Preview: DOTA 2 Beta Impressions

A while back Valve ran a Defence of the Ancients  2 survey which, depending on mysterious factors, might or might not let you get access to the DotA 2 beta on Steam. I filled it out, answering as best I could or randomly when I had no idea what the hell they were talking about (which was frequent), and somehow that got me a beta key. These days a great many people play League of Legends, including myself, so perhaps a mild comparison between the two is in order.

Bonna Fiddlies

If you’re not interested in my previous experiences with this genre, you can skip to the next part.

The whole MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) thing never really grabbed me, but I do have some middling experience with League of Legends and the more esoteric branches of the fledgling genre, like Monday Night Combat, Bloodline Champions and the game that started the whole thing, Future Cop:LAPD (1998). So here then are my impressions of Defense of the Ancients 2 (BETA), from the perspective of someone who’d be called a noob by most of the LoL community. Then again, the LoL community calls everyone noob, irrespective of experience or skill level. Except if they’re winning.

I will admit my bona fides for context:

Defense of the Ancients 1: I never really played it.

I poked at it when it first appeared as a custom map for Warcraft III in 2003, but didn’t think much of it, since there were plenty of other games to play. I peeked in on the various versions that followed, as it changed developers and went through several permutations, but the caustic and unfriendly culture that congealed around it made it very unappealing. So I left it alone.

League of Legends: I’m Level 19. I only play Alistar, and have only played Alistar. That’s just the kind of guy I am. I have 41 wins in Classic, and 12 wins in Dominion, according to the useless stats page on my profile.

I would love to tell you exactly when I started playing, or my match win/loss ratio, how many matches I’ve played, or anything beyond just my level and favorite character, but League of Legends gives me no access to that. I’m pretty sure they track it all, but there is no way for me to see any of the information I’d find useful to tell you right now. If I had hit 30 and started playing Ranked Matches, I’d apparently have stats (but only for Ranked).

If I had to guess when I started playing LoL, I’d place it around June in 2011. A friend was looking for someone he knew to play with, since he admitted the online culture in LoL was very poisonous, which didn’t surprise me. The MOBA/DOTA/Whatever genre seems to naturally create a highly competitive and unfriendly atmosphere, mostly because of the nature of the genre – matches last close to an hour, and one “noob” can ruin it for the entire 5-person team. If that team only cares about winning. Which seems to be the case most of the time.

I would continue to play with a select group of friends for most of the year, but by around December I had lost interest. Not because of the game, I think LoL is decent and I still play the odd game now and then. But getting all five friends together on a regular basis ended up being difficult with our schedules (I’m in a different timezone than them). Playing with randoms was rarely enjoyable, so I had no reason to keep playing. In that regard, LoL is very much like World of Warcraft, and not just because of the grinding and cribbed mastery tree. It may be obvious, but LoL is a social experience, defined by the people you play with.

Defense of the Ancients 2: I’ve had 15 hours with the beta. Some of it against humans, some of it against the very capable bots.

The main interface, with IRC window at the bottom and tabs to the various sections.

Vi sitter i Ventrilo och spelar DotA

On paper, here are the major differences between League of Legends and Defense of the Ancients 2.

  • Heroes/Champions: LoL has 92 champions. DotA 2 will have 108 heroes (for parity with the original DotA). Right now there are only 68 heroes in the current DotA 2 beta.
  • Day/Night: DotA 2 has a day-night cycle during a match, which affects various hero abilities.
  • Trees: DotA 2‘s trees can be eaten for health using a specific item from the store or cut down with another item, and will regrow every 5 minutes when no heroes are nearby. How this impacts lane dynamism should be obvious.
  • Bots: The bots in DotA 2 will text-chat what they’re doing, who they’re thinking of ganking, and will respond to map pings.
  • Autopurchase: In DotA 2‘s options, there is a toggle for autopurchase, where the game will automatically attempt to keep you kitted out with what’s in your Suggested Items rack.
  • Editable Suggested Items: During a DotA 2 match, you can drag and drop items into the Suggested Items rack and save Sets of changes.
  • Couriers: DotA 2 has purchaseable walking and flying couriers that can fetch items from your Stash (items bought while away from the shop go into a Stash) and bring them to you automatically by clicking a button.
  • No Masteries/Runes: To set itself apart from DotA, League of Legends introduced World of Warcraft inspired Masteries and Runes for persistance outside of a match. DotA 2 does not incorporate anything like it.
  • Gold Loss: The gold you’re carrying in DotA 2 isn’t “safe”. As part of the complex risk/reward and denial mechanics, if you’ve just killed several high-level players and gained much gold, but then get ganked yourself right after, you can lose much of the gold you just gained. It drastically changes how gold functions as a game-changing value.
  • Dominion: DotA 2 does not have a Dominion mode like LoL does. It’s unclear if Valve plans to add more maps or gametypes.
  • Direct Stat Upgrades: When you level in DotA 2, you can increase the power of abilities/passives just like in LoL, or you can upgrade a character’s stats (strength, agility, intelligence) directly by choosing the stats panel over a skill panel. Which stats improve and by how much, varies depending on character.
  • No Free Recall: In DotA 2 if you want to recall back to town (or any friendly building) you’ll have to buy scrolls that allow you to teleport, if your character doesn’t already have a built-in teleport ability.
  • Runes: There are runes that appear at specific points on the map in DotA 2, granting things like invisibility, haste, double damage, or regeneration. You can bottle runes if you buy an empty bottle, but only for 2 minutes.
Of course, during an actual match the differences add up to much more than just a varying feature set. While it’s easy to get into DotA 2 if you have some LoL experience, since the fundamental structures and keybindings are the same, the flow of a match is drastically different. I’m not sure if this will be changed before release, but you also can’t “lock” your camera to your character in DotA 2 like you can in LoL, which gives DotA 2 that distinct “still an RTS” feeling. I’m personally not that pleased with that feeling, since I like having direct character agency.

While spectating or watching a replay, you can switch on various data windows like this gold graph.
Beyond that, the differences have more to do with DotA 2 being a newer game, while League of Legends continues to fall behind in features and functions in spite of its overwhelming popularity. LoL still lacks proper replays, you can only spectate custom and tournament matches, you only have a 10 match history, and that damn Achievements tab is still there even though Riot has confirmed years ago they won’t be adding any.
In contrast, DotA 2 has spectator support everywhere, in-game voice chat, a fully-featured built-in replay system, gives you a complete history of all your matches, and will have a full set of tutorials, a coaching system where live players can give you advice, in-game guides,  and achievements. You can even draw on the minimap. While LoL has a cosmetics store for purchasing full skins for champions using real money, DotA 2 is going a step further with purchasable body-part-specific skins, custom spell effects and announcer packs. Valve confirmed that some skins will be unlocked based on your progress with specific characters, presumably via character-specific achievements much like Team Fortress 2.

The shop interface is very neatly organized and easy to read.


The in-match shop in DotA 2 is easier to grasp compared to LoL, but there are actually three types of shops on the map. The main shop (for basic items) by the spawn, a lane shop (for emergency items like Town Portal scrolls) in the top and bottom lanes in the corners of the map equidistant between both sides, and a Secret Shop (for the powerful items built up from recipes) midway into both sides’ jungles. The main shop can be accessed at any time via the shop button on the interface, but the other two require you to visit them physically.

Lanes and Heroes

While LoL does have a lot of heroes, they can start to feel very samey, like they’re more defined by their stats than their actual designs. In DotA 2 each hero feels very unique and powerful, with much stronger emphasis on how they control the space around them. While the common lane composition in LoL tends to be a 1-1-2 plus jungler or straightforward 2-1-2 and rarely anything else, in DotA 2 it’s not uncommon to see compositions like 1-1-1 with 2 roamers/junglers. Matches last about the same across both games, averaging between 30 to 40 minutes, sometimes hitting 50 if both sides are equally skilled.

Water shaders and cloth dynamics are just some of the advanced visuals.


The takeaway from this is that League of Legends was designed to be a bit more straightforward and simpler, to appeal to a broader audience. It has more immediacy in terms of controlling your character, you can see slightly further around your character compared to DotA 2. In comparison, DotA 2 is a more detailed system, with more to learn and master but provides a richer, deeper experience for those that want it.

What may draw newcomers to DotA 2 over LoL, game mechanics aside, is that DotA 2 benefits from being new. Its graphics are more modern and technical, character models are detailed and lively. As expected from Valve, the amount of voicework is staggering. One character in DotA 2 has more voice cues than 10 LoL champions combined. Voice cues are also highly context sensitive, like the stealthy Riki picking up an Invisibility Rune will complain about how “that was a waste”. There are event character-specific matchup voice cues, if two character spot each other on the field.


As for the community, well…. No surprises there: people in random are generally quite insulting, will instantly ragequit the moment someone doesn’t follow their perceived “optimal actions”, and will often stop playing their characters entirely just so they can focus all their attention on hurling insults at someone who’s still learning. So just like League of Legends. In some respects, since DotA 2 attracts all the self-proclaimed “hardcore” from the original DotA, the level of intolerance is much higher. It goes without saying that DotA 2, like LoL, will be best enjoyed with a team of friends. The intelligent bots will also provide plenty of challenge if you’re not up for dealing with people.

Once DotA 2 has been officially released, things may settle a bit more as the automated ranking system moves all the serious people up, and lets the newcomers learn among themselves.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll try to answer as best I can.