So here’s an interesting statistic: Dota 2, Valve’s hugely popular MOBA game, lost almost 16 percent of its active players in September—the same month that the game’s long-awaited and much-hyped “Reborn” update finally went live for all players.
Dota data (try saying that five times fast!) is easily available on Steamcharts, a third-party site that, like many such sites for MOBA enthusiasts, pulls information from Steam’s API and assembles into it more detailed charts and graphs than those offered by Valve. First noted by a member of the influential gaming forum NeoGAF, the site just a sharp drop in Dota 2’s active users from an average of 606,944 in August to 510,522 in September:
I should point out that Dota 2’s player-base dropped in a similar way during the summer-to-fall transition the last few years as well. Never by such a large percentage, however. Here’s 2014—when it dropped around 2.6 percent in September:
2013, 5.5 percent:
It grew in 2012...but that was so early in the game’s life that it’s hard to make much of:
Why the sudden, sharp drop? It’s tempting to see Dota 2 Reborn as the explanation. As many players have griped, Reborn launched with a lot of bugs and performance issues. Scanning through the popular Dota 2 subreddit and the game’s Steam forums over the past few weeks, it’s hard to miss numerous complaints about technical issues both with the game itself and the revamped (and, to be fair, very good looking) client. People have complained about the game constantly crashing, finding certain heroes unplayable post-update, even saying that it’s “a lot harder” to “click on stuff” in-game “since reborn.” Here’s one meme I came across this morning poking fun at Icefrog, the game’s lead designer, for instance:
While anecdotal evidence makes Reborn’s performance issues a compelling candidate, it’s not the only explanation for why Dota 2 suddenly took a turn for the less-popular. Talking to Dota 2 players today, I’ve heard three other viable theories as well:
- People might have simply stopped playing Dota 2 for now since it’s the beginning of the fall season. That means that students are all going back to school, people are returning from their August vacations, and everyone’s generally busier in many countries where Dota is popular. This certainly fits with the September drop in 2014 and 2013—though, again, the drop wasn’t as big either of those years.
- Dota 2’s biggest eSports event, The International, concluded in August, meaning that there’s less interest in the game right now. Dota 2’s competitors League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm both have exciting things (like the League of Legends World Championship, or the recently-concluded Heroes of the Storm Americas finals and the upcoming Blizzcon tournament), that could be pulling MOBA fans’ attention away from Valve’s game.
- Dota 2 players are feeling burnt out from the fact that the game hasn’t received a major gameplay update (or, at least, one that was generally well-liked by the community) since April 2015. The next major update is expected to be coming soon, along with a new playable character, so people could be taking a break and waiting until that happens.
While the first two theories are legitimate, I find the third one most convincing. In my experience playing and covering MOBAs, eSports events might spur interest in watching the games, but new content and gameplay updates are the things that actually get the masses to keep playing them.
Regardless of the specific reason, it’s important to note that Dota 2 players leaving the game after the Reborn update is the opposite of what most people expected to happen. There was an incredible amount of hype prior to Reborn’s official launch. Players were raving about how awesome the new-and-improved client was going to be. Envious of all the nice things Dota 2 players were supposed to be getting, League of Legends players threatened to leave the game en-masse. Whether or not League players stopped playing Riot’s game, they clearly haven’t all migrated to Dota 2.
We’ll keep track of Dota 2’s player activity in the coming weeks and months to see if this recent downturn starts to reverse itself, or if it becomes a more permanent shift.