Dota 2 and League of Legends (LoL) are direct competitors in the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) market. The games themselves are not too similar, but they still compete directly with one another for players. It was very interesting to learn how LoL became such a big competitor in the MOBA genre when there were so many things working against it: its predecessor DotA-Allstars and StarCraft II both being free-to-play, not having an official release at first, and also being aimed primarily at the more casual player demographic with simpler mechanics compared to most other MOBAs.
Even though both games are MOBAs, LoL is typically considered the more casual of the two with Dota 2 being viewed as a hardcore esport where mechanics matter more and winning isn’t necessarily determined by player skill as much as it is strategy and teamwork.
Nonetheless, League of Legends grew at such an astounding rate that it took over the MOBA genre without too much effort. The way I see it, there were three things that really set LoL apart from its competition: accessibility, branding, and community. It’s easy to see why these reasons helped LoL take off so quickly: everyone can play it, you didn’t need anything other than an internet connection to get started, and if you lost during your first few games you’d become eager to keep playing so that you can gain enough skill to climb the ranked ladder and eventually go pro.
Dota 2 didn’t start as a standalone game, as many people are aware. When there was no League of Legends, Defense of the Ancients was simply a game mode in Warcraft III. WC3 became a massive hit all over the world, so the mode quickly dominated the planet. It featured a 5v5 PvP arena with a lot of intricacy and “fairness” where friends could battle their way to glory using both strategy and skill.
Valve acquired the rights to Dota from Blizzard in 2011. They renamed it to Dota 2 and removed all traces of Warcraft III from their game. New hero designs, new designs, and new names… It debuted on Steam and quickly became one of the most popular Esports scenes. And while the game has little in common with WC3, die-hard fans of WC3 will be able to notice all the similarities between Dota 2 and its original version.
League of Legends wasn’t developed by some anonymous folks who wanted to put up a fight. It’s been claimed that many of Blizzard’s Warcraft III and World of Warcraft engineers joined Riot Games to work on LoL instead, according to rumors. Of course, because Dota did not have a game mode developed by Blizzard, it was only a matter of time until someone tried to show off their potential.
LoL was created to provide a unique, genuine, and compelling 5v5 PvP experience. It had many challenges and difficulties early on, but Riot Games and the community have evolved it into what it is now – the noisiest name in esports!
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There’s an argument about whether or not accessibility is really a good thing in this genre of game (and esports in general). Simply put, there are people who say that new players lack competitive spirit compared to more experienced ones; they only play because it’s easy for them and don’t take losing very well.
Perhaps LoL would still be growing if it were harder for new players to get into the game, but I think Riot (the developer of League of Legends) did an excellent job with their approach. If anything, Dota 2 should stand as proof that accessibility isn’t the reason LoL is popular. In my opinion, Valve (the developer of Dota 2) did a poor job optimizing their game for new players with things like the ability to buy equipment in-game and an overcomplicated user interface.
Now that we’ve talked about why I think LoL is more popular than Dota 2, it’s time to talk about the other side of the argument: branding. Riot has done a great job promoting League of Legends as an eSport from day one by supporting pro gamers and being very open about what they have planned next for the competitive scene.
It really helped that they incorporated fan feedback into their development process from early on—I’m sure calling it “a journey” every time they updated their game didn’t hurt either. Valve, on the other hand, is notoriously quiet about what they’re planning to do with Dota 2, which has led to some criticism from their pro gamers.
I think this is where Dota 2 used to beat LoL: Valve’s approach was really innovative and turned out great in its current state. But despite all of this, it still doesn’t hold a candle to Riot’s constant support for League of Legends as an eSport. Once again I have to go back to branding: if you want people interested in your game as an eSport, show them that you care about it!
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The final reason why I think LoL is more popular than DotA-Allstars (and subsequently Dota 2) is community. The League of Legends subreddit boasts about 5 and a half million subscribers, which is insane when compared to the DotA-Allstars counterpart with less than 1 million subs.
The way I see it, Riot got really lucky here: they started off by building their game on top of another game’s community. Sure, Allstars (and consequently Dota 2) has its own huge following that didn’t transfer over to LoL, but there were still enough people who did make the switch to maintain LoL’s growth through word-of-mouth advertising.
*Insert fun fact here: The League of Legends subreddit has been named the second most popular gaming subreddit this year, according to new data from official Reddit Recap 2021 data. (https://www.redditinc.com/blog/reddit-recap-2021)
Another aspect we have to look at is the gameplay between the two games. Sure, there are some similarities with both games being from the same genre, although when you dive a bit deeper, you’ll realize that these two games, in reality, have little in common. The original DOTA All-Stars custom map was simplified to League of Legends. It began as a chaotic game, with roles matching those in DOTA, but as time passed, League evolved into an organized sport where everyone had a role to play.
Riot’s development of roles and their active involvement in creating a specific gameplay system alienated League from the competition. Of course, League has three Top-Mid-Jungle roles, which Riot works hard to maintain and limit any diversions from it (i.e. Funnel, 3 Bot, etc.). It’s a lot easier to get kills in League of Legends because your minions are stronger, the map is smaller, and the match finishes faster. The champions are designed around one of the positions mentioned above, though there is some flexibility.
DOTA 2 kept to the original plan and improved on it. Ice Frog, the creator of the DOTA map, is the lead developer for the map’s sequel, ensuring a more realistic gaming environment. In the game, the concept of team order is rather absent. Though there are roles, they’re played in ways unimaginable to a typical League of Legends player. In most cases, two supports are present in the game, and many Heroes (the equivalent of Champions) can fill each role.
Ice Frog’s Heroes are designed to fill specific roles, as opposed to other MOBAs. There is no one defined role for any Hero in the game. Some are simply better than others at certain things, and most people have a lot of versatility. The overall scale of the map is greater than that in League. The general pace is slower (but picks up as the game progresses). Games can last anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour or more, depending on the game mode you choose. DOTA 2 has a variety of game modes to select from, and even allows you to create your own.
In terms of diversity, flexibility, and gameplay freedom, DOTA 2 is the ruler. Keep in mind that this might result in tremendous chaos and unbalanced teams that can struggle to even remain active throughout the game, much alone win it.
Take your time to determine which is the best fit for you: order and pre-determined cohesion, or pandemonium and variety/versatility of gameplay. I recommend spending at least a few hours with both to sample all of the games’ features.
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Okay, so that about does it for my argument. The games are totally different, but among the things that separate them is the fact that LoL went for a straightforward approach to what was once an exclusively PC game.
- League of Legends provides its players with more order and pre-determined cohesion, opening up vast opportunities to explore new gameplay modes and options for customization.
- DOTA 2 relies on chaos and varietty/versatility of gameplay, creating one experience that can be vastly different from another even if you’re playing the same Heroes with the same people.
I know this is a bit of a long article, but I wanted to make sure I got everything across properly. My point with this article is not to say one game is better than another, so please don’t take it that way. I just wanted to give you guys some perspective on these MOBA juggernauts and help you choose which fits your tastes best: order and pre-determined cohesion or chaos and variety/versatility of gameplay?