I was thinking the Blizzard/Valve cold war over DOTA had gone tellingly quiet of late. Here's why - because it's gone to the courts. Valve are, of course, gearing up to release Dota 2 as a standalone game of their own, but DOTA - or Defense of the Ancients as it was originally known - sprang to life as a Warcraft III mod. Valve were already facing a trademark-off with some of DOTA's original team, but now, after some passive aggression in the media, Blizzard have stepped fully into the fray. They have lawyers. And they are contesting Valve's registration of the Dota 2 trademark.
Whether they ultimately want it for themselves is less clear, though they're certainly making a big song and dance about it being associated with their products. The obvious, logical and sensible reaction to this news is that Blizzard don't own the name DOTA. Neither do Valve, at least not yet. The question is, who should? And it looks as though 'no-one' isn't a valid answer any more. Blizzard's claim, as part of an attempt to block Valve's trademark for Dota 2, is that "the DOTA mark has become firmly associated in the mind of consumers with Blizzard". I just made a noise like I'd been punched in the stomach by Hellboy. Er, no. My feeling is that neither company should be owning the name of something created by the gaming community for the gaming community. Alas, IP is about the most valuable commodity in the free world these days, so someone was always going to try and slip a saddle onto wild, free DOTA before too long.
The thrust of Blizzard's counterclaim is, however, that they believe they have more of a right to the name than Valve do. "Valve has never used the mark DOTA in connection with any product or service that currently is available to the public. By attempting to register the mark DOTA, Valve seeks to appropriate the more than seven years of goodwill that Blizzard has developed in the mark DOTA and inits Warcraft III computer game and take for itself a name that has come to signify the product of years of time and energy expended by Blizzard and by fans of Warcraft III...
"If such registration is issued, it not only will damage Blizzard, but also the legions of Blizzard fans that have worked for years with Blizzard and its products, including by causing consumers to falsely believe that Valve's products are affiliated, sponsored or endorsed by Blizzard and are related or connected to Warcraft III."
Also, they note that the main Dota mods "cannot be played independently of Warcraft III" and that The title "Defense of the Ancients," or "DotA," is a reference to the Warcraft III characters known as the "Ancients," since the primary objective of the game is to either defend or destroy (depending upon which team the player is on) the Ancient known as the Tree of Life."
Ouch. And, really, it's just quite sad to see the two most gigantic titans of PC gaming at war like this. It's not even as clear-cut in terms of gut sympathies as Bethesda vs Mojang (much as that isn't anything like clear-cut in terms of legalities). I suppose despite bristling at their trying to lay claim to something created by modders and with which they've never played any active developmental part, I lean ever-so-slightly but with massive, massive reservations towards Blizzard in this instance, in as much as this miserable drama wouldn't even be happening if Valve had just called their DOTAlike something other than Dota.
They really didn't need to: whatever name it was given people would have bought it, and it probably would have been highly successful, because they are Valve and people always buy Valve games in their droves. Was it naivety? Was it an uncharacteristically aggressive attempt to try and ensure their game could steal League of Legends' thunder? Valve's Erik Johnson claimed to me last year that making Dota 2 was a pure fan thing, but I remain unsure.
With the conflict now in court, I'd imagine we're rather unlikely to hear further justification from Valve outside of how they feel the trademark was up for grabs and that they've got Dota sometime main-brain IceFrog working for them. But we shall see: they surely didn't go into this lightly.
We won't know the outcome of this case - and thus who ends up with the DOTA name, and indeed whether Dota 2 can be called Dota 2 - until July, though we may get to read Blizzard and Valve's arguments and rebuttals over the coming months.
You can read Blizzard's full statement to the USPTO here - it leans very heavily on the Warcraft angle, which I would imagine will also be the main point of contention for Valve's response. As may be the distinction between 'DOTA', 'Dota 2' and 'Defense of the Ancients.' Hooray for confusing fragmentation!
Ideal resolution, to my mind: Valve go "screw it, we'll just call our game something else" and Blizzard go "screw it, let the community stay free to make DOTA games." Of course, Blizzard are working on their own StarCraft DoTA, so the question is whether that'll end up being free, paid for, or an integral part of one of the two forthcoming StarCraft II expandalones. Messy, messy, messy business.
What, meanwhile, of Dota 2? Will we see it escape closed beta status anytime soon, or is this too much of an epic spanner +48 vs cold amphibians in the works?