Dote Night: 2014 – The Year Of The Noob

[I'll try to think of witty captions for Pip's pictures -ed]

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.

Dota, League of Legends, Smite – these are complex games to get your head around and thus a good first impression is key.

Until this point the introductions tended to come via excited friends. People who popped up online or at the pub to announce, “Hey, I’ve found this awesome game which I think you’ll love and which we can play together. Won’t that be great?”

Of course, it was only after downloading and playing said game that you found out that what your friend had secretly meant was, “Hey, I’ve found this awesome game which I really love and which I really need other people to start playing so I’m not forced to partner with total strangers who shout at me for not saving them as they rush solo into a clump of the enemy. Won’t that be great?”

By that point it’s often too late – you’re in too deep. All you can hope as you peer into the hero pool or try to come up with an item build is that your friends are knowledgable and patient teachers, that the game’s subreddit is helpful and that the wikis you alt+tab to consult are comprehensive.

At this year’s International, Valve was offering up something different as a way of introduction: The Newcomer Stream.

The Newcomer Stream was an alternative to the main English language commentary stream which offered a beginner’s guide to the game. When I spoke to one of its contributors, ‘PyrionFlax‘, he explained that the level it was aimed at was people who were familiar with games in general but didn’t know Dota. Basically, it’s not a stream which my mother could watch then understand what I write about for a living, but it’s something I could put my game-literate siblings in front of and have them walk away knowing the broad strokes of the game.

Speaking with another one of the casters, ‘Purge‘, he called the stream ‘revolutionary’ and pointed out that it would make the game accessible to gamers used to the jargon of their own games. If you’re a Dota player tuning into a League of Legends livestream your eardrums are suddenly bathed in Barons and Dragons and buffs and Doran’s something or another. Why is poking important? Why does no one pick any summoner spell besides Flash? Why does it matter that Nidalee got picked?

[These people all appear well-informed -ed]

Even though the broad strokes of the two games are the same – shove your way to the end of the three lanes and crush the buildings there to win – the language which surrounds them can be impenetrable. Then there are the players themselves, their preferences, their histories with particular teams, oh, and the metagame. Which tactics are big at the moment, which hero combinations? Getting to grips with all of this is one of the reasons you can pour thousands of hours into a game. It’s also a reason you’re reluctant to swap to or attempt another. It’s a significant undertaking.

The general assumption up until this point has been that if you’re following the professional scene of a game you’re likely to also be a player. The terminology will be meaningful and you’ll be able to read into the hero selections and omissions, even if it’s not on a nuanced level. The casters can then skim over the actual mechanics at work and offer a play-by-play account with some extra analysis and flavour.

The International 4’s whopping $10.9 million prize pool made it the biggest eSports event in history, financially speaking. With that money came a lot of extra attention from outside the main Dota 2 community. A lot of people were wondering, “What on Earth is this game and why did its community chuck more than $8 million into the prize fund?” It was a situation which lent itself to a new kind of stream – something between casting and tutorial – to cater to the curious new eyeballs.

That’s why Purge was such a logical choice. He’s already one of the first ports of call you’ll have as a newcomer thanks to his Purge Plays… video series, walking you through heroes. He’s also responsible for the “Welcome to Dota, you suck” guide you’ll get pointed to if you ever ask Reddit for tips on how to get started.

In terms of the stream itself, I dipped in and out of it during the play-offs. That was when the stream was still finding its feet and so it tended to oscillate between relatively dry explanation and off-topic jollity. Later, just before the main event it seemed more settled with the presenters hitting a kind of rhythm. They would attempt to explain but perhaps zero in on several important facets of the game rather than attempting to tackle all of them on every stream.

[If I were to caption this 'Push it real good', it would be a reference to the song by Salt-n-Pepa -ed]

I didn’t catch any of the Newcomer Stream while in Seattle but keeping an eye on my friends’ Twitter accounts it seemed that the games were broadly comprehensible, even if some of the specific information wasn’t quite clear. I also know that Valve was actively offering feedback during the event and that the casters themselves were working to improve the stream.

There will likely be an evaluation of all the final feedback as Valve sift through the TI4 data and decide what to do for TI5. But it won’t just be Valve peering at the cascade of Reddit threads, message board comments and tweets. It will be all the other companies with their fingers jammed in the MOBA pie. The Newcomer Stream can’t possibly have escaped the attention of other developers and third-party eSports tournament organisers. It’s a powerful tool for making the games themselves – traditionally thought of as awkward and incomprehensible timesinks – accessible, perhaps even encouraging players to swap their habitual MOBA for something new. Riot, Hi-Rez or Blizzard can’t be oblivious to this potential source of players and so I’d be hugely surprised if we didn’t see the rest of the year spent tinkering with newcomer broadcasting or refining the ideas Valve led with at TI4.

2014 might just be the year of the n00b.


  1. shaydeeadi says:

    It was a great idea to help people understand what’s going on, Purge and the crew do an exceptional job of explaining what is happening in game.

  2. kimvidard says:

    It was a great idea, and very well executed.
    I am already playing Dota, and would watch the main stream, but i really like Sunsfan and Purge casting, so I found myself watching their stream over the main one, because it was just enjoyable.
    Plus, I learned some very precious tidbits here and there that I had not idea were in the game.

  3. starclaws says:

    Ya this was much needed and they will continue to grow as newb casters.

  4. Hydraulic Meerkat says:

    Making the vastly larger and more successful MOBA look stingy by having far bigger prizes: Priceless

    I think the only thing keeping more MOBA players from playing DOTA 2 is brand loyalty to LoL. The prizes are a good lure. And the explaininess will of course make noobs more comfortable. Overall the DOTA community is much more forgiving to them, but that’s not really saying much. LoL is extremely savage to new players.

    • Turin Turambar says:

      How are prizes good lure if 99.99% of players aren’t professional players that play in tourneys?

      • ThTa says:

        The American Dream, man. Pretty much every young, excessive gamer thinks that going pro is well within reach for them, it’s the same thing with sports. Heck, a disproportionate sense of entitlement/odds is why lotteries are able to be a thing.

        A large prize also makes the game seem more “legitimate”; they wouldn’t hold these kinds of tournaments if the game wasn’t challenging and just generally good, would they?

    • Philomelle says:

      It’s the lack of fluff, really.

      A lot of people I know, including people who reached Platinum and Diamond, play League for the fluff. Yes, the lore is ridiculous in places, but it exists and provides both interactions between characters and an additional space for content such as cinematics, lore-themed events and so on. It also gives the more creative crowd space for fanart and fanfiction, which other people see/read and become interested in. On the less serious side, it allows people to come up with lore-related memes that easily go viral. The result is a degree of “geek culture” that people become quickly attached to.

      Meanwhile, DOTA2 has lore blurbs for characters but they are largely disconnected from one another with one exception of characters being sisters. There is really no fluff at all beyond “Here are a bunch of dudes that punch some other dudes for some reason we didn’t figure out yet,” at least none that I managed to find.

      By being focused entirely on the sport part of the package and relegating lore to the “necessary evil” spot, DOTA2 essentially scares off pretty much everyone who is in it “for the lulz”, which makes going viral the way LoL did considerably harder.

  5. AsianJoyKiller says:

    This is a fantastic thing. One of the main problems I had with watching MOBAs before I started playing them is I had no clue what was going on.

    All I could tell was that people bought “stuff” that did “things”, then they ran out and clicked on things for a while. Every now and then a tiny rave would commence, and someone would die to what I had to assume was an epileptic seizure from all the bright, flashing lights.

    Often, I still have some trouble following, because if you don’t know the hero/character/god/whatever you’re watching, it’s hard to know what exactly their skills do. At least now though, I know enough to make educated guesses and I can figure it out pretty well in a few minutes, enough so that I can understand the strategy and tactics being used.

    But when you don’t even understand the significance of “long lane or short lane”, “last hitting”, “buff camps” or “jungling”, MOBAs are damn near impossible to follow.

  6. malkav11 says:

    I really appreciated this feature. I found that having watched several introductory videos for League made some of the basics more immediately comprehensible, but I still need plenty of context (for both games, really). The thing that really made it shine, though, was viewing it in-game. Dota 2’s incredible replay functionality included synced audio feeds of all the commentary tracks and you could switch between freely controlling the camera and moving with the camera movements of the various streams. This meant that when, say, I was frustrated that the commentators were focusing on the (admittedly very important) ultimate abilities of the heroes and wanted to figure out what else they did, I could just pause, click on the heroes, and read ability tooltips. Magic.

  7. lylebot says:

    it would make the game accessible to gamers used to the jargon of their own games

    I wish someone would just explain what a “caster” is :(

    (Or, if it’s a “broadcaster” as I have managed to pick up from context, I wish someone would explain why they don’t just say that..)

    • Myrdinn says:

      well, people in chat keep referring to the commentator (or broadcaster) and someone was bound to bastardize it to “brocaster”. I guess a wise person stook a stand and decided “caster” was the lesser of two evils.

      • menthol_penguin says:

        Caster is an abbreviation of shout-caster which was the name of the first piece of software used to commentate matches, back when it was audio only. Deman, a caster for LoL and has done CoD in the past, explains it in a reddit ama.

  8. Wedge says:

    I still don’t see anyone ever watching these games that doesn’t play them. They lack any of the visual flair or action of other genres, and their pacing and layout is horrible for building tension or excitement. Nothing about the game design makes is amiable to spectatorship, no matter how many fancy graphics and commentators you throw on top of it

    • Vandelay says:

      I would disagree about the pacing of the game not building tension and excitement (although, the finals might well demonstrate you are correct,) but I too think that only those in the know would really be able to watch and follow a match. The jumble of spells and animations going on during a team fight makes it hard enough for me to keep track of what is happening and I’ve played some 250 odd games of DOTA.

      The suggestion that RPS gave of a slow-mo replay function for the commentators to use following fights would probably help, but the actual fights will stil look like a bunch of cartoon characters throwing flashy lights at each other.

    • DanMan says:

      Agreed. I know nothing about MOBAs and I tried to watch one of the first matches in the Valve tournament. Didn’t get anything really and got bored after maybe 5 minutes. I don’t see me watching any of it anymore.

    • Ksempac says:

      You’re wrong.

      I have never played a game of LoL or Dota 2. I’ve spent countless hours (my Dota 2 client clock at more than 40h on Steam, but there is also watching through twitch) watching Dota 2 pro matches and loving it.

      Yes, i agree, the bar of entry is high, you will have to watch a few games to begin understanding what the hell is going on. But that’s no different than many other sports (just thinking about popular pro sports : rubgy, american football come to mind, unpopular ones can be even more obscure).

      My advice, watch a game through the ingame client (audio casting will automatically be added), to be able to check stats, skills, items, and most importantly, rewind whenever you want to understand better what happened. Also, take note of recurring terms you hear and don’t understand (“BKB” comes to mind) and check them out on the official Dota 2 wiki after the game.

      You actually have way more tools to understand Dota 2 than what you have for a traditional sport.

      • malkav11 says:

        It’s certainly tough to understand but I also have never and do not intend to ever play Dota 2 or any other MOBA, for that matter, and I do get something out of watching the matches. I would definitely disagree with the idea that there’s no visual flair or action. If anything, there’s too much – there’s so much VFX going on in a team fight that it can be hard to follow.

    • luckystriker says:

      I’m another person who follows pro Dota pro without having ever played a single game. But then I love e-sports and have followed the Korean pro broodwar scene since 2007. With StarCraft 2 not cutting it, I’ve naturally switched to Dota.

  9. Banyan says:

    If Valve had the slightest sense, they would sponsor TotalBiscuit to restart his Single Draft Disaster series. It was my entry point, and also my introduction to Purge was when we he showed up in a SDD.

    On a side note, TB streamed a few matches tonight and is clearly very very rusty. It’s odd watching someone who was your introduction to the game, and realizing he is in a lower MMR tier than yourself. But he was having some fun beating on fools, and that’s probably a better introduction to noobs than hearing Purge discuss optimal warding locations.

  10. Marik Bentusi says:

    I was a mod on the noob stream and I think it was great (even the chat was extremely civil and helpful even up to 10k viewers, it barely resembled the usual twitch chat), but I hope next time someone tries to make a noob stream they can get even further away from jargon usage (most of it wasn’t used but simple examples like “farm” (gold/items gained) or “rightclick” (the basic attack every character has that doesn’t cost mana)) and using player names instead of character names. Maybe even summarize the teams’ basic strategies as quite a few people in chat were confused about which team is ahead.

    That said, the noob stream was already pretty amazing how it was right now imo. Purge definitely brought a lot of expertise to the table and I think he’ll be able to buy a couple golden yachts with the ad money he’ll get from all the newbies I sent his way.

  11. Seafort says:

    I’ve tried to get into MOBAs before and it hasn’t ended well so now I don’t even bother trying to learn them.

    I just don’t have the time or patience to learn what all the classes and items do and none of my friends play MOBAs.

    I’m hoping that Heroes of the Storm will change that so that I can get into one, play and not be abused by the caustic community that normally surround MOBAs if I make one mistake.

    I love the idea of MOBAs but I don’t play games to be abused by 12 year olds or adults that behave like they are 12.

    • Vandelay says:

      I’ve heard TotalBiscuit talk about Heroes of the Storm and saying how much he hates playing it without a team of friends. He hasn’t gone into detail, but I get the impression the community is even less forgiving to new players than many other MOBAs (although, that could just be the limited number of people playing at the moment.)

      I would recommend Awesomenauts as good gateway into the genre. It is very different to the other games and is much simpler, but you still get the basic idea of lane pushing and the idea behind synergising characters. It is the game that made me think that I actually might enjoy the genre and I found the move to DOTA pretty painless. Also, I’ve had a great time more recently playing Smite solo. It is a slightly different beast from the usual RTS style control of the other games, which does mean that some of the interesting mechanics of the DOTAs are not present (the abilities are less varied, for example,) but it makes up for it with its own nuances.

      • abeltensor says:

        Its not that HoTS is unforgiving, at least not in the same sense as Dota 2 and LoL, blizzard has just handled it completely wrong. They’ve added some things that make playing as some one new to the genera really frustrating like the gating of talents and out of game modification systems similar to the runes in LoL that serve no other purpose in HoTS than to sink gold into so you have to buy the Heroes with real money or just play the f2p ones that rotate each week. With out these stupid changes, the game is pretty easy to learn and pick up for anyone, though i wouldn’t exactly classify it as a real MoBA per say for certain reasons. In HoTS you dont need many of the skills you have from other games in the genera such as last hitting or even pushing lanes since you are almost always in a 5 man team the entire game trying to get objectives that basically do those things for you. While id imagine this would help with mechanical skill, since you spend more time team fighting, the heroes themselves are not that mechanically difficult to learn. All in all HoTS is a game less about strategy and more about taking objectives. Playing with 4 other people who you can talk to in game makes this a much easier task to accomplish as having just one player sitting idle farming in lane detracts from your success as a team because theres absolutely no benefit to being in the lanes other than when the game is about to end and you either need to defend a big push or push your self.

        Aside from the annoying added grind that blizzard just put into the game to make money, the game is actually better suited towards players new to the MoBA genera than people who have played other MoBA games since it is that much different. Anyhow, those are my two cents.

      • Deadeye666 says:

        The reason TB thinks that HotS is terrible wihout a group of friends is because it is so objective based. Unless you´re on a skype call together or using voice chat it´s really hard to have the necessary coordination to tackle the objectives. That´s why TB says that it´s a great game for groups but terrible if you want to Solo queue.

  12. abeltensor says:

    The reason i really liked the newcomer stream aside from the personalities that were involved, (watching and reading purge’s articles taught me so much when i came to get back into dota 2 after a long hiatus between dota 1 and LoL.) was mainly that i can fully appreciate what they are trying to do as a person who has taught maybe some where in the realm of 20-30 people both Dota 2 and LoL at some point or another. While I’m no master at either game, (plat on LoL when i did play and ~4900 mmr on Dota 2 currently) even the most basics of basics can be difficult to teach new players. Things as natural as denying towers, heroes or creeps make sense to me but when i try to explain why you should be killing your own stuff in a game about killing the enemies stuff, people have a difficulty understanding it. Not to mention things like wards, map control, pressure, creation of space, creep stacking, last hitting, meta-strategy and general hero abilities Hell, took me a few hours just to explain the mechanics behind morphling and tinker to my friend and even then he didn’t fully understand the implications behind their respective signature abilities (morph Str/agi and Rearm).

    One always hopes to see more and more people playing a game you love your self, just as one loves to show people anything you enjoy. Playing an hour+ long AM game where i came back from losing 2 sets of rax and 1 tier 4 tower is certainly more exciting to talk about with people who understand it then with people who don’t. And so is creating your own 5 stack just to kick the shit in unranked games until your friends get good enough to go to the real tiers. Anyhow, the newcomers stream was more or less the main reason i enjoyed TI4 more than TI3 and Ti3 is still the most epic dota 2 tournament in terms of entertaining matches to date.

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      Lexx87 says:

      After reading that my brain is now leaking on the floor while I spasm in the corner