“Talk to me about how complex Dota is when it’s characters have four active abilities!” a League player might say. “Right back at you,” says the Dota player, “talk to me about complexity when League heroes have six active items to use.”
Outside of jabs about difficulty, balance, how fun the game is, whether it’s for kids, etc. at this point, it’s all just (mostly) friendly banter. There’s space in the world for both Dota and League. Each game has its merits, an international following, and their own floundering North American scenes.
But there was a time where real hatred existed between these two games, especially if you were a Dota fan. A saga that was so divisive and enraging that even 12+ years later, many of the parties involved are still bitter about it. The incident, of course, was the removal of Dota-Allstars.com, and the ensuing fallout from that event.
What was Dota-Allstars.com?
Most people know that Dota was originally a Warcraft 3 mod. Butwhat people have forgotten, or never knew, was that when Defense of the Ancients was first created it wasn’t a single mod with a single developer. Instead, Dota had numerous spin-offs and derivatives, but the most popular was called DotA Allstars.
The earliest versions of DotA Allstars were shared on multiple mod websites. Some of the sites included ModDB, wc3mods.net, worldofwar.net, and others. What’s more, the mod didn’t just get shared via browser-based downloads. Picking up the latest copy of DotA was often a case of grabbing it from a peer-to-peer file-sharing program. Or even getting a friend to download it on a faster connection, and giving it to you physically on a USB drive. In fact, by the mid-2000s, flash drives with a cracked copy of WC3 with DotA pre-installed were being shared around schools and universities worldwide.
However, with a lack of reliable download sites and consistency in versions, it was often difficult to set up a game of DotA with your friends. If you didn’t have the same version, errors would occur. Or, worse case, you wouldn’t be able to load into a game at all. Additionally since balance changes and hero additions came with each new patch, playing a different version was like playing an entirely different game.
So, with the exploding popularity of DotA Allstars, the current developer decided to create a single website where fans of DotA Allstars could download the latest version of the mod. In 2004, current lead developer Steve “Guinsoo” Feak started posting download links on the site http://www.dota-allstars.com/, and enlisted teenager Steve “Pendragon” Mescon to build and moderate some forums. The first iterations of this simple website read as follows:
“We have Setup some mirrors to dl DotA Allstars v5.79.w3x. Which is now Released.
Click here to go to the dota forums Enjoy”
These were the humble beginnings of the most important DotA website ever created. The forums quickly expanded, and just a few months after the site was launched, the first competitive version of DotA Allstars was released. The forums became a place to set up in-houses, find teams, and discuss strategies.
But perhaps more importantly, it was a place where new features for the game were suggested. Items, mechanics, and most crucially, heroes were all subject to open submissions. Initially, this was a very open and casual process but slowly became more regimented, with a long submission form that potential heroes needed to fill out before they’d be considered.
From this open suggestion format came some of the game’s most recognizable heroes. Huskar, Jakiro, and Dark Seer are just a few of the examples of characters created by forum members, or creators who started as forum users and became part of the development team. DotA Allstars was truly a game created by and for its community, with the forums quickly hitting over 1.5 million members.
Even the 2005 departure of Guinsoo from his spot as developer couldn’t slow down the site. With the mysterious mod developer Icefrog replacing him at the helm, Dota-Allstars.com continued unabated until a bizarre series of events saw the site come crumbling down.
In 2008, Pendragon, the founder, and then-owner of Dota-Allstars.com, posted the following statement on the forums:
“The website will be offline for the next week or so while the database is moved to its new permanent home where its contents will remain archived and available to the public for the sake of historical preservation. In the meantime, I hope some of you will join me and over 3 million other players for a game of League of Legends (it’s free!)”
Visitors to the forums were also bombarded with not so subtle advertisements for League of Legends. As forum goers would later find out, Pendragon, along with DotA Allstars developer Guinsoo, had taken positions at Riot Games. The company who were poised to release its rival stand-alone version of the DotA mod.
The Dota-Allstars site was shut down, and although it later moved to a mirror, many posts and content were lost in the initial removal. What’s more, the rights to Dota-Allstars, along with many other names and trademarks were sold to Warcraft 3 developer Blizzard. By 2010 the site had permanently been removed, with the site now directing to PlayDota.com
Beyond the frustration of having the single largest community for Dota players wiped off the face of the internet in an instant, several controversies emerged from the deletion of the forums. The key to this controversy was the aforementioned “suggestions” section of the forums. While, of course, League of Legends was designed to be a stand-alone remake of Dota, and it’s natural it would replicate features from that game, many alleged that the new game was using unused ideas ripped wholesale from the forums.
Notably, claims emerged from former Dota-Allstars forum users about specific heroes, items, abilities, being plundered from the now-defunct site. Reddit user infinitevox specifically claimed to be the original creator of LoL champions Rammus and Teemo, both characters which launched with the release of the game. In a vitriol-filled post directed at Pendragon, infinitevox, a former Clan TDA member (Team Dota Allstars, a clan tag sometimes used by the original DotA mod developers) directly accused Riot Games of stealing many ideas from the forum.
While this is one specific example, similar claims have been made across the internet since as early 2008, and have continued to this day. At the point in which the forums were taken down, there were literally hundreds of item and hero suggestions along with thousands of prospective abilities posted on the site. To this day, League of Legends champions are released with uncannily similar sets of skills to some of the suggestions on the Dota-Allstars.com forums.
At the end of the day, there’s not too much that anyone can be criticized for if the allegations about using ideas from the forums are true. Ultimately, every idea was posted in a public forum where anyone could take it. Credit for creation was largely down to the honor-system, at best, and for every good hero idea posted, there were dozens of awful suggestions that never even got considered.
However, the controversy doesn’t end there. One bitter footnote in the story lies in the dispute between the former owners of Dota-Allstars and the new Dota 2 developers, Valve, which broke out in August 2010. With Valve keen to capitalize on the impending reveal of Dota 2, they filed a trademark for the name “Dota.” In response, Pendragon filed a counter application of trademark for the name “Defense of the Ancients” on behalf of his company DotA-Allstars, LLC. In the suit, he claimed the application was made in order to “protect the work that dozens of authors have done to create the game.” This last point was especially contentious for the community, given how Pendragon had removed the Dota-Allstars.com forums without similar concerns.
Ultimately the judgment was granted to Valve, and while Blizzard also attempted to grab a piece of the pie in a counterclaim, this was again ruled in favor of Valve. Dota would ultimately be safe to keep its name.
In November 2012, almost three years after the complete takedown, and five years after Pendragon’s original forum post, the Dota-Allstar.com forums were finally released.
In a statement accompanying the database release, Pendragon wrote:
“Well fuck you too. Hey seriously though – I put this out there because I want people to have it, so I’m going to drop in the link and my contact details if anyone wants to use it for anything and need help please let me know. Whether you like me or hate me, I poured years of my life into helping create a community that lots of people enjoyed and I’m proud of what it became. You can disagree with decisions I’ve made – some of which have been great and some of them not so great, but my intentions have never been anything but good. Feel free to keep on hatin.”
The contents of the dumped files were truly enormous, with a paste bin detailing the contents of tens of thousands of posts. However, the contents of this archived version of the forums are still mostly inaccessible to the Dota community. Roughly 100 members of the original forum’s moderators and Clan TDA members have access and talked about uploading a read-only version of the files.
To date, this read-only version has not emerged. Today, the best way to view the Dota-Allstars forums is through the WayBack Machine created by the Internet Archive. Though these incomplete snapshots of the site, you can catch a glimpse of the hero ideas, looking-for-team posts, and discussions that made up this crucial part of the Dota community.
But what was lost in the deletion was much more than just ideas and suggestions. As the biggest community for the game, the vast majority of content created for Dota was hosted on the Dota-Allstars.com forums. Hero guides, memes, photoshops, tournament results, VODs, videos, humor posts, fan fiction, anything you can think of was hosted on the site. In deleting the forums, Dota lost a vast portion of its history.
The loss of Dota-Allstars.com was equivalent to StarCraft having the whole of the Team Liquid network deleted. Or LoL losing TeamSoloMid, MobaFire, and Curse in its early years. It was an entire gaming community that was essentially left with nowhere to call home. In many ways, the English-speaking Dota community never found a centralized place it could gather ever again. This definitely hurt the growth of the game moving forward.
What’s more, even though time has allowed many of the wounds to heal, there’s still a touch of bitterness between Dota and League of Legends. Bitterness that affects both fans and developers. Some may even interpret one of Riot Game’s more recent releases, Teamfight Tactics to be a knowing nudge and a wink to LoL’s origins. To Warcraft 3 and DotA fans, TFT will always stand for The Frozen Throne, WC3’s expansion, and subtitle of one of the first significant updates to DotA.
DotA Allstars still exists today as a Warcraft 3 mod, updated by Russian developer DracoL1ch, currently on patch 6.90a8. A small but dedicated fan base still plays the game. This persists despite a considerable migration to its more recent successors of Heroes of Newerth, League of Legends, and Dota 2. This migration occurred after the death of the Dota-Allstars.com forums.
If there’s one lesson to learn from the closure of the Dota-Allstars.com, it’s one of caution towards those who run the biggest communities of your games. Dota’s largest website was taken down by a single person who decided not to support the game anymore. They took a job with a different developer, and abandoned everything that happened before. In the future, the very same thing could happen. The more that video game communities rely on official forums, subreddits, and social media platforms, the less control they have. It’s a cautionary tale but one we would be remise to forget.