"Zerg Rush!" is a mostly weekly article exploring popular elements of gaming, ranging from genres, to common themes such as level design or mechanical needs, and generally what's selling well, and why that is. The title for the series is taken from a popular tactic in StarCraft, involving a skittering army of locust-like zerglings swarming the enemy base as early as possible, before the enemies defenses are raised. The idea of hundreds of nigh-identical creatures all cluttered together made me think of the gaming industry, with the countless copies and imitations of something that worked. Possibly the best example of this in current times is the MOBA genre, receiving a popularity explosion of tremendous size, lead on by the likes of Riot Games' immensely popular League of Legends, and Valve's own DoTA 2. This particular genre has now branched out greatly, and it seems that everybody wants a piece of the MOBA market.
The MOBA genre originated as far back as 1998, with a StarCraft modder known only as Aeon64. The original creator made a custom map known as Aeon of Strife, in which two teams of four powerful heroes pushed through three lanes, the space between totally sealed off, and defeated waves of enemies in order to level up, and grow stronger. According to Aeon, this was itself designed to imitate the Precinct Assault gamemode of the 1998 game known as "Future Cop". Ironically, Future Cop sold utterly horribly, and was a complete commercial flop. Who would have thought that a debunked studio's final work would inspire one of the most popular genres of gaming in recent memory! If it wasn't for Activision deciding to axe the team, it's entirely possible that Activision could have held the reins for the MOBA genre's expansion, and creation. Sucks to be you, Activision!
Following the popularity of Aeon of Strife, WarCraft III's release in mid-2002 brought the creation of Defense of The Ancients, or DoTA for short, thanks to a modder by the name of Eul. The new developer of Defense of the Ancients incorperated much more complex systems into his creation, adding in a "jungle" between the lanes filled with more powerful, yet rewarding monsters that spawned every minute, and items to pick up and buy from a store at the very back of either team's base. Shortly after DoTA's creation, Eul decided that his own work was done, and left the modding scene for good. As Eul had left no legacy, or people to assist, modders came from all around to try and create their own evolution of Defense of the Ancients, dozens of different and tweaked versions popping up all over the place. After the release of WarCraft III's expansion, known as "The Frozen Throne", a person known as Meian made a variant that, although closely resembling Eul's original map, featured the best community made heroes of the time, and was named DoTA: Allstars. A few months following, Meian left as well (Yeesh, reported for AFK), however, unwilling to repeat Eul's mistake, granted the rights to DoTA's legacy to Steve Feak, also known as Guinsoo.Guinsoo had his own batch of changes for the ever-changing game, and helped proper the popularity of DoTA even further.
Guinsoo spent over a year adjusting, recreating and making the game the best that he could, as well as vastly re-imagining the map's layout, before finally stepping down, handing over development to a good friend of his, by the name of Neichus. After barely a few weeks, Neichus felt unworthy to carry the torch of DoTA's already popular legacy, and stepped down to hand development over to a modder named IceFrog, who changed nearly everything about DoTA: Allstars excluding the heroes, editing the mechanics, complexity, item diversity, as well as other factors. (At which point during development the pinnacle of difficulty and complexity, Invoker, was spawned, I can not say, but he's a real monster to try and play - trust me.) IceFrog's changes made him quickly loved by the community, and, with the creation of a DoTA forum and website, active users were reported to have reached above the one million mark. One. Million. People. All playing the same mod.
People were actually buying copies of Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne just to play DoTA! The game's popularity was known around the world by the year 2008, and IceFrog was considered one of the most successful game modders of all time, even spawning artworks such as this beauty of the left, drawn by Kunkka, an artist so well-recieved a playable hero was created in his honor. (A very good hero, I might add. I could really go for some DoTA right about now.) However, due to that popularity, there's always competition.
2008 marked the true beginning of the MOBA genre, with Gas-Powered Games releasing a full-priced game known as Demigod, featuring both player-versus-player combat and offline play against the computer. A free flash game called Minions was also released, instead focusing on simplistic visuals and a much easier gaming experience. However, neither of these could even get close to DoTA's near-total domination of the genre at the time, Demigod being rife with bugs and glitches to hamper the gameplay experience, and with Minions lacking the deep complexity and variation that DoTA had, with a mere six heroes, or eight if you bought an additional pack.
Heroes of Newerth was also developed to completion in 2010, developed by S2 Games as a almost entirely faithful adaptation of DoTA: Allstars. However, due to sale concerns, the game was shifted to the free-to-play model which is so prevalent in MOBA games today. Other heroes were added by S2 Games, making Heroes of Newerth it's own beast entirely.
Competition only heated up in 2009, with Riot Games' (founded in 2006 by Brandon Beck and Mark Merrill League of Legends finally showing up on the scene. This project was headed by Steve Feak, also known as Guinsoo, who had his own hands in DoTA's production. Riot Games themselves coined the term MOBA as the genre, short for Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. In the same year, Valve hired the stillambiguousIceFrog to work for them and help create a sequel to DoTA: Allstars.
League of Legends was a breath of fresh air into the MOBA genre, myself logging a rather disgusting amount of hours played in the few years I myself picked the game up for(2556 hours, according to a stat-tracker. I should really get a life). League of Legends was made with much less complexity than DoTA, but still managed to keep the fun and steep learning curve that DoTA prided itself upon. League of Legends has a new champion added roughly every month or so, and is as ruthlessly addictive as you might expect from a MOBA. DoTA 2, however, had finished completion in 2013, first announced in 2010 by GameInformer's website. (The resulting interest in the sequel's announcement crashed GameInformer's website - talk about a loyal fanbase!), and DoTA 2 was completed with Valve's insane level of polish and attention to detail, even enlisting Eul (the one and only) to help out with development. Between Valve, IceFrog and Eul, DoTA 2's creation was widely accepted, and the two titans of the genre have butted heads ever since.
Both League of Legends and DoTA 2 have a fierce fanbase, who constantly seem to wish to remind the other party of which game is better. In all honesty, which game you prefer is entirely up to you. There is no true better game, and which is better for you is entirely determined on your own tastes. I personally play both DoTA 2 and League of Legends on a regular basis, and greatly enjoy theseparateexperiences of both games. DoTA 2, League of Legends, and Heroes of Newerth are absolutely free to play, and are a blast to play once you get used to them. The MOBA genre is great fun, and you're thoroughly missing out if you don't play one of these in your lifetime.
This is hopefully the first of many articles for "Zerg Rush!", a weekly article not just focusing on the background of genres, but the reasons for their popularity, fanbase, and overall sales values, as well as poking a bit of fun at the gaming community if given a chance. MOBAs are pretty great, guys.