📢 Greetings folks. 📢
Hope everyone is doing well. 😇
This is a think-piece. No propaganda, no hate. Just a discussion on game design and how it influences people.
If you don’t particularly care for a certain section – just skip it. The article was written with this freedom in mind (most people rarely care about EVERYTHING you have to say 😅). Jump around and read whichever part you want first. The experience should be relatively the same.
“Bro, what’s your Elo?”
Common Gamer phrase.
I’ve been an avid MOBA player for the past 15 years (I hate that the term became the genre’s name btw, but that’s a topic for another day 😄). Started with the original DotA All-Stars back in the day, moved to LoL when it released its beta, then switched back to DOTA 2. Regardless of which game I played, I always followed the other’s development and eSport.
My highest MMR in DOTA was 4000, and my highest rank in LoL was Diamond 2. So, I’ve never been great at these games. However, being an avid watcher of their eSports, as well as having a deep interest in game design, has allowed me to at least gleam into the nitty-gritty of their nuances. For instance, I am fascinated by how their differences in design attract different audiences. And how said design unintentionally promotes hateful behavior.
Why such vitriol? ➖ That short sentence sent me down a spiral ending with me writing this article. This was a complex topic and I had no one to share it with – so here we are. 😅
However: Rome was not built in a day; Satoshi didn’t invent bitcoin with no prior documentation; and wars don’t start themselves. The battlefields are littered with the tears of the loved ones that fought.
And these tears contain sodium only found in the saltiest of gamers.
His palms were sweaty, knees weak. He slammed his keyboard in unbridled frustration. “If it wasn’t for Pendragon’s betrayal, LoL would not exist. We own you Riot nerds!”
“Like you would know what really happened.” The other replied, sipping on his nana’s homemade orange juice. “Riot just wanted to create a more inclusive, less toxic product.”
Tales from the Internet, circa 2009.
It was the year of our Lord, 2005, and everyone that was anyone was playing DotA. A custom map running on the Warcraft III engine and played on Battle.net.
No, DotA was not the first MOBA (ughh, that name… barfs). The OG medal goes to AoS (Aeon of Strife) – a StarCraft Broodwar custom map. But DotA popularized this game mode and turned it into a global phenomenon (think of how all FPS were called DOOM-clones, even though Wolfenstein was an FPS released before DOOM).
The OG DotA boys that would develop both League of Legends and DOTA 2 were: neichus, pendragon, guinsoo, and icefrog (amongst many others since DotA was a community project back then). These names, for good or ill, have been etched into the annals of gaming history. Why? Well, if you created a whole genre, you will get some brownie points.
When you are learning how to bake though, you will undoubtedly get burned. (Speaking from experience here 😉)
What follows is a heavily abridged version of what transpired between 2005 and 2009-10ish, and the effects these actions had on the poor little souls playing these games.
These kids (it’s important to emphasize their age) developed DotA with no financial help. A fact all of them would want to change. Pendragon created and ran the DotA All-Stars site: the hub for all things DotA-related for more or less a decade. The rest worked on developing new heroes, items, and the map. In 2005, Guinsoo left the team to join a newborn Riot Games, whose vision was to develop a DotA-like game running on their own engine that improved on, what they thought, the game’s shortcomings. The once starry-eyed, passionate developers were now divided. 😱
Tensions were brewing behind the scenes for years. Years! Until they made a declaration of war when Pendragon shut the D:AS site down and replaced it with an ad for the new and improved version of DotA – League of Legends.
Original League ad on the DotA forums
Because of Riot’s aggressive, and frankly uncouth, marketing strategy, everyone from DotA hated League. While the newcomers that joined League because of its inclusive design, despised the pompous, pretentious jerks that were demeaning their game.
IceFrog later joined Valve and developed DOTA 2, where he still works today. However, he too handled the toxic environment, as he was also secretly working on a DotA competitor. Namely S2 games’ Heroes of Newerth. This too gave Riot employees ample ammo to use against the frog and his apparent abandonment of DotA.
The banners were raised, the sides were drawn, and soon things got bloody. 🌒
Remember that these were young adults that found something they loved and wanted to monetize. There was backstabbing, there was slander and name-calling, there were allegations of plagiarism. Regardless, it was the communities who suffered the brunt of this negativity, as they were left to decipher the meaning behind the hate.
And we all know people don’t do well with nuance. 😢
It didn’t help that the games themselves were perfect mirrors of each other. This was the biggest factor in the war persisting to this very day. Let’s try and explain this symbiotic design relationship.
And how it fueled the fires. 🔥
“Dude, DOTA is just so clunky, I dunno… LoL is just smoother to play, ya know?” said Person A.
“LoL just copied DOTA, dumbed it down for you plebs.” Person B scoffed. He removed a white glove from his pocket. “Now you noobs complain about the fact that DOTA has deeper mechanics. On top of that –“
A transcript of a conversation minutes before a slapping contest, March 3rd, 2012.
This is how most LoL vs DOTA conversations go. Both sides making valid points while disregarding any semblance of congruity between these two interconnected products.
From jump street, both have had a very close relationship. The MOBA genre (bad name btw) is very unique in one regard: it has only two games. Now I know what you’ll say, and of course, you are right: there are other MOBA games. But as many MOBA games, as there are, or will be, there will always only be two: DOTA and League, League and DOTKA.
Explaining this last point took two long paragraphs so I scrapped it. I will discuss it with anyone curious, but for the sake of word count, let’s just move on for now. 😊
Both games are IMHO the hardest competitive team games on the market. The beautiful thing is that each game’s skill ceiling is based on their differences, while their skill floors are based on the same fundamentals. The ol’ adage of "your biggest enemies has more in common with you than your closest friends".
Battle strategies, and tactics, discussed and proposed in Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’, are the aforementioned foundations. If you know when you are stronger/weaker than your opponent and can make rapid micro-decisions based on that fact, then you will be an excellent player in both games. Being assertive when you’re ahead, or wily when you’re behind, will get you far regardless of which one you play.
This imbues players of both games with a certain pride. “Look how smart I am!” They yell into the ether. Micro decision-making requires sharpness of reflexes, and precision, which makes any person capable enough to execute one combo say “I’m special!” This is your game, and only it can display your greatness. 😝
On top of that, you have all this knowledge. All these characters, abilities, items – you know by heart. The map with its nuances, timings for lane and jungle creeps – you remember them. The current Meta-game – the strengths and weaknesses of each element determined by the current patch – easy mode for a mind such as yours. With all this knowledge you possess, how could this other flaunt better gameplay, deeper strategy - more complexity? Don’t they understand how hard it is to get good at this? They obviously don’t, since they are playing the inferior game.
Much easier to fight back than to find common ground.
This way of thinking forms the bedrock of our theory. To learn more we must enter the domain these two giants of gaming share. A place so vile and haunting, no one would dare enter, except for those whose skin is resistant to the scorching flames.
Of Hell. 😈
“This ***** ****** thinks he is hot ****. **** you, you ******* noob.”
Submits report for ‘playing like a noob’
Common MOBA behavior pattern.
I don’t know why these games groom the most toxic behavior. But they do. 😞 I’m sure others will say their games are the most toxic. But anyone who has played League or DOTA has seen some $#[email protected].
Dying in these games (especially in DOTA) sabotages your team while advancing your enemies. The term feeding, which is only truly applicable to MOBAs (blah 🤢), has transcended into common gaming vernacular. This false impression, of your teammates actively trying to disrupt you, forms a scorched brotherhood between the ‘pros’. And an even greater connection to the product.
It all boils down to instinctual human behavior. The need for superiority; the want for power. These govern the world, let alone the minds of gamers. The core mechanics of these games ensure only the strong will survive. And when Survival of the Fittest encompasses competition from another realm (in this case game) then that requires bravado to match your base insecurities.
Am I just over-evaluating ‘fun’? Probably. 😋 But the time, patience, and skill, required to hone each game’s mechanics, cannot be understated. It’s normal to think of the folks across the pond as simpletons – how else could they degrade your efforts?
Now, of course, I am taking liberties because I’m talking about the sub conscious. So, let’s return to the technical side of things.
“LoL is made for kids!”
“DOTA is made for geezers!”
Tales from the internet, circa 2017.
Let’s cut to the chase: DOTA is a more high-level, top-down experience, whereas League has much more moment-to-moment, bottom-up gameplay. Are these mutually exclusive? Hell no. DOTA can be very precise, while LoL can be very strategic. As we acknowledged before, these games are complex, but they have to hang their hat on something.
For League, that’s the superior team fights. CC abilities in League require a skill shot, not only do they have to aim their abilities, but they have to consider the projectile speed and target trajectory. The characters have no turn-rate, no cast-point to their abilities. You click something > it happens. Hence, fights feel smooth and action-packed.
DOTA characters have unique turn-rates; each ability has a different cast-point and wind-up animation. Needless clutter? Probably. But these mechanics make the fights much more knowledge-based than skill-based. Traversal through the map is much easier, and gaining objectives could be done in a plethora of ways.
League is more streamlined and fine-tuned, while DOTA gives way more options, almost akin a playground (for better or worse). 🙂
This means, when players get over their wool-headedness and try the other game: they find something interesting and cool about it while still playing something familiar.
“Did you watch The International last week? DOTA’s tournaments are so intense, dude.”
“Did you watch Arcane? Riot has such a good grasp on their world… wish valve would care about their product as much as Riot does.”
Statements taken by Alien Surveillance Bugs, circa 2021.
Time heals all wounds. I could sum this entire article up in those 4 words ➖ wouldn’t make a very interesting post though. 😆
The tournaments were great, with both games showing sustained success in terms of both viewership and money circulating the scene. League players can see the incredible, high-stakes DOTA matches, and appreciate the game’s incredibly high skill ceiling. While DOTA players just drool over Riot’s insane production value and professionalism.
Marketing has exposed both fan bases to each other. Riot has tried to make their universe much more approachable, with several additional games along with the smash-hit animated show Arcane. And while Valve has tried to do the same, albeit, with less grace and effort, they created their own animated show, Dragon’s Blood. And while the shows writing and characters are IMO on par, Arcane’s production quality is just through the roof 💰. It’s so high that even the most die-hard League hater cannot resist but like it.
I would say a decent amount of League players have realized that DOTA’s clunky mechanics are just game depth. While DOTA players have had to check their egos, League’s gameplay isn’t in fact "so easy that my 9-year-old niece can play it one-handed". 😤
Both have their place. League has seen more success through the years, but DOTA’s latest TI (DOTA Worlds) recorder the highest viewer count for any single event in eSports history. So, it’s clear that interest in the game has not wavered in the slightest.
Some stalemates have no viable solutions. Both parties get attrition; both suffer. Is it not wiser to propose a truce? Rivalries can still exist on more amicable terms (just look at Goku and Vegeta 😂). And I think more people realize that. 🤞
One can always dream.
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Have a good one. 🙌