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Dota 2 versus League of Legends – Different yet the same?

Both Dota 2 and League of Legends are games with quite a bit of history behind them. Let’s take a look at both franchises and compare where they are similar and how they (wildly) differ.

Two teams of five players who compete on a map containing three lanes. Their goal is to destroy their opponents base by working their way through the twenty two towers that are placed on the map. They do this by each controlling a character selected at the start game. A character who grows stronger by collecting gold and experience on said map. What game am I talking about here, League of Legends or Dota 2? From an outside perspective these games may seem very similar but any fan of these games will tell you they are very different. Yet, what exactly differentiates these games from each other?

Similar in source

To understand the differences between these games we first need to go back all the way to the beginning. So we can understand why, on a base level, these games seem so similar. We need to go back to the origin of two of the biggest esports games in our current time. We need to go back to a Warcraft 3 mod called Dota Allstars.

Inspired by the less popular starcraft mod Aeons of Strife, Dota Allstars quickly became one of Warcraft 3’s most popular mods. As its popularity kept growing so did the tension within the development team of the mod. One day a developer by the name of Guinsoo left the team to take a job at a company called Riot Games, leaving the development of Dota Allstars to a person with the name Icefrog while Guinsoo would develop his own version of Dota Allstars with the name League of Legends. Icefrog would eventually receive an offer from Valve to develop the game Dota 2, making it so that from their common ancestor of Dota Allstars, two new games were born, shaking up the world of gaming in their own unique way.

Strategy versus Tactics

We will start off by pointing out one of the most common oversights people make when talking about these games. It is about what genre these games belong to. For League of Legends it is easy as most people would say it is a MOBA, or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena. A term Riot Games themselves coined to describe their game. Valve has never actually described their game with the term MOBA, instead opting to use terms like ARTS (Action Real Time Strategy). Nowadays the term MOBA seems to have won the culture war, and most people would call both games a MOBA. Don’t be surprised however if an old school Dota 2 player gets cross with you for calling their game a MOBA. You’ve been warned.

Looking at these two genre names we can already identify a big difference between both developers and how they see these games. Where the term ARTS tells us that Dota 2 is supposed to be a game where strategy is very important. The term MOBA that League of Legends uses hints towards a game more focused on the concept of tactics instead. While a lot of people would use Strategy and Tactics interchangeably, there is a big difference.

Strategy defines your long-term goals and how you’re planning to achieve them. In the game of Dota 2 this means that planning ahead and predicting your opponents long term goals is the key to winning the game. Due to different items, heroes and skills countering each other in a very direct sense it is strategy that can win you the game. If you can predict your opponent is about to build a Butterfly, an item granting them evasion, you can gain a giant advantage by building a Monkey King Bar yourself so you will have the true strike to overcome this evasion.

Tactics on the other hand are much more concrete and are often oriented toward smaller steps and a shorter time frame in which you execute them. Being able to make smart and fast tactical decisions is the key to success in League of Legends. Instead of predicting long term decision making, the act of predicting where the next skillshot is going to land is of much more importance. All while the kind of items you can buy in League of Legends are way more about generic stat increases, not necessarily countering each other as hard.

The Hero and the Champion

Looking at it from a surface level, one might think Champions and Heroes are basically the same. But In reality Heroes and Champions have a radically different design philosophy behind them. While Icefrog’s design philosophy of his heroes are guided by the idea of, “If everything is overpowered, nothing is overpowered”. League of Legends’s Champion design is all centred about the idea of counterplay.

Dota 2 heroes tend to have one role they excel immensely at, while being really bad at a lot of other things. A hero like Zues for example can deal crazy amounts of magical damage, since literally all his spells are focused on this goal. Arc lightning for AOE damage, Lightning bolt for single target damage and a passive that increases the damage of all his other skills. Pair this with an Ultimate dealing massive magical damage to every enemy on the map, instantly. The big drawback however is that this hero lacks any defensive tool, so a hero who is really good at catching people, like clockwork, can destroy a Zues with ease.

League of Legends’s Champions on the other hand tend to be a lot more versatile. Since at the core of riot’s champion design is this concept of counterplay, this means that whatever the matchup is you are in, there should always be an option for the player to instantly counterplay it. This is the reason that many Champions tend to have dash or shield based abilities. So that you always have a way to counterplay that very dangerous skillshot Morgana is about to throw out. The high amount of skillshots in the game is evidence of this, since every skillshot could be counterplayed by simply sidestepping it.

Mana Burn and Anti-Fun

“A Dota 2 player and a League of Legends player meet in a bar. The Dota 2 player says that League of Legends sucks. The League of Legends player couldn’t deny it.” This might be one of the most classic jokes Dota 2 players make about League of Legends players, since an essential mechanic (Denying) that the original Dota allstars had, is not present in League of Legends, while it still is an essential part of Dota 2. Denying gives players the ability to last hit their own creeps, preventing their opponents from getting these coveted last hits and its monetary reward. Denying a creep even makes your opponent receive less exp from than what they would have received if it died normally or if they last hitted it themselves. A mechanic that League of Legends designers deemed anti-fun, and therefore didn’t include in their version of Dota Allstars.

This concept of anti-fun is something very important to the League of Legends design team. Old school League of Legends players might remember that the item Wit’s End used to have a mana burn mechanic. This got removed since the designers said that it was anti-fun and didn’t have counterplay. They want the player to feel like they always have options, and not having any mana so you can’t use your spells, tends to limit these options. This also explains why crowd control like stuns and silences tend to have a way lower duration in League of Legends as opposed to Dota 2. Since having your ability to play the game taken away is pretty anti-fun, even if it’s only for a few seconds.

Dota 2 on the other hand seems to care way less about the core idea of anti-fun. One of it’s most iconic heroes, Anti-Mage even has it as a nickname. While his core design has practically stayed the same ever since the hero was introduced during Dota 2’s alpha stage, mana burn is one of the most important mechanics the hero brings to the table. Instead of looking from the perspective of the victim to abilities, Icefrog designs the game from the perspective of the user of these abilities, and how to make it fun for them. Getting your own mana burned might be the worst, but no dota player can deny the joy of blowing up a mana burned storm spirit with their mana void.

Broad strokes

We have learned a lot about how these games differentiate from each other on a mechanical level, but in reality we have merely scratched the surface of the differences between the games. And we haven’t even talked about how things like the community and the esports scenes are wildly different from each other. Both games have their pro’s and con’s. Both games are amazing games in their own right, so give both games a try, see what you like best, and remember. different strokes for the different folks. So none of these two games is inherently better than the other.

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Image Credit: Valve / Riot Games
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