Thursday, July 20

eSports at UCLA: The art of DotA 2 makes a comeback on campus


A scene from DotA 2's highest-level tournament, The International, in August. The prize pool for the competitive gaming event was more than $18 million, and the winning team received $6.6 million. (Joey "Leafeator" Thimian/Daily Bruin)

A scene from DotA 2's highest-level tournament, The International, in August. The prize pool for the competitive gaming event was more than $18 million, and the winning team received $6.6 million. (Joey "Leafeator" Thimian/Daily Bruin)


While League of Legends is the most popular eSports game on campus, DotA (Defense of the Ancients) 2 also boasts a strong Bruin legion. DotA is my own personal love affair, as I am not just an avid player, but also an advocate for its eSports growth both online and on campus. In an attempt to kindle DotA’s growth at UCLA, I started the Dota 2 club at UCLA to gather all of the resources that I could from the Undergraduate Students Association Council to promote my own passion.

DotA falls into the same category of game as League of Legends, “action real time strategy” or ARTS. This ARTS style of game, also known as “multiplayer online battle arena” or MOBA, features a competitive five-versus-five battle arena environment where each player controls the action of a single character. As with basketball teams, each player has a different role but a shared goal of destroying the enemy base.

To compare the two games, League is like an automatic transmission car, easier to drive, with more models on the road. In contrast, DotA is more akin to driving manual – there is more to learn and it’s harder to operate, but it’s cheaper and there is reward to be found in the extra challenge. Even though most players on campus choose one game over the other, the growth of both have been paralleled.

League of Legends was actually developed by people who left the original DotA team more than seven years ago, and gleans most of its inspiration from DotA as the original ARTS game. League of Legends rose to dominance as DotA 2, the current iteration of the game created by Valve Corporation, was in development. As a result, many of the original DotA 1 players latched on to building a new home in the League of Legends community, stifling DotA 2′s player base at release. This effect on the player base has resonated outward and is one of the reasons it is more common to see many more League players on college campuses such as UCLA.

The DotA club on campus is currently in its first year as an officially recognized organization by UCLA. Created in order to help easily connect players at UCLA, the organization boasts a now thriving scene in-game for the first time in years. In 2013, before I was a Bruin, UCLA’s DotA scene was obstructed as a result of a banning of the school’s competitive team by the Collegiate StarLeague. The existing roster broke league regulations by having an ineligible player fake the identity of an existing team member to play in a playoff match. Because the scene was mostly kept underground, the public shaming impeded and disjointed the existing dedicated player base on campus.

When I arrived on campus in 2014, I wanted to compete in DotA for our CSL team, and I was deeply saddened to find out about both the competitive ban and the disjointed nature of DotA on campus. Seeing our rival game League of Legends have a booth at the Enormous Activities Fair just felt like salt in the wound. I set off right away to rebuild a competitive and friendly environment among players on campus. Admittedly, having a little bit of name recognition for my work in DotA communities outside of campus activities helped in this venture. We were able to appeal the competitive ban and play in the 2015 season, finishing in the top eight. The competitive success increased interest in further building DotA and eSports up on campus, and manifested in the founding of the official DotA club.

This year, I was not upset walking around the Enormous Activities Fair seeing the League of Legends booth because I was sitting proudly at the DotA 2 booth right next to them, reveling in what we were able to accomplish in the last year, and excited about the future of competitive gaming at UCLA. While there still is some friendly tension and jokes between League and DotA players on campus (mostly because they’re completely jealous of our superior game, I’d imagine), both groups are actively working together with common goals of promoting greater recognition of competitive gaming in mind. We are finding ourselves step away from behind the screen and take center stage as our industry experiences mainstream attention. The Daily Bruin might not be ESPN SportsCenter, but this series on eSports is a step in the right direction.

Currently, the UCLA DotA 2 club fields two competitive CSL teams this year, one of which plays in Division 1 and the other, Division 2. This is an extension from last year’s revival, as we have gone from seven players to more than 17. These two teams have been officially funded by USAC’s Student Organizations Operational Fund, and are the first eSports teams in the school to be paid for not out-of-pocket from the players, but instead supported by our student government.

Unfortunately, they have not been able to bring the same level of success that the League of Legends squads are having, as both teams have losing records going into the midseason break. Regardless of the lapse in competitive success, the club’s mission of connecting players and promoting eSports has been remarkably successful. I could not be any happier.

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  • Sam Norton

    League > Dota

  • Dr. James Rustle

    america wins in dota and doesn’t win in league

    the superior game is clear

  • Gavin

    That’s really impressive what you accomplished considering the position of the Dota scene prior to you joining.

  • Arezou

    I hope more clubs learn to use synergy to their advantage like you all did. Seems like it would have been easy to try to pit yourself against the League club, but instead you all banded together to secure better funding and status. Kudos.

  • Ferran Hueto Puig

    OMG I’m so inspired by this post. I’m gonna have to practice my jungling with Alchemist, hopefully I can make the team!!

  • Dustin Wong

    Woah! Awesome work!

    Sign me up for the Div 1 team!!

  • Shannon

    Way to go, Joey! It’s awesome to see the work you’ve done to rebuild the DotA2 scene at UCLA has produced such awesome results. Keep eatin’ those leaves.

  • Alex Henry

    Wow. I feel so much more educated on the video game community at ucla that I feel like I should just go back to college in order to join in on the festivities. Post bac, here I come.

  • Calvin Ho

    UCLA DOTA FIGHTING!!!!

  • therewolf

    I hope you don’t think this means we forgive you for ancients Necro.