Blizzard's upcoming MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, has a lengthy development history. Officially, development on the game began in 2010. The full story however, goes back to 2002, with the release of Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos and a mod called "Defense of the Ancients" (DOTA).
If that acronym sounds familiar, it's probably because it's also the name of Valve's popular game, Dota 2. If you're confused on the capitalization, the former is an acronym while the latter doesn't stand for anything. As for why Valve would use the name of a mod created for a competing company's game and why Blizzard would let go of the name that kickstarted a genre worth hundreds of millions of dollars well ... there's a story there, too.
The DOTA mod was conceptualized in 2002 by a modder self-identifying as "Eul." Basing their designs off a StarCraft mod called "Aeon of Strife," Eul devised a multiplayer map dominated by three "lanes" – unobstructed strips of terrain where players would send hero units to battle one another as basic units charged forth automatically.
When Eul left the Warcraft 3 scene, the project passed through several hands, including those of Steve Feak and a modder going by the handle "IceFrog." Feak would go on to design Riot Games' League of Legends, while IceFrog would be hired by Valve to create Dota 2.
While these events have proven to be good news for Riot Games and Valve, what's surprising is that Blizzard - the company whose product allowed these two titans to come to life – is only just now preparing to enter the MOBA space with Heroes of the Storm.
DON'T TAKE-A MY DOTA
In 2010, Heroes of the Storm was revealed under the name "Blizzard DOTA." At this stage, the project wasn't intended to become a full-fledged title, but was instead an internally developed mod designed to showcase the versatility of StarCraft 2's engine and tempt the Warcraft 3 modding community to check out the new tools.
It made sense; instead of waiting for the community to create a mod, Blizzard would make one itself and pay homage, both in name and design, to one of the most popular mods made for its fantasy RTS series. By this time, however, both Blizzard and Valve had a stake in claiming the word "dota" for themselves. In 2012, the two companies went head-to-head in the legal system as each fought to protect their investment.
The fight was settled out of court, resulting in a name change for Blizzard DOTA, which would henceforth be known as "Blizzard All-Stars." Later that year, it was decided that the mod would become its own product, no longer tied to StarCraft 2. Severing its sci-fi connection meant a rework of the game's art, UI and conceptual vision, and in October of last year, the mod-turned-standalone game was re-branded again, this time as "Heroes of the Storm." So far, the third name's the charm.
DOTA CALL IT A COMEBACK
It's not uncommon for a project to change - sometimes drastically - during development, nor is it a surprise that a game from Blizzard – the company that practically coined the phrase "when it's done" – would take a long time. However, Heroes' development has been much more public. I asked game director Dustin Browder at PAX Prime if this made the dev team feel as though its feet were being put to the fire more than usual.
The response was relaxed: "As we were building this mod, we thought, 'This needs to be a game,'" Browder said. "And the fact is, we do games when we do games." Joystiq was told the reason for Heroes' extensive and slightly convoluted history was a desire to "get it right." As for entering a genre that's quickly becoming very, very crowded without many standout successes, Browder again expressed calm composure.
"You know, we never had a plan for StarCraft to turn out the way it did," Browder said, relating the spacefaring series' longstanding ties to eSports and its continued popularity more than a decade and a half post-release. "It's up to the community." The development team is doing their homework by studying and analyzing their competition before rushing off to take the proverbial test, and that's led to confidence in the game.
Browder and his team may not be particularly worried – or at least they don't express it if they are – but then, when your company track record boasts some of the biggest games in history, it may not matter that you're late to the party; when you're Blizzard, just showing up can get you noticed. As for how people will react to their fashionably-late presence, we'll just have to wait and see.
Heroes of the Storm is currently in alpha testing. You can register for beta access via the game's official site, but when that beta will become available is currently a mystery.