Are Mobile MOBA Games Legit?

by in General | Jul, 18th 2020

If you’re a hardcore gamer or an MOBA veteran, you’re probably disgusted at playing anything resembling the genre on your mobile phone. MOBAs, at their core, aren’t a good match for the platform; it is a combination that makes no sense whatsoever.

But as improbable as the concept might be on paper, it quickly became a reality once mobile phones became strong (and large) enough to accommodate such a visually complex genre. When mobile MOBA games first came out, many gamers went online to air their bewilderment. The sheer thought of it was heresy. A good chunk of the MOBA player base is pretty darn hardcore, so the ensuing reaction made all the sense in the world. The Diablo: Immortal announcement debacle can be used for comparison. This is what happens when a developer is out of touch with its target audience.

Still, in a twist no one expected, this “genre” took on a life of its own. These games were not abysmal, but they found players who were a lot more casual — individuals who didn’t want the full MOBA experience on the go, but rather something similar and yet less overwhelming. An entirely different player base started growing. As a result, mobile MOBAs started raking in obscene amounts of money.

While this sub-genre isn’t nearly as popular in the West as it is in China, you can bet that’ll change once League of Legends Wild Rift is finally released.

Mobile gaming, in general, has risen in popularity beyond our wildest dreams. By the end of 2020, you’ll be able to play Fortnite, PUBG, Hearthstone, DOTA 2 Underlords, Pokemon, Teamfight Tactics, Legends of Runeterra, Diablo: Immortal and mobile League of Legends all while waiting in line at the supermarket or on your daily commutes.

Let that sink in. Such a thing was inconceivable just a couple of years ago, and with developers hopping on the mobile gaming hype train, we can expect even better and more complex titles to see the light of day over the coming months and years. The future truly is bright if you enjoy gaming on your phone/tablet.

Mobile MOBA games, however, still have room to grow in 2020 and beyond.

The Overall Experience

There are many different mobile MOBA game titles available on the market in 2020 (on both iOS and Android). Not all of them are created equal. Sure, the core gameplay elements are relatively similar. The way the game is designed, the user interface, the ease of use, and overall level of polish vary wildly from title to title.

As a whole, however, most of these games are awe-inspiring.

If you’ve been playing MOBAs on your PC over the years, you’ll be taken aback from the moment you spawn in these smaller, virtual worlds. The fact that they’re in the palm of your hand is simply mind-blowing — they’re every bit as detailed and spacious even though they’re designed for an entirely different category of devices. The graphics are much better than you’d think, along with the accompanying visual and audio effects.

It’s exhilarating, action-packed, and best brimming with spectacle. All of this is happening in the palm of your hand.

Some of the best mobile MOBAs are both incredibly deep and nuanced, but also staggeringly simple. It adapts to the user. You can tailor the whole experience to your personal preference. If you’re a “hardcore” player who wants to have absolute control over your champion and itemization, you can pick and choose your build and itemize accordingly to what’s happening in-game. Conversely, if you want to run around willy-nilly and enjoy the game without much thought, you can buy the suggested items that are always right next to your control scheme or even have the game buy them for you once you have the gold. The whole process is streamlined and simplified, but not devoid of depth and complexity.

All of the general MOBA elements that are so important are present here: skillshots, different builds, chat, pings, map control, recalling, layered ability kits, in-game roles, and (at least with certain champions) avenues for skill expression. And all of these elements are right there under your fingertips! It might seem ludicrous on paper, but it works incredibly well — a testament to ingenious game design and the fact that the transition from PC to mobile was done with care and attention to detail.

The Negatives

The core gameplay, generally speaking, is phenomenal. If you know what you’re signing up for, it simply cannot get much better. Everything around it, however, leaves a lot to be desired. These MOBAs are victims of a staggering number of mobile gaming clichés and F2P tropes. Convoluted menus, seemingly endless ads and pop-ups, long load times, inconsistent design language, abysmal grammar, limited-time offers, 50 types of in-game currency (tokens, gold, event-specific stuff, etc.), drawn-out tutorials, uninspired champion design, and so on.

The fact that these developers tried to incorporate everything and the kitchen sink into these games is commendable, but it’s not the way to go. We don’t need in-depth lore, ten skins per champion, weekly events and roulette-type mini-games. We need the appearance of a MOBA with its most important gameplay elements without any of the chaos mentioned above.

Wild Rift, in that regard, stands the best chance of being an absolute, resounding game-changer. Riot and Tencent won’t have to reintroduce any of the champions in the game as they’re all fan favorites, and they won’t have to build an entire universe from the ground up. Instead, they can take League of Legends with all of its many peculiar characters and go for a “plug and play” approach. An idea that, while certainly challenging from a technical standpoint, is bound to deliver results unlike anything before.

It’s also quite obvious that these developers had differing budgets to work with. Some games, like Arena of Valor, are staggeringly beautiful and complex, with each champion having a unique “loading” animation upon being selected. We’re talking about stuff that’s absent from the vast majority of full-fledged PC MOBAs. Conversely, Heroes Arena, for example, lacks polish in every way, shape, and form. It’s vastly inferior in overall polish and sheer gameplay, which is evident from the moment you start playing.

You can immediately notice when a game has a high budget, and frankly, the result is a night and day difference. It also shows how complex and amazing these games can get when there’s a lot of financial backing.

Same, But Different

Mobile MOBAs are hard to explain. Generally speaking, they truly are a faithful “adaptation” of the genre, but because mobile phones are inherently limited, sacrifices had to be made. There’s a ton of depth present, but a good chunk of it is relatively meaningless. It’s depth for its own sake, rather than something that’s usable or something that can improve the overall user experience. More often than not, developers try to cram in as much content as possible, which hinders the overall user experience, not to mention that you can barely navigate through all the chaos.

The point of mobile MOBA games in 2020 isn’t to substitute the whole PC experience, regardless of how similar they might look and sound. Instead, you’re supposed to feel like you’re playing a MOBA without getting overwhelmed by a plethora of complex and convoluted options and rules. The average game time in these titles is around 15 minutes, if not even less. These matches are supposed to be quick and skirmish-heavy. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you win or lose as the games themselves aren’t too taxing or drawn out. Instead, they’re mostly either slightly competitive or complete blowouts; the team that ends up snowballing an early lead will have an insurmountable advantage. There’s no complex metagame or strategic element to it all. It’s often impossible for a reversal to happen.

Everything you know about the genre applies here as well. That includes roaming, ganking, situation-specific itemization, optimal jungle clears, match-ups, the strengths and weaknesses of varying builds and strategies, team comps, and so on. But it’s like all of these oh-so-important and integral elements were slightly “dumbed down” to accommodate the smaller screen real estate and shortened game time.

The gameplay itself is also peculiar. Because there’s less depth, it often feels like you’re just skirmishing for its sake, without any apparent game plan or strategy in mind. Even if you decide to “do things by the book” and play the game in a slow and calculated manner, the vast majority of your teammates/opponents probably won’t follow suit. Everyone has a lot less patience and because the maps you play on reduce in size, team fights tend to break out every minute. It feels like everyone focuses on playing 1 vs. 1 or 2 vs. 2, farming and itemizing are an afterthought. All hell tends to break loose fairly quickly, and while that’s sometimes entertaining, it certainly won’t satisfy those looking for a more layered experience. If you want an actual early, mid, and late game with ample strategic elements and things to learn and do over time, then you should probably stick to PC MOBAs.

So, on the one hand, most of these games provide the core experience on the go. On the other hand, because the foundation of the genre had to be adjusted and simplified, these games can never truly become a substitute for the real deal, and that’s perfectly fine. Heck, they were never even designed with such a goal in mind.

Despite their inherent limitations and apparent flaws, mobile MOBA games in 2020 are an incredible accomplishment from a technological standpoint and are far better than most people realize. The best ones out there are also deceptively addictive and fun to play. The main reason why they’ve become so popular in most regions of the world. Perhaps their lack of complexity can be viewed as a positive thing as well: MOBAs are becoming way too elaborate and are often unforgiving towards newer players.

In any case, they’re well worth your time, and if you can stomach a thousand different pop-ups, in-game ads, and “limited-time offers,” then you’re bound to have a load of fun!


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