Breaking down the comparison between Dota 2 and League of Legends

Steven R. April 7, 2020

Many MOBA games have come and gone over the years both as mods and as standalone titles. The only two that have stuck around as popular esports are Dota 2 and League of Legends.

At face value, both games are quite similar. They have the same format, objectives, and general controls. But because both games are so deep and have so much nuance to them, there still remain many differences.

For new players looking to take the plunge and old players looking to see what the game on the other side of the tracks has to offer, it’s worth comparing and contrasting the two titles. Here are some of the main differences between Dota 2 and League of Legends.

Dota 2 items take the place of League of Legends’ Summoner Spells and runes

Dota 2 items generally tend to offer players  more than those in League of Legends.

Items like Force Staff and Blink Dagger offer incredible mobility. Rod of Atos can hold enemies in place. Necronomicon can spawn player-controlled creeps to offer extra power behind tower pushes. Shadow Blade gives players a burst of speed, turns them invisible, and gives them a damage boost if they break out of invisibility with an attack.

These items and others with similarly powerful effects come at a relatively low price, making them a powerful tool that can completely change how a hero approaches the game.

League of Legends has many different items that offer a variety of effects as well, but they generally aren’t as game-changing as their Dota 2 counterparts. On the flipside, Summoner Spells and runes tends to fill in that niche of offering players game-changing abilities alongside their champion’s standard abilities.

There are a number of different summoner spells including Flash, Heal, and Ignite. These different spells offer a variety of effects, but players can only choose two of them at the start of the game. Different champions benefit from some spells more than others, and some require a specific summoner spell in order to be effective. Most champions take Flash as a standard because of the massive boost in mobility it offers.

Roles in Dota 2 vs. League of Legends

Roles in League of Legends have been generally rigid throughout the game’s entire existence. The optimal setup for games is one mid laner, one top laner, one jungler, and two players in the bottom lane. The bottom lane ought to consist of a carry player and a support.

This setup allows as many carry players to get farm and experience as possible, while also offering flexibility for placing vision and getting kills. Roaming from lane to lane in order to set up kills is a key part of the jungler’s duties, and supports can also help out with this, depending on the needs of their carry.

This lane setup has been in place for nearly a decade at this point and shows no signs of going away. In fact, developer Riot Games has made these roles more rigid and has stamped out any attempt to deviate from them.

Dota 2’s roles have been radically different by comparison.

Generally speaking, the public matchmaking experience has always been rooted in two top laners, two bottom laners, and one mid laner. The top and bottom lanes have one support and one core hero each. This has shifted many times over the years, however.

Dota 2 has undergone several meta shifts that saw this approach changed in both higher level amateur play and at the professional level. This has shifted from having a dedicated roaming support to junglers. There was even a short stretch where dual mid lanes was popular.

Notably, Dota 2 doesn’t normally match similarly positioned players against one another. The “safe lane” carry will typically play against the opponent’s off lane carry during the early stages of the game. Because of how Dota 2’s map is structured, off laners will typically need to approach farming in different ways and have to be more careful about being ganked. This forces them into using a different pool of heroes that have greater mobility and farming tools.

A purposefully imbalanced map influences these matchups in Dota 2, and stands as a stark point of contrast with the largely symmetrical Summoner's Rift map in League of Legends.

LoL jungle is very different from the Dota 2 jungle

One of the biggest differences between Dota 2 and League of Legends is the structure and purpose of their respective jungles. Though they are both visually and structurally similar, they are very different in terms of their significance in the game and how teams best utilize them.

As stated, jungling is a consistently dedicated role in League of Legends. This is because the process of farming the jungle is both rewarding and easily done at all stages of the game due in part to the Summoner Spell Smite. Because a number of different champions are able to gain an amount of gold and experience comparable to what they could find in lane, it allows junglers to serve as one of the main roles in League of Legends.

That hasn’t been the case in Dota 2. Outside of a few select instances, farming the jungle hasn’t been an effective substitute for farming the lane. This generally makes jungling a supplemental measure for when creep waves are cleared or inaccessible, or for support players who have a bit of time on their hands.

The other major difference between the two are the additional perks of jungling beryond gold and experience.

League of Legends offers buffs to champions that kill certain units. This includes short-lived buffs from killing different camps to permanent buffs by killing the dragons near the bottom lane.

Dota 2 recently restructured its jungle to include buildings that give time-based experience boosts. Neutral enemies also have a chance of dropping items to the player that cannot be purchased through normal means, which encourages the entire team to aggressively farm the jungle despite its comparably weaker gold and experience value.

League of Legends builds are less flexible than in Dota 2

Dota 2 gives players broad options in terms of how a player can best build items on their hero. Depending on the situation and the composition of the enemy team, players can build up their hero to suit multiple disparate needs for their team. The different tools for building up heroes is so robust that some can be effectively played in almost every role in the game.

League of Legends offers some flexibility, but not quite as much as in Dota 2. That said, pro players have begun getting a bit more comfortable over recent times in experimenting with how they lane or build certain champions at the highest level, something that has caught on at all levels as a result.

Other notable gameplay differences between Dota 2 and League of Legends

Generally speaking, there are more similarities between League of Legends and Dota 2 than there are differences. Both games have similar controls, an almost identical map, and the same win condition. There are several notable differences.

First, passive skills in Dota 2 work differently from those of League of Legends. Though they provide similar perks in either game, Dota 2 typically sees them added in place of a spell, which necessitates players leveling them up. League of Legends gives almost all champions a passive skill automatically that scales based on level. There are exceptions to this in both games, but there is a clear difference in how the two games approach the concept.

Laning also works differently. In Dota 2, players can attack allied creeps once they drop below 50% health. Killing them robs the enemy team of both gold and experience. This makes laning in Dota 2 quite a bit different, and can make for a more aggressive early game experience.

Dota 2 also allows players to buy back after dying. This costs a significant amount of gold, but incentivizes aggressive play and makes for both longer and bloodier team fights.

The other notable difference is between the big neutral monsters on each map. League of Legends has barons and drakes, both of which are strong enemies that give the teams that kill them statistical buffs. There is also the Rift Herald, which players can kill and then summon for themselves to annihilate towers and inhibitors.

Dota 2’s biggest neutral enemy is Roshan. Roshan spawns as soon as the players hit the map and can be killed for the Aegis of the Immortal, an item that will resurrect a player when they die in place after a few seconds, as well as other powerful items.

The International vs. The World Championship

For a long while, Dota 2 and League of Legends have had radically different professional scenes.

Dota 2 publisher Valve has shifted its approach to Dota 2’s pro scene over the years. Initially, Valve was completely hands off with Dota 2’s pro scene. It ran the annual big event with The International, but let other tournament organizers fill the rest of the calendar.

In 2015, Valve took a different approach. In addition to The International, Valve started to run Dota 2 Majors that boasted a huge $3 million prize pool and featured top teams from around the world.

In 2017, this changed once again. Instead of Valve running its own majors, it began offering up the opportunity to host a Dota 2 major or minor to other tournament organizers such as ESL, PGL, and StarLadder. The only restriction was the size of the prize pool, with majors needing to be over $1 million while minors needed to be over $300,000. This resulted in an oversaturation of events for fans, which Valve tackled by reducing the calendar down to five majors and five minors.

While Valve has generally looked to outsource organizing events and leagues to other tournament organizers, almost the entire LoL pro scene begins and ends with Riot Games. The publisher operates regional leagues around the globe which allow teams to qualify for LoL’s premier events, the Mid-Season Invitational and the LoL World Championship.

Riot has two unique approaches for this. In North America’s LCS and Europe’s LEC, Riot has a permanent franchise format similar to traditional sports leagues like the NBA or NHL. This guarantees that organizations like Evil Geniuses, Team SoloMid, and Counter Logic Gaming will appear each year.

The LPL in China has also implemented franchising, while the LCK in South Korea has announced plans for franchising in the future.

The big four LoL leagues all have a centralized location where the teams compete, while Dota 2 plays out across numerous live events around the globe. This allows LoL players to be a bit more static in their day-to-day life, while Dota 2 players need to be flying around more frequently.

In terms of player pay, Dota 2 has significantly larger tournament prize pools. The largest esports event in history to this point is The International 2019, which had a prize pool of over $33 million. Outside of the $30 million Fortnite World Cup in 2019, no tournament outside Dota 2 has had an eight-figure prize pool.

That said, salaries are considerably higher for top League of Legends players. Though LoL legend Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok has reportedly earned about $1.3 million from tournaments, he is rumored to be on a multi-million dollar annual salary from his organization, T1. This means he has likely earned more over his career than Dota 2’s top earner, Johan “N0tail” Sundstein of OG.

Pay in League of Legends is also more broadly distributed. Every pro player in leagues like the LCS and LEC can expect to make a healthy living, while the scarcity of prize money for Dota 2 players outside of the top few teams has become a consistent source of debate in and around the Dota 2 pro scene.

Dota 2 is planning to take a page out of League of Legends’ playbook next season, and will have six regional leagues that determine the competing teams at one of three Dota 2 majors during the season. These will serve to qualify teams for The International 2021.

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