by diceanddpads in
Feature PC Video Game

The custom game mode that is taking the world by a storm.

Modding and/or custom map creations are pretty common in the gaming community. It’s mostly done to put in or edit stuff in a game or generally to introduce new and innovative gameplay modes. In fact, there are even times when these mods become more popular than the base game itself, thanks to the creative minds of the fanbase.

A prime example of this is Defence of the Ancients (Dota), a custom map created from Warcraft III’s World Editor feature. This is the very game that pushed the MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre to greatness and arguably ushered in the Esports era.

The OG!

Now it has its own identity completely separate from the Warcraft system — Dota 2. Of course, going solo meant becoming open to modding and custom map creation. This brings us to one of the latest custom maps to grace its ecosystem — Dota Auto Chess.

The map that is slowly taking over Dota 2 itself, very much like how it took over Warcraft III all those years ago. So what is this Dota Auto Chess and why is it becoming such a sensation? Let’s find out.

Table of Contents

Let’s get ready to rumb — uhh Chess?

The Basics

As the name implies, Dota Auto Chess makes use of a chessboard, where players place pieces in the form of the Dota 2 heroes. That and the block by block movement of the pieces are actually the only things it has in common with chess. So, don’t worry you don’t have to be a Grand Master to play this.

The map supports up to 8 players and is basically a free-for-all last man standing brawl. Meaning you’ll be fighting the other players by random and by rotation until only one of you remain. This is done through rounds, which consists of a preparation phase (lasting 30 seconds) and a battle phase (lasting 60 seconds).

All right, so how exactly do you play Dota Auto Chess? Well as we mentioned earlier you put down pieces on a chess board. This is done by buying pieces from a set pool of choices. Every preparation phase you are given 5 random chest pieces from the pool, with a corresponding cost. Buying one puts them on your bench, which can hold a maximum of 8 pieces.

Don’t like the pieces available? Then you can reroll for another set of 5 for 2 gold. This is done by clicking on the Chess piece icon on the left side or by pressing “D” (the default hotkey for rerolling).

To place a piece on the board you either click the “Select Chess Piece” skill of your courier or simply press “Q” (the default hotkey for the skill) on a piece on your bench then click on an area of the board. You can place your pieces on any of the open spaces within the first four rows. There’s also a maximum number of chess pieces you can put down based on your level. Each level increases that maximum by 1, up to a cap of 10.

1 exp is given per round but you can speed up leveling by buying experience, which costs 5 gold per 4 points. You can do this by clicking on the “buy exp” skill on your courier or by pressing “F” (the default hotkey for the skill). To check your experience, press the “alt” key.

Combat is pretty much automatic and players can do little in terms of choosing who their pieces get to attack apart from placement. Generally, close combat pieces will approach and engage opponents 1 block away from them, and range pieces will approach and attack those 2 or more blocks away.

There are some pieces with different movements. Particularly assassins, who don’t directly engage the frontline but rather jump to the back of your opponent’s board at the beginning of combat, provided they don’t get pinned down. Melee pieces will also wait to engage if all spaces around enemies are occupied, so keep that in mind when positioning them.

The secret sauce (or sauces?) of Dota Auto Chess

Now at its core, Dota Auto Chess has a relatively simple and straightforward mechanic, right? Just put pieces on the board, watch them fight, pray for victory, and be the last man standing. Although in reality, it’s a little more than that, as it actually requires complex strategy, quick thinking and even a little bit of luck to win.

That’s because it’s not just a matter of getting pieces on the board, there’s also economy management, chess piece tiers and upgrades, items, and a class and species system in place. These systems are what you’ll be spending most of your time mastering and learning as you start playing Dota Auto Chess. Worry not, we’ll break down each of these for you.

The current roster!

Chess Pieces

As mentioned earlier the chess pieces have tiers, upgrades, and a class and species system. Like in any other game, not all heroes are considered equal and there will be those who are innately stronger than others. Now in the original Dota 2 game mode, this doesn’t actually apply as a player’s skills in handling a hero is what matters most. However, in Auto Chess, you have no control over your pieces. That’s why a tier system was created, which is indicated by the price of the piece as well as its color.

Now, this doesn’t mean that the lowest tier pieces are truly the weakest, there are those from that roster that are actually good til late game. Generally, the higher the price of the piece, the higher its tier (which starts at 1-gold up to 5-gold). As for color depiction — Grey for 1-gold, Light Purple for 2-gold, Blue for 3-gold, Pink for 4-gold, and Orange for 5-gold (we honestly don’t know the exact colors used, but this is what they seem to be to us, if we messed up, apologies).

Each level changes your percent chance of rolling a particular tier!

Initially, players will only have access to 1-gold tier units but as they level up, they’ll be given access to the higher tiers. That’s not all though, remember how chess pieces are given at random? Well, each tier has a different percent of appearing in a player’s pool of 5 as they level-up. The breakdown of the percentages can be seen by hovering on the “reroll” button.

Now on to upgrades. Our Dota 2 chess piece heroes have a chance of getting stronger, much like how they level-up in the base game mode. Only this time, they don’t acquire any new abilities and players have no control over what skills they have (that’s predetermined from the start). The pieces don’t conventionally level-up here either. Instead, they have a different way of powering up.

Notice how the pieces have stars beside their names? Well, that’s the indicator of a piece’ current upgrade rank and that “different way of powering up”, we mentioned earlier. Basically, a piece starts at 1-star and can go up until 3-stars, the final upgrade rank. This is done by combining three copies of the same chess piece. So, three copies of a 1-star piece will upgrade into a 2-star, then three copies of a 2-star will upgrade to a 3-star.

I’m the Ogre Magi, no you are!

Example, to upgrade our Ogre Magi piece to 2-star, we’re gonna have to find two more copies of it and place those on the board. Then to upgrade it to 3-star, we’re going to have to combine two more 2-star copies (meaning we’re gonna need 6 more copies of a 1-star Ogre Magi). So in total, you’ll need 9 copies of a piece to turn it into a 3-star.

Luna’s species — Elf!

Alright then let’s move on to the species and class system. Apart from its star rank, a chess piece can also receive power-ups and various other effects through pairing with their fellow species or class. Notice that apart from a skill, the pieces also have two or more other distinctions on them? Those are their species and class. Depending on how many unique copies you have on the board, a species or class effect will trigger. Generally, more unique pieces of a particular species or class will provide stronger effects.

Example, above we have Luna who is an Elf (Species) Knight (Class). Now, the Elven species special ability triggers once you have 3/6/9 Elves on the board. Meaning, to trigger that first effect (all friendly elves have +20% evasion), you’re going to have to put two more unique elves to pair with Luna, say Mirana and Anti-Mage. As for the Knight class, it’s first effect triggers when there are two unique Knights on the board. So, in order for that to activate you’ll have to pair another Knight with Luna, say Abaddon or Omiknight.


Money, Money, Money!

We’ve been repeatedly mentioning that to get pieces you’ll have to buy them, to reroll you’ll need to pay and that you can even purchase experience. So how exactly do you earn money? Well, there’s a fixed income per turn and then there are bonuses you can get depending on your performance. As well as earnings depending on your remaining gold at the end of the round. You’ll earn 5 gold each turn (after the first three rounds), whether you won or lost your last battle. This income is fixed and constant and you’ll always get it. Bonuses based on performance, on the other hand, are the following:

  • Winning your match — grants you +1 gold.
  • Gaining a win streak — grants you gold for consecutive wins, up to a maximum of +3. Losing the next round resets this bonus.
  • Getting a losing streak — grants you gold for consecutive losses, up to a maximum of +3. Winning the next round resets this bonus.

Lastly, you’ll be awarded 10% of your remaining gold as interest at the end of each round, up to a maximum of +5 (or 50 remaining gold) and a minimum of +1 (or 10 remaining gold). This bonus is not rounded off, meaning having 15 gold won’t give you a bonus of 1.5 gold, you’ll still just earn an extra +1.


The void!

Lastly, items. Just like in the base game mode, items are also present in Dota Auto Chess. This time around though, they are not bought but rather randomly acquired from battling in creep rounds. These items have almost the same effects as their base game counterparts, including the recipes. So, you can still combine a ring of health and void stone to create perseverance and so on.

Now, the game starts with three creep rounds before proceeding to the random PvP (Player vs. Player) up until the 10th (which is a creep round). Then after that, creep waves happen every 5 rounds. Do note, creep rounds do not count towards your streak bonus nor does it give an extra gold when you win. However, if you lose, you’ll will get damaged. So, it’s possible to lose the game entirely from getting rekt by creeps or as we call it “death by creeps”.

What makes Dota Auto Chess so Addictive

With all of the basic and complicated stuff out of the way, it now begs the question — “Why has Auto Chess become such a hit?”. Well, for starters, mixing all those “sauces” we mentioned earlier results into quite a deep and complex pie. The main reason Auto Chess draws you in and implants that “one more game, I promise” mentality is that every game is different or every game can be different. You’ll feel like you’re traversing one of those procedurally generated dungeons. Not to mention, you’ll also, almost always, get that “I can do better next game!” feeling.

There is always something to discover, something to uncover in every game. It’s that feeling of mixing together different combinations and synergies that make you want to keep on playing and keep on learning. Even more so, when you start to master the basics of the game. There are a lot of things to consider stuff like — will you do an early game build then change it midway, are you going to make yourself purposely lose to earn money then make a comeback later, will you let the game decide what you’ll build or will you try hard to find the pieces you want.

It’s that craving of uncovering the best combinations or even mixing two synergies you never thought possible that makes you come back for more. The thrill of creating your own imba combination is what makes Dota Auto Chess such a satisfying experience.

The Future of Auto Chess

Without a doubt, Auto Chess is a fast-paced game, though that is quite ironic since it’s based on a game that is known for taking it slow and planning your moves well. Maybe that’s another reason why it draws you in, the irony of slow-paced chess and fast-paced thinking oddly fits together. Yet that’s also the reason why it’s perfect as an Esports title. That’s not far from happening either, as Auto Chess tournaments are already taking place and prominent names in Esports are starting to take notice.

Perhaps what’s more exciting though, is the potential of Auto Chess being an independent entity, much like how Dota 2 became separate from Warcraft. The notion of getting original heroes (different from the current Dota 2 roster), maps, content, and even gameplay changes is certainly something to look forward to. That may not be a far fetched dream either, as Auto Chess is slowly taking over Dota 2, not just in terms of fresh gameplay but even in terms of the number of players. About 40-50% of current online Dota 2 players in any given day are playing Auto Chess. That speaks volumes about its popularity.

Although we know that Dota Auto Chess isn’t for everybody, it won’t hurt to try it out. After all, it may very well be the next big custom map to grace the Dota Universe or quite frankly, the next Dota.

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