Defense of the Ancients: The History of the World’s Biggest Esport

Defense of the Ancients: The History of the World’s Biggest Esport

The esports phenomenon had to start somewhere.

The name Dota 2 implies that there was a Dota 1. As the grandfather of all Massive Online Battle Arenas, or MOBA for short, it’s worth taking a trip to the past to see the origins of a genre.

It might surprise you to know that Dota 1 didn’t start as a published game. Technically speaking, it wasn’t even the first MOBA. History buffs would point to Aeon of Strife, a custom map mod for Blizzard Entertainment’s 1998 Real Time Strategy game StarCraft, as the first MOBA. While it did have the skeleton of a MOBA, it wouldn’t be until 2002 that the genre would take shape.

The Dawn of DotA

In 2002, Blizzard released another widely renowned RTS game known as Warcraft 3. Within it was a more robust custom game-making tool and that’s where modder Kyle “Eulogizing” Sommer began his work. He released the very first playable version of Defense of the Ancients, henceforth shortened to DotA, in 2003. The mod was barebones but the spark of something unique and exciting was already there and capturing people’s attention.

Defense of the Ancients: The History of the World’s Biggest Esport
There was something special with playing a new kind of genre evolve, rough edges and all. (Image from Dota 2 Wiki)

Shortly thereafter was the release of Warcraft 3’s expansion, The Frozen Throne, which further improved its custom game-making tool.

Eul, as he was known, left his code open-source so that others could update DotA however they wished. Many versions of the mod came and went but the one that everyone remembers was DotA Allstars. It was a compilation of the most popular heroes from all the different versions of DotA and was maintained by modders Meian and Ragn0r until Steve “Guinsoo” Feak stepped in.

Defense of the Ancients: The History of the World’s Biggest Esport
Many old timers will be familiar with the iconic loading screen art of kunkka, who also had a hero Dota named after him. (Image by kunkka)

Guinsoo is credited for designing many of the modern DotA and MOBA gameplay elements that we have today. He created the item recipe system and the boss monster Roshan that players need to work together to defeat to get powerful game-changing rewards. Eventually, the reins of game design would fall into the hands of the mysterious IceFrog, who would remain the main designer of Dota 1 all the way till he joined Valve to become the lead designer of Dota 2.

DotA’s Reach and Legacy 

For a game that started as just a mod for a completely different game, DotA’s influence in the video game and esports scene is undeniable. Many forums and websites sprang up to discuss the game and even set up competitive tournaments and ranked ladders. It even appeared in Blizzard’s official convention, BlizzCon, in 2005. Ironic, since it could be said that DotA eclipsed Warcraft 3, the game it was made from, in popularity.

It was also in the 2005 World Cyber Games where DotA would be featured on the international esports stage. It would then become a regular fixture in esports events, making it into the behemoth that it is today.

Defense of the Ancients: The History of the World’s Biggest Esport
The top three winners of the first DotA Allstars tournament at the 2005 World Cyber Games. (Image from Dota 2 Wiki)

Of course, we can’t forget about the different games that were born out of DotA’s success. League of Legends, Smite, and even Blizzard’s own Heroes of the Storm are all here thanks to DotA. It just goes to show just how far a good idea can go thanks to some very dedicated and creative people.

Banner image by kunkka.

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