The MOBA definition – What makes a game a ‘MOBA’?

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Published: Jun 11, 2021 - Last Updated: Feb 29, 2024

While the term is popular, not everyone knows what the MOBA definition actually is… or even what it’s short for! That one at least is easy – Multiplayer online battle arena. But what is the exact meaning of MOBA?

What is ‘MOBA’?

As the acronym indicates, multiplayer online battle arena games are ones that have multiple players compete online in a contained setting – the ‘arena’ part doesn’t really mean an actual arena, though. Instead, it usually refers to a small and symmetrical map that offers the same opportunities and advantages to both sides.

Where in a regular strategy game map positioning (for example, a hill or river) can seriously change the outcome, MOBAs have a generic map design, usually featuring what most of us have seen in games like Dota 2 – a simple 3 lane map with a fairly clear separation between the halves that belong to each team.

the meaning of moba

The history of MOBA

The very first game that matched the MOBA definition was Aeon of Strife – rather than being a game in its own right, it was a custom map for the game StarCraft that let players control only one single powerful unit, with the aid of very weak AI-controlled units. The original opponent here was another AI-controlled powerful enemy with weak compatriots.

The more modern format of course featured a setup with multiple players, creeps as support, and a map in the format we are used to now. The next major entry into the genre was the original Dota, a mod for Warcraft 3 that was created in 2003. It was the first MOBA that ever had its own sponsored tournaments… and it led to the creation of League of Legends, the first successful standalone MOBA out there, in 2009.

By the 2010s, MOBAs were part of esports – a big part. In 2018, prize pools for MOBA games alone made up 40% of the worldwide total prize pools that year. In esports betting, MOBAs are also the definition of popular – they make for easy bets, with plenty of betting providers offering things like League of Legends betting or Dota 2 odds.

Of course, the biggest MOBA out there is League of Legends. That it happens to also be the biggest esport in the world for years and years and proves precisely how popular MOBAs really are, as proved by the best lol players in the world. They’re a recipe for success – not only do they follow a simple-to-understand format, but they also allow for enough gameplay variation to stay interesting – and there’s less of a ‘fixed’ meta than some other games experience in regards to characters and items.

Another popular MOBA is the definition of MOBA’s origins – Dota 2. Well, the original is obviously older, but its standalone sequel Dota 2 is the one that really managed to stay the test of time. While it’s not as popular as League is, it still has plenty of fans.

ESB Staff

Since: August 10, 2015

At we are a group of independent journalists with one big passion: Esports. We've been following the industry and have contributed to its growth since 2015.

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