League of Legends: Dominion First Impressions

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I've been tinkering a little bit with Dominion, the new capture and hold map for League of Legends that not so quietly slipped into public beta testing yesterday. It's available to play during off-peak hours (i.e. daytime) to all regions. And it turns out it's... good. I think it's going to be a huge success for developers Riot, with a few caveats.

I can see exactly why I like it already. It's World of Warcraft's Arathi Basin battleground all over again, but with the rapid levelling and item purchases of DOTA. And with creeps. I think I'm going to get lost here.

Here's how it works. The map is circular, with five capture points arranged at the points of a star. Each can be captured by either team. When it is captured, creeps start streaming out from behind the point and into the circle, spreading both clockwise and anti-clockwise. You start with your Nexus at 500 health. If you capture control points, the enemy team's Nexus health depletes. If they capture points, yours depletes. The spawn point for each team is protected by some brutal turrets behind the nexus. So don't go up there.

So: you charge out of base, try and capture as many points in the opening zerg, then rush around heading off enemies looking to snipe your points, while making pushes where you think the opposition is vulnerable.

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The compressed RPG mechanics of DOTA have been compressed even further. You get massive amounts of gold very, very quickly, and you'll level up even faster. Creeps die in a zap, and so do you; particularly if you run into a turret.

It's insanely, almost absurdly fast paced. Games are done with in about 15-20 minutes. It's a constant barrage of team-fights, clicking to level up, buying stuff, and running around. It was only in my third or fourth match that I really found the rhythm to play. The first time was overwhelming.

Why the Arathi comparison? For a start; the win mechanics are near identical, and some of the same strategies we used to run in old guild battlegrounds still work. Second: the way the map is clearly defined into locations reminds me of Arathi. The only real differences is the lack of elevation change, and there's no central base in the centre of the map. Finally: I absolutely loved playing Arathi Basin with an organised team. I can see how this is going to turn very competitive, very very quickly.

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Here are my caveats. If DOTA felt unfriendly to newcomers, Dominion isn't going to change that. It's so fast paced that newcomers won't even get a chance to read the tooltip text, let alone understand what's going on. Second: the small scale favours a certain type of Champion. In the matches I played, tanks and melee dps characters completely trounced all the ranged players. As Tristana, I found myself seriously running out of room to pull back to to escape. And when I did, I'd simply circle into another enemy group. Finally, the middle space of the map feels extremely under-used - it's just a series of paths to escape to, and a few buffs.

Dominion is available to play off-peak. If you're a League of Legends player, you'd best get online and try it. It's very, very exciting. I can't wait to see what the e-Sports scene makes of it.