Dota 2 "most played" report challenged by Riot - we investigate

Yesterday, we reported on a study published by DFC Intelligence , claiming that Dota 2 had overtaken League of Legends as the most played game in North America and Europe, and citing data from XFire and other unnamed sources. But the conclusions of the report seemed problematic - Riot had previously announced five million concurrent players worldwide, and while Dota 2 is undeniably growing in popularity, to surpass it in two key regions would have been a big deal.

As we reported at the time, with DFC's methodology unclear, it was impossible to confirm their findings. To find out more, I got in touch with David Cole, owner of DFC, for clarification. Additionally Riot, eager to retain their title, have provided some of their own statistics, which suggest that League of Legends is still the king.

In a statement to , a Riot spokesperson said that League of Legends sees "over 500,000 peak concurrent players every day on just the EU West shard." Considering Dota 2's all-time concurrent player peak is 325,897 users worldwide, it would seem as though LoL is indeed ahead.

DFC's David Cole provided us with information on how they arrived at their conclusion. "We do have access to all Xfire data and they are a key source," he said. "However, we also do a lot of data mining of multiple sources to get a better sample. This includes forums etc.

"The thing with us is we are getting core gamers in North America and Europe only. LOL has a ton of users in markets we don't track.

"I will say in the past people have thought our numbers for LOL were impossibly high. Diablo III had a short lived spike but nothing has come close. LOL has consistently showed usage an order of magnitude above other products just in the markets we tracked. You add in additional markets like China and it is clearly larger.

"Dota 2 is a new entity so we don't know where things will be headed. Diablo III showed a leap but it went back down whereas LOL has been consistent. But to me the news wasn't that LOL is declining, it is more about the success of Dota 2 in some of these core Western markets."

Cole also clarified that the report specifically measured hours played, and not number of users.

Riot countered this point, with a spokesperson telling us that, "back in October Riot reported 1+ billion hours played per month and 3 million concurrent players globally (then, last month reported 5 million concurrent... so you can extrapolate the growth in playtime and other stats from there)." Although, again, this covers worldwide play, not the specific NA and European regions of DFC's study.

"Riot is actually going to give us some actual numbers so we can compare," Cole continued. "LOL does have a lot more users and we may have underestimated LOL. Thing is, we have never seen anything like it, so have been pretty conservative. But Dota 2 is still big."

Which is true enough. From all of this, what remains clear is that both MOBAs are enjoying a huge amount of success. And, of course, it's worth keeping in mind that Dota 2 is still in beta. While invites are still available, it seems likely that even that small barrier would have an effect on the number of people playing the game. There are vast audiences for both games, and we won't know Dota's true effect until it's fully available, and free, on Steam.

As for the report, the problem is gaining accurate data at such a granular level. Using the publicly released figures, we can just about make comparisons over concurrent users at a purely worldwide level. And yes, here, it's clear that League of Legends is ahead of the curve. Finding a sure-fire, undeniable method for tracking hours played in two specific regions is much harder. Based on the information Riot have provided, it seems likely that LoL is at the top of that list too. But without a standardised and consistent method of comparing data between different companies, it's always going to be hard to establish an accurate figure.

Ultimately, I question how relevant the report's scope is to free-to-play games. Having an idea of what's popular and consistently played in North America and Europe is probably useful data if you're making games in the AAA space. But free-to-play's strength is in its ease of access worldwide; in regions like China where traditional publishing models have yet to, or even can't, take hold. Essentially, PC gaming is both leading the way for alternative funding schemes, and blurring the lines of how they relate back to the idea of "Western" gaming.

Phil Savage

Phil has been writing for PC Gamer for nearly a decade, starting out as a freelance writer covering everything from free games to MMOs. He eventually joined full-time as a news writer, before moving to the magazine to review immersive sims, RPGs and Hitman games. Now he leads PC Gamer's UK team, but still sometimes finds the time to write about his ongoing obsessions with Destiny 2, GTA Online and Apex Legends. When he's not levelling up battle passes, he's checking out the latest tactics game or dipping back into Guild Wars 2. He's largely responsible for the whole Tub Geralt thing, but still isn't sorry.