Intro To eSports: MOBA Jargon & Terminology Explained

So you’re a fan of MOBAs? Enjoy playing League Of Legends, Dota 2 or even Smite and have noticed the world of eSports surrounding it? Want to enjoy competitive MOBA, but don’t know where to start?

That’s where we come in. MOBA games, more than any other, come alongside a huge array of jargon and terms that describe various actions in the game. Some you’ll encounter more commonly – such as the ‘jungler’ – and others you might only hear from a caster during a livestream.

But we understand how confusing it can be. Because of all these words and phrases there’s a huge barrier to entry in MOBA eSports, and that can be off-putting.

So worry not, that’s why we’re here. We’ve put together a glossary of all the key terms and phrases across the broad spectrum of key MOBA titles to ensure you won’t be stuck next time you watch a match.

It’s worth pointing out that we haven’t included terms for different characters, their abilities or the items you can buy – there are just so many of these, and the most popular ones are changing so often it would be impossible to keep track.

MOBA eSports Glossary – What Does This Mean…?

– Termed differently in different games – Marksman in League Of Legends, for example – the ADC (or attack damage carry) is a key damage dealer in any team. The Carry – to use its more general term – often uses physical damage (AD in League) and, in most cases, is more reliant on their basic attacks rather than their abilities. There are exceptions, of course, but as a rule it will be the Carry that is the one dealing the most damage.

– Meaning ‘aggression’, aggro can either be when a player or team are forcing fights more often (i.e. playing aggressively) or when the minions/creeps or towers focus a player character instead of neutral mobs.

– This is a form of damage, meaning area of effect. It’s pretty common in games, but MOBAs usually have characters designed around the use of either direct damage or AoE damage. Usually AoE is weaker, since its damage is dealt over a larger area.

– Backdooring is when another – usually solo – player sneaks into a heavily damaged base (usually with only the nexus/ancient remaining) and destroys it while the enemy team is distracted in a teamfight or with another objective. Not a common strategy in eSports games these days – especially in Dota 2 where games are often won before the base is officially destroyed – but still a possibility.

Baron/Rift Herald
– In League Of Legends only this is the name of the powerful river beast that teams fight over part way through a match. Its full name being Baron Nashor, killing this monster provides a valuable advantage to the team so often you’ll find teamfights occurring around it in a bid to claim it for one side. The Rift Herald, however, is a creature that appears in the same pit before Baron Nashor does, and provides its own unique buff after its death.

An activated teleport ability that allows a player to move short distances, either to avoid incoming damage, cross over terrain that would otherwise block them or shorten the distance to an enemy to initiate combat. Blink is Dota 2’s term, Flash is League Of Legend’s.

Blue/Red Buff
– Within the jungle of League Of Legend’s Summoner’s Rift there are two neutral monsters on each side of the river. Though they have specific names, they are more commonly referred to as blue buff and red buff, passive bonuses that are given to the player that lands the killing blow on the largest of these creatures.

– This is the tall grass that fills the map and obscures visibility. This is often referred to as grass or bush, and approaching it blindly without first using abilities or wards to check it is termed ‘face checking’.

– The items that a player chooses to buy are significant for any MOBA, altering their innate abilities – however minutely – to give them a strategical advantage in some way over the opposition. This is referred to as that player’s ‘build’ or ‘item’ build. They might even ‘build towards’ a specific item by first buying cheaper components.

Burst damage
– Often the sole domain of magic or ability-focused characters, burst damage is powerful damage that can be dealt in a short space of time. Some characters are better at burst damage at others – being able to active all of their abilities in quick succession – and it’s these characters that are often needed to be stopped before they get a gold advantage.

– In Dota 2 when you die it’s possible to use a large chunk of gold to purchase a ‘buyback’, or respawn before the timer counter has finished. This is an important strategy since doing so removes a large chunk of your team’s gold advantage, so it has to be a meaningful purchase – such as reviving your heaviest damage dealer quickly, ready for another teamfight while the enemy is weakened from the previous. Or simply getting another person on the map to help defend. It’s a significant aspect of Dota 2 competitive, so you’ll hear this one often.

CC(Crowd Control)
– CC is the shortened term for abiltiies that can manipulate the enemy’s players options to escape, blocking routes, slowing them down or even stopping them in their tracks. A team with a lot of CC will likely be relying on this as a strategy in team fights.
– Hard CC. Another often used term, hard CC refers to a specific type of crowd control, an ability that completely stops a player from moving or stuns them to prevent them from acting for a short period of time.

– A team’s composition will be a significant talking about at the start of a match, particularly during the character selection phase. It refers to the mix of characters that are being selected, and the reasons they were chosen. A ‘good composition’ is one that provides a good mixture of abilities that work well with one another.

CS/Creep score
– This term ties in with ‘gold advantage’ and ‘last hitting’ and is a statistical number referring to the amount of creeps/minions/neutral lane mobs. It’s not the most important aspect of a game, but is a good reference point to understand just which player contributed heavily to the team’s gold in the laning phase, and who ‘won’ their lane.

– In Dota 2 denying is when a player purposefully kills their own creeps to prevent their opponent from claiming the last hit and earning the gold and experience from it. That player does not gain the gold or experience in place of their opponent, so it requires a careful strategy. In League Of Legends a similar strategy can be adopted, but instead of attacking their own minions (which isn’t really possible) they stand in front of weakened minions, harass their opponent and prevent them from risking getting close enough.

– Diving is a term that can come in two forms, the first attacking as an initiation onto an enemy or a group of enemies. It’s more commonly used when referring to a ‘tower dive’, however, which is where a player will willingly risk an attack on an enemy in proximity of an enemy tower, earning the aggro of that tower while he – and perhaps the rest of his team – continues to attack. It’s a risk/reward strategy, but rare are the times that pro players attempt this and lose a death to the tower.

Drafting/Picks and Bans
– More commonly referred to as drafting (and in Dota 2, this is exclusively the case), this is the phase before the game where both teams attempt to pick the characters they want to play as and ban the characters they don’t want their opposition to use. It’s a strategical part of the game, where teams attempt to form an idea of who they will be picking and look to gain an advantage (or create a disadvantage in the case of a ban) of their rival.
Respect Ban: a colloquial term for MOBAs used to describe when a team bans a particular character not because they’re strong or disadvantageous to their strategy, but because they know a player on the other team is especially good at playing that character.

– This is the neutral monster located in a separate below on the bottom half of the river in League Of Legends. It is an important objective to contest earlier on in the game, though the reason why changes between patches. If a team has claimed more dragons than the other, they likely have a considerable advantage against the other team.

– Ultimately this is the same as creep score and can often be used interchangably. It is sometimes used in lieu of CS since it can also refer to a jungler’s gold too, whose CS won’t be quite as high as his laning teammates.

– This isn’t a particularly common term in pro games, but being ‘fed’ is often used to describe a situation in which a single player – ususally the Carry or a solo mid-laner – has claimed a handful of kills and a lot of CS, giving them a huge gold advantage over their rival laning opposition.

– The act of approaching a lane – ideally unnoticed – to catch the opposing player off-guard and score a kill with the bolster strength of an additional player. This is primarily the role of junglers, but laners can often leave their lane to assist.

– Quite simply, ‘good game’. Used at the end of a match, and more to congratulate the winning team than a representation of just how ‘good’ the game actually was.

Glass cannon
– A popular term used to describe a particular player’s build – usually the ADC or solo mid player. It’s rarely seen in pro games, but such a build relies entirely on damage-enhancing items in lieu of any defensive stat boosting upgrades. These builds usually deal a lot of damage but, much like a cannon made of glass, are easily broken and destroyed.

– In Dota 2 this is used to temporarily strengthen allied towers and structures. It is often used strategically when the team is not immediately available to defend structures or to slow the opposing team’s progress towards the base.

Gold Advantage
– This is something you’ll hear about often during a game, and it’s often to denote the gap between the two teams. Since gold is one of the most important elements to a team – since the more they have the items and power they have access to – it can be a good signifier of which team is leading, even if kill counts are similar.

– The act of harassing (or poking) a player is using abilities or basic attacks to deal damage to them. It is often used as an intimidation method, perhaps to dissuade the player from going for a last hit on a minion but can also be used to keep that player’s health lower than the harasser’s own. The less health a player has, the less likely they are to risk a full-on assault, even if a jungler comes in for a gank.

– Inhibitors (League Of Legends) and Racks (Dota 2) are essentially the same thing with subtle differences. When either is destroyed, the regular minions spawned by these structures are replaced with ‘super’ equivalents, or stronger minions that will be able to push harder against opposing, normal minions. Racks, however, come in two types: melee and ranged and affect the associated minions individually.

– Starting a fight is initiating, and it’s usually the role of very specific characters or roles in both League Of Legends and Dota 2. Some characters are better than others at it, and these ‘initiators’ are usually the play callers – the people who look for the best opportunities to start a fight.

– A juke – or juking – is when a player uses skilful movements (sometimes with the use of abilties) to evade an opposing player (or players) abilities and attacks. This can be smart side-steps, clever use of the terrain (or forest/brush) or abilities that might blink a player in a certain direction. They can be exciting to watch, since usually these jukes are necessary only when being chased.

– The jungler is the player in a team that spends the majority of their early game within the jungle/forest of the map between the lanes farming on neutral mobs within. Their purpose is often to secretly look for opportunities to sneak into lane and assist the player(s) there in an attempt to reduce lane pressure or score an early kill. In Dota 2 a jungler isn’t always present if a team decides to play a different strategy.

– This is a very specific way of moving when you’ll move away from your target while stopping to attack between basic attacks. This is commonly used to draw certain opposing players away from a defensive position to allow for a better ambush, though pro players fall for this trick less and less commonly. Can also be used against jungle creeps.

Laning phase
– The start of any match is commonly referred to as the laning phase, the period of time where individual player versus player battles rarely take place and instead both teams look to earn gold and experience by staying in lane and killing minions. There’s no explicit point where the laning phase ends, since it is dynamically affected by gold earnt and either side’s eagerness to initiate a teamfight.

Last hit
– It might not sound especially important, but the last on a minion is the one that rewards a player with gold and experience. If that minion dies before that last hit (or, in the case of Dota 2, another player does so) that gold and experience is lost forever.

– The meta – or the metagame – is the term used to refer to the current ‘state’ of the game. That is to say which characters are currently the best to use, the viable strategies available to a team or even broader elements of how the game is played. The meta changes dynamically as pros find new compositions that work, or patches change particular elements of the game. The meta is often discussed during the drafting stage of the game.

– These are the small, AI-controlled units that spawn in each team’s base and walk along each of the three lanes, battling enemy minions and attacking any towers they approach. They’re essentially the gold and experience pinatas for players.

– Dota 2 differs from most MOBAs in that it has one lane that is ‘shorter’ and one lane that is ‘longer’. This is where the minions in that lane naturally meet at a position either closer or further from the allied tower. The offlane is the lane furthest from the allied tower (so harder to defend) while the safelane is closest to the allied tower (so easier to defend).

– When a team ‘peels’, they’re disengaging an enemy by using stuns and crowd control to prevent the opposing team from engaging.

– Meaning ‘programmed random occurrence’ this refers to the activation of a passive ability, critical hit or other situations that are affected by randomised elements within the game.

– Recalling or teleporting is simply the act of returning to base, whether to spend gold, recover from a fight or avoid getting caught out by a chasing enemy team. Recalling is the term used in League Of Legends, teleporting is used in Dota 2 – it is not permanently available here either, and is activated by purchased scrolls, abilities and various other means.

– This is when a team rotates around a map to search out opposing team members, improve their vision (see below) or approach and content various neutral targets. If a team has better rotation in a match, they are getting to objectives quicker and are usually in better positions to contest these targets.

– This is the most powerful creep in Dota 2 and is the only creature to scale in damage over time. It is located in its own pit in the river and rewards the team that kills it with 200 gold. In addition to that it drops the Aegis of the Immortal which can be picked up by a single player – regardless of which team kills Roshan – and will resurrect the player who picks it up if killed within the item’s five minute timer.

– A shutout is when a team defeats the other without a single player getting killed. A ‘perfect’ match, if you will.

– Some abilities are activated by targeting a specific enemy. Others are activated by placing an area of effect on the ground. Skillshots are abilities that follow a specific trajectory and only hit a target if it is caught within that ability’s trajectory.

– Exclusive to Dota 2, this is a consumable item that will cause the user and all nearby allies and player-controller units to disappear as if invisible. This allows teams to avoid detection by wards and other kind of visions, except for towers and if they got too close to another player. It’s a common strategy to give a team an ambush opportunity in the late game.

– This is a type of strategy used by some teams, where – late into the game – one or more player splits off from the rest of the team (so they are not present for any teamfights) to push back waves of enemy minions and, ideally, take an extra tower or two. It can be a risky move, but will often force the enemy team to rush to defend.

– Or: ultimate. This is the most powerful ability that any character can use, and is usually the last ability they unlock.

– It might not seem it, but vision is perhaps the most important element for a team to control if they’re to have success. Vision refers to a team’s map vision, affected by the wards they place and the abilities they use to uncover hidden areas of the map. Knowing where the enemy is gives a team a better understanding of what they might be planning to do, and therefore the ability to react to them more effectively.

Wombo combo
– Ever seen a teamfight where one team is obliterated within seconds and sustain barely any damage themselves? That’s a wombo combo, and is usually the result of a lot of gold (therefore more items than the opposition) and a lot of crowd control abilities.

– As with any sport, zoning is important to prevent the other team from progression to areas you don’t want them to access. This might be done by using abilities to block routes through to an area or simply having a team conjucate around a particular area to force the opposition to either attack or back off. Good zoning is important to control certain areas and objectives.

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