The auto chess wars have begun.
Sparked by the surprise success of the Dota auto chess mod, created by Chinese team Drodo Studio, a number of big-name publishers and developers have quickly turned around efforts of their own - and they're proving early doors big hits.
Auto chess games are "auto battlers", that is, they're turn-based competitive multiplayer strategy games in which you send units out onto a board divided up into squares, then the combat plays out automatically. There's more to the genre than this, of course, but that's essentially it.
Riot Games, maker of MOBA League of Legends, made a strong early move with the release of Teamfight Tactics, an auto chess game set in the world of League.
Teamfight Tactics proved enormously popular from the moment it was released, and is already one of the most popular games on Twitch. At the time of this article's publication, Teamfight Tactics has more viewers than Fortnite and, suitably, League of Legends.
Drodo Studio, which is making a standalone version of Dota Auto Chess sans the Dota elements to be sold exclusively on the Epic Games store, has already launched a flank attack with the release of Auto Chess on mobile.
And now Valve has entered the battle with Dota Underlords - and it's already off to a flyer. At the time of this article's publication, it was the fourth most-popular game on Steam, ahead of the likes of Rainbow Six: Siege and Grand Theft Auto 5 with an impressive 185,000 concurrent players. Dota Underlords has already outstripped the popularity of the ill-fated Artefact, and looks like it could be the next big Valve game.
There's a circle of life element to Underlords I find quite delicious, too. Here we have a Valve-made game (Dota Underlords) based on a mod (Dota Auto Chess) for a Valve-made game (Dota 2), which was itself based on a mod (Defence of the Ancients). Video games!
So, we've got Valve, Epic and Riot going toe-to-toe in the initial stages of the auto chess war. But who else could enter the fray? I expect any big game company with a universe packed with recognisable heroes could have a stab at it. Blizzard, with its army of hero units from the likes of Warcraft, StarCraft, Diablo and Overwatch, seems like an obvious candidate. Could Epic have a go, with its various Fortnite characters? And what about the console players, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony?
It's early days, and the auto chess wars have just begun.
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