Typically, e-sports draws from a limited pool of games, with tried-and-true fan favorites Starcraft and Counter-Strike being staples of nearly every major competition, and a smattering of other first-person shooters, real-time strategy, fighting, and sports games rounding out the roster. However, a fairly new genre has started to make waves within the professional e-sports circuit: the action RTS. Games like Heroes of Newerth, DotA 2, and most prominently, League of Legends have begun to make appearances at major tournaments.For those of you who still aren’t familiar with the action RTS, the basic premise is not too different from that of a regular RTS. Players are arranged into two teams, with each player controlling a single unique hero character; the objective is to fight past the other team’s defenses and players, and destroy their base structure. There’s also a bit of an RPG aspect where players earn gold and buy items to make their character more powerful. The basic concept has been around since the time of the original Starcraft, but it wasn’t until the release of a mod called Defense of the Ancients-Allstars (or just DotA) for Warcraft III that things really began to take off for the fledgling genre. Garnering millions of players, being selected to appear at various gaming tournaments, and proving that it was not just a niche indie mod, DotA was the progenitor of every entire action RTS since its release. Following the astonishing success of DotA, the large-scale viability of games of the action RTS genre was established, and various developers began to release their own commercial entries into the field. The first truly successful commercial action RTS title (sorry Demigod fans) was League of Legends, also known colloquially as LoL). Since its release in 2009, LoL has gone on to become one of the most popular video games in the world, with well over 30 million registered player accounts; it has also made its way onto the list of official competition games at events like Dreamhack and the World Cyber Games. LoL demonstrates in many ways exactly why action RTS games are so suited for competitive play. The matchmaking system (usually) ensures that players are matched up with other players of about the same skill level, while those players of a more ambitious bent can compete either individually or in premade teams in ranked ladders. The character select screen allows players to discuss strategy and team composition before the game starts; action RTS games are absolutely team-centered, so you won’t get far at higher level play without a team whose individual characters support each other with their respective skills. Gameplay starts out with players split among several lanes, so there’s always something interesting going on. The longer a game goes, the more likely it is to be decided by intense all-or-nothing teamfights; it’s a fairly nail-biting process to watch teams trade blows from a distance, before one side or the other engages and the screen lights up as characters start throwing out spells left and right.
With this kind of gameplay, games like LoL and DotA were practically destined to be played at the competitive level, and with each passing year, the popularity and stakes just keep rising. This year, the LoL Season Two competition is paying out a grand total of five million dollars at both amateur and professional-level tournaments, including several to be broadcast internationally. That’s not to say that LoL has a total monopoly on the action RPG section in e-sports though; the original DotA continues to be extremely popular, while challengers Heroes of Newerth and DotA 2, the Valve-developed successor to DotA, also vie for sponsorship at competitions. Some are saying that action RTS is poised to become the leading e-sports genre; only time will tell if those predictions will turn out to be true. One thing’s for sure though: with an incredibly large player base, a near constant stream of updates and new content, and an almost inexhaustible pool of strategy, action RTS is here to stay.