Auto Chess: The custom game mod taking over Dota 2 & Twitch

05 February 2019


DOTA Auto Chess (DAC) is a custom mod developed within DOTA 2’s Arcade system, however, it has very little to do with DOTA or Chess itself. While it uses DOTA 2’s models, names and abilities, DAC is a game mode unto itself. In a lobby of 8 players, each player drafts various pieces, or “chesses”, and places them onto their board. The round then begins, with each player’s board being pit against monsters or other player’s boards – however the player themselves don’t control the action, they can only simply watch.

Therein lies the excitement, DAC is a strategy game, predicated on various tactics but ultimately decided by the roll of the dice: Is my central unit going to attack the correct piece? Or will the AI just choose a sub-optimal route, thus dooming my board to failure? With this slick combination of intricate strategy and randomness, it’s clear to see why DAC has exploded in popularity, with twitch streamers from various games flocking to test their mettle against each other.

We spoke to four popular streamers and content creators, Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen, Octavian “Kripparrian” Morosan, Jason “Amaz” Chan, and Stephanie “Anuxinamoon” Everett to see what they thought about this recent phenomenon, how far the game can go as an esport, and what may stop it from becoming the next big hit.

Winners of the 8 player lobby receive currency to spend on cosmetics

Esports Insider: How did you get introduced to DOTA Auto Chess (DAC) and how long have you been playing?

Savjz: I saw my friends Hafu, Dog and Amaz tweet nice things about the game and I knew we share the taste.

Amaz: I watched some of my Hearthstone streamer friends streaming it, so I thought that it would be fun to try it out too.  It’s crazy how big it’s growing in such a short amount of time!

Anuxinamoon: I got introduced by my best friend who I play DOTA 2 and custom games with, and I’ve been playing since the start of the year.

ESI: What do you think its biggest strengths are as a game?

Savjz: First of all, it felt really fresh to me. I’ve never played anything like it before. I love strategy games and I love playing against other people. Usually strategy games are either turn based, or real time. DAC is something else, players take turns at the same time. There is a significant speed element and it keeps the players engaged and rewards fast thinking. Choosing your “chesses”, managing your economy, and placing your chesses properly are all part of whatever strategy you want to pull off.

There is also a lot of randomness in what pieces are available, but being able to adjust strategy to match the flow and chess pool of that particular game adds a lot of depth; while you can read up on good combos, forcing particular chesses and trying to force upgrades that cannot be done in that game certainly does not provide the best results. That type of quick thinking to adjust on the fly as well as managing your risks is a thing of art. It also rewards paying attention to other players in the game – you can analyze their pieces and plan accordingly. For new and even mediocre players, however, I’d still recommend managing your own board first.

Kripp: The biggest strength of Auto Chess is that it bridges card game players with MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) players. It’s a fun way to enjoy something new that does not have too many defined strategies.

ESI: The developers have stated that they see it as a casual game and not as an esport, do you agree?

Kripp: Anything can be made into an esport, and I can certainly see how some may see Auto Chess as a viable esport. I think the developers do not identify it as an esport because they do not wish to compromise on game design for the sake of tournament play. I find it difficult to disagree with their goals, as the game has done an excellent job of attracting new players.

Amaz: I feel like the best “esports” games are the ones players are passionate about. So while DAC is not built as an esports game from the ground up, if there’s enough interest in the community for it, then it’ll naturally happen. I’m excited to see where DAC heads to next.

Anuxinamoon: The devs could totally make this a viable esport. They would have to sort out how the opponents face off so that it’s all quite even and remove neutrals dropping items and instead run an item draft round where items are purchased with tokens that neutrals drop on death.

ESI: We’ve seen a few tournaments begin to crop up, how far do you think the game can go?

Savjz: Very far. I honestly think that either the game itself or a standalone game that manages to capture the same magic will go all the way to become a staple for years to come. It will go as far as the fans of the game take it. There are people going bonkers over it. My chat often spams “Play more” “New game” “queue pls” and things like that often my games finish. The hunger for more is real, I have to admit I haven’t seen anything quite like it. The game is incredibly addicting. People feel extremely strongly about the game.

Kripp: The game can go quite far, but until they can operate independently of the DOTA IP and client, they will have constant challenges and hit a ceiling fairly soon.

Amaz: The most important thing for new games is the foundation and DAC kind of nailed this. The game mechanics are pretty easy to pick up and understand, and of course, the more advanced strategies are often very subtle for the newer players to grasp, which allows for a good learning curve and longevity to the game.

Anuxinamoon: The game will go really far when they make a standalone client. As a mod it’s too shackled to the burden of the custom game restrictions.

ESI: What are some of the biggest hurdles preventing it from reaching the next level?

Kripp: The biggest issue the game has is that it is tied to Dota. The developers will struggle to create the game they want as long as it is tied to another. An additional concern is that the new player experience is really awful for the first few games. The lack of a streamlined new player experience will prevent the mod from taking on mainstream gaming.

Anuxinamoon: Its UI is pretty garbage and along with a lack of elo for ladder ranking, they’re at the mercy of the perils of custom games breaking with updates to DOTA 2.