Synopsis: In order to explain how the dota genre provides the illusion of character complexity, we must briefly discuss the shift in the consumer perception of what depth entails. With the help of large companies that can pour significant resources into disposable choices, most of the game industry now champions a model of “complexity through choice”, where depth is presented to the player through the number of choices rather than the interactions created by the choices. The dota genre is born to this philosophy, offering the player an unprecedented level of choice, particularly in the number of heroes available to players. With the help of an excruciatingly slow learning process, it will take you hundreds of hours to simply interact with all of the individual characters in meaningful situations, and they can be arranged in so many ways that you will never have to revisit a familiar situation. But in the end, not a single individual—or even the confluence of five individuals on two sides—can hide that the millions of possible combinations are less complex than the outcomes and frameworks in competing genres.
Synopsis: The characters in the dota genre have been hailed for their complexity and diversity. In order to debunk this, we should explain how the framework for the “chess pieces” came into place. The hero system is a direct transplant from Warcraft III, and technical limitations prevented content creators from making this system more complex. Commercial game developers have since adopted that framework. But in stripping the RTS concepts from Warcraft III and centering the action on the hero system, dota not only compares unfavorably to the RTS games where you control far more moving parts, but to comparable character-action games with more complex control schemes and skillsets. Ironically, it is the simplicity of the characters that provides the illusion of diversity, where the marginal differences become more important when the tools for victory are so similar. In the end, the simplicity is intended to create accessibility, where the range of simple characters assures you will not have to make grand leaps in order to learn them. Where other developers have looked to up to the complexity of a genre, the creators of the dota genre looked at one of the simpler RTS games and chose to make it simpler.
Synopsis: Defense of the Ancients and most of the games in the dota genre use the auto-attack mechanisms common to real-time strategy games, and the concept has wide crossover appeal with the fans of many computer game genres. To understand its role in the genre, you must understand that most dota games line the battlefield with powerful defensive towers, and the goal of the early-game is to control the pace of action in the “farming” phase. Quite simply, the purpose of auto-attacking is to provide an element of skill in this phase. However, much like the free-roaming camera, the auto-attack mechanisms were intended for an RTS genre where you are playing a commander who has indirect control over the action. The end result, once again, is that the player is disconnected from the action because the dota genre should be providing direct control of your character. It is a system where the character initiates attacks, rather than the player. The body of game history and even certain dota games will demonstrate that, within the context of a character-action game, auto-attacking is the inferior opinion.
Synopsis: While there is some limited but consistent praise for the visual direction of the dota genre, one merely has to look at the development history of 3D RTS games to understand why Defense of the Ancients could not provide the feel of an epic war at the ground level. And as developers take full advantage of technological improvements, the dota genre has remained stubbornly committed to the scope and scale of a third-party map in a 2002 videogame. Much of this stems from the lack of narrative cohesion that defined Warcraft III third-party maps, where “excuse plots” and “excuse graphics” were the norm. But in addition, the genre has been held back by a commitment to dota as virtual sport. By using “our game is a sport” to validate the genre, you have restrained the scope of your genre to a single “playing field” in a world where companies are building massive virtual universes. Combine this with the economics of modern game development, and it is easier to build a game about “The League of Legends” than the universe of war surrounding it. In the interim, the dota genre will compare unfavorably with the games which seek to push visual and technical boundaries.
Synopsis: Much like the RTS games that inspired it, the dota genre is most commonly played with a top-down “free roaming” camera that can be moved around the map independently of the participants. The genre features many mechanics that take advantage of the free camera and most dota players favor the free camera. However, the RTS genre was designed for a world in which you are playing the role of an overhead commander, whereas dota asks you to play the role of an individual. The use of a free camera to control an individual breaks the player’s connection to the action on the screen and does it to a substantial detriment. This faulty design choice is countered by an excellent body of game design that shows it is possible to manage RTS elements from a fixed camera perspective. But ultimately, the resistance of the dota community to fixed camera elements has nothing to do with an argument of superiority. Quite simply, it is a fear of change, a fear that a fixed camera would “dumb down” the genre. It is a fear generated by a lack of familiarity with the games that have featured the fixed camera elements and done them well.
Synopsis: In order to understand dota, you must first look at the circumstance of dota. You must look at the evolution of the genre within the Blizzard Entertainment real-time strategy ecosystem, through the third-party content creation for Warcraft II, StarCraft, and Warcraft III. In giving this matter extended scrutiny, you will find that the dota genre was not the matter of design genius, but of circumstance and impediment. Unlike the commercial game designers who have the talent and resources to shape the game experience, every Blizzard game offered a new set of restrictions for amateur content creators, even the vaunted Warcraft III game engine and World Editor. Bound by these limitations, content creators used RTS game engines and RTS map editors to build an action game genre. You will find that these limitations—and the flaws that came with those limitations—have shaped the mechanical, aesthetic, philosophical, and economic conventions of its genre. This book will highlight those limitations as it is necessary to do so.
Synopsis: In spite of the time and energy that I have committed to researching and writing this book, many fans of dota will claim I am not qualified to present an argument. They will claim I am not good enough at dota and have not played enough dota. This is consistent with the philosophy of “e-Sports”, a movement that has hijacked the world of organized videogame tournaments for use as a marketing scheme. By positioning these games as sports, developers cast the idea that knowledge or expertise on a game can only be acquired by playing that one game. But videogame expertise has traditionally required a wide knowledge base that these insular communities now reject, and these communities fail to understand that extended expertise is only necessary for games which hold to the initial scrutiny. In the end, I will demonstrate that the failures of dota are systemic flaws. They can be observed by those who have never even played the genre, and they do not require hundreds or thousands of hours of playtime to be dissected. As a result, all that will be necessary to judge my expertise are the arguments in this book. And as you read this book, I will demonstrate that I am most certainly an expert on the topic of dota.
Synopsis: Welcome to “Why Dota Sucks”. Contrary to the commercial, critical, and consumer success of the genre, it is the opinion of this author that dota is nothing less than a terrible example of videogame design. This introduction will explain how this book will be approaching the topic of the dota genre, to explain why the book is being written and to address some of the most common and immediate arguments which will be directed towards the material. The goal of the book is to provide the most comprehensive deconstruction of the genre that anyone will ever author and to provide the anchor for discussion of the genre that has been sorely missing.
There has been a lot of fighting over the matter of what to call the videogame genre conceptualized in the StarCraft third-party map Aeon of Strife and popularized in the Warcraft III third-party map Defense of the Ancients. Because some of the creators have settled on a name for the purpose of marketing their own game, fans not only feel compelled to defend their chosen game from outsiders, but the genre label that has been affixed to it. As a result, we need to settle the matter before we conduct the full order of business.
This book is intended to be a complete deconstruction of the “dota” genre, a book written for those who love videogames. This book will refer to individual titles as “dota games”, the genre as the “dota genre”, and will use a lower-case stylization in order to distinguish the term from Defense of the Ancients and Dota 2, the two games in the Dota series. Let’s explain why I have opted for “dota” in favor of the alternatives.
Why am I wasting my time on a third-rate rhythm game that never demonstrated a meaningful moment in its life and is perhaps known for its use as an upgrade in existing Dance Dance Revolution cabinets, leading Konami to sue Roxor out of existence? Well, there’s this magical fairy land known as “teh hardcores”, and when In the Groove was flown in the backs of flying pixies, expert rhythm game players declared it out and out superior to the game it liberally borrowed from. Not because it was it was the clear and superior upgrade, but because it was harder. Longer songs, more notes, more complexity, more difficulty. In the Groove‘s “superiority” was less about proper game design and more about acting as a vehicle for the human competition that was being compromised by Dance Dance Revolution‘s easier song lists.