Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) is a subgenre in gaming which has elements drawn from real-time strategy games and role-playing games (RPG). It was popularized by the community-created map Defense of the Ancients (Dota) for Warcraft III, though it wasn’t the first of its kind. The genre has evolved since then and is now home to the most popular game on the planet: League of Legends.
The MOBA core gameplay has remained largely the same throughout the years, with a few tweaks here and there by developers to give their games a different feel. It centers on a competitive match between two teams in a designated map. Each player controls a unique character with distinct skills and abilities. The goal is to advance toward and destroy the enemy base, taking out guard towers and killing both AI-controlled and player-controlled units along the way. (This is the real-time strategy element.)
Player-controlled units gain experience and currency during the match. The former is for gaining stat boosts and unlocking and upgrading skills, which are either active or passive. Heroes typically have an “ultimate,” a unique skill with a powerful, potentially game-changing effect. A level cap is in place during matches to prevent heroes from being over-leveled. Currency is used to buy better equipment and useful items like sentry wards. (This is the RPG element.)
The MOBA genre is very popular today. It has an always growing community and an established esports scene where thousands of dollars are in play during the biggest, most high-profile tournaments. Though MOBA games obviously go hand in hand with a PC, they have become increasingly popular on mobiles over the last few years, too. However, like fighting games and shooters, MOBA on mobiles is a mixed bag. Let’s take a look at the key pros and cons of mobile MOBA games.
Play anywhere. Obviously. Like all other Android and iOS games, mobile MOBA games can be played practically anywhere. You can play them at home, on-the-go, and during school and office breaks. All you need is a reliable (and preferably high-speed) internet connection and you’re good to go. Unlike MOBA games on PC, you’re not confined to a single space while you play for hours. You could argue that playing on a laptop offers the same convenience. But laptops don’t come with the same portability as smartphones and tablets.
Faster match duration. Mobile MOBA games are typically more compact and small-scale than their PC counterparts in terms of gameplay. Maps are smaller and the mechanics are more streamlined to better fit mobiles. This translates to faster match durations. A League of Legends match usually lasts anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. But if you count the time spent on Champion selection, where teammates discuss or bicker on who gets to play which Champion and role, at least an hour is needed. On the other hand, matches in MOBA mobile games can be finished in less than 30 minutes. Players spend less time farming for experience and currency, which leads to faster transitions between early game, mid-game, and late-game phases. Quicker match durations translates to more matches played.
More peaceful community. League of Legends is the most popular game, on any platform, out right now. But it is also notorious for having an incredibly toxic community. Players spewing hate-filled words and insults, uncooperative and hard-to-deal-with teammates, inconsiderate rage-quitters – these are just some of the things you can expect in League of Legends. The community in mobile MOBA games is relatively peaceful. Well, at least during matches. Due to the limited interface, chatting with teammates during the match is not recommended. Which means fewer chances of dealing with rude people. Teammates rarely even talk to each other while the match is on, which allows you to fully focus on the task at hand without having to deal with drama.
No “meta” rules to strictly follow. Certain games come with certain unofficial rules. For example, in League of Legends, a team must always have one player in the top lane, one player in the middle lane, two players in the bottom lane, and a player who constantly roams the map. Teams typically discuss who goes on each lane before the match begins. In most mobile MOBA games, players have more freedom when it comes to team roles. For example, in Mobile Legends, players can simply go to whatever lane they like at the start of the match without consulting with the team. There are still games that require players to be in specific roles, though. Vainglory is a prime example of that.
Limited controls. Playing MOBA on mobile devices is akin to playing a first-person shooter game using a PS4 controller. No, that’s not a compliment. Far from it. Since iOS and Android devices don’t magically produce keyboards and mice out of nowhere, you’re stuck with on-screen touch controls when playing mobile MOBA games. This translates to less accuracy and precision. Good luck if you have sweaty hands all the time. You can use a separate gamepad if you want, but that’s another accessory to carry around.
Small screen size. Map vision is critical in any MOBA game. You need to be constantly aware of the surrounding area. Enemy heroes can ambush you anytime if you’re not paying close attention to the mini-map and the actual map. This is more difficult to do in most mobile MOBA games because of the limited vision, no thanks to the smaller screen. Playing on a larger tablet won’t give you a wider viewing angle – the game will simply upscale to a higher resolution. A smaller screen also means more cluttered icons. MOBA games need screen space for a mini-map, hero parameters (health, mana, and other stats), and ability icons. Fitting all of them on a smartphone screen is messy to look at. The on-screen d-pad also takes up a significant space, which means your thumb is always blocking part of the screen.
Lack of team communication. Due to technical restrictions, team chat is practically non-existent in mobile MOBA games. Typing on a small on-screen keyboard is way harder than pressing physical keys on an actual keyboard. This is the primary reason why players don’t usually communicate in mobile MOBA games. On one hand, it does a great job at keeping the toxicity to a minimum (see pros). But on the other hand, teammates won’t be able to coordinate and plan out strategies during the match. There’s simply no time for chatting due to the pace. You’re basically trusting your teammates to do the right thing during the match.
Pay-to-win. Most mobile MOBA games are free-to-play games. But like many other mobile games, they usually come with microtransactions, a hated feature by a lot of gamers. Microtransactions are pretty harmless as long as they don’t grant unfair and overpowered advantages to paying customers. This isn’t the case in some mobile MOBA games, however. Let’s take the popular game Mobile Legends as an example (again). The game offers optional skins, which can be bought using real money. They are similar to Champion Skins in League of Legends. The key difference is that skins in Mobile Legends grant bonus stats. Meaning, players who can afford to purchase skins on a regular basis have an advantage. Of course, they will need formidable gaming skills as well to consistently overpower non-paying players.
Best MOBA Games on Mobiles
Did the pros entice you more than the cons dissuaded you? We’ve prepared a short list of mobile MOBA games in case you’re interested in giving them a try. Here are our top three picks for the best MOBA games currently available on iOS and Android.
Super Evil Megacorp’s Vainglory is the most popular mobile MOBA game available right now. Released in 2014 on iOS and in 2015 on Android, Vainglory features a gameplay that is similar to MOBA games on PC. The main difference is that teams are composed of only three players instead of the usual five. Maps are much smaller in the game, containing only one lane and a jungle below the lane. This means there are only three roles that need to be filled: the “laner,” the “jungler,” and the support.
Vainglory comes with more than 30 unique heroes to choose from. The roster is pretty balanced. Each hero has a strength and a weakness, which you need to carefully consider. The game has a rotating roster of free-to-play heroes that changes each week. But if you want to permanently unlock a specific hero, you can use the in-game currency to purchase that hero.
There are three competitive modes available: Standard, Battle Royale, and Blitz. Standard features the usual MOBA gameplay. Battle Royale has a faster pace and only allows battles to take place on the lane. Blitz features a gameplay where players need to accumulate points within a set time-frame. Points are earned by killing stuff on the map, which includes enemy heroes.
We recommend Vainglory if you’re looking for a stable mobile MOBA game with lots of replay value and great gameplay mechanics. Players coming over from League of Legends and other MOBA games on PC will need a bit of time to get used to the gameplay differences, though.
Ace of Arenas
Ace of Arenas has one of the largest communities in the mobile MOBA gaming scene, boasting over one million players around the world. You definitely won’t run out of players to fight with or against in this game. It features a smooth gameplay system with swipe controls and a great number of characters to choose from.
At the moment, there are over 50 characters available. Similar to Vainglory, Ace of Arenas features a rotating roster of free-to-play characters, which changes every week. You need to purchase characters if you want to use them permanently in any match. You can also customize your characters’ looks by buying skins and weapons.
Ace of Arenas offers multiple gameplay modes to choose from. This gives you more flexibility because there are some days when you can only sneak in super-short matches in your busy schedule. There are a handful of maps available in the game, all of which are tailored specifically for a set number of players. For example, in Conqueror’s Canyon, players fight in 3-on-3 battles, while in Timeless Enclave players duke it out in classic 5-on-5 battles. The game also has a “bot map” available where you can fight against AI-controlled enemies for practice.
Mobile Legends is the most recent title in this list, released just last year by Shanghai-based developer Moonton. Unlike Vainglory and Ace of Arenas, Mobile Legends is an almost exact reproduction of MOBA games on PC. It features 5-on-5 matches, played on a map that is very similar to the Summoner’s Rift in League of Legends. The map has the usual three lanes, 18 guard towers, and four jungle areas. It even has two super-bosses similar to the Dragon and the Baron in League of Legends.
Matchmaking is a breeze thanks to the large community, allowing you to enter matches on-the-go in less than a minute. Actual matches are fast-paced and action-packed. You will spend the majority of your time fighting against enemy heroes, so there’s little room for experience and gold farming. Matches typically end in less than 30 minutes, with the most skilled players capable of destroying the opposition in 15 minutes or less.
Team communication is practically non-existent in Mobile Legends due to the gameplay. Players mainly communicate by using “pings,” which are colored signals that appear on the mini-map. Due to the lack of team communication, matches are typically free-for-all, where players can go to whatever lane and do whatever they want with no regard to tactics and strategies. This means you’re basically on your own during matches. You can simply treat your teammates as AI-controlled units.
As mentioned earlier, Mobile Legends offers hero skins that grant bonus stats, giving players with huge wallets the chance to boost their way to the top. You don’t necessarily have to buy skins, of course. You can earn your marks by simply playing lots of matches. If you’re looking for a mobile MOBA game that plays out similarly like League of Legends, Mobile Legends is for you. It has an excellent cast of characters and an incredibly addicting gameplay.