Were Auto Battlers The First Video Game Fad?

My memory may be slightly hazy, but if I remember correctly there was a day in mid-2019 when there was no such thing as an auto battler, the next day there were half a dozen auto battlers, and then the day after that no one ever talked about auto battlers again. As far as I know, auto battlers were the first and only video game fad. So what happened?

Just so we’re all using the same definition: fads are one of the most common phenomena in popular culture. A product becomes popular seemingly overnight, everyone rushes to replicate the product, the product becomes ubiquitous, and as suddenly as it began, the craze dies out. Slap bracelets, pet rocks, the Atkins Diet, the Harlem Shake, and fidget spinners are all examples of fads. Fads can happen in film too. The Found Footage style was a huge fad that lasted just a couple of years in the mid-00s. Twitter hashtags and Tiktok dances are like hyper-fads.

Because of the time and resources required to make a brand new video game, it’s practically impossible (outside of mobile game clones) for fads to develop. There are trends obviously, but rather than short-lived fads, novel designs and innovations typically lead to full-fledged new genres. FPS games once called DOOM clones, every open-world game after Grand Theft Auto 3 was called a GTA clone, there are roguelikes, soulslikes, metroidvanias, the list goes on and on, but all of these “fads” have grown into bespoke genres that never really die off.

And then there are auto battlers.

Briefly, the first auto battler was a mod for Dota created by Drodo Studio in January 2019. By May 2019, the game had over eight million players. In June 2019, Drodo released Auto Chess as a standalone game, Valve released an official Dota auto battler called Dota Underlords, League of Legends developer Riot Games released Team Fight Tactics, and dozens of mobile clones followed soon after. Within six months of the first-ever auto battler, multiple studios developed and released their own versions. Six months after that, it seemed like the whole world had completely moved on.

Today, Teamfight Tactics seems to have maintained the most interest. TFT launched on mobile this past March and consistently has 7-10k viewers on Twitch. Dota Underlords, despite launching on mobile months before TFT, is as dead as Artifact, Valve’s card game spin-off of Dota 2. Auto Chess seems to still have a small dedicated following, but nothing compared to the eight million players it had just 18 months ago.

It’s fascinating to see such a popular new genre fizzle out so quickly. I think auto battlers still have a ton of potential, but it seems clear that the interest just isn’t there anymore. As a spin-off of MOBAs, themselves a spin-off of RTS games, it’s incredible that auto battlers even exist in the first place. Will anyone ever make another auto battler? It’s worth mentioning that Hearthstone Battleground is Blizzard’s take on a card-based auto battler and likely the most popular one of all. I’m personally holding out for a Pokemon auto battler. With the announcement of the first Pokemon MOBA earlier this year, there’s still a little hope we’ll see Pokemon Chess someday.

Next: These Franchises NEED An Auto Chess Game

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  • Auto Chess
  • Teamfight Tactics

Eric Switzer is the Livestream News Editor for TheGamer as well as the lead for VR and Tech. He has written about comics and film for Bloody Disgusting and VFXwire. He is a graduate of University of Missouri – Columbia and Vancouver Film School. Eric loves board games, fan conventions, new technology, and his sweet sweet kitties Bruce and Babs. Favorite games include Destiny 2, Kingdom Hearts, Super Metroid, and Prey…but mostly Prey. His favorite Pokémon is Umbreon.

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