Can’t Dote, Will Dote

As we’ve all learned the hard way, the longer you leave something you’re anxious about, the more terrifying it becomes. (I really must get that thing on my foot looked at). (And the car in for its MOT). (And oh God all those emails to people who wrote nice things whenever I mentioned difficult times). Case in point: Dota 2.

Here is my experience with mobas until last week:

– Laughing in disbelief at Basshunter’s Dota video some six years ago

– Playing Demigod a few times, while the multiplayer was still broken, so only as a singleplayer game.

I have been a games ‘journalist’ (speech marks added to save sarcastic toerags the effort) since 2001, yet I’ve managed to entirely sidestep a phenomenon. There’s other stuff I broadly don’t look at – racing games, flight sims, games about people having far more sex than I could ever hope to – but at least I had enough working knowledge of ‘em to say it was choice rather than ignorance. Mobas, though, barely a clue, beyond a vague sense that it had bits of tower defence and RTS in it.
The longer I left it, the more impenetrable it seemed. I started off with a certain ugly elitism, looking at League of Legends and thinking it seemed some gaudy, boisterous horror for people with no attention span, but that shifted when Valve got into the lanes business. Clearly, it was something to take seriously.

My first proper experience of Dota 2 was at the first International tournament, held at GamesCom 2011. As far as I knew, Dota 2 was as unknown a quality to the rest of the world at that point as it was to me (it wasn’t yet publicly released). Surely the tournaments would be chilled out and educational.

But no. No. Already it was steeped in unfathomable language, the noise of the matches drowned out by cheering for actions I couldn’t even locate on screen, let alone understand. I was none the wiser as I headed grimly into what proved to be a somewhat awkward interview with Valve’s Erik Johnson about their plans for Dota 2. I asked a combination of vague observations and futile attempts to make him comment on a perceived rivalry with Blizzard (the original Dota is a Warcraft 3 mod), getting nowhere, feeling increasingly self-conscious.

He didn’t say anything of the sort, but from his body language and tone I have little doubt he was thinking “you don’t know a thing about Dota. Why are you interviewing me?” (Because it was Valve and because I was RPS’ man at Gamescom, is the answer). This upset, coupled with the way online talk about the game so rapidly became characterised by terms and names I’d never heard of, I took the coward’s way out.

For four years.

Many times, I thought of taking a look. Enough people I respect were playing Dota 2 that I knew it wasn’t some madly shallow thing for sweary teenagers, despite the many reports of a mean-spirited community, but the longer I left it the more of a mountain to climb it seemed.

Tomorrow, myself, Adam, Alice, Pip and a TBC ringer will battle cheery RPS fansite PC Gamer in a Dota 2 match [update: this happened. We won! See here]. I don’t have the highest of hopes if I’m honest, but I do know that I’ll know roughly what I’m doing. That isn’t something I ever quite expected to happen.

I haven’t played against other humans yet, just bot matches with Pip ordering us about and showing us the main ropes. She’s pretty good at it, even though she thinks she isn’t. As I understand all but our opponents’ leader are similarly uneducated, but even so a trial by far seems inevitable. And I’m looking forwards to it, not fearing it. I know what the lanes are, I know how to use two characters (on a basic level), I know what items I have to buy in which order, and I even know a few variants on that, I know about last hits and denies, side shops and secret shops. I know that my questions to Pip will be ‘where should I be right now?’, not ‘what the hell do I do?’

I doubt I’d have got there without a friendly voice taking me through it, or without a specific motivation to finally fight the fear (i.e. wouldn’t it be nice to beat those dead tree fetishists at PCG). I’ve done the official tutorials subsequently, but while they explain some of the key mechanics they can’t come close to hearing someone talk the language and you be able to ask for explanations. I was lucky enough to have someone seasoned and with a calm manner on hand (though she did offer the occasional steam of astonishing invective on occasion). So, I’m in.

I’m so pleased. Not of myself, but for myself. Whatever I do or don’t end up doing with Dota 2 or any other moba from this moment on, I’ve faced my fears and I know what it’s about, how it works and, most of all, why so many people like it so much. It’s exciting, it’s complicated, it requires patience and understanding, and doing things almost completely differently from what any RPG or RTS has taught me. I have to eat trees! I have to not attack things! I have to build boots by buying gloves! I love that something made out of frankly ridiculous parts is also this immaculate, precise engine. VIDEOGAMES.

And that was what I’d forgotten every time I felt scared of Dota. Videogames.

And for what happened next, please see here.

This article was first published as part of, and thanks to, The RPS Supporter Program.


  1. Vandelay says:

    Welcome to Dota. I’m sure you will enjoy and hate your stay in equal measures. Having a good group to play with will certainly help and will mean you will minimise the possibility of vile people being on your team.

    Will this RPS vs PCG game be live streamed anywhere or will a video be posted afterwards?

    • amateurviking says:

      +1 to the ‘I have no idea what is happening but I would like to watch the game’ requests.

    • Lars Westergren says:

      Seconded, a stream of this would be great, especially if you record team audio.

      So, what role do you prefer Alec? Carry? Offlaner? Mid? Position 4 or 5 support?

      I think Lich was the hero that clicked first for me. Consuming allied creeps meant I rarely ran out of mana, gained levels steadily, and moved creep equilibrium towards the tower so I could stay under the relative safety of the tower.

  2. Lars Westergren says:

    What’s a TBC ringer by the way? “ringer” is a contestant cheater according to urban dictionary. TBC – to be called?

    • jrodman says:

      As far as I know, a ringer is someone you bring in to play in a game or tournament of some sort who is far above the level of play of the rest. Example: paying a professional sports player a fee to participate in your corporate soccer league. Maybe you even hire her or him as an employee for a few months with a fakey role.

    • amateurviking says:

      TBC = To Be Confirmed

  3. Rise / Run says:

    I was just talking with my wife this past weekend about why I haven’t tried Dota yet (100+ heroes? I have no idea where to start?). Maybe I should bite the bullet and try, but I’d also need some sort of angel coaching group.

    • Banyan says:

      I got started after watching TotalBiscuit’s first Dota games (where he is in retrospect absolutely awful) and then transitioning into watching Purge’s games and then his Welcome to Dota, You Suck guide (link to Once you have a vague sense of those basics, the only thing is to jump in and play a very simple hero. Once you get a few games under your belt, check out Purge’s guide again so you understand what he was trying to tell you the first time. GLHF!

    • Lars Westergren says:

      The tutorials are pretty good, starts with basic movement and attacks, the shop interface, playing a bot 1v1, then playing with a limited pool of 20 heroes.

      Some say “The tutorials don’t teach you everything you need!” Of course not, tutorials are to get you started. Trying to teach everything at once would overwhelm new players.

      There is a RPS Dota group on Steam, with the goal of having friendly and helpful folks to play with. Haven’t tried it, but I think they are called “Casual Dota Chums”.

      And yes Banyan, Total Biscuit is awful, that is correct.

      • jrodman says:

        My feeling about the tutorials, which through projection I assume represent everyone’s feelings, is that via certain omissions they are somewhat misleading.

        For example, the tutorials lead you into a last-hitting practice segment (a short one early and a more optional focused one later). However, encouraging you to spend minutes or perhaps hours practicing this core skill, nothing EVER mentions the keypresses necessary to deny, nor the option to cancel attacks, which are the two biggest things to learn when practicing last-hitting.

        Granted, you could easily overwhelm the player depending how you pace this stuff, but I do think it lacks some essentials.

        • Lars Westergren says:

          When you are learning something for the first time, you need to concentrate on one thing at a time, until it starts to stick in muscle memory. Then you can start to learn the next thing. Trying to learn several things at the same time as a beginner confuses, leads to mistakes and frustration.

          When you are learning last hitting for the first time, getting a feel for how much damage your hero does at certain levels and the timing/damage of the attacks of your allied creeps as they are in different positions are more than enough to keep track of. As an experienced player these things are probably so ingrained in you that you don’t think about them anymore, but isn’t this actually the biggest things to learn about last hits?

          Tutorials are for getting a mental model, a scaffold in place (these are the basics, this is how you win a match), the details can be filled in later. Fractally filled in. :)

          • jrodman says:

            As this article comes around again…

            Yes of course that’s how people learn. But by the SECOND last-hitting segment, surely the cancel button could be introduced. “Some people find it easier to control their attacks by using the stop-action button. The default is this key. .. Try using it to more precisely land your attacks”

            How hard is that? I know I felt cheated by the tutorial by its omission. Heck it even encourages you to retry the last hitting stuff to improve your numbers repeatedly while practicing doing it wrong extensively.

      • Vandelay says:

        As terrible as TB is, he also made me realise that Dota was a game I might like. I had played a bit of Awesomenauts, which, although a very different game, taught me the Moba basics, but it wasn’t until I watched a few of his Single Draft Disasters that I really thought it was a genre I could get into. Watching someone who wasn’t pro at the game probably helped that a lot.

        I think the key to getting into the game though is having a group of people to play with. It is very much a team game and working collaboratively with unknowns, even if they aren’t the Moba stereotype, is always going to be hard work. The tutorial is a fine place to start, then progress into bot games (preferably with real teammates,) and then into one of the modes that gives you a limited draft (I mostly played single draft early on, but that probably isn’t the best place to start, as it only gives you a choice of three.)

        As for heroes to start with, it is always a tricky question. Most people’s instinct is to go support, but they are normally actually pretty important to team victory. They are the invisible hero, with low kills, quite a few assists and possibly higher up the deaths list. Having said that, being invisible can also be a good thing while you learn the ropes! It is rare, particularly in low brackets, for teammates to get upset at their support, so you are less likely to get the agro that you might get playing a carry (that is the hero who is responsible for accumulating large amounts of gold to buy expensive items.)

        To compromise, if you think support is a good choice for you, pick someone that is going to have good burst damage (can do a lot of damage with a single spell.) Crystal Maiden or Lich are good picks for this, as is Lion or Shadow Shaman. Alternatively, some of the tanky characters good options; Dragon Knight, Axe or tidehunter have reasonably simple spells to use and you will see quite a bit of action. Just remember that you will likely be leading some of the charges (buying blink dagger that lets you teleport a short distance, so you can get into the middle of fights is always a great idea for these characters.)

        Lastly, you have the right click heroes. These are the characters that do a lot of damage with their basic attack, with spells that boast their attack more or help them stay in range to attack. They are often the team’s carry (particularly at low levels,) or they are looking for second highest amount of gold. So, they are essential to team victory, but as they often have simple spells, with a lot of passives, and use damage boasting items instead of complex active items, they are fairly easy for newcomers. Sniper and Drow Ranger are the classic examples of these, as they have good range and can do massive amounts of damage. Getting last hits with them is pretty easy too, for those two reasons, so you can be strong the whole game.

        This ended up being a much longer post then I expected. Hope it helps!

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          Yeah, I’d say you don’t need a whole team necessarily, but one person to queue with is a massive help. When I first tried LoL I had no clue what I was doing, spent 2 hours wandering around aimlessly for a couple of games, found it incredibly boring and didn’t play it again. That is until a friend started talking about it and I ended up duo queuing with him, he basically talked me through the basics as we played. It was so much more helpful and fun than trying to learn from videos and tutorials etc and once you know what you are doing the genre is a lot more enjoyable, so I’d suggest to anyone, if you have someone who can teach you the game, give it a go with them.

    • Fiyenyaa says:

      I think I’d agree – to have a nice experience playing dota, I’d heartily recommend getting into it with friends.
      The way it happened to me was starting it at the same time as several other online chums, which was nice because of a similar skill level, although that meant there wasn’t really any guru-type for us to learn from from the get-go (although some of us got good way faster than others – I learn lots from people who started at the same time as me now).
      I’ve played over 1700 hours of dota now, and I’ve still never ever played a game without at least 2 friends in my party, and 95% of my games have been with full groups. That’s my recommendation. Play with nice people whenever possible.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Just dive in.

      It is inmense, and you will suck for more than a few weeks, but just keep at it.

      I personally decided to learn the ropes with one hero for a few matches, and then just pick random heroes over and over again. The curve was a bit longer that way, but i absorbed way more information about mechanics and interactions this way. I also had a ton of fun. My first gyrocopter game was a blast.

    • says:

      Honestly, I probably would have kept ignoring the genre if a friend hadn’t walked me through my first few games of Dota 2. The guy is a teacher, so he did a great job of explaining the basics of what I wouldn’t already know from normal RTS games.

      So, when possible, I always recommend someone taking their very first Dota 2 steps in this manner.

  4. Skabooga says:

    I have never watched a Dota match before, but if you all post feed of the match tomorrow, I’m willing to start.

  5. jrodman says:

    The replay ID would be appreciated, to watch in “Dota TV”, aka, the ingame replay browser/viewer/live-spectating feature.

  6. symuun says:

    +1 to the requests for a stream, assuming you weren’t planning to do one anyway. I’ll be rooting for Team RPS!

    Dota’s an overwhelming game at first, but I’ve found it an absolute delight to play ever since I got my head around the very basics about a year ago. I’m still a shameful newbie compared to the real players, but I usually feel like I know what I’m doing and that I’m an important part of my team. Playing with friends makes a huge difference, too, especially when you’re getting started. I doubt I’d have made it this far if I didn’t have a couple of friends to play with regularly.

  7. Wisq says:

    Tried it, gave it a fair shake, didn’t like it.

    To me, it felt like it was mostly based upon nonsensical and actively annoying game mechanics. Last-hitting is just annoying, finicky — “you know that part of games people hate, where someone comes in and gets the last hit and steals your kill? let’s turn that into a game”. Denying is ludicrous, but it’s a natural extrapolation of last-hitting. Intentionally letting your battle line fall back so you’re under the protection of your tower, even to the extent of dragging your creeps off to get slaughtered in some unrelated battle with no rewards. It’s all completely tactically nonsensical.

    To me, it feels like it really shows its origin — as a mod/map in a larger game, where the map author has a limited degree of flexibility and control (given that they can’t rewrite the game itself), so you end up with some pretty wonky mechanics. But then it takes off, and now you have a community blinded to how silly and ridiculous the mechanics are, and new players end up convincing themselves that these mechanics make sense and are reasonable because otherwise all their friends wouldn’t be playing it, and those features become a key part of the genre and so it becomes resistant to change.

    Or maybe I’m just a cranky old man, I dunno.

    • Wisq says:

      To be clear (man I wish the edit button were working): those aren’t my only problems, just a slice of them. For example, the RTS-style control scheme bothers me too, since if I’m playing a single hero, I’d rather have direct hands-on control. Also, I’ve never much liked RTSes in general, since I’m not a fan of the sort of click-fest micromanagement they entail. Etc.

      I don’t resent other people for enjoying it, but I do get frustrated when half my Steam friends list is playing a game I find I just can’t enjoy. But then, nothing new there, since I never liked Counter-Strike either.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        I can agree on some points, or at least i’d say that some “features” are simply copied straight from the very old DOTA mod, which sort of automatically confirms your suspicion since not getting any changes from a mod that had to dance around the limitation of it’s father RTS game clearly means that some things are simply being copied for safety, rather than improved upon and rethought a little in a full game that has the luxury of being free to do what it wants.

        You might be onto something there, mostly because now DOTA2 is in the position of telling anyone who is in disagreement with the model that they “simply not get it” or they are “just too used to hand holding and easy games”, while one might simply want to ask why you’re supposed to click to move. Trust me, there will never be a good answer for this.

        I have a lot of hours on all MOBAs, DOTA2 included, now i’m mostly focusing just on SMITE that for the first time in this genre actually feels free of shackles. Some things are easier, some are harder ( you have to aim everything ), the depth is there and there’s no meta-progression like LoL with the silly runes. Back in the early days there was the possibility of buying an “all heroes, past and future” pack for the very cheap, i don’t know if it’s still there but it’s not like the model is in any way unfair even if you never ever want to splurge a single cent.

        • Geebs says:

          No worse than the tortured arguments that appear whenever some hapless noob on the Blizzard forums asks why Diablo3 doesn’t have joypad support yet.

  8. James says:

    MOBAS and Dota 2 completely walked past me too. One of my friends is really into it (2400h into it to be exact) and he tried to get me into it. I played a few matches int he lowest of low skill brackets and I was alright at at. Not great, but niether was I so poor as to induce the rage of others. I was starting to enjoy it when my freind tells me ‘so – item progression…’ and I thought ‘oh, ok, sure’ – one glance at the item lists later I promplty shut down Dota 2 going ‘nope… nope… just nope’. Can I be asked to learn the ideal item progressions for the heroes of my choice? Hell no.

    My interest dropped off rapidly after that. I’ll stick to my Mass Effect and Elite Dangerous. Much less complicated.

    • HaylingZar says:

      Aw man I’m sorry you gave up there. Just to let you know, there are a significant number of guides for itemisation and skill builds both online and within the game! I don’t know how long ago you played it but now there is a specific tab you can access in game which gives you access to skill and item builds for your particular hero. I must confess, I still do this often with heroes I don’t feel comfortable with.

    • D70CW6 says:

      Pretty much mirrors my experience of LOL (is that he same / similar game as dota? I get confused). Played a couple of games and thought it was ok, then saw the item shop thing and had a total epiphany of cba’d-ness.

    • Bremze says:

      Think about items in Dota like cards in something like Hearthstone or any other CCG. You use gold to add abilities to your deck depending on the current situation and not knowing every card is fine when starting out. Making up your item progression on the fly is something that only comes with experience.

  9. Synesthesia says:

    Welcome man! The deeper you get, the more you see nuances. Just wait until you have the first teamfight where you know *exactly* what just happenned. Time gets a lot slower during those uber-concentration moments.

  10. trn says:

    I really enjoy watching Dota 2, but as a player I’ve been hot and cold since the beta. In two years I think I’ve played about 100 matches against bots and about 12 against real people. I’ve watched thousands. Every time I play against real people I feel immediately like Roger Murtaugh (too old for this etc.) (‘Grow a thicker skin, this is the internet’ says everyone who’s never had a job that involves needing a thick skin! I play to escape, not for more of the same!)

    I’m told the game is best when you have friends to play with. When most of your friends are colleagues or parents and none have any interest in Dota 2, this is near-impossible. My hope is one day to find a Steam group comprised of grumpy old men who just want to play Dota 2 badly without try-hards screaming at them and going afk when you don’t have a 7-minute blink dagger. Until then I’ll keep losing to Viper Bot and watching the game on Twitch (with the chat turned off) while at work.

    If, on the other hand, there is a group of miserable old gits who play badly looking for a disappointing jungler – I’m your man!

    • TehK says:

      “When most of your friends are colleagues or parents and none have any interest in Dota 2, this is near-impossible”

      Yep, same here. Basically, I could repeat your whole post.

      I sunk abour 800 into the game (although I think about 300 of those were just watching directly in the client) and most of them solo. And yes, I’m terrible, but I had lots of fun with it. It’s a great game and I love it. But right now I’m also at a point where I’m not only simply tired (oh god, soooo tired) of try-hard flamers that call people noobs, even if they’re obviously in the same matchmaking bracket, but I also feel that with solo queuing, I’m just not learning anything either. So I’m also not getting better… so I’m stuck at my crappy level… so I’m not learning anything new… so I’m also not getting better…. and repeat :)

      Currently I don’t have much time, but for the foreseeable future, I’m trying to figure out how to best get a nice more or less regular bunch of nice people to just play some Dotes, because it’s a great game. Perhaps the RPS section here in the forums might be that bunch (alhtough they seem to be WAY better than me ;) ).

  11. TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

    Generally “thicker skin” is mostly about ignoring the insults of random internet douches, which are endemic to such games but are absolutely devoid of any meaning. Just pity those people.

    But, if by “too old for this” you meant that there simply is too much effort needed in order to match the rest of the competition, and that’s also what you meant with “thicker skin”, then i absolutely can understand you as that is simply frustrating.

    • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

      *silly edit*

      This was meant as a response to “trn” above me.

      • trn says:

        Putting time in is part of the appeal of a game like Dota – practice in the pursuit of mastery. I enjoy Bot matches, but know they are far from representative of the real game. But practice means making mistakes, experimenting with different builds, and losing – none of which I’ve found to be tolerated in the few public games I’ve played – or many of the public games I’ve watched. Perhaps the biggest problem is that I suffer from anxiety in public, especially when I’m asked to improvise. For whatever reason my anxiety is much worse online and when gaming I panic and make silly mistakes. I’m always told the same: get a thicker skin, play with friends or play something else. Its like its 1992 again and I’m sat on the subs bench at footie practice! I’ve gamed for 25+ years to escape all that rubbish.

        Nope, I’m resigned to Dota being a spectator sport. And its a damned good one at that. As long as you disable the chat function on Twitch.

  12. bonuswavepilot says:

    “…a trial by far seems inevitable…” Trial by fire?