Dote Night: Autumn/Winter 6.82

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.

As Dota enthusiasts and experts pick through the 6.82 patch notes and ponder their implications this seems like an EXCELLENT opportunity to flesh out a talk I gave earlier this week at VideoBrains about how that process echoes parts of the high fashion industry.

The loose theme of the event was Old and New. Deus Ex, Doom, Unreal, the Zelda series and more were on the list of specialist subjects but I’d been asked to talk about Dota 2.

In temporal terms Dota can be a problem. It’s a game with masses of social and development history. It has its roots in the Starcraft custom map, Aeon of Strife, and moved through various developers and incarnations once recreated as a Warcraft 3 mod. A few years ago Valve hired the current developer IceFrog and thus we have Dota 2. Taking Dota to mean all of these forms you’ve got a game which is over a decade old.

In that period it’s been a part of many players’ lives. I’ve devoted 1557 hours to it and have been rewarded with, amongst other things, a host of new friendships, work opportunities and an outlet for alternately dealing with and ignoring bouts of depression. Periods of Dota get remembered with the same fondness I have for Ocarina of Time and GoldenEye.

But unlike those games, Dota isn’t a discrete product. Ocarina might get gussied up and re-released on any number of platforms but what you’re playing is mechanically and narratively the same game. Dota gets updated periodically so when you boot it up you’ll have to play the current version, not the one you may be nostalgic for. There are other games where this happens – Counter-Strike, Hearthstone, League of Legends, StarCraft. I’ve heard them referred to as ‘living games’, or as a kind of flowing river to Ocarina’s motionless rock.

This is where fashion comes in. I’ve been looking for another way to think about these games. I’ve never liked the comparison with ongoing processes or constant motion because it doesn’t convey what’s actually happening. Dota patches involve bursts of activity and analysis followed by longer periods of stabilisation.

Two years ago my life was very different. I used to work for a fashion and beauty website and my Septembers were dominated by the spring/summer round of fashion week shows. But now I’ve come back to it as a potentially helpful comparison when thinking about how Dota patches affect the community and its continuity.

Designers use fashion week shows to showcase sets of clothes. The clothes represent a (hopefully) coherent set of ideas – a statement of intent from the designer and a thread of logic which unites all the looks as they pass down the runway. But there are dozens of shows for each fashion week and once a few have gone by you’ll find enthusiasts and experts raking through them looking for repetition, for striking departures, for shared philosophies. These become the defining trends of a season and will be what filters down to the high street.

Last night my friends and I were on Skype doing pretty much the same thing with the 6.82 patch notes. You can see it all over Reddit too – a scramble to figure out Icefrog’s intentions and the potential effects of the patch. Instead of how we should dress, the question is how should we play. The tower bounty and glyph changes might end a vogue for super-early push strats but what will best replace that? Is Bloodseeker a support now? Will this patch kill Tinker?

Suddenly favourite heroes – wardrobe staples in the last patch – must be looked at afresh, paired with new companions or retired for the moment while they’re figured out. Button-down shirts and pastel biker jackets from spring give way to shearling coats and normcore for autumn. This summer’s Razor trend will fade and new combinations will come to the fore.

Obviously parts of the comparison hold up better than others. After the initial flurry of activity and experimentations there’s a gradual move towards an optimal game – at least amongst the top tiers of competitive play. The emphasis is on winning and so other aspects of fashion like finding what suits you and adapting the meta to fit around that don’t work. Or at least, there’s perhaps a degree of finding heroes and combinations which suit you within the meta but personal expressiveness is subservient to exploiting the mechanics as efficiently and reliably as possible.

The fashion comparison holds better for pub matches. Players will see big name Dota teams trying out strategies and adopt the ones they like. This seems to happen regardless of whether the strategies actually suit the situation or the player’s own skill. It’s like seeing Gwyneth Paltrow arriving in a caped Tom Ford concoction for the Oscars and deciding to pin a pillowcase to your collar as you head off to the gym. When not trying to channel pros, in my experience people will tend to stick to the heroes or playstyles they feel suit them. Mossy green suits me in terms of clothes, Venomancer suits me in terms of heroes so I’ll try to find ways to make him work in new metas.

(Sidenote: instapicking Pudge and demanding mid would be the equivalent of those people who show up to fashion week wearing a duvet and cowboy boots, hooking every street style photographer and talking loudly about how great their blog is to anyone who might be able to get them seated in the front row.)

There will also be echoes of the cyclical nature of fashion in that particular heroes and playstyles can re-emerge, but the reasons for this happening are very different. With fashion they will generally be deliberate nods to earlier periods – attempts to play with nostalgia or to rework/update concepts. With Dota it would generally be a byproduct of rebalancing the game. The language which gets used to talk about them can be similar though. I booted up my laptop to play offline two days ago while travelling and found I hadn’t updated the game client since 2013’s winter event, Wraith Night. It was such a weird experience. Retro is the best way I can think of to describe it. A blink dagger cost 75 mana to use – how did we live like that?!

But I wasn’t able to experience this older version of the game in the way I can with Ocarina. It’s only available offline, with bots not human opponents and teammates. It’s a dead game not a discrete one. Like fashion and clothing Dota needs people and it needs movement. This won’t stop you having preferences for particular patches and a nostalgia for eras of Dota but they and their context disappear. They’re Global Hypercolour tshirts and Spice Girl platform trainers.

The point of the talk was to find a way of thinking about Dota which reflected how the cycle of patching and playing works. Navigating change is essential to both the fashion industry and Dota 2. In drawing the comparison I’m hoping it might also be of use to others and, perhaps, will help communicate why I love two such apparently disparate fields. In short, fashion weeks and patches keep these communities and industries vital, viable and invigorating.

30 Comments

  1. Ishy says:

    Huh, seems like the most significant patch in several years, by my recall. Guess I’m playing Dota 2 this week.

  2. deadly.by.design says:

    I’m still trying to get my head around the patch notes, honestly.

    • Poppis says:

      I just watched the two and a half hour patch analysis by Purge, and the three hour patch analysis by synderen&sunsfan. Now my head hurts.

  3. shaydeeadi says:

    I’m liking the map changes

  4. Vandelay says:

    I would love to see the stereotypical Dota players reaction to someone saying the game is like fashion.

    Some interesting changes with this. Particularly brave to make alterations to the map and adding another rune (which sounds like it could potential add some really interesting new strats.) The new item doesn’t look that interesting though.

    I really like the sound of the new way All Pick works. That should hopefully make people think a little more about their team’s composition, rather than everyone either diving onto the hero they want straightaway or holding out to the very last second for fear of the enemy team picking a counter (the later is actually probably more annoying, as it makes it so much harder for those of us that actually do want to have a balanced team and don’t mind playing different roles.)

    The .00001 changes to hero stats mean nothing to me though. I guess the effect of those won’t be known even in the pro game for a little while yet. Hopefully it can create some more dynamic play for them. I enjoyed the International this year, but it was pretty clear that each game followed a fairly similar pattern.

    • Horg says:

      ” The new item doesn’t look that interesting though.”

      I disagree, that new Vanguard upgrade will be the first thing under the nerf hammer when the hot fixes come. It’s a team wide +2 armour (might stack with buckler) with a 100% chance 50 damage block that has no damage removal threshold, no charges, lasts 9 seconds, has no resource cost to activate, and can be built cheaply. It’s basically a team wide living armour, and we already know how impactful that skill can be on one hero.

      For all the nerfs this patch brought to push / rat heroes, this item is designed around early 5 man pushing. If your team has this and the oposition doesn’t, they cannot fight you in the early game. A 50 damage block with bonus armour and good duration will make tower attacks, creep damage and hero auto attacks a non factor. Once the pro teams start using crimson guard it will gain popularity (just like a fashion trend) and it will get nerfed.

      • BooleanBob says:

        I think maybe most importantly, beside giving the Vanguard the scaling it desperately needed – and I agree that it looks like it might be a case of overcompensation – it gives poorly coordinated pub supports something to build when they both contrive to start building Mekanisms, leaving one stuck with a Buckler that by itself won’t scale well into the end-game.

        To extend the article’s analogy, it’s the spare outfit you carry around discretely, in case someone shows up at socialite function Y wearing the same Headdress as you and you have to go to the toilet to change (this is something that fashionably-conscious people do, right?).

        I really enjoyed this article by the way Pip! The fashion terminology made me appreciate how non-gamers must feel when accidentally exposed to conversations about games, and even then I feel like you must have been massively holding back for us nerds.

        I always suspected that the clothing and fashion world must have the same sort of deep-hook draws as gaming that made it so intoxicatingly compelling to the diehard, what with both of them often seeming such colossally trivial wastes of time to the outsider. My best guess was that there was systematic crunchiness going on under the bonnet, but the comparison of changes to metagames is probably closer to the mark.

      • Banyan says:

        “built cheaply”? 3850 vs 2200 for blade mail, 2300 for mek, 2700 for eul’s, 3625 for pipe, 4200 for aghs. It’s too expensive to be an early game item, and is at best mediocre in the mid game. Meanwhile, level 1 living armor blocks 4 instances of up to 20 dmg with 4 regen over 15 seconds. Crimson Guard is vastly worse for team fight than a level one treant. The use of Buckler mainly seems a gift to supports who didn’t realize someone else has already started mek and want to get something with teamfight utility rather than sell the buckler they started.

        Even if a rich core rushes it, the new glyph reset and increased tier 2 armor limits the ability to team rush towers, and puts you into the mid game anyway. Also mek has been nerfed which makes early and mid 5 mans less viable. Guard is probably useful for melee cores who normally deadend with vanguard, and maybe becomes viable for some mid game melee supports when the team already has a mek, but it seems mediocre.

        This patch is all about stopping the 15 minute GGs of TI4.

        edit: Started writing before BooleanBob posted, but it’s good to see we’ve both experienced that awkward moment when you finish your buckler only to realize another hero is finishing mek. :D

        • Everblue says:

          Does the new item block 1 instance of 50 damage, or every instance of 50 damage in 9 seconds? So if you get hit 5 times it blocks 250 damage?

          • BooleanBob says:

            It’s got to be the latter, hasn’t it?

          • Horg says:

            It is the latter. The implication that it is worse than lvl 1 living armour is simply wrong. 50 damage block from every hit for 9 seconds, team wide. The way I see this being built is on tanky offlaners like Bristleback / Dark Seer who might get a vanguard anyway, and can spare the gold as they will get some farm priority. Crimson Guard isn’t a support item, and at under 4k gold it is still affordable for an offlaners early game.

          • TumblingDownTheHill says:

            As Horg said, it’s the latter.

            Here’s a video (not mine): link to youtube.com

            The new patch is playable in the Test client. As far as I know anyone can install it.

          • Everblue says:

            Thank you

          • Banyan says:

            Ooohh, I had thought the comparison with living armor meant they were mechanically similar. Yes, a straight 50 damage block for all sources from 9 seconds, presumably after damage reduction from the (increased) armor, is definitely much better that I thought. That’s probably going to near mandatory for melee off laners.

        • Garek says:

          So, does the 100%/50 damage block only to “other” nearby allies, or also to yourself? I, for example, like to play Axe sometimes, and if the former is the case, it would actually be better for him if someone else has Crimson Guard, and not he.

          • Horg says:

            Wording on the patch notes is misleading, but it should work on the carrier as with any other item that targets allied heroes. The active should not target creeps, unlike Mek or Pipe.

          • Garek says:

            Thanks

        • Neutrino says:

          “This patch is all about stopping the 15 minute GGs of TI4.”

          Which is a damn shame, since they were some of the most exciting matches. Plus there is no GG option in amateur matches so any mechanic changes that causes matches to drag out even more doesn’t seem like a great idea when much of the appeal of Dota is that it’s something you know you can fire up and have a match over and done with in a reasonable amount of time.

          • Horg says:

            I don’t think that statement is really true, if you look at the full notes you can see that strong team fight heroes got the buffs and the rat heroes got the biggest nerfs. The new item is all about going 5 man from around 10-15 minutes, getting big team fights and forcing down towers. 2014 was year of the rat and this patch is aimed to fix that. There are still plenty of viable line ups that can close out a fast win.

          • BooleanBob says:

            To add to what Horg said, a great many recipe costs for big ticket items (and hugely significantly, the price of TPs scrolls) got snipped, hopefully meaning that, while deathballing all outer towers in twenty minutes is less likely, the pendulum isn’t just swinging straight back to farm fests this patch. Carries are viable again, but they’re going to be showing up to team fights that much earlier.

            If I’m worried about anything in the patch leading to matches becoming overly drawn out, it’s the massive elastication of the game’s come-back mechanics causing a game to swing back and forth for a miniature eternity.

  5. Flimgoblin says:

    But… but… I just got the damned thing uninstalled :/ oh well, willpower crushed..

  6. heyhellowhatsnew says:

    I logged in to say (I don’t log in usually, only to praise or yell when you’re not calling out discrimination like you’re known for aka why I only read this video game site)

    to say that this was a great article. It was creative, well-written, and interesting. I thought i’d give you kudos for that. Great job.

  7. Galvanism says:

    Pay $2.5 a month and get epic mspaint. Pay nothing and get the same. GG RPS.

  8. Apologised says:

    >Looks at the Riki changes

    “Go to bed Icefrog. You’re drunk”

  9. Bobtree says:

    RPS forum thread: link to rockpapershotgun.com

  10. Neutrino says:

    What is this nonsense of using the term ‘meta’ to refer to draft and build strategy? What you choose to draft and build _in_game_ cannot possibly be _meta_game_. By definition ‘meta-game’ refers to game affecting mechanics or tactics that are not expressed in-game.

    An example of something genuinely meta-game would be Eve corporations infiltrating each other and hacking their forums, websites and comms servers.

  11. Rensdyr says:

    So how do you make friends on DOTA2?

    • unquiet_guy says:

      Rensdyr, I’ve made Dota friends by joining guilds, groups, and playing in an amateur tournament. Then if I play with a party including friends of friends who I like, I add them too.