Before the holiday, Game Informer’s Kim Wallace wrote a compelling piece about familiar games being too comfortable. In her feature, she wrote, “I'm playing a game I enjoy, but lately I've realized I'm robbing myself of new game experiences by relying too much on the same games.” This was eye-opening for me, and I decided to do something to force myself out of my own comfort zone.

As I look at my collection of games, I see a few well-represented genres. I love shooters for their setpiece moments. My shelves runneth over with third person action-adventure games. Nathan Drake, Cole MacGrath, Marcus Fenix, Ezio Auditore, and others have firm footholds in my collection. RPGs are well-represented, with entries from the east and the west.

There are categories I’ve actively avoided, though. My MMO experiences have been spotty, though the concept continues to intrigue me. Sports games have matured immensely, especially those that feature a “my player” mode, but the phenomenon has passed me by. MOBAs are becoming an increasingly important part of our landscape, in no small part because of eSports. 

My journey to expand my horizons begins with MOBAs. I decided to start with the game that led the genre out of obscurity, League of Legends. I came out better for the experience.

My understanding of MOBAs prior to this was even more rudimentary than I realized. Don't get hit by towers (let the little automatically attacking things take the hits), beat up the enemy players, and try not to die so you can upgrade your skills.

Looking back, it's embarrassing how little I knew (a feeling I am likely to experience more as I play and adapt to the strategy and pacing of a typical match). I've only played matches against an AI team so far, with a friend mentoring me. And I fully expect to have a rough time in my first battle against a team of other humans.

My guide explained the importance of staying in a lane and the the different roles that champions can fill on the five-person team. My eyes opened to the fact that my previous attempts playing MOBAs were analogous to children swarming the ball in their first years playing soccer. I don't know if I'll ever get to "FIFA" quality, but I'd like to improve to "high school varsity."

I started playing what's known as an "AD Carry" character. This is the heavy damage dealer responsible for earning gold and experience early on to accelerate to late-game damage potential. Conveniently, it's also often teamed up with a support player in the bottom lane. My mentor did his best to keep me whole (despite my best effort to fail miserably), instructed me on which items I should focus on when I had enough money, and enabled me to reach my chosen champion's full potential.

I've since played a number of matches and have tried the support role (preferring the tank type to the "squishy" variety) and had a miserable outing as a mid-lane assassin (I'll try again, though). I'd love to return to those roles with more knowledge of how they work, but my most fun so far was playing as the gun-toting Graves, an AD Carry champion.

What I learned about MOBAs
There is an elegance to the genre that isn’t apparent until you actively engage. Watching League of Legends or Dota 2 played was a hollow experience for me before taking to the fields of battle myself.

I'll be seeking out some professional play now that I understand a bit better what's going on. I also expect that I might be opening my wallet for Riot. League of Legends has its hooks in me.

What I learned about myself
In the case of complex games, I often prefer a skilled teacher. I don’t like to bumble around without understanding why I’ve failed. It’s not the stumbling that bothers me. Rather it’s the lack of a clear mechanism to improve.

Having my mentor guide me through the process was invaluable for my enjoyment. Knowing which items to buy and when, when to push the lane and when to fall back, and how to burst (unleash all my abilities in quick succession) and last hit (killing a minion with the final shot to get gold) are fundamental skills I wouldn’t have easily come upon without guidance.