MOBA Nostalgia, Already?

I’ve been watching “Legends,” the sharply satirical sendup of silver-age comics (eat your heart out Stan!) episode of Justice League.

I’ve also been playing DotA 2 and LoL.

Similarities! Legends is somewhat the equivalent of the Billy episode of the Twilight Zone but, you know, more heroes. However, the episode takes that framework and uses it to reflect on the ingrained sexism, racism, and general absurdity present in the silver age. At one point a character compliments the Green Lantern (John Stewart, but not that one. A dude of color.) on being a ‘credit to his people.’ There’s a look. It’s awesomely arch.

Also, Hawk Girl is expected to serve the lads dessert.

The whole situation caused me to think of Defense of the Ancients 2, which I spent the weekend playing alongside League of Legends. I play the latter for many reasons: I’ve spent oodles of cash building a stable; It was my first MOBA; My gorgeous and amazing wife rocks a brutal Cho’Gath and a nasty Annie; I mine it for thesis writing exercises for the classes I teach.

I play DotA 2 because: Brad Shoemaker.

(Do I even need to say “DotA 2?” Are people still up ins DotA? I wouldn’t know because my family computer crashed out in the last actual level of Warcraft 3 and I never jumped into multiplayer due to coming from rural states with mad lacking internet. I feel that DotA could easily serve to represent the Valve-run newness, and will treat it as such going forward in this entry.)

What I’m realizing, spending this week learning DotA despite two years of LoL, is that the former represents an older era of MOBAs, but is fascinatingly poised to create a new era of the genre by doing so. There’ve been few (any?) times when such a thing could occur. You look at Duke Nuke…eh, and see how nostalgic entities struggle to be reinvented in the modern era. Yes, people are losing their shit over the announced Duck Tales revival, but that’s because pogo sticks.

In my brief experience with DotA, I can attest that it is more confusing, obtuse, arcane, and unreliable than any MOBA I’d previously experienced. You can’t rely on your character having a lvl 1 passive to provide a particular identity—this was one of my primary complaints. You might portray an individual whose entire kit relies on health expenditure, one who rewinds time in order to undo damage taken and resources expended, or one whose entire utility in the mid/late game depends on a pair of summoned allies (a trio if you build the right item, because yeah, there are items that alter your character’s powers).

(Marginally unrelated: This is the second time tonight that I’ve had a show misplay the order of episodes. Earlier my wife and I were watching Fringe and accidentally saw episode 11 of season 2 after the last episode of season 1. If you’ve watched Fringe you know how tightly wound some of that shit is, and it’s fortunate that ep 11 doesn’t have much . Anyway, I’m currently watching ep 8 of Justice League as ep 18—and 19, as it turns out, which comes several episodes after the episode that comes after the episode I’m watching. Time. Ee. Wime. Ee.)

Anyway, DotA is reflective of the episode of Justice League because it reflects—rightfully—the inception of the genre. It’s unforgiving, Byzantine (You’d be amazed at how often I work that term into my diction), and brutally punishing. You can die in a heartbeat in DotA, whereas LoL lets me dance around as a wizard in a robe and never die because Fuck You, Spell Vamp.

I’m not sure, honestly, which game I like better. I don’t think I need to prefer one over the other; they provide different pleasures. The monetization of DotA is entirely different as well: you don’t spend cash (in-game or otherwise) on characters, merely costume items. Every duder and dudette is provided free of charge. I want to love that, and after sufficient experimentation I’m sure I’ll come down on the side of doing so. Until then, however, I can’t help but acknowledge that there’s no feeling of accomplishment (for trying a new character in DotA and doing well) that quite rivals my experience in LoL when I drop skrilla on a new cat (Syndra was on sale so I grabbed that purple ish) and do decently. I suppose that what I end up feeling is actually an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I feel as though I should taste all the characters in order to determine my dudes. In LoL, I am only expected to rock the dudes I possess, ostensibly including the free ones. I love those occasions where someone I can actually play (Swain, Maokai, now Zac but that’s recent) comes up free; it lets me divest myself of skins and play the noob in order to slaughter my laneponent.

In DotA, I’m a terrified bunny every game. I’m still trying to reconcile the value of the jungle versus that of the lane, especially in light of the absence (should I say “in shadow” there?) of a “b,” a portal home on a charged cooldown which I’d considered a staple of the MOBA genre. I still love passive healing, but find it far less useful in a game where any team fight will have me stunned for somewhere between 3 and 8 seconds. If you’re not a MOBAsman, that’s long enough to die twice.

I think this opacity is the primary reason I appreciate the game, just as I appreciated Legends of Norrath, or Evoland, or Neverwinter. When I play something that feels like an intentional throwback, I get that thrill of being in on the joke; being someone who was there early enough to understand something most miss. Is this a hipster impulse? Yes. Am I okay with that? I’m awesome, so yes. I wore shoelaces on my wrists when that was a subtle thing; I had my head shaved save two curly horns over my brows when…wait, no excuse for that latter thing. I did that when I was young!

I’m into DotA. I’m into LoL. However, I’m into both for entirely different reasons.

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