No developer has a bigger stake in what "DotA" (the highly popular Warcraft III mod, Defense of the Ancients) means today than Riot Games, the budding developer of the free-to-play DotA-esque arena game League of Legends. League of Legends has quietly developed into an enormous community, and it's a game all PC gamers should at least try. So when the suprising news came out last week that Valve had submitted an application to trademark "DotA", we sat down with two of the top dogs at Riot Games who were major forces in the DotA community before they signed up at Riot--Steve "Guinsoo" Feak and Steve "Pendragon" Mescon. If anyone has a right to claim the name "DotA", it seems like it would be these guys, so we asked them what they thought of the recent announcement and what they plan to do about it.
Before teaming up with Riot, Guinsoo and Pendragon made a name for themselves by creating and operating DotA Allstars, by far the most popular version of DotA. Guinsoo, now Game Designer for League of Legends, designed and created the DotA Allstars map, while Pendragon, now Director of Community Relations for LoL, created the website to foster and grow the community around the map.
What was your initial reaction when you heard that Valve was registering a trademark for “DotA”?
Steve "Pendragon" Mescon:
As someone who worked with DotA for years, seeing developers of Valve's caliber take an interest in this genre is always exciting. Hundreds of people have worked on DotA in its many forms over the years, and millions have played the game, and certainly this type of attention demonstrates how far DotA has come.
However, the idea that one single company is taking control of the name of something that hundreds of people have contributed to is surprising. I believe DotA should always remain a community-owned product that modders, independent developers and game fans can continue to modify and play as often as they'd like. Guinsoo and I had hoped that the DotA name would live on in perpetuity as a community project that is both free to play and free to modify and expand.
PCG: Did you think that trademarking the name was even possible? Guinsoo, as the creator of DotA Allstars, you have as much of a right to claim the “DotA” name as anyone else in the world. Why hadn't you or Riot tried to trademark it before?
Steve "Guinsoo" Feak:
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.
PCG: Who has the rights to own properties like “DotA” that started out as a single map, but have evolved into so much more? Do you have insight into the legal side of things?
I don't know the answer to that question, but certainly the original authors, such as Eul and Guinsoo, and the many contributing authors and companies such as Blizzard, have contributed significantly to the creation of DotA. The situation is not as simple as a single person having total ownership over the name. But now we are exploring options to protect the DotA name. We [Dota-Allstars, LL--the company run by Pendragon] have filed for the “Defense of the Ancients” trademark to protect the work that dozens of authors have invested to create the game and on behalf of the millions of DotA players all over the world. If we were to obtain the trademark, we would keep the game and the DotA name freely available to the mod community. That way the game can continue to be worked on and enjoyed by the independent community. We want to ensure that the DotA name remains in the hands of the community and that it is free for all to use.
We have filed for the “Defense of the Ancients” trademark to protect the work that dozens of authors have done to create the game and on behalf of the millions of DotA players all over the world.
: Do you feel that Valve's application to trademark DotA affects League of Legends in any way? It is an entirely separate game, but it's legacy is obviously deeply rooted in DotA.
The trademark itself doesn't affect League of Legends because it's a standalone game. But as we still are part of the greater DotA community, we hope that the DotA name will remain under the control of the community for the community to continue to play and update.
PCG: Valve has a history of snatching up mod teams and having them create their mods as stand-alone Source games under Valve. A lot of modders see this as a beacon of hope—that if they work hard they can get full-time jobs. Do you not feel the same way?
We think Valve is a great company that has put out some amazing products--many based on mods. They have done a lot to grow and support the mod community and we are excited to see what they bring to the genre. As far as potentially offering positions for modders and DIY developers, we totally support that movement. After all, Guinsoo was originally a modder that helped create DotA Allstars and he's now one of the lead developers for League of Legends.
Is the DotA situation different from the CS or the Alien Swarm situations?
I don't know the details of those situations, but DotA was created by several different community teams over a long period of time. There were hundreds of people involved in creating and maintaining the product, shaping it into the game you see today.
Is it more devious than people might think on the surface?
We give Valve the benefit of the doubt because of their history, but our concern is that by a single organization taking ownership of the name, the community at large would no longer be able to contribute to DotA like they have for years.
PCG: Do you think Valve has relied too much on absorbing other people's ideas and refining them in recent years, rather than internally developing games from scratch?
I am excited that Valve has taken an interest in the genre and would like to see the innovations they bring to the table. We see this genre of gaming growing and expanding as more gamers discover it. Larger developers like Valve adding their talents, ideas and growing the audience is going to accelerate the popularity of this genre, which is going to be great recognition for all the efforts that the DotA community put into creating this type of game.
PCG: What's the best outcome for the average gamer at this point?
I think the best-case scenario would be that nobody owns the trademark to the DotA name. But if Valve were to ultimately gain the rights, I hope that they would abandon the trademark and release it to the community to allow them to continue to modify, play and experience DotA for free. That's what DotA is all about.