DOTA's Early Days Were Rough

Illustration for article titled DOTA's Early Days Were Rough

DOTA 2 is one of the biggest games on Steam. It's also the centerpiece of one of the biggest annual tournaments in all of eSports. And yet, once upon a time its most dedicated players resigned themselves to the idea that they'd probably never make a cent off it.

Pro gaming behemoth Na`Vi put together a mini-doc chronicling DOTA's humble origins as a primordial ooze pit of StarCraft and Warcraft III mods dating back to the late '90s. DOTA was not, as some might suspect, born fully formed. Rather, it devoured a whole bunch of fan ideas in the womb and then continued to evolve in various mods after that.


Around 2005, now-renowned designer (and eventual Valve employee) IceFrog began adding his own microscopic tweaks to DOTA's petri dish formula, petitioning fans for ideas and feedback to really take the mod to the next level. As the doc points out, community was always the key ingredient to DOTA's growth and eventual success. Mod communities made it, fans made it better, and eventually companies like Valve took notice.

Even once DOTA gained a name and an identity, it wasn't exactly on the fast track to multinational success. Early players dedicated time and energy to the increasingly complex arena battler not because they saw dollar signs at the finish line, but rather because they wanted to be the best. And sure, many modern pros share that mentality, but they at least have the option of making oodles of cash. Early pros weren't shooting for millions of dollars, but rather hundreds or thousands at the very top level. Chump change, definitely not enough to make a living. While disappointing, this wasn't really a surprise given that tournaments at the time were run by individuals or community groups—not major companies. Meanwhile, streaming on services like Twitch wasn't really a thing yet, nor was commentating or other supplementary forms of income.

The rest of the doc follows the bumpy road to DOTA 2 (initially longtime DOTA players hated Valve's attempt at recreating their favorite game) and the game's rise to prominence in the eSports scene. It's a bit one-sided (they don't really mention how games like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth also helped put MOBAs on the map), but it's well worth a watch. We often remember history as a series of beginnings and endings. The stuff that happens in the middle—the parts before things get exciting or huge or sexy—tend to get glossed over. If nothing else, docs like these are a good reminder of the thin threads that stitch everything together, the ones we tend to miss if we're not looking closely. In DOTA's case, community was key, and there was a high-level competitive scene before DOTA 2 tossed millions of dollars into the pot. Modern day MOBAs owe a lot to both of those things.

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