I can’t talk specifically about what MOBA I’ve been playing, but I have been playing one that Mot really likes and I like a bit as well. The gameplay is engaging and requires constant attention. There are several layers of strategy involved, and inadequacy at one level can cause a loss when playing competently. From what I’ve read and seen, this game is representative of MOBAs in general, so I will comment on the genre instead of the game specifically.
My initial impression of MOBAs was largely skewed because the game forces newbies to play against people with vastly superior skill at random. The matchmaking engine for the MOBA we played, in particular, used an ELO rating system that matches up teams with similar aggregate ELO ratings (exactly how the aggregation happens is unknown to me). Mot is a good player and I’m a brand new newbie, so naturally we are pitted against good players when we choose to play together. This leads to my prompt destruction and eventual frustration as players who know the game inside and out pick me apart for mistakes I didn’t even know I could make.
And when I made mistakes, it cost my whole team the advantage. I basically was forced to throw games in our opponents favor just because I was new, and this was frustrating my unwitting teammates. I expected some backlash, but people were either understanding or silent in most games. There was a minor taunting episode once that didn’t affect me much. Being a burden on others and not having much fun in the process left me unwilling to play the game again.
Why should I play a game where I will cause other people to not have much fun for half-hour increments? A newbie playing a MOBA is a lose-lose deal. The newb gets a dose of harassment and taunting from angry teammates, and those teammates are forced to deal with an ineffective team member and come near wasting a half-hour of their life.
I played a few more games before I wrote this post and they solidified my observations. I played well in two games and enjoyed myself, scoring two wins and contributing to the victories as much as I could. The third game, though, left me wanting to never load the client again. The other team was well-coordinated and played very well throughout the contest. I could hold my own in a lane for the first stage of the game, but the other team got together early and destroyed us repeatedly in small engagements and sometimes in a large blob. I don’t know enough about the game to combat a fluid blobbing strategy, and my teammates were reviling me. I asked them to actually help me instead of making fun of me, and they proceeded to be negative and make the whole experience a miserable one for everyone.
Afterwards, I went to the forums and did some more reading about the game to try to better my play. I’m confronted with advice to learn what every hero can do. There are 28 heroes, five of which you’ll play against in a given game. That means in six matches, ideally, you’d encounter every hero in the game at least once. Some champions are far more popular than others, though, and you only tend to learn an opponent well if you lane against them for a while and see what they can do. This means that it may take 20 to 30 matches to lane against each hero and have a passable level of knowledge about your opponents. At 30 minutes per match, that’s 10 hours of being a newbie—ten hours of dragging your team down as you try to learn the game. Combine that with trying different champions and the tendency for the MOBAs to be extremely unforgiving.
It seems like MOBAs are rigged so negative and frustrating situations have to happen to new players. I doubt there’s a lot of growth potential in the genre with such a miserable newbie experience. It’s a shame, because the game mechanics are unique and fun when you are playing against opponents at your skill level.