What if: Dota 2 heroes were marketed like LoL champions?

Could League of Legends' gruff, reclusive cousin Dota 2 use a PR makeover to win over new MOBA players?

Dota 2 heroes pasted on to LoL pop group KDA

Dota 2 and League of Legends are often compared to one another. They both trace their origins back to the same Warcraft 3 custom game, they both have an enormous roster of playable characters, and they’re the two biggest MOBAs in the world, so these comparisons are inevitable. But it’s like comparing a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon to a giant blimp. Dota 2 is compared to League. League is not compared to Dota 2, because League is so big it blocks out the sun.

As I gaze, forlorn, into the mirrored plating of my replica Dota 2 Aegis of Champions, a single tear rolling down my cheek, I lament Dota’s relative lack of recognition. It’s a magnificent multiplayer game, with a skill ceiling so astronomical that ten-year veterans still have plenty of room for improvement, and still some prodigy can just wander in with a completely unorthodox approach and blow everyone out of the water.

Unfortunately, you need to learn several dusty tomes’ worth of gubbins to truly appreciate things like this, which isn’t an appealing prospect to many people. But you know what is appealing to lots of people? Virtual K-Pop girl groups. I’m dead serious. You catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and League has gallons of high-fructose premium skins, pop songs, merchandise, and premium tie-ins on tap to help wash down their convoluted MOBA. Meanwhile, us Dota players are the flies rolling around in vinegar, screaming and vomiting.

In any case, once we’re caught, we’re caught, and we’re damn happy to be here – never mind that we’re desperately chewing through our own limbs and that our hair’s falling out in clumps. Both games are excellent, and more than worthy of their dedicated player bases. But we are between the zenith and the nadir of the MOBA era. Dota 2’s playerbase has been steadily declining since 2016, and when the players run out, the game will die. So, in a brief moment of delirium, I wonder: what if Dota 2 tapped into the League soda machine?

Dota 2's diverse range of heroes,

League has its very own K-Pop group called K/DA, which is composed of champions who were deemed to be believable as pop stars, Riot’s Patrick Morales explained in an InvenGlobal interview. Surely there are plenty of would-be idols among the Dota 2 roster?

If scrolling through a list of League champions feels like browsing a list of Facetune presets, impossibly gorgeous and anatomically improbable, the Dota hero selection screen is a catalogue of cautionary tales. There are several man-sized bugs for crying out loud. Clinkz, a horned skeleton with a ribcage full of fire, would be great in a music video, but alas we’re not recruiting for Finland’s entry to the Eurovision Song Contest.

Possible vocalists in Dota’s rogue gallery include Queen of Pain, a succubus who literally screams at people to hurt them; Naga Siren, a fish lady whose song traps people in a magical stasis; and Vengeful Spirit, a fallen princess who can yell a ghost out of her mouth. It’s not looking good, let’s be honest.

Dota 2’s hero designs are based on the original Dota Warcraft mod, and as such are mostly beasts and nightmarish creatures, whereas Riot took their champions in a different direction, trending towards more humanoid models. Let’s be clear, there are plenty of characters in Dota who could feasibly be given a convincing popstar makeover, which I think is just putting them in real person clothes and pretending they use Twitter.

It would be easy, especially if we had access to the team who put together K/DA: according to Riot’s Janelle Jimenez, “about 100 people” worked on K/DA’s first music video. Just imagine what you could do with a team of 100 people whose sole purpose is to make cool stuff that is tangentially related to the game.

Cool stuff that can be easily translated into covetable premium skins, of course, and I’m not sure Dota has enough material to work with here. Sure, Dota 2 fans have sunk hundreds into the latest battle pass to get Drow Ranger’s arcana (and also sprung for the skin that gives her abs, because obviously), but I think it’d look pretty weird if we put her in a sundress like something out of LoL’s Pool Party summer event.

Anti-Mage meditating in Dota 2's Disciples Path event

Personally, I think grotesque butcher Pudge would look great in a sundress – you can have that mental image for free – but I can’t see many players shelling out the big bucks for it. Also, while I can’t fault anyone for enjoying overt thirst traps, I very much appreciate being able to play as a little old granny riding a lizard or a giant spider lady.

Perhaps we should consider a different approach. Aside from their aesthetic appeal, there’s a ton of detailed lore behind every League of Legends champion, which helps players feel more connected to the characters. And nothing has achieved that more acutely than Arcane, the recent Netflix animated series set in the League of Legends universe.

Of course Dota has its own Netflix series, Dota: Dragon’s Blood, and it’s good, but Arcane is so good my parents called me to tell me to watch it. Honestly, after listening to Sting’s performance on the soundtrack, I half expect to find them playing Teamfight Tactics next time I visit.

Mars from Dota 2

But even if Valve could win over potential Dota players with K-Pop bangers and copious lore, I get the feeling most of them would bounce off the game’s obnoxious learning curve and somewhat unwelcoming community. No matter the amount of sugar it’s coated in, you’ve still got to swallow a giant dry wodge of info to get started, and even then, those rewarding moments where you feel like you’re good at the game are brief and illusory.

To be honest, you’ve got to be a masochist to play Dota 2. So let’s just go all in. Make the game even more impossibly complicated. Give me that Pudge sundress skin: bile stains, fresh blood, and all. Scrap the slickly produced pop record, I want to listen to Queen of Pain screaming in my ear, forever. Forever.