Dota 2 began as a Warcraft 3 mod, so it makes perfect sense that it should now introduce the means for its own user-created content. That's just what happened earlier this month, when Valve released an alpha version of the first-ever Dota 2 Workshop tools.
"Today, we are excited to announce the Alpha release of the Dota 2 Workshop Tools," reads a post on the game's Steam page. "This is the first release of a new set of tools to create, play, and share custom maps and game modes for Dota 2. This is a developer focused release and currently has high system requirements, but soon everyone will be able to play."
Custom maps and game modes are nothing new to Dota 2. If you've never witnessed the terrifying beauty of Pudge Wars, for instance, you truly owe it to yourself. The problem has always been that these unofficial add-ons are a chore to create, install, and use without sanctioned channels. By integrating into Steam Workshop that process is something everyone can enjoy, hassle-free.
A History of Big Ideas
Well, almost everyone. Like the post says, this is an alpha - a developer term meaning "not done yet." For now you need a reasonably powerful PC, and to sign up for the Steam Client Beta. It's still better than the prior situation, and the community is already praising it, and tearing it apart to uncover just what it can handle.
There's even speculation that this may be Valve's stealth launch of its new graphics engine.
Having good, usable tools is a massive step for Dota 2. User content is built into the game's DNA, from its humble origins, to the cosmetic items that are its primary source of income. It's the future, however, that may show just how important new modes and maps could be for Dota 2's continued existence.
When Blizzard released Warcraft 3, they obviously intended their own multiplayer suite to be the star attraction. At the time there literally was no concept of MOBAs, save for the rudimentary Aeon of Strife map in the original Starcraft; it hadn't become an institution all its own, yet. That changed with Defense of the Ancients, which eclipsed Blizzard's own multiplayer modes in popularity and staying power. The very same thing could happen to Dota, and Valve has put themselves in the best position to capitalize on it.
Before jumping straight to the hypothetical next big thing, however, it's important to remember that there will be much smaller additions that could affect the existing game: things like new maps.
Keeping it in the Family
Dota 2 is unique among its peers in that it features only one official map. Because of this, professionals and amateurs alike can study every tower, tree, and prime ward location without end. It's one of the elements that makes it a candidate for eSports - you wouldn't expect a baseball diamond to change between matches, after all.
Allowing new and different maps to exist for those that want is fun, but might interfere with the (literal) even playing field all players expect should they become a part of ranked games.
That said, should a new map (or more likely, a new mode) become more popular than the one in place, there's no reason the two couldn't exist simultaneously. Even as Defense of the Ancients trudged along, and Dota 2 neared public release Blizzard still released the more traditional, base-building Starcraft 2 to major success. The difference here is that, should lightning strike twice, Valve will likely be the company to benefit.
The company's penchant for gobbling up small developers and their projects then producing bigger, better versions in-house is well-known. Left 4 Dead, Portal, even Dota 2 itself: they all started as miniscule endeavors the gargantuan publisher saw potential in. By giving its users their own means to create within the Steam community they can not only make bright ideas easier than ever to conceive, but keep them close enough to scoop up the next big thing before it starts.
There are no guarantees a new genre will ever strike as big as MOBAs again, of course, or that it has to occur inside Dota 2.
However, the history of a game very near to our hearts shows that where there's a means to let creativity shine, it will find a way.