Cara returns with the second instalment of her guide to/dissection of the army of Dotalikes that have lately taken over PC gaming. This time, it's League of Legends - and you should catch up on the last column, which covered DOTA itself, if you missed it. Both contain profanity and sexy-parts references, naturally.
“CARARARARARARA” the lone Skype message read. “I heard a rumour that you're going to play LoL with us.”
I could almost hear the anticipation at our reunion vibrating down my wifi connection. It had been five years since me and Col last played Defense of the Ancients together.
“Yes,” I said, with a needlessly dramatic pause. “I AM BACK.”
Several League of Legends matches commenced, with me wildly proclaiming things like:
“WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS INVISIBLE BUSH STUFF”
“HOLY BALLS I CAN TELEPORT ALL THE TIME”
“I HAVE ACCIDENTALLY BOUGHT THE WRONG ITEM AGAIN HOW DO I GIVE IT BACK”
“THEY ARE NOT TAKING THIS ITEM BACK FOR THE SAME PRICE IT IS A RIPOFF WHAT THE HELL IS THIS”
And further to that effect. I hate jungling and I dislike fiddly heroes (my micro is the worst), so often my choices of character on the select screen were Ashe (arrows and stuff), Garen (melee but he's beefy so I stayed alive mostly) and Sona, and Sona is just a glorified healer that brings a musical instrument into battle. (I wonder if Riot could give her a keytar? I have always wanted to play a hero with a keytar.) So I got a bit impatient.
“I want to play a different character – which one should I go?”
“Sona,” Deer Sperm says, unhelpfully.
“I've played her already,” I snapped. “She needs a keytar.”
“Ashe?” said Vexd.
So I clicked on a lady character that looked cool.
Do not do this. Lady characters that look cool are the total death.
There was a stunned silence. Our screens were loading. I looked happily at my cool lady character. Finally, just before the screen loaded up, Lufthast's voice came over Mumble.
“Cara. That's Evelynn The Widowmaker. Everyone hates her. She's really hard.”
“She's all blue like Smurfette,” I gargled happily in my brain.
I understood that Evelynn could spike people to hurt them but that was really the extent of it. I thought she was invisible like Rikimaru in DOTA for little while, but enemy heroes kept slicing me up like a nice honeyroast ham. It slowly dawned on me that hero proximity negated my stealth, but it was too late. I was feeding at a rate faster than my teammates could stifle their laughter.
“EVELYNN IS RUBBISH” I declare, and promptly die to four heroes two seconds later. Of course, we lose. No one is surprised, but then, no one really cares. We reload and play again.
As if to rub it in my face, next round Lufthast picks Ms Smurfette and turns her into an invisible killing machine whilst my Sona slowly heals her like an indentured lute-playing serf. Crying. No keytar.
With that, I'd returned to playing games with the family I'd abandoned years ago, as if I were a shamefaced estranged mother reunited with her overachieving nerdly children. They embraced me like I'd never been away, and largely ignored the fact I was terrible. You are experiencing my resubmergence in real time: all of the people I'd played DOTA with for years had moved straight on to League of Legends, and made their home in it, leaving me dawdling behind, sampling DOTA 2 slowly, like one would a box of Milk Tray.
The last Battle Arena article dragged all those old DOTA teammates out of the woodwork: you may remember in the comments that several of them popped their heads above the precipice and pledged their support at my barefaced pimping of our shared memories and screenshots for cash. That was the first time I'd been in touch with some of those people in over five years. In the game industry, five years is like... ten years.
“We should be able to shine a LoL light in the sky to get everyone together,” Lufthast said to me, assembling a team. Epic music piped into my ears on the login screen. “We should have a direct line to people so that wherever they are, when there is a match on, they drop everything to get on the LoL train.”
This is exactly how we used to phrase things when we talked about DOTA in 2004. But how different are DOTA 2 and League of Legends from each other? It was something unavoidable I was asking myself.
“SCREW THAT!” I hear you scream at me, brandishing your keyboard to smash in my face. “WHICH ONE SHOULD I BE PLAYING DAMN YOU!”
Well jeez. All right. It's complicated, and to be honest, I'm not sure there is a definitive answer. Here is what I have learned about the actual framework of League of Legends in comparison to DOTA 2.
The first thing you notice is that you're restricted to a small draft of rotating Champions to choose from, instead of the All Pick draft of 100 or so heroes you would have as standard in DOTA. Riot have designed to monetize: you accumulate 'Influence Points' from playing games (or 'how much you can influence Riot to give you free stuff' according to comrade Lufthast) – or you can buy 'Riot Points' (directly get things from Riot by throwing money at their face). This can be pretty annoying in the beginning – if you want to know whether the game is worth investing in you really want to be able to explore the variety of characters (which you can do, if you have more time and patience than I do, and you wait for the rotation). I guess this counts against in the war of comparison – in DOTA 2 you pick tactically to counter other heroes, whilst in LoL you simply cannot do that if you are starting out, and you compensate by drafting a Champion of each type to balance your team.
But then, playing LoL you realise that you are actually learning how to use the heroes well this way. The restricted draft means that you are forced to learn about your carries, your supports, your junglers, your assassins. You begin to learn about which Summoner spells to choose (these are an extra two spells you can augment your character with) and which skins supply your character with a rack from a Women Fighters In Unreasonable Armour tumblr.
Initially, these extra spells seemed daunting, but when you think about the sheer amount of information facing a new player learning DOTA 2, you realise that actually the most important thing that Riot have done with League of Legends is make it as approachable as a girl with freckles and a cupcake. (No doubt Riot will try and stick a push-up bra on her.) The Summoner spells are just standing in so that the items in League of Legends can then become less complicated.
And that's a microcosm of what I have to tell you about League of Legends: it has simplified things. I'm primarily a DOTA girl with DOTA feelings and DOTA dreams. I am inherently biased, which is why it has taken me so long to even dip into League of Legends. It's snobbery. I look down my nose at what I thought until now was a cartoony little cousin of DOTA – a garish young upstart with too much energy and not enough pizzazz. But after a few games of League of Legends, I was coming away with the opinion that LoL is better than DOTA 2 and hating myself.
This is because Riot have streamlined their model, it has given the metagame obvious rules, where Valve has taken the sprawlingly intricate DOTA blueprint and added a few features, a different interface, and a really fucking annoying donkey on top, and then left you in the middle of the clusterfuck to sort it out. DOTA 2 sits there and laughs at you, whilst League of Legends extends a hand keenly towards you.
When you die in LoL, you can even bring up a little helpsheet indicating how you could have countered what happened to you, even though it does make you feel a little like an ice-cream-smeared child being lectured.
Riot thought about what would make the original game easier to approach and implemented those ideas well. For example, most of the items you would use to improve your League of Legends Champions have passive abilities, meaning you will never really get to the stage where you will have 6 items and a need, in the middle of a frenetic and terrifying battle of 2 frames per second, to hammer buttons like a teenage boy trying to locate the clitoris.
It's impossible to deselect your character in League of Legends, which eliminates that horrible moment in any DOTA 2 skirmish where all of a sudden you realise your hero is not on the screen and isn't responding to your clicks and you are screaming “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WHERE AM I” until you have the presence of mind to click on the icon of your hero in the top left corner. At which point you are dying, or are dead, and your team is stifling guffaws because you've kited into a tower and offed yourself. That is much less likely to happen. It is way less humiliating.
The map is much smaller, and the towers deal more damage with less health, which means that you can reach the base invasion stage quickly, and you can make more decisive wins. I'd say your average LoL game runs about 30-40 minutes, whilst DOTA 2 games are prolonged, agonising chess matches that can run much longer.
My favourite change to the DOTA mould has been something that I'd have brushed off before I'd used it in-game. Champions have a rechargeable teleport back to base – that – get this – you can use as many times as you like! From anywhere! It's called 'Recall' in League of Legends speak. Hey, forgot that item? RECALL. Need a bit of health? RECALL. Shopping for shoes? RECALL. Forgot to floss? RECALL. Sometimes I Recall just for the fuck of it.
Sometimes I Recall from the centre of the base to the shop because I give so little of a fuck. Everyone's like “where the hell is Cara?” and I'm all like “RECALL”. I sometimes start the game up just to Recall around a bit. It's just the most beautiful mechanic after you have been subjected to a cantankerous donkey for so long.
The Recall, most importantly, means that you eliminate the bane of my life, the courier system for items. I really dislike that mechanic in DOTA – I am terrible at micromanagement, which not only makes me unworthy of living, but also makes me cranky every time I try and get stuff out of the courier without dying to some assassin jumping out of the jungle. Though DOTA 2 has tried very hard to improve the mechanic with the Automatic Donkey Call Button™ it still had me frustrated when I started out and it is still possible to get your items stuck in it, to get it killed, to get it lost, to click the wrong damn button on the interface. It's a real pain. The answer, Riot has found, is Total and Utter Recall. Hooray for Recall! Press B to Recall.
Spells in League of Legends are, like the Recall button, joyfully spammable. You can tap that like it is legal, with the mana cost staying pretty low. In DOTA 2, I think it is much more likely that spells will take a great deal of mana, and as a result, do a lot more damage. In DOTA 2 they aren't things you can mindlessly cast – you find that you panic much more in the moment about landing them, you fear them being blocked and you worry about being silenced. You long for the pretty colours they make when they fly across your screen.
In LoL, you spend those spells as much as possible whenever appropriate, making a Disney Fantasia of your screen. You touch up casting keys QWER as if they are keys on a piano. Play as Sona, the healer support, and you'll spend all your time bashing W with the fevered enthusiasm of … well. A teenage boy trying to... oh never mind.
League of Legends is also heavily balanced so that it is more difficult to get an “OP” or fed enemy Champion – if your character is constantly being killed, the game lessens the money you are worth, until it really isn't particularly worth killing that Champion – at least for any kind of monetary value. In comparison, DOTA 2 treats you brutally – nothing is adjusted to help anyone. DOTA 2 regards the world as savage and uncompromising. DOTA 2 is out to eat your children. You can't deny creeps or towers in League of Legends, but you can in DOTA 2, because DOTA 2 is an evil old wizard who would rather you drink your own piss than give you a cup of water. League of Legends is a Pinko Commie, DOTA 2 is an all-powerful Ayn Rand.
As for the “metagame”, or, the strategy game that transcends the prescribed confines of the game, there seems to be very little movement between lanes in League of Legends in the early game that is useful, whereas you can afford to be more fluid in DOTA 2. DOTA 2's heroes and metagame strategies are so complex that there are infinite iterations of play that can work out for your team: there are simply so many variables in play that you are always flying by the seat of your pants.
This means you can decide when to swap lanes or switch in and out. In LoL, there is a much more rigid structure, where your teammates will automatically understand by the loading screen exactly which lanes will be occupied by carries, supports and fighters, and your jungler is just that. In LoL, there is very little point in your whole team being mobile between lanes until you are truly beefed up and ready to go.
It is as I consider the metagame that I begin to miss DOTA 2. League of Legends is beginner-friendly, it is made to be clearer, less stacked towards the endgame and more about the whole. It is less of a mindgame, and more of a perfunctory smash-and-grab. It seems to have rules. Clear, unavoidable rules. And sometimes I found myself getting impatient with them. I wanted to break out. I wanted to break free.
This is not to say that DOTA 2 doesn't have some metagame rules. It obviously does. If you watch the pro players, their styles of play do have significant patterns. Of course they do. But DOTA 2 allows for more showmanship, for idiotic acts of bravery, for sheer moments of stupidity, and then a sudden saving grace. This is partly due to how expensive spells are on your mana bar – you just can't spam them, making them more tactical – but it's really that heady mix of everything overpowered that gives DOTA 2 its little moments.
There is an agreed approach to these sort of games, and it is this: the more you invest in them, the more rewarding they are. DOTA 2 is all investment all the time. It is so huge and complex that it is overwhelming, a sprawling cityscape made of hidden riches and people being beaten up, unseen, in backalleys. DOTA 2 hates you so vehemently; you can't help but want it to love you.
League of Legends is the one that is better for you, more wholesome. I feel the same way about it as I do my hometown of Edinburgh: the topography is memorable and kind to me. It might even be more fun. But I also want to live in New York, where the streets are darker and the prizes are more glittering. DOTA 2 is the New York of the battle arenas. It's a mess, it takes everything from you, it will take your time and your patience and pretty much all of your memory to remember all its details.
Each hero, each little strategy, how to make your team work together, what counters what. DOTA 2 is an endurance test with a face-searing payoff, much more so than League of Legends, because it requires more from you: patience and bombast and, occasionally, moments of insanity. It is by no means as measured as League of Legends. DOTA 2 is a reclining bloated old remnant: he has gout and sometimes he is loathsome, but boy, can he throw a party.
LoL isn't all dimples and aw shucks either. We tend to play “best rack” on the LoL loading screens a lot. It's like a bonus minigame. League of Legends is more obsessed with boobs than your average footballer. (Sona has an outrageous set. It's a wonder she isn't carrying around a wheelbarrow. I mean, she is seriously going to get back problems in later life.) (PS. Riot, please do away with the display tits unless you are going to have Garen get his bum out in various provocative ensembles, perhaps with a coy look over his shoulder. Assless chaps is what I am saying to you. The equalizer.)
Despite my misgivings and slight DOTA 2 cravings, I'm almost converted. My little LoL family is waiting. We play 4v4s late into the evening with a host of in-jokes, such as Jeto's triumphant and recent return to the nickname of the previous article - “Deer Sperm”. They all tell me that League of Legends is truly better. I will carry on playing League of Legends for sure. But, sometimes, late at night, the sheer vast mysteriousness of DOTA 2's complexities call me back like it's a lonely ex-boyfriend.
You want a last word from me. You want me to declare sides. But now I am playing both games, and I am being pulled in both directions. In terms of gameplay, if you're a beginner looking for a really nice understandable and refined iteration of DOTA, I'd put my cards in with Riot. But if you're ready for something really challenging, difficult, crazy – I'd throw in with Valve's DOTA 2. But these will probably not be the determining factors for you, unless you are the sort of player who loves to go it alone in team games.
The real determining factor will probably be your friends. If you have a great deal of friends on LoL servers, you'll go all in with the LoL crowd, and you'll love it. If you have a lot of friends pestering you for a game of DOTA 2, you'll go with that. Both games are solid as hell competitive arenas. You might, like me, be happy playing with a group on each game – both games are totally free to play.
The deciding factor for me is always the people I play with, and not so much the game. You could be playing the worst game in the world and it would be fun as long as you have someone named 'Deer Sperm' to tell you that your face is bad and that he slept with your mum last night and then have him sing bad Swedish pop hits down your headset whilst he wades into a fight by your side. Those are the sorts of game moments that can happen when a large amount of friends play together, and, probably, the sort of moments that will come to make you giggle out loud at the bus stop and have an old granny tut at you.
Heh heh. You think Deer Sperm is weird.
I carry on my quest into the unknown. Next up: it's the COMMUNITY episode, where I will talk about public games of League of Legends and Heroes of Neworth, and how completely lovely everyone was when I visited public matches. I'm sure they will be nice. I'm sure. I'm really looking forward to some strangers teaching newbie here how to play. Bet they've got some hot tips.
Keep your suggestions coming in for a replacement term for “MOBA”. It still sounds like a surgical procedure to me. Oh, and check out League of Legends storytime. It is LoL lore, read by a soothing voice! And a pro League player! Cocks eyebrow.