What The Tom's Team Played This Weekend: 'Dota 2,' 'LoL,' 'HotS'

I made a mistake. This weekend I decided to give the ultra-popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) another shot. MOBAs are infamous for their complexity as well as their players' toxicity. So, what did I do when I decided to check out a genre known for being hard to get into? Well, I installed Dota 2, League of Legends, and Heroes of the Storm and set out to learn as much as I could before settling on one to play long-term.

MOBAs task you with controlling one hero (Dota 2 and Heroes of the Storm) or champion (League of Legends) in a five-versus-five battle to destroy an objective in the opposing team's base. This is accomplished by killing AI-controlled minions or "creeps" that walk on predetermined paths so you can earn gold and experience; ganking enemy heroes; and destroying a bunch of towers, barracks, and other buildings.

That all sounds relatively easy to handle. The real problem comes in when you consider the fact that all of these games have dozens of these heroes with their own skills and roles. How each of them plays is also complicated by the items you buy (Dota 2, League of Legends) or skills you select as you level up. You also have to choose which of your abilities you're going to acquire or upgrade whenever you gain a level.

These aspects of the genre are common to all three games. But, as you might expect, they all have their own takes on how a MOBA should play. Dota 2 and League of Legends both require you to score the last hit on an enemy minion to get the gold for killing them, for example, but Dota 2 also lets you kill your own minions to deny opponents their gold. Heroes of the Storm doesn't bother with last-hitting, gold, or items at all.

Each game also has a different approach to movement, ability use, and the like. Dota 2 heroes take their time when they turn, whereas League of Legends champions instantly respond to your commands. Dota 2 also seems the most stingy with mana, a resource used for special abilities, but League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm let you use abilities far more often. That might feel less strategic, but it's also a lot more badass.

Of course, each game also differs in how they let you access their characters. Dota 2 unlocks its whole roster by default, but you have to reach level 25 before you can play the more complex heroes against other players. League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm both require you to unlock individual heroes with in-game currency or real-world money. It can take a while (or a pretty penny) to unlock everything you want.

All of which means I spent the weekend furiously right-clicking, reading different builds for various heroes, and struggling to learn how each game should be approached. To top it all off, most of these games require a big time commitment, with Dota 2 and League of Legends matches in particular taking upwards of an hour. (Heroes of the Storm usually sits around 30 minutes.) I've barely scratched the surface of these games.

Still, if you're as into learning new things, delving into largely irrelevant lore, and studying how games work as I am, it's hard to imagine a better genre to explore. Just don't play all three in tandem--if I could go back, I would play one for a week, get a feel for it, and then do the same for the other candidates. As it stands, I'll just be reading through wikis and fumbling through games against bots as I try to find my bearings.

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  • bananatiger
    You can remove the hero limit by opening the console and typing dota_new_player 0
  • zodiacfml
    Like you, I haven't touched the game. Most current players are too advanced.