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Multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games are hugely popular — League of Legends is the most popular video game in the world, after all, and it’s held that title for a long time. The combination of strategy, action, chaos, and short match times makes for an addictive genre.
While most MOBAs are played on a computer, players can get their fix from apps on their phone or tablet, too. A lot of these apps look like they’re trying to port League of Legends or Dota 2, and they have varying degrees of success. Others aim for something completely new.
I spent [time redacted because it’s too embarrassing] playing mobile MOBAs to find out which are the best. Here’s what I found.
Note: The character and mode counts are current at the time of this writing. There could be more by the time you read this.
Vainglory is the biggest name in mobile MOBAs, and has been for a while. It has a professional eSports community, a solid following on Twitch and other streaming platforms, and a huge number of users. Why? Because it’s really good.
It moves away from the typical 5v5, three-lane format of traditional MOBAs and presents something that’s more mobile-friendly. The matches are 3v3, and the map has a single lane alongside two jungle areas. This makes for chaotic matches that can be a bit unpredictable. Over the course of 20 to 30 minutes, you might see a large number of team battles, a ton of surprise attacks from junglers, and highly tactical moves to reap the rewards of jungle monsters.
The game is absolutely gorgeous, both on a phone and tablet. The touch controls are simple (though difficult to use well on a small phone), and the number of skills and items — while fewer than a PC MOBA — are perfect for mobile. And the fact that you can engage in standard 20-to-30-minute matches, 10-minute battles with no jungle, and 5-minute blitz matches makes it a great fit for people looking to get their fix quickly.
The learning curve is steep, but if you’re looking for a great mobile MOBA, Vainglory just might be the best. (Oh, and 5v5 is coming. Once that happens, there’ll be little competition.)
2. Mobile Legends
As the name implies, this is a lot like a mobile version of League of Legends. It uses the joystick control setup, in which you control your character’s movements with a joystick on one side of the screen and launch attacks from the other. Unlike Vainglory, there’s an auto-targeting system, which I was skeptical of until I found the option for specific hero targeting.
The items have numerous effects, like items in League of Legends. This is cool if you’re looking for a deep play experience, but can make it difficult to make quick decisions on a small screen. The ability to customize item sets before you get into a match speeds up the process, though, if you’re willing to put in the time beforehand.
That said, the three-lane, 5v5 combat is more like full-blown PC MOBAs, and if that’s your style, this is a great option. The interface for accessing the store, your inventory, and matches is really busy and distracting, but once you get into combat, it’s a lot like League. There are tons of heroes, tons of items, and all sorts of interesting combinations.
One thing that I appreciated about Mobile Legends is the speed of matchmaking — I rarely waited more than a few seconds. At my rank the matchups weren’t especially even (my last match finished 25 kills to 4), but I never had to wait around for a game.
3. Heroes Evolved
Another “twin-stick”-style MOBA, Heroes Evolved is still technically in a “soft launch” phase (which might explain the glitch that kicked me out of the tutorial). This is another one that clearly styles itself after League of Legends and similar PC MOBAs.
There are a few notable differences, though. You have to level up your passive perks, for example, alongside your active abilities (which I think is great). And you can teleport to any friendly tower, just not your base, which makes for interesting ganking opportunities (when multiple players pile up on a single enemy).
Aiming special abilities is done by tapping and dragging from icons, which works well for touchscreens. The auto-aim felt a little strange, and I found myself hitting the attack button when I didn’t need to, and not hitting it when I did. Other than these small differences, the gameplay feels a lot like Mobile Legends. Matchmaking is quick, and, in my experience, well balanced.
Again, the interface is crazy and overwhelming, but you get used to it over time. Another non-gameplay issue that I have to note, however, is the female character models. None of the games on this list have particularly realistic character models, but the women in Heroes Evolved are especially egregious. It occasionally borders on pornographic. We’ve come much further than this, and Heroes Evolved should catch up.
4. Heroes of Order & Chaos
Gameloft is a big name in the mobile gaming scene, so it makes sense that they’d have a MOBA. And, as you might expect, it’s a solid entry into the genre. Its variety of characters, modes, and items make for a lot of variety. A talent tree and a variety of “inscriptions” give you options for how you build your character. The three-lane, 5v5 combat will feel familiar to MOBA fans.
But it still manages to fall short somehow. There’s nothing that stands out as a huge weakness — the game just doesn’t seem to have many notable strengths. The controls feel strange and counter-intuitive. The target-switching mechanism is useful, especially after playing games where I wanted more control, but it was difficult to use quickly. I like that you can either use the joystick or tap to get where you want to go, but the camera doesn’t follow if you tap. The graphics are fine, but nothing stellar.
There seems to be a decent play community for Order & Chaos, and the devs update and rebalance the game regularly, so we can’t point out anything wrong with the game. There’s just so much more out there that stands out with something awesome. If you have friends that play the game, or you just want to add to your Gameloft library, go for it. If not, skip it for something else.
5. Planet of Heroes
Modes: 4 (including campaign and asynchronous multiplayer)
There aren’t many MOBAs that break away from the high fantasy theme. Vainglory has a few characters that stand out, but not by much. Planet of Heroes has a kitschy sci-fi theme that’s refreshing in the face of so many elves and mages. The visuals are a bit different from what you’ve gotten used to, as well. To be completely honest, it feels like a kid’s MOBA.
That being said, it’s done well, with a single-lane 3v3 format that makes for entertaining jungling and battles. It’s really easy to get into, as there’s no need to worry about last-hitting… or gold at all. Experience is shared, and everyone on the team levels up at the same time. When you level up, you grab bonuses like the items in other MOBAs. The fact that you can play offline is likely to appeal to many gamers, too.
If I had to compare it to any PC MOBA, I’d say it’s most like Heroes of the Storm but even simpler. It’s easy to get into, quick to learn, and doesn’t throw too much at you at once. It’s not going to appeal to hardcore MOBA fans, but if you’re looking to get into the genre (or want a game without mostly naked female characters for your kids), it’s worth looking into.
What Are Your Favorite Mobile MOBAs?
These five are some of the best MOBAs for phones and tablets, and there’s something for everyone. Whether you’re looking for an experience as close to League of Legends as possible or something that plays differently, we’ve got you covered. But that doesn’t mean these are the only options out there. From professional esports players to inexperienced amateurs, there’s something for everyone.
MOBAs are extremely popular and developers are likely to continue to put out new titles to take advantage. Sometimes they’ll have big hits on their hands, but most of the time, they’ll release decent copies of more popular games. Let’s hope we see more innovation in this area soon!
What are your favorite MOBAs to play on your phone or tablet? Which did we miss here? Share your thoughts in the comments below!