Playing a MOBA can make your team 'Mo-Awesome!'

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MOBAs

“OMG, the other team is capping top!” “I need heals, now!” “You go mid and soak XP, I’ll take top.”

If you’ve never played a MOBA (Massive Online Battle Arena) these terms will likely leave you scratching your head or make you roll your eyes and click away from this post, but wait! Before you click away because you think, “Erin, there is no way in any shape or form that a MOBA can help my professional life.” I challenge you to hear me out.

MOBAs teach epic teamwork. They motivate players to hone their personal skills for the good of the team and the objective at hand. They also teach that putting others’ needs first is often best for the overall objective, and when that objective is hit, everyone wins.

For the basis of this article I’m going to use Blizzard Entertainment’s Heroes of the Storm as my reference point, as that is the MOBA I am currently playing and have the most experience in.

Popular MOBAs out there include: League of Legends, DotA, Heroes of the Storm, Smite, and Gigantic.

Massive Online Battle Arena (MOBA) games are a sub-genre of real time strategy games.  The game is played on a map that has 2-3 lanes. At the end of these lanes are towers belonging to each team.  Between the lanes is the “jungle.” The main objective is to destroy the other teams core before they destroy yours.

The main mechanics involved are tower defense and dueling between players.  Each player operates a character that has special abilities (healing, tanking, damage.) These characters or heroes run up and down the lanes on the map killing NPC minions, trying to destroy the opponent's towers, and kill the opposing teams heroes.  Experience points are given for all the different types of actions taken. The XP helps the teams to gain levels. This is critical as different levels grant more powerful abilities to heroes. The game is won when one team penetrates the other team’s layers of defensive forts and keeps, and destroys main core. Click here to read more about MOBAs game-play.

What a NOOB!

When I first began playing HOTS (Heroes of the Storm) I wanted to play the Hero that did the most damage.  I would constantly be checking the leader board to see how much damage I had done overall. If I was the most I was happy and in a good mood, if I wasn’t, playing wasn’t fun.  

As a new player, this made the game incredible frustrating.  I would hardly ever be the best as I was a noob. I also didn’t win much. In addition to the tower defense mechanic, HOTS has specific objectives on each map that grant advantages to the team that completes them. I often didn’t care about the objective as it didn’t grant me damage points.

However, there was one night that my friend, Brendan, had me look at the table of all the points.  There were siege points (points for hitting structures), hero damage (damage to other players), healing points, tanking points, and total xp contributed.  He explained to me that the total xp contributed is what actually helps the team go up levels, thus granting us more abilities, great cosmic powers, and helping us win.

This was a light bulb moment for me. It sounds silly, but I realized that I was hurting my team by being selfish and wanting all the glory from hero damage. And let’s be honest, lots of players are like this. I also believe this extents to real life as well. How many employees are out there positioning, politicking, and only out for themselves? They are playing for themselves, not for the team and the overall objective.

When we play for the good of the team, we will foster a more supportive environment, and ultimately have a much higher chance of completing the objective and winning.

Heroes

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Every hero is unique. They have their strengths and their weaknesses, just like us, just like the people you work with. When putting together a team for a MOBA it usually isn’t a good idea to have all warriors or all healers. Diversity is clutch. I always want a tank, healer, sustained damage, and burst damage, with maybe a specialist in there as well. Do you have to have this exact makeup? No. But when looking at picking heroes we definitely try for a well balanced group.

It’s vital to look at the composition of your team and see how different individuals are synergizing with one another or if they are counterbalancing on another.  The Self Determination theory harkens a lot to autonomy given to learners. In MOBAs, the person can choose what hero they playing, what talent build they will do, and how they play.  This gives the player control over their destiny. But with this freedom, there also needs to be context and critical thinking with the team’s best interest always at the forefront.

Team members working together need autonomy to some extent. They need to feel like their choices matter. And they need to feel like their contributions to the team or project will make a difference.

My Favorite Heroes

I love playing healers. Lucio and Stukov are my favorites at the moment.  I gain such satisfaction knowing that I am keeping my team alive, and thus winning the game through them.  Without me they would literally be dead (in-game dead, obviously). Within businesses it’s important to look at your employees and be able to recognize which teammates may be struggling and why.  How can you bolster them up and give some additional support?

Tanks are tricky for me.  I am the front line, not the main source of damage.  I protect my teammates from incoming threats. When a teammate is going to take damage I step in front and take the hit for them, because I can. My problem is that I go charging in all the time. I need to watch the situation and wait for the exact moment to go in. If I am too bogged down in my own agenda I can easily lose track of my teammates, when my role may be critical to their success and survival. Being a tank is scary, you have to be brave (and hopefully have a good healer). But a team without a strong front line will struggle. Diablo and ETC are my favorite tanks, btw.

Good managers and team leads need to be good tanks.  They step up to the plate and take a hit for their more vulnerable  team mates, because they can and that’s their job. A good manager shouldn’t get bogged down in their own agenda. They should be aware of their entire team as individuals and how they are functioning as a group. Tanks lead the rest of the team into battle, they hold the front line. Managers cannot be afraid to lead the charge. And they must have their teams trust to know they will be there at the front doing their job.

And finally you have your assassins, the main source of damage. These guys are the hard hitters and do a lot of work. However without the support of the other players, they will not perform as well as they could. Employees that are the hard hitters for your business need support from the team to do their job. When they are effective, everyone wins.

Team composition is critical in both MOBAs and in real life. It’s also important that team members don’t take other team members for granted. Yes, assassin's do a lot of damage but without tanks and healers they would be dead. It’s a team sport, every role matters.
 

Team play

Teams need to be coordinated, communicating with each other, and aware of their surroundings for opportunity and timing.

Mapping

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Let’s start with the map.  Each battle arena has some key components. Each team has a starting location (the orange and blue X). This is their core, home-base if you will, and also the other team’s objective to destroy. Next you can see three lanes, top, middle, and bottom. Some maps will only have two lanes. Lanes are where minions (small automated NPCs that move in waves and deal damage to structures) move about. Minions march from their core, down a lane, towards the opponents core. All things being equal, the waves of minions from each side will cancel each other out, crashing into each other in the middle of the lane, killing each other. Heroes actions in the game shift the balance, killing the opposing minion wave, allowing their own minions to survive and progress to the opposing teams’ forts, eventually destroying them. Heroes will usually split up between all the lanes to go with the minions and try to advance their front line, and counteract the actions of the opposing team. Finally, all the bits in the middle are the ‘jungle.’ This is where players can recruit additional resources to gain advantage during team fights and help with any objectives the map requires (ex- collecting the most gems to release a large boss monster that will fight on your side).

Watching the mini-map in the bottom-right corner is the key to success. When I first started playing my husband would yell from the other room, “come help the team!” I would run around wildly not realizing the mini-map would show me where all the players were, where the other team was, all the additional resources in the jungle, objectives, etc. The map was my golden ticket and I was not using it at all.  Having the mini-map to follow helps the players align to the same strategy. It shows us our progress, it can also show where we are vulnerable and if we are in trouble.

Watching the map builds awareness for the overall game. Playing MOBAs help your team to practice not only being aware of where they are and how they are doing, but how the team is functioning overall.

You could apply this concept in other ways on your team besides “where is the other team?” and “Am I going to be ganked?!” When teams in businesses embark on new projects, I believe that mapping is extremely effective. Maps provide critical intel. They show the alignment of objectives and strategy. Does your company have individual and group dashboard’s or leader-boards? They should. Do your project plans and timelines align everyone’s expectations, objectives, and progress? Do you have a board that shows your company’s goals and plan of attack to achieve these goals? Mapping is critical to success on many levels. Employees can always come back to these tangible artifacts to view objectives, progress or lack thereof, and most importantly build awareness and transparency on both the micro and macro levels.

Communication

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Heroes of the Storm recently introduced ‘Team Voice Chat.’ This allows anyone with a headset and microphone to join a chat group for each game. My husband and I bought gaming headsets just so we could chat with our team and coordinate better so we could win!

This was the theory at least.

In reality, not many people join the group chat. Are they shy? Do they not have the right equipment? Do they not care? Are they afraid?

Probably a bit of all of these things.

There is a bit of a toxic culture that needs to be addressed before we continue. On every game there is team text chat. This is widely used. It’s meant to help teams coordinate better. However, an interesting phenomenon occurs when a team begins losing. One or two players will start to verbally abuse the other players. They begin taunting, blaming, and just being plain awful. As you can imagine this really affects the morale and game-play of the team. For this reason I usually don’t participate in the team text chat. It stresses me out. I play for fun and don’t need that. But sometimes I miss out on important information because I’m not looking at the chat.

Fast forward to team voice chat. Whenever someone does join, we have a great time. I have yet to have a rude person on chat. Wait, there was one, but he just listened to us then typed mean retorts, he wouldn’t actually speak to us. I find in situations like this, people tend to hide behind their screens. They will write all sorts of horrible things. When they actually have to put themselves out there, even just their voice, they are completely different people. The contrast in the game environment is black and white. There is much better team coordination, the response time is much quicker when trying to get your team to move around the map quickly. It’s usually more positive than the team text chat. When people make mistakes they are very apologetic, the other members are encouraging and try to help. I find people owning up to their actions more, and there is so much more camaraderie. Voice chat for the win!

In team environments it’s important to foster this type of human-to-human communication. I realize that emails and instant messenger are a necessity, however, carve out time for your team to talk, either face to face or on the phone. I’ve worked places where they wanted us to do most of our communication through text. There were mistakes made because of this. There were, at times, rude conversations that happened and people acting out of line because they could hide behind their screens. For teams to work effectively, human-to-human interaction is worth the time. The Social Learning Theory emphasizes that we learn and make connections through interactions with others, observations, and imitations. If you need your team to be aligned, put them together and let them work through problems together. They will become more agile, effective, and hopefully grow together as a team.  

Under Pressure

In a MOBA you really get to see how a person reacts under high pressure in a team environment. You are also able to see how he/she reacts to wins and losses under this pressure.

When players are losing some will start to blame other players. They will believe they are the only member of the team doing things the right way. They will tell everyone else they are pulling all the weight. This is toxic play. It’s highly negative and only makes the other players resent them and not want to help them. It could potentially make the other players give up completely. In game, we refer to this as “tilting.”

When working on a business team, watch out for these player types. Their attitudes and comments can have lasting impacts. One person tilting can bring the whole team down with them.

On the contrary, when the team begins to lose ground, other team members will rise to the challenge and begin leading the way by bolstering or coaching other players. They begin to be more positive, give constructive criticism, and praise even small victories. These people rock! They can take your team from a path of loss and turn that ship around to win the day. Give those people a raise!

Practice and Coordination Matter

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When playing for area control, being coordinated with your teammates is extremely critical. This isn’t 5 individuals playing for 5 individual objectives. If it turns into that, and sometimes it does, that team will lose. All team members must be playing the same game and the same objectives. That means clear communication and cooperation.

Coordination and communication don’t just happen overnight. I play with the same group of people and we still have lots of room for improvement. It takes experience, and lots of practice, to really see the opportunities that arise and to be ready to capitalize on them. We practice both on individual skills and working together to build synergies between our characters. One of my favorite moves is with a character called Diablo. I grab a hero and throw them behind me, then I push them further backward and stun them. Hopefully my teammates are waiting and ready to deal massive amounts of damage while that character is stunned, therefore killing that hero. If I do my move and no one is there, it’s not nearly as effective.

In business, finding the right synergies between individuals and teams can have a huge impact in the quality of output the business receives.

Roles and dynamics can change when playing a MOBA. I don’t mean that your warrior will all of a sudden become ranged support. What I mean is that at the beginning, one person may suggest that the team members go in certain directions and soak XP. Then mid way through someone else may start to lead. Or you may have different team members roam and help teammates depending on needs of that exact moment. The strategies are dynamic and emergent, and you have to be ready to shift with them.

You can watch your business teams for this same type of fluid motion. Depending on the project, having an agile team can be quite an advantage. For this to occur, all team members need to trust one another and be willing to listen and act for the best interest of the team.

When playing online, sometimes a team member will decide he/she obviously knows best and they will bark orders but won’t listen to feedback. If the team doesn’t do what they want to do, oh well, they do it anyway. I get so frustrated, as a player, when this happens. And I’m sure I’m not alone. This is a team sport. Your business needs to be a team sport. And everyone needs to be a good and willing listener in order to have the give and take that makes the magic happen.

Play more MOBAs!

If you've made it this far, you win! Thanks for sticking with me through all of that. I hope you’ve seen a bit of what a MOBA can give bring to your team. It’s also worth mentioning that this game is played in a virtual environment (obviously), but this means that even if your team is spread out across the globe you can all gather together. You can put on your fancy new gaming headset and spend that critical person to person interaction together working towards a common goal, all the while kicking a$$ and taking names. I encourage you to take a team building day to have your team members play a MOBA. Do an introduction to game and then debrief afterward. I think you will find your team working together better, building trust and camaraderie and hopefully dominating the other team’s towers!

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