MOBAs and brains: A link between skill and intelligence

We recently released an article documenting a link between between young people’s ability to perform well in DotA2 and League of Legends and intelligence. Essentially these games can act like IQ tests. Findings are published today in the journal PLOS ONE.

I have to stress from the onset that the results have no bearing on questions such as whether playing computer games makes young people smarter or otherwise. They simply establish a correlation between skill at certain online games of strategy and intelligence.

We focused on ‘Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas’ (MOBAs) – action strategy games that typically involve two opposing teams of five individuals – as well as multiplayer ‘First Person Shooter’ games. These types of games are hugely popular with hundreds of millions of players worldwide.


The team behind the work is from York’s Departments of Psychology and Computer Science . We carried out two studies. The first examined a group of subjects who were highly experienced in the MOBA League of Legends – one of the most popular strategic video games in the world with millions of players each day.

In this study, we observed a correlation between performance in the strategic game League of Legends and performance in standard paper-and-pencil intelligence tests.

The second study analysed big datasets from four games: Two MOBAs (League of Legends and Defence of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2) and two ‘First Person Shooters’ (Destiny and Battlefield 3). First Person Shooters (FPSs) are games involving shooting enemies and other targets, with the player viewing the action as though through the eyes of the character they are controlling.

In this second study, we found that for large groups consisting of thousands of players, performance in MOBAs and IQ behave in similar ways as players get older.  But this effect was not found for First Person Shooters, where performance declined after the teens.

Intellectually demanding

We note that the correlation between ability at action strategy video games such as League of Legends and Defence of the Ancients 2 (Dota 2) and a high IQ is similar to the correlation seen in other more traditional strategy games such as chess. Quoting my colleague Alex Wade from the University of York’s Department of Psychology and Digital Creativity Labs said: “Games such as League of Legends and DOTA 2 are complex, socially-interactive and intellectually demanding. Our research would suggest that your performance in these games can be a measure of intelligence. Research in the past has pointed to the fact that people who are good at strategy games such as chess tend to score highly at IQ tests. Our research has extended this to games that millions of people across the planet play every day.”

Data source

I am notably excited about the possibilities that the link between skill and intelligence opens up in terms of a new, global data source for cognitive epidemiology – research that examines the associations between intelligence and health across time – as a way of monitoring cognitive health across populations. With tools based on game data in hand, we might be able to catch for example long-term environmental impacts on cognitive health early.

Further information:


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