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The history of DotA: Chapter 1

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In this series we'll take a look at some of the worlds biggest esports. Be ready for a trip down memory lane.
Written by Joakim HenningsonPublished on
In this series we will take a look at some of the biggest esports in the world. Games that have changed the concept of sports forever. Games that have solidified esports in the annuals of history. We will take a look down memory lane, all the way to the birth of the games to today. We begin with arguably the biggest esport in the west: DotA - Defense of the Ancients.

The birth of a concept

Like many other great innovations, DotA was an entirely new concept. The start of a genre of games which today numbers several hundreds - the Multiplayer online battle arena's, or Moba's as they are publicly known by. Even though there were a few games with similar style produced earlier, most people rate DotA as the first real one. The genre has quickly become one of the most popular in the gaming community. Millions of players from all around the world are playing them. Monthly, weekly, daily - even right now people are playing. Beginning with computers, the genre has transitioned into consoles, tablets and mobile.
DotA has come a long way since Allstars
DotA has come a long way since Allstars
Many of the heroes played today can be traced back to Allstars
Many of the heroes played today can be traced back to Allstars
For those of you who might not know how the Moba's play out - here comes a quick review: Basically, you play the game from a helicopter perspective on a map, or battle arena, where two teams are fighting against each other. The objective is ultimately to destroy the opponents "base", a structure deep within each teams territory. However, as you might understand, it's not that easy. Typically there are five players in every team, each and everyone have a specific role to play: tank, support, roamer and ranged damage dealer to name a few. To be successful, each role needs to be synergized with the others. The arena usually consists of three "lanes" that starts from each teams base and connects in the middle, where the fights usually are. Between the lanes you'll find "uncharted" territories. Here, players can switch between lanes, kill creeps, collect various boosting objects or cooperate ambushes/hide.
Most people associate DotA with the strategy game Warcraft 3, and even if this isn't wrong, the precursor to DotA, named Aeon of Strife, was actually created as a mod to the original Starcraft: Brood War. Apart from the aestethics, the format differed with 2v2 instead of 5v5, the game would end if all players died (instead of respawning), four instead of three lanes and overall a less "full" game. When Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos was released in 2002, the mod benefited greatly by the more solid map editor. Aeon of Strife was updated (several times in fact) with the possibility of gaining experience points, leveling up, a much more complete set of abilities and the adding of equipment. One of the updates, or maps, gained a particularly strong community. And guess which map that was? Yes, you're right - the map Defense of the Ancients was made by the modder Eul. DotA was born.
StarCrafts' Aeon of Strife began the whole shebang
StarCrafts' Aeon of Strife began the whole shebang
Defense of the Ancients
Fortunately, the graphics have been improved

Transition into its own game

The complexity of Warcraft 3's map editor enabled a mod that could be played and enjoyed by its own. When Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos' expansion pack The Frozen Throne came out the following year, in 2003, DotA along with a variety of Tower Defense mods, were among the most popular maps in the custom section. The growing fanbase enabled it to be spread which in turn encouraged the modder to make the game even more complex. The original creator Eul disappeared from the map making scene after The Frozen Throne, but fortunately left his code open-sourced. Now modders could build upon what Eul laid the groundworks to.
The newer versions of DotA were called DotA Allstars after the release of The Frozen Throne. The name originally came from a version where the most popular heroes (the playable characters in the game) where all gathered. Improved heroes with improved mechanics were made to fit in Allstars. The map gradually became more refined, better balanced and given more in-game mechanics as the popularity surged. This was also the time when Roshan (the most powerful creep in the game, who buffs the team that kills it) was created. The creator, modder Guinsoo (Steve Feak), apparently named it after his bowling ball.
DotA's rapid growth sometimes led to frustrations
DotA's rapid growth sometimes led to frustrations
With DotA Allstars on the rise and the years passing, many players tired of the ordinary Warcraft 3 game, turning their attention to other aspects of the game: customized maps. Organized competitions were formed and became ever more frequent. As more and more players joined the ranks, more work was put into the already complex game and innovative modders like the aforementioned Guinsoo, IceFrog, Neichus, Pendragon and True.Rus took it to the next level. These influential "developers" pushed DotA into a game so balanced and refined that it worked as a stand-alone competitive game.
At this time, the first semi-official forum was created for DotA, called 9nid, where players could chat about their experience, how to improve the game and other topics regarding DotA. Eventually, and quite rapidly, 9nid's servers couldn't handle the pressure from all the incoming traffic as more and more players joined the forum. It had to be moved to more substantial servers. The new forum was set up on RTSGamer, which quickly flourished. An official DotA Allstars website was created and pushed the first ever "Leagues", Clan TDA (Team DotA Allstars) and IGN (International Gaming Syndicate). The newly formed community did now have an official place to be online. The new website exploded over the course of the next few months in late 2004, having 100 staff volunteers and around 1 million page views each day. The train had picked up speed.
The features and mechanics were constantly updated during the early years
The features and mechanics were constantly updated during the early years
In 2005, DotA Allstars was translated to Chinese which hugely impacted the community in a positive way. A new market was opened. Still though, the EU and NA markets led the line in terms of innovation, improvements made on the game and competitions. Speaking of competitions, the first official international DotA event was held at the World Cyber Games Singapore in 2005. This was also when the emergence of teams began. The competitiveness had reached such a high level that teams had to be formed in order to be able to participate in tournaments and events. Legendary teams such as Apex, Boomtown, Team Q and PluG influenced these earlier competitions. You can be sure that more would follow.
At this time, DotA had become something more than just an ordinary customized map. Hundreds of thousands of fans, competitions, competitive teams and international fame - but, this was only the beginning...
From humble beginnings, a great idea took the first steps to becoming a phenomenon. In Chapter 1 we've seen the birth and emergence of DotA. In Chapter 2 we will take a look at the games introduction to the world stage and what it looks like today. Don't forget to follow Red Bull Gaming on Facebook to get the History-series straight to your feed.