MOBA Games 101: Beginner’s Guide to League of Legends, Dota 2 & More

A professional game from the IPL3 League of Legends tournament.


Skills are the bread and butter of any MOBA. While the systems differ slightly from game to game, almost all MOBAs have four skills: three normal skills and an ultimate. The ultimate is usually the “signature” of a hero (although not always) as well as a game-changer. Ultimates range from cross-map snipes to instant respawns, and usually have the largest cooldown (and largest annoyance factor) of a hero’s abilities. As skills are the primary way you will kill or be killed, the main challenge in any MOBA is simply learning what different enemy skills do.

Whenever you hear a player talk about skill order, they are not referring to the order that you use your skills. That is called rotation. Skill order is how you level up your skills as you gain levels. Some skills are simply better than others, after all, and leveling up a worthless skill instead of a useful one severely hampers your effectiveness. It’s also a great way to invite needless criticism, since most players fancy themselves to be experts. Whenever you start a match, make sure you take a look at your skills and see which ones are great for your playstyle. For the most part, good skill orders are good in all situations, although minor tweaks during the match can improve your play.

An oft-overlooked element of smart MOBA play is skill conservation. New players tend to spam their abilities, and when confronted with a problem that requires an ability to solve, they don’t have the mana (or health, energy, whatever) to use what they need. If there is a single concept that needs to be drilled into the head of every new player, it’s that of skill conservation. Do not use skills to kill creeps unless you can get your resources back quickly. Do not use skills to harass unless they are specifically designed for it (like a slowing arrow). Do not use skills unless absolutely necessary. Keep your skills in reserve, as they are what makes you unique and what gives you the ability to take down enemy heroes. All the right clicks in the world won’t save you if you couldn’t escape from a stun, and it’s incredibly shaming to get murdered because you used all your mana doing nothing. Trust me, I know.

Much like heroes, skills are divided into many different groups and sub-groups that all link back to a common mechanical premise. Here are a few examples:

  • A harass skill is a skill that deals medium amounts of damage without exposing the hero using it to harm. It will make the enemy team so incredibly mad.
  • A disable renders an enemy hero unable to perform their role. Usually this means a stun, and a stun usually means a kill.
  • A nuke deals a lot of damage immediately. A nuke and a disable together is the quickest way to make somebody so mad they quit the game.
  • A passive doesn’t require you to use the skill to gain its bonus. Whether it’s an aura or a self-buff, passives are usually great for increasing your strength without requiring more skill

Learn the skills of your hero – and the heroes you are playing with/against – and you’ll be better equipped to get your top-down fantasy murder on.

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