[Editorial] In Defense of IceFrog And Dota 2: A Rebuttal To The ‘Valve Employee’ Blog

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[This is a personal editorial and does not necessarily reflect the views and/or opinions of Lazygamer or its editors]

With all the hubbub surrounding the Dota 2 announcement, this blog post (which you should read) popped up out of nowhere which was claimed to be written by an anonymous Valve employee. Titled “The Truth About IceFrog”, he goes on to state how IceFrog is terrible to work with and actually tried to shop Dota to the creators of Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends before he started working for Valve. Some commenter chimed in corroborating the blogger’s statements, adding he actually tried to pitch it to Blizzard themselves, who politely sent him away. It’s all very interesting.

The important question to ask is whether any of this matters and the short answer is resounding “no”. It’s completely inconsequential, to be honest.

Read on to find out why.

The Valve employee states IceFrog is “incredibly hard to work with, absolutely impossible to talk to in person due to a complete lack of social skills, and easily holds the most unpleasantly domineering work personality of anyone [he has] ever met”. Lets assume that is all true, and that IceFrog is a terrible human being. I’m not sure the above-mentioned Valve employee is aware that Valve approached IceFrog, and they offered him complete control, which one of the reasons IceFrog took the job. From IceFrog himself, “One of the most important things for me though was that there wasn’t going to be anyone standing above telling me how I should be doing things.”

DotA is IceFrog’s baby, and while Dota fans should acknowledge Eul and Guinsoo’s contribution to the map, IceFrog is the person who transformed Dota into the behemoth that it is today. Guinsoo, whose real name is Steve Feak and now works on League of Legends, transferred the development to IceFrog in early 2005. Later that year, Dota was featured at Blizzcon and the World Cyber Games. It’s no coincidence that Dota’s introduction to the competitive scene was after IceFrog took over. Pendragon, the former community manager of dota-allstars.com, explicitly stated Dota had “maybe 5% of the players that it does today” in late 2004. The reason Dota is what it is today is due to IceFrog’s efforts, and that makes it perfectly reasonable that he has complete control. Telling someone how to change their creation when said creation is spectacular and successful, especially when you aren’t part of the community, will not generate a healthy environment. I’m pretty sure if you were in IceFrogs position, you would react similarly.

That covers the first and third parts of the blogger’s statement; let’s tackle “absolutely impossible to talk to in person due to a complete lack of social skills”.

It is a well-known fact amongst the Dota community that IceFrog is practically a ghost. Back in the day, the only proof of his existence was a name and an email address on the map’s loading screen. Even Wikipedia notes this, stating “IceFrog was at one time highly reclusive”. There has never been an interview with him published, with the exception of 4 email-based fan Q&A sessions of the past 2 years. There’s probably a very good reason why no one knows who IceFrog is. Perhaps he has social phobias or something similar, which is somewhat made evident due to him bringing an agent to speak to Blizzard (according the follow up blog post) instead of just going by himself. Judging from the evidence, I find it reasonable to believe IceFrog is socially inept. That said, I could care less about his social skills, and I think most of the Dota community would agree with that.

Dota 6.69 Loadscreen by Kunkka

So, that’s his personal traits covered, let’s look at his professional ones.

The blogger states he is “a compulsive liar. When he was hired, none of us knew about his past. In fact, we were all on the assumption that he had made it thus far on his own. Several of us silently questioned how he could’ve devoted so much time after graduation to a hobby despite there being a giant hole on his resume.” This is in reference to the allegation that IceFrog worked with S2 Games, the creators of Heroes of Newerth for a period of time. He then followed that up with “Apparently [IceFrog] had S2 Games sign an agreement barring them from disclosing his involvement with [Heroes of Newerth]”. The man was looking to make money from a time-consuming hobby and by your admission; there was some kind of NDA in place. That hardly makes him a “compulsive liar” now does it?

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The blogger then goes on with evidence confirming IceFrog’s identity, which you can replicate yourself if you like. To me, his identity is inconsequential, similar to the identity of The Stig from Top Gear. Part of the fun is not knowing who it is, and both their monikers carry more weight in their respective fan bases then their God-given name.

The most egregious of all the bloggers comments, and the ones I take the most issue with, are the following two:

“This blog is about letting people understand the truth behind the people at the helm of the project, and how they [referring to IceFrog and Erik Johnson] are trying to steer Valve away from its roots as a gamer-first company.”

“Whatever he is being paid, it is ridiculous, because the game is literally identical to DOTA” (emphasis his)

The first comment just angers me, since Dota has always been a community-centric game. Every change to the map goes through beta-testing by community members; fans can post ideas and suggestions for the next version, and IceFrog cites them if they get included in an update. At no point in the 5 years that I have been playing Dota have I ever felt like IceFrog has done anything but serve the community, both professional and casual. Unpopular/imbalanced changes get removed or fixed, bugs are ironed out, and the map is constantly being improved with new heroes, skills and effects. IceFrog was hired by Valve a year ago, and there have been 6 massive map updates since then. The blogger’s comment is, quite frankly, a pile of horseshit.

The second comment ties into the first, since the community wants a new game that is identical to Dota. The reason that Dota fans didn’t leave en masse to Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends was because it was different. In fairness, both games have their merits and are no doubt fun to play, but people like myself aren’t interested in something different when the original is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s like expecting a hardcore Modern Warfare 2 player to suddenly jump ship to Halo Reach, or a World of WarCraft fan to migrate to Final Fantasy XVI. Yes, they are part of the same genre and similar in concept, but that’s about it. Dota’s problems are the learning curve, poor netcode, the archaic engine, and lack of voice support. Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends both resolved those issues, but changed the gameplay. Dota 2 will resolve all problems without altering the gameplay, leaving fans with their ideal multiplayer game.

Dota 2 is a rare win-win situation. Valve wins because they will make a boatload of money, and Dota fans win because we get our favourite multiplayer game updated to modern standards.

Assuming the blogger was in fact a Valve employee, I admire his courage for making that post and backing it up with a method to prove IceFrog’s identity, however I feel he was too enthralled by the view from his White Horse of Justice that he failed to realize he was championing a cause that didn’t need championing and wasn’t a cause in the first place. In layman’s terms, his head is up his arse.

However, Mr Valve employee, if IceFrog turns out to be “incredibly hard to work with, absolutely impossible to talk to in person due to a complete lack of social skills, and easily holds the most unpleasantly domineering work personality of anyone [he has] ever met” AND a heroin trafficker, I will gladly post a retraction.

Last Updated: October 19, 2010

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