The battle between genres in esports titles has been a topic of discussion over the last few days with many analysts and experts predicting what could be in store in 2019. Battle Royales like PUBG and Fortnite dominated much of 2018 especially in terms of viewership on Twitch, but old classics like CS:GO still held up their end of the bargain, peaking at over a 1 million concurrent viewers in the finals of Majors. While it’s looking more and more likely that 2019 could very well be the beginning of the era of mobile esports, it’s still uncertain as to how this will affect the PC/console titles. EPIC Games have emerged as industry leaders with their F2P model of Fortnite and its massive success and have forced other developers like Valve to rethink and restructure their titles. A good example of this came in December when Valve decided to make CS:GO a free game and introduced a battle royale mode presumably to keep up with the numbers PUBG and Fortnite were consistently getting and the results were almost immediate.
MOBAs like Dota 2 and League of Legends, however, didn’t experience any major player base losses due to the growth of BRs showing consistent numbers which begs the question about why these games are more immune to market changes and what makes other games more susceptible. Here’s what we think:
Writers note: I’ll be using Dota 2 as the MOBA to cite examples and draw parallels as my knowledge on other titles is quite limited.
The one thing that puts Dota miles ahead when compared to other titles is the regular updates and patches it receives. Not only does it keep the gameplay fresh, but it also encourages players who are in a slump to rebuild momentum and keeps them interested. Compared to most shooter games, where patches are mostly balance fixes which rarely affect the core gameplay, Dota has achieved a great balance between, minor fixes and big patches which shake up the meta quite significantly.?
Dota patches are eagerly awaited and patching has happened right from Dota 1 days from patch 0.00 right up to November of 2018 when 7.20 was released.
Addition of new heroes, items, map and mechanic changes all have a significant impact on the way the game is played and this extends the process of learning and discovery. In a game like Counter Strike, the biggest changes last year were the Danger Zone update and the addition of a new gun, the mp5. Realistically, none of them affected the core gameplay to a significant degree.
MOBAs tend to have more immersive gameplay once you get past the initial stages and the learning curve can be imagined as a step function which means that you can keep learning more about the game with each passing day. A better-defined ELO system also means that wins are better rewarded and hence more satisfying. In FPS games, the grind often needs to be done on test or practise servers/maps and the ELO system is more complicated than just winning games.
Additionally, Dota games tend to have a lot more variation within them as there are over 100 heroes to be picked from in each game. In that sense, when you are playing an FPS game, it can often feel like you have reached your skill cap but to reach the same level of saturation in a game like Dota needs a lot more time and hours.
Another significant factor which contributes to the popularity of MOBAs is the fact that there are only two major titles in the genre with a significant player base - Dota 2 and League of Legends. Compared to shooting games where, the player base is divided among multiple titles, like Rainbow Six Siege, PUBG, CS:GO, Fortnite. The ability to switch around and play different titles is limited when it comes to MOBAs. Also, the intersection of people playing more than one MOBA is very very small, because each is so unique and hard to master while the intersection of players playing multiple FPS games is much higher.
Games like Ubisoft's Rainbow Six Siege have built up dedicated communities while maintaining clear distinctions from traditional FPS multiplayer titles like CS:GO
As a result, a Dota player is more likely to stick to Dota to satisfy their MOBA craving while LoL players stick to their game. However, since games which involve shooting and guns have a lower barrier of entry as they are easy on the eye and to understand, players will often play multiple titles at the same time or shuffle around.
Another known factor which favours MOBAs is the fact that they can be played on most low-end rigs. Compared to FPS games, where mid to high-end rigs are a must, MOBAs can be easily run on cheaper setups. And while ping is a significant factor is all multiplayer titles, they only matter till a certain level in MOBAs while their impact on FPS games is much higher. As a result, you’ll often see people choose games to which they ping better, which further divides the player base.
This screengrab from Valve's Dota 2 documentary - Free To Play shows professional player Clinton 'Fear' Loomis playing on an old CRT monitor. He went on to become a TI champion.
While both the MOBA and the FPS/TPS genre have their own sense of fun and gameplay, it isn’t unfair to say that MOBAs don’t suffer from its own share of volatility. While making a good MOBA and then building a dedicated community can take years of hard work, shooting games enjoy the luxury of being more attractive and have the ability to be enjoyed by casual gamers. The discussion here wasn’t really about which is a better genre but more of an attempt to highlight the fact that MOBAs like Dota are less susceptible to the negative consequences of a constantly evolving video game industry.