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Not So MMO: How MOBAs Kill Gaming Freedom

Columns By Beau Hindman on April 09, 2015

How MOBAs Kill Gaming Freedom

In case you haven’t heard, MOBAs are all the rage right now. OK, so they’ve been a rage for a few years, but it’s my feeling that they have reached an all-time high; will they continue to climb in popularity or are they doomed to a slow death when “real” sports get a glimpse of MOBA’s pocket protectors?

However you feel about MOBAs, you cannot deny that they are a nice addition to the greater gaming community. They have brought on some new ways to play and welcomed people who would normally show no interest in anything to do with gaming, especially on a PC.


Note: the praise if for the genre, not the esports stuff.

All of this attention does bring some negativity, of course. There’s no way to escape controversy when an entire genre is based around “hardcore” competition; one needs only to look at popular sports heroes to see just how poorly many of them – and the people who own the teams -- behave. Don’t get me started on the pathetic state of college sports programs and what winning at all costs has cost some people, and how those trends will likely infect esports when it hits a certain scale.

(Before we really get into it, you might check out this nice quick blog over at Gamasutra called “How jumping on the MOBA bandwagon can f@!# your company up” by V Tedeev. It’s an interesting read.)

In case you cannot get to it right now, the basics of the article caution developers who are wanting to jump on the MOBA bandwagon, just like they did with MMORPGs after World of Warcraft made such a splash. I get the point of the article, but that’s not the main reason I am concerned with MOBAs and competitive gaming. I have a lot of reasons to be concerned, mainly because of how MOBAs could affect the spirit of the market.

Competitive gaming does not breed innovation in gameplay, it does the opposite, by definition: Other than a few rule changes, the essentials of a competitive game must stay constant. A player who is competing looks at the unknown as the enemy. Predictability is good for the competitive player, so that she can predict what the other side will do, and can then – hopefully – be better at the same process that her opponent is going through. Gaming matches are and will remain the same thing over and over and over, or there is no point. These are repetitive skill-based games, which is fine… if you like repetition.

Competitive gaming, while boasting a decent percentage of different skin colors, does a horrible job of representing all genders: If there is one thing these last few years have taught us, is that angry young dude gamers can be toxic – and I mean toxic – for a growing community. Sure, League of Legends and others have taken some steps to punish bad behavior (like racist/sexist/homophobic language) but those punishments do nothing to combat the source of the behavior: the culture of competition > wonder and exploration.

Competitive gameplay is, you guessed it, about competition: Here is the part that some of you read and immediately begin drafting a comment or message about how “competition drives innovation.” It can in some areas. In gaming, a form of entertainment, it tends to breed assholes. Once the competition becomes even more of a high-stakes game than it is now, cheating and crappy behavior will easily become much more common. If you do not think so, you have not kept up with the last – heck, I don’t even know how many years now – of “normal” sports. Once big money is put on the line, winning the competition becomes paramount.

Competitive gameplay already does its job to push sexism, its track record on disabled players is even worse: Now, before any of you bring up my friend Keith “Aieron” Knight, a disabled MOBA player who can rock a match using only his mouth and voice, know that I am aware of him. I brought him to the attention of my readers a long time ago, before he was the rockstar that he is now! It’s important to point out where the community does well, yes, but I would guess that even he would tell you that playing with your mouth and voice is pretty damn hard because the games do not take disabled players into account. MOBAs are the arena for young, non-disabled male players. Whether or not this is an example of intentional lack of giving a crap or unmatched ignorance does not matter; what matters is that gaming and all things “nerd” are supposed to be inclusive, not divisive.

For the record, I am not saying that all games should be equally accessible for all people. That is impossible. My time at taught me that. However, the difficulty of including disabled players in your game does not deduct the fact that your game was never designed with them in mind in the first place.

Competitive gaming can be a lot of fun. Yes, it draws huge crowds and makes some great money. So does golf. So does basketball. So do reality shows. Gaming, while defined almost perfectly as competitive, should not mean exclusive.

MMO or multiplayer gaming is balanced between competition and roleplay. Yes, you might want that killer sword for your character, and so you are pushed to go out and get it, but you are not always forced into one type of adventure because of it. Virtual worlds and multiplayer games allow players to innovate and to try out new things, or to just hang out and have fun. Putting gaming on television and drafting a strict series of definitive rules drives players into one avenue, one behavior, one goal. That’s the nature of competitive gaming, yes, but that does not make it good.

I love competitive gaming, but I don’t love mass-market competitive gaming. It’s like the difference between playing a game on the lawn when I was a kid and the superbowl. One is an act of freedom, of competition without the need to prove something. The other is a gross moneygrab and, trust me, when big money really becomes involved, competitive gaming will lose all semblance of an interactive hobby. In its place a very different activity will form, meant only for two groups:

Those very few who make money from it and those millions who watch passively.

That’s not gaming to me, that’s doing what you’re told.

Beau Hindman / Beau is a writer, artist, PR/CM, game designer and pro moderator, and he's been blogging since 2002. He lives it up in Austin, Texas with his community manager wife. He's also the author of Anna the Powerful, a sci-fi book about the world's only superhero. Buy it here: