MOBA Games 101: Beginner’s Guide to League of Legends, Dota 2 & More
Pictured above: the traditional MOBA map layout, as shown by Dota 2. Red lines are lanes. Different dots represent different structures: blue for towers, purple for barracks/inhibitor, green for ancient/nexus, gold for shop.
Lanes & Basics
The most important concept of any MOBA game is that of the lane. While functionality between lanes differs, the layout is almost universally the same: there is a middle lane, which is the quickest path into the enemy base, and two side lanes (left/right or top/bottom) that act as longer routes. Friendly and enemy units, known as creep waves, move down lanes and attack anything that gets in their way, from other creeps to towers to heroes. This ends up being a tug-of-war between each side as creep waves are harvested for gold and XP by the players. There is also a maze-like path between lanes called the jungle, and a river that bisects all lanes through the center of the map. If you are familiar with Call of Duty multiplayer map design, you can think of each lane like the main paths through a map, and the jungle as those little camping spots where you hide to get the drop on an enemy.
Creep waves are usually divided into two kinds: melee and ranged. Melee creeps normally give more experience and have more health, while ranged creeps give more gold and hit harder. These creeps will generally ignore enemy heroes unless the hero is alone or attacks another hero. Good players often use this creep aggro to their advantage, and attack enemy heroes to drag creeps further into the lane or trigger abilities (like counter attacks). If you can get good at positioning your creeps and enemy creeps, you can set up all sorts of nasty situations.
Pictured above: Dota 2, with a typical tower in the upper right.
Each lane has three towers and a barracks. The towers are your main form of defense, and they deal massive damage to units that enter their firing range unless the tower is already attacking another enemy. I do mean massive; towers hit like a semi cruising on the highway. Their power varies from game to game, but in almost all cases you do not want a tower beating on you.
The towers in each lane are known as: outer, which is closest to the middle of the map; inner, which is fairly close to the base but still outside it; and barracks, which protects the barracks. The enemy barracks, when destroyed, gives your team “mega creeps.” These creeps have huge amounts of health, deal significant damage (even to heroes), and give very little gold when killed. If you’ve lost one barracks, you’re in trouble. If you’ve lost two, you’re pretty much screwed.
A vital concept of lanes is that of last hits, otherwise known as creep score or creep kills. Simply put, this is a measure of how many enemy creeps you have killed over the course of the game. As creeps are generally not dangerous to players, you want to last hit as many of them as possible to gain the gold and XP advantage. This is the main focus of the early game portion of the match. Heroes get as many last hits as possible while occasionally damaging and killing enemy heroes. If a hero is getting a lot of last hits, it is known as farming, and if they are in no danger while doing so, it is called free-farming. It’s a lot like real farming, except that when the farmer finishes his harvest he murders you.
Players also need to be aware of a rather subjective concept known as lane equilibrium. Since lanes are essentially continual fights, you must position your creeps to suit your needs. If you need more last hits (and thus gold) or you want to be in a position of power, you allow the enemy to advance so that you are closer to your tower. If you want to destroy an enemy tower, you push (advance your creeps) down the lane by constantly damaging enemy creeps. Think of where the creeps meet as the line of scrimmage, and yourself as a fullback. It’s a very subjective art that takes a long time to master, but once you get it down it becomes critical to excellent play.