Guinsoo was joined by Steve "Pendragon" Mescon. Still a teenager, Pendragon built the forum that became the backbone of the DOTA community, allowing Allstars players to congregate, to arrange games and, critically, to provide feedback on the game's tweaks and balancing.
After two years, Guinsoo passed the reins to a reclusive modder called Abdul "IceFrog" Ismail. Inspired by the careful weighting of StarCraft and Warcraft, IceFrog endlessly tweaked the balance of the characters and items. While other multiplayer games might add new maps with each release, Allstars instead continued to focus on just one level in an attempt to create a perfectly, precisely honed experience. No combination of heroes or items should outweigh any other; no attribute should become too powerful.
Meanwhile, Pendragon's forum expanded like nobody's business, reaching 1.5 million users. Many of these actively participated in the development of the mod by providing additional content or artwork or testing AI bots. As the years rolled on, Allstars became an enormous collaborative project, endlessly rebalanced in an ongoing effort to add new content and perfect what was already included. It became a popular game amongst cyber-athletes, featured at many tournaments around the world, and was even the subject of a song by the Swedish singer Basshunter.
By 2008, after countless mind-bending iterations, DOTA had become something almost unique: a massively successful free game mod created entirely without developer support. The potential to go commercial with a game like this was becoming obvious. In 2009, two independently created DOTA-inspired titles were released. One was an enormous success.
Demigod, from Gas Powered Games, did moderately well, though players complained about its balance and numerous bugs. On the other hand, the free-to-play League of Legends, developed by Riot Games, was very much the spiritual successor to DOTA in both content and execution - and it also built up an enormous player base.
Both Guinsoo and Pendragon had joined Riot, with the latter working to foster the same community spirit that had made DOTA a success. League of Legends hardly touched DOTA's game mechanics, but it did introduce persistent accounts that allowed its players to gradually unlock more characters to play with, content that Riot has continued to add.
In a move that foreshadowed other free-to-play titles like World of Tanks, Riot allowed players to purchase any characters or content if they wished, but with the proviso that nothing bought couldn't be unlocked through gradual play anyway and, most importantly, would not unbalance the game. Paying money got you new stuff, but it wasn't better stuff.
The philosophy was not to hard-sell the game to a community that was already enjoying DOTA, but instead to offer them a new, more polished experience and the option to fast-track through it for just a little bit of cash. "We believe that if we deliver value, then people will reward us. It's not the other way around, like, 'Let's go monetize.' We don't think that's what gamers want," says Riot co-founder Marc Merrill. "It was a big leap of faith, of course. Trust me, there were many naysayers along the way. And there still are." It certainly worked, as LOL now boasts over 15 million registered accounts.
Riot encouraged team play by giving players experience if they assisted in killing an opponent, and introduced both a tutorial and in-game tips in response to new players struggling with the learning curve of DOTA-style games. They also ensured that finding a game was effortless; matchmaking algorithms made sure players were paired with teammates and opponents of appropriate skill levels.
As Riot continually tweaked and added new content to its game, LOL sat largely unchallenged at the head of a genre that was still niche. In 2010, Heroes of Newerth joined what PC Gamer called this "great, unnoticed community of the PC gaming world" and though its developer S2 Games enjoyed strong sales, Newerth was unable to unseat League of Legends. Nevertheless, a much bigger rival was just over the horizon.