Artist: Valve
Dota Underlords and the future of Dota Auto Chess

Valve just made a huge announcement for the Dota 2 and Auto Chess communities – they are releasing their own standalone version of Auto Chess.

After Drodo Studio came out with a standalone mobile version of the custom game (developed by Dragonest) unrelated to the Dota IP, and after Valve filed for the “Dota Underlords” trademark, this development was expected, but now it is official. Valve are making their own game!

The announcement reads:

“We ended up agreeing that we’ll each build our own standalone version of the game, and support each other to the fullest.”

So, basically:

  • The two parties came to the conclusion that they cannot work together and that they will, in practice, become direct competitors.
  • Yet, they would support each other to the fullest.

This statement seems a bit contradictory, but at least for now Valve seems to act accordingly by directly promoting Drodo Studio’s Auto Chess mobile game beta in their blog post.

It will be curious to see the implications of this relationship in the future:

Does it mean Valve will not develop a mobile app or at least that they will stay out of the Chinese market with Dota Underlords to avoid directly competing with the Auto Chess mobile app?

It could be a way for the two games not to clash directly, but it seems unlikely for Valve to pass up such a huge business opportunity. It is rumored that 70% of Dota 2’s revenue comes from China. This is remarkable, bearing in mind that the PC gaming market in China is smaller than the mobile gaming market. With Auto Chess fitting a mobile-game format very well, it’s fairly likely that the market-leader Auto-Chess-like mobile game will be worth billions.

This makes it more likely that the two companies will support each other in spirit but directly compete with each other in practice. Time will tell.

Another interesting statement that might not get noticed next to the major announcement is that Drodo will “…attempt to design new modes and adaptations in our standalone game.” So, we will get other modes of the game in the Auto Chess app, which speaks that maybe the two developers will try to differentiate the two standalone games from each other as much as possible.

What could Dota Underlords be like?

Here we leave the realm of facts and enter the realm of pure speculation, but let’s be honest – the announcement is pretty hype for all Auto Chess fans that prefer to play on PC and its pretty fun to imagine what Valve’s version will look like.

Quality of Life:

The game is guaranteed to improve the custom game cosmically when it comes to QOL. The matchmaking and controls will be smooth. A drag-and-drop control scheme will probably become the standard. Judging by the fact that Valve retained the Dota 1 legacy keys as an option for Dota 2, however, it seems safe to assume they would keep something similar to the current controls as an option as well. Throwing units back to the bench with one key is quite convenient and faster than drag-and-drop.

Last but not least, a great menu and in-match UI is guaranteed – a PC game has more screen real estate than a mobile app to play with, which usually results in a better experience. 

Art Direction:
Dota vs Auto Chess Art Style

Is the game going to retain Dota 2’s 3D models? This would make it much easier (quicker and less expensive) for Valve to develop it and it would give them the option to use Dota 2’s cosmetics. Yet, we feel it’s unlikely because it would make Dota Underlords feel a lot less like a proper stand-alone game and more like a Dota mod. It seems likely that they would change the art style at least slightly to give the game a district feeling.

Monetization:

With Valve, pay-to-win is almost out of the question, which is great news, to begin with. The monetization will probably be similar to the Dota 2 model of pure cosmetics as well as something approximating the Dota 2 Battlepass system (seasonal quests and challenges, digital-currency betting, etc.). Various hero models (likely community created), as well as board customization (something that's expected to come to the mobile Auto Chess as well), are likely.

There are people worrying that Valve would repeat the big monetization blunders of Artifact, but it seems likely they learned their lessons. Moreover, a “marketplace model” seems much more viable in a trading card game, while Auto Chess fits a traditional in-app purchases model well.

Balance:

This is where it’s the least clear what approach Valve would take to make Dota Underlords sufficiently different. Copying the Auto Chess balance blatantly is unlikely, yet it’s a strange situation because Auto Chess uses Dota 2’s original items and hero skills and Valve have a decent claim to use those as they are.

We believe it’s very likely that Valve will rework the items system entirely. It’s been a major point of criticism for Auto Chess that Drodo Studio has refused to address, which presents a great opportunity for Valve to make it “right” and differentiate their stand-alone game.

The tribes are almost certainly going to change in one way or another. The interesting question, however, is if Valve will introduce a major twist in the genre – a new major mechanic to make it sufficiently different from the original. This seems likely, but what it could be is anyone’s guess at this point!


Whatever Valve decide to do with Underlords, we’re pretty excited to see it! Even though their most recent track record hasn’t been stellar, they have all the resources and talent they need as well as the experience of working on mods to make a brilliant stand-alone game!

If you enjoyed the article, you can check out our blog or library to read more Auto Chess content!