Last week, two articles — one about League of Legends and one about Dota 2 — caught my eye. While they cover different games, they both speak to roughly the same topic: that the biggest MOBAs in the world are stuck in a rut that they can never escape.

On PCGamesN, the headline is “The biggest obstacle to League of Legends’ ongoing success? Its fans.” Over on Kotaku, it’s “The International 7 Ditches Dota 2’s Confusing Underwater Map After Fans Complain.” The tl;dr of both pieces is that when something is changed in LoL/Dota, fans either go berserk (in the case of Dota 2’s underwater map) or completely ignore it (in the case of League of Legends’ Dominion mode). In either case, the “new thing” typically has a short shelf life, and we’re back to the standard lanes-and-towers gameplay of the basic game.

When I first read these, I thought about how lack of innovation was stifling creativity, and that seems to be the approach taken by the League of Legends article. It might have been like how people always say they want a new MMORPG, but when something new comes out and it’s not 95% the same as World of Warcraft, they abandon it and go back to WoW. Typical “bored gamers want to do the same thing forever while complaining about grind” stuff.

But then I thought of an alternate viewpoint: that esports are actually starting to resemble real sports, which are stodgy and slow to accept change, rather than online video games, which often make significant changes on a regular basis. Major sports leagues rarely make big changes, and when they do, they’re met with skepticism and sometimes outright anger from fans. Just look at the designated hitter rule in baseball, which still sparks lively debates more than 40 years after its adoption in the American League.

Maybe that’s not because “fans are jerks who don’t like change” but because, for a sports league to grow, it needs stability. The powers that be can’t rewrite the rulebook every few years to please the short-term whims of the fans. Minor changes happen every year, whether it’s redefining the strike zone in baseball or moving back extra point attempts in football, but truly dramatic changes are rare.

Even cosmetic changes, ones that don’t have any effect on rules of the game, can be scorned by fans, as was the case with the underwater map for Dota 2. In 2004, Major League Baseball announced a tie-in with the then-new Spider-Man 2 movie that would have seen bases display the film’s logo. It was met with near-universal disdain and MLB scrapped the plan.

Sure, that could be viewed as fans reacting to crass commercialism. Maybe, to some degree, that’s what happened with the Dota 2 brouhaha. True, there were “noticeable readability issues,” as Kotaku put it, that made the action less enjoyable for spectators, but showing off something that can only be obtained by buying the Battle Pass, at the biggest even of the year, was also undoubtedly a not-so-subtle marketing message.

Even if it wasn’t harder to follow the action, would it still have been unpopular? It almost certainly would be in “real” sports. Imagine if, instead of Spider-Man, MLB randomly decided that bases should be red instead of white, or if the NHL decided the red line at the center of the rink should be green — and not just for St. Patrick’s Day games. Boise State might use blue turf on its football field, but I don’t think that’s going to catch on across the nation anytime soon.

Online game developers often face criticism when major changes are made to their games, which they do only very rarely. Esports-reliant titles need to be even more careful about the changes they make, for fear of upsetting the competitive balance or “meta.” It’s something sports leagues (usually) do with great care and after a lot of thought, and it might be an example the biggest MOBAs in the world would do well to follow.

Do you want League of Legends or Dota 2 to change? Do you think they can?

the author

Jason Winter is a veteran gaming journalist, he brings a wide range of experience to MMOBomb, including two years with Beckett Media where he served as the editor of the leading gaming magazine Massive Online Gamer. He has also written professionally for several gaming websites.

13 Readers Commented

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  1. Satoshi Nakamoto (HHAHAH NOT) on September 5, 2017

    The reason why MOBA Suck.

    Watching the Innovation of League of legends. Garbage

    INSTEAD Of doing what street fighter alpha2 did with V, S, C meter and attack style roles.

    They took whole kits and trashed them.
    Instead of keeping OLD STYLE ADD ALT_PLAY | They coud of took all chars and double the SKILL inside.

    Oh are they playing Kat 1 or Kat 2 (switch on death )

    IE fire their dev they are stupid idiots.

  2. Uhoh on August 9, 2017

    Someone didn’t read the article.. tsk tsk

  3. Nuke them from orbit on August 8, 2017

    “E-sports” are a cancer to video gaming and MOBA is the inbred bastard cousin of RTS.

    • Aazog on August 13, 2017

      nice opinion you have there.

  4. Joseph on August 8, 2017

    Not taking sides, change can either make, or break a game. Depending on which.. (like mmo’s) Can make it better. Or smaller company games can really ‘hinder’ the playerbase. Tldr, its two sided.

    Take dead space for example, the first was considered the best why? It’s survival horror, it put you on your toes, it scared you second, just as much, third? No.

    That’s when they f*** up. Because it changed from survival horror to ‘third person shooter cod style type’ with micro transactions. It went from pee your pants to just yawn, shoot, and laugh.

    Tldr, change can be good or VERY very.. bad for the games.

  5. Curst on August 7, 2017

    1. Highly competitive games are difficult to innovate regardless of their nature.
    2. It’s difficult to innovate any game post-launch.

    • Curst on August 7, 2017

      P.S. I don’t want MOBAs to change, I want them to die. x_x

  6. Rustle on August 7, 2017

    I personally don’t like dramatic changes in games. There are so many games out there right now, many of them similar but with their own unique features. If I find a game that I enjoy, it’s usually a bad idea for them to drastically change it. While I can understand that devs do it to attract new players, it might drive existing players to other games.
    Complete new features, however, such as the DotA 2 underwater terrain, is completely fine. Players don’t have to use that terrain when they play, so nothing really changes. The game is the same.

    • Vinal on August 8, 2017

      This is the first time I’ve ever wholeheartedly agree on a MMObomb post after 6 years of the website’s existence. Well done

  7. annonymice on August 7, 2017

    Devs don’t innovate because it’s easier and cheaper to just copy paste the same sh!t over and over again. Then they just milk and cash shop the game.

  8. annonymouse on August 7, 2017

    Good thing for “e-sports” yes.

    Bad thing for people that play games for other reasons than competition and ego

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