When it comes to video game franchises, competing games often grab a lot of attention from players. As with many things in life, the occasional cool and calm discussion is generally overshadowed by massive amounts of misinformation and obscene hatred. After reading this IGN article that compared the two games, I felt like I could try to do it better, especially since the comments were only about the communities.
LoL and DotA 2 are two big games that are competing with each other right now. The MOBA genre is generally known for bad communities, and the competiton between two different franchises only seems to heighten things.
This blog is to provide information about the differences between the two games. To hopefully facilitate calm discussion, it'll also be a place for people to ask questions. As someone who plays both LoL and DotA 2, I hope I can provide good information without being biased. I like both games but hate the animosity and misinformation that tends to occur when people try discussing the two side by side.
READ THIS: Few things to note before I get into this:
- I play both games, but I have more experience with LoL. The reason is because while I have had tons of experience playing the original DotA mod for Warcraft 3, I stopped playing that several years ago. DotA 2 is newer and so I haven't played it as much as I have with LoL. I do believe I still know enough to make this blog though.
-It is important to note that DotA 2 is in beta. There are many missing elements which you can read about further down. Another problem is that DotA 2 has way less players than League's well established millions, again because it's in beta form and free entry is not as easy to get.
-DotA 2 and DotA are practically the same, as explained in the blog. I may use the two terms interchangeably unless I specify the original DotA.
- I apologize for failure to cite certain things, there's a lot of posts that would require lots of digging to acquire. Since this is a LoL-related site, I assume most people here are LoL players that know what I'm talking about when I refer to Riot posts and the like.
- If you want to comment and ask questions, please keep it civil.
Game Design/Philosophy Differences
First, let's start with how different the game designs are and how the developers think.
League of Legends
In League, it has been stated multiple times by people like Morello that they have many 'restrictions' when it comes to coming up with new things. Whether it's modes or champion abilities, they always have a few things to keep inn mind.
Riot realized that while the original DotA format was great, there was a lot of little 'flaws' that made the game unfriendly or unnecessarily difficult. So they did things like simplification of the map, no gold loss on death, and the removal of denying creeps. They knew that the MOBA genre would be much better off by simplifying things without losing all the stuff that made the game fun.
Then there's some philosophies on designing abilities. It's been stated multiple times that they don't want "anti-fun" abilities. This is the reason why Blitzcrank's pull cannot affect allies (too easy to grief with), as an example. Furthermore, employees like Morello went in depth on why some abilities/champions in DotA should really not exist in the genre. Invoker was an example of 'burden of knowledge', as well as a myriad of other problems according to Riot. In DotA, Invoker is essentially a mage with access to 14 spells (technically 10). His 3 basic abilities are actually just reagents which can be combined in several different ways to create a spell. For example, combining Exort, Exort, and Exort (3 "fire" balls), he gets Sunstrike. Combining Quas, Wex, and Exort gives him Deafening Blast.
Champions like this are, according to Riot, unhealthy since they add an extremely high amount of complexity without necessarily adding to depth. It makes it more difficult for players to learn to play with and against. As you can imagine, if you're new to the game, you'll be massively confused unless you spend time reading up on everything Invoker does - and it's you'll likely want to go in depth to see things like damage, cooldowns, costs, etc. Multiple that by the increased amount of complexity DotA in general has and you can see why Riot took a diferent approach.
Another example was Bloodseeker's ultimate. His ultimate basically marked a target, whom would take damage whenever he/she moved while marked (you 'bleed' by running around). Riot did not like abilities like this because again, clarity was an issue and new players would only be more confused because they would see someone gank them, naturally run away, and be punished for it without really knowing what killed them. And then there's Techies, but you get the idea.
So, in summary, Riot simplified things that thought were harmful to the game, always keeping in mind clarity and ease of learning but not sacrificing what makes the genre so fun. Teamfights, farming, it's all still there, but with a smaller learning curve.
DotA 2 on the other hand, took a more 'If it's not broken, don't fix it". DotA is immensely popular and has a thriving professional/E-sports scene to boot. They didn't want to tamper with that. One of the biggest reasons why DotA succeeded in the first game was because of it's somewhat backwards ingenuity.
If you think about it, DotA, and maybe the MOBA genre in general, only exists due to indie developers/modders. It's one of those really backward designs that would not make sense to a full fledged video game company. It's like an RTS, but you can't quite play it like one. It's insanely punishing and difficult to master. It's a multiplayer game with only a single, non-changing map and the same amount of players (10) every time. You'd think this would be a terrible idea, but if it were not for modders, this never would have happened. Valve does not want to change that attitude, nor alienate their devoted fans.
So in line with that, why fix what's not broken? The game has a ridiculous amount of complexity and depth - I'm still surprised I managed to learn it and enjoy it back in the Warcraft 3 days. This is both a blessing and curse. Since DotA is changing little, this means it's still piggybacking off the limitations of being a mod in Warcraft 3. There are many things that may make you think like Riot, going "There is definitely a better way to do this" or "This could definitely be simpler". A simple example are attributes - each hero has Strength, Agility, and Intelligence. Points in those stats can be boosted by abilities and items, and they each do different things, like more health. You have to do unnecessary math (or memorization) to know if getting an item with +20 strength is comparable to something that gives you 400 health. It's an arachaic system that stuck around because of WC3.
It's a blessing in that the design of the game gives you more nuances to master. Take for example, the terrain. Unlike LoL, the trees are a part of the map and are not solid walls. Individual trees can be taken down by items/abilities, and there's many pockets in the side forests where players can utilize. Mastering this may mean you know exactly which trees to cut down to maximize an advantage (Say, you're Pudge and want to hook someone to where they can't escape). Again, it's a huge amount of complexity but nuances like this can be rather rewarding when you do figure it out, giving you the additional ways to outsmart opponents. The additional depth also may contribute to its popularity in the professional scene.
So, Valve isn't interested in shaking things up. Despite the higher learning curve, the 'rewards' can be greater due to the challenge of mastering more difficult things, in addition to giving your more ways to beat your opponent and making it more noticeable. So rather than completely change game designs, they focused on polishing the game and improving other aspects. Like Riot, Valve tends to be quite driven by interactions with the community. They have many grand plans not for game design, but miscellaneous purposes which you can read about further down.
In general, LoL is more streamlined than DotA.
For those curious, there actually are a bunch of changes from DotA to DotA 2. They're still very similar because the gameplay at large was never changed, and pretty much all the same stuff was imported over. However, veteran players will notice a bunch of changes thanks to the being freed from the limitations of an old engine. The most noticeable ones being finally fixing the previously un-fixable 'orb effects' from bugging out or conflicting with other stuff.
-Map design: LoL is simplified. No trees, just walls. Less paths and nuances to memorize. Two neutral bosses drive the meta of 2 bot, 1 mid, 1 top, 1 jungler. DotA is more complicated, with trees creating many nuances in pathways. Map is bigger. Only a single neutral boss but many more neutral jungle creeps. Meta is way more flexible, with everything from 3 in a single lane to two junglers and more. LoL jungle creep spawning is simple, DotA more complicated.
-Runes/Masteries/Summoner Spells: LoL has runes and masteries, pre-game bonuses that are customized by players. It also has Summoner spells, where each player can take two extra spells with long cooldowns to aid them. DotA has none of that, although it's still quite a bit more complicated even without these.
-Champions/Heroes: Champs in LoL are much easier to learn and less punishing even if playing someone for the first time. Compositions are more focused on teamwork - countering opponents still very useful but is not as a big deal. DotA 2 heroes are more complicated, with many nuances to learn in various abilities. Complexity/diversity leads to less clarity, but also some cool spells (Like Rubick, who's ultimate is to 'steal' the last cast spell from an enemy, allowing him to use that same ability for a lengthy duration). More time is needed to learn multiple heroes, and it's way more punishing trying out new ones for the first time. Composition is more focused on countering opponents, as the effects of this are higher. Getting countered by Malphite as Fiora is not as big of a deal as being countered by AoE heroes as Phantom Lancer.
LoL has ability power to allow scaling in mages, but DotA does not. As such, spells in DotA are very powerful with levels, but taper off the later the game goes. Items have greater presence to help mages keep up.
Max level 18 in LoL, with 5 points in 3 abilities and 3 in ultimate generally. DotA has 25 max levels, with 4 points in 3 abilities and 3 in the ultimates generally. It is rare to get past level 18 in a DotA game however. It allows continuous scaling in really late games (extra levels allow more stat boosts).
General complexity in DotA due to ability to create control groups and micromanage multiple units.
-Gold: Simple in LoL, you earn gold and spend it. No gold loss on death. DotA gold is a bit more complicated. You have a singular gold value, but this is actually made up of "reliable" and "unreliable" gold. Reliable gold is gained from killing heroes and cannot be lost on death. Unreliable gold is from everything else and you always lose a lot of it on death. A tactic to 'beat' the system is by spending your unreliable gold so that when you die, less of it is wasted. For example, just before you die you can spend enough gold so you only lose 3 gold on death, rather than 200.
-Items: Way more simple in LoL compared to DotA, although the season 3 changes are introducing massive amounts of new ones. LoL is way easier to understand and there is few enough items that many of them are used across a lot of champions. In DotA, the abundance of different items is staggering, and their functions can be pretty complicated, especially since many champions scale with items due to no scaling on abilities aside from levels. Items can practically be new abilities and play a greater role than items in LoL. Having so many different items does allow for many different ways to play however. It's just massively overwhelming.
Items in general are very expensive in DotA compared to LoL, and this is compounded by the fact that you lose gold on death. Rarely will you get close to the kind of item builds you can get in LoL.
DotA also has couriers to deliver items. Unlike LoL, DotA allows items to be bought at any time, even if not at base. Players will want to quickly spend their gold to minimize gold loss on death.
-Teleportation: You can recall in LoL for free, as it's an extra ability for all champs. Summoner spell Teleport required to get to other places. DotA requires an inventory slot for Teleport Scrolls, although you can use these to teleport to towers too, not just base.
-Buffs vs Runes: LoL has neutral buffs, where killing the Blue Golem or Red Lizard grants a buff to the killer, but can be 'stolen' by enemies if they kill the one with the buff(s). DotA uses runes, which are little powerups that a hero can use that spawn every 2 minutes at one of two places in the river. Their effects range from invisibility to double damage. In both games, these neutral objectives give signficant boosts and incentives to fight for them.
-Snowballing effect: Small in LoL, huge potential in DotA. This is due to gold loss and longer death times, as well as the ability to deny creeps (killing your own creeps before opponents do results in less experience gain and denial of gold to a would be last-hitter). Snowballing exists in LoL but never gets to the same high potential as DotA.
-Game length and structures: LoL around 30-45 minutes, not counting shorter game modes like Dominion. Generally longer in DotA, frequently exceeding 40 minutes. This is due to no ability to surrender in DotA and the ability to pause games (Many players pause to wait for disconnected players to rejoin). DotA structures are much more tougher and quite a lot of time and effort is needed to push into bases, but once structures are down they are permanently down. LoL allows respawning of inhibitors eventually. General rule of thumb when playing DotA is to assume at least one hour per game, as it's much more time consuming than LoL.
-Ranked/Normals, Bots, and Game Modes: LoL was willing to break away from the formula, and so we have Twisted Treeline and Dominion, so there's other maps and modes. Ranked and normals are separated, so those looking for more competitive games can play ranked. DotA 2 does not have separation, meaning there's just a single queue to go for in games. This is both good and bad in that each game is treated 'seriously', so more likely for players to play 'for real' but also more stressful. DotA 2 does not have different maps. Modes range from things like "all pick" and "captain's mode (draft style)", as well as few others.
In LoL, champions are chosen before the game starts. In DotA, non-draft modes mean heroes are chosen in-game. In things like "all pick", you can pick or random any hero, and may repick once at the cost of gold.
Bots are absolutely impressive in DotA 2, and far exceed LoL's. Bots here have a huge variety of difficulties and are impressively smart. They utilize teamwork and often act like real players, going off on ganks unpredictably at higher difficulties and pulling off some stunning moves (like timing certain abilities perfectly to get a kill).
-Replays and other stuff: LoL still has no replay functionality, spectactor mode introduced late in its life. DotA fully integrated replays and spectactor mode fairly quickly. Currently there is no spectactor delay so the potential for spectactor abuse still exists in DotA 2.
DotA 2 uses Steam, which introduces a whole heck of a lot of other things (Steam functionalities are massive so I won't list it here). Voice chat available in game, no need to use 3rd party program. Neat 'quick text wheel' to communicate common phrases like 'Missing' without having to make your own macros.
DotA 2 supports tournament broadcast/spectaction in-game. You can buy tickets through the store and view the actual games in-game, giving you control over what you want to see. This is a cool alternative to watching a stream online, and again some proceeds from buying tickets go towards the sponsors and teams.
League of Legends
-Free to play.
- Must grind IP to purchase champions and runes. Have to unlock them to use them permanently. Free weeky rotations of 10 champions. Can be considered disadvantageous/inconvenient for players as they need to grind a lot to make sure they have a variety of champs available for ranked play, as well as runes.
- Skins or champions can also be purchased with real money. Skins are pre-determined packages made by Riot. While there are no individual parts, skins vary from simple changes to complex "legendary" skins changing effects and voices.
-Less diversity with things to buy with money. Ward skins were a recent addition but they are rented on a weekly basis. Other than that, just skins, champs, and rune pages.
-Free to play (although beta form allows people to purchase beta access if they don't want to wait for a beta key)
-All heroes are free to use. There is no 'currency' to grind. Real money can be spent on a huge variety of cosmetic items.
-More community involvement (detailed later in post). Community creates items for DotA 2 - proceeds from purchases also go to the creator. No "skins" but individual item parts for each hero (ex. a head slot, a weapon slot, etc.), allows for more player customization. Things that can be purchased with real money in DotA tend to be really expensive, much more so than LoL, although absolutely no gameplay affecting things can be bought with money (as there's no need to buy heroes or rune pages).
-Cosmetic variety includes various parts for heroes, ward skins, "Fan" items (Shows a professional team's flags, proceeeds support said team), couriers, announcers, taunts, etc.
-Utilizes Team Fortress 2-like item system. Playing games to completion comes with chance of receiving random items of varying rarities (item 'drops'). Items can be traded around with others. As such, unlike LoL, you can gain cosmetic stuff without having to spend money.
League of Legends
-Decent in my opinion. Recently got a whole lot friendlier thanks to Tribunal improvements and addition of Honor system. Tribunal is a great community involvement thing and empowers players.
-Riot very communicative to community. Not many game companies incorporate dev trackers and talk so much informally on the forums.
-Community input not as grand as DotA. We don't have the ability contribute to the game aside from talking on forums.
-Also decent. Bear in mind beta means a lot less players. The community certainly was horrendous in the original DotA though.
-Valve not quite as communicative. Don't see a lot of devs posting to the same frequency and vigor as Riot. Forum link leads to the original DotA's forums, meaning most communication there is with modders and people still updating the original DotA, although since DotA is basically same as DotA 2, it's not really a big deal.
- Valve has grand plans for the community, as detailed in the announcement by Game Informer. Since there is less focus on innovation, they focus on polishing the game and trying to fix miscellaenous problems like hostile community. Examples of grand plans not yet implemented include a coaching system that pairs mentors with trainees, possibility of even allowing mentor to see the trainee's screen and control them if necessary. Other plans also include rewarding positive/non-jerky players and allowing dynamic integration of guides that can show you information in game, like highlighting items to get and popping up tips regarding certain things that come up, like a specific enemy champion.
-Community can contribute greatly to DotA 2. Many DotA 2 cosmetic items that can be bought for money is made by the community. The Community Workshop allows people to make things, then put it up for everyone else to rate and review. If Valve likes it, they incorporate it into the game and a percent of the sales go to the creators themselves, rewarding the community greatly. Other cool things are the "Fan" items mentioned before that allows players to directly support their favourite pro teams.
-Interestingly, DotA 2 implemented an honor system long before LoL did, although it's never used as they still have to actually tie it to something. It does nothing right now and there is no incentive, nor reminders, to use it. Lack of a Tribunal-like system makes it more difficult to see if reporting players does something. As said before, there are grand plans for the community but they've still got a while to go. It's still a beta, remember that.
To be honest I don't really care too much about graphics so I won't go into great depth here. I play both games in pretty low settings. DotA 2 definitely is the more technically advanced in terms of graphics, but LoL's style lends itself to much greater clarity and is easier on the eyes. Thankfully both games are well optimized so my not-so-fancy laptop is capable of playing both, although DotA 2 definitely is more demanding.
The really cool thing about DotA 2 is that the animations are stupendous - Honestly, just look at the way mounted champions move. There's no way you can tell me that isn't cool, I mean the anterior half of the body actually turns first, and the animation accurately portrays how an animal would move. It's absolutely awesome, mmkay?
Both games use unique art styles so they never really seem 'aged'.
I'm also not too picky on audio. Both games are great in this department. LoL creates new songs with new login screens, generally every time a new champion or special event comes out. DotA 2 utilizes a dynamic song system in-game, meaning it changes dramatically when your hero gets into combat. LoL's in-game music still hasn't changed and leaves much to be desired after being exposed to DotA's dynamic music.
Both games have great usage of audio for gameplay. Lots of unique sounds for various champs/heroes and items and what-not. You can really tell different champion attacks apart just by audio in both games - I'm a particular fan of the distinct sound Anti-Mage's blades make in DotA. There are many other examples like Nidalee's spears.
Where DotA absolutely beats LoL is in voices. Every hero in DotA 2 has a staggering amount of lines for everything, from the basics like moving and attacking, to a lot of specific things like purchasing certain items to killing rivals to making references. It's absolutely impressive the amount of effort that was spent on voice acting. I'm a big fan of interactions too, as many heroes have multiple rivalry lines to address specific heroes. LoL had a lot of potential here but for some reason never jumped in on it (there's some interactions, but it's really lackluster). Simply comparing voice videos on Youtube of a champion in LoL to a hero in DotA (or comparing transcripts) reveals massive differences. Kudos Valve for going all out on this.
DotA also beats LoL in that players can customize announcers. A cool thing is that you don't have to personally buy announcers too - if another player is using one, you can switch to the one they're using for that match!
LoL is miles ahead simply because they had time to establish lore. There are many stories, not just individual stories for champions but a really neat, overarching intertwining one thanks to the now deceased Journal of Justice.
DotA 2 basically had to recreate all the lore from scratch as they were no longer copying Warcraft 3's lore or making references to Blizzard games. The result is cool writing, but none of it matters because there's no establishment of a world like in LoL's. In League, we know about Valoran and it's locations, the significance of where champions came from, significant events, relationships between champs, all that stuff.
In DotA 2, there's all these neat references to locations and events and cool stuff, but none of it matters because again, they haven't established a lore world. There's not even a reason why the game world exists. I doubt storytelling is at the top of Valve's DotA 2 priortiy list right now though, so LoL will likely remain better lore-wise. Still, Valve has a lot of potential and have shown in the past that they can do some neat stuff - Team Fortress 2 is a good example. They not only gave life to each class, but spin-off digital comics resulted in establishment of some cool lore, and DotA 2 has a lot of potential for storytelling. As such I predict Vave doing the same thing, where they expand on the lore over time just as they did for TF2.
In terms of hero designs, DotA is way more varied and kind of all over the place, again because of carrying over from the original DotA in Warcraft 3. Many heroes look pretty similar to how they used to, but some received some cool makeovers that show originality/creativity. Razor and Bane are two examples, the former being reimagined with a lightning whip, and the latter being more creepy and nightmarish than before. There's even a hero made entirely of particles (no model!). LoL is much more consistent, for good and bad as this means there's a lot of similar looking humanoids.
Conclusion and AMA Section
If you've read this entire blog, thanks!. Both games are great and there shouldn't be animosity towards each other just because people play different games. In summary, LoL has a smaller learning curve but DotA has many more intracies. The community for both games isn't really that bad. DotA 2 is still in beta though so in reality, community comparisons are not quite fair.
I will post answered questions here as well. AMA means 'Ask me Anything', so feel free to ask questions related to LoL and DotA 2. I apologize if I answer questions late due to busy-ness.
Favourite heroes in DotA and LoL?
Since I stopped playing DotA long ago, I wasn't really sure who to take up in DotA 2. I stuck with my old favourite Pudge, which is ironic because he's supposedly not a newbie friendly hero, yet I find he's one of the easier ones to play. Another one is Luna, a serious glass cannon (fastest movement speed, practically no health) which makes no sense for an inexperienced player, but I liked her a lot because of the pure genius of giving her a cool voice and personality that reminds me of Game of Thrones. Oh, and mounted champ animations = awesome.
In LoL, I'm kind of a jack of the trades guy, although AD carries is my weakest role. I like a lot of champs and have no real favourites. The majority of my ranked wins in season 2 was from playing as Leona and Janna.