MOBA esports: The history and evolution of the MOBA games

MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) is a game genre that has kept on pulling players into the esports scene for well over a decade now.

Familiar MOBA games League of Legends and DOTA 2 are at the forefront of esports today, but there’s more history behind how MOBA games have developed into their current glory. 

In this post, we’ll cover the full history of MOBA esports.

Where it all started – The birth of MOBA games

Although you might think that MOBA games started with League of Legends, there is actually a rich history behind multiplayer online battle arena games.

The MOBA games we know today transition from real-time strategy games from the early ’90s and ’00s.

Unlike FPS games which seemed to be one of the first game genres ever when you look at their history, MOBA games seemed to spring up out of various other genres.

The first game that had many of the features of modern MOBA games was Herzog Zwei back in 1989. It is a real-time strategy game that was published by Sega and developed by Technosoft.

The game had a lot of similarities to current-day MOBA games and it was the inspiration for many popular upcoming games such as Warcraft and Starcraft.

Although not a MOBA game itself, it is seen as a precursor to the genre.

Herzog Zwei

In 1998, Future Cop: LAPD was released. This game had more of the features we expect from MOBA games today and is often classed as one of the first true MOBA games to be released.

Although officially a third-person shooter, the game mode called Precinct Assault is seen as one of the first MOBA-style games.

The PC version of Future Cop: LAPD was even available to play online, making team games possible and further establishing itself as the first-ever MOBA game.


Future Cop: LAPD

Between then and the early 2000’s, various games and mods were released that continued to morph the MOBA genre into what we know today.

The first true MOBA game modes & maps were created on games like StarCraft and WC3. Both games weren’t officially launched as MOBA games but maps and mods that were added to the games allowed for true MOBA gameplay on these titles.

This was back in 2003 when the PC real-time strategy games were already in huge demand and had been trending for a good few years.

The first MOBA games

First DOTA game

DOTA was the first MOBA esports map, with tournaments being held after its release with real-money prizes. DOTA (Defence of the Ancients) was a mod developed for the highly popular Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos PC game.

Although DOTA was the first game that had most of the features of modern MOBA games, the games that came before it played an important role in its development.

The real push in popularity came between 2009 and 2013, with releases of games like League of Legends and DOTA2.

Both these games were true MOBA games, with DOTA 2 being the standalone sequel of DOTA. It was around this time when MOBA games moved to the forefront of esports gaming too and you saw more and more competitions being hosted worldwide around this time.

From then on, various different maps, mods, and standalone games were developed in the MOBA genre which further helped to establish them as their own unique class of games.

MOBA esports – The games that started it for the games of today

Funnily enough, the two games League of Legends and DOTA 2 which started the MOBA esports genre are dominating the scene still today. The popularity of these two games is astounding and the growth of the userbase seems to be continuing year after year.

Let’s take a closer look at the history of MOBA games:

League of Legends (2009-)

It’s only fair that a game that started the whole MOBA esports genre in 2009 is now one of the most popular esports games in the world.

Riot Games is not only known for developing the League of Legends, but also for organizing all the big tournaments in the game with some pretty massive prize pools.

League of Legends game play

DOTA 2 (2013-)

There’s your slam, there’s the dunk, there’s the game, the savior of esports – DOTA 2. 

DOTA 2’s first beta version was launched already in 2010, but it took several years before the official full launch in July 2013.

When the game was launched, so was the tournament The International which since became one of the biggest yearly esports spectacles which can not be missed by any esports enthusiast.

Dota 2 game play

Smite (2014-)

The closed beta of Smite was first announced in the middle of 2012 and moved into open beta on January 24, 2013.

The official launch of the game was in March 2014 and it quickly took off by reaching 4 million registered players just a couple of months after being live.

The game studio, Hi-Rez Studios has been able to keep the players happy as 6 years since the launch the game reached a base of 40 million registered players.

Smite game play

Vainglory (2014-)

Vainglory was originally built for tablets, but over the years expanded to other platforms and is now known as the no-compromise cross-platform MOBA.

The game was soft-launched in September 2014, and full release a couple of months later in November 2014.

At the time of the release, Apple played Vainglory in the announcement event of iPhone 6 to demonstrate the hardware capabilities of the device.

Vainglory game play

Heroes of the Storm (2015-)

In 2013, the game studio giant Blizzard Entertainment made a strategic decision to jump into the wagon of MOBA games.

Back then, they had already started to develop an RTS game called StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, but decided to switch the direction, and re-launched the project as MOBA game Heroes of the Storm.

Heroes of the Storm launched as a closed beta in January 2015, with the full release coming out 5 months after in June 2015.

Heroes of the Storm game play

Arena of Valor (2016-)

In 2015, the Chinese video game vendor Tencent decided to launch a mobile MOBA game of their own.

After acquiring Riot Games, they asked the developers of League of Legends if the game could be turned into mobile. The team of LoL did not see this as a possibility, so a project called Arena of Valor was started.

Mobile MOBA Arena of Valor was released to the Asian market in November 2016, following up the launch in Europe in August 2017 and the US in December 2017.

Arena of Valor game play

What’s still to come in MOBA esports?

With innovation in the esports sector as well as the gaming industry as a whole expected to skyrocket over the next few years, we expect great things from MOBA esports in the future.

Larger prize pools and even more tournaments for big names like League of Legends and DOTA2 are almost a given, but also the growth of more recent releases.

As esports grow as a whole and new MOBA games are released, we expect to see an even more diverse MOBA esports landscape within five to ten years. Including adoption in more countries, far more players, the switch to viewer-first game development, and bigger and better tournaments and competitions.

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