You play Dota 2, Adam, why would you be telling me I should never play it?
Well, my un-initiated friend, there are unseen consequences to your actions. Playing Dota 2 will have long-term effects on your life, your emotional stability, and your free time… oh, yeah and your bank account.
To the unknowing, a MOBA may sound like some sort of music award, when in actual fact it’s a sub-genre of Real-Time Strategy (RTS) video games. It stands for Massive Online Battle Arena, and this is something that’s seen a huge take-off in the last few years.
Originally created using map editing tools within Blizzard’s Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos game, Defense of the Ancients (DotA) took shape and the modding community tweaked and refined the game extensively. Since then many games have been released which took on similar formats, such as League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and Infinite Crisis. Dota 2 was announced by Valve in 2010 and began beta testing in 2011, with its subsequent full release last year.
I originally started playing Dota 2 in 2012 when I received a random beta access key on Steam. I’d heard whisperings of DotA on the internet by this point, but I never actually knew what it was. So, free beta access to a new game, I was down with that. I installed and booted it up, blissfully unaware of the horrors I was about to face.
Generally with new games I like to learn as I go, jumping into matches at the deep end and learning from my mistakes. Dota 2 was very different, I figured I’d play a bot match first, just to see what it’s all about. I was confronted with around 100 hero characters to choose from and I had no idea what their abilities would do, despite reading a couple of descriptions. I just picked the character that I liked the look of, which turned out to be Drow Ranger; a ranged hero that can fire ice arrows - good enough for me.
Heading into the match with the bots (I set them to Easy, of course) I was confronted with a map encompassing three lanes. These lanes expanded between two bases, mine, and the enemy’s. I had access to a shop with so many items I just didn’t have time to read what they did, so I picked whatever was suggested to me by the game. When the start of the match sounded off I followed my little bot companions down the lanes and tried to copy what they did. The match lasted quite some time, around 40 minutes, but we won, with very little help from me.
This is Juggernaut, complete with custom item set. The Dota 2 community can create new items for heroes to use, all voted for by the community and then implemented into the game if popular enough.
So, one bot match under my belt and still little idea what the heck was going on, I stupidly thought it was time to play against some real people. I jumped into my first match with nine other real players, and I picked Drow Ranger again, she seemed a fairly solid and simple to use hero. Then it began, the torrent of abuse from my own team, and even the enemy team. “Drow Ranger noob pick,” my opponents typed, “gg, noob,” my team mates said. Well, this was unexpected… I asked for some help on how to play but I only received the replies of “uninstall dota noob” and “tard”. It even went as far as being told to "uninstall dota and die". Delightful.
The abuse got worse the longer the game went on, apparently I was supposed to go into a certain lane, buy certain items, and ‘last-hit’ the creeps. I had no clue what everyone was talking about. I was constantly dying at the hands of my opponents, which only aggravated my team mates. Suffice to say we lost the match, and I really didn’t want to play Dota 2 ever again. I uninstalled the game and forgot about it. I wasn’t down for being verbally-abused by random strangers on the internet, especially when none of them gave me any help when I asked questions to try and learn what to do. My first impression of Dota 2 was terrible.
At the time the game was in closed-beta it seemed like a very niche community, mostly negative and aggressive, preferring you figure the game out for yourself rather than helping you to learn, which was a shame. However, now the game has seen many updates and even has an integrated training feature, which I advise you to complete before stepping foot into a match.
But you play Dota 2 now, right?
Yeah, I play it a lot… I’ve currently racked up 1,457 hours in-game, a substantial amount, but it pales in comparison to some other players.
This little fella is called Tiny. Irony.
So what made you go back?
I have no idea, to this day I ask myself the same question. I think curiosity perhaps, as I kept hearing about the game more and more online, so I thought there must be something I missed, something that the millions of other players had seen in the game that I hadn’t. I only saw it as having the most unhelpful community I’d ever experienced, which totally put me off.
I eventually re-installed the game, about 6 months after my first stint. But before I did anything, before I even went into a bot match, I scoured the internet for help. I read numerous guides and watched videos on YouTube; one video in particular helped me out in a massive way – ‘A Complete Beginner’s Guide’ by YouTuber quill18, which you can watch here. It’s a couple of years old, but it covers the basics you need to know before you play. Don’t let the 45 minute length put you off either, it’s a pretty comprehensive ‘noob’ guide to the mechanics and will serve you well if you’re new to the game.
After watching quill18’s video I was ready to try a bot match, I loosely understood what I was supposed to be doing, I knew the end goal, and vaguely the best way to go about it. After numerous bot matches played and won I ventured back into the realm of player vs. player matchmaking. With much more confidence and a few different heroes to use I was better prepared for any abuse fired my way, which would hopefully be minimal now I kind of knew what I was doing.
Sure I messed up and died a few times here and there, and abuse was thrown my way, but we ended up winning our match. And as matches last around 45 minutes on average, a win after that amount of time constantly using your brain to monitor, strategise and analyse I got a great feeling of reward. The win spurred me on to play more PvP matches, and in-turn I increased in skill, eventually knowing the ins and outs of most heroes in the game by now.
See that, just in the trees there. This illusive fella is Keeper of the Light - he likes to hind amongst the foliage, shining his little torch. But seriously, he's one annoying hero to fight against.
So, with the extra hours spent playing, and wins under your belt, you still think the game is worth avoiding?
Look, I'm not saying to flat-out avoid the game, or that the game is terrible, it’s definitely not, it’s brilliant. I'm saying that this game, once you’ve somewhat mastered it and put the hours into learning and progressing, will have you. It will take those odd hours you have nothing to do and use them to pit you against some of the worst players (personality-wise) the internet has to offer. If you can overcome that though, you’ll have a jolly good time.
The game is free-to-play, but I estimate I’ve spent about £50 over the past two years on compendiums and items for the heroes. But I don’t feel bad of that, I’ve put a large chunk of my free-time into the game and get a lot of enjoyment out of it, so I don’t feel hard-pushed to shell out a couple of quid here and there for a new in-game hat. Everyone likes hats, right?
Now, don’t get me wrong here, the game isn’t all rainbows and butterflies since I’ve improved, the fact of the matter is you’re gonna get abuse in the game regardless of skill. For example, you pick a hero that someone on your team disagrees with, you’re going to get abuse. You pick the ‘wrong’ items for you hero, you’re going to get abuse. Quite simply put, the Dota 2 community can still be godawful.
But, since the game’s full release last year it’s been flooded with millions of new players, so the ratio of abusive players to genuinely nice ones has levelled out somewhat. There’s always gonna be ‘that guy’ though, the one who just trolls and shouts abuse for the hell of it. That’s were the mute button comes into play – my friends and I generally mute any player at the first sign of a ridiculous comment, which can alleviate some unnecessary aggro when you’re trying to concentrate on winning.
A report system has been implemented too - if there's someone in your match that's being a downright pleb, you can report them and put a few words as to why. I've reported many players, some for abusive behaviour, some for ability abuse (like purposefully dying at the hands of the enemy team), and there's no greater feeling than logging back in the next day to receive a message saying that action has been taken against one or more players you've reported.
Nowadays I try to play at least one match of Dota per day, to keep my hand in, so to speak. It’s a highly skilled game that’s constantly being tweaked and evolved, which keeps it exciting, plus it’s host to the biggest eSports tournament in the world, The International, which currently has a prize pool of just under $10 million USD – insane.
So as the title says, you should never play Dota 2… unless you’re happy with being verbally abused 99% of the time, can invest many hours into understanding the game and improving, and having it turn into your go-to game when you have a spare 45 minutes for a match. I love Dota 2, but my god, sometimes I hate it.