MOBA. If you are in any way at all involved with the gaming or esports worlds, chances are you have heard of this phrase on multiple occasions. It is one of the most popular genres of esports games, all the way up there with battle royale esports games like Fortnite. In this guide, you will find out all you need to know about the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena video game genre, as well as the key tournaments in the 7 giant MOBA games.
Most important info box
- MOBAs are strategy games made up of two teams of players, who have various resources at their disposal in order to try and destroy the enemy base.
- There are various strong competitive scenes for these all over the world, with the DOTA2 esports prize pool totaling over $121 million dollars between 2015-2019!
- Each game title is a little bit different than the next, be it in art style, mechanics, player base demographic, or even geographical region restrictions
What is a MOBA?
A MOBA is, at its simplest definition, a subgenre of strategy video games. There are two teams, usually consisting of 5 players, and the aim of the game is to destroy the enemy base, found at the other side of the map (battlefield).
Seems simple enough, right? Well, it becomes not so simple when there are a variety of factors that come into play. For instance, some of the biggest MOBA titles have over 100 playable characters, each with their own unique set of abilities – also known as skills, which you can use to hinder the enemy team’s progress of taking over your base. Enemy characters can usually be slain multiple times, and each time this happens they are sent back to their base and cannot rejoin the battlefield for a certain amount of time which increases with every death they go through. As if that was not enough, there are upwards of 175 items in the games, which increase the stats of your playable characters. You can purchase these using gold – a currency whose value exists and accumulates only during any single match and does not carry over to the next one you play.
The base itself is not just a singular structure either; there can be a multitude of protective (but destroyable) measures, usually called ‘towers’, which are there to prevent intruders entering the base. Players on each respective team are also aided by computer-controlled units, normally called ‘minions’, which fight enemy players and minions, and additionally help in the destruction of the opposing team’s structures.
As you can see above, the battlefield is normally split into three distinct, street-like areas called ‘lanes’ (the yellow lines on the map above), which form paths from one base to another. Between these, is the often perilous jungle where players from either team can slay animals called ‘monsters’ or ‘jungle creeps’ for gold, or extra bonuses to their characters!
So, we have learned a little more about the basic principles of the MOBA genre, shall we have a refresh of the key terms before we proceed to learning why MOBAs are so popular?
Key MOBA Terms Glossary:
Champion – The player controlled character on the battlefield
Map – The playable area of the battlefield
Base – Found at the top left and bottom right corners of the map; the starting areas of each team
Experience – Accumulated over time by the champion, allows them to progress levels and get stronger, gained by slaying enemy minions, neutral monsters, and enemy player champions
Abilities – The skills usable by the champion
Items – Purchasable by the player at the base, these make the champions stronger
Gold – The currency in the match used to buy items, does not carry over between matches
Towers – Protective measures between each base and inside of the lanes
Minions – Computer-controlled aids which fight with the player
Lanes – The paths from base to base
Monsters/Jungle Creeps – Found in the jungle between the lanes, these give gold and experience when slain
How did the MOBA games genre come to be so popular?
Okay, now that we refreshed our MOBA knowledge, let’s have a look at the history of MOBAs and exactly why they are dominating the gaming and esports realm.
The origins of the genre stem all the way back to 2002 and the original Real-Time Strategy (RTS) game, StarCraft, where a fan-made custom map, Aeon of Strife (AoS), was created and adored by the playerbase. This was a spin on the StarCraft gameplay, and enabled 4 players to compete together against a strong computer entity in order to try and destroy its units. Speaking of the game, we have a StarCraft betting guide for you, should that be more up your street.
Similarly, 2002 RTS title Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos received the fan-created mod treatment with the 2003 creation of the Defense of the Ancients (DOTA). DOTA was the groundbreaker in the MOBA genre, and the first MOBA game to hold tournaments with sponsors.
A couple of years later, in 2009, League of Legends (LoL) was created by devs who had previously worked for the DOTA team, but had a slightly different vision for the product. It seems this worked out as LoL is now the most popular MOBA genre in various places all over the world, alongside DOTA2, the successor of the 2003 DOTA mod.
Over the last couple of years, there have been various different titles of MOBA games released, for all gaming platforms, from PC, to console, Nintendo Switch, all the way through to mobile.
That is all great, but what is it that makes the genre so popular, exactly? Well, the answer lies mostly in the low entry barrier for the various games: most of them are free to play. We have compiled a list of the top free games for to check out. The majority of them can also work on any condition of machine or even a laptop not actually made for gaming, they are group games where you can play with your friends (again, for free), and there is no ‘pay-to-win’ or ‘chance’ element to the gameplay itself: you can be the best player by practicing your skill hard, and all without paying any money apart from your internet bill.
What are the key 7 MOBA titles?
Now that we have been through the appeal and gameplay outline behind the MOBA genre, the next thing to do is have a look at some of the most popular titles, and also explore the betting potential within them, should that be more your thing.
League of Legends
As we already mentioned, this is one of the world’s most popular MOBA genres. At the time of writing, the game has over 100 million registered players. That’s more than the entire population of Germany!
The title, naturally, works on the same basis as our MOBA introduction described: there are two teams, and 2 bases on opposite map corners. The aim: destroy the enemy base. The game is free, with various in-game cosmetics available, which can alter the appearance of champions, but do not give them additional stats. This is important as it preserves the competitive integrity of the game, and is part of its popularity.
In League of Legends, the two teams are called Red Team and Blue Team. The names of these correspond to the coloured areas of the map, as you can see below:
In between the lanes, of course, is the jungle area where the neutral monsters – not affiliated with either team – spawn. These are slayable by champions from the red or blue team. Also, the game features three special, super strong monsters which can either be killed only once, or respawn once every 5 minutes. The former of which are the Rift Herald, which, when slain, leaves behind an eye on its death spot. This eye must be picked up by a member of the team which defeated it, equipping them with the ability to call the Herald to destroy a nearby enemy structure for the team.
Another monster which can only be slain once is the Baron Nashor, which spawns only after 20 minutes of gameplay time have passed, and is a very strong monster that cannot usually be killed alone. When he is defeated, he blesses all champions which are in an alive state with very strong improvements, which are designed to help that team’s objective of destroying the enemy base.
The above map clearly displays all the monsters of the jungle in League of Legends. The Razorbeaks and Wolves are the only monsters which do not bestow a special effect upon the champion, but do provide a gold and experience incentive.
While the Rift Herald and Baron Nashor can only be slain once, the Dragon respawns every five minutes, and it does this a total of five times, but the fifth iteration- called the Elder Dragon- is a much more powerful foe, which gives the team that defeats it the ability to instantly banish champions that are below 20% of their health. Like Baron Nashor, Elder Dragon cannot be slain by a sole champion trying the feat on their own.
One of LoL’s key attractive points, however, is the hard work put in by its Skins team in order to produce great in-game cosmetics for its players. While these are purchasable only through using real money, there are sometimes player events in which they can earn chests, which have a chance to give the player a free, random skin.
League of Legends has various gameplay modes. The classic, 5v5 one takes place on Summoner’s Rift, while a fast-paced, single lane equivalent is called ARAM and takes place on the Howling Abyss. Riot Games, the developer and publisher of League of Legends, also frequently releases various limited time modes for the game in order to keep its fanbase interested.
This game has quickly become the face of the MOBA genre, and it is more than likely you have heard of the flagship characters, Tristana, Ahri, Lux and Garen. At the time of writing, there are 155 playable champions, so it is almost guaranteed that there will be one you enjoy. In any given League of Legends game, there are therefore usually 10 different champions seen (with the exception of the Blind Pick mode, where there can be duplicates across the two teams), and the strength of these gets changed as the weeks progress, to create something called the meta. The word meta in a MOBA scenario is used to describe what is the strongest strategy at a given time. For example, there may be a time where mage champions are the strongest, therefore it would be mage meta. This may be a large part of the reason why the game retains players, as they keep creating new champions which slightly change up the way the game is played.
If LoL sounds like it is up your street and sparks your interest, have a read of our League of Legends betting section, with additional tips on how to break into the game’s flourishing betting capabilities! Or, if the basics of this game have hooked you in enough to be interested in the LoL Fantasy League, look no further.
League of Legends esports scene
League of Legends has a flourishing esports scene, and is one of the most watched esports games in the world, which comes as no surprise, as we already established it is a pretty popular title. Each region of the world has its dedicated server, and therefore its dedicated esports scene. For example, the European LoL Championships are called LEC, with EU Masters being the Europa League of the LEC, in football terms. At the time of writing, there are 11 more competitive LoL regions, the most popular of which by amount of teams, along with the
The World Championship of League of Legends is another testament to the game’s incredible influence over the gaming ecosystem. In 2020, the World’s tournament peaked at 3.8 million viewers globally.
Where to bet on LoL:
If you are having a browse of this guide looking for some DOTA2 betting tips, we already got you covered!
DOTA2 is very much similar to League of Legends: two teams, five players each, an arsenal of champions (here called heroes), and one enemy base to destroy. Interestingly, the game has had a special spectator mode created, called DOTA 2 VR. While this mode does not let you play the game directly, you can view ‘life-size’ versions of character models using a virtual reality headset, and spectate live or pre-recorded games of DOTA 2. So, you could play a match then hop on DOTA 2 VR and watch it back, seeing all your mistakes (or super heroic plays) on a life-size scale! Cool, right?
Here is another fun fact for you: DOTA2’s epic monster Baron Nashor equivalent is called Roshan. What’s Roshan backwards? Nashor! It has been speculated that LoL’s developers did this directly as a nod to the DOTA2 title.
Another similar aspect of the two: the skins and in-game cosmetics. Again, these exist purely for aesthetic purposes, but it can be pretty nice to show off your heroes special appearance, and you may like the choice of variety if you play a certain hero a lot.
DOTA2: esports scene
To put it simply, DOTA2 tournaments, especially the International (World Championships) are crazy. The most recent one, in 2019 (2020 was cancelled due to the Coronavirus), boasted a not very modest prizepool of $34 million dollars.
However, in order to be able to receive an invitation to compete for those riches, teams must first compete in various championships – Major and Minor – throughout the year. The most notable of these is the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC), which is a Major tournament. The DPC has two seasons, and features two teams from North America, South America, Southeast Asia, China, Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States regions.
For each tournament, points are awarded to the teams based on their finishing positions, and a leaderboard is thus created. The International has 18 team spots, and 12 of these are from direct invitations from the Dota Pro Circuit, and 6 are awarded to the winning team of each respective region, from playoffs in their own areas.
The reason behind the prize pool being so high, is that the prize pool is crowd funded by the playbase. 25% of the revenue of the battle pass that is introduced during the International competitive season is directly added to the total event prize pool, and each year surpasses the previous in terms of the total amount.
Would you like the chance to make some money yourself? Have a look at our DOTA2 Major betting guide for some tips.
Where to bet on Dota2:
Now, we move onto Smite. You guessed it, two teams, 5 players, an arsenal of characters – based on mythological figures – take part in team-based combat in order to try and destroy the enemy base.
However, what makes Smite interesting is the plethora of different game modes it has available to its players, and, the game is played entirely in third person, while its other genre siblings are all played from a top-down perspective. This niche feature does attract a lot of players, but it can also deter some who may not be used to or willing to try out the third person perspective gameplay.
In 2020, the developers reported the game had 40 million players, so the third person approach can’t be all that bad!
Another interesting thing about Smite is the multi-platform functionality it has. It is one of the few MOBAs which is available on consoles as well as on PC – more specifically, you can additionally find Smite on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Nintendo Switch.
Smite esports scene
The Smite esports scene may not seem as significant as some of the other MOBA games, but in 2015 the Smite World Championship held the title for the fourth-highest esports prize pool at the time, at a figure of $2.6 million. Since, this prize pool has been capped by the publisher at $1 million, with the justification that they wished to pay out money to players throughout the year in the various tournaments, instead of bulking the available prize pool funds purely into the World Championship. There are currently 3 official competitive servers: Europe, North America and International.
If you’ve ever fancied yourself to be a God but are not quite feeling the third person gameplay, feel free to check out our Smite betting guide.
Where to bet on Smite
Heroes of the Storm
This MOBA title is quite a peculiar one. Let me tell you why. First of all, the game is developed and published by Blizzard Entertainment, who you may know from titles like Overwatch, StarCraft, Warcraft and Diablo. Any of those ring a bell? Well, what if you could play them in a MOBA? That is pretty much what Heroes of the Storm (HotS) lets you do. Those universes are fuel for creative character ideas and battleground designs in HotS, which is part of the selling point of the game. The developers have taken what is familiar to its playerbase, and presented a whole new type of game where all of that comes together. For the betting fans out there, have a look at our HotS betting guide.
The game was released in 2015 and is currently only available for Windows and macOS systems, and its basic principles are the same as before: 5v5 matches, and the goal is destruction of the enemy base. There are over 90 playable heroes, and 15 different battleground maps. This map variety is a great asset for the game, as the variety choice can make HotS an enticing choice over LoL, which has only two 5v5 maps. Also, heroes in HotS can don movement speed mounts to allow them to leave their base faster, which is not seen in all of the MOBA titles.
However, the game has stopped receiving major developer support in 2018, which erased its esports scene and meant that any updates the game receives now take months, rather than weeks. In April 2020, the playability figure was estimated to be at least 2 million active players across all servers total, which, when compared to other MOBA titles, is not that huge at all.
Heroes of the Storm esports scene
As mentioned above, the HotS esports scene has unfortunately dissolved since 2018. The peak viewers of the esport occurred during the HGC Fall Championship in 2016, with a figure of 82,000. Unfortunately, with titans like the previous three titles mentioned in the way, HotS did not have room to grow in the scene, especially while trying to focus the EU/NA markets primarily.
Where to bets on HoTS:
Another soldier fell amongst the MOBA arsenal. Vainglory used to be one of the key players in the game, but since March 2020 the title is only available on mobile. The developers of the game made the decision to migrate to a different project, a shooter game called Catalyst Black.
Before its demise, the game was interesting as it featured the option of having only 3 players on a team for 3v3 gameplay, with 5 still being a possibility too. Out of the lanes, the battleground featured a variety of control points which provided additional resources to the team that possessed them.
The game was originally released for mobile, and the PC version only existed for just over a year before the plug was pulled. It is possible to port a version of Vainglory to a PC through an emulator, but since this is not officially supported by the developers the experience is not as smooth as one would expect.
Read our guide to Vainglory betting here.
Honor of Kings (王者荣耀)
Now, you will be glad to hear we have a title that is most definitely not dead. And, it is a mobile MOBA! Enter Honor of Kings, the largest mobile gaming title in China, and statistically, quite possibly the world, especially if one also adds the playerbase of its sister, international version, Arena of Valor.
Before we delve into what makes the title so incredibly popular, first let us clear some confusion about the many hats (names) this MOBA mobile game wears. If you have heard of the name King of Glory, or Honor of Kings, or Arena of Valor, then you have heard all about the same game at all those instances! King of Glory is the unofficial translation of the Honor of Kings name, and Arena of Valor is the international version. Also, you may have seen, in some places, the home origin name of the game, 王者荣耀, Wángzhě Róngyào, or Wang Zhe Rong Yao).
We have some King of Glory betting info for you too, be sure to check it out!
Honor of Kings requires a valid WeChat or Tencent QQ account to play, which places it under a region lock exclusive to the Chinese market. In January 2021 alone, the game generated $267.3 million in revenue, 97% of which stems directly from the Chinese playerbase.
The game was released in late 2015, and by 2017 it was the most downloaded app globally, while only being available in a specific part of the world. Arena of Valor was released a year later than Honor of Kings, and is the international version, running on the same game engine with a few character adaptations to appeal to the Western market.
The game has 3 standard game modes (5v5, 3v3, and 1v1 with no jungle area), and 5 arcade modes, 4 of which are 5v5, plus a Chess-inspired mode.
The standard modes are very much your bread and butter moba: you know it- destroy the enemy base! However, Honor of Kings also has an offline mode, which allows players to just relax offline and beat up some mobs/bots for fun.
For info about esports betting from China, have a look at our guide that should set you up well with everything you need to know.
Honor of Kings esports scene
The game has had an esports structure since 2016, and the 2020 Honor of Kings World Champion Cup featured a prize pool of roughly $4.6 million dollars, half of which was crowdfunded by the playerbase. For 2021, the prize pool has already been announced to be $7.6 million dollars.
The international version, Arena of Valor, is quite some ways behind this, as the prize pool for the World Cup 2019 was $500,000. The tournament peaked at 764k viewers, which is definitely not shabby…
For a look at Arena of Valor betting, search no further!
Where to bet on King of Glory:
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang
You can’t explore Asian hotshot MOBA mobile esports games without touching on Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB). The game was released in 2016, and chosen as the first esports model event competition at the 2019 Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines. The Facebook page for the game has over 2 million likes in itself, which tells you a lot about the game’s popularity.
Now that we have dived pretty deep into the mobile MOBA world, perhaps you would like to check out our mobile esports betting guide.
There are currently over 100 heroes to choose from, and a lot of these are based off of SEA folklore, which is particularly interesting. A large portion of the game’s appeal features its various sponsors and collaborations, and external media content i.e. comic books made based on the game. Also, the game added one of their brand ambassadors, Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao, as a playable character in the game under the name Paquito.
The game was the most-downloaded free mobile game among iPhone Southeast Asia users in 2017, and is massively popular, having around 8 million active players per day.
Mobile Legends: Bang Bang esports
MLBB’s first World Championship equivalent was held in 2019, and the prize pool was $250,000. MPL Indonesia is the most popular of the title’s tournaments, and frequently reaches the one million viewership mark.
For esports betting in SEA, check out our esports betting in India guide.
MOBA mobile gaming scene
Which regions is the MOBA mobile gaming scene huge in?
As you now know, MOBA mobile gaming is a very real and very important thing to note. While in the Western world we may not notice it as much, the staggering player figures that come out of Honor of Kings and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang esports are phenomenal, and it is crazy to see how it has integrated itself into the everyday lives of the citizens. In 2017, roughly 14% of the Chinese population (200 million people) played Honor of Kings at least once a month, which doesn’t seem like a lot at first, but once you notice the country has around 1.4 billion citizens, it really is a significant number. For perspective, that is like the collective population of the entirety of Germany, UK and France all tuning into the same app monthly.
So, to put it simply, we have nothing on Asia’s dedication towards mobile MOBA gaming. Will we in future? Possibly. In fact, let’s have a look at the next section of this MOBA guide for some discussion about that.
Is Wild Rift the Riot Games answer to the Asian mobile MOBA boom?
We have already met Riot Games for a chunk of this guide. You know them as the developers of League of Legends, but they, as of recently, have a brand new trick up their (very big) sleeve in the form of Wild Rift. Wild Rift is a fast-paced, mobile version of their classic title, League of Legends.
On the day of its American release, the app had 6 million downloads, which still pales in comparison to the titanic figures of Honor of Kings, but it is definitely not a bad figure to see for the first day of an app’s existence. And, as tournaments in the title are already appearing in Southeast Asia, Europe, and even the USA (even though the game has only been out there for less than 3 weeks!), it is definitely a watch-this-space sort of call from Riot Games, who, as we all know, are experts at curating games into esport titles.
The India ban on Tencent Games apps
Another interesting thing to note, while we are in the Wild West world of mobile gaming, is India’s ban on Tencent Games apps. Tencent is the publisher behind the release of Honor of Kings/Arena of Valor, which means the game is permanently banned in the area. What does this mean? This is a great question, as Riot Games parent company is… Well, it is Tencent Games, but their League of Legends title has not been banned in India as of yet, so there may be room for Wild Rift to take over the mobile gaming space and steal the crown from Mobile Legends: Bang Bang in the area.
What are some common misconceptions about MOBAs?
Whew, now that we are all clued up about the history and esports presence of some MOBA key titles, let’s get into some misconceptions that are often associated with the genre. In fact, the genre has stirred up such a presence, that the word ‘mobaphobia’ exists in the Urban Dictionary. Interesting…
MOBA matches are repetitive and boring
Not true! With so many characters, items, and game modes in the various titles, it is actually pretty hard to get genuinely bored of the games. You can play a different character each game, try a different build on a character you have already played a lot, not to mention there are arbitrary factors which you cannot control- for instance, one game the enemy team may consist of super skilled players who whoop your team, and the next it may be your team that does that. This change in dynamic is unpredictable and is part of the appeal of the genre.
MOBA games are ugly
For most of the titles, the developers try to refresh the experience for the players from time to time to keep up with the aesthetic expectations. But, it is important to remember that these same games are intended to run on all machines and are top down, so do not expect triple AAA quality, that is part of the MOBA magic!
You need to play for 12 hours a day to be good at the game
If you wish to go pro, maybe, but if you are a casual player, the games have a well-designed matchmaking system which runs on years of player data, and its sole purpose is to match you with players of similar skill. So do not fret, and just queue up for a game, even if you do not play a lot.
Dying does not matter so much
Another misconception. Each time you are slain by an enemy, it means you cannot be present with your team for a certain amount of time. The enemy team can use this to further push an advantage, and a single death of yours in the late-game stage can lead to a match defeat altogether. Be careful with your positioning and remember- it is a team game!
Well, it should be pretty clear by now that MOBA is a truly international genre, with plenty of opportunities for growth. These do not exist just in gaming, but in esports betting too. Have a look at our country guides to see if something takes your fancy.
MOBA Esports Games FAQ section
What is a MOBA?
A MOBA is a strategy game made up of two teams of players, who have various resources at their disposal in order to try and destroy the enemy base.
Why are MOBA so popular?
A couple of reasons. First of all, they are free! Second of all, you can play with your friends. Third of all, they can run on any quality PC, even laptops. Fourth of all, well, who does not like purchasing cute or menacing cosmetics for their characters?
What are the most popular MOBAs per region?
EU/NA: League of Legends/DOTA2. In Asia: League of Legends, Honor of Kings, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang.
Are MOBAs hard to play?
It can be a little difficult to wrap your head around all the particulars of the genre, but once you nail down the basic understanding of trying to destroy the enemy base, you should be alright! Most MOBAs will also have practice modes, in which you can try different characters at your own pace, or take some time to truly learn the skill of last-hitting enemy minions.
Is Wild Rift good?
It is pretty early to say or decide the future of the game, but on the Apple App Store, the game has 4.2 / 5 star rating out of 2000 reviews. Pretty good start. Having played it myself as a veteran League of Legends player, I think it is pretty good and I do play a match or two while commuting on public transport.
Which is the most popular MOBA esport?
It is pretty hard to give the trophy to just one, but if we were to look solely at monthly total viewership figures, it would be League of Legends. Now, if the esport scene itself is not significant, the crown for most popular at the lunch table would go to Honor of Kings.
What are the best MOBA esport teams?
Some of the home brand names in esports are OG Esports, Fnatic, G2 Esports, Damwon Gaming, Edward Gaming, Royal Never Give Up, Team Liquid, and Cloud 9.
What is the biggest MOBA prize pool?
The biggest single prize pool to date is that of the 2019 Dota International, at $34 million dollars.
What is the most watched MOBA esports competition?
At the time of writing, the most watched esports tournament in terms of total hours watched is the League of Legends 2020 World Championship, with over 139 million total hours committed by fans across all the streaming platforms. To put that into perspective, that is the equivalent of one person watching for 15,857 years.
Can you play MOBA on the phone?
Most definitely! Depending on where you are in the world, there is definitely a MOBA that is pretty popular in your region. For Europe/NA, try Wild Rift. For China, try Honor of Kings, and for other Asian regions try Mobile Legends: Bang Bang!
What is the best mobile MOBA?
By player count alone, the title for this would definitely go to Honor of Kings.
Can you play MOBA on Nintendo Switch?
Actually, you can. Smite is available for download on Nintendo Switch, go try it!
What platforms are MOBA available on?
Some titles are more widely available than others. If you are on a computer or laptop, try League of Legends, DOTA2 or Smite. On mobile, try Wild Rift or Mobile Legends: Bang Bang. On console, Smite has got your back.
Which MOBA are available on PC?
Many! If you’re after a reliable title that is supported by its developers on a regular basis, have a go at DOTA2, Smite or League of Legends.
Is Overwatch a MOBA?
The ever burning question among the games community. Personally, since it lacks key elements like the jungle and computer-assisted minions on either team, I am inclined to say that Overwatch is not a MOBA.