nerd radio

Get ready for the new daily show

Valve’s Dota 2 Seems to Be Losing to League of Legends

March 3rd, 2022 by Irwin Fletcher Comments

With huge successes of its Netflix show and turn-based video game, the LoL developer Riot Games appears to be winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the MOBA community. Is this a mirage or is it safe to say that the eternal competitors – Dota 2 and League of Legends – are no longer truly on the same level?

Source: Dota 2/Valve

A Little Bit of History

While the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) craze is well behind us, as the world moved on to MMOs, battle royales, and whatever the current flavor of the year genre is, two MOBA titans remain: Dota 2 and League of Legends. 

DotA (the original Warcraft 3 mode one) is practically the progenitor of the genre, responsible for creating the pillars of how nearly all MOBA games look and function to this day. After Valve obtained the rights to the name “DotA” from Blizzard and secured the cooperation of Icefrog, DotA’s elusive developer, Dota 2 was born.

However, before Dota 2 was released in 2013, a slew of other MOBAs sprang out to fill in the void. A lot of those were developed by members of the original DotA team. One of them was Heroes of Newerth, which was reportedly created with the help of Icefrog himself. The other major title was League of Legends, made by one of DotA’s creators –  Steve “Guinsoo” Feak.

The team behind HoN has recently announced that their game will be shutting down forever on June 2022, finishing the game’s impressive 12-year run. Now, only Dota 2 and League of Legends are left standing – two MOBA powerhouses that seem to scare other development teams from making any new forays into the genre.

I’m well aware that comparing the two games by their actual quality is a fool’s errand that’s bound to get me branded as a heretic among one of the two zealous fanbases. What I do want to argue, however, is that Dota seems to be on the back foot when it comes to everything surrounding the game – the franchises themselves, patches, and esports.

The Netflix Effect

In 2021, we were treated to two MOBA-inspired animated series – Dota: Dragon’s Blood and League of Legend’s Arcane.  When it comes to Dragon’s Blood, the show’s season 1 was met with praise. Currently, Season 1 has a 7.9 score on IMDB, 75% on Rotten Tomatoes, and 8/10 on IGN. 

While the adventures of Mirana and Davion weren’t presented through breath-taking animation, the first season proved extremely fun to watch. The story is decent and captivating, the action is great, and there’s a nice dose of humor and light-heartedness that made the season tick.

Fans loved Dota: Dragon’s Blood, but no one was ready for how good Arcane is. The League of Legends show currently holds a jaw-dropping 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes and boasts a 9.1 rating on IMDB. When compared to movies from the (in)famous IMDB top 250 list, only the second-ranked The Godfather (9.2) and 1st ranked Shawshank Redemption (9.3 – the movie isn’t THAT GOOD you guys) manage to outperform Arcane. IGN’s Rafael Motamayor put it best:

Against all odds, Arcane delivers a killing blow to the idea that video games cannot be masterfully adapted into other mediums, with compelling characters, an endearing story, and fascinating lore and worldbuilding, as well as striking visuals that break new ground for what is possible in TV animation. Like Into the Spider-Verse, we’ll be talking about Arcane as a classic and a standard-setter for years to come.

No matter how charming Dota: Dragon’s Blood was, it was simply a few levels beneath Arcane. Riot Games has reportedly spent 6 years creating the show, and the attention to detail truly shined through in every scene.

When Dragon’s Blood Season 2 (dubbed Book 2) was released on January 18, 2022, it barely made the news. While the second season improved the show on many levels – especially production-wise – the release itself was released with very little fanfare both from Valve and the fans.

Valve Communication Issues

One of the reasons for such an unceremonial release was the fact that six days before Book 2 hit Netflix, Valve canceled the Dota Winter Major without warning. Not even the pro teams, which already paid for accommodation, travel, and other expenses – knew of the cancellation before it was publicly announced. Besides financial costs, the cancellation of the first Dota Major of the year meant teams were left without valuable tournament points they could’ve accrued.

Source: Twitter

The cited reason for the cancellation was COVID-19 concerns. While this is a valid reason, Dota 2 pros were still furious about the lack of communication from Valve and were left wondering why the tournament wasn’t played out online, as proven Dota 2-ready VPNs can cut down on any latency issues and prevent potential DDoS attacks on players or organizers.

Valve is an infamously tight-lipped company. The company very rarely puts out statements (apart from scheduled, carefully planned out ones), and almost never directly communicates with the broader gaming community directly. Before, it was considered part of the company’s charm, as the same taciturn attitude gave life to countless Half-Life 3 memes that used to flood the internet.

This time it was different, and Valve was hit with a wave of negative feedback, part of it coming from renowned professional players as well. A few days later Valve issued an apology, but the Winter Major situation remained unchanged.

Not everything was rosy inside Dota either. At the time, the previous 7.30 Dota patch was released in August 2021. This means that the Dota 2 community was without a significant patch for nearly half a year. In highly competitive games like Dota, the meta can turn stale quickly, even when you take into account that the dominant play styles made for interesting matches (unlike the dread Troll-Sniper patch of old). The new 7.31. Patch thankfully came a few days ago, but balancing issues were noticed almost immediately, prompting Valve to buff the newly released hero Primal Beast just a few days after release.

Contrary to Dota 2, League of Legends regularly pumps out patches and new champions, making for a much more dynamic game. This isn’t without its faults, as League constantly suffers from balancing problems, with plenty of champions sitting unused as they’re simply too useless in the current meta.

Building Universes

Valve managed to tie in the Dragon’s Blood animated series into the live game by introducing the previously show-only character Marci as an in-game hero you can play. However, there don’t seem to be any plans for Dota to appear on other mediums for now.

Over at Riot Games, the company has published the excellent turn-based RPG Ruined King, which also takes place in the LoL universe. Furthermore, there’s an LoL-based MMORPG in the works too, as well as an LoL fighting game, not to mention the next season of Arcane. Overall, Riot Games seems set on building a broader League of Legends universe and, judging by their successes so far, they might turn League of Legends into a great multimedia franchise.

Of course, it’s important to note that League has a much larger audience than Dota 2. LoL has around 180 million monthly active players, while Dota 2 has around 780k.

Source: Statista

Final Thoughts

All in all, it seems that Dota 2 is trailing League of Legends across the board. This isn’t to say that the game is dying – Dota 2 had fewer players practically from the very beginning and it boasts a healthy & active player community, as well as a vibrant esports scene.

Still, the recent events have highlighted the weaknesses of Valve’s approach, and Dota 2’s player count seems to be in a downwards trend overall. When you take into account the Battle Pass-focused monetization approach Valve has taken with Dota, which seems to draw more ire from players as time goes on, a change of direction might be what Valve needs in order to make Dota 2 a peer to its colorful competitor.

I'm an LA journalist who really lives for his profession. I have also published work as Jane Doe in various mags and newspapers across the globe. I normally write articles that can cause trouble but now I write for FTN because Nerds are never angry, so I feel safe.