MOBA games have been around for a long time, but Dota 2 and League of Legends are the first to regularly pull numbers like the 329,977 concurrent users on Dota 2 and the " over 500,000 peak concurrent players every day on just the EU West" League of Legends server.
You'd think that with the sheer popularity of MOBA games, they'd be easy to break into, but that's usually not the case. Fortunately, this guide is here to help! This article should help you understand the basic concepts that are common to both games as well as the overarching differences.
Already a veteran, but looking to make the switch to LoL or Dota? Find out just what makes the two games so incredibly different.
Be warned, both of these games have pretty steep learning curves, but it shouldn't take long to grasp the basics.
Basic Gam eplay
If you've ever played any sort of RTS, then the basic layout of LoL and Dota should be at least somewhat familiar. These are top-down games where you control your champion or hero alongside four other players in five-on-five fantasy action.
Left-clicking selects units while right-clicking moves your character or attacks. League of Legends uses Q, W, E and R for your main abilities with D and F reserved for summoner spells. Items are assigned to 1-6 by default. Dota 2 does things a little differently with the number keys reserved for control groups—similarly to StarCraft—and Z, X, C, V, B and N bound to your item slots. Some champions with more than four abilities also require the use of other keys like D and F.
Last hitting—delivering the killing blow to a minion—is likely the most fundamental skill you'll have to learn to play either game. Last-hitting minions is your primary means of accruing gold. Wait until the minion gets low enough for you to kill it with a single attack before you hit it. You'll still earn a slow trickle of gold over time, but killing a few extra minions can be the difference between buying the item that you need or missing out on XP for nothing.
LoL and Dota 2 do differ in how they reward players for killing players. In both games, killing an enemy player grants gold to everyone who participated in the kill. In League of Legends, the amount of gold a player is worth depends on how many times they've died without getting a kill and whether or not they're on a killing spree. Dota 2 adds to this by punishing the dead player by throwing away some of the unreliable gold that they've earned. Reliable gold is awarded for kills while unreliable gold is gained over time and for killing minions.
The distinction between the two types of gold is reason enough to declare that Dota 2 is a far more punishing game. At the same time, getting kills is quite a bit more rewarding than it is in League of Legends because you gain reliable gold while causing an enemy to lose gold. Not only is it easier to make mistakes in Dota 2, but it's also harder to come back from them.
Every single match of Dota 2 or League begins with the laning phase. This generally lasts from the time that minions spawn to anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes into the game. During this time, carry characters spend their time trying to last hit as well as possible. The goal of laning phase is to earn as much gold as possible while harassing your opponent.
Battles are more frequent and abrupt in Dota 2. Once a team commits to a fight, enemies will be stunned and spells will be unleashed. It usually only takes a second or two for the first casualty in a fight. During a game, it's not uncommon to see first blood claimed only a few minutes in. Fights in Dota 2 are quite a bit like food fights—you look around to make sure no one's watching, then let loose a few cups of pudding or an Arcane Bolt or two.
League of Legends is a little less chaotic. The first kill might take place 10 minutes into a match, but that isn't to say that the game is any slower paced. You'll be casting your spells far more often than you do in Dota 2 because of LoL's emphasis on skillshots and low mana costs. Laning is usually a matter of last hitting while throwing out a spell or two to try and push your opponent out of lane.
The later section of both games is reserved for team fighting and coordinated pushes to try and reach the enemy base. As the end of the game approaches, teams usually start to stick together to knock down towers and eventually the base structures—the melee and ranged barracks in Dota 2 and the inhibitors in LoL which strengthens creep waves. Destroying the nexus or ancient is the only way to end the game without forcing a surrender vote.
Although you're given control over a single character in both Dota 2 and LoL, the two games have different ideas of what constitutes a hero or champion.
Champions in League of Legends are more likely to have skillshots and spells that can be spammed. As a result, LoL focuses not only on traditional, attack damage (AD) carries, but also on ability power (AP) carries. Unlike in Dota 2, you can buy items that increase the damage output of your abilities in LoL. The laning phase in League games usually involve quite a bit more ability-based harass. Poking your opponent with a skillshot or target spell is reasonable because of the low mana costs that accompany most spells. Every single champion in this game has four main, character-specific spells along with room for two summoner spells; Flash is one spell that you'll see all the time because it lets you jump a short distance in the direction of your cursor.
The comparatively lesser emphasis on skillshots doesn't mean that Dota 2 isn't a skill-driven game. It makes up for it by having a diverse pool of heroes that are able to build items to satisfy different roles. Dota heroes have much more explosive power with the ability to execute combos that usually leads to battles that last only a few seconds. These powerful spells come at a cost—the mana required to cast these spells is usually high—which prevents them from being used constantly. Another distinguishing factor of Dota 2's hero pool is the Invoker—playable proof of the wide variety of heroes available in the game. With a total of 14 abilities at his disposal, the Invoker is considered by many to be the most complex character in any MOBA game. Mixing and matching reagents to invoke new spells demonstrates just how versatile and varied Dota 2 heroes can be.
Next page: A quick peek at the map, metagame and itemization options in both games.
Dota 2 and League of Legends have maps with the same basic layouts. Each has a top, middle and bottom lane with 3 layers of turrets in each lane. In between the lanes is the Jungle, which is filled with creep camps that can be killed as an alternate source of gold and experience.
Summoner's Rift is considerably smaller than Dota 2's unnamed map. Two of the main attractions are Baron Nashor and Dragon, massive neutral monsters that provide global gold for the team that kills them. The big monsters are also joined by the Lizard Elder and Ancient Golem who provide buffs when defeated. A dedicated jungler is essential to maintaining control of these buffs as well as the objectives on the map because of Smite—a Summoner Spell that deals massive true damage to monsters.
Runes, Roshan and the abundance of shops are unique to Dota 2. Roshan is Dota 2's version of Baron Nashor and drops the Aegis of the Immortal which will revive the hero holding it with full health and mana upon death. Runes periodically spawn on two designated locations outlined below and can be immediately used or stored in a Bottle. These runes range from a speed boost to double damage for a short time. Another distinction between the two maps is the fact that each side of the Dota 2 map has three shops: a main shop, side shop and a secret shop.
This is where things radically change between the two games. Broadly, Dota 2 and League of Legends are similar. You spend time in a lane farming to prepare for late game team fights. Win a few fights, get a big enough lead and you can end the game by destroying the other team's main base building—the Nexus in LoL and the Ancient in Dota 2.
Then what's the biggest difference between Dota 2 and League? No, it's not the skill required to play, it's actually the feel of the two games. Moving between the two can be awkward even for seasoned players because of the mechanical differences—turning speed, attack and casting animations.
One of the most jarring differences is the basic movement and attacks in Dota 2. To put it bluntly: commands—attacking, moving, casting a spell, and so on—happen more quickly in LoL. Dota 2's longer attacking and casting animations means that to the uninitiated, Dota 2 can feel sluggish.
The usual setup for a game of League is to have a tanky champion in top lane, an AP carry in mid lane, a support and AD carry in bot lane and a jungler to pick up the neutral monsters in the Jungle. Although pro teams mix it up by swapping the physical lane positions, the metagame of League of Legends is fairly rigid.
Dota 2's metagame has a similar, but distinct history that is filled with major changes to the way that lanes work. The current metagame differs between the pros and casual players. Most games have two players in bottom lane, two players in top lane and a player in the middle lane. This can also be swapped to have 1 top, 2 bot, a jungler and a mid or even three bottom, one top and one mid.
The lack of a recall spell and the importance of the Town Portal Scroll in Dota 2 is another huge reason for the differences in strategy. Battles can happen in the blink of an eye in Dota simply because players can move around the map more quickly with Town Portal Scrolls. But in League of Legends, crossing the map in either direction can be a 1- or 2-minute commute. Because the 300-second cooldown Teleport Summoner Spell is the only tool available to you in LoL for warping, team compositions and strategies can be focused almost entirely on split pushing. Both games have slightly varied focuses on what strategies do and don't work.
It's obvious why Dota has garnered a reputation as a hardcore game. High ground, creep denial (you can attack your own minions when they're below 50% HP), and the possibility of getting instagibbed when you walk just a touch too far from your tower are nuances that aren't present in League. On the other hand, LoL does have a brush system which renders players invisible to anyone outside of the brush. Plus, being able to Recall to base at any time with a channeling spell changes things too. It may take a while to get back to the lane, but your trip to base should only take a few seconds.
There is a ridiculous assortment of items available to players of both games. Building your hero or champion correctly is a huge part of the MOBA experience.
The types of items available differs slightly between both games. One of the many small differences between the two systems is the presence of item recipes in Dota 2. Buying a recipe while having the necessary items in your inventory will upgrade your pile of junk into a brand new sword—or whatever item the recipe creates. In League of Legends, you purchase the actual upgraded item after collecting all of the prerequisites.
We've already mentioned that Dota 2 lacks any items that increase the pain-inflicting potential of hero abilities, but we haven't talked about items like the Blink Dagger, Aghanim's Scepter and the Scythe of Vyse. Dota 2 is filled with items that have abilities that require activation. Clicking on your Blink Dagger and then clicking on the screen will teleport you a short distance on a fairly short cooldown. Using the Scythe of Vyse on any of your enemies turns them into a helpless little pig. Items like these are essential to the dynamic of Dota 2 because they expand what characters are able to do. It's not uncommon for players to have three or four items that can be activated in their inventory by the end of the game. In fact, many of these active abilities have surfaced in LoL as summoner spells and champion abilities—Flash and Lulu's Whimsy are just two examples.
League of Legends doesn't have as many crucial active items, but many champions do end up buying items like the Locket of the Iron Solari which shields allies within a small radius upon activation.
Both games have a wide variety of items that have passive abilities as well as abilities that trigger when your character is hit. Buying a Ruby Crystal in League of Legends will give you +180 health whereas a Sapphire Crystal will give you +200 mana. A Last Whisper will make all of your attacks ignore 35% of your target's armor.
Getting the right items can be as simple as selecting from the pool of recommended items or looking up what the pros are building in their games.
Next page: We take a look at how Riot and Valve have been supporting Dota 2 and LoL through monetization, patches and eSports.
Riot and Valve both pump out content updates and patches for their respective games at a breakneck pace although their end goals are quite a bit different.
Above all else, Riot's top priority is to make League of Legends fun—oftentimes at the cost of balance. Sometimes this means removing or adding items, but it can also mean nerfing and buffing champions. One of the clear differences between the balance of LoL and Dota 2 is the season system Riot has created. Every couple of years a new season of League of Legends begins with Season 3 slated to end sometime in 2014. These seasons introduce sweeping changes that drastically alter huge swathes of the champion pool and introduce new items while removing or renovating old ones. At this point in its development, Riot isn't worried about stabilizing the game—instead opting to focus on adding things that makes it more fun.
Valve's balancing philosophy revolves around the idea that every aspect of the game should be equally powerful. Each and every hero in Dota 2 has hard counters which makes having the full roster of heroes available to all players an absolute necessity. The idea is that hero selection should be based not only on team synergy, but also on what heroes the enemy team is picking.
Both of these games may be free-to-play, but they aren't devoid of alluring ways to spend your money. Neither Dota 2 nor LoL can be classified as "pay-to-win," thank goodness, since none of the things that you can spend real dollars on directly affect gameplay. The main difference between the two is the availability of champions. Dota 2 gives you it's entire roster of over 100 heroes as soon as you load into the game. League of Legends forces you to purchase any champions that aren't in the rotating 10-man roster of free champs.
Valve has created a Dota 2 store that's a lot like the Mann Co. Store in Team Fortress 2. In it you'll find a multitude of cosmetic items that you can equip on your hero of choice. One of the distinguishing features of the Dota 2 store is its integration with the Steam Workshop, which means that community created items can be swallowed up by Valve and put on sale. HUD skins, announcers and couriers are also all for sale. Although items do randomly drop for players at the end-of-match score screens, the majority of drops are treasure chests which require a paid (or traded-for) key to open.
League of Legends takes a slightly different approach by having two different in-game currencies: Influence Points (IP) and Riot Points (RP). IP is earned by completing matches whereas RP is the in-game cash equivalent. Unlike Dota 2, LoL features a rotating roster of free champs. Unlocking a champion permanently requires a small mound of IP or RP. In other words, Riot makes money not only from champion skins, but also from champion purchases. Earning enough IP for some of the newer champions is no small feat and most players end up using their IP to buy runes and resorting to RP to buy champions. The store in League of Legends also has XP and IP boosts available on both per-win and per-day increments.
Ultimately, the choice to spend money is yours. Neither game absolutely requires a monetary commitment to enjoy and the paid aspects of each game don't affect gameplay.
Dota 2 and League of Legends may be fierce competitors, but you can find significant differences between them in their mechanics, metagame, combat techniques, and approach to free-to-play. There's a reason why discussions involving both games get so heated—these are distinct games with divergent cultures. If you're looking to pick sides, come read the arguments in our Dota 2 vs LoL face off .