Defense of the Ancients: Seven Years and Counting

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"What is Defense of the Ancients, or in short, DotA?," you might ask. In case you did ask, I will take you on a little trip down memory lane. In 2003, a bright mapmaker by the alias "Eul" used the development tools Blizzard Entertainment included with Warcraft III to create a simple map that would go on to become one of the most played, discussed, and loved free game mods in the world.

"Whoa! Warcraft III? Isn't that an RTS?" Yes it is. But DotA brought a fistful of role-playing elements into this already great RTS world, and while that was something that had been attempted many times already, it had never reached such an extraordinary level of success.

As you might expect from an RTS-based mod, Defense of the Ancients pits two teams (made up of a maximum of 5 players each) against one another, each having to defend their base while trying to destroy the opponent's base. But then comes the part that made DotA the great success that millions of gamers play every day - instead of having to build and control armies and bases, the gameplay is focused on just one unit: your hero.

In the early days, the map had only a couple dozen heroes from which you could pick. Today, you can choose from almost a hundred powerful heroes, each with four unique abilities, a selection of skins, and funny snippy comments if you annoy them by over-clicking them. The gameplay is action-packed from the moment the horn sounds the start of a match. Players take their respective heroes to one of the three lanes connecting the two bases, and start by killing "creeps" - groups of NPCs spawned every minute by each base that automatically go forth to attack the enemy base. Aside from killing enemy heroes, killing creeps is each player's main source of gold and experience. With every level of experience you gain, up to a maximum of 25, you get one point that you can spend to upgrade one of your hero's skills, making it a bigger, meaner killing machine, or a more efficient healer, as the case might be. Gold is necessary to purchase items. The more gold you have, the more you can invest in recipes that transform your hero's basic items into powerful relics that augment his or her statistics considerably.

However, DotA is not just fun and games, leveling up, buying items and killing everything in your path. The more strategic opponents you come across will do everything to stop you from leveling up and making gold by "denying" your creeps (getting the last hit on their own creeps, so you cannot get the gold), by "ganging" you (two or more players attack you by surprise and kill you), or by "pushing" (entire team gathering on one lane to destroy your defense towers). It is this that gives DotA its shine: a level of strategy, teamwork, and competition that often surpasses many other games of the same ilk.

Defense of the Ancients started its rise to glory after its reins were handed to another modder going by the alias of "IceFrog". Among his contributions was the addition of most of the current content such as map layout, heroes, and skills. IceFrog's best work, however, resides in the near-perfect balance of the game. Even though each hero is unique, with its own strengths and weaknesses, the game really does not have a "best hero" or "best team". Victories are instead earned by the skill in which players control their heroes on the battlefield efficiently and their level of teamwork.

With DotA's rising popularity and its inclusion in many prestigious gaming championships (such as the World Cyber Games and the Electronic Sports World Cup), game developing companies took notice and started to create DotA-inspired games. The first big budget DotA clone was Gas Powered Games' Demigod. When Demigod was first announced, long-time players were psyched that the game would finally get its own platform. However, Demigod failed to provide exactly the things that made DotA a great game. Although fun and engaging at first, providing a much more powerful graphics engine (compared to a game developed 6 years before) and a more dynamic approach to gameplay, it quickly becomes a bore, lacking diversity (only eight heroes were available at launch, with two more added recently) and the more dynamic gameplay often becomes chaotic.

Even though it is DotA-inspired, Demigod has some very different features. First of all, it offers the possibility of playing single-player games and tournaments, which is a pretty good training tool for new players. It also has an achievement system, letting you keep count of your total kills, assists, deaths, etc., and giving you rewards from which you can choose to improve your hero in a specific match.

Demigod has a slightly different map layout. Instead of using the classic 3-lane map, connected by a center path and a maze-like forest, it uses a much simpler map, with lots of open ground to fight your epic battles on. One of its better features is checkpoint capturing, a feature that allows the player to capture certain strategic points of interest on the map, such as creep-spawning structures and shops with advanced items, giving his or her team a distinct advantage in the match.