Play Time

Looking at 2004, it would be tempting to say that games like Unreal Tournament and Starcraft were the most relevant eSports titles of the time and in many ways that is true. They were certainly the most popular and some of the best supported. However, the year may well come to be remembered for something else entirely: the birth of DotA, an exceptionally popular custom map for Warcraft III.


DotA had already existed in an embryonic state for several years prior to this, arguably finding its roots in the popular Aeon of Strife custom map for Starcraft. It was in 2004 though, that two events occurred that would one day change the world of eSports forever. Firstly, the many popular variants of the map were compiled into a single edition – DotA Allstars- that took the very best heros and mechanics from other versions and blended them into one map. A few months later, a talented modder by the name of Guinsoo began to work heavily on the map and became an iconic developer in its history. In October of the same year, a passionate fan called Pendragon decided to create, which gave fans of the game somewhere to download the latest version and a forum to discuss their ideas. Between the two of them, Guinsoo and Pendragon no doubt played a major role in helping to increase DotA’s massive popularity and uniting fans of the series.


Eventually both would leave the community, the project would be taken by Icefrog and was deleted. The amount of events that happened in the next 5 years would take several articles in itself to document, though it can be summed up fairly simply by saying that DotA continued to grow at an incredible pace. Professional sponsorships, huge cash tournaments and increasing amounts of respect from the eSports community followed. Fast forward to 2009 and, after years of success working with the WCIII engine, Icefrog announced that he had agreed a deal with developer Valve that would see the game released as a standalone called Dota 2. It would seek to take its place as the king of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre of games and become a powerhouse of eSports.


It’s main competitor? Well, oddly enough it was, and still is, a game that was created by two names you’ve already heard in this article: Guinsoo and Pendragon. The game was called League of Legends, and it’s currently the biggest title in eSports.


It’s a classic narrative: master influences student; student proves prodigious and alters master’s philosophy to suit his own ideals; the two fight for supremacy. It was an epic battle of titans that seems to have blown the other pretender to the throne, a game called HoN, completely out of the water. In the quest for the title of MOBA king, it seems to be a two way race between DotA and LoL.


This is hardly a new thing in eSports, however the MOBAs are taking things to a whole other level. Both games are specifically designed for competitive play. Both games have the backing of financial powerhouses and the sorts of budgets that would make many oligarchs blush. The viewing figures, prize money, industry support and potential sponsorships are all unreal. The MOBA genre has gone from being a complex fringe player to the very heart of eSports.

Last year, 32 million people watched the Grand Final of LoL, with 8.5 million concurrent viewers. Let that number sink in for a little bit. If you need something to compare it to for scale, that’s more than half of the population of the UK and more people watched the finals together than the entire population of London. Of the $2,874,381 awarded at the Dota 2 championships, was raised by the community. Production values for both games are enormous, with full studios established with the solo purpose of commentating pro games and broadcasting them around the world.


The age of the MOBA is upon us, that much is obvious. How long it will last is less clear, however it’s clear that the genre is set to take eSports to heights we would have only dreamed of just a few years ago. These two titles may well be the ones that take eSports beyond the pc screen and into the living. One thing is for sure, this paper is sold, which is why we’ll be bringing you weekly eSports news starting in the near future.

September 7, 2017


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