[Editor's Note: At the time of this article's publishing, no genre term had solidified for the DotA style games yet. The "MOBA" term was around but disputed, and in the past few years it has gained some acceptance, but Dota 2 simply refers to the genre as Dota. The only thing that's certain all these years later is that no matter what you call these types of games, they're still growing in popularity after a decade of obsession, and are certainly here to stay. Don't get caught up in the oddly placed "tower defense" labels.]
We've seen decades of RPGs, shooters, and action adventure games dominating the sales market. It's rare that a genre emerges as a force to be reckoned with, and when that does happen (cough musical games cough) we all witness a tidal wave of sales and profits that slam the industry, leaving everyone else wishing they would have adapted sooner. With gamer statistics quickly changing again, Valve is banking on team based tower defense (TD) games being the wave of the future, and let's face it: Valve isn't wrong often.
Tower defense games have been around since the days of Rampart for the Atari, but it wasn't until a decade ago when Blizzard fans started to become obsessed with them on heavily modded StarCraft and Warcraft real time strategy maps. Standing on the shoulders of previous giants, eventually one established dominance, and became even more popular than WC3 itself. Defense of the Ancients has gone from cult classic to currently having an estimated 14 to 22 million active monthly players across the world. With that many people, it's arguable that Blizzard's most popular game right now isn't World of Warcraft, but instead a game they don't even own.
We've seen iPhone and Facebook games catch on quick to these rapidly changing numbers, and you've no doubt played a few mild TD games in the past year casually, but what happens if a household name game company decides to jump in? Anticipating exactly this, both Riot Games and S2 Games rushed to take DotA to the next level in different paths, and just as the community felt comfortable that the future had been settled, Valve showed up late to the party and slammed its fist on the table by doing something no one expected. They hired the sole remaining developer of DotA, and then even tried to patent the name DotA.
The past month has been a whirlwind of anticipations and opinions, but the only thing that's certain is that we're about to see the tower defense genre take a big bite out of the games industry. To have Riot Games' opinion on these matters I interviewed Steve "Pendragon" Mescon -- a previous developer of DotA who went on to create League of Legends with others -- about how they think the dice will roll. Hit the jump for the full interview, where I asked every relevant question I've seen asked, begged, and whined about online in the past few months.
Thanks for this interview, and more importantly, thanks for being partially responsible for the tower defense craze that’s still gaining more and more fame and fans each month after all these years of updates. In my opinion, DotA styled tower defense games offer 5v5 strategy and excitement that no other form of online gaming can deliver.
Steve "Pendragon" Mescon: If I had to choose two things, I’d say they would probably have to be the item combination system, and game modes. Adding tiers of items added a significant amount of depth to the DotA gameplay, and really made the game more interesting and exciting throughout the early, mid and late game, and the addition of modes such as allrandom went a long way towards retaining users that had varying play preferences, which really helped to grow the audience.
To help our readers get a better idea of what Riot Games is like, what’s the current size of your staff? Also, which career positions on your team are you planning on expanding over the next year?
Okay, let’s get to the crux of the tower defense (TD) community’s concerns. Even though gamers are able to play all of the popular TD games currently being updated each month, and there’s nothing limiting them to playing just one of these games, the mindset often seems to be that one of these TD games will “win” and the rest will fade and disappear. They think it’s like a modern day version of the battle between the NFL and AFL for the “official” football league, except that it’s currently a digital war for the tower defense throne. What are your thoughts on this? Is this mindset warranted or not?
We’ve got some really amazing updates in the pipeline that will further change the way people play the game, continuing to evolve the genre. We think we’ve got some great content that will continue to attract new players and keep veterans returning for more for years to come. We’re focused on continuing to provide the best possible game and experience to our users and believe that if we continue to keep doing what we have been doing, we will continue to have success.
As someone who has followed professional competitions such as Asia Dota Championship, David Vs Goliath, Electronic Sports World Cup, and World Cyber Games, I definitely empathize with TD fans’ frustration that professional DotA competitions are continually over shadowed by FPS and Madden tournaments.
The intensely strategic and entertaining replay videos are out there, the Babe Ruth and Ali sized idols have come and gone, but the money still isn’t there to allow teams to play full-time and gain the attention they deserve. Riot Games is definitely leaping in the right direction by having League of Legends Season One offer $100,000 in player prizes. How long will Season One last for, and when will Season Two begin?
But you can definitely expect League of Legends and other games in this genre to gain in traction in the competitive gaming scene. As we mentioned, we’ve been selected by some of the top competitions, including the WCG Grand Finals taking place next month, and the ESL Major Series, to elevate the game to new competitive levels. We’ll also be holding smaller tournaments and events for our community to keep things fresh and give everyone a chance to win awesome prizes.
Have fun and take a wild guess at when we’ll finally see a gaming championship of any multiplayer genre televised in the future. Pick a year!
We’re also working on some more long-term League of Legends projects, but those things are still a secret. We’ll be sure to fill you in on those in the coming weeks and months as more information and assets become available.
Do you ever plan on adding more gameplay modes? Or even a mode that just increases the difficulty of games, such as including “denies” or other small tactics of DotA that you dropped in LoL?
Regarding the recent news of Valve trying to patent the “DotA” trademark, Steve Feak recently commented that “I was aware that trademarking the name was possible, but originally I had no intention of filing for any DotA-related trademarks because DotA is owned by the community. DotA is a mod that many of people have contributed to, not a single person or development team like most typical games. As soon as you step away and create a new game, like we at Riot Games did with League of Legends, it’s no longer DotA. After all, DotA wouldn’t be where it is today without the many contributions the community has made over the years. Neither Pendragon, Riot Games nor I have any desire to dictate the future of DotA.”
You’ve also said that if you succeed in getting the DotA trademark, you’ll do nothing with it, which means not dictating the future of DotA could potentially be disastrous. With IceFrog working at Valve, if he stops updating the Warcraft 3 version of DotA, the community would be at a loss for who should take over, and the DotA WC3 scene could be hit with a dark ages, or even permanently disband. If you don’t plan on using the DotA name anyways, and there’s a strong possibility that the WC3 DotA community will crumble, then why fight for the trademark if you won’t even use it?
Pendragon: We don’t agree with the idea the game will disband. We think that the DotA community is one of the most creative and passionate communities. There are many people who have and still are participating in the development of DotA. Just as Guinsoo took over for Eul and IceFrog took over for Guinsoo, it seems likely that someone will take the reins and continue to lead development if they aren't legally blocked from doing so.
Your defense in the past has been that “As soon as you step away and create a new game, like we at Riot Games did with League of Legends, it’s no longer DotA.” However, should IceFrog and Valve choose to change nothing in the conversion, then it still essentially would be DotA, and with more authenticity to its updates than the Heroes of Newerth clone can boast. If that were the case, then wouldn’t it deserve to use the DotA name?
It looks like the community -- or Blizzard -- should have protected themselves, because like it or not, the name is definitely up for grabs and is far too valuable to not fight for.
It’s good to see that, despite the gameplay and legal differences between you and your competitors, all parties involved still seem focused on the fun development of the TD community. It’s great to see game companies that love their communities so damn much. Do you think Blizzard missed out on a great opportunity?
Blizzard doesn’t deserve all of the negative spotlight though. How do you feel about the TD community, which is notorious for being one of the least noob-friendly multiplayer circles that the game industry has ever known? Not to mention their quickness to abandon support for professional DotA teams after each of their few but inevitable tournament losses. What would you like to communicate to the entire TD community about their responsibility in all of this for the ensured success of the game genre in the future?
Okay, now for an easy question! Who is your current favorite LoL champion to play as?
Pendragon: Right now my favorite Champion is Master Yi. I've gotten 3 penta-kills with him!
Pendragon: We think Valve is a great company, which is why their move to take control of the DotA name away from the DotA community is so puzzling. However, we're focusing our efforts on the upcoming new map and further improvements of League of Legends for all players and will continue to do so for years.
Okay, Dtoiders! Add your own opinions on these topics in the comments, and feel free to pose more questions of your own in case Destructoid can arrange a Valve, IceFrog, or S2 Games interview in the near future. And for the love of gaming gods, if you still haven't tried a top tier tower defense game yet, then what more are you waiting for?! High resolution League of Legends concept art wallpapers can be found in the gallery. Enjoy!