The rumors and speculation can cease. Valve is making Dota 2, we've played it, and it's already amazing even though it's not coming out until next year. And we haven't yet laid eyes on Dota 2's biggest innovation: a radical approach to integrating the game's community back into the gameplay itself.

What's a Dota?

Dota 2 takes its name from the Warcraft III mod Defense of the Ancients, a drastic change to that stock real-time strategy title, which pits two teams of five players against each other in highly competitive, 40-minute or longer matches. Unlike most RTSes, DotA has each player controlling a single hero who levels up and stockpiles gold to purchase powerful equipment and consumables. As computer-controlled armies continually spawn and rush the enemy's base, players are responsible for using their powerful heroes to turn the tide of the battle in their favor.

DotA quickly gained massive popularity on Blizzard's service, with the growing community utilizing user-created channels and the rudimentary custom game browser to connect players. As mods tend to do, it branched into several variations as time passed. Eventually, one rose to the top: DotA-Allstars, originally created by Steve "Guinsoo" Feak (now employed with Riot Games designing League of Legends). Allstars is currently maintained and updated by IceFrog (who declined to give his real name), who was hired by Valve in 2009 and is now working on Dota 2.

DotA enjoys such unprecedented popularity for a number of interconnected reasons. The game has a skill curve as long and as wide as Counter-Strike or StarCraft; expert players dominate matches with lesser-skilled individuals solely through manual dexterity and hard-won knowledge. Extensive upgrade paths allow players to combine items into more powerful versions, gaining thousands of hit points or powerful life-stealing attacks. Team play is hugely rewarded; though the map is large enough for all ten players to spread out and fight creeps on their own without anyone engaging anyone else directly, late-game play is almost invariably centered around giant 3v3 or even 5v5 team fights.

The mod has benefited from excellent, long-running support in the form of constant updates that add new content or address balance issues. Said balance is good enough that no dominant team composition or strategy has ever taken hold for long. The heroes are varied enough that a match featuring different team rosters can take on an entirely different character from the last.

The enormous following generated by DotA's deep gameplay is unprecedented. Today, years after its release, a third-party site hosting an update can get hammered by more than six million downloads in a day. The mod spawned a new subgenre, commonly referred to as "action-RTS," that contains two successful commercial games in League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth (and the unfortunate flop Demigod) as well as DotA-Allstars itself. Valve Corporation, the company beloved for its Half-Life, Counter-Strike, Team Fortress, and Left 4 Dead series as well as its outstanding Steam digital distribution and matchmaking platform, is making its entry into this still-growing genre next year with Dota 2.