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The rise of auto chess games: who will win the autobattler war?

David Cullinane 01 August 2019

The wider gaming scene is always defined by its biggest trend. There tends to be one huge, genre-defining game that others dream of being as successful as. First-person shooters were popularised by Call of Duty, MOBAs by League of Legends, and battle royales by Fortnite.

This year has seen the rise of a whole new genre – the ‘autobattler’. What began with Dota 2 mod ‘Dota Auto Chess’ has now spawned multiple competitors all vying to be the dominant game in this new genre. But where did they come from? Where are they heading? And how might they become king? 

 

The opening gambit

If you’re wondering where the terms ‘autobattler’ and ‘auto chess’ suddenly appeared from, you’re not the only one. It’s a relatively new concept that became popular as a custom game type on Dota 2. It combines the characters of Dota and the layout of chess with a dash of mahjong to create a game that was like no other. First making its appearance in January this year, and created by Chinese developer Drodo Studio, it has lit the fuse to a whole new genre of strategic games.

The only fly in the ointment was that Dota is a Valve IP. After discussions with Drodo Studio, the two companies amicably decided to head their own ways. Valve spun the idea into Dota Underlords, while Drodo Studio began work on a separate, fully-fledged game simply called Auto Chess that they hope will not only conquer China but the entire world. And so the autobattler was born. Riot Games is now the latest to join by creating a spin-off of League of Legends entitled Teamfight Tactics.

 

The current state of play

Dota Underlords, Auto Chess, and Teamfight Tactics are the current three big players on the scene, each vying to take the crown of the king of the autobattlers. Dota Underlords has the advantage of having the character set-up people are most familiar with. Auto Chess is the progenitor; the original idea that people love so much. And Teamfight Tactics can capitalise on the enormous player base of League of Legends. In fact, to increase uptake, the game is accessible within the League of Legends client.

The next phase of autobattler games will be securing the player base across platforms. While it began on PC, the genre is aiming to attract the lucrative mobile crowd. Both Auto Chess and Dota Underlords have mobile versions of their game and, in the case of Dota Underlords, the PC version is based on the mobile iteration (for now). There will no doubt be more autobattler games that come along, but what will decide which one comes out on top?

 

Standing out from the crowd

It makes sense that the one eventually crowned as king of the genre will be the one that can attract the greatest community. Naturally, they all have their own in-built communities, but what will attract newcomers? While word of mouth has achieved a lot so far, there has been little in the way of marketing. While this is understandable, given they are all in the early stages of development, it makes sense that they would benefit from cinematic trailers to bring the crowds in. 

The challenge will be taking the relatively dry, top-down view of the autobattler games and turning that into a stunning trailer. It will need to sell the action that is otherwise left to your imagination. It will need to weave a story that plays out in short-form. And, in the case of Dota Underlords and Teamfight Tactics, it needs to show the pre-existing communities that this is an exciting addition to the lore that justifies the hours already spent in the game. Auto Chess has an uphill battle in that regard, so will need a strong theme to attract people’s attention.

This is especially true in the mobile landscape. The competition in this space isn’t just other autobattlers, but all of mobile gaming. How will you differentiate amongst the match three games and the battle royales?

Most of all, it needs to show people this is a community worth joining. At this early stage, any of these games could fade into irrelevance. A new competitor can appear at any moment to claim the crown as its own. If they want to be the best, they need a trailer that unashamedly says “we are the best”.Given the success they are enjoying in such a short period, we think the autobattler genre is here to stay and hasn’t even begun to peak. The autobattler war is about to heat up: are you ready for it?

At RealtimeUK, we can craft a trailer that amazes audiences and draws in new players. We’ve worked with many free-to-play games, such as Smite and CrossFire, so we’re well-equipped to handle whatever your request may be. If you would like to know more, get in touch with me at dave@realtimeuk.com.