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What does Dota actually stand for?

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The name Dota can stand for a lot of things, but the true answer is more complex than players may think.

Over a decade since its July 2013 release, Dota 2 still ranks among the most-played esports titles on Steam. Always neck-and-neck with its rival League of Legends, the MOBA still boasts millions of monthly players. And yet, some of those players may not even know of its origins. After all, there’s a reason for the “2” after Dota. The MOBA began life as a mod for the classic RTS title Warcraft 3. It exploded in popularity, and although Blizzard never pursed a standalone title, Valve saw its potential. Shaving off all the Warcraft aesthetics, Valve released Dota 2 on Steam to much rejoicing and Blizzard’s regret.

But it does leave some fans wondering what the name Dota stands for, if anything at all.

Faceless Void Arcana loading screen

Does Dota really stand for Defense of the Ancients?

The “Dota” in Dota 2 doesn’t stand for anything at all, though it was originally an acronym for Defense of the Ancients.

Defense of the Ancients was the original meaning of Dota, but copyright disputes have complicated matters.  The name came from the framing device for the mod’s conflict. Before it was radiant and dire, the two sides were called sentinels and scourge. The term ancients referred to the structures protected by both sides.

Interestingly, heroes used to be locked to either sentinel or scourge to highlight the conflict of good versus evil. Eventually, the developers removed the restrictions for a more balanced game. Dota 2 eventually phased out normal mode, which locked radiant and dire heroes to their respective sides, in favor of the modern all pick.

When Valve announced the acquisition of the Dota property in 2010, the company moved to file a trademark for the Dota name and the acronym it stands for.

“The issue with that was when we were talking with IceFrog originally, he wanted to build the sequel to Dota,” Valve boss Gabe Newell said in an interview with Eurogamer. “So the reason to call it Dota 2 is it actually does a pretty good job of communicating to gamers what it is the game is going to be.”

Dota allstars loading screen

The name recognition of Dota 2 certainly worked in its favor, but some companies disagreed. Former Dota 1 designers Steve “Guinsoo” Feak and Steve “Pendragon” Mescon opposed Valve’s trademark, citing it as a community asset. It’s worth noting that at that point Riot Games owned the trademark for Dota Allstars. Then Blizzard VP Rob Pardo acquired the Dota Allstars property from Riot Games and opposed Valve’s claims.

Eventually, the two companies settled the conflict in May 2012, with Valve retaining commercial rights to the IP but allowing third parties to use the name commercially as well.

Nowadays, Dota only nominally stands for Defense of the Ancients, but nobody’s called it that in quite a long time. Notably, the phrase “Defense of the Ancients” does not appear anywhere in the modern game.

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