Dota or Dota 2 is a multiplayer online battle arena video game developed and published by Valve. The game is a sequel to Defense of the Ancients, which was a community-created mod for Blizzard Entertainment's Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and its expansion pack, The Frozen Throne
Let’s go all the way back to the Blizzard Era
You must start off with the Aeon of Strife fan mod for StarCraft: Brood War if you really want to trace Dota's origins right back to the very beginning. A fan hack built on top of the real time strategy game from Blizzard in 1998, it became so successful online that it was eventually ported to the newer Warcraft 3 from Blizzard. It's a somewhat different experience compared to the current version of MOBA, but this is where the basics of the genre were born. StarCraft's custom map took away your army's influence, instead giving you control of one strong unit while the AI sent minions down three lanes on a map to kill the base of the opponent. This was a cooperative game, played against an AI team rather than other individuals, and there were only four players per team, with little difficulty outside of typical attacks in combat, but the three-lane creep system going towards the base of an opponent became the basis for the most popular game genre in recent years.
But more of a distant relative to Dota is Aeon of Strife. In the early 2000s, its real lineage started with another Warcraft 3 mod called Defense of the Ancients or DotA (the capitalization of the A is necessary to differentiate between the DotA mod and the Dota 2 Valve sequel).
Developed by Kyle "Eul" Sommer modder, the mod is very similar to Dota 2 as we know it today, but in another engine that clearly lacks a lot of modern bells and whistles. On a map with three lanes, five players battle against five others, trying to destroy the opposition base, with creeps running down every lane and each special playable hero having distinct skills and progression. Here, the fundamentals of Dota were born.
Eul moved away from creating DotA shortly after he released it, considering the popularity of the mod, and clearly not realizing that he had created what would become one of the most financially profitable genres ever. He tried to create a sequel, but it never really took off, and ultimately his participation in DotA fizzled out (later, he eventually signed away all of his ownership of DotA to Valve).
When many attempted to build other versions of DotA and mostly failed, it became clear that it would be DotA: Allstars, mostly created by another modder, Steve "Guinsoo" Feak, which would be the main version of DotA in the future. For the most part, Allstars is what people mean when referring to the initial DotA. It was the version on the pro circuit that was played for years and eventually what formed the basis for Dota 2.
After a few years, Guinsoo would go on to Riot Games and create League of Legends (another extremely successful MOBA with many parallels to Dota) along with Steve "Pendragon" Mescon, who essentially developed the DotA community hubs, leaving ownership of DotA: Allstars with IceFrog, the mysterious developer who would continue to become the single most influential person in Dota's history. IceFrog did not come in and change anything, but he became the primary person in charge of balance and fresh material, influencing the way Dota was played.
With no funding from any major developers or publishers, DotA continued to be a massively popular game. The entirely fan-made game, with major tournaments and thousands of dollars up for grabs, became one of the largest esports in the world. But it became clear that the MOBA genre was going to become a big deal with the launch of the League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, and DotA needed some kind of backing to remain significant. That's when the Valve arrived.
Valve started to make their own move
IceFrog announced in 2009 that he had joined Valve and was working on a project with them that would be some sort of MOBA for anyone under the sun. But it wasn't until 2010, when we received the first official word from Dota 2. Valve disclosed the game and that in 2011 it would be released in beta form, but previously gave some press access to the game and early signs were good. The production of Dota 2 went relatively quiet for a good few months outside of a contentious trademark filing for the name 'Dota', which ignited years of legal battles.
Then the giant 2011 Gamescom gaming expo rolled around and Valve agreed that hosting a $1.6 million tournament, the biggest prize pool ever at an esports tournament at the time, was the perfect way to show off Dota 2 to the public. Not only did the tiny booth in the center of Gamescom show the game to those participating, who also earned beta invites, but to the wider world, who were all watching the competition's live stream. It turned out to be a great decision, with thousands of individuals knowing what Dota was and wanting to play the game immediately.
Valve continued to invite more and more individuals to the beta as the months went by and a professional scene began to develop. At first, with mostly online tournaments and prize pools, it was tiny, rarely surpassing the $25,000 mark. Yet it was the beginning of what would have been the best pro scene in all gaming.
It had been a long year since the Gamescom announcement and The International 2 was confirmed with another $1.6 million prize pool, but it was held in Seattle this time. This was when the Dota scene really began to take off, with a wider player base and the public being able to get into the beta if they really wanted to. The game was still in a much better condition, and while it still did not feature all of DotA's content, it had a much greater pool of heroes and was much easier to use, making the action much better.
For Dota 2, the year between TI2 and TI3 saw massive growth. Finally, in mid 2013, the game was finally released on Steam for all to play, resulting in a huge wave of new players. Valve also launched crowd funding for the TI prize pool, which raised the money on offer by more than $1 million. TI3 was Dota's breakthrough tournament, and Natus Vincere and Alliance's epic grand final remains the most iconic Dota match in history and was responsible for getting thousands of new players in.
Over the next few years, Dota continued to expand at a pretty rapid pace, and the tournament scene also continued to evolve. Each year, TI remained a big deal, with crowd funding drives continuing to boost the prize pool each year, contributing to the long reign of TI as the largest prize pool in the history of esports. By TI6, the prize pool had broken the $20 million mark, and more than $34 million will be on offer for this year's TI10.