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Defense of the Ancients: Origins

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Starting out strong… with DotA? That’s a death sentence. Older players should prepare for a wave of nostalgia, though. Just starting out? You might not get the references unless you dig a little deeper. I assure you, though, it’s not as boring as history class, but there is just as much content.

As for my introduction, I’d just like to say that IceFrog’s Defense of the Ancients has been garnering up some attention lately. A lot of people have been commenting about the steep learning curve (indeed), and some might even consider it the hardest game yet. Veteran game journalists from all over the globe are stumped on how to pick up the pace in a game that has both caught them off guard and has managed to build one of the strongest communities I’ve ever seen.

I’ll begin at the point where everyone does: when you pick up a game for the first time. Except, this wasn’t really a game, as every fan knows. It was just a map of a game, namely Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion, The Frozen Throne. I think the kids call things like this a “mod” these days.S1

But as I said, I’ll start with my first map version. It was DotA Allstars v6.49b, and yes, I’m still a youngin’ compared to all you “vets” out there who’ve probably played circa 5.84c. If you were to ask me what my best times back then were, there would probably be four.

 

One, there was less confusion. For one thing, there were no solid genres to define this game at the time. Basically, t Everyone called it an Aeon of Strife (AoS) game during the time I first started. Before Dota 2 was on closed beta, any title that attempted to imitate the gameplay was apparently a “DotA clone.” Yes, that was what Heroes of Newerth (HoN) and League of Legends (LoL) were, according to the fanboys. Now that Valve is gearing up with Dota 2, everyone just ended up calling it a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). As a disclaimer of sorts, these terminologies are not related to the events attached to them per se, but it’s just easier to relate them to major milestones in the progress (or lack of) in the genre. Not to mention the quiet, little disagreement between IceFrog and Pendragon, that led to a name shift from “DotA Allstars” to just “DotA” as you can also see in my list of DotA maps. To add more confusion, Erik Johnson, project manager for Valve’s Dota 2, noted the shift from “DotA” to “Dota” on the basis that it was becoming more of a concept rather than an abbreviation. Confusing, isn’t it?

(Note: For the rest of this article, consider “DotA” as the Warcraft III map/mod, and “Dota” as the game itself.)

Two, people actually taught newer players. At least, that’s how I started to learn. My first Hero was Undying, back when he had Raise Dead, a skill that by itself conjures four zombies to fight for you (something that now belongs to Enigma). I set him aside for not knowing any better, so I picked up Drow Ranger, who had an overpowered Ultimate ability at the time called Marksmanship, which allowed you to one-shot any creep in the game (yes, even the Centaurs and the Furbolgs!). I had my first Beyond Godlike streak (10 uninterrupted Hero kills) with my allies Omniknight and Stealth Assassin (who forgets their first?), both of which were my close friends. Now, the sight of veteran players dissing newer players, who were just as eager to learn as some of you right now, isn’t very uncommon. In fact, your first few games are likely to attract snide remarks from even the most patient of players. Dota 2 hopes to fix that with a mentoring system, but we’ll see how that works.

Three, there were fewer stuff. Yes, that was a good thing for me back then. No, I’m not against progress. What I’m pointing out is… will there be a limit to the amount of new content to be added by IceFrog? When I started playing, there were only 89 Heroes. Now there are 110. Don’t even get me started on the number of items, the skill remakes, and the stat balancing. Even if IceFrog were to add 10 Heroes, change 15 items, switch 23 abilities, and tweak 100 skills, I could adapt, because I’m already a player and I know most of everything really. But what about the newer players? How can they keep up with an already-massive pool of content, and one that keeps changing for that matter?

Finally, DotA was is addictive as hell. Count Dota 2 in on that. And this hasn’t changed one bit.

Moving on, there are plenty of different reasons why Dota sucked me right in (the same reasons will probably get you into the game as well, if you’re not addicted already).

The most obvious one is, of course, it’s replayability. A lot of people in my country (The Philippines), as I do, compare it to basketball, but we’ll get right on that in the next point. Dota pits five players against another five across a fixed map. A Hero pool of 110 Heroes makes thousands of different combinations. Even then, those Heroes have a vast array of abilities (usually four) that can be leveled up in totally different ways, in what we call “builds.” Some have less lenient variations, but more often than not, you’ll customize your choices according to your style and the current game situation. Add more than 60 items into the mix, and you have variations of the previous variations! Got it? The possibilities of having the same exact scenarios occur in subsequent games are close to zero!

The second reason is because it’s a near-perfect e-sport, and I admit that’s saying a lot about the game. It’s like basketball, an obviously popular physical sport, as I mentioned, because of many things. For instance, it has fixed properties within the same theoretical game (meaning, this doesn’t include future updates/changes that obviously alter these properties). The map is fixed, unlike other MOBAs that offer different maps. The juke spots are there, the number of trees remain the same, the layout of the land doesn’t alter, the fog occupies the same amount of space all the time. The ideal amount of players (10) stay the same. The statistics, the attributes, and the values of abilities and items also remain the same. The rules and conditions for victory are constant. There’s a metagame that unofficially decides which Heroes are suited for higher-tier play according to tweaks. The competitive scene is highly sought after, because cooperation and coordination are more important than solo prowess.

Compare it to the standardized basketball courts (the map), the fixed number of players, the rules (the game’s limitations and conditions for victory), and the drafting and picking (the metagame). There’s a reason why basketball remains so popular throughout the world. It’s because…

…for number three, the fans know it’s the players who decide the game. And yes, this is one of the biggest reasons around. True, true, Hero picks do influence some of the potential for victory, but it’s not impossible for a set of lower-tier Heroes to mow through higher-tier Heroes considering the player skill. It’s the exact same reason why we have our own favorite players and favorite teams. We may have our favored Heroes and items, but those mean nothing unless you can use them to their full potential. Heroes are just tools to grant the player the power to achieve victory.

Finally, it’s so rewarding that winning is actually less important than the experience. Since the learning curve is so steep, gamers will grind through many frustrated weeks in order to even get a hint of getting good at this game. For less dedicated players, there may be no reward in sight. For persistent ones, however, that’s when the highlights of the game start showing. There is no secret formula to getting good at Dota. It’s just a matter of playing more and more games until you familiarize yourself with the core concepts and, later on, the intimate details. Once you learn how to juke, nothing’s better than avoiding a 5-man gank with 1 HP and teleporting back to home base in their faces. After you perfect last hitting, missing out on those once too-expensive items are now a thing of the past! Every simple learning aspect in Dota rewards you sufficiently for your effort. Whether or not it was a limitation of the old Warcraft engine, or new content to make the game more convenient (as some fanboys are now arguing against each other with), it shaped and continues to shape Dota to what it is now, and what it will be in the future!

Having said all of these, it’s quite easy to see why Dota has been stirring up so much activity and interest from gamers and game journalists alike. For both sides of the game world, there are plenty of things to cover. Hell, watching a replay of a game can be just as fun as playing one yourself! Dota can be a game that helps you pass the time better, knowing each game will bring you closer to success… or it can be the ultimate game between friends, a test of skill and wit to find out who really is the best among the rest.

Be sure to add me up on Steam as Melderv. DotA now has 6.77b as its latest release, while Dota 2′s latest update brings the much-loved Troll Warlord into the fray, as well as team matchmaking. On my next article, I will look over the key differences between the well-established original and the upcoming sequel.


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