Dota 2 and League of Legends are the twin pillars of the MOBA genre today.
For the amount of debate there is about which game reigns supreme, it is worthwhile to note how different they are. Historically, LoL was cut from the same cloth as the old DoTA from the pre-6.xx era. But LoL does its MOBA balancing very differently from Dota 2.
In what way is playing Dota 2 and LoL different, specifically? A good way to understand this difference is by examining how the two games approach their classic MOBA concepts: Jungling, for example.
Is Jungling viable in Dota 2?
The Dota 2 map is cut across its corners into the Radiant and Dire side. Both sides host two jungles with 9 camps each. These camps are the spawn location for neutral creeps.
Dota 2 has a whole sleuth of different neutral creeps categorized into easy, medium, hard, and ancient. All of these creeps grant XP and gold like lane creeps.
None of these camps, including the ancient camps, can rival a lane creepwave’s worth in XP and gold income. In a competitive game like Dota 2, this is a good enough reason to question the viability of dedicated jungling.
There are certain heroes, e.g. Enigma, who can clear neutral camps at a rapid pace. But having a hero tucked away into the jungle leaves one lane wide open. In that lane, a solo laner faces down two opponents.
There is a very slim chance that this might work out with a tenacious hero who gets strong with a slight advantage in levels. But in higher tier Dota, this is a greedy play that begs to be punished.
Playing with a "jungler" role in Dota 2 is thus greedy at best and catastrophic at worst.
The Dota 2 jungle is instead treated as an additional resource that can be salvaged in different ways. It is the last resort for a core that cannot survive in a difficult lane.
It is also additional income for heroes that can simultaneously farm in multiple places. Examples include: Meepo, any illusion-based hero, and the current meta Manta-Style Axe.
To further embed this design choice, Dota 2 neutral camps can be ‘stacked’. Neutral camps spawn their creeps at the start of every minute if there are no units in its spawn box.
This way, a support can supercharge a camp with a manifold of its original size. Cores can then farm these stacks later on, getting several minutes worth of jungling riches at the same time, with an extra 50% gold profit that goes to the support.
Jungling in League of Legends
Unlike in Dota 2, LoL matches always start in a 1-1-2 lane matchup, while a standout champion goes to the jungle. Jungle creeps in the Summoner’s Rift behave the same as Dota 2 neutrals.
But the fundamental value they grant is not just in terms of gold and XP, but with buffs. This can include anything from a buff in stats to a Rift Scuttler that grants vision in an area when killed. Moreover, the gold and XP bounty from neutral ‘monsters’ scale as the game progresses.
The "Jungler" in LoL is far away from the AFK farming cores of Dota 2. Instead, they are active playmakers who leverage their early buffs to gank lanes and create pressure very early on.
In a sense, the Jungler in LoL can be compared to the roaming position 4 in Dota 2. Their job, likewise, is to create momentum by invading other lanes with innate early power spikes. The impact of a LoL jungler is crucial to their team's success, arguably more so than a roamer in Dota.
The case for neutral items in Dota 2
In the 7.23 update, Dota 2 introduced neutral item drops in a bid to further the importance of jungle camps. Complete with a dedicated neutrals-only inventory slot, they almost parallel the LoL neutral buffs in theory.
With buffs granted from Dragons or the Baron, the value of the jungle in LoL is indispensable even in an endgame push. As such, the Dota 2 jungle has also become a valuable resource for the later tiers of neutral drops.
Ceding the jungle to map pressure from the enemy barricades a losing side from potentially game-changing freebies. In practice, this serves to hasten a high-ground deadlock. In the jungle, this empowers map control against uphill farming cores in both LoL and Dota 2.
However, this does not transfer Dota 2’s roamer to an active "jungler" role. Neutral items only start dropping 7 minutes into the game. The minor buffs the tier-1 neutrals grant are often not enough to tip the scale of balance in even games.
The stronger tier-2 items and onwards only become a factor well into the midgame.