What is Dota? | EarlyGame
Join us as we try to explain it

What is Dota?

Dota 2
Dota 2 logo
Image credit: Valve Corporation

Join us as we try to explain how DotA came to be and how it got to where it is today.

Massive online battle arena

In order to explain what's DotA we'll first have to clarify what a MOBA is. Massive online battle arenas appeared as a sub-genre of real-time strategies. The first one of its kind was Aeon of Strife, a custom map for StarCraft. While RTS titles were all about managing numerous units and economy, MOBAs put a lot more emphasis on a single unit – the hero.

The map consisted of three lanes connecting the two enemy bases with defensive towers all among them and a forest full of neutral creeps. The point of the game was to destroy the enemy's main building. This used to be a throne or a tree for the respective sides in the original DotA but was changed to "Ancient" in the Dota 2 game. After all, it was called Defense of the Ancients.

The two opposing teams in the game would consist of five players each. A variety of game modes to choose from at the start of each match made the array of possibilities even wider. DotA even had a command to swap a player from the opposing team. That way, if two people on your team left and you were faced with a 3vs5, you could even it out to a 4vs4.


Aeon of Strife was quite popular in StarCraft and it led to Kyle "Eul" Sommer creating the original Defense of the Ancients map (DotA) in Warcraft III. The roster of heroes grew rapidly as the game's community was blooming. DotA also introduced items and a great variety of skills when compared to its predecessor. The genre soon started branching out with other titles. Some of the people who worked on DotA like Steve "Guinsoo" Feak moved on to work on League of Legends which would become DotA's biggest rival.

DotA also had a popular forum called at www.dota-allstars.com which currently doesn't exist but in case you want to have a look at what it used to be, there is an archived version. The reason the site was taken down came from inside. Namely, it was Steve "Pendragon" Mescon, who also founded the forum in 2004. In 2009, he received an offer he couldn't refuse from Riot Games, the studio behind League of Legends. Shortly after, the DotA forum was taken down with the promise that it would be back in a week. Naturally, that never happened. The final letter by Pendragon ended with:

"In the meantime, I hope some of you will join me and over 3 million other players for a game of League of Legends (it’s free!)"

There was little to no doubt why the forum never came back.

Needless to say, a lot of players lost touch with each other due to the forum being their only channel of communication. Additionally, all the guides and new hero concepts were lost or perhaps used by Riot, something we'll never find out for sure.

Legal dispute

With developers behind DotA leaving the projects, the legal matter became a bit more complex than anticipated. Guinsoo joined Riot and sold his rights to Blizzard. IceFrog, who took the lead of the game's development in 2005, worked with S2 studios on Heroes of Newerth but was later hired by Valve where he sold his rights to the latter. To make sure things go their way, Valve would also hire the original creator of DotA Kyle "Eul" Sommers. Blizzard and Valve met in court and settled the case by 2012 when it was agreed that Valve could keep the rights to Dota 2, and Blizzard will use the name for their own mods, namely Blizzard DotA. The latter was soon changed to Heroes of the Storm.

Out of all the developers working on DotA, IceFrog is the only one still working on the project with Valve. By the looks of it, he wants to remain anonymous and it's a wish we can totally understand.

Current day

Once Valve picked up DotA and turned it into Dota 2, the game proved to be as popular as ever. DotA is one of the oldest titles, remaining relevant for more than 15 years. With the release of Dota 2, the game's competitive scene started to flourish. Almost all of the big esports organizations have a squad in it, and Dota 2 tournaments are spread globally.

Dota 2 might not have the biggest player base but its premier event – The International – is what sets it apart. Starting its tradition in the now far 2011, it's still held annually. The tournament gathers the biggest prize pool for a single event in any esports ever, with last year's sum reaching over $34,000,000.

DotA has survived for more than a decade thanks to its dedicated fanbase. Even in the age of Battle Royale shooters, the game has managed to stay relevant and despite its player numbers dropping in recent months, it doesn't look like Dota 2 is done yet.