On paper, Dota Underlords seems like a sure-fire hit: it’s Valve’s official spin on the massively popular Dota 2 mod Dota Auto Chess, which came out a year ago and quickly amassed millions of players. But in recent weeks, Underlords’ player count has dropped off precipitously.
As our sister site The Loadout reports, Dota Underlords initially saw about 200,000 concurrent players when it launched in June last year. That number has decreased fairly consistently since then, and according to Steam Charts its peak player count over the past 30 days was down to 18,664.
That’s despite Valve adding some significant changes to the original formula established by Dota Auto Chess. The game now has Underlords, a selection of heroes was ‘jailed’ each week (a concept that was discarded last month), and the early game phases have been significantly streamlined. Add to this the ability to play the Steam version of Underlords on your iOS or Android phone and it adds up to a pretty enticing version of the autobattler format. Even so, Dota Underlords continues to steadily bleed players.
Of course, Dota Underlords isn’t the first derivative of Dota 2 to struggle to find an audience. Valve’s first attempt at an original Dota 2 spinoff was Artifact, another game that looked amazing on paper but simply couldn’t maintain a playerbase.
As was the case with Artifact, Underlords is up against tough competition. Drodo Studio – which created the original Dota 2 mod – has its own standalone version, Auto Chess, available on mobile devices and through the Epic Store. Rather than creating a wholly separate product, Riot Games makes Teamfight Tactics playable through the League of Legends launcher, which puts its autobattler in front of millions of LoL players’ eyes every day.
Time will tell what fate is in store for Dota Underlords, however. The game is still in early access, and Valve is experimenting with fairly major changes on a monthly basis, and that may be part of the explanation for players walking away. It’s possible they’re waiting for the more stable launch version, which Valve says is coming “soon” – although that could mean just about anything.