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League Of Legends riffing on Dota Auto Chess with Teamfight Tactics

Riot Games have announced a new League Of Legends mode named Teamfight Tactics, which is heavily inspired by Dota 2 mod Auto Chess. Y’know, the turn-based mod about buying and melding AI-controlled heroes, which has grown so popular that Valve are making an official standalone spin-off. Teamfight Tactics looks like that but in LoL and with a few tweaks to make it fresh and friendlier. It’ll first launch on June 24th. This seems the point that Auto Chess goes from a mod to a genericised mode, which I suppose is fitting considering MOBAs are a genre grown from autocannibalism.

Like Auto Chess, Teamfight Tactics is about turn-based battles where we can buy, upgrade, and place our tabletop warriors then AI takes over for fights against other players’ squads or NPC beasties. Across rounds, players buy more heroes from a random pool, can meld three copies of the same hero to get a powered-up version, sometimes find items, and battle on until they die by losing enough rounds. I’ve enjoyed Auto Chess more than I expected, with its twin satisfactions of executing a strategy and getting totally lucky receiving good heroes.

Riot say their Teamfight Tactics “aims to give all types of players, from the die-hard competitor to the casual and social player, a fun and deep play experience.” A friendlier way into Auto Chess is likely part of Valve’s plan for their standalone version of Drodo Studio’s mod, and here come Riot cannily sneaking in first. Ooh it’s like the first great MOBA war all over again.

“We’ve always loved strategy games and recently we’ve gotten into the new auto-battler genreā€”folks around the office have been playing an insane amount of Dota Auto Chess in particular,” Riot said today.

I’m glad their blog post at least mentions Auto Chess, because their press release very carefully avoids it. Oh sure, Riot are growing a new branch on a branch of a branch of a branch of mods which all fed off each other, a rich modding history of remixing, but they 100% are doing this now specifically because of Dota Auto Chess. It’s a shame that Riot, unlike Valve, don’t appear to be working with Auto Chess mod developers Drodo Studio or slipping them money.

Teamfight Tactics cribs so closely from Auto Chess that Riot are introducing wee avatar critters named ‘Little Legends’. In Auto Chess, these critters are Dota’s item-delivering couriers hackily repurposed to add controls Dota wasn’t built to support. In Teamfight Tactics, they’ll be purely decorative dooads because Auto Chess has critters so people expect them and because they’re something to monetise with cosmetics.

It is fascinating how side-effects of the way a mod was made become part of its aesthetic or even core. Riot intentionally cut the idea of couriers when building League Of Legends upon the ideas of ye olde Warcraft 3 mod DotA Allstars, and now they’re adding them back in a roundabout way because a mod built upon Dota 2 turned couriers into a new feature.

History might suggest that this is the point where Auto Chess (or “turn-based autobattlers”, as Riot say to distance themselves from Auto Chess) could blow up and suddenly be everywhere, with every big game adding an Auto Chess mode and every publisher wanting their own piece of the Autopie. While the idea seems to me less adaptable than the recent crazes of battle royale games, Minecraftbuts, and MOBAs themselves, I’d quite like to be surprised here. Hit me with your best autoshot.

See our E3 2019 tag for more news, previews, opinions, and increasingly surreal liveblogs.

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