Predicting The MOBA Landscape in 2016
Updated: Jan 23, 2018
It’s been nearly six years since League of Legends launched in North America, altering the landscape of the video game industry while ushering in a subgenre that has exploded in popularity. Today, Riot’s title is a juggernaut; League grosses over $1B in revenue annually while drawing millions of viewers to their eSports tournaments.
The rest of the market took notice and an abundance of major publishers are attempting entry into the Massively Online Battle Arena (MOBA) market. These range from titles in Beta (Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm) to recently released games (WBIE’s Infinite Crisis) to titles with little information other than a name (Crytek’s Arena of Fate).
In essence, the genre is poised to become incredibly crowded. Yet even with the influx of new titles, change at the very top is unlikely. EEDAR predicts that in 2016, League of Legends will lead the genre with a 66% marketshare followed by Dota 2 at 14%. Yet the next two largest titles, Heroes of the Storm and SMITE, succeed largely due to their innovative approaches.
As it currently stands, both League and Dota 2 are massive. These two titles command the vast majority of the MOBA player base and both games appeal strongly to the exceptionally core MOBA user. Both League and Dota 2 have recently prioritized a retention strategy where limited edition game modes (such as League’s URF), eSports events, and increasingly high-quality aesthetic items are all aimed at appealing to the current user. These titles gained a huge audience and now they’re fighting to keep these users.
In addition, MOBAs intrinsically prevent churn to similar titles. To learn a MOBA like League or Dota 2, players have to invest dozens of hours with the meta-strategy, item build paths, and hero abilities. Players build up their accounts over time as they garner heroes and levels, which makes it all the more difficult to leave. Furthermore, it’s even more of a daunting task as a new title will have its own quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Yet in 2013, Hi-Rez Studios was able to carve out a niche. Their title, SMITE, offered innovation through a third-person perspective along with a pantheon of different characters. In addition, the title focused on easing the learning curve for new users, allowing for automatic purchasing from shops and the auto-leveling of abilities.
Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm also looks to prioritize accessibility and gameplay innovation. Heroes does away with the item shop entirely and users don’t have to upgrade an ability after every level. In addition, Heroes looks to alter the gameplay by placing a premium on objective control and player cooperation. Perhaps even more importantly though, Blizzard is in a unique situation due to their immensely loyal fanbase. Heroes is already blessed with a substantial player pool that will interact with the title.
Ultimately, EEDAR believes that success in the MOBA market will rely on innovation and lowering the learning curve. Partially, these are some of the reasons that EA’s Dawngate was cancelled; the title simply played too similarly to the current market leaders. As new entrants flood the genre, success will hinge on captivating MOBA players with something new rather than attempting to compete directly with League of Legends or Dota 2. Even though the MOBA genre is consistently growing in terms of players and revenue, developers must still carefully consider their game before entering the market.