MOBAs (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) dominate the eSports scene, specifically DotA 2 and League of Legends. Both have the target of reaching and destroying the enemy base using five characters on each side to battle it out. Some will argue they are carbon copies of one another, others will say they are entirely different, the rest will play CS:GO. There is, for one reason or another, a fierce rivalry between the two player bases. Most of this, in my opinion, comes down to the passion each holds for its game. These MOBAs are the types of games people dedicate their lives to trying to make a living. So, why is there such animosity? First, let’s look at each game.
DotA 2 is Valve’s 2013 sequel to the popular Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients that was created way back in 2003. The DotA fanbase was steadily growing throughout the mod years and exploded when Valve released the official sequel via Steam. Receiving a revamp in game engines in 2015 porting the original Source engine into Source 2, DotA 2 has steadily transformed over the years both in looks and gameplay with the most recent significant change introducing ‘talent trees’ that radically modify a hero’s abilities. As of writing this, DotA 2 hosts 115 heroes to freely and almost immediately choose from, Dark Willow and Pangolier being the latest additions. The reputation of the DotA 2 eSport’s scene is reflected by The International 7 (the major annual tournament) holding the record for largest prize pool of $24,687,919.
Riot Games, an American video game developer, also found inspiration in the DotA mod to create League of Legends (LoL) in 2009. The game became noticeably popular in 2012 as LoL became the most played PC game in North America and Europe in terms of hours played. League has also seen a revamp in its interface update in 2016 and in 2017 saw a change to its currency system that was received with ambivalence. LoL has now released 139 champions (unlocked via the freemium currency system) the latest being Zoe. The World Championship (League’s annual major tournament) had $5,000,000 prize pools in 2016 and 2017, whilst lower that DotA’s, it is still twice as much as any other eSport.
The most significant difference between the two games is the access to the hero pool. DotA allows for new players to choose from 20 heroes in their first 25 matches, where thereafter they have access to the full 119 hero roster. League of Legends, however, gives newbies just 10 champions to pick from with additional champions coming from purchases via the in-game currency (Blue Essence) or with real money through Riot Points. The DotA fanbase takes pride in the fact that no money or time is needed to unlock all the playable characters, keeping in line with the free-to-play genre the games are titled under. LoL players will argue that the limited champion pool gives players a chance to learn the ropes without being overwhelmed by the wealth of choice that would come from 139 champions. Valve have clearly identified with this logic since the new player hero roster was only introduced in 2017 – by limiting the choice, Valve hoped new players would not be so daunted by the rest of the game’s mechanics and intricacies.
The second important difference separating the games are their ranked systems. It operates using an MMR (Matchmaking Rank) system, a number that increases or decreases depending on whether you won or lost the game.
Like its name, LoL uses a league system, where players battle through divisions from Bronze to Challenger. Each league has five divisions, i.e. Bronze V to Bronze I. Players earn LP per victory, starting each division at 0 with the aim of reaching 100 LP to play either a best of three or five games to earn promotion into the next division or league respectively.
Once again, Valve have recently taken influence from the LoL system and introduced Medals in late 2017 that correlate to a player’s MMR. While there isn’t an official definitive nature of how much MMR corresponds to a Medal, there is the similarity of five divisions per Medal, starting from Herald and culminating in Divine. There was at first backlash against this change from the DotA community, however, many players now appreciate the visual acknowledgement of climbing the ranks in DotA, as instead of seeing +25 or -25 MMR per match, players are only notified if they are promoted. It is important to note that you can not be demoted in DotA 2, once you have reached a Medal you will not lose that Medal until the end of the season. This helps players avoid the spiral of trying to win back lost MMR to only further lose MMR and obtain only frustration. This is often the case I have found myself in within League (the elusive Platinum a distant dream) and still, to some extent, DotA. You are able to find your MMR tucked away in the stats section of your profile illuminating – though less announced to the world – your lack of 4000 MMR status (or is that just me? ☹).
The last difference I will bring to attention are the game mechanics. In LoL, lanes are all but rarely the same. One player will be in the Top Lane, one in the Jungle, one in the Middle Lane, and two at the Bottom Lane.
DotA does not follow this rigidity. Instead, teams loosely follow a number system that indicates priority of farm. Position 1 demands the most farm whilst Position 5 the least. Therefore, Position 1 will most likely play the Safe Lane Carry or the Middle Lane. Notice how the player can be in either lane: that is because in DotA lanes are not expected to stay with the same numbers. More often than not, in the current meta, you will find two in the Safe Lane (the lane that your team’s Jungle is next to), one in the Middle Lane, one in the Offlane (the lane near your enemy’s Jungle) and the last player roaming between each lane or as an additional support in the safe lane.
The fluidity of DotA’s gameplay is usually what dictates the laning phase and where a player will be. If a certain lane is struggling, then Position 4 or 5 will change lanes to assist. This is the role of the non-farmers. It is this dynamism that DotA players boast makes their game the greater of the two and it is hard to argue against this in terms of what makes a game difficult. In League you can expect consistency, being able to predict item builds or who will be where in each lane. In DotA this is far harder. Add into the mix that you can deny your enemy’s farm and experience and the game evolves in complexity even further.
In defence of the LoL players (pun unfortunately unintended) almost every skill in the game is some form of skill shot as opposed to a point and click ability. This requires a high level of mechanical ability that is highlighted more so in League than it is DotA. All of this, however, should not be held in account against each other. We should celebrate these differences and enjoy them. For me, I play League when I want something consistent. I will choose the Mid Lane and know that I can expect a gank from the enemy Jungler, but apart from that, it is a one-on-one against the opposite Mid Laner, a test of mechanical skill shots and use of summoner spells.
The champions in League burst with individual colour and unique abilities accompanied by interesting lore. Due to the aforementioned focus on skill shots, there are an abundance of ways to kill your enemies; speedy glass cannons such as Ahri or massive artillery damage from the likes of Xerath. There are so many different champions that you are bound to find something you like. In addition, since you have to unlock each champion, you cherish the ones you bought with hard earnt currency and take your time learning how to get the most out of them, slowly becoming a better player as you find your main.
DotA 2 is my fix for competition. This game has so much strategy involved that I must often play it with friends in order to coordinate attacks and successfully pull off a game plan. The importance of itemisation is paramount in DotA since there is a vast amount of more activatable items than in League. Games typically last between 35-50 minutes, roughly ten minutes more than LoL. It adds more to the sporting element, since you are sacrificing a lot of time into this one game. Just yesterday I played a game that lasted 70 minutes – not a lot of people have time for that! For this reason, victory is sweeter and defeat all the more bitter. In addition, the pro scene is fascinating and so much more alive than that of League. In LoL you will not see a first blood between good teams for at least ten minutes. In DotA it is not uncommon for the first blood to occur in the first minute. The strategies involved go past simply making mechanics the best than can be and reach into the realms of psychology. If you have ever played against Techies, you will know what I mean.
The reason I feel compelled to write this is to let you know there are two amazing MOBAs out there. Each is there helping the other develop and grow. If you limit yourself to one, that is fine. We don’t all have the time to invest 40-50 minutes into a game. However, these games are birds of the same feather. Each excels brilliantly within its niches. What one lacks the other boasts.
So why not play both?