Riot Games’ first foray into auto battlers, Teamfight Tactics (TFT), has only been fully released for a week, and it has maintained a steady pace as one of Twitch’s most-viewed games since then.
The recent wave of auto battle titles, including TFT, Dota Underlords, and Auto Chess, have taken the gaming community by storm. Several mobile game rip-offs, like Auto Chess Legends: Teamfight, have already been developed, and even some official mobile titles, including those from Valve and Drodo Studios, have made their way to popularity, too. A sea of mobile titles is usually indicative of a genre’s success, as anyone can remember from the many mobile MOBAs and battle royales released over the years.
That, and the fact that Twitch is even hosting a $100,000 competitive tournament for TFT, point to one thing: Auto battlers are on the rise, and they might be the next big thing.
League of Legends, Riot’s flagship game, is no stranger to that limelight. At one point, MOBAs were “the next big thing,” and League spearheaded the genre as the most popular, much like Fortnite did for the battle royale scene. Many League players, personalities, and fans are paying very close attention to this new genre, mainly because Riot may repeat history with TFT.
yourstandard.us spoke to long-time League esports play-by-play commentator David “Phreak” Turley and multi-game, multi-trophy-winning Team Liquid owner Steve Arhancet about the new game. According to them, although the game has its issues, there’s nowhere to go but up, and it looks like it’s about to catch fire—or it already has.
Relaxed, with the right amount of complexity
Coming from the world of League, of which Arhancet and Phreak have been involved for almost a decade, both of them could easily identify similarities between their long-time game and Teamfight Tactics.
Fortunately for League fans, that’s a good thing, as they claimed that, like League, TFT is a more relaxed and casual experience that offers more fun and complexity the more you dig in. To draw a comparison, that was almost the exact same appeal that League had drawn over other MOBAs, like Dota, when it rose to fame.
“I was in a TFT showmatch, I played about 20 games before that, about 15 after, and I played Dota Auto Chess quite a bit,” Arhancet said. “I enjoy playing TFT with my friends. We shit-talk each other while we play, we troll each other on the carousel round, and it just has a more relaxed feel.”
Just like League, the casual feel to the game isn’t all that’s there. With an upcoming ranked mode and a diverse and rapidly-changing meta, there are different champion and item combinations to memorize, and each game feels different than the last. There’s plenty here to scratch the competitive itch, but it isn’t quite as complicated as other titles in the space.
League was the same nine years ago, when it was simply a clone of a Warcraft custom game mode. And like the original League, both Arhancet and Phreak think more complexity will follow as Riot adds more champions and items to the rotation. That’s not to say it completely lacks complexity now, though.
“There’s just an ocean of extra things you need to know,” Phreak said. “Item combinations alone are an encyclopedia of knowledge. How to transition your team comp is another. There’s a skill curve to TFT...when I finish a game with a high rank, I feel like I deserved it and I made good choices. When I place last, I know that I had no idea what I was doing. It’s rewarding.”
The fact that Riot chose the auto battle genre as its second major game wasn’t a total surprise, either. Arhancet had even tweeted at Riot Games co-founder Marc Merrill asking when a League auto battler would be coming out, and he wasn’t the only one.
“There’s a larger audience for more casual gamers than there is for the more hardcore, game 40 hours every week, dedicated type,” Arhancet added. “I think Riot saw the audience associated with the auto battler genre already, and then said, ‘You know what, let’s do the same thing [we did with League].’ I feel like it was done right…I think it was smart.”
Learning from Auto Chess
The first auto battle game to really reach popularity, and the first of its kind, was Dota Auto Chess, a custom game mode for Dota 2 developed by Drodo Studios. Similar to the first battle royale mode, which happened to be a custom game mode for Arma II and DayZ, this was a revolutionary idea that captivated a large audience based on its creativity alone. But, also like those first battle royale titles, it was a complicated game to pick up.
Your playing board was large, there were far more pieces, APM was far more important, there was no tutorial, and you were punished harshly for small mistakes. Similar to the appeal of Dota 2 when compared to League, there is certainly an audience of people that complexity appeals to. Despite playing TFT so often and all the praise he’s given it, Arhancet enjoyed the more complex style of Auto Chess quite a bit.
“I remember when I started playing Dota Auto Chess, I was so confused,” Arhancet said. “Things didn’t work right, I was misclicking, I wasn’t getting my units on the board. But I really liked the depth of the game. The bigger board, the importance on positioning and APM, it forces you to act quick and know what you’re doing. TFT is more about fun, which is also a good thing.”
It’s clear that Riot learned lessons from watching Auto Chess, because some of TFT’s biggest features are the exact opposite of what you’d find in the original title from Drodo. For instance, units place themselves if you run out of time in a round, the screen has a display that tells you which comps you’re building, and so on.
For the more hardcore audience that enjoy macro-management and using superior memorization over opponents to craft winning strategies, TFT definitely lacks some of those nitty gritty details. The result, however, is a game that’s easier to pick up by people who don’t know what an auto battler are, but it’s not so simple that competitive players can’t enjoy it. It’s more accessible on the whole.
“Up until this week, I had zero experience with auto battlers—no Auto Chess and no Underlords,” Phreak said. “Before it was made public, I was actually brought into a user experience lab for TFT because I had so little experience with them. I had no idea what I was doing, which was the point, but I really enjoyed it. You can feel rewarded as a noobie.”
One of the most important parts about learning to play TFT is that you can come from any gaming background, and you can bring whatever experience you have and apply it to learning this game. Phreak, for example, applied his knowledge of League to create his first comp in TFT, using Braum to create a meat shield in the frontline and Tristana as his backline damage.
Likewise, you can draw on knowledge from RTS games for positioning, online card games for drafting team comps, and even Go Fish for hunting down matching champions to upgrade. There are baseline, understandable tenets that can relate TFT, and any auto battler for that matter, to a wide variety of tried and true games.
“At a very, very basic level, it’s easy to pick up.”