Seven years is a long time. Really, you can say that about any amount of time – all of it is interpretable. An hour during a particularly frustrating math test, the thirty minutes it takes to dry a load of laundry in a dryer just as old as you are, the unending assault of anxiety as you wait for the results of that math test… and so on. Looking back on those moments, of course, seems like no time had passed at all. They were completely unmemorable moments. Seven years of time also has that effect, but surely that cannot be right. A lot can happen in that amount of time, but it never feels that way, does it?
I’ll try to focus underneath a microscope what those years meant to me. Seven years and two months ago I first installed League of Legends, a little over a month after release from open beta and about a few days before my fourteenth birthday. If I can remember correctly, the first champion I played was Sivir. From that day onward I played in every season and achieved Gold MMR for the first and Platinum for the rest. I remember a short period where I tried to play competitively but quickly shot down the idea due to failing grades. After the first season I stopped playing seriously altogether, and it is a somewhat depressing thought to me that my ranked stats over the years have consistently fewer games played. There were many points in those seven years where I was disenchanted with the game. Today, I play mostly DotA 2, though over the course of those years I touched upon practically every single available MOBA, with nearly all of them dead on arrival. If you’ve ever played or remember games like Strife, Rise of the Immortals, Realm of Titans, or Super MNC, congratulations – nobody else does. If you did play them, then perhaps you do understand why. Some things just don’t deserve to be remembered.
You would not be wrong to dismiss memories like that, and on off-days I would agree with you. Certainly moments like graduation are a little bit more important. But over that time I met a lot of good friends. League up to this day I credit to a lot of great friendships that I would not have had otherwise. DotA 2, as I started painfully transitioning to weird ‘antifun’ mechanics like couriers, runes, and stacking, also had the same positive experience on me. MOBAs in a lot of ways are the most friendliest yet frustrating games you can play socially. They are, inherently, team based games. If you can suck up your pride and be a team player then, well, the world is your oyster.
Back seven years ago at the dawn of the 2010s was a simpler time for me – at least regarding the internet. I would not hear about Reddit for at least another year. Steam, though perfectly functional back then and nothing alike the clunky DRM it was yesteryear, was certainly less popular, and I saw no reason to use it over Xfire’s more practical interface (Even then, I was wrong). Memes were, well, not as dank. And finally Livestreaming was still very much in it’s infancy. XSplit would not be in public beta for at least another ten months, and platforms like Twitch.tv and Own3d (if you can remember that far, jeez) did not exist ‘yet’, though Justin.tv was the hotspot for the first true gaming streams until it was eventually phased out by its younger brother. Text-to-speech donations, cancerous as they are, did not exist either. Most streams back then were little more a webcam, a mic, and muddy 720p video. And it was great. Excuse me for the rose tint.
Where do MOBAs come in? Well, it would be silly to talk about one and not the other. Their histories are very intertwined, especially when it comes to the advent of eSports. I remember back during the first League of Legends World championships, before they implemented a spectator’s interface, where they had to use the perspective of a hidden 6th player just to watch the game. From that, despite how archaic it was, built the stage for the modern eSport and, from that also, created the demand for a true gaming livestreaming platform. Certainly there were many tournaments before across countless games – I do not discount that. But at this point, it became bigger than what was ever possible. The stage had been set. What mattered now was who the limelight would shine on.
Admittedly, my memory is shaky from those days. I was much younger then and, as you might expect, didn’t carry a notepad to jot down all the curiosities. MOBAs have the deadly effect of being completely forgettable. Muscle memory aside, the actual game ends up as a blur after you’ve played as much as I have. After ten thousand matches of League across numerous accounts (Forgive me, Riot, for I have smurfed), and even more for practically every other MOBA – it’s hard to remember the good stuff. The bad stuff comes a little easier. I remember how often the servers went down on patch day. It happened a lot. I remember when Sunfire stacking was a thing. I remember Gold per 5 stacking. Stacking. So much stacking in early League meta. And now I stack in DotA. Dear Lord.
Much of this amnesia I can chalk up to the inherent economics of a MOBA, in the sense that they are dirt cheap to develop. One map and a handful of heroes is practically all you need, and I can imagine this is why most MOBAs sprung up quite quickly in the surgence of League’s popularity. Damn near immediately were there clones in much of the same way Minecraft spawned countless copy cats, all trying to cash in on the next ‘big’ thing.
That is not to say that League in of itself was a revolutionary concept. The gold rush began much earlier from DotA Allstars, which in turn was inspired by Aeon of Strife, both of them Warcraft III custom maps, which in turn has always owed its roots to old RTSs of yesteryear like the original Warcraft and Dune 2, the latter of which the cornerstone for all strategy games since. There is a lot of history that, unfortunately, is difficult to cover accurately. I don’t expect you to care much for it.
What drew me to League from the start, particularly as a broke teenager, is the fact that it was the most liberal free-to-play games ever released. Most online games just preferred to gouge you, or require a subscription, or locked out every meaningful feature as an incentive to pay for the ‘full’ experience. League was never like that. Fancy hats and trinkets were all that you could buy, though boosters were available to level your account faster. The best thing was knowing that you were always on the same playing field (At least, back in 2010), and that you were never far away from winning. It just took patience and often resilience, but rarely ever your money.
Ironically, I would never try to level back to 30 in League again. It’s a much more gruesome experience and especially obnoxious after the blissful taste of DotA 2’s immediately free hero pool. It is clear to me now, though not back in 2010, that much of the game’s outside mechanics like runes and masteries were especially restrictive – obviously designed to encourage purchasing boosters. Though less heinous than other F2P methods of stealing your wallet (Or in my case, my Dad’s credit card), it always irked me, though I refuse to let that spoil good memories. At the end of the day, it didn’t stop me from playing, did it? And only in extreme cases did it directly impact the enjoyment of the game.
Today, I doubt most people think of F2P when they think of League of Legends. It’s more common now. On the same vein, I doubt most people think of outdated metagames or old bugs and quirks, or in my case, past friendships. Most people think of toxicity, and they are not wrong to think of that as the first thing that comes to their minds. Assholes be assholes, especially competitively.
I’ve always hated branding the League community as toxic (Or really, any gaming community. It’s a one-size-fits-all kind of word) because it is inaccurate. It implies a vitriol hate without constructive reason and human perspective. That is not to say that there are no cases where ‘toxic’ does not apply. There are, and they happen significantly to the point where I understand why people leave any game because of it. It’s a healthy perspective to have. MOBAs are interesting in the sense they are team based games where every player’s ability and strength is linked together. If you lose a lane and feed off a few kills, that is inevitably going to make it harder for someone else down the road due to experience and gold advantage. And you can bet your ass I’d hate you for it. Like most, the tilt comes easy to me. I actively avoid fighting games because of it.
The key difference of course is that fighting games are 1v1 games. Your mistakes are your own, and you have to accept that unless you want to dive into the blatantly wrong ‘stop hacking!’ argument. With MOBAs, you have four other people, so naturally it’s easier to blame someone else for your mistakes. And that is where the toxicity comes from. With that in mind, I learned quickly that being humble helps. If I ever get that stereotypical question of “What good have video games ever done for you?”, I’d say that in response, and not that ‘hand-eye coordination’ bullshit, which is like saying that a virtual football is better for your eyes than a real one is. It’s silly.
As you might have noticed, this article doesn’t have much of a point. I don’t think summing up seven years of gaming has much of a point in the first place, and creating one would be almost disrespectful, as if there has to be some explanation for what all that time did for me. MOBAs are not miracle cures. They aren’t jobs, though you damn well can make it one in practice. I know for a fact from those years passed that many people have left the game – League in particular and from friends I made – feeling a sense of emptiness of where all that time went. I’ve never felt that, just as I don’t feel anything about doing laundry or brain-numbing math tests. During life, you pick things to do and they can be harmful or constructive processes, but regardless of what that exactly is, you choose how it benefits you. If you’re sitting there playing League or DotA or any game at all for the sole purpose of evading pain, then you already know what the answer is to you. If you left the day exceedingly more frustrated and tilted than when the day began, you already know the answer. Same goes for most things. Escapism is not something that begins or ends. It is concurrent like a stream, and it is up to you to decide when you want to drink from it or drown underneath it.
For that reason, I dropped playing competitively. My only momento during those days is when I got Ziggs and skins for free shortly after his release when I subbed for a friend’s team. It was a weird tourney where you had to play both traditional Summoner’s Rift and Dominion to win, but I don’t remember the exact details. Instead, I focused on school, kept my grades up, and left myself in a position to play League merrily without feeling a heavy dread of despair knowing I was sacrificing a part of my life for something else.
Seven years is a lot of time. I’m not sure if I spent that time well, but I don’t need to. MOBAs are not sulking about mistakes. They’re about moving onto the next game and taking it in stride. They’re about kicking somebody’s ass, and I refuse to kick my own!