What is Auto Chess?
In 2019, auto chess was the most popular genre of video games in the world. The release of Dota’s Auto Chess had gained over 8 million players worldwide with Riot Games releasing Teamfight Tactics a few months later. TFT claimed the throne on Twitch that year and is even played professionally around the world today.
Auto chess and auto battler games are slightly different genres and have different rules. However, the two follow the same concept of an RNG-based algorithm. Auto chess is typically played on a chessboard-like arena with several units as pieces. Teamfight Tactics, Hearthstone Battlegrounds and Dota Underlords are a few examples of auto-chess games. Each unit has different costs, classes and abilities. By buying several of the same units, they will level up and become stronger. There are also different items that can be given to units in order to buff them. Players typically battle against other players’ boards, and the last board standing wins.
Even though the auto chess/battler genre didn’t take off until 2019, this genre has existed for a long time. From Warcraft III to the original Hearthstone card game, auto battlers were being played worldwide even before the drop of today’s more popular titles. So why now? What caused this particular genre to grow so much in popularity?
Auto Chess and Random Number Generators
The most interesting part of an auto battler is the RNG — Random Number Generator — component. RNGs are algorithms that produce random numbers. However, RNGs are not just used in auto chess, but in other game genres as well. An RNG is responsible for producing random events in games such as finding rare items or landing a critical hit on an enemy.
Auto chess games are slightly different in the way they rely on the RNG system. For example, in Teamfight Tactics, during the first carousel round, the champions and the items they hold are all produced at random. This is then followed by monsters who give players random items, money or champions. Throughout the game, players must buy units to add to their team. And of course, the shop is completely randomized as well. TFT and other auto-chess games are built off of RNGs.
Playing the same game over and over again tends to feel like a drag sometimes. For these auto battler games, it almost never gets old. As each game is unique due to the RNGs, it forces players to play different comps and try different item combinations that they have never used previously. Before an auto battler game gets too old, developers update the game and switch out different characters, items, and synergies for players to experiment with. Without these types of updates, some games can begin feeling a bit too repetitive.
Controversy Surrounding Auto Chess
At this point, you might be asking, “If it’s all random, then how do skill and strategy come into play?” You’re not the first one to ask this. There is quite a lot of controversy surrounding auto chess; some people love them while others despise them. Players who are uninterested in auto chess may believe that it undermines a player’s skill, is completely luck-based, and can be easily manipulated. This piece will dive deeper into these controversies and why they might not hold true.
First Argument: Auto Chess Undermines a Player’s Skills
Due to the RNG nature of auto chess, some players believe that these games can undermine a player’s true skill and knowledge of the game. Some may argue that if a player’s draws are all random chance and none of their cards or units are any good, then it’s impossible for the player to win. This is a fair argument against auto chess, as there are times when the most skilled players are faced with the worst units, hands or items possible.
However, Jeremy “Disguised Toast” Wang has argued that auto chess and auto battlers do require strategy and calculations. Toast is a popular YouTuber and streamer who has gained an incredible amount of popularity throughout recent years. Also a member of Offline TV, Toast originally made his debut on YouTube for creating Hearthstone strategy and streams.
In an interview with Player.One, Toast talks about the skills that go into playing an auto battler game. With a college degree in Mathematics, Toast would use those skills to analyze different Hearthstone strategies and compositions. Although players have criticized Toast’s Hearthstone content, he is undoubtedly one of the most skilled auto battler players.
“I stand behind what I say, even though I may not always be right,” Toast replied. “Because I can back it up with statistics and details. Thinking does matter when you are trying to figure out the best play – it’s always a calculated risk, especially when you are topdecking cards.”
Skill and knowledge are needed when building an auto-chess team. With each game update, the best units and synergies change. If a player can understand what the strongest comp to build is, the best items to put on a unit and when to pivot, they can easily take first place with their skills.
Second Argument: Auto Chess is Luck-Based
This leads to another controversy towards auto chess and battlers. Some players find that these games are completely luck-based. A few players believe that regardless of whether you are good or bad at the game, the RNG ultimately determines the outcome. Previously stated, these games do require skill and knowledge, but it’s difficult to deny that luck does play a tiny part in the auto battler genre. However, this is a huge selling point for auto-chess games.
Players are attracted to this genre as it creates an idea of equal grounds against opponents. Due to its unpredictable nature, no one has any idea what their board will look like. Although this argument holds a bit of truth to it, there are strategies that can help any player win first place.
Third Argument: Auto Chess Can Be Manipulated
Another reason that some gamers don’t enjoy auto battler video games is that they can be easily manipulated. For example, Pokemon Colusseum was an RPG game, released in 2003, which also used an RNG to determine random critical hits or how much damage a Pokemon would do to an opponent. However, a few players began to understand the algorithm of which the RNG was following. Players knew that the chance of a critical hit was 50%, and they began tracking and predicting the algorithm. This would determine what moves to use on an opponent and when a critical hit would appear during a battle. Tracking down and figuring out the algorithm is also how players are able to speed run Pokemon games. The algorithm produces random numbers, but there are only so many combinations that the RNG is limited to.
Even with these controversies surrounding the auto chess genre, there are plenty of fans of the genre. Auto chess’ player base only continues to grow.
Auto Chess Skills and Strategies
Although these games are built off of RNGs and a bit of luck, auto chess requires a lot of strategies, quick thinking and a skill for spending and saving money or mana efficiently. Here are only a few of the strategies that are needed to exceed in auto chess.
Strategy One: Save Your Money
Econ or saving up money is arguably the most important concept of any auto battler. How a player saves and spends their money, mana or energy is a skill that many must learn. Econing requires a lot of patience and practice but has proven to help players win games. For example, in TFT, there was a notorious technique known as the “Bill Gates Comp.” This could only be done back in 2020 when the Fortune trait was introduced to the game.
The Fortune trait granted players large sums of money for winning a match after losing a certain number of rounds, with the amount they received varying. Players quickly put together a semi-decent team with the Fortune trait, and then sat back and watched as their board became the weakest one. The Bill Gates Comp in TFT gained its name as players would save all of their money, lose a majority of their rounds and spend the gold to level up in order to obtain higher-cost units. When players saved enough gold, they would then begin purchasing five-cost units — the most expensive units in the game. Opponents would be left facing a team of every five-cost unit, which was almost impossible to beat. However, building this comp was extremely difficult, and most players would lose before being able to purchase even one five-cost unit.
Saving money in TFT also grants players more income each round depending on how much gold they currently possess. Even though a few rounds may be lost, saving gold allows players to reroll in order to purchase the units they need and want.
Strategy Two: Pivot
Another strategy that requires a lot of practice is pivoting. There are a few times a player can win without having to pivot, but the large majority of winning players do. Pivoting is when a player slowly begins changing their team composition halfway through the game. Most likely throughout an auto-chess game, players may notice that another class, other than the one on their board, keeps appearing in their shop.
In Super Auto Pets, there are different animal comps that can be built that are stronger than others. However, players may begin noticing their shop not giving them the animals that they need for their team composition. This is when players begin to pivot or switch up their comp strategically. Slowly, players begin transitioning to a different team composition with stronger units.
As players begin at a lower level, only lower-cost units will appear. The chances of these lower-cost units showing up in a player’s shop as the game progresses become lower. By continuing to build a composition with lower-cost units, players are most likely unable to win first place. Pivoting is a crucial skill to learn when playing auto chess and auto battlers.
TeamFight Tactics and Its Impact
Though several players will continue to dislike the auto chess genre, for those who love auto chess, it’s safe to say that auto chess games can easily become addictive. We covered at the beginning of this piece that while auto chess was the most popular genre of video game in 2019, it's arguable that TFT made a great impact and helped propel the genre.
After the launch of TFT, players were quick to enjoy the game, and some streamers quickly began playing TFT in their streams such as William “Scarra” Li and C9’s former TFT players, Michael “k3soju” Zhang. TFT also helped the declining rate of Riot Game's popular MOBA game: League of Legends. After years of only having Summoner's Rift, ARAM and the occasional featured game modes, League of Legends was losing players in 2017. However, after TFT launched in 2019, League of Legends saw player numbers grow to the highest numbers it had ever seen.
Being able to play your favorite champions in a new setting or game is always entertaining and intriguing. By using familiar champions and items from League of Legends, this also gave players a better understanding of how TFT worked. The game gained so much popularity in the span of a year and caused players to look at different auto chess games as well.
Why People Keep Playing
The human instinct of wanting to win kicks in when playing a game of Super Auto Pets or Hearthstone Battlegrounds. There is only one winner in an auto chess game and each game is unpredictable. Auto chess players have all experienced the compulsion of playing in the hopes that they can get first place. As more and more video game players are starting to play this genre of game, the appeal of auto chess and auto battlers is clear: Auto chess is where skill and strategy meet, with a dash of good luck to see you through.