If you believe the internal tracking in the Dota 2 client, upwards of 70,000 concurrent players are engaging in a single custom map: Dota Auto Chess. It’s definitely not chess, and although the characters share some similar abilities to Dota 2 counterparts, it’s absolutely not Dota either. Instead, Dota Auto Chess is a turn-based tactical strategy game that pits you against seven other players in round after round of resource-management action – you won’t need any APM to compete here, as all the units do battle on their own after you place them.
Players begin simply by picking a single unit from a selection of five. After that, options expand rapidly as the game gets under way, as your population cap and unit choices grow larger. You can pick any units you like as long as you have the gold and space, and that’s where team-composition strategy comes in. Putting units of the same race and class together has powerful and often game-deciding effects. For instance, a team stacked with mages will cause the opposing team’s magic resistance to greatly decrease, meaning your spells will absolutely ravage them. Assassin stacks get giant crits, knights get shields, mechs regen, hunters get massive damage boosts – you get the idea. Mixing and matching race/class combinations to stack all kinds of bonuses and effects is critical to success. Other race/class combos offer more interesting synergy, like druids being able to “rank up” using fewer units than others. Ranking up is an important aspect of the game and another layer of strategy, as it makes your characters much more powerful.
To rank up, you’ll need three of the same unit, which is made more difficult if everyone in your game is trying to play the same races/classes, so it’s to your benefit to try and seek out lesser-played characters in order to rank them up easier. Everyone draws from the same unit pool, so if everyone wants to stack mages, those players will crumble easily as they struggle to rank up units while the knight player gets all the uncontested rank ups to themselves.
In addition to attempting to forge the best team, keeping an eye on your funds is critical. You get money from wins, win streaks, lose streams, and interest each round. You can sandbag early on and take some losses and damage to try to get a big interest stack kicking, but try and tempt fate too much and you may lose the game before your big stack of cash starts providing meaningful dividends.
Each round you face a random opponent from whoever is remaining in the game, until there’s only one left standing. Placing in the top three will net you some candy, which you can use to unlock cosmetics you can use from game to game. After a few games, you’ll also get a ranking based on chess pieces, like pawn, knight, or bishop, and this will go up and down as you continue to play games.
Every so often the custom map scene has a mod that catches fire. While its longevity remains to be seen, if you’re into this sort of strategy experience, you can play it for free inside the Dota 2 client (which is free) on Steam, so I recommend giving it a shot. It’s not chess, and it’s not Dota, but it’s a great game to queue up and play with friends or solo. It takes a few games to start to understand how everything works, but it’s got some really fun strategy hooks underneath everything. If you like reading, check out this great Reddit post for more on how everything works in the game !