Dote Night: The Pinging In My Ears

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.

A few days ago I was playing Dota as part of a group of four. The fifth slot went to a total stranger. Maybe it’ll be fine, we told ourselves. Maybe it’ll be alright, we thought as he took Pudge mid. Maybe it’ll be – oh God no he’s a ping fan.

In Dota there are two types of ping: one is the measure of latency between your computer and the game server, the other is where you alt+left-click on the map. The latter plays an alert noise and puts a visual marker on the map and minimap to communicate information with your team quickly.

The audio and visual changes in some contexts to offer more specific information. For example, if you do it to an enemy tower you’ll see a sword icon on the minimap indicating you want that building attacked, for an allied tower it’s a shield for defence. But a vanilla ping is an ambiguous thing. Its translations include (but are in no way limited to):

  • We should go here
  • We shouldn’t go here and although I could use CTRL+ALT+left click to activate a caution ping instead, who has the time? NOT I.
  • I’m going here
  • You should go here
  • Why didn’t you go here?
  • Or there?
  • Or follow this circular pattern I am now describing on the ground?
  • I want this lane
  • No, hang on, this lane
  • I appear to have dived far too deep chasing a kill I was never going to get and would appreciate you bailing me out.
  • Why didn’t you come and help me?
  • Why did you come and help me?
  • Here is the spot where you died. I am holding a ping memorial service for you completely sincerely and not at all like a sarcastic jerk.
  • I would like this farm
  • You should take this farm
  • This is a creep. I’m a big fan of this one creep in particular.
  • We should check on Rosh
  • There was someone here
  • There was a courier here
  • There is a ward here
  • There should be a ward here
  • No, not that type of ward JEEZ this was the ping for sentry wards obviously
  • Please stack this camp
  • I want this camp
  • Why aren’t you farming this camp
  • What happens if I press ALT at the same time as I click something?
  • I like pinging things!
  • I am having a moment of existential angst. Please acknowledge my existence and relevance to this continuing shared experience
  • Are you afk?
  • You’re afk – I KNEW IT
  • I usually enjoy playing Dota and use it as a form of relaxation after work but today was pretty stressful and it turns out playing as a team with a bunch of strangers doesn’t always work out so well and while I’d like to think I’m usually pretty chill I am not dealing with this fiasco at all well.
  • That team fight did not work out so well. I fully accept my part in it and hope we can do better next time.
  • I am displeased
  • I am pleased
  • I am hungry
  • Look at this squirrel. It’s like two little sausages bounding about.
  • I think this is the ancient. Can we heal it with pings?
  • Well done everyone*

*I am an optimist.

With that wealth of possibility in mind there’s a lot of room for misinterpretation and error when deciphering the alert. There’s also a peculiar level of stress and disruption which it can bring to games. It’s hard not to respond to a ping. I was having a look into the research on non-verbal communication in gaming but I didn’t find much. There’s a little which deals with body language and communication in games like Second Life and a whole heap about instant messenger etiquette but the communicative potential of pinging a screen during a wizard fight seems under-investigated at the moment. As a result this is going to be largely anecdotal.

The ping is disruptive because it’s so hard to ignore. The noise is an intrusion and an irritant in the game’s normal soundscape and you want to get rid of it. The fact that it’s used as a communication method means that one of the ways to reduce it or resolve it is to respond correctly so you make a guess at one of the translations listed above.

The phantom alt-texter strikes again!

The guessing process is made slightly easier by taking into account other factors. If the character is positioned ready to initiate an attack, the ping probably means “Go!” If the pinging is insistent and the character is running away from the area you’d probably assume it was a warning to stay away or that they might need rescuing from whatever’s lurking. Some heroes rely heavily on the gold you get as a result of camps being stacked and killed so a ping near the camp which spawns the ancient neutral creeps would be an update on what that hero is up to and that your side should maybe deal with it if possible. You can also use what you’ve learned (through trial and error) about how that person uses pings to take more educated guesses as the game progresses.

On my internet travels I did find a section about communication in raiding in World of Warcraft. It was part of a Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) publication called Nonverbal Communication in Virtual Worlds: Understanding and Designing Expressive Characters [PDF]. The section explains that “The UI is more than just graphical; it serves a pragmatic function, allowing players to connect to their characters and thus to ‘construct meaning and interpret [cues] as a [series of] orderly event[s]”. Okay so it’s focused on the role of the characters in all this but the last part helps explain how pinging is supposed to work. You use it in conjunction with other onscreen information to construct meaning and inform events within the game.

But when it’s sloppier and the ping doesn’t seem to have a context or easy interpretation it can be hugely frustrating on both sides. Particularly when the pinger doesn’t stop at one ping. Or five pings. Or twenty-six pings.The closest way I can think to describing it is having an angry one-year-old shrieking because of some thwarted desire or another. They rage but they have no language. It doesn’t stop when you ignore it so you try to work out what it means. Kunkka, do you want an animal biscuit? That was quite the torrent – do you need changing?

You start to ascribe motives and personality to the person behind the pinging and they’re almost always going to be negative as a result of the frustration and the perceived rudeness – it’s loud and unhelpful and you’re not a toddler and JEEZ THE GAME HAS TEXT AND VOICE CHAT. It can also feel like the person is trying to bend the game to their will by issuing nonstop commands. If they prove bad in the leadership role that’s an extra layer of resentment added.

The CMU chapter on raiding adds that “As shared meanings become more common, raids become more successful”. That’s what I meant about using the player’s history of pinging to predict what they might mean right now. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say being able to work it out has a correlation with Dota games being more successful (PLEASE SOMEBODY DO THIS RESEARCH I NEED TO KNOW!) but it would likely allow you to assess whether the request or instruction is reasonable or whether you’re better off following a different plan.

The raiding piece concludes:

The confusing chaos of visually and sonically dazzling effects, bosses, minions, and other players’ characters running this way and that, all emoting and creating noise must in pragmatic terms be made meaningful, interpreted, and acted toward […] By the time a player is raiding, he or she needs to have developed a thorough understanding of game mechanics, media literacy vis-à-vis the user interface, and a knowledge base that includes the various roles expected of her character’s class and specialization.

Essentially, that there’s a lot of information to deal with at all times and your best bet for success is to try to make sense of it. Players have the option of adding to this information salad. Tossing in some pings can help chain information together or add statements of intent which don’t get tangled up in spelling errors or not speaking the same language or having your voice and gender subject to scrutiny. But if you’re a frequent pinger, know that there’s also the flip side, where the flexible nature of a ping and the fact each other person on your team will be seeing slightly different contextualising information means it’s just incomprehensible. Aggressive and intrusive gibberish. A digital wizard toddler railing against a cruel animal biscuit-free world.


  1. shinkshank says:

    I like to think of myself as a reasonably patient individual – I’ll usually nicely ask the other guy to calm down, and it works considerably more often that people seem to think it does ( helps a lot to not use along the lines of ” fucking adjective ” ). But once in a long while, you come across a person who you can only deal with by way of a mute and a report. I do it very rarely, and even when I do I’m not happy I had to resort to it, but fuck it, the two features aren’t there because they thought everyone was going to be agreeable and sportsmanlike.

    • Skull says:

      Telling people to “calm down” usually has the opposite of the desired effect. IRL anyway.

      • Banyan says:

        I get about a 50% success rate in turning a bad tempered player by asking if they have a suggestion. They either come up with an actual constructive idea on what to do next or shut up because they don’t have any ideas. Or they decide that the implication that they should thinking instead of raging is a personal insult, and I mute them at the next outburst.

        • Everblue says:

          Jiiim (of this parish) made one of his Wonderful MS Paint Videos, which covers this very thing in verse three.

  2. durns says:

    Its Alice, it has to be Alice. She’s the only one constantly on (as the news editor), I’ve never seen the phantom strike on her posts, and she’s a little crazy.

    • Skabooga says:

      Whoever the phantom alt-texter is, my hat is of to them for creating the best alternate reality game ever.

      • Fontan says:

        Considering there was an “Alice woz here” alt-text in one of John’s articles a few days back, it’s safe to assume the phantom is Alice.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      alt-text is just one of the things that makes RPS great, I’m particularly fond of the way Chris Livingston adds alt-text to every single image in his Lighthouse Customer posts.
      Maybe it’s Chris is what I’m saying.

      • RARARA says:

        Nobody beats Richard Cobbett in volume of text, though!

      • Jackablade says:

        I think each alt texted image needs to come with a label that reads “Hey, don’t forget to read the alt text”. The only time I remember that it exists is when someone brings it up in the comments. Then I look at the the alts on that article and immediately forget about them again until the next time someone mentions them.

  3. Chicago Ted says:

    Pinging is much more useful when combined with voice comms, of course.
    Still, if you get some random who mashes pings as fast as he can, it’s best to just say ‘cyka, mute’ and mute him.

  4. BooleanBob says:

    Ping abusing is a sin but four stackers are the devil.

    • Banyan says:

      Four stackers on external voice comms are the worst. “Oh, let’s all decide to back at the exact same moment and let the 5 get picked off.” “Oh, let’s all decide to run down mid and let the odd-support-out defend the top rax by himself from a three hero push.” Screw those 4 stacks.

  5. Ishy says:

    For those of you who may be like me and are completely intolerant of toxicity, I present console commands!

    “dota_minimap_ping_duration 0” (Pings are not shown on the minimap, so you only see them if they’re where you’re looking)

    “bind “KP_1” bindtoggle snd_setmixer ping vol “0.0 0.3″” (binds keypad 1 to toggle the ping sound on or off)

    I prefer to leave it off all the time (snd_setmixer ping vol 0.0). I also immediately mute all players at the start of a match and have voice chat permanently disabled (voice_enable 0), not just muted. I do just fine, and the game is far more pleasant.

    • zentropy says:

      Ah, I’m not alone. Not that I thought I was, but hey this works wonders doesn’t it? :)

  6. Gnoupi says:

    Having recently switched to DOTA2, I have to say I miss the “smart pings” which were added not so long ago in LoL : link to

    Different, clear meanings, and if you use “on my way”, it actually draws the shortest route on the minimap for others to get an idea of your actual way.

    I wish they would add that on dota2.

    • jonjonjon says:

      dota has chat phrases for all those smart pings that you can either add to the chat wheel or bind to a specific key. you can also draw your route on the mini map. why let the game automatically draw the shortest route (not always the best route) when you can draw the actual route you are going to take? not sure why they are called smart pings they dont seem very smart to me.

      that all said an assist me and on my way ping would be a nice addition.

  7. int says:

    Blink! Stun! BKB! Amplify the Ping Machine!

  8. Premium User Badge

    Bluerps says:

    That helped me end a crappy day on a laugh. Great writing – thanks, Ms Warr!

  9. Martel says:

    I love reading these articles, you do a great job. I think of you while I’m playing dota and come across the things you write about. Always makes me smile

  10. xrabohrok says:

    There are actually three pings: latency, “hey, listen”, and the one I like to call “watch out”. It shows up as an X on the map.

    Control + alt click to do that one. They don’t really tell anyone about it.

  11. Gog Magog says:

    On the one hand, I abuse pings like a fucker in both League and Dota.
    On the other hand, from my many years (that’s not a joke, I’m a very sad person with inappropriate amounts of free time) of playing League especially (Dota I started somewhere in the beta) I can tell you that if you want people to make offensive movements or objective-based ones, one ping is enough.
    If you want them to back the fuck off from a fight you need to ping like a bonobo on crack (is that an actual thing?) with a fire under their ass. It’s essential you go nuts on that shit or you end with a dead team. Same for incoming ganks that you know about.

    • Kitsunin says:

      Haha, yeah. On the one hand I hate ping abusers, on the other hand, that one guy off in the enemy’s jungle while they’re all up and MIA always seems to need 20 pings before he gets the message.

  12. Lizuko says:

    I think you’ve successfully analyzed this data as well as any research you’re asking for possibly could. Spot on.

  13. jonjonjon says:

    yea you should always use the ctrl + alt ping to alert teammates of enemies/danger. i really wish there was a setting or console command that allowed you to limit how often you see consecutive pings. set it to 3-4 seconds so you don’t have to see someone non stop ping as fast as they can all game.

  14. andrern2000 says:

    Words can’t describe enough the meaning of a ping. There are 3×3 life matrix that I think is enough to judge all kinds of pings happened in the game:
    Beginner Advanced Veteran (Skills)
    Good guy x x x
    Bad guy x x x
    ‘Not enough guy’ x x x

    Not enough guys are retards who have less skills than they expect themselves in their own brain a.k.a valuing themselves higher than they really are, but they are trying to command the whole, instead of following better skilled comrades, leading the team to “almost going to be victory battle” a.k.a LOSING. These persons have never experienced focused real-battle until to the point of near-death experience so they would never know the truth-depth of “Until what is the LEAST tolerated timing should I do xxx while STILL gaining the victory, maybe considering the opponent’s moves”, so these people never knows the truth of the victory gameplay. In the chart, the more veteran this humans are, the more HIGHER HE IS in valuing himself than his real skills. In the highest level it is, like, “Follow my commands!” while he’s actually can do nothing! Veteran good guys are what gives good judgment and only uses Pings to lead to victory. While veteran bad guys are warlocks, those who are sacrificing the teams for his own hero. Like making others as the meat tank and die for his Queen of Pain so that the Qop can own the whole game, or make the team loses, controlling for his own’s belly.

    The “not enough guys” are the moot point. In any case, not following “Not enough guys” will yield better and stable gameplay so don’t follow them. Aside of bullshitting of CommandingHigh whilst of low-skills of up to doing nothing, those are the guys who also are the ones who are rumbling and raging in the chat, even saying “Report enigma plss” after a short temper, or just kill-stealing in teamfights. Bring up a dagon to prevent him from ks-ing. It’s better the gold given to stable players. Or if he comes to your teamfights, keep changing the tactic to push other lane so leaving him so he’d have to fight by one-self :P It’s better to play long play until are your 4 heroes are geared up and ready to take on the 5-persons team, completely ignoring his help. If there are 2 or 3 persons like this in the match, or even the worst that maybe would never happens in the game, 4 persons like this, prepare to give up the game early, to the point of considering to give up after the first blood. Also in any case, don’t play with bad guys, it’ll ruin your fun.

    Who are me? Let’s say that I’m a good decent player with 7-years span career in dota, cooperative, and having potential to do competitive play.

  15. spamalot says:

    This was brilliant! “A digital wizard toddler railing against a cruel animal biscuit-free world” sums it up perfectly.