Defense of the Ancients

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Defense of the Ancients
Defense of the Ancients' loading screen (2012)
Platform(s)Windows, Mac OS X

Defense of the Ancients (DotA) is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) mod for the video game Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002) and its expansion, The Frozen Throne. The objective of the game is for each team to destroy their opponents' Ancient, a heavily guarded structure at the opposing corner of the map. Players use powerful units known as heroes, and are assisted by allied teammates and AI-controlled fighters. As in role-playing games, players level up their heroes and use gold to buy equipment during the game.

DotA has its roots in the "Aeon of Strife" custom map for StarCraft. The scenario was developed with the World Editor of Reign of Chaos, and was updated upon the release of its expansion, The Frozen Throne. There have been many variations of the original concept, the most popular being DotA Allstars, eventually simplified to DotA. The mod has been maintained by several authors during development, with the pseudonymous designer known as IceFrog maintaining the game since the mid-2000s.

DotA became a feature at several worldwide tournaments, including Blizzard Entertainment's BlizzCon and the Asian World Cyber Games. Critical reception to DotA was positive, and it has been called one of the most popular mods of any game. DotA is largely attributed as being the most significant inspiration for the MOBA genre. American video game developer Valve acquired the intellectual property rights to DotA in 2009 to develop a franchise, beginning with Dota 2 in 2013.


A game of DotA in progress

Defense of the Ancients pits two teams of players against each other. Players on the "Sentinel" team are based at the southwest corner of the map, and those on the "Scourge" team are based in the northeast. Each base is defended by towers and waves of units which guard the main paths leading to their base. In the center of each base is the "Ancient", the building that must be destroyed to win the game.[1][2]

Each player controls one hero, a powerful unit with unique abilities. In DotA, players on each side can choose one of more than a hundred heroes, each with different abilities and tactical advantages. The scenario is highly team-oriented; it is difficult for one player to carry the team to victory alone. DotA allows up to ten players in a five-versus-five format.[3][4]

Because the gameplay revolves around strengthening individual heroes, it does not require focus on resource management and base-building, unlike most traditional real-time strategy games. Killing computer-controlled or neutral units earns the player experience points; the player gains a level when enough experience is accumulated. Leveling up improves the hero's toughness and the damage they inflict, and allows players to upgrade spells or skills. In addition to accumulating experience, players also manage a single resource of gold.[5] The typical resource-gathering of Warcraft III is replaced by a combat-oriented money system; in addition to a small periodic income, heroes earn gold by killing or destroying hostile units, base structures, and enemy heroes.[6] This creates an emphasis on "last-hitting" to land the killing blow and receive the experience and gold for doing so.[7] Using gold, players buy items to strengthen their hero and gain abilities; certain items can be combined with recipes to create more powerful items. Buying items that suit one's hero is an important tactical element of the mod.[8]

DotA offers a variety of game modes, selected by the game host at the beginning of the match. The game modes dictate the difficulty of the scenario, as well as whether players can choose their hero or are assigned one randomly. Many game modes can be combined, allowing more flexible options.[9]


Blizzard Entertainment's 1998 real-time strategy game StarCraft shipped with a campaign editor that allowed players to create custom levels, complete with scripted triggers.[10] One such custom map was "Aeon of Strife". Instead of controlling multiple units and managing buildings, players controlled a single hero unit as they fought against waves of enemies.[9][11][12]

Blizzard followed StarCraft with the real-time strategy game Warcraft III in 2002. As with Warcraft II and StarCraft, Blizzard included a free World Editor in the game that allows players to create custom scenarios or maps for the game, which can be played online with other players through Warcraft III also featured powerful hero units that leveled up and could equip items to boost their abilities, and the World Editor enabled mapmakers to create their own.[11] Taking inspiration from Aeon of Strife and using the expanded capabilities of the World Editor, modder Kyle "Eulogizing" Sommer created the first version of Defense of the Ancients in 2003.[13] The heroes could now sport different abilities and level up skills and equipment.[12] After the release of Warcraft III's expansion The Frozen Throne, which added new features to the World Editor, Eul did not update the scenario and made his map code open-source.[11][14] Other mapmakers produced Defense of the Ancients spinoffs that added new heroes, items, and features. Among the DotA variants created in the wake of Eul's map, there was DotA Allstars, originally created and developed by custom map makers Meian and Ragn0r, who took the most popular heroes and compiled them into one map.[11] In March 2004, map maker Steve "Guinsoo" Feak assumed control of Allstars development.[15] Feak said when he began developing DotA Allstars, he had no idea how popular the game would eventually become.[16] Feak added a recipe system for items so that player's equipment would scale as they grew more powerful, as well as a powerful boss character called Roshan (named after his bowling ball) who required an entire team to defeat.[13]

Feak used a chat channel as a place for DotA players to congregate, but DotA Allstars had no official site for discussions and hosting. Subsequently, the leaders of the DotA Allstars clan, TDA, proposed that a dedicated web site be created to replace the various online alternatives that were infrequently updated or improperly maintained. TDA member Steve "Pendragon" Mescon created an official community site,[13]

Towards the end of his association with the map in 2005, Feak handed over control to another developer.[11] The new author, IceFrog, added new features, heroes, and fixes.[12] IceFrog was at one time highly reclusive, refusing to give interviews; the only evidence of his authorship was the map maker's email account on the official website and the name branded on the game's loading screen.[17] Defense of the Ancients was maintained via official forums. Users posted ideas for new heroes or items, some of which were added to the map. IceFrog would quickly update the map in response to feedback.[17] Mescon maintained, which by May 2009 had over 1,500,000 registered users and received over one million unique visitors every month.[18] Mescon's sale of the domain to Riot Games split the DotA community,[4] and IceFrog announced a new official site,, while continuing game development.[19]

Because Warcraft III custom games have none of the features designed to improve game quality (matchmaking players based on connection speed, etc.), various programs were used to maintain Defense of the Ancients. External tools pinged player's locations, and games could be named to exclude geographic regions.[17] Clans and committees such as TDA maintained their own official list of rules and regulations, and players could be kicked from matches by being placed on "banlists".[17] While increasingly popular, DotA Allstars remained limited as a custom map in Warcraft III, relying on manual matchmaking, updates, and containing no tutorials.[11]

Reception and legacy

The top three finalists from the first World Cyber Games Defense of the Ancients championship

Computer Gaming World featured DotA Allstars in a 2004 review of new maps and mods in Warcraft III,[20] and in the following years DotA Allstars became a fixture at esports tournaments. Its refined gameplay and high skill level made the game extremely popular in a competitive setting.[4] It debuted at Blizzard's BlizzCon convention in 2005.[21] DotA Allstars was also featured in the Malaysia and Singapore World Cyber Games starting in 2005, and the World Cyber Games Asian Championships beginning with the 2006 season.[22] Defense of the Ancients was included in the game lineup for the internationally recognized Cyberathlete Amateur League and CyberEvolution leagues.[23] Additionally, the scenario appeared in Electronic Sports World Cup (ESWC) 2008;[24][25] Oliver Paradis, ESWC's competition manager, noted that the high level of community support behind the scenario, as well as its worldwide appeal, were among the reasons it was chosen.[26]

The scenario was extremely popular in many parts of the world, especially in Europe and Asia.[4] In the Philippines and Thailand, it was played as much as the game Counter-Strike.[27][28] It was also popular in Sweden and other Northern European countries, where the Defense of the Ancients-inspired song "Vi sitter i Ventrilo och spelar DotA" by Swedish musician Basshunter cracked the top ten singles charts in Sweden, Norway,[29] and Finland.[30] LAN tournaments were a major part of worldwide play,[26] including tournaments in Sweden and Russia; however, due to a lack of LAN tournaments and championships in North America, several teams disbanded.[27]

Michael Walbridge, writing for Gamasutra in 2008, stated that DotA "is likely the most popular and most-discussed free, non-supported game mod in the world".[17] In pointing to the strong community built around the game, Walbridge stated that DotA showed it is much easier for a community game to be maintained by the community, and this is one of the maps' greatest strengths. Former game journalist Luke Smith called DotA "the ultimate RTS".[31] Blizzard pointed to DotA as an example of what dedicated mapmakers can create using developer's tools.[32]

Defense of the Ancients helped spur the development of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre.[11][33][34][35][4] It was one of the influences for the 2009 Gas Powered Games title Demigod,[36] with the video game publication GameSpy noting the game's premise revolved around aspiring gods "[playing] DotA in real life".[37] Feak went on to apply many of the mechanics and lessons he learned from Defense of the Ancients to the Riot Games title League of Legends.[16] Other "DotA clones" include S2 Games' Heroes of Newerth.[38][39] Blizzard Entertainment developed a game inspired by DotA titled Heroes of the Storm, which features an array of heroes from Blizzard's franchises, including numerous heroes from Warcraft III.[40][41] The MOBA design DotA popularized also made its way into games that deviated from the mod's top-down perspective, such as third-person shooters and side-scrolling platformers.[11] DotA also typified the MOBA genre's reputation for unfriendly and toxic behavior as well as a difficult learning curve for new players.[4]


In October 2009, IceFrog was hired by Valve to lead a team to develop the standalone sequel, Dota 2.[42][43] The game follows heavily in the gameplay style of DotA, with aesthetics and heroes working mostly as direct ports to the original mod. In addition to the pre-conceived gameplay constants, Dota 2 also features Steam support and profile tracking, intended to emphasize and support the game's matchmaking and community.[44] The marketing and trademark of Dota as a franchise by Valve faced opposition from the DotA Allstars contributors working at Riot Games, as well as Blizzard Entertainment, both of which legally challenged the franchising of Dota by Valve.[45] The legal dispute was conceded in May 2012, with Valve gaining franchising rights for commercial use to the trademark, while non-commercial use remains open to the public.[46] Dota 2 was officially released in July 2013.[47][46][48]


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