League of Legends and Dota 2

I have been playing League of Legends for about four years and for most of that time it was the only game I played. So I was definitely biased and taken out of my comfort zone when I was asked to join my friends in learning how to Dota 2. I am keeping an open mind but I find it really hard to adjust, and in order to not be left behind in my group of friends, who seem to have a lot more time and will to spend on Dota 2, I looked around for what some people who transitioned from one to the other had to say. None of it has helped, really, and it is probably for my lack of trying. However, in all those discussions I came across a deep rivalry that I knew existed but had forgotten about. It is a rivalry like Microsoft vs. Apple, Coke vs. Pepsi, and Star Wars vs. Star Trek.

While I feel certain design elements of Dota2 are legacy elements from when the game was a WC3 mod, and thus makes the game feel archaic to me in certain ways, I know that to call one game better than the other is silly. The base concepts of LoL and Dota 2 are basically the same, and then they diverge into a multitude of nuances that effectively set them pretty far apart. They are both good games and it is no use getting into a discussion about which parts of what makes who better. Though there is one argument that people bring up about Dota 2 that I find, well, strange. And that is when someone says Dota 2 is better because it is more complicated.

Hearing that is strange. Videogames are one of the few areas where it seems being complicated is a good thing (even though casual and accessible games are generally more successful monetarily.) When governmental institutions are complicated, we call it bureaucracy and is universally considered bad. When our at home movie systems require 4 remotes to turn on, we get a universal remote or just use something else. Our flatpack furniture comes with illustrated assembly instructions to be as simple as possible, which often ends up too complicated for most us anyway.  Most cars in the US are automatic, because having more than two pedals was too difficult. But in games, it is okay to spend an afternoon reading spreadsheets to learn about all the rules and mechanics or to have to consult the wiki to learn what an item does. That is fun! Right?

If we look at some of the most popular games of all time, we see that most of them are simplified versions of their predecessors. Applying this logic to other games we can say things like:

  • The Diablo series is for filthy scrubs who can’t handle Nethack.
  • Counterstrike is for filthy scrubs who can’t handle Unreal Tournament or Quake.
  • Civilization is for filthy scrubs who can’t handle Europa Universalis 3.
  • Hearthstone is for filthy scrubs who can’t handle M&M:Duel of Champions.
  • The Warhammer 40k:Dawn of War series is for scrubs who can’t handle Starcraft, which is for scrubs that can’t handle Age of Empires 2.
  • World of Warcraft is for scrubs that can’t handle old-school Ultima Online.
  • Tales of Monkey Island is for filthy casuals who can’t handle Adventure.
  • Risk is for filthy casuals who can’t handle The Campaign for North Africa.

Most of the games above described as for filthy casuals have all been streamlined to remove unnecessary or burdensome game play mechanics so the players can focus on just a few core elements. Diablo removed permadeath and left it as an option, removed instant death rooms, reduced classes and race combinations from over a hundred to less than seven, removed insta-death potions and scrolls, and removed a lot of mechanics and gameplay. For example, you can`t drink from a toilet in Diablo and summon an evil water elemental like you can in some of the rogue-likes the Diablo series drew its inspiration from. Counterstrike doesn’t have powerups, ricocheting bullets to kill enemies around corners, rocket jumping and sniping during free fall is not a useful skill in that game. Europa Universalis 3 has a ton of sliders that need microadjustment to succeed, which does not make it better or more fun than Civilization (and EUIV streamlined a lot of that without sacrificing strategic depth.) The cards in Hearthstone have simple mechanics and card interactions. MMDOC has cards whose text covers half the card and you still aren’t sure what they do. It also has 4 lanes for creatures and 4 resources to cast cards compared to Hearthstone’s one. WH40K and Company of Heroes removed resource mining from their RTSs and instead made it time based, which was boosted by controlling points on the map. This enabled players to focus more in micromanaging their unit movements instead of worrying about build order. Similarly, Starcraft reduced AoE2’s multitude of nuanced classes into 3, and only has 2 resources compared to AoE2’s 4. Dying in World of Warcraft doesn’t make you lose all your gold and doesn`t let other players loot your corpse. In effect, hours and sometimes weeks of work won’t get removed from one single death. They also restrict PvP zones much more than UO ever did, which allowed players who would rather explore and grind to do so in peace. Tales of Monkey Island has a less powerful parser than a lot of IF titles and hence less actions to perform. You also can not die in Monkey Island whereas in Adventure you can die just by walking into a room. And as for The Campaign for North Africa, here is the description from boardgamegeek.com:

The game is detailed to a degree no other game has come close to. If using the full rules you keep track of every individual plane and pilot in the three year campaign. Each counter on the board representing a ground unit is composed of many units which are kept track of on logs. Supplies are kept track of and dispersed in a very detailed manner.

From the rulebook we read how to run a game. “CNA is a logistically-oriented game, and its play requires not only a lot of attention to logistics, but, if you will, a logistically sound methodology.” It is suggested that you have 5 persons per side with the following duties.

Commander-in-Chief: responsible for strategic decisions and to settle intra-team disputes.
Logistics Commander: In charge of all supplies. Accepts supply requisitions from the others and keeps all informed of supply shortages. Is in charge of supply dumps, Third line trucks and some second line trucks and is in charge of Naval convoys.
Rear Area Commander: Gets the supplies to the front. In charge of security, reserves, prisoners and construction.
Air Commander: In charge of all planes and pilots. Is responsible for planning air missions and deployment of air bases.
Front-line Commander: Executes all attacks and troop movements in the front line. Helps with coordinating defensive efforts.
Playing time with 10 players is listed at 1200 hours.

But I know I didn’t need to do that because that game is so complex, it is so good that everyone has played it before, right?

Simplifying and streamlining sometimes go hand in hand, but not always. Streamlining a game’s mechanics does not usually remove strategic layers or depth from the game. Basketball games would not be better if players had to solve Sudoku puzzles after every basket. Tennis wouldn’t be a more skilled game if players had to run and touch the net after every time they hit the ball. These games do not have additional mechanics but have quite simple rules because there is a definite skill that players need, and adding anything else would just detract players from perfecting that skill and adds nothing to the enjoyment of the game. In videogames, complex games require more time to learn and it is usually more about memorizing information than actually playing the game. Skill in overly complex video games usually comes down to time investment, not practice.

If complex games are inherently better, this game is one of the best games in the world:

Good luck figuring that out, you filthy casual

and this game is the dumbest game in the world:


Lol, just one mechanic! Game is for E-Z mode newbs 

Most of the games that are enjoyed today and played in competitive e-sports are streamlined versions of the games that came before them. As far as Dota and LoL is concerned, LoL was designed to be a streamlined version of Dota, focusing on champions fighting each other and thus the designers removed a lot of the mechanics in Dota that shifts the focus away from that. It doesn’t mean it is a better or worse game. There is plenty of room for both games to exist, and if I had spent so much time in Dota rather than League, I would probably be just as confused and agitated trying to adapt to the other.

There are plenty of things that make a videogame better than another, objectively, but complexity is not one of them. Often times, complexity does not usually add depth and games that do not have focused and streamlined player experiences are getting made less and less.

After all, it is often the simplest of games that are the hardest to master.


  1. I agree completely. I’ve been trying to understand the kneejerk rejection against simplified games for a while now, and I think a big part of it is this: those gamers who grew up at a time when gaming was 1. unpopular and 2. extremely difficult formed a community and an identity around the fact that despite those two factors, they still became great gamers (especially if they weren’t popular or respected in their real lives). Within the gaming community, prestige came from mastering these incredibly difficult pieces of software. Outsiders looked down on gamers, ridiculed them for investing so much time in such a “useless” skill. A very strong us vs. them mentality emerged, with gamers generally considering themselves intellectually superior to non-gamers.

    Then things started to change. Games became more accessible, and as a result, more people started playing them. Suddenly, all those hours and years honing these complicated skills became unnecessary. Anyone can pick up Angry Birds and figure out how to win. But you can’t uproot that us vs. them mentality by saying “look, we can all play games together now!” All those years of conflict have given “old-school” gamers a feeling of possession over games and a rejection of the former non-gamers who suddenly want to join in. Why do they think that after years of ridiculing gamers, suddenly they can become gamers themselves, as though nothing ever happened? If anyone can be a gamer now, then where has that identity gone? For many gamers, that was the only identity they had. Simultaneously, those incredible skills start to become obsolete as even the big AAA games become simpler and more streamlined. The only way to hold on to that feeling of identity and superiority is to insist that only the complicated games are “real” games, and that the more accessible ones aren’t worthy of consideration.

    The good news is, I predict that this issue will simply evaporate as the next generation of gamers grows up. Almost every single one of my primary school students plays games. Boys and girls play together, and I’ve never heard these kids suggest that games in general, or any particular game, is “for boys” or “for girls.” Almost all of them play Minecraft. My second graders play World of Tanks. They describe their strategies and draw pictures of different types of tanks for class presentations. The same kids play Angry Birds and a slew of other casual games on their smartphones. None of them see any difference between those two types of games. They’re just… games. They’re fun. As these kids get older, I expect we’ll see “casual” become just another genre of game, and the idea of “real gamers” will be something their grandparents whine on about the same way ours complain about walking to school uphill both ways.

    tl;dr: The Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars. Because they had stars, all the Star-Belly Sneetches would brag, “We’re the best kind of Sneetch on the beaches.” With their snoots in the air, they would sniff and they’d snort, “We’ll have nothing to do with the Plain-Belly sort!” Then, quickly, Sylvester McMonkey McBean put together a very peculiar machine. And he said, “You want stars like a Star-Belly Sneetch…? My friends, you can have them for three dollars each!” “Good grief!” groaned the ones who had stars at the first. “We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst. But, now, how in the world will we know,” they all frowned, “If which kind is what, or the other way round?”


  1. […] friend of mine posted this discussion of complex vs. simplified games on his blog. He calls out so-called “hardcore” gamers for valuing complexity for its […]

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