Auto Chess Blew Up, and Big Publishers Raced to Cash In

The time between "popular small game" to "trendy new genre" is shrinking, and AAA Developers are coming out on top.
July 9, 2019, 4:12pm
Promotional image for Auto-Chess, the game's various heroes rush forward, weapons drawn, across a chess board
Image courtesy of Epic Games

In the last few months we've seen the sudden arrival and widespread popularity of a new genre: Auto Chess. The original, created within DOTA 2's internal mod toolset, took that game's signature heroes and sprinkled a bevy of mobile game mechanics to create something new. You use coins to buy heroes, you place those heroes on a chess board, and then they battle automatically against other player's heroes. You as you progress you get more coin to spend on getting more heroes, you combine extra copies of your heroes to create stronger versions, and you get items that can boost anywhere from one hero to your whole squad.

This simple formula captured the attention of many DOTA 2 players, especially people like me that enjoy the original's team fight mechanics but were generally bad at keeping up with the farming stages of the game. Given the popularity of DOTA 2 (the game averages around 500,000 concurrent players a day) the buzz around Auto-Chess wasn't that surprising. It's how quickly every MOBA creator jumped on this particular trend that has the Waypoint Radio crew doing a double take. Listen to this week's episode where we discuss Auto Chess, Sea of Solitude, and more here:

Below is an excerpt of our Auto Chess discussion:

Austin: There has been a year-of-the-battle-royal style explosion of this genre, maybe even more so. There was a conversation happening the other day somewhere, on a podcast or on Twitter or somewhere, I don't remember where but it's not my initial observation that like, when you think about how long it took from DoTA, sorry from Defense of the Ancients to get to League of Legends and DOTA [2], and what's the other, is there a third big MOBA at this point?

Cado: Heroes of Newerth

Austin: Heroes of Newerth is the actual one, not Heroes of the Storm, that's basically dead now right? Or, they're still doing content, they're doing a mech thing now right now that I think about it more.

Patrick: Yeah but they've basically signaled like a white flag on it being an esport. And once you've done that you're more or less conceding that it, you know, it will be maintained and run, but not [much else.]

Rob: By the by, I have some friends who stayed in on Heroes of the Storm, and the early verdict is the game is vastly more enjoyable now that the esports thing is basically done.

Austin: I fucking bet!

Rob: A lot of the competitive people have bounced.

Austin: Hell, yeah!

Rob: And [the sentiment is] "what if one of these was just a game that you play and its balance doesn't need to be this like theory crafted marvel of perfection? It could just be fun?" and so like, in a weird way, dead game or benignly neglected game?

Austin: I think that you know, sometimes we're better in a freer habitat, you know what I mean? Not all these controls on us. So my point was the time between Defense of the Ancients to "the MOBA" pretty long. The time between Playerunknown's Battlegrounds to "the Battle Royale" being a big thing is much shorter. The time between Auto Chess the mod and huge corporations have all released different Auto Chess games across mobile and PC simultaneously is like a snap of a finger. It's unbelievably quick how agile the the market has moved to capitalize on this new trend.

Rob: Agile's a word. It's almost as if there are large stocks of capital being like held back and reserved. And companies just watch to see someone without those reserves have a good idea, achieve a degree of popularity that seems like it would catch on, and then you just clone that idea and you rush it to market with sort of a level quality that the originators can't match, and then you profit.

Austin: Which then really means if you were the originators you kind of an option which is: work with us, work with one of our biggest competitors, or fail to be able to cash in the way we want to.

Discussed: Teppen, DOTA Underlords, Sea of Solitude, F1 2019, Total War: Three Kingdoms, Pokemon Sword and Shield, Lucah: Born of a Dream

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