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Wednesday, May 1

MOBAs are the New Football

by Erica Brandon

This occurred to me last weekend when I logged onto my usual Skype call to hear my friends talking strategy, top ranked players, dream teams, and scandal.  All this while cheering, complaining, and shrieking in excitement.  Yes, shrieking.  Sorry guys.

"What are you guys watching?" I asked, although I already knew the answer.  It was the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) Semi-finals on Twitch.tv.  Some part of me was smirking, as they sounded just like a bunch of guys watching Football.  Check out this video of a "Defense of the Ancients" (DotA) match live in a Seattle tournament:


Teams Natus Vincere (NaVi) and Invictus Gaming (IG) face each other playing DotA, a long-running MOBA with a huge player base.

As a researcher of gaming and life, I am always extremely interested in the sociology surrounding gameplay.  Especially multiplayer online games - a situation where people generally don't know each other
in real life.  Let me explain a little about why I think MOBAs are the new football.

A MOBA is a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena.  It's what you would think.  Multiple players battle each other online in an arena.  In the case of last weekend, the game was League of Legends (LoL).  In my opinion - this game is "the next big thing".  It's already becoming a contender with World of Warcraft (WoW), as far as fan culture and game population goes, with over 2 million stored players and growing.  However, I must note that WoW is an MMORPG, in which gameplay and design are quite different.

League of Legends is a 5v5 team play game.  Players pick which Champion they want to represent them.  Each Champion comes bearing unique abilities, advantages, and disadvantages.  Team play consists of different roles, zones, strategies, etc., just as any major league sport.  The playing field, so to speak, is a square outdoor zone consisting of roads (lanes), towers (turrets), jungles and rivers, and the ultimate goal is to destroy a large crystal "nexus".  Teams have the aid of computer generated minions that are low on health but continuously spawn and push toward the goal Nexus.  Human players have a specific position (role) that they are expected to play, and gold currency is earned during gameplay to make periodic purchases to buff your abilities.

It sounds fairly simple, but the art and complexity of the gameplay lies in choosing your Champion wisely and working together as a team.  Sportsfans think:  "Who is going to QB this Sunday?" and "Do we use a zone defense against these guys?".  Just as in pro sports, the opposing teams in a pro match have had the opportunity to see each other play against other teams, and even watch their practices (as many pro gamers also stream their casual play and scrim matches).

This brings me to a unique aspect of League of Legends:  It has become widely popular for players to video stream their gameplay online.  This allows anyone to spectate their game in real time, and see how good of a player they are.  Players can become minor celebrities within the communities, and LCS team managers and scouts are able to efficiently find new people to play a specific position for their teams.  Yes, pro gaming teams!  Some of which are bringing in 6 figures a year!  Pro-gaming teams have been around for a while, but LoL is the first MOBA to attract such an enormous audience due to its 24/7 accessibility - not only to play but to spectate.  Casual players yearn to become pro, and are forming teams of their own in hopes of being recognized.

LCS teams are also bringing in major sponsors and serious money.  There now exists the career of being a pro-gamer, or even managing a pro-gaming team.  Corporations are covering pro-gaming teams in their flair, the same way they would slap their logo on a race car or a pro-biker.  And just as kids used to dream of playing for their favorite pro sports team, now we can all dream of becoming pro-gamers. :D

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As Season 3 of the LCS begins, check out League of Legends Esports page to see when the next pro event will be streamed.