The Past, Present and Future of the DotA Genre

With the upcoming release of the much anticipated Dota 2, the future of the DotA scene is all but uncertain. Will games like Heroes of Newerth (HoN) and League of Legends (LoL) survive the competition put forward by Dota 2? What do the games’ recent DreamHack tournaments mean for the future of the games themselves?

The past

Before we start looking at how the DotA genre looks today and how it will evolve in the future, it is a good idea to introduce it and look at its history. The genre was born when Defence of the Ancients (DotA), a custom map for the action real-time strategy game Warcraft III, was conceived back in 2003. The map became hugely popular as it combined role-playing with real-time strategy and is considered one of the world’s most popular game modifications ever made. It is still maintained as of July this year but has today lost a lot of its player-base to sequels such as Heroes of Newerth (HoN) and League of Legends (LoL).
In 2009, LoL was released to the public as a free-to-play DotA-style game, drawing from DotA’s good aspects but with several gameplay and back-end improvements enabling features not available in the Warcraft III engine. These and other benefits secured a large and growing player-base all the way from the game’s early beta-versions to the released version of today. A year later HoN was released to the public with much the same concept of keeping the DotA-feel but enabling a host of core improvements. There were, however, a few notable differences between the two: firstly, HoN decided early on to adopt a pay-to-play approach — secondly, HoN profiled itself as a pure DotA sequel with a much truer resemblance to the original DotA than LoL. Despite gaining a lot of popularity during its free-to-play beta-phase, HoN suffered from major losses in player-base when going pay-to-play and thus recently became free to play again; this, however, still means LoL currently has about 20 times as many simultaneous players as HoN.

The present

Anytime soon, the two competitors will be joined by Dota 2, a game many claim will bring the truest DotA-like experience to the genre. It is being developed by Valve Corporation, a multi-million company behind the massively popular Steam platform, in conjunction with the current developer of the original DotA map himself, IceFrog. Valve’s enormous resources and experience with game design coupled with its partnership with DotA’s lead developer are two of the reasons behind the massive anticipation for the game and what it will bring to the genre. In fact, many within the HoN and LoL communities have stated they will move to Dota 2 once it is released — a move which, if done by enough people, could be a devastating blow to the two games’ fan- and player-bases.

The DreamHack

This year’s DreamHack Winter was without doubt a major success for HoN in terms of publicity and popularity. Compared to Dota 2 (LoL was not present at all), HoN hosted a larger tournament, gathered bigger crowds and was substantially more visible at the festival fair ground and it was clear that the developers behind the game, S2 Games, had invested enormous amounts of money into the event. In fact, HoN nearly completely overshadowed Dota 2 in all aspects.
Dota 2 should, however, not be dismissed. It has already hosted one large tournament, The International, with a jaw-dropping $1.6 million in total prize money for the 16 competing teams. This is definitely only one of many more such tournaments to come and shows that the importance of Valve’s financial support behind this game cannot be stressed enough: Dota 2 will undoubtedly be a force to reckon with at upcoming DreamHacks.

The future

It is impossible at this point to estimate the precise impact of Dota 2 on the genre, but there are  certain scenarios that can be predicted already. HoN, claiming to be the truest successor of DotA, will without question see a sharper decline in number of players than what LoL will see. Part of HoN’s player-base today comes from its competitive aspects and the numerous tournaments held around the world — with Valve monetarily backing Dota 2, it will be able to hold a much larger number of tournaments with substantially larger prizes. This will, naturally, push a lot of professional teams to move to Dota 2. Also, a large part of HoN’s player-base are former DotA players who will be highly likely to move to a game they see as a truer successor than HoN.
LoL is currently in a wholly different position: having, since its birth, moved towards a free, less complex, less competitive and more “fun” version of DotA it can no longer be considered a true competitor to HoN, let alone Dota 2. LoL’s player-base appreciate the aforementioned aspects of the game and are not likely to move to a game looking more like DotA; additionally, not nearly as many LoL as HoN players have even tried DotA meaning they are even less inclined to try Dota 2. The latter’s entry into the genre is overall not likely to cause troubling losses for Riot Games, LoL’s developer.


The DotA genre, having been until about 2010 dominated by Defence of the Ancients is now the stage for a fierce battle for players between mainly Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends. Soon enough, the highly anticipated Dota 2 will be released and impact the two competitors’ player-bases: HoN, already a rather small game, will be hit the hardest as its profile and target audience is very near that of Dota 2’s; LoL, on the other hand, boasting a very large player-base and having moved towards a less complex and competitive game play will not suffer from any large-scale migrations to Dota 2 as it simply does not fully compete in the same genre anymore.
HoN has already taken steps towards becoming a more widely appealing game by adopting the free-to-play approach and as Dota 2 is released and starts attracting players, HoN is faced with two main choices: either continue that process or make use of the publicity gained at DreamHack to profile itself even stronger as a competitive game in hopes of attracting sponsors, teams and players for its tournaments. It goes without saying that S2 Games must do something drastic to not risk losing its players and being eliminated from the DotA scene — it is a match they cannot afford to lose.

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  1. I realize sometime has passed since this post, but despite DOTA 2 still being in BETA it continues to grow in popularity. I think it recently passed the mark of 300,000 active users online, which was followed by a server crash 😉 Anyway, my point is that although LoL and HoN have a good head start on DOTA 2 and as a result a much larger fan base, it is only a matter of time before its fan base exceeds that of LoL and HoN. Why? Because not only is the game sexy, it is also damn fun to play.

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