My Personal Fears About Dota 2‘s Art Plagiarism Made Real

My first contact with anything Blizzard Entertainment-related was when a kid much older than I found a copy of WarCraft II: Tides of War on our aging PC in the Philippines. I found the fantasy story gripping, but as a child who drew far more than he wrote [a ratio clearly flipped on its head nowadays] it was the visuals that really grabbed me.

A few years later, on my family’s return to Canada, seeing WarCraft III in Best Buy fliers made my eyes widen in awe. These were many of the same races and units I was familiar with, but updated graphically. I spent many of my precious minutes on the internet perusing the game’s website just gawking at the units and buildings before I finally grabbed a copy of my own.

When World of WarCraft was announced I made plans to play it with my friends, though those were ultimately stymied by the subscription fee as well as my family’s move to Thailand. That didn’t stop me from absorbing as much about the game as I could, though. This was a world I was deeply familiar with but expanded to a greater scope than I could ever imagine.

Dota was a game I was, and am, vastly unfamiliar with. The first time I came across it was at an internet cafe in Malaysia, looking through WarCraft III custom maps. While I was very much into the ability to select a wide array of heroes and so on, I had no idea how to play. This was not helped by the fact that I opened it up as a single player game, which led me nowhere fast. It wasn’t until high school when friends of my brother’s spent their time on both Dota and League of Legends that I gained a rough understanding of how things work.

Then, two years ago, the first footage of Valve’s Dota 2 was released and I wrote my response to the developer’s aesthetic choices. My obnoxious penchant for footnotes aside, my main point of the piece was that the game was copping many of the character design choices from the original, a WarCraft III mod as mentioned above.

goblinshredder

The top two images on the right are a Goblin Shredder, first in WarCraft III and then in World of WarCraft. Below them is the Timbersaw hero from Dota 2. There are obvious differences, of course, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the latter is taking more than a few pages from the former. It remains a goblin with goggles sitting within the exposed cockpit of a mech that is ostensibly meant to cut down trees.

I’m of the belief that Blizzard has created some fantastic art in the past, and that there are arguably a number of design choices they’ve made that are iconic. I’m not referring to Footmen with their shining armour and their swords and shields, of course, I’m talking about characters like Anub’arak, an insectoid Crypt Lord with a clearly Egyptian influence.

Anub’arak as he’ll appear in Heroes of the Storm and Nyx from Dota 2.

This past weekend was Blizzcon 2013, and I sat at home waiting for the news to pour in, with Heroes of the Storm [hereafter referred to as Heroes] as the game I was particularly looking forward to. This was and is the company’s response to the many MOBAs [Dota 2, League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, etc.], but featuring their own firmly established characters. Which leads to the title of my post.

In my first post I expressed that I very much understand why Valve did what they did. Their core audience was going to be switching over from this WarCraft III mod, and they needed to be as familiar with all of the characters as possible. This was a sequel, after all, and too many visual differences would create a very problematic disconnect. The issue I have now is that the Heroes characters are being referred to as the copies.

In an article on ongamers.com the author describes his “opportunity to play a Pudge or Blitzcrank clone called Stitches for thirty minutes.” The implication there being that the character originating in Blizzard design and featured in a Blizzard game was the clone, the doppelganger in this situation. This was, essentially, a nightmare of mine made real.

Clockwise from top left: an Abomination in WarCraft III, Pudge in Dota 2, Stitches in Heroes, Stitches in World of WarCraft.

The image above contains three generations of a Blizzard-made unit, the Abomination. Ever-present are the giant cleaver, the meat hook, the chains wrapped around its arms, and the gaping belly complete with exposed ribs. Stitches, a hero in the upcoming Heroes has existed for going on nine years, but gamers are certain to, as the article’s author did, refer to him simply as “Pudge.” It’s not even that they’ll refer to him and others by their Dota 2 names, either, it’s that people are actively stating that Blizzard is ripping off designs. Their own designs.

The Blizzard concept artists had the job of creating distinct, iconic imagery in their characters, and I would say that they very much accomplished their goal. The Valve concept artists for Dota 2 had the task of mimicking these Blizzard designs as much as they could without bordering on copyright infringement, and that sort of things just doesn’t garner much respect in yours truly.

A Gyrocopter as it may appear in Heroes and Gyrocopter [yeah, same name] from Dota 2.

I noticed it before comparing WarCraft III models and Dota 2 models, but the Heroes footage from Blizzcon makes it that much more starkly apparent. Below is my final image for comparison, Puck the Faerie Dragon on the right and a Faerie Dragon, currently nameless, on the left.

faeriedragon

Clearly the men and women over at Valve did their jobs, because there has been zero legal action taken against them over these character designs. I am forced to wonder, though, at what point similarities get too close. 

Before I conclude I want to state that I have no problems, overall, with Dota 2. The game has been pivotal for the eSports as a whole with its highly competitive pro gaming scene and Valve, as usual, has made [or, rather, adapted] a very solid piece of work.

To end, and refer back to a point recently made, what I’m really concerned with is people getting credit for the work that they’ve done. Many of these iconic designs originated in Blizzard games, and I would very much like if they were acknowledged for this. The title of this article is definitely more inflammatory than anything else, but I do believe that the many images I’ve embedded speak for themselves. All that being said, I am plenty excited for Heroes, and will do all I can not to let internet comments like “lol what a ripoff of furion even the name” not to get to me. It will be difficult.

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15 responses to “My Personal Fears About Dota 2‘s Art Plagiarism Made Real

  1. This whole situation is bizarre to me. I am a fan of Valve, and although I don’t play it, I’m aware of the impact that DOTA 2 has had on the esports industry (In truth, I personally resent it a little for knocking Starcraft from the throne and almost killing the Starcraft 2 competitive scene). Although I haven’t played it much, I think Team Fortress 2 -another Valve-made game that was a “sequel” to another player-made mod of a game (Quake) from another publisher- is a great game and has a terrific art style.
    But I cannot fathom how these games were made without legal hassle. Now, with Blizzard making their own MOBA, and rightly so, I can only wonder how this will all turn out.

    • I had no idea that TF2 was a sequel of sorts to a mod, especially since there was a Team Fortress in place before it came out. Learn something new every day, I guess.

      Personally, I’m very much looking forward to Heroes of the Storm. It’ll be nice to have a moba with an easier jumping-on point.

    • I don’t mean to start a flamewar, but wasn’t it League of Legends which dethroned Starcraft from the competitive scene? At least, that’s what I’ve heard with regards to the scene in Korea.

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  3. I was also going to point out TF2 being a mod sequel but Orion beat me to the punch.

    Valve seems to be the king of publishing mods. If you follow the Half-Life/Half-life 2 modding community (which I used to) you’ll be surprised to see just how many Steam releases are updated mods. A fantastic recent example would be the Stanley Parable. Go play the mod. It’s amazing.

    If you look on Wikipedia you’ll see that there was actually a little copyright battle between many of the original mod authors, Blizzard, and Valve back in 2011. The ultimate settlement was that Valve and “IceFrog” (one of the original DotA developers) would have the rights. So, it’s unfortunate that people don’t recognize these images and characters as being a Blizzard creation in the first place, but Valve does have the right to DotA.

    That being said I have a love-hate relationship with DOTA 2. I have never ragequit in my life. Until I played DOTA 2. Easily the worst, most dickish gaming community I’ve ever encountered.

    • Orion is actually the one who got me to download and play the demo for The Stanley Parable.

      I knew about the legal battle for the name, and one that Blizzard ultimately backed down on. That’s all well and good, whatever, what’s in a name? That being said, a name is not the rights to character design or anything else, really.

  4. Blizzard can go and suck a dick, they plagiarized all their shit from games workshop and even lost vikings was just an asterix ripoff.
    What’s funny is that in the future we can detect braindead blizzard fanboys by how they refer to HotS as “heroes” as if blizzard could dicate the internet how to call a game.
    It will be hots, because heart of the swarm is already a dead game.

    • Blizzard higher-ups have straight-out admitted that “Warhammer was a huge inspiration for the art-style of Warcraft,” which is all I really want in this case.

      I also don’t see a problem with them pushing the “Heroes” nickname, and in fact I first saw that term nailed down in the subreddit dedicated to that name. HotS still seems pretty alive to me if the WCS I attended last month was any indication.

  5. Well firstly, you start off with a great argument, but where you lose focus (or maybe just not as informed) is when you compare the actual heroes to the art. Your quote from onGamers I believe is very out of context as the HERO “Stitches” could be a “Pudge” clone, not because of the art, but because of the mechanics. In Warcraft, the abomination model never used a “Hook” in any ability until the Warcraft 3 mod Dota created the character Pudge, using the abomination model, and added a “Hook” skill. This skill has become iconic in that it is in Dota (Pudge), League of Legends (Blitzcrank), and now Heroes of the Storm (Stitches). The point being people were claiming a clone because of the iconic “Hook” skill, not because of the skin/art.

    Blizzard is stepping very differently than Dota in the world of character models in that they are altering even base models to be very diverse in appearance with the implantation of their own micro-transaction program. Their hero models will essentially have very little limitations on what they can do and be more in line with Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends as opposed to Dota 2.

    • I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know as much about MOBAs as I could, so I really appreciate you pointing out where I started losing track.

      This has been a pretty divisive post wherever it’s been discussed [primarily reddit] so I think I’m probably going to have to put together one last follow-up post for this entire topic.

  6. One arguable point is that the Abomination model is known as Pudge BECAUSE of Dota’s existence in Warcraft 3. There are a large number of people that played Dota, an almost insane number and many of them still play it today. Dota has had a lifetime far beyond that of Warcraft 3, and possibly even a farther reaching audience. As such, some of these designs, while Blizzards, became known as a result of their association with the map made by IceFrog, the latter of which works at Valve.

    It’s a valid article and point here, but there are two sides to every coin.

    • I more or less agree with you on that. Dota has reached gamers all over the world to the point where WarCraft III became just a way for them to play the mod as opposed to the game itself. Their art was used for other means that became infinitely more popular than their intended purpose and I can’t argue with that.

  7. you know what. FUCK Blizzard for ignoring dota for 8 years then when Valve hire the developer of dota finally Blizzard want a pieace of the genre fuck them and their attempt to own the name of DotA

    • They did miss out on an opportunity. Valve took a risk that paid off (as it usually does for them) and now Blizzard looks like a copy cat for not striking when the iron was hot. It is unfortunate that a lot of the original art is not being credited to Blizzard though, or at least not being recognized as originating with Blizzard by a portion of the gaming community. I mean, there is something to be said about intellectual property and credit where credit is due.

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