It’s safe to say that the MOBA fad is officially over in gaming. That does not mean MOBAs are no longer popular. It would be absurd to believe that considering the immense popularity (and prize pools) for both League of Legends and DOTA 2. In addition, there are some middle tier popularity MOBAs like Smite, Heroes of the Storm, and Battlerite. Although they will probably not ever compete with LoL and DOTA 2, they have certainly carved out a niche and player base that seems to be sticking with the game for the foreseeable future.
However, for every game like Heroes of the Storm that released and succeeded during the rush from so many developers to put their take on the genre out in the market, there are just as many, if not more, “failed” projects that either are currently floundering or are already dead. Games like Paragon, Gigantic, and Battleborn were released by their developers alongside side PR-generated fanfare all to fall flat without picking up much steam.
Paragon, despite its gorgeous, realistic looking visuals and passionate player base, is offering full refunds to players and closing down for good on April 26, 2018. Gigantic had its charm as well. When I previewed it years ago, I praised how different the guardians played from each other. PR stressed to me how characters were going to be designed to feel like completely different genres to appeal to all kinds of players. It also had a unique and striking visual flair to it that helped it stand out. I genuinely thought the game had potential to be a hit. Back then, there was hope for games like Gigantic. The interest in MOBAs appeared to be high, and if developers could execute and make a great game, why couldn’t a game like Gigantic become a hit? Maybe if it had stayed on track and released earlier, its story might have been different. But instead, it had a turbulent development history, and by the time it finally stumbled out of the gates, no one seemed to care anymore. The fad had come and gone, and Gigantic will be closing down in July.
It’s so bad right now that it it’s hard to trust and give new entries a shot. Master X Master, a unique spin on the MOBA genre from NCsoft that allowed players to tag two heroes in and out at will, released last June. I played it back at E3 2017, and I felt similarly to other outlets that previewed it. It wasn’t perfect out of the gate, but its dual hero mechanic had potential. In 2017, I wasn’t nearly as optimistic about the genre as I was back when I previewed Gigantic. I walked out of my appointment nervous for Master X Master. I was afraid that despite the developer’s efforts to make a fun game, it wouldn’t matter. That the genre, for reasons I can’t explain, just isn’t accepting new members. Master X Master barely made it half a year, and was shut down for good on Jan. 31 of this year.
It’s hard to imagine any developer risking anything to sign up to create a new MOBA presently without a serious commitment from a publisher with deep pockets and lots of patience. Instead, we’re already starting to see and hear about developers/publishers moving onto the Battle Royale genre.
Like MOBAs, Battle Royale games such as PUBG and Fortnite’s humble beginnings were as mods for other popular games such as ARMA 2. Now, thanks to the rapid rise to popularity of PUBG and Fortnite, the genre is very much in the mainstream. PUBG rolled out the red carpet and took the PC (and later Xbox One) gaming world by storm, and not long after, Fortnite followed up with a free-to-play version of its Battle Royale mode that is not only popular on PC, but has its roots in on console as well. Like DOTA 2 and League of Legends, these two games are now fixtures on the daily most viewed games on Twitch.
Eerily, history feels like it’s repeating itself. Thanks to the popularity of PUBG, Fortnite, and the games that came before it like DayZ, H1Z1, and more, larger industry names are starting to percolate as potentially being interested in the genre. Smite by developer Hi-Rez Studios, again one of the MOBA games that made it out of the shadow of LoL and DOTA 2, has already revealed its first foray into the genre with Paladins: Battlegrounds, a spin-off of sorts of their team-based (Overwatch-like) shooter. We don’t know much other than what has been shown, but Hi-Rez Studios does seem to have rapport with their dedicated fans, and have a knack for finding a sustainable player base for their titles.
Although it should be taken with a heavy grain of salt, there are rumblings that the upcoming Red Dead game will have a battle royale mod. And, if history is dead set on repeating itself like it was for MOBAs, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Blizzard whip something up like they did with HotS. While cracking into an established genre isn’t easy, if there are publishers with the fortitude and capital to do it, it would be the 2K/Rockstar combination and Blizzard.
If major developers/publishers throw their hat in the Battle Royale ring like what happened with MOBAs and we move past that phase, will there be anything left over for the smaller developers? Or are we going to have another situation where the Master X Master, Gigantic, and Paragons of the world enter the game too late, and are left to flounder? There’s no way to answer that yet, but this feeling I’m getting, it feels familiar.