Posted by: seanmalstrom | April 9, 2015

Email: RTS games and MOBAs

Hello, Malstrom,
one subject that I always like to see you talk about is the subject of RTS games. Though I wasn’t quite as die-hard of a fan as you were, I still enjoyed them immensely and I’ve been disappointed with the state of the genre in recent years.
One statement you made in your recent post particularly caught my eye:

“The love of Starcraft was the love of multiplayer battling. Heroes of the Storm is going to gore Starcraft’s multiplayer base. The Starcraft 2 players who hadn’t left for a MOBA already will likely drift to Heroes of the Storm.”

An interesting thought. There’s just one problem, though….why would MOBA games gore StarCraft’s multiplayer base, when the appeal of those two genres is fundamentally different?
Sure, they both have in common the “love of multiplayer battling”, but there are multiple kinds of multiplayer battling. You could say that many FPS games also have a “love of multiplayer battling”, but that doesn’t make their appeal at all comparable to RTS and MOBA games. Likewise, the appeal of RTS games and the appeal of MOBA games is fundamentally different.
How? Well, it’s a matter of roles…specifically, what role does the player fill when they play these games. When playing an RTS game, the player fills the role of a commander. There are many types of RTS games out there, but what they all have in common is the appeal of leading a large amount of troops into battle. After all, you wouldn’t be much of a commander if you weren’t in charge of an army and a base. RTS games essentially entirely revolve around that concept and the player is often directly referred to as the “commander”.
By comparison, you are not a commander in a MOBA game. Sure, there are NPC troops, but you don’t directly control them or direct their movements in any way. Instead, you are a hero or mercenary in a group of heroes/mercenaries who are trying to tip the scales in your sides favour. In truth, even though MOBAs sprang out of a WarCraft III mod, they are more of a competitive form of action RPGs than they are strategy games. After all, you don’t control armies, you just control your one hero who cooperates with other heroes.
People who love StarCraft and other RTS games enjoy these games because they get to be in charge of entire companies or even armies that do battle with one another. MOBA’s simply do not fulfill that particular job. If MOBA games are goring anything, it is the multiplayer bases of action RPGs (such as Diablo III) or at least those parts that seek a more focused competitive experience; as it stands, any competitive situations in regular ARPG’s are more determined by loot than skill.


The trend for RTS gamers has always been to go the simplified route over the game’s intended purpose.  In Warcraft II, I wanted to play High Seas Combat on low resources. It was a water map with little land. Everyone hated that map, and only the ‘hardcore’ then played it (I know, I know). Everyone’s favorite map was Garden of War with high resources. Why is this? One, the game became much simplified because of the lack of boats and water tactics. Another reason is that the high resources gave players less things to worry about. Garden of War resulted in faster paced games as well with much more conflict.

In Red Alert, players abandoned the default lame maps by Westwood for the high resource ridge defined maps like hjk. I was there when hjk was made. The guy who made it, Dr. Frank (his username), was a hardcore Red Alert player. We played multiplayer in 8 way games all the time. But on default maps, which there were few for 8 players, there were not enough resources to play with the cool stuff or have gigantic tank battles. Using the map editor, he made a map that suited the way we wanted to play. Keep in mind that high resource doesn’t mean less skilled, it just means more fun. We could play and actively beat anyone on the Red Alert servers on the stupid default Westwood maps, but we were bored of it. Most players were terrible because they kept playing Sim City like in single player or would even try to do a harvestor treaty with me (“lets agree not to shoot each others’ harvestors” Sure! *attacks harvestor* “OMG! YOU FUCKING LOSER #$^%&#$YER^$”).

In Starcraft, what was the most played map? It was Big Game Hunters. What did that map have? It was 8 (or 10?) player map with HIGH RESOURCES. People played on that map all the time because they had the most fun on it. It was just crazy battle after battle.

Already, the trend for RTS games is to prefer their RTS playing with less stress, more players, and more intense battles.

When we go into Warcraft 3, the game was just way too complicated and overshot so many people. The four races were very different, but then you had to manage heroes (up to three per player), shops, and items.

Ever since Warcraft 2, my favorite way to play RTS games is with 4 vs 4 team games. I enjoy massive battles. I enjoy the camaraderie. I enjoy the personalities of the different players. It is the difference between one cat and two. If you own one cat, it is just a cat. But if you own two cats, you now have personalities. One cat is suddenly different than the other. The same is true with players. The more, the better.

Warcraft 3’s 4v4 early game IS the MOBA. What does it consist of? It is four heroes going together, colliding with the other enemy four heroes, and a team battle takes place. These hero battles were intensely fun. Eventually, the bases would be built up enough so units would take the spotlight. What if the game had a different trajectory after that team fight? What if it stuck with the heroes and didn’t deal with the unit building?

The result is the MOBA. The MOBA isn’t a spawn from RTS like Tower Defense or other such things because MOBA borrows too much from Blizzard’s default Warcraft 3 gameplay. Instead of the game revolving around bases, the game revolved around heroes. Heroes, unlike bases, have personality. Also, MOBAs revolve around team versus team.

Who says you aren’t a commander in the MOBA? You are commanding the other players. The other players jerk around and do shit which means they need to be told where to go, what to do, so everyone is coordinated. I don’t think RTSes really revolved around being the commander. RTS had the fun army fighting part, but a huge part of RTSes is about resource gathering and base building. The resource gathering and base building are completely removed. I remember Warcraft 2 started everyone with just one peasant. Everyone had to sit and wait for their townhall to finish completion. Then, we had to make the farm. Then, we had to make a barracks. Then, we could make a unit. Once that unit popped out, we could send it to attack. zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz boring. So much time to do nothing! However, this was twenty years ago.

Starcraft 2 did not become the hit in South Korea that Blizzard hoped. Instead, the game of League of Legends became the hit and E-sports wonder. Many ‘pro’ Starcraft 2 players got tired and went to LoL. Many, many LoL players are retired RTS gamers. If games like Warcraft 3 overshot the market, Starcraft 2 overshot the market to the moon.

I think we’re making the mistake of thinking games are about gameplay. Games are really about playing with other people. The gameplay of poker is dull and boring. But it is the company that makes the game interesting. LoL, being free to play, made it very easy for people to distribute among their friends. They go to the Internet Cafe, play with friends, and have fun.

Many people play RTS games with friends and family as well as for team games. The MOBA satisfies these needs so well that the modern RTS cannot stand a chance.

Starcraft 2 will do very well with those who enjoy single player RTS (single player campaigns) and 1 vs 1 ladders. As for the team based RTS fans, MOBAs are going to suck them in. I’m one of those team based RTS fans (though I will be buying Legacy of the Void for the single player campaign). I wasn’t sucked into a MOBA because they are all poorly made. I believe the original DOTA was highly flawed. The ‘flaws’ of DOTA was because of very crappy design. Crappy design largely occurs when the game is designed around limitations of the engine or what can be done with the engine instead of actual fun. The reason why there are items in DOTA is not because they are fun, but because the Warcraft 3 engine allowed it. The reason why items can be combined into other items is because the Warcraft 3 engine allowed it. The reason why the gameplay revolved around one map is because of the nature of the Warcraft 3 editor revolving around a map. The variables and scripts were added to the maps instead of the other way around. If I thought the original DOTA was flawed, you can imagine that someone like me wouldn’t be impressed with the DOTA clones.

MOBAs say “DOTA was good. We will build upon it.” Heroes of the Storm is saying, “DOTA was bad. We are correcting it.” This, to me, is much more exciting and more revolutionary than people think. I like how Heroes is not using DOTA as the measuring stick to define itself. This allows Heroes to forge a new path.

I can tell you there is no way I’ll be playing any Legacy of the Void multiplayer. I do not care for the 1 v 1 E-peen. The team based Starcraft 2 games aren’t very interesting. I’m already addicted to Heroes, have 500 games played there within weeks, and I expect to be playing it much more.

TLDR: There are three different types of RTS players: the single player campaign person, the ladder person, and the play-with-friends or teams person. MOBAs will, and already have, absorbed the play-with-friends or teams person. I predict Legacy of the Void will sell largely for the Ladder fans and those who like the single player campaign.

As Christensen says, the definition of the product is its job. The job for RTS games, for many people, were to play with friends. Due to how complicated the RTS has become, it has overshot the market and MOBAs are doing the job of playing with friends better.

I’ve noticed Grubby took a break from Starcraft 2 to player Heroes. With the Void of the Legacy beta out, he started playing it, got bored, and went back to Heroes. It is a foretelling of the future.



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