What Dota 2 Does Differently

Five major design choices that set Dota 2 apart from its MOBA brethren.
By Steven Strom
5 min readPublished on
Dota 2 is unlike most games of its kind.
Dota 2 is unlike most games of its kind.
You can't deny the market is flooded with MOBAs lately. From EA and Activision, to Warner, and even Apple - everyone wants a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena to call their own. With the success of Dota 2, and especially League of Legends the major companies smell money in the water, and won't stop chasing it until the next major trend arrives.
With some notable exceptions, most of these me-too affairs follow the pack leader - League of Legends. Games like Infinite Crisis and Dawngate mimic its payment methods, its roster rotations, and general mechanics. Dota, on the other hand, is just a little bit different.

Minions, Murder, and Mayhem

Of all the things that makes Dota different than most games of the genre (Heroes of Newerth notwithstanding) a few stand out more than others. These are the ideas, decisions, and oddities that keep the growing community coming back after several thousand hours of playtime.
Some of the biggest changes in Dota 2 come from the smallest places. Creeps, in particular, seem individually worthless but have a huge impact on the way the game is played. It's fitting that they should also be so completely unique from their League-inspired counterparts.
These (literal) cannon fodder soldiers push up and down the lanes of a map, allowing player characters to attack structures unharmed. Of equal importance is the gold and experience they offer, as they remain the primary mean of earning both resources throughout a match.
Creeps are a huge part of every match.
Creeps are a huge part of every match.

Subheading: Blocking

Dota 2's "creeps" have some added complexities - mass and density, for instance. While the "minions" of League and its mimics are effectively intangible, creeps can be physically blocked in a lane with nothing more than a player's body. Doing so keeps them closer to friendly towers, which is a major advantage in the early stages.
Subheading: Backdoor Protection
Later on, however, Dota players must let their minions run free, thanks to Backdoor Protection. This modifier makes it all but impossible to destroy all but the weakest structures without creeps in the vicinity. Towers and building will otherwise regenerate health faster than most heroes can dish it, while damage inflicted in their presence is permanent.

Subheading: Denies

Finally, there's denying - without question one of the strangest elements of Dota 2. "Denying" a friendly creep is the act of landing the killing blow on them before an enemy hero or minion can do the same. While most MOBAs have "last-hits" - where landing the killing blow on an enemy soldier grants bonus gold - Dota is mostly unique in allowing you to not only deny the gold, but also the lion's share of experience.
All of these differences seem small on their own, but amount to big contrasts in the ebb and flow of battle when added together. Not only that, there are still more considerations to take into account during the terribly complicated game of Dota that you won't find just about anywhere else.
Valve's documentary highlights its business model.
Valve's documentary highlights its business model.

Free to Play - Seriously

Something else you're not likely to see is a truly free to-play experience. In League of Legends, and especially the latecomers on the MOBA scene, the character you would like to play isn't necessarily the character you get to play. Instead, the technically free games let you select from a rotating roster of available heroes, and pay (either with real money, or currency acquired slowly in-game) for the privilege of owning them permanently.
Not so in Dota 2. The 108 heroes in the game are playable from the moment you begin. Valve makes back its money through cosmetic upgrades, pro tournament viewing passes, and vanity announcers with the voices of Dota heroes, characters from other games like Portal and Bastion, or community figures.
With so many to choose from, it can be tough to find a hero that fits you in short order.

Subheading: The Map

One thing you won't have trouble deciding on is the map and game mode. Every game of Dota 2 is played on the same terrain, with the same objective: ten heroes push down the same three lanes to destroy the Ancient.
The variation comes in the kind of "draft" you select. All Pick will let the two teams select any hero in real time, while Single Draft gives each player a choice of three, and so on and so forth. The only other real "mode" is a recently added 1v1 mid-lane duel, though this has yet to make it into ranked matches (and likely never will).
Dota 2 is generally considered the most complicated game of its kind, and with good reason. Wrinkles like the ones mentioned here mean having to constantly be aware of a lot of different moving parts that simply aren't there in other games. Even the single map means every player has time to conceive of countless paths and strategies.
The resulting product is daunting, but that's just one of the many reasons its audience can't get enough.
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