There has been a lot of fighting over 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 games1 in the Dota series. Let’s explain why I have opted for “dota” in favor of the alternatives.
The most notorious term that has been proposed is the “Multiplayer Online Battle Arena”. Like most things on the internet, the origins are always up for debate. However, it appears the term was used as early as May of 2009, when Riot Games’ Tom Cadwell used the term to describe their upcoming game League of Legends.2 3 “MOBA” is notorious for a reason: It is a marketing term that Riot adopted in order to disassociate themselves from Defense of the Ancients. Quite simply, Riot didn’t want to call League a “dota game”. And unlike the other labels that were intended to market a game, MOBA may be the most nondescriptive term ever used to describe a game or genre. What is now applied to the top-down high-fantasy action in League of Legends could apply to “arena shooters” like Quake III and Unreal Tournament. It’s a label which was intended to distance League of Legends from the most relevant games, rather than to be compared with them, and can be entirely ignored.
The other popular contender is “Action Real-Time Strategy”, used by Valve Corporation in order to describe their 2013 game Dota 2.4 Since then, the term has been adopted by many fans of that game. For starters, “ARTS” does a disservice to fans of real-time strategy games, and it implies that RTS games like StarCraft, Supreme Commander, and Command and Conquer do not have action in them. But in addition, games which have received the ARTS label are commonly character-action games—games where you play from the perspective of a single character—which feature the base-building and unit construction found in RTS games. To call Dota 2 an ARTS is to associate it with a line of games—Herzog Zwei, Sacrifice, Giants: Citizen Kabuto, Guilty Gear 2: Overture, Brutal Legend, and many others—which do not have anything in common with Defense of the Ancients or Aeon of Strife.5 Defense of the Ancients and Dota 2 may feature elements commonly found in Warcraft III, but hardly the base construction and unit control that defined prior ARTS games, and the dota genre is best left to a separate distinction.6
The most compelling argument is actually one of the least common, and comes from those who believe the genre should be called, “Strife games”, “Strife-likes” or “AoS-likes”. It’s a direct nod to Aeon of Strife, which introduced many of the concepts that are now associated with the genre.7 But in the course of this book, we will explore in great detail how Aeon of Strife merely built the concept for a genre which is today defined by its “gameplay”,8 the interactive components that separate videogames from other media. Even if Aeon of Strife pioneered many of the concepts in the dota genre, developers are most commonly drawing their inspiration from the specific design, pacing, and style of play that was tweaked and refined for use in Defense of the Ancients.
For this reason, it’s simply the easiest and most effective to identify the genre with the game that brought it wide popularity and codified most everything commonly associated with the genre today.9 Much in the way that roguelikes are identified by their adherence to a game template codified in 1980’s Rogue, dota games are identified by their adherence to a game template codified in Defense of the Ancients. For this reason, the rest of this book will eschew all the other terms and go with “dota”. Perhaps one could wage an argument over the stylization of the term, and would prefer “DOTA”, “DotA”, or “Dota”. But “dota” simply takes the stylization currently applied to the Dota series and uses the precedent that was set by Rogue and the roguelike.10 And while the lower-case stylization may initially seem off-putting, I am comfortable that it is a good choice, and that it will become natural in the course of reading this book.
But enough about this. Let’s talk about dota.