Conduct in MOBAs is so awful that it has become a design issue. Riot Games created a Tribunal system that allows players to report the bad behavior of others, and Valve has done much the same thing. Every new developer showing off an in-development MOBA is at some point asked the question, "How are you going to deal with all the jerks?" Built-in mechanisms for handling abusive teammates and opponents are now considered mandatory features.
There is no question that some MOBA players are bad apples. But something has always bothered me about the pigeonholing of these gamers into this negative space. Surely not all MOBA players are elitist snobs waiting to smack down any new player stupid enough to join a public match. Surely not all of these passionate gamers are horrible humans waiting in the dark to pounce on unsuspecting noobs with a barrage of verbal abuse; there have to be some friendly diamonds in the manure-piled rough.
I swung by the first-ever Chicago Dota 2 Open, billed as the biggest open Dota 2 tournament in the Midwest, to find out.
Let's start with a full disclosure. My own imagined perception of the MOBA community wasn't exactly great. And while I felt like there had to be some good stuff out there, hiding under the waves of vitriol, I was still somewhat worried about what I might encounter at the tournament. So much so that when I woke up on Saturday morning and started gathering my things, I couldn't help but look for a reason not to go. The thought of spending my day in a windowless, dingy basement, surrounded by sweaty, mouth-breathing nerds certainly gave me pause. How long would it be before someone quoted a meme he saw on Reddit or said, "LOL" instead of actually laughing?
I just wasn't sure if I could deal with the MOBA community in person. I wasn't sure if I could sit in a LAN center for six or seven hours and listen to leet speak, criticism of micromanagement and beat-to-death video game jokes. "The cake is a lie, get it? Because it was in a game? LOL arrows in my knee!" Basically, I didn't know if I, a normal person who enjoys games but also things that are not games, would feel comfortable hanging out with the most hardcore of local players, on what was effectively their home turf.
The lion's den
The first challenge to my assumptions came when I walked through the doors of Ignite Gaming Lounge, the local Chicago games center where the tournament was held. It wasn't a musty, poorly lit dungeon with gamers packed elbow-to-elbow and the stink of Axe body spray in the air but a laid-back, modern, and open lounge-type space. There were couches on which to sit, clean chairs and desks for PC gaming, and even a fully functional café with coffee, tea, and shakes. And as it turns out, there were windows.
"This tournament was all about having a good time with a bunch of fellow gamers."
Second, many of the teams in the competition were literally open teams; the organizers posted about the event on the Team Liquid forums, and teams began sprouting up based solely on who was close enough to play and willing to jump into the mix. Several of the eight teams that fought for a piece of Saturday's $1,000 prize pool had never competed as a team before and had built their rosters through the simple method of posting a "Hey, let's do the Dota tournament" on Facebook.
In other words, members of the community simply reached out to one another to build a team, and that's mostly how the tournament bracket was filled in. It was a far cry from the elitist snobbery I expected to see on display at a MOBA event and another myth busted in terms of how MOBA players actually think and act. This tournament was, stunningly, all about having a good time with a bunch of fellow gamers.
Into the fray
I did what I could to meet each of the teams when they weren't locked in vicious combat with people seated a few feet away from them. Most were from the Chicago-land area, though a couple had members who had either driven or flown in from various parts of the country to hang out and get in on some of the action. All of the teams were friendly; all of the teams were having fun whether they were winning or losing.
"Everyone was nice. Everyone was welcoming; everyone was cool."
A tournament needs a winner, thought, and Please Gank Shiibbyy dominated the field from the opening bell. They sauntered undefeated to the two-match finale, with bested teams and other spectators and I all watching the delayed livestream in the front of the lounge, cheering every kill, every feed, and every rushed Rosh. And true to the feeling of the day, PGS was the victor but acted just like any other team: friendly, laid back, and polite to curious spectators browsing matches over their shoulders.
That word, "friendly," just kept coming up. Everyone was nice. Everyone was welcoming. And while there was the expected amount of gamer social awkwardness, everyone was cool.
A lesson learned
In the end, I couldn't have been more wrong about the Dota community. And while there's something to be said for the difference between in-person and online interaction, I'm convinced that the bulk of Dota 2's players, and other MOBAs by extension, are the same types of mellow and fun gamers whom I met at Saturday's tournament. I can't vouch for everyone -- heck, some of the nice people at the tournament could very well be online trolls -- but I'm willing to give every player I meet online the benefit of the doubt from this point forward.
Ignite has another open tournament planned for August, this one twice as big with twice the prize pool. I won't be signing up thanks to my Dota 2 incompetence, but I will be attending, this time without so much worry about whether or not I'll feel comfortable hanging out with a bunch of MOBA gamers.
As it turns out, they're pretty OK.