Earlier this week, Valve not-so-surprisingly announced DOTA 2, the sequel to the most popular Warcraft III custom map ever created. The success of the mod, which was itself based on an earlier concept from StarCraft, spawned an entirely new sub-genre, the action-RTS/RPG or MOBA. Companies high and low latched on to the concept and have added, or hope to add, their two cents to the mix. Gas Powered Games released Demigod in early 2009, Riot Games released League of Legends in late 2009 and S2 Games released Heroes of Newerth in mid 2010, just to name a few.
Every game named above has made a direct reference to the original DotA Allstars, with Demigod being the only game to dramatically alter a few of the core concepts. Some titles have even had the original developers pinned to the project as designers, consultants, or project leads. As you might expect, this has lead to products that mirror each other in many respects, but possess key differences.
Heroes of Newerth is geared towards the hardcore audience in many ways. The most prominent of which is the ability to “creep deny” – being able to kill your own creep so the opposition cannot reap the reward. HoN players need to be aware of not only their own kills, but stopping their opponent from accumulating them as well. League of Legends’ biggest strength is the fact that it’s free-to-play, making its barrier to entry exactly nil. Due to this very notion, the game brings in more casual players. Riot Games counters the amount of new players by segregating the experience into separate (optional) ranked matches and maintaining an arguably more forgiving community. No easy feat in a PvP game.
Now Valve is preparing to bring Dota 2, a game headlined by IceFrog, the man who took over the development of DotA, to the mix. From its early description, the game is mirroring the strengths of both. IceFrog is essentially taking all of his work (and the work done before him) from DotA and putting it inside the Source engine. Heroes, items, skills, and much of the core mechanics will remain “unchanged,” including denials. That covers HoN’s crowd, the hardcore DotA lovers. Valve will be blanketing LoL’s strengths by upgrading Steamworks with numerous community features. Many of the features of the revamped community system will leech from LoL’s real-money shop. You’ll have to pay for DOTA 2, but you’ll earn skins, titles and the like by playing games and being a part of the community. Sales of these items is how Riot Games stays afloat.
This begs the question: Can three games with overlapping design documents and communities stand side-by-side? To date, the LoL and HoN communities, while often launching fanboy crusades, remain large enough to support their game of choice. The introduction of an amalgamation of the two will stir the pot, possibly shrinking one community to the point of collapse. I await the rebuttals from Riot Games and S2 Games. Surely the companies are already hard at work on making their respective products more unique or hard-to-abandon.
S2 Games thinks it’ll be just fine. Riot Games has yet to comment.
What say you, Lore Hounds? Does Valve’s pedigree stand a chance against these entrenched challengers? Or will it be the Playstation 2 to their Dreamcast?