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

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 is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

It was pretty frustrating to see both of those developers—for as much resources as they have to take creative risks and experiment on new ideas—immediately pounce on this existing idea.

Epic Games and Hi-Rez Games already had a reputation for chasing after contemporary trends when they made Fortnite and Realm Royale respectively, but Valve and Riot both sell themselves on being innovators of the space.

It’s one thing for unique ideas in the indie space to inspire established developers to try and incorporate them into their design, it’s another for them to just make that thing but with their brand painted over it.


It took me an embarrassingly long time to find / realize that this was the article for the latest podcast episode. (Maybe pick one name for the episode rather then calling the article post one thing and the episode another?)

Does anyone know what Mech battle royale game Austin was talking about?


I find navigating the site and trying to figure out what’s a podcast and what’s an article really frustrating.

Also, I feel like I can never see the “newest” articles. I know there’s a feed for that on the website, but I feel like I’m still always missing stuff. That one might just be me though.

As for auto chess, uh, bring it to Switch?


Yeah, the fact that a bunch of larger studios basically jumped on Auto Chess is a bummer and really reflects how weird and easily-exploited industry trends can be. I want to get in on the game because I like deckbuilders, so I feel like I have to go with the original because going for the ones by Valve or Riot are gonna make me feel weird.

Also thirding the difficulty figuring out what’s what. The fact that the articles for the podcasts have a different title than the podcasts themselves is bizarre and confusing.


I mean, the original had the developers try and make money off the assets of DotA freelance artist without paying or crediting them, so there’s nobody involved without blood on their hands.


Yeah, that’s a fair point!

how are valve and riot selling this image exactly? to my memory, the last novel thing valve published was portal - which came out of them seeing narbacular drop and hiring the student team that made it. and what does riot do except for league?

i guess it also makes a certain kind of sense that the corps making and maintaining i think the two largest mobas out there would see that a mod of “their” game (genre) blew up and think well, that’s easy money, and those should be our customers; put somebody on making one with our stamp on it, introduce a division of authenticity. (but don’t tell anybody we’re late to the party, shhhh)
doesn’t read as trend-chasing at all to me.
this might just be meaningless semantics though, because it’s abominable either way.

1 Like

Valve operates with a very atypical company system of no hierarchies on the belief that doing so will allow developers to work on their passion projects. Riot operates in that distinct Silicon Valley rockstar mentality of being disruptors of the industry and Not Your Grandpa’s Developer.

That the former is an absolute dysfunctional mess skating by on owning a majority stake of the PC platform, and the latter is a gross techbro clubhouse that has been overly reliant on a single game, doesn’t really matter. The software innovator image is the one they try to project, and (particularly in Valve’s case) it’s one that their fans still believe in despite all evidence to the contrary.


I’ve tried all of them and imo the original is still the best(including being better than the mobile game). TFT tho has the most polish and i expect it to be the one with staying power which is unfortunate (tho i’m probably gonna contribute to that…).

Its weird how Dota Underlords just feels like a QoL update on Autochess, you’d think they’d try to separate themselves more by using different dota heroes or something. They just reworked some mechanics, changed how items worked, and put in like 4 more heroes and called it a day. TFT at least feels like its a new game in the same genre built from the ground up, kinda in an apex legends way for battle royales. It still has some stuff which are obviously copying like round 15 wolves and late game dragon

They’re called "Fast Follow"s, the quick large corporate games that overtake the original idea, and they’ve been happening for years now on mobile it’s nothing new, the only difference here is it’s companies the more mainstream side of gaming press cares about doing it instead of big mobile game companies they normally ignore. (Also in this case cloning game systems is relatively simple when you already have a working engine and a full game’s worth of 3d assets to use for the characters).

In the case of Underlords specifically, after this whole debacle, I would feel incredibly hesitant to ever use the Dota 2 mod toolset for anything ambitious if I was a small developer.

We don’t know the specifics of that situation, but the signs point to Valve telling them “we’ll let you go and make your own version of this with original characters, because it’ll make us look like the good guys, but we’re going to basically take your game and there’s nothing legally you can do about it”.

Like, I can’t believe the “good guy valve” impression still gets thrown around after this. Isn’t the whole reason they have legal control of the Dota name due to Blizzard being hands-off on ownership of anything published through the WC3 mod toolset?

1 Like

Is it ok to put podcast comments not related to the title in here? I don’t like this format.

First, I relate to Patrick about the magic of finding and losing Ray Bans. I’m on my second found pair this year.

But more importantly, listening to Rob go into such detail about F1 made me realize that all I really want is WipEout with deep sim aspects. That’s all.


The thing that really grinds my bloody gears over the Autochess debacle is how quickly and shamelessly Riot turned one around. While they hate modders and the custom matches (let me make hide and seek you cowards) they seemingly have no issue with straight stealing a mod that another game has cultivated with its open and supportive community.
Multi million dollar R&D department and they finally release someone else’s product, I finally have reached a point of hating a company top to bottom.

…now to return to my nightly group TFT matches because everyone is a hypocrite.

The idea of Seth Killian working on Riot’s Auto Chess is so disheartening. RIP, Rising Thunder.


The narrative that keeps getting repeated is that Valve tried to hire the original devs, but they refused, and signed with Tencent instead. Who knows if that’s true, but Valve spitefully releasing their clone has a certain draw in this narrative since they are now a spurned party.

It’s all a bad look IMO. We shouldn’t be cheering for Shadowrun style megacorp nonsense.

Excuse me while I play another hypocritical round of Underlords… :frowning:

I’m just about to finish my first career season of F1 2018, and Rob’s high praise of this year’s edition is really tempting me to upgrade to the new one.

This is my first time playing an F1 game (along with first year watching F1 thanks to Shift+F1) so I’m still playing on easy difficulty with most the assists turned on. Considering I’ll be playing on a much lower level than Rob is, I’m wondering how much of a difference I will notice between 2018 and 2019?

I’m playing 2018 on the Game Pass, so I’m not really worried about paying full price on the new one, just not sure if it’s worth it. I’m really hooked on the gameplay of the series so I’d probably get the new one eventually, but I have a habit of hearing people gush about a new game on a podcast and then buying it in the spur of the moment.

I think he was referring to either Super Mecha Champions or MekaRoyale Online but I am going off my memory of what he said and looking into it after the fact.

Edit: if I am curious about Auto Chess and were to download a version on my phone, is there a version folks recommend? Cado spoke about being familiar with the DOTA characters so that clicked for him. I have zero knowledge of anything DOTA and am simply looking for something I could play before bed.

I’m increasingly wary of any modding support being touted for a game, because it’s becoming very clear that it’s just a way for devs to get free value on their game thanks to unpaid labor. As soon as it’s apparent that Drodo is trying to transition their work into something they can actually sell outside of dota’s ecosystem, whoops, here’s Valve trying to make bank off their ideas, trying to hire them to add some legitimacy to their ripoff, and then failing and proceeding with it anyway.

I’m suspicious of Dreams as well because like, okay, a game that’s relying on people making stuff for free, for sony to make money off of it? hrm.


I found the Underlords app to be pretty polished with options for reducing the graphics depending on the phone.