In this edition of Approaching Esports, let’s dive into a board game that once was the talk of the nerd population. Yes, you guessed it. Chess. But we are not talking old school pawn taking bishop type here. The new take on chess beginning to emerge as a major breakthrough is Auto Chess. You might have been seeing some things about this over social media but where did it come from and how is Auto Chess even played?
Ironically, Auto Chess came from the same origins that Defense of the Ancients (DOTA) and League of Legends (LoL) came from, Mods. DOTA allows the community to upload custom games in their “Arcade” area, which is mostly inhabited by one-time play adventures and “troll” style games (which I do not recommend. Trust me!) Some make splashes in the pond but rarely do any advance past a few thousand plays.
Auto Chess was a difference maker though. Developed by Drodo Studio, it took about three months before the mod started seeing some exponential growth, surpassing over 10 million downloads (and growing daily). The success can come from many factors, from the way the game stands out as a new genre to the way the developers continue to push updates on the regular, even adding new heroes or balancing the current roster. This constant care to the gameplay and the popularity of streaming have made Auto Chess (now called DOTA Underlords) an incredibly popular game.
How do you play?
Underlords is actually incredibly simple to understand but the unique levels of strategy and context to the game make it incredibly versatile when it comes to strategy. Something that might work early in the game might cost you the victory in the end.
Underlords is played into rounds, with each round divided into a preparation phase and a combat phase. The ultimate goal of the game is to reduce all of your opponents to 0 HP. When the game starts, you choose your starting unit. Units are the main priority of the game, as the ultimate goal of the game is to raise the strongest “army” to defeat your other opponents. Each Unit has a gold cost (what you pay to purchase and use them) in the right corner and they have Alliances at the bottom (more on this later).
So, in your preparation phase, you will be buying units and placing them on the 8×8 grid to prepare them for combat. Your placement field is only the first 4×4 section, just like you would have in chess. At the start, you will only be allowed one unit on the board but over time, that limit increases as your levels and items do. With levels, you gain experience at the end of every combat phase but you may also use your gold to purchase XP to level quicker. Higher levels give higher unit limits and also can provide stronger units at the cost of more gold.
Once you’re done with the preparation phase (or the 25 second time limit expires), the combat phase starts. Units fight automatically, using their skills and range (melee/range/magic) to defeat the opponent. Remember those Alliances we talked about before? This phase is when those will play a major factor in determining if your team is victorious or not.
If you hover over Alliances at the bottom of the Unit display, you’ll see an explanation of what they do and how many other units you must have with similar alliances to activate their effect. This is called Synergies and are vital to making sure that your team is the strongest it can be. In the example pic, I show that this unit has the Inventor alliance. With another different (as in not the same character) unit that has this alliance, both units gain +15 HP Regeneration. When I gain four different units that have this alliance, they all get +40 HP Regeneration. So you can see how this can be the key to victory.
After the combat phase, if you scored a victory, any remaining units do damage to your opponent (or their remaining units do damage to you if you lost), the round advances, and you go back to the preparation phase. Gold is awarded after the combat phase for victory, units destroyed, streaks, and a standard gold amount so you may purchase more units. Any units defeated during combat are not gone forever, as they reappear.
Purchasing units from this point on becomes a big strategy as well, as not only are their Synergies to consider but also you can combine 3 copies of the same unit to upgrade the unit to a more powerful version of itself. This can be done twice (up to three stars) for each unit and greatly increases their stats like HP, attack, etc. For this purpose, you can keep extra units on your bench. This way, you can purchase units ahead of time to plan a strategy for the rest of the game.
Victories are also very important to grasp due to the Loot that can come from it. Loot are items (usually from phases that you fight NPC monster characters) that can consist of MANY benefits for your units, from buffing to actions on death. From the image, you can see that these can work heavily in the favor of those that are able to acquire them, much like when you find a magic item in your favorite game.
Now, even if you are at the bottom, the game does give you a chance to catch up with a random round in the middle of the game that can provide you with a MUCH stronger unit. The order of choice with these units start from the last place and work their way to the first place. This gives an evening situation where someone from the bottom can gain that much-needed unit to fill in a Synergy and suddenly have an amazing team.
The game is won when all other opponent’s health has reached zero. This is where you boast in victory, prance around the room in a triumphant roar, and then sit back down for another game of Underlings.
Team Fight Tactics
With League Of Legends, they have introduced their own version of the game called Team Fight Tactics, with some major differences. Rather than going into a lengthy explanation, here is a breakdown of the differences so you can make good judgement to which version you want to play.
- Units are actual Champions in the game (so fanboys rejoice!)
- First phase round starts as a carousel, with players controlling a cute character (called a Little Legend) as their representative. When the round starts, the player must move to the Champion that they want or hope to get. They call this a “Draft” phase.
- The board is smaller and Hex based. This can greatly affect how certain Champions move and respond.
- You can equip up to three items to each Champion, completely changing the reliance on items as MUST in games.
- The graphics are immense and beautiful but can be hard on older machines
Depending on how this all plays out, the impact will be dramatic when the game modes are released to the general public on June 25th. Auto Chess is also developing their own version for mobile so they will be competing soon with their own set of rules. I’m excited for how absolutely shook the world of esports will be after this release and happy that Chess nerds and fans of similar genres everywhere have a chance to shine!