Heroes of Newerth is a competitive game focused on not who has the best equipment or the most experience, but who can adapt to and predict enemy patterns and mind games while properly utilizing one's own skills.
There are two teams in HoN: The Legion, and The Hellbourne. Neither team has any advantage over the other, apart from minor differences in where the neutral forest creeps (the large yellow circles) spawn. The map shown to the right is the primary map of HoN, called Forests of Caldavar. The territories of this map are divided diagonally, with the Legion base always in the bottom left of the map, and the Hellbourne base in the top right.
Each game has a maximum of 10 players, 5 on each team. The settings of the game (determined by the host) can be changed to accomodate other player numbers such as 3 vs. 3. In general, most public games are in the format of 5 vs. 5.
Before the game begins, each player must choose the hero that they will play for that game. There are exactly 60 heroes to choose from, with one about to be added and more currently in development. Heroes are all player-controlled, and are the driving force of the battle. In fact, the game cannot be won without heroes. Each player may only control one hero and may not change his/her hero once the game has begun.
Both teams automatically spawn what are known as "creeps" at 30 second intervals. Creeps are AI-controlled pawns that will automatically and uncontrollably rush towards the enemy base, engaging in any enemies along the way. Both teams automatically spawn an equal number of creeps at the same time. Without heroes, the creeps of both teams would very slowly push each others towers down completely randomly due to slight differences in damage - simply because each creeps does a random amount of damage. Heroes assist their creeps in their advancement into enemy territory.
Players can spend their money on items. Proper itemization of your hero is crucial to victory. Each hero can hold up to 6 items at a time. Items range greatly in terms of quality --- from cheap recovery items to powerful weapons that enhance damage to relics and accessories that grant abilities such as life stealing. One of the biggest challenges to a newbie is understanding the functions of items as well as knowing when to buy what items for which heroes. The sheer number of items available can be overwhelming.
See Items for more information and advice on buying items.
Along the path to the enemy base are towers which automatically fire high-damage projectiles at enemy creeps and heroes. Towers must be destroyed in order for your creeps to be able to advance further towards the enemy base. There are also buildings located inside each base which control the quality of enemy creeps. For instance, if your "Melee Barracks" is destroyed, enemy creeps of the melee type will be more powerful. Generally, taking damage from the tower during the early part of the game should be avoided because of the plethora of disables that can keep you within tower range, which makes it easy to kill you.
There is only one way to win a round of Heroes of Newerth without the enemy surrendering: destroy the main building in the enemy base. The Legion building is called the World Tree (which the Hellbourne must destroy) and the Hellbourne building is called the Sacrificial Pit (which the Legion must destroy).