Opinion: the legal fight brewing over DOTA 2

UPDATE: Now Blizzard have begun to get involved a little more actively in the DOTA matter, which raises the stakes on the trademark front – see more from me on that here.

So, Valve announced DOTA 2 yesterday.  This is of course a sequel (of sorts) to the wildly popular Warcraft III custom map, Defense of the Ancients.  I’ve played a fair bit of DOTA in my time and was looking forward to Valve’s take on it, but beyond that I hadn’t paid much attention to it…until now.

Today this exposé/rant/hoax? appeared on the net, which has made me do a bit of further reading into DOTA 2’s development- which in turn has made me wonder if there is an almighty fight brewing over DOTA next year…

The story so far…

  • The first DOTA map went live – as best I can tell – around 2003
  • Subsequent versions were developed by at least three different devs.  One of them was Steve Feak, aka Guinsoo.  Another was Steve Mescon, aka Pendragon (who also ran the DOTA AllStars website).  The latest dev to work on DOTA was Abdul Ismail, aka Icefrog.
  • Mescon and Feak subsequently went to Riot Games which developed League of Legends, a DOTA type game.
  • S2 Games subsequently developed Heroes of Newerth, another DOTA type game.
  • More recently, Ismail announced he was joining Valve to make DOTA 2.
  • Valve subsequently applied for a trademark over “DOTA” which provoked a counter-filing from Riot Games for a trademark over “Defense of the Ancients” (I do not know what happened following that, but I assume both parties were granted or will be granted the trademarks they had applied for – though obviously there is scope for confusion between the two.)
  • Now, an anonymous Valve employee has written about Ismail.  I stress I have NO IDEA if it is genuine or not and it is quite possibly defamatory in parts even if other parts of it are true.  But what is interesting about the post is that it claims that Ismail had worked either with or for one or both of Riot and S2 prior to coming to Valve and unbeknown to Valve.  The allegation therefore is that Ismail does not own the DOTA content himself. 

Why there could be a fight over DOTA

You can see by now that, even if the Ismail rant is a hoax (which we don’t know for sure), the ownership of the DOTA IP looks like it could be a total mess.  You could see competing claims from:

  • Activision-Blizzard: the publisher of Warcraft III and which could claim IP ownership of UGC made for it – including custom maps like DOTA.
  • Any of the original developers of DOTA, plus Steve Mescon, Steve Feak and Abdul Ismail: these are the guys who made the original DOTA and could therefore claim rights in it.
  • Riot Games and S2 Games: they employ or worked with some of the original DOTA developers, allegedly including Ismail himself, and made DOTA type games themselves (which potentially they could argue are infringed by DOTA 2).  Riot Games has applied for the Defense of the Ancients trademark.
  • Valve: the prospective publisher of DOTA 2 itself and applicant for the DOTA trademark.

So, we have a situation in which multiple developers have worked on the same product and then gone in subsequent directions to different companies, in circumstances where very likely there has never been any formal agreement as to the ownership of the DOTA IP.  Then, on top of that, you have allegations that one of the developers may have worked for competing games companies all working on DOTA type games unbeknownst to anyone else, the implication being that he might thereby have misused confidential information.  AND finally, yet further, you have two rival games companies both making rival DOTA type games and filing for similar trademarks.

Sounds like a recipe for a legal battle to me.  All is that needed is the money – and if DOTA 2 is a big hit for Valve next year (as pretty much all of its games have been, ever), then we’ll see plenty of cash next year when the game is released.  Watch this space…

Image credit: PlayDota/Wikipedia

Follow us at http://www.twitter.com/gamerlaw or subscribe to our weekly email newsletter here

7 thoughts on “Opinion: the legal fight brewing over DOTA 2”

  1. Heh, the first Valve email might be a hoax but that second one (which I read this morning) is just silly 😛

  2. Actually, Pendragon had no part in developing Dota. He just ran the site http://www.dota-allstars.com (a community manager so to speak)

    You might wanna read up on some Dota history

    here's a good place to start: http://www.neutralcreeps.com/2010/10/emergence-of-dota-genre.html

    Pendragon does not have any right so to speak to DOTA. He just ran a website called dota-allstars.com (which is non-existent nowadays)

    They're getting publicity in the process.
    Riot Games would do anything to get people to play their bad copy.

    It belongs to Valve.

  3. It belongs to Valve…..lol

    riot isnt trying to get it for themselves, they're trying to get it for the community because the community are the real owners or the name DOTA not valve

    If valve just didnt name it DOTA 2, and try to claim DOTA as there own, and gave it another name there wouldnt be any problems

  4. OMFG!! I WANT DOTA 2 and I want it made under ICEFROG! Guinsoo needs to learn better and let go of dota like he did ages ago. IceFrog carried it, made it the popular game it is today. I've been into dota for almost 5 years now and the only name i know is IceFrog.

    Its stupid for valve to want to make Dota their own creation, which it obviously isn't. BUt Steve is being an asshole thinking Dota will leave him without a job at Riot (coz league might fail)

    But having played both, I know I am not gonna give up one for the other.
    What makes me laugh at Guinsoo is that once Dota is about to pick up again, he's trying to hinder what he was originally a part of.


  5. Riot does not care about dota.Valce made Dota 2 a fail game 6 Second silence, 4 seconds stun, 2000 crit and also heroes can hardly get over 2500 hp that game is only build for money.
    Riot has over 11 milion players,Dota 2 tries to get players by givind everyone free games,To be honest Dota 2 sucks Valve sucks and IceFrog is a fool to have worked at that failure of a game.Guinsoo and Pendragon made the best choice and the best Action RTS game ever.
    Why would i play a game like Dota 2 where my eyes hurt because of the graphic,low interface(i cand find the items i need),it is hard to distinguish the enemy heroes and also in LoL when chasing an enemy stealth champions will not turn invisible if they are attacked in Dota 2 he can turn invisible when he wants ever if he is attacked even if he is stunned he can turn invisible Rikimaru can stay stealth all the game attack then go stealth again.

Comments are closed.