Auto battlers are a genre of game I had never shown any interest in. Heck, I didn’t even know auto battlers were a genre. That is until a chart went around in the Gamezo Discord between writers. The chart was a list of the highest-paid esports by prize pool. Somewhere on the top 25 was “Auto Chess”.
As far as I was concerned, Auto Chess was some random game that kept targeting me via Facebook ads. Traditionally, I take Facebook ads with a grain of salt and just assume most games are mobile gaming garbage. It turns out I was wrong.
With this information in hand, my interest was piqued. I set out on a mission to master Auto Chess.
Table of Contents
The Journey Begins
Do you know how hard it is to get your hands on Auto Chess? It turns out that a search on “auto chess” returns almost every auto battler known to man. This fact got me to thinking: was the list of payouts bunching all auto battlers together? No matter; I had to get my hands on the proper Auto Chess.
After some research, I realized that I could download the game from the Epic Store. I did so, spun up a game, and promptly disconnected. This pattern of disconnecting happened two or three times, then I decided to give up on my journey.
The Journey Pauses
I got pretty discouraged based on how poorly my Auto Chess experience was going. To be fair, I didn’t know what I was even getting discouraged about. To this point, I didn’t even look up how this game works.
I sat on my disappointment for about a week, then started searching alternatives to Auto Chess. A few options came up, including both a DOTA and League of Legends version of the game. I figured it couldn’t hurt to try one of them out.
I’m not sure why, but I was drawn to DOTA Underlords more than the other auto battler options out there. I downloaded the game, spun up the tutorial, and decided to jump back in. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I was ready to (for some reason) make this my new number one game.
WTF Did I Get Into?
The tutorial did not leave me confident. The basics of the game were simple: spend gold on characters, hope they are more powerful than the enemy’s characters, maybe win. That’s what I got out of the tutorial, at least, so I hopped into a game with bots.
Once in a “real” game, I realized how little I understood. There is a whole art to team composition, character placement, gold management, and more that come into play. Honestly, I was getting frustrated.
This time, I refused to give up. I hopped on YouTube and figured out the basics. I am going to try to share those as bullet points here:
Every game contains eight players
Players round robin against each other
The loser of each match has points taken off of their overall health
Characters available for selection are randomized each round
You can pay gold to re-roll character choices
You can spend gold on leveling up and place more characters on the board
Collect three of the same character levels them up
Collecting three level two characters levels them up again
Characters have types with different synergies and bonuses (called Alliances)
When the round starts you make no more choices, the characters auto-battle
My first thought was: “that makes way more sense, but I still don’t know how to win at this game”.
A few more games against bots netted me a first place. I then went online and got smashed by real players. The problem is I had learned the rules to the primary mode of the game, but there were other game modes with different intricacies.
Whatever. It was time to figure this thing out with friends.
I stream on weekends, and I figured that DOTA Underlords would be the perfect opportunity to allow the community to backseat drive. I also brought in a good friend to play with who likes games of similar genres like Hearthstone.
Having a friend to figure out the game made it more fun. My friend, Tom, and I played a mode called duos. This mode is very similar to the standard mode, except each player faces off against one player from the other team. The total damage taken by the loser is an aggregate of the score from the two separate games being played.
Duos also added an interesting mechanic: the ability to share money and trade characters. These cooperative mechanics meant that we could discuss team composition and make sure that if we saw a character the other required, one of us bought it. We also were able to coordinate money spending better.
Even though all of these additional mechanics made the game make more sense, Tom and I suffered.
The Hero We Needed
Tom and I were at a loss and consistently finishing in the bottom half. Miraculously, my stream was blessed with a raid. Another streamer was going to grab dinner and enjoy their Saturday night and felt we were entertaining enough to pass her audience to. In this audience was our savior, Violet.
Violet knew what they were talking about when it came to DOTA Underlords. Quickly, we started to get coaching on saving our money, synergies that work better, tips about placement, and more. The most staggering realization was that there is one total pool of characters for all eight teams. This mechanic means that if three people are building toward one composition, they are going to have a hard time due to lesser resources.
After hours of playing and being coached, we finally had a breakthrough and reached the top half of the board. Violet had turned an impossible game into one that we could compete in. Big shout out to Violet for that. Unfortunately, it was 3 am and time to call it a night for me.
The next morning, I woke up exhausted but feeling pretty good. I wanted to play more DOTA Underlords, so that’s exactly what I did. I logged back in with my newfound knowledge to play some singles.
The knowledge imparted on me the night before was serving me well. I was consistently competitive in the top three. Making choices based on strategy became more normal. I had ideas about builds, character placement, and beneficial synergies.
Not being able to break through and get a win, I turned back to YouTube. I started looking up strategies around different top tier team compositions. Then I looked for strategies that enable you to shift plans based on the boards of your opponents and stay competitive. Finally, I watched some pro-league play (yes, there is a pro-league, the UPL).
Around this time, Tom hopped on. It was time to dominate duos. We did not. Even being consistently top three didn’t help. We just could not break through for a win. We were frustrated, and we logged off.
Thoughts and Opinions
Look, this article is called “Auto Battlers – An Opinion,” so get ready for the opinion. However, before providing that opinion, let me close out a few thoughts.
Tom and I both continue to play DOTA Underlords. Neither of us knows why. The entire game seems to be about making good decisions based on luck. No matter how well you feel you understand the game, you aren’t guaranteed to do well. Tom said it best:
“It’s a dice roll, where people are trying to buy the most weighted dice, but the catch is that it’s a dice roll to get the good dice.”
So, if these games are based on hedging bets, and improving odds, but ultimately random, why are they fun?
Every game starts with a random draw. You have to make the best with random characters that you can. Then, every round later, you have to pray that the characters you need show up. Sure, you can adjust on the fly, or play the long strategy, but it comes down to a lot of luck.
Do you know what’s even worse? You have no control. Your characters auto battle. So what happens if you have a character that is one hit away from killing the competition’s best character, but instead decides to switch targets? You lose, that’s what.
It happens consistently.
Here is my opinion: No one should enjoy these games, but for some reason we do.
There is never a shortage of people to compete against. My stream was the fullest it has been for a game that is hardly a game. Sure, it is competitive and rewarding when you do well, but you know deep down there was some luck to it.
There has to be something I’m missing. I can’t stop playing DOTA Underlords. Neither can Tom, by the way. We just complain the whole time. There you go, a game that is not fun is the only game I have found myself playing for the last week. It makes no sense.
I can admit I may be wrong. There is a strong possibility I just don’t understand the game yet. I just need someone to take the time to convince me I am wrong about auto battlers.
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