Auto Chess. When this supposed genre-establishing title was first released as a mini game on Dota 2’s arcade platform in January this year, it seemed like we were witnessing the birth of the new esports phenomenon.

Dota 2 players were ignoring the main game in favour of spending hours battling away on the Auto Chess boards. Offices lost dozens if not hundreds of hours of productivity as their workers got completely hooked and spent the whole day “multitasking” with never ending games of Auto Chess in the background. My friends would not stop raving about the game – hardcore Dota players, gaming media outlets and casual gamers alike had immense praise for the simple yet deep and addictive mechanics of this unique strategy game.

By March, the game had 6 million subscribers. The most successful Dota 2 mini game of all time. Valve’s attempt at making a Dota based spin-off strategy game with Artifact was an irredeemable embarrassment in comparison. 

Valve recognised the success of Auto Chess and worked with the original developers of the game, Drogo Studio, to develop an “Auto Chess Pass” that would be available on the official Dota 2 store. Valve was willing to lend its support to Auto Chess in order to provide more improvements and content for the game and it’s playerbase – rightfully so. And of course, as is the case with quite literally every trend in the gaming industry, the developers and publishers were all quick to jump on the bandwagon. The “Auto Battler” genre was now a real thing.

Not content with merely having the original Dota Auto Chess on their platform, Valve decided to develop their own standalone Auto Chess game, Dota Underlords. If the original game was already called Dota Auto Chess, then Dota Underlords would be like…an even more Dota-ish Dota Auto Chess. It seemed rather excessive, but such was the extent of the craze, and Valve’s willingness to invest in the Auto Battler genre only lended it more legitimacy. Not to be outdone by their MOBA developing rivals, Riot Games came out with their own Auto Battler game which took the form of Teamfight Tactics, a custom game mode for League of Legends that has proven to be incredibly popular in its own right. And finally, we have Drodo Studio who went on to develop a standalone version of Auto Chess as a mobile game. So, Drodo Studio’s Auto Chess for mobile is in a way the original Auto Chess game since it’s the main title by the developer….but it’s also not really the original Auto Chess game since Dota Auto Chess was the first iteration that was ever released.

And that brings us to today. We’re in the final quarter of 2019 and as we look back on the brief history of Auto Chess and the Auto Battle genre, we can’t help but wonder: what the heck happened to the Auto Chess craze?

Given the massive amount of support the game was receiving from players, media and game developers along with the promise held by the sizable player base of all the different iterations of Auto Chess, it was reasonable to expect that we would see numerous esports tournaments and professional players appear for each of the Auto Battle titles on the market.

There has been a handful of Auto Chess tournaments held around the world, sure, and Drodo Studio has announced that the first ever Auto Chess Invitational will be taking place in Shangai this October where the top players from around the world will compete for 1 million US Dollars. That’s definitely a more than decent prize pool for a high profile esports tournament, but apart from that….there really isn’t much happening.

Looking at Malaysia, the Auto Chess/Auto Battler scene has been completely silent. Or perhaps it would even be more accurate to say that there isn’t, and never really was a Auto Chess scene here at all.

When the Dota Auto Chess craze was in it’s prime earlier this year, some esports community members got together to play some small online tournaments, and Battle Arena Malaysia organised their own online Auto Chess tournament in August with a somewhat decent prize on offer for a small one day tournament. 

And again, that’s pretty much it. Given that there’s been no promotion of Auto Chess by any of the prominent esports venues and event organisers in Malaysia, it’s reasonable to assume that they haven’t seen enough response from the Auto Chess playerbase in Malaysia to justify investing in running tournaments for the game. After all, why would Malaysian organisers devote resources towards Auto Chess when even the international esports scene doesn’t seem to be building Auto Chess up as an esport. ESL and WePlay have organised Dota Underlords tournaments with somewhat meagre prize pools, but Valve doesn’t seem to be devoting much support to the game on the esports side – something that could easily be done if they desired given their experience running the Dota Pro Circuit. Meanwhile, Riot Gaming is said to be seriously planning to push Teamfight Tactics as an esport, but no concrete action has been taken yet. Whether or not Riot Gaming chooses to follow through with Teamfight Tactics still remains to be seen, especially since they might be put off by Valve’s own hesitance to promote Auto Chess and Dota Underlords.

As for the Malaysian esports scene, we really thought that Auto Chess was going to take off. Given the overwhelming popularity of mobile game titles here and the popularity of the original Dota Auto Chess among gamers, it seemed like there was a good chance that Auto Chess would garner a significant playerbase among Malaysian esports fans. There was a gap in the Malaysian mobile gaming market for a strategy game like Auto Chess, but apparently Malaysian gamers just aren’t too attracted to strategy games right now. Well then, everyone go back to playing PUBG Mobile.

Featured Image Credit: Auto Chess

Image Credits: ESL Dota2, Auto Chess, Battle Arena Malaysia

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