Even though they’re still a bit unknown to the general public, the last five years have seen the MOBA craze sweep the entire competitive gaming scene, building eSports from a niche, underground scene to receiving coverage on ESPN and awarding multi-million dollar cash prizes at the top conferences for both League of Legends and DotA 2. Since the rise of both titles in the late 2000s and early 2010s, dozens of different MOBAs have arrived on the scene, on PC, Mac, consoles, and even iOS and Android phones.
If you’re unaware, allow us to fill you in with a quick guide to the basic guidelines of this genre (and for experts and legacy players out there, understand that this is a basic guide to MOBAs!). The MOBA, or multiplayer online battle arena genre, is a competitive team-based online game in which, in typical standard matches, teams of five face off against each other on a large map. Each team member chooses a separate character, and that character fulfills a necessary role on the team. Like with any competitive game, most players have a standard character type they play, and MOBAs are no different; players usually fall into one of five archetypes. The AD Carry and AP Carry are typically the main damage dealers of the game, with the AD focusing on using melee and physical attacks, while the AP uses magic and spells. While these two character roles typically claim the most kills, they’re also susceptible to the most deaths in the game, as their defense is often quite weak. That’s where two more roles come in: the tank and the support. The tank is the opposite of a carry; while his attack and magic powers are often quite low, he specializes in defense and absorbing hits without dying. A good tank can defend his team in a face-off and live to tell the tale. The support, meanwhile, typically sticks by the AD Carry’s side for the first half of the game, healing and applying buffs to boost their carry’s power. For the second half of the match, the support extends their powers to the entire team, healing and buffing as needed. Contrary to popular belief, the support is one of the most important roles in the game, even if no one ever wants to play. Finally, there’s the jungler, but to explain their role, we’ll have to first explain how the game is played.
In a standard, basic match of the average MOBA game, each team of five begins on either the lower-left or upper-right corner of the map. The map is divided into three lanes, all spawning from the base. The tank typically goes to the top lane, the AP Carry heads to the mid lane, and the AD Carry and his or her support head to the bottom lane. Each lane has two “towers” per team (four total), represented by the dots above. The towers act as defense, damaging enemy team members that get too close to the tower. In addition to the lanes, there’s also a “jungle,” which is where the team’s fifth member, the jungler, comes in; they spend their time in the jungle destroying high-powered creatures for buffs, and sneak around to different lanes to help catch the enemy members in a surprise 2v1 or 3v2 match-up. Each team’s goal is simple: use your respective creeps—small creatures controlled by the AI and easily killed—to work towards destroying the enemy team’s towers in each lane. Once the lane is cleared, work toward getting to the enemy’s spawn area, and destroy the target—sometimes called the “Nexus” or “Ancient,” depending on the game you’re playing—inside the base of your enemy. If you have a high-functioning team, with each player playing their role correctly and working together, you can almost always overcome your enemy and win the match. Of course, as with any multiplayer sport, if your team falls apart, so do your chances of winning.
With its infinite replayability, high-stakes competitive plays, and the rewarding feeling of success when your team triumphs, it’s no surprise MOBAs have set the world ablaze. They’re easy to learn, difficult to master; quick to get into, but easy to feed thousands of hours of your life. The two established leaders of the genre, League of Legends and DotA 2, have been around for nearly a decade and feature some of the best, most experienced players in the game. If you’re trying to dip your toe into the genre without giving your life away or getting crushed by a player who understands the game better than you, you might be interested in checking out some mobile MOBAs available on your Android device.
While standard MOBA games can be difficult to learn and master, mobile MOBAs (try saying that five times fast) allow you to try the genre out for yourself from anywhere, without quite as much of the competitive nature or flaming that can be brought on by standard MOBAs on PC or Mac. Today, we’ll be taking a look at some of the best MOBAs you can download on Android. For our comparison, we’ll be looking at the controls, graphics, and community for each title to bring you the best the Play Store has to offer. Without further ado, let’s dive right in.
One of the most important aspects to a good MOBA community is the user base. It may sound strange if you're a newcomer to the genre, but MOBAs live and die depending on how many people are playing the game. If you can't build up a sizable audience, your matchmaking is going to perform poorly, with long wait times and common drop outs. The worse your matchmaking, the more your community will begin to crumble. In many ways, it's a vicious cycle, causing even great MOBAs to die on the vine without much hope of a growing fan base.
For that reason, it's only natural we select our first entry for this list to be Vainglory—after all, it is one of the most popular MOBAs you can download on the Play Store right now. At over 5 million downloads and counting, Vainglory has a huge following on both iOS and Android, the latter of which will be our main focus for our review.
Vainglory is a rarity for mobile MOBAs, offering plenty of depth that often isn't seen on mobile. First launched on iOS in 2014—and shown off at Apple's 2014 iPhone 6 launch event, to demonstrate the graphic capabilities of the company's newest flagship device—the game came to Android devices in the summer of 2015. Over the past two years, the game has risen in popularity to become one of the fastest-growing MOBAs on the market. Vainglory's central premise is simple: take the MOBA and make it mainstream by creating an easy-to-control mobile experience for players around the world. For the most part, developer Super Evil Megacorp—a great name—succeeds in their goal, even if they fall short of the PC-based MOBA experience.
We should preface this in-depth look at gameplay by mentioning Vainglory isn't a great game for experienced MOBA players looking for something new to play while on the move. Vainglory tries really hard to be a simpler game than most in the genre, and in the process makes an experience too simple for most dedicated MOBA players. If you've played a MOBA before—or you read our explainer above—upon launching your first Vainglory game, you'll notice one major change immediately. Gone are the three lanes that make up a typical MOBA map, replaced by one central lane similar to League of Legends' ARAM (All Random All Mid) mode. This streamlines the entire game, making matches shorter (roughly 25 minutes for a standard match, though match length varies based on the skill and strength of both teams) and a bit less strategic than your typical game of League or DotA. Instead of focusing on team composition or planning sneak attacking your opponent—called "ganking" in the MOBA community—the entire focus of Vainglory's one-lane map becomes killing the enemy team (each team has three players) as fast as possible to take down their towers.
That doesn't mean that Vainglory completely does away with MOBA tropes. Creeps—referred to in Vainglory as "minions"—still fill the lane, working in tandem with your team to distract the towers while you attempt to clear the lane. And unlike League's ARAM mode, a jungle still exists inside of Vainglory, offering several different buffs for your team. The jungle itself has a few interesting twists on the standard jungle system. First, there's an independent shop inside the jungle that can be used to buy items, mitigating the need to teleport back to your base to spend your gold. There are several different neutral minions to defeat: a Minion Miner, a Gold Miner, and a Kraken. The Minion Miner and Gold Miner offer buffs on your minion strength and gold count, respectively, making both important sources of control—the more gold you have, the better items you can buy; likewise, the stronger your minions, the more time it takes to take them out. The Kraken, meanwhile, doesn't spawn until the 16 minute mark of the game, and can be recruited to your team by destroying the monster. Much like the Baron Nashor, which offers a strong team-wide buff in League of Legends, taking out the Kraken with your team is a great way to either make up ground for your team or completely destroy the opposing enemy.
Gameplay-wise, the game is incredibly solid, if a bit more slight than competing games on the PC. Because of the depth and complexity of the MOBA genre, it can be incredibly difficult to create a solid experience on a device without a keyboard or mouse, so the streamlining of genre tropes is to be expected. One of the reasons Vainglory has become so popular is because it knows where to cut corners while still making an incredible experience for mobile devices. The controls, for example, are as tight as they can be on a mobile device. Obviously, everything is controlled by simple taps and swipes, browsing menus and activating key abilities by selecting the corresponding icon from your icons in the bottom section of your display. We found the game to have the best controls of any of the six titles we tested, and though nothing will ever come close to the specific control offered by a keyboard and mouse, Vainglory's tap-based control scheme came the closest. If you're new to the MOBA field, you might find the controls a bit challenging to learn, as is the case with any game in the genre. Once you get a handle on the constant movement and flow of battle, however, you'll find the game comes closest to recreating that PC-professional feeling.
As far as performance, how the game looks and runs will really depend on the strength of your phone or (preferably) tablet. When we tested the game on an Nvidia Shield Tablet, we found performance to exceed our expectations; both graphics performance and frame rates were above the average title in the mobile MOBA genre. While we didn't have a frame counter running for the game, it seemed to be pushing 60 FPS rather consistently in our tests. The game looked sharp and vivid on the tablet's 1080p display, and I didn't experience any game crashes or bugs during my testing experience. Finally, in a move that some will see as positive: the game doesn't feature a standard chat interface, for obvious reasons. This allows Vainglory to avoid the standard toxic community that plagues nearly every MOBA on the market. You can ping locations on the map to get your teammate's attention, and you can send emotes to members to detail how an action or event made you feel.
Our conclusion: it isn't even a contest when it comes to the best MOBA experience on Android. Vainglory offers smooth performance and gameplay, fantastic controls, and a sense of depth that isn't typically seen on mobile entries to the MOBA genre. The player base is larger than nearly any other on Android, so matchmaking is an absolute breeze. The in-game help system is well-organized and easy to follow, and the entire experience is great for newcomers to the genre. For players of PC-based MOBAs like League or DotA, you might be disappointed by the streamlined gameplay, lack of lanes, and smaller team composition, but for anyone looking for a title that approaches the depth of strategy offered by the hardcore titles on PC while still maintaining strong performance and controls, you needn't look any further than Vainglory. Yes, it's that good.
While Vainglory may succeed in nearly every category necessary for a positive MOBA experience on mobile platforms, it comes at a loss of depth and strategy that may be expected from the DotA and League of Legends crowd. The cost of sacrificing the multi-lane, five-versus-five team composition means Vainglory is a great all-around entry, but for those looking for something with a similar look-and-feel to those PC-based titles, you'll want to check out Heroes of Order and Chaos. An admittedly terribly-named title from Gameloft, Heroes promises something Vainglory can't offer: similar map styles to the mainstream MOBAs of our time, all on a mobile-sized device with touch-based controls. While the game doesn't entirely rise to the occasion, it's effort and attempt make it a great runner-up to our top pick. Let's take a look.
For those unfamiliar, Gameloft is a French mobile game developer that has created dozens of some of the most-popular titles on the App Store and Play Store by taking existing properties, like Call of Duty or Halo, and repackaging the titles with similar titles and gameplay mechanics for mobile devices. In 2011, Gameloft released "Order and Chaos Online," a mobile game for iOS and Android that directly aped on World of Warcraft with similar creatures and mechanics. In 2012, Gameloft continued the series with a spin-off, this time coming for the MOBA scene then dominated by DotA 2 and the up-and-coming League of Legends: Heroes of Order and Chaos.
Unlike Vainglory, Heroes looks and feels like a PC MOBA, for better and for worse. The standard map uses the exact same three-lane layout as your standard MOBA, with familiar roles like AD Carry, AP Carry, and tank falling into their usual places. A jungle also exists, between the three lanes, fulfilling the need for a jungler on your team as well. Playing through a match of Heroes felt far more like playing League of Legends than Vainglory. Creeps filled the lanes along with our fellow teammates, and the jungler made his way through the arena destroying monsters for buffs and gold. The match also lasted far longer than the standard 25 minute matches of Vainglory; our first match went longer than forty minutes, with most clocking in at around 35.
We were a bit dismayed to see Heroes not taking advantage of the mobile platform quite as well as Vainglory; everything from the controls to the graphics and frame rate were a bit worse than what we'd previously seen in our top-rated MOBA. Heroes uses a virtual joystick instead of a tap-based control scheme. To the uninitiated, this may seem like an upgrade—of course a joystick will offer you further controls than tapping around on a screen! It simply isn't true, however: tapping around on the map in Vainglory felt similar to using a mouse to click on locations in DotA, where using a joystick-based moving mechanic (and sliding the camera around at the same time) felt like trying to use a PS4 controller to play League of Legends—it shouldn't and doesn't work. Tapping on commands was a bit more reliable, and we liked the placement along the bottom and side of the screen, even if the pure amount of information available at hand made the display feel a bit constricted.
The online server support wasn't quite up to snuff, either. Though the AI-bot opponents we faced felt fine, when connected to a fully multiplayer match—five humans versus five humans—we experienced enough server lag to cause more than one untimely death. Your MOBA experience is only as good as your internet connection—it's why nearly every pro League or DotA player uses a wired solution for their matched—and even one player with poor ping times can cause a general slowdown throughout the entire Heroes match. With the game coming up on its fifth anniversary, you'd wish Gameloft would iron out some of the server issues that are a constant complaint of the community, but unfortunately, it seems to be a recurring problem. Even worse: Gameloft hasn't pushed an update to the Android app in over six months. The Facebook page for the game is active, so it's unclear why the app has gone without a patch for so long.
At this point in our review, you may be wondering why Heroes is our runner-up if we're so down on the game. Well, for every flaw we've outlined above, they nearly all play to the game's major strength: Heroes of Order and Chaos feels like a full, PC-based MOBA. Despite the awkward control scheme, the game plays so similarly to League of Legends, from the team comp and the map layout to the shop and even some of the heroes available to choose play and look similar to characters from League or DotA. Put simply, Heroes of Order and Chaos does what Vainglory didn't: fully recreated the environment of playing a MOBA on a smartphone or tablet. The game even includes a full chat system, complete with software keyboard, for communicating with your teammates, despite how difficult and ineffective that form of communication is on mobile.
We still think Vainglory is the best overall MOBA experience on mobile, and for most people, the only one worth checking out. But for a lot of players looking to play a MOBA while they're away from their PC, Vainglory isn't going to be able to fulfill what they're looking for in the genre. For those players, we recommend checking out Heroes of Order and Chaos. It isn't a perfect experience by any stretch of the imagination—difficulty with controls and server lag weighs down the experience immensely—but it's also the best way to get that PC-experience without a PC.
For most players, Vainglory and Heroes will fulfill their need for MOBA gaming on the go. Of course, we don't want to only recommend two titles, so if you're looking for something a bit different from the usual MOBA, or you're tired of playing the above two choices, there are plenty of other selections available on Android to choose from. Titan Brawl, for example, was an unexpected, pleasant surprise. The game focuses on reducing the typical 20-40 minute game time matches down to 3—yes, three!—minutes, taking into account the idea that most mobile games aren't played on the couch or in bed, but rather on the bus or the subway. The map is shrunk down to minuscule sizes, contained in one cartoon-stylized lane with a fence splitting down the side of the map. The graphics are easy on the eyes, stylized similar to Disney Infinity's blocky-cartoon style; the game looks fantastic. Gone are the towers and intense strategies of less-welcoming MOBAs; Titan Brawl focuses on placing you in the final moments of every League of Legends match, when both teams are going back and forth to destroy each others' bases. It almost feels like cheating, skipping ahead to the most competitive, heart-stopping moments of a match, but Titan Brawl does it wonderfully. It probably goes without saying, but for those looking for complex strategy and gameplay, you won't find it here. For anyone looking for a great multiplayer mobile title with short matches and passable controls, you can do a lot worse that Titan Brawl.
Continuing our trend of MOBA alternatives for newer players to the genre, we have Star Wars: Force Arena. Far from a traditional MOBA, Force Arena combines elements from the MOBA genre with two additional gaming genres that have overpopulated the Play Store over the past half-decade: collectible trading card and tower defense games. The combination of the three game types and expensive in-app purchases makes this one of the most stereotypical mobile games ever to launch on Android, but don't write it off just yet. The simplified gameplay mechanics, featuring 1x1 and 2x2 team matches, along with the recognizable Star Wars characters make Force Arena one of the most accessible MOBAs on the Play Store. The controls are a take on Vainglory's touch-friendly tapping mechanism, and all of it is put together into quick three-minute matches similar to Titan Brawl, and the card-collecting mechanism of Hearthstone. Yes, it's a conglomerate of successful mobile ideas rolled into one Star Wars-flavored package, yet the game succeeds regardless. The three-minute rounds of battle are mobile friendly, and both the sound and graphics are pristine, and using Star Wars characters basically guarantees an audience—the game's been on the market for half a year and already has an audience of over a million. The collectible card mechanic is probably the worst thing in this game, pushing you to pay for cards unless you're willing to sink a ton of time into the title. But if you can ignore the worst of free-to-play—and you're in the mood for yet another star Wars game on your phone—Force Arena is a good beginner title for someone looking to delve into the world of MOBAs.
If you're a resident of North America, you probably haven't heard of Arena of Valor, a relatively new release on the English version of a popular Chinese MOBA from developer Tencent. The game, known as King of Glory (and also occasionally referred to as Strike of Kings) in China, first launched in the country back in 2015, and since then, has more than 200 millions active players in its native region. With Arena of Valor, Tencent finally brings the game to North America mobile devices prior to a console launch on the Nintendo Switch sometime in 2018 or beyond, and it's safe to say the game is posed to become a massive hit over the next several months. Developer Tencent owns Riot Games, best known for creating League of Legends, one of the biggest games played all throughout the world, and one of two major games players think of when the term MOBA is used. Considering the ownership, you'll be unsurprised to learn that Arena of Valor looks similar to League of Legends in almost every way, redesigned for mobile and built primarily for touch controls. The game is played with a virtual joystick in the corner of your screen, as you control one of dozens of rotating champions that allow you free access to the game, in addition of purchasable champions with real money or in-game currency earned through playing the game. In addition to original characters, you'll also find sponsored champions filling in the game, including the likes of Batman put in place of characters based on Chinese folklore that would be unrecognizable stateside. You can even use Facebook to connect with friends, and with built-in online voice chat, you can communicate and plan strategies all while playing online. Unsurprisingly, there are a ton of in-app purchases available here, though they're mostly used for skins and other non-essential content. Still, this is essentially a mobile-friendly version of League of Legends, and any fans of that game will be foolish not to jump on the bandwagon with this one. Whether the US popularity will match what we've seen in China remains to be seen, but it's clear that Tencent is doing their best to find success in a previously-untapped market.
While Arena of Valor is a game from the company that owns League of Legends, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang—an admittedly terrible name—is so much like League of Legends that Riot Games actually sued Mobile Legends in July of 2017 for trademark infringement, thanks in part to just how close to League of Legends this game looks. But like with Arena of Valor, this might be a benefit to plenty of gamers looking for a mobile take on League of Legends, especially one with a more established fanbase than what we've seen from Tencent's new North American port. In Mobile Legends, you take up the role of one of several champions, fighting down one of three Rift-like lanes to reach the enemy base. It's all familiar stuff, reconfigured for shorter ten minute matches to help mobile users pick up and play the game a bit easier. Similarly, Mobile Legends and developer Moonton boasts about most players only having to wait up to ten second to join a game. A virtual joystick allows you to move around the battlefield, and thanks to the addition of smart AI control, it's easy to rejoin the game if you ever get disconnected without being completely slaughtered in the game. Mobile Legends has some interesting ideas on how MOBAs on mobile should work, and with over 50 million downloads, it also has a strong playerbase behind it. All that said, it's also worth noting that some MOBA fans have complained about the inclusion of pay-to-win tactics, including real-money skins that give actual, tangible in-game advantage to players willing to pay for it. Overall, Mobile Legends is a solid offering, but there are plenty of options on this list that might be worth your time—and very possible, money—over Moonton's take on League of Legends.
Our final suggestion is one more MOBA alternative that's doing things a bit differently than your typical entry into the genre, and it comes from a mobile developer you've probably heard of. Battle Bay is one of the newest titles from Rovio, the developing team behind Angry Birds, and in the months since launch has already managed to build an audience of millions because of its unique gameplay, fun and colorful graphics, and, of course, name recognition. But just like the dozens of Angry Birds spin-offs, Rovio knows what they're doing here, and they've built a mobile MOBA that isn't a direct take on League of Legends or DotA 2. Instead, Battle Bay reminds us more of Overwatch or Smite, the popular third-person MOBA alternative on PC. In Battle Bay, you control a boat on a team of five, and your fight takes place on the roaring sea, as opposed to another evergreen forest or scorched-earth battlefield like we've seen so many times before. The camera is set behind the boat, as opposed to over top the ocean, and controlled with a dual-joystick layout that, while perhaps not the most comfortable layout we've seen in the MOBA world, lends itself well to the gameplay. Rovio surprised us with this release: not only did they leave out their infamous birds, but there's actual depth to the strategy in their 5x5 arena. You build and equip your ship with weapon layouts, so much like more mainstream MOBAs, you can have different offensive or defensive classes for each battle. Most interestingly, the ocean-set battlefield has waves, making your attacks more difficult to land without proper consideration. If you're looking for something new and unexpected from a mobile genre quickly becoming oversaturated with League of Legends clones (see our last two entries), Battle Bay is a great, relatively-new entry to the field.