A trend has risen over the last few years; one where Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs) are taking over a huge portion of gaming culture. Now, stadiums are filled with fans of the genre, and its celebrities are treated like sports stars. The two most popular MOBAs, League of Legends and Dota 2, are direct competitors, based on the same custom game mod, ‘Defense of the Ancients.’
Though they have many thematic similarities, there are a plethora of differences between the two. This creates a wide contrast in the user’s experience. And, it’s difficult to say whether their different qualities truly constitute strengths or weaknesses. This is particularly important to remember when the fundamental differences between these games were formed with intentional design philosophies in mind.
While League may be quicker and flashier, Dota 2 is a little more complicated, keeping many more facets from the original Dota. Yet, these qualities also continue to speak to their differing levels of success. In short, perhaps sales are the only way to substantiate the claim that a simpler, flashier game is better.
15. Better: League Is More Popular
One of the biggest points in favor of League of Legends is the huge viewership it tows; it boasts #1 among online games. By the Fall of 2016, Riot reported over 100 million unique players will play League in a given month. Meanwhile, within the same season, Dota 2 averaged a fraction of that, with about 13 million unique players in any given month. Not everyone has to be a player to enjoy the League franchise. The League of Legends 2016 World Championship had over 43 million unique viewers. Dota 2 impressively reached about half of that, at over 20 million unique viewers.
In many social situations, it isn’t hard to find a fellow League player. Riot even knows it created a social game, and the client allows players to add friends off of social media accounts. But, does popularity necessarily equate to a product being better? Many of League’s other qualities are merits contingent on this first virtue.
14. Worse: Dota 2 Does It First
Any Dota 2 player might remember the feeling of seeing League‘s champion roster and saying, “Wait, I know these heroes…” Sure, both games will obviously draw from the original source material in Warcraft III. And with similar fantasy elements, there’s bound to be a magic archer, a knight, and a barbarian. There will be a fishperson and a dragon. Yet despite this, Dota 2 players are even recognizing similar skills that are being rehashed into League champions. Well, it’s hard to deny some of the uncanny similarities, but League never claimed to be original.
As League champions are remade, and the Summoner’s Rift map is completely refurbished, the game is moving away from the cartoon-like aesthetic of its earlier years. The game is also becoming more dynamic, as it adds in a wider array of items with kit-changing abilities. But… many of these changes go in the same direction that Dota 2 already had, despite League having a headstart. It’s important to remember that Dota 2 ended its open beta in 2013, four years after League did. This makes it all the more shocking that Dota 2 had features like its practice mode long before League.
13. Better: League Is Shorter
League of Legends has a heavy focus on the gameplay during skirmishes. That is, the team vs. team fights have a huge effect on the way the game progresses. These ‘team fights’ are large indicators for which side will win the game, and which player will carry the team to victory. So, the winners get stronger and keep winning. Under League‘s current power balance, it’s fairly doable for a mechanically-skilled player to dominate a game in under half an hour. If the enemy team is disheartened enough, they can surrender as early as twenty minutes into the game.
Meanwhile, Dota 2 matches can average around 50 minutes per match. A huge complaint among the Dota 2 community is the inability to concede a match. However, comebacks are much more common in these matches. Many of the game’s most amazing turnarounds could never have happened if Valve had allowed the implementation of a surrender option,
12. Worse: Dota 2 Heroes Are All Free
I was floored when I first launched Dota 2. The game now boasts a character roster of 113 heroes, all immediately available for the player’s first match. It’s a shining light of hope for completionists everywhere. There may be fair protestations against giving every newbie Invoker and Meepo. But while it’s a little overwhelming, it’s ultimately rewarding if a gamer takes the time to learn every hero.
On the other side of the hill, League of Legends has a weekly rotation of free champs. This staple is prominent in most other games within the genre. Characters can be bought by grinding in-game currency, but the rates are ludicrous. By playing for the ‘First Win of the Day’ bonus once a day (and winning each game) it takes over twenty games to save up enough points for a new champion. Anyone that simply doesn’t have that kind of time on their hands might opt to wait for the champion to be on sale for under five dollars.
11. Better: League Is Simpler
When playing Dota 2, it may be immediately overwhelming, and not just because of the full character roster. Many mechanics that don’t exist in League are crucial to Dota 2 gameplay; like the courier used to deliver items. A significant part of both games is the process of farming experience and gold by killing enemy minions. But League removes the ability to ‘deny’ farm, the act of destroying allied minions before an enemy player can.
The design philosophy for League of Legends seems to intend to streamline the MOBA experience. This might be evident with another game-changing mechanic in Dota 2, turn rates. Heroes take time when turning to face a different direction; while in League, changing direction is nearly instant. This makes fighting (or running) a bigger and riskier investment. Perhaps things like denying, couriers, and turn rates are too much work. But what Dota 2 boasts is its faithfulness to its roots.
10. Worse: Dota 2 Games Are More Unique
In every match, League of Legends places its players into one of five roles; Top, Mid, Jungler, AD Carry, and Support. Typically, champions fit into only one of these roles, and have little wiggle room outside of them. Much of the variety lies in the differences between them; a support that heals vs. a support that disables. In tandem with this, the equipment that champions buy generally serve to focus a character further into its roles. I.e: A heavy damage-dealer builds more damage. This —and the heavy focus on teamplay— make for fairly predictable games.
On the flipside, Dota 2 attempts to diversify its heroes’ roles. It’s a lot more feasible for a Dota 2 hero to begin as a support, but to finish the game as the one carrying the game. The heroes are grouped into three categories; Agility, Strength, and Intelligence. However, in and out of the same category, the heroes are vastly different from each other, some being extremely unique. Rubick can steal abilities. Invoker has ten spells. At the same time, equipment purchases are a lot less restrained. Any hero can buy Aghanim’s Scepter or a Blink Dagger. These choices allow for novel matches to happen fairly often.
9. Better: League Is Easier
It’s difficult to deny that Dota 2 really punishes its players’ mistakes. Deaths cause a player to drop gold. At max level, a hero might have to wait almost two minutes before respawning. Meanwhile, a maxed champion in League might despair at their misfortune with only half that. Dota 2 also punishes the improper use of skills. One wrong move, and the enemy team might capitalize on the incredibly long cooldown timers. While in League, the skills a much lower in impact, and an ability might run through its cooldown before the next fight. This is especially true later in the game, as the lengths of most cooldown decrease with every rank.
So, it’s true, there are many ways League is easier. Dota 2 has its tedious recipe system and a risky hidden shop. Meanwhile, League gives shortcuts to every player, like using ‘Recall’ to quickly return to base. Dota 2 heroes can pull out entirely unexpected moves, while League champions generally do the same things. These qualities aren’t only for simplicity’s sake, League of Legends is just more newbie-friendly.
8. Worse: Dota 2 Isn’t Struggling With Lore
Many still remember the days of the ‘Journal of Justice,’ the in-universe newspaper within League of Legends. Now, League‘s lore is left in shambles as a massive overhaul has retconned many champions’ backstories. There are updates to repair this from time-to-time. For instance, now Wukong, Ahri, and Rengar have become Vastayans. Still, without a clear framing narrative it’s no longer clear whether or not League players are even supposed to be ‘Summoners’ anymore.
Dota 2‘s lore is a little more complete. Heroes are called forth in the eternal war between the Dire and the Radiant. The game fills each hero with vocal cues to further expand their character. A player can witness Rylai’s crush on Sven in-game if they are allied together. Dota 2 would bring comics to the fray. Meanwhile, League continues to experiment with various interactive (over-produced) promos. I miss the now-discarded ‘League Judgment’ where champions earned entrance into the League through a trial. Little did either MOBA realize, was that all the fans wanted was a little more continuity.
7. Better: League Is Sleeker
While Dota 2 expands its heroes through voice lines, League expands its characters through design. League takes a core concept (falconer ranger, ice witch, fat fishman) and builds the champion’s skills, lore, and visual design around sharpening the focus on that concept. League‘s champions end up looking cohesive (albeit a bit shallow). This is in direct contrast to Dota 2‘s heroes that end up looking like they were made haphazardly for a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. At the very least, Riot now claims that it’s trying to move away from making hourglass women.
League of Legends also isn’t afraid to update its user interface and launcher. As a result, the improved chat client and in-game HUD retains a minimalist charm. With every update, the inventory continues to shrink. Improvements to the game’s sleekness are not only intended to be for aesthetic reasons, but also practical ones. In an update not too far in the past, timers were implemented at the top of the screen to denote how long until jungle monsters respawn, making the game a lot easier on players that timed it themselves.
6. Worse: Dota 2 Has A Better Community
In truth, both the League of Legends and Dota 2 communities are their own complaint-filled circles of Hell. But, Dota 2 is just a little bit higher up. This is surprising, since Dota 2‘s voice feature allows mentally unstable children to scream in your ear. League of Legends players need to use 3rd-party chat programs/sites in order to hear each other complain in different languages. Otherwise, they stop to type whenever they are irked (which is often).
Both games are rife with a myriad of ways of griefing teammates, and it is done so regularly. The two games do attempt to dampen the spread of remarks that are too homophobic or racist (with penalties like being placed into lower priority queue). When thoroughly miffed, many players resort to ‘feeding,’ the act of dying to the enemy team on purpose to give them gold. To win games, some players even resort to ‘swatting,’ the act of making up a violent crime in order to goad a SWAT team to the streamer’s home.
5. Better: League Doesn’t Give You A Clean Slate
League of Legends allows for small tweaks to the player’s experience with their champion. By equipping runes, a champion begins the game with small advantageous stat boosts. By taking masteries, a champion receives gradual increases to their effectiveness, sometimes in the form of unique passive abilities to structure one’s gameplay around.
By contrast, at the beginning of every Dota 2 match, the player starts with a clean slate. The only thing that carries over from previous matches is the player. League champions can start out with a core direction already built, perhaps taking attack runes and offensive masteries. But in Dota 2, similar traits can only be gained in-game. When a hero levels up, they can choose to rank up ‘talents’ rather than skills. These bonuses are unique to each hero, often offering players distinct, permanent choices.
4. Worse: Dota 2 Pays Better
Numbers don’t lie; no League of Legends players can boast becoming millionaires (they do have to split the prize money). But two League players, Faker and Bengi, managed to make it into the top 50 making about $900 thousand and $800 thousand in tournament winnings respectively. Meanwhile, all of the other names on the top 50 highest-paid gamers made their fortune through Dota 2.
This isn’t surprising. The 2016 League of Legends World Championships had a prize pool of about $5 million. But in comparison, the 2016 Dota 2 International broke its own record for the biggest prize pools in eSports with an over $20 million in prize money. The first place team, Wings Gaming, took home $9 million to split between them.
3. Better: League Updates All The Time
Perhaps it isn’t fair to paint Dota 2 as the more stable MOBA. Many players note that Valve isn’t afraid to make drastic changes to kits, seemingly just to mix it up, with wide-reaching patches. By contrast, League‘s patches are fairly stable with constant nudges to balance power away from abusive changes.
Sometimes the changes are bigger. League of Legends regularly reworks and retools its champions. Some reworks are only visual updates, while others are huge overhauls to the champion’s kit. However, Riot’s reworking team is always aiming to focus a champion into its niche with every update an improvement on an outdated champion.
2. Worse: Dota 2 Manages Premium Content Better
League of Legends allows the player to customize their champion by allowing them to use different skins or chromas (recolored skins). These skins were originally exclusively available with IRL currency up until recently. Now, players can find chests and key fragments after a game. The crafting option is extremely clumsy and requires a lot of different pieces, but it’s a huge advancement from before.
Dota 2 takes a different approach. Valve has a huge array of cosmetic options to personalize the player’s experience. They can be dropped at the end of matches, traded, or wagered. Every hero can change each individual piece of their wardrobe. Players can design their own pieces of equipment. Garments can have their names changed, and items can even be socketed with gems that display signatures or statistics. Maybe League of Legends will allow its players to change the look of their wards, but Dota 2 has this and more; with changeable announcers, taunts, and music, to name a few of its customization options.
1. Better: League Is A Business
Despite its success, Valve doesn’t seem to have as profitable of a business model as Riot. Comparing the two is like having a tech company compete with three unpaid men in a basement. Now normally, fans would rather thoroughly milk a cheaper game, but Riot somehow constantly pulls in its audience with shiny new changes. Fans sometimes forget that when a business succeeds, it performs better. More money goes into focus groups and reworking teams. So at the very least, a portion of Riots riches actually go into improving parts of the game that need to be fixed.
Not only will League fans find old champions and items have been remade to fit the present-day theme of the game, but they’ll also constantly get teased by new champions and skins. While Valve might allow a fan-made cosmetic item, Riot controls and creates all of its skins, which keeps the game more thematically cohesive. League follows patterns; if a skin has been used (and is met with some success) then Riot is bound to make more of it. And now, I’m tempted to spend money every time a new skin comes out from the PROJECT line or the Blood Moon theme.