Is it just me or are the origins of DOTA 2’s Auto Chess giving you a case of deja vu? Let’s break it down.
Here we have a popular strategy game minding its own business, when a mod for said strategy game appears that not only forms its own version of the game, but turns things completely inside out. Sound familiar? DOTA 2 had a similar start-up and it’s safe to say Counter-Strike has overshadowed its Half Life origins to become globally recognised as one of the most iconic competitive shooters. What begun as a humble community project is now responsible for 25% of DOTA 2’s player base at peak times. But what is it exactly and why are so many strategy game enthusiasts playing it?
Chess the DOTA card game?
Featuring beloved mechanics from card and strategy games sprinkled with a dose of tower defence and the obligatory RNG, there’s plenty of reasons to check out this mod other than it being free for DOTA 2 players. On the surface, it’s a cross between a board game and the complexity of a MOBA. Chess boards exist – in fact, there are eight of them each owned by one player – but the game stretches beyond capturing the King.
Auto Chess sees the player controlling the placement of a team of DOTA heroes on a battlefield resembling a chess board. With each round that progresses, new heroes will be available to buy which can be used to aid your troops in fending off the neutral spawning Creeps or, in some cases, one of your seven opponents. This is what you’ll spend most of your time doing, for the combat is out of your control – hence the use of “auto”. Winning the fight will advance you to the next round and earn you gold.
However, losing will cause your avatar to lose hit points calculated by the remaining enemies and their strength. What follows is a 30 second interval spent buying new heroes, patching up your army and checking what your opponents are buying. Rounds continue to play out until only one player remains.
Like with most strategy games, some form of meta is going to exist. Crystal Maiden is wildly considered to be bottom tier – she should be used to that with Artifact – while the likes of Tidehunter and Kunkka are viable in most builds. But what intrigued me about “going meta” in Auto Chess was how playing the most optimal strategy can backfire on you.
If every player is working towards building the same set of heroes, not everyone is going to earn the same amount of gold every time. This can lead to some players having an incomplete strategy and forced to take the sloppy seconds in the buying phase. Sometimes, buying the least powerful items and heroes to complete your army the quickest could win you the game.
The next big thing?
Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen has remained open about his bold love for Auto Chess. While some have criticised him for yo-yoing between trends – Hearthstone, Artifact and now this – he’s one of Auto Chess’s biggest advocates. In an interview with Esports Insider, he said: “Usually, strategy games are either turn based or real time. DAC [DOTA Auto Chess] is something else; players take turns at the same time. There is a significant speed element and it keeps the players engaged and rewards fast thinking. Choosing your pieces, managing your economy and placing your pieces properly are all part of whatever strategy you want to pull off.”
Where does this leave its future? A standalone game is a solid bet. Valve are no strangers to embracing a quality community mod and their failure to reach big audiences with Artifact is still haunting them. Whether they make their own version or build on what’s already here, it’s no secret that they want to create the next big Hearthstone rival. As of now, the mod has reached 900,000 concurrent players. Artifact only had an all-time peak of around 60,000.
What’s more, CompLexity Gaming recently announced that 23 of their players are switching to Auto Chess, including members of the DOTA team. All of this is happening while the game is still digesting the success of its first Twitch Rivals event. The demand is high for an esports scene and, as a result, DOTA 2 has enjoyed a surge in Twitch numbers. Once the basic rules are grasped, the game becomes fairly simple to watch on stream which is sure to please any budding casters and casual viewers. The same couldn’t be said for many MOBAs.