘Vain crystal’.
This should take anywhere from 20-30 minutes on average, so it’s relatively quick to play compared to MOBAs like Dota 2. Right now, players can choose between 48 different avatars, plunging themselves into a beautifully rendered world with detailed shadows and textures. The original number of avatars? Seven.
I have to applaud Super Evil Megacorp on their dedication to updating this game so much and building on their past experiences and their influential cross-platform play.
Arena of Valor
An adaptation of the Chinese variant MOBA, Wangzhe Rongyao, Arena of Valor was released in 2016 in Taiwan. Little by little it then released into different countries all over the world onto mobile devices, eventually culminating in the world-wide release on the Nintendo Switch in September of 2018.
Arena of Valor was published by Tencent Games, which I didn’t realize was the largest video game company in the world. They hail from China and focus primarily on online games, notably PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds on the mobile.
Arena of Valor started as the brainchild of Tencent games after they approached Riot Games, developers of League of Legends, asking if they could develop it into one of their mobile titles. The creators of League didn’t bite, saying that it was strictly to be on non-mobile platforms, as being on mobile would decrease the integrity of the gameplay and graphics.
Players take on the role of the heroes, a choice from a roster of 78 characters. These range from the lighthearted ones like Wisp, a small child piloting a mech, to the actual Chinese historical figure from the Three Kingdoms era, Lu Bu, (albeit highly fictionalized).
This game has been dubbed the ‘kingpin of pocket gaming’, and has amassed over 200 million players.
Defense of the Ancients
The one that blazed a trail, perhaps one of the best MOBAs, the original Dota paved the way for all other entries on the list. It started as a mod for Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion, Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne; in which you need to team up and destroy the other team’s ‘Ancient’, or their structure in their section of the map. This game is why I love it when creators give the players access to world editors.
Because Blizzard allowed for such creations in their WarCfrat III World Editor, a whole genre, and internet phenomenon was born. Dota was released in 2003 by designers Eul, Steve Feak, and IceFrog. Two teams dubbed the Sentinel and the other the Scourge, must vie for control of the map and destroy the other team’s aforementioned Ancient.
Players choose their hero, one of a staggering 112 possible choices, leaving an amazing amount of replay for the players. Players gain combat gold by destroying enemy players or other creatures, giving their team an advantage in the way of resources. This game has been called ‘the ultimate RTS’, which I wholeheartedly agree with.
It’s a step up from the RTS style of gameplay, opening up avenues, literal, as the ones on the game map, and those avenues of creativity of the players given free rein with resources, time, and creative vision.
Bang Bang: Strictly a mobile entry, as the name states, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang was released in 2016 exclusively for Android devices. Later that year it was ported to iOS devices as well. Mobile Legends was developed by Moonton and exclusively released in China, Indonesia, and Malaysia.
Sure, it follows the hallmarks of the best MOBA titles like Dota and Dota 2, but this game was the first MOBA to include a Battle Royale mode; something that is taking the gaming world by storm.
Moonton ran into a bit of trouble when Riot Games, (developers of League of Legends), claimed that Moonton not only used a logo that looked too similar to League’s, but that they had stolen elements of maps from Riot Games. Moonton lost the lawsuit and ended up having to pay $2.9 million for the offenses.
Hopefully, Moonton will recover from this setback and keep producing more content for their game, so mobile players can still have access to a mobile MOBA.
Stunlock Studios released its MOBA, Battlerite, in the Fall of 2017 for Microsoft Windows. There’s an upcoming port due for release in 2018, but it’s still a secret. In Battlerite, players are introduced to their brand of heroes—Champions. Champions are broken down into their three attributes: offense, defense, and movement abilities.
The matches are much shorter than what you’re used to, due to many of the same MOBA elements that gamers are familiar with being nonexistent in Battlerite. Gone are the objectives to destroy the other team’s structure and gone are destroying AI-controlled characters for resources. Stunlock wanted to focus on action-filled gameplay, and they’ve worked it out in a great way.
They’re going to pursue making a standalone version of Battlerite and remove its free-to-play aspect. Maybe this will lead Stunlock to make a new subset of a MOBA or hone the MOBA genre into the next form it’s going to take. The best MOBAs are no stranger to innovators, so it’s fun to speculate on the future.
Heroes of Newerth
2010 was the year S2 Game’s original MOBA, Heroes of Newerth. As I said before in the list, Strife was an offshoot of this title, desiring more streamlined access for more casual players. Heroes of Newerth was transferred to Frostburn Studios when S2 pooled all their time and energy into making Strife one of the best MOBAs.
Heroes of Newerth separates the two teams in terms of ‘Legion’ or ‘Hellbourne’, and their central structure is based on their team affiliation, specifically the World Tree or the Sacrificial Shrine, respectively. The perfect mix of skills is essential for pummeling your enemy and making them surrender.
Game times can range from 25-40 minutes depending on all factors, so you could either have a quick play, or a deep intensive match that tests your true skill. The eSports prize pool for the HON Pre Season of Professional League 2015 was $236,185.14, so get out there and make some bank playing MOBAs!
The cartoonish yet loveable and addicting Awesomenauts was developed by Ronimo Games and released in 2012 on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Linux, OS X, and Windows, while the newer version for the most recent console generation in 2016. The availability on all platforms is a plus. It’s a 2D style game, featuring the Awesomenauts, the heroes of the game.
Awesomenauts are vastly different from each other in skill, making matches even more fun and intense than usual for even the best MOBAs. Games are played mostly 3v3 matches where the opposing team’s Solar Collector becomes the objective to destroy. Something I like about the design of this game is that it spices up the maps.
For example, one map has a giant monster in a pit to be a pain to players trying to destroy their enemy. Matches are usually quick—about 20 minutes. It became free-to-play in 2017.
Released back in 2009 on Windows, Demigod is a title developed by Gas Powered Games and published by Stardock. Much like Awesomenauts and Heroes of Newerth, the game’s title derives from the name of the player characters in the game—Demigods going to battle against one another.
The Demigods are classified into two different groups—the Assassins and Generals. These two categories are vastly different in terms of gameplay. Assassins are suited best for the player that wants to outright defeat their opponent in brute combat, while the Generals are much more nuanced in strategy and support.
The Generals populate the arena with minions and demigods to stop the opposing team. Overall, there are 10 demigods available to play, with the specific choices being narrowed down to whether you play Assassin or General.
I like this unique setup with the two types. It allows for a more strategic and more carefully planned action of attack, much like the standard RTS games that MOBAs derive from.
Monday Night Combat
Uber Entertainment and Microsoft Game Studios released Monday Night Combat on PC and Xbox 360 in 2011. Presented in an amusing ‘Monday Night Football’ spoof of the future, Monday Night Combat is a third-person team shooter. The main goal is to destroy the other team’s Moneyball within the arena.
The teams are made of players of clone soldiers duking it out in the arena. This game blurs the lines, in a good way, of what it is. It borrows heavily from RTS games, tower defense titles, and MOBAs, creating a nice mixture of the genres. Teams of 6 players engage in ‘Crossfire’, the game’s standard mode of play. Each clone soldier has its unique look and stats.
It reminds me a lot of Team Fortress 2 in its personality and design choices.
Realm of the Titans
Realm of the Titans broke onto the scene in 2010 in China and 2011 in North America on Microsoft Windows. It was developed by Ningbo Shengguang Tianyi, a Shanghai-based studio. The developers had gone to Australia to study, becoming giant fans of the best MOBAs out there, igniting the fire inside them to make their title.
There are 168 heroes in the game and 5 skills that can be used by each. The developer also keeps adding more heroes to play, increasing the playability and replayability of the game.
A cool feature included in this MOBA is four bosses that lurk in the corners of the game maps. Players can kill these bosses, triggering the other bosses to turn into the ‘creep’ AI.
Prime World is a unique blend of MMO and MOBA. Released by developer Nival in 2014 on Windows, Prime World frames the MOBA gameplay through an interesting narrative. The two main nations, the Keepers of Adornia and the Dokht Imperium, are warring for dominance over the main resource in the game world: Prime.
From the comforts of their castle, players vie for victory over a map versus other players for the mysterious and godly substance of Prime. I love this fantasy story within a MOBA, something that I feel is missing. You could have the best MOBA, but for me, I need a little meat on the bones, some backstory or motivation for my actions.
You have 42 heroes in the game, with the two unique units to the nations being the Ha’ka and Da’ka. This MOBA allows for Facebook connectivity to give you the ability to battle your online friends and family. The match length is usually around 30 minutes. The game won multiple awards, including the ‘IGN Best Strategy Game 2011’.
Another Stunlock Studios MOBA, this game was released in 2011, 6 years before Stunlock’s other MOBA, Battlerite. You can see where they got their practice. The standard 5v5 players apply, with teams being either on team ‘Warm’ or ‘Cold’. You have different gameplay modes, like Arena, the standard MOBA mode, and Capture the Artifact, this game’s Coat the Flag mode.
A recent release, Paladins was developed by Evil Mojo Games. It was released worldwide on the main consoles and PC, and later on the Nintendo Switch. Paladins put you in the role of one of 40 champions. You and your team are locked in battle with the opposing side, relying on heavy strategizing to take home the victory.
Your team is divided into the front line, damage, support, and flank. This isn’t a game where you can just choose the character you like best for aesthetic reasons; this game makes you choose your character wisely for the most optimal gameplay experience. There are three game modes: Siege, Onslaught, and Team Deathmatch.
Siege is the standard MOBA equivalent in this game. Players must engage in an intense game filled with capture points, gaining, and losing ground, and mayhem. Onslaught is a point-based mode, where teams try to score as many points by performing certain actions like capturing a point or killing an enemy.
Team Deathmatch is your classic multiplayer bloodbath that we all know and love. You fight to 40 kills to claim your victory.
Last but certainly not least by any measure, Dark Eclipse is shaping up to be one of the Best MOBA Games. This MOBA was released in late September 2018 by Sunsoft, veterans of the video game industry. They have titles near and dear to my heart to their name: Batman and Lemmings on the Nintendo Entertainment System, and countless others in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
They’ve primarily shifted their focus to mobile gaming, and that makes way for more player-friendly experiences, and perhaps more competitive ones, like MOBAs. The Dark Eclipse website briefly lays out the aim of Dark Eclipse, in a pretty cool way:
“Play in VR without the boundary of a 2D screen. Control three characters, called Leaders, build towers and destroy the enemy base. Developed by a team of MOBA and RTS lovers. This is a game by MOBA gamers for MOBA gamers.”
You read that right: a VR MOBA. I was curious, and a bit skeptical. As soon as I started reading about it, however, I became intrigued.
The site states:
“You can grab and move the characters (called Leaders) directly.No need for a mini-map…you just look around and you can see the whole battlefield. Feel the game with haptic feedback on your fingers, and listen to enemy movement with 3D audio.”
It gives the player better control over their characters and truly immerses you in the game.
Fear not–you can still use your DualShock controller to play if the VR isn’t your style or disorients you.
I can’t wait to see the future of Dark Eclipse, and what other MOBAs will follow in its footsteps. Will the best MOBAs be in VR? Only time will tell, but this is a good step. I also like the emphasis on the development of MOBA gamers.
This happened in Dota’s case; people came together who loved WarCraft III’s world builder and created a craze that doesn’t show any signs of stopping.