It seems like just yesterday that Riot Games announced that its hugely popular multiplayer online battle arena title is getting a whole new mode, and I already got the chance to play it at GamesCom here in Germany. This may be the shiny newness talking, but I liked Dominion enough to see myself adopting it as my preferred way to play League of Legends when it comes out shortly after PAX.

Instead of the Dota-inspired lane-pushing mechanics of classic League of Legends (and every other Dota-alike out there, from Heroes of Newerth to Dota 2), Dominion is a territory capture gametype similar to Battlefield’s popular Conquest mode or World of Warcraft’s Arathi Basin. Two teams of five fight over the five control points, and the team with fewer creeps ever closer to defeat. If you don’t play LoL or another MOBA, you may not follow the incoming wave of genre-specific jargon below, but you should know that Dominion will almost certainly be massively more newb-friendly than traditional MOBA gameplay, since it relies on intuitive tactics (you want to hold more nodes than the other guy) rather than the often arcane strategies necessary to play a classic MOBA at an intermediate or higher level.

The hardest thing for a League of Legends player to get used to in Dominion is the fact that the early/mid/late-game transitions mean very different things than they do in classic mode. Instead of the game dynamic shifting to team fights and ganks, or being determined by whose carry has more effective farm, the strategy in Dominion always revolves around controlling as many points as possible and nothing else. You’ll almost never want to concede a point in service to some other goal (unless it’s capturing a different point) like you would give up a tower in the classic game, since having  fewer points means your Nexus loses health that it can never recover.

Dominion de-emphasizes the farming game, since you gain gold at about twice the rate as in classic because matches are half as long. Team fights are a much smaller part of the game, since having four champions clustered together makes it easy for the other team to take over the multiple undefended nodes. There’s no such thing as jungling, because there are no jungle creeps. Dominion still looks like League of Legends, but below the surface it’s an almost entirely different game.

My experience in a demo match with a crew of Riot developers was extremely positive. There’s still a huge amount of space for player skill to shine through – juking, skillshots, consumables, and map awareness are as important as ever – but matches are faster and more intense due to the different pacing and compressed time scale.

Capture-and-hold gameplay is a staple in genres as diverse as MMORPGs and first-person shooters for a reason. It’s a timeless game design that works extremely well with League of Legends’ mechanics. Dominion will probably never replace classic MOBA gameplay for the sizable population that loves that style with all of its intricacies, but I’ll bet that it garners its own dedicated fanbase. You’ll have to get in line behind me, though, because I’m already at this party. There’s no cover charge, though, so you’re welcome to join me…as soon as Riot releases Dominion to the public, anyway.