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Dote Night: How To Fix Tutorials (Sort Of)

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Welcome to part two of “Thoughts about MOBA tutorials” – I hope you are as excited as I… WAIT COME BACK!

Tutorials might sound like a weird thing to devote two columns to given the wealth of other shenanigans and dramas in the MOBA communities at any given time but tutorials (or lack of them) can be the difference between having a good introduction to those games and communities and bouncing off so hard you could have treated the game as a launch rocket.

Last time I took an in-depth look at what Valve are doing in Dota 2’s Reborn client, this time I’ve had a chance to return to Smite [official site] and League of Legends [official site] to check out what they’re doing and not doing. I also have some suggestions for other ways to get players up to speed. Here’s what I reckon:

Okay, so. League introduces you to a single lane scenario (Howling Abyss) before it upgrades to the 5v5 Summoner’s Rift scenario you’ll see in pro gaming. It makes the situation a bit easier to comprehend, I think because the progression follows the linear path of the map. In the three lane map it does too, but it’s complicated by there being three lanes instead of one and a whole heap of jungle and other objectives to track. Here you get to just introduce movement, shopping and healing, minions, towers, inhibitors and then the nexus. Smite takes a similar approach – it even repeats elements from the League version – and puts you in its one lane Joust map. From memory, when you start a new account you also have a whole bunch of videos to watch. They’re useful in their explanations but I suspect with MOBAs the hands-on stuff will always work better because it’s so much muscle memory and internalised game rhythms. When I was doing the playable tutorial it let me learn about Joust first. That’s a 3v3 map with a single lane and jungle caps in sort of mini lanes either side. I’d put it somewhere between League’s Howling Abyss and the big 5v5 maps you get in MOBAs so it has to be a little more complex than the initial League scenario and talk about jungle camps and so on.

I do like the idea of starting with that single lane and making sure that’s understood before progressing to more complex scenarios. League’s is better because it’s more concise but I kept laughing because I’d forgotten how theatrically their tutorial lady says “WELL DONE!” and “GOOD JOB!” I remember the first time I played League and going through this tutorial and the effusive praise. Coming from Dota and it’s lack of a tutorial (or basic assistance of any kind) at the time the game actually felt sarcastic in its good will. It was at that point I wondered whether Dota was actively bad for my psyche. Oh, and League is the only MOBA I’ve ever encountered where it tells you about hand positioning. I guess I was so used to QWER as the ability keys by then that it felt weird not to put my hand there but it was a nice touch to reassure players those ARE the main buttons for all character rather than them being the main buttons for just this one.

The transition to the 5v5 map was a bit of a leap in League, I think. I liked that it gave out little objectives for you to complete over the course of the game – buying items, returning to base, killing jungle minion camps, pushing towers down and so on – but I don’t think it was good at explaining why you were doing it. You’d get told to kill a camp of wolves but the info didn’t seem to offer anything helpful way of reasoning. Would you doing this because you are a jungler? Is it for some extra experience or gold? Why this particular camp and not that one? I think new players can struggle to see when they have an advantage and when they don’t so telling them how these activities fit into the flow of a game would be useful. I know that a flexible meta wouldn’t necessarily lend itself to absolute advice but pointing out that having a blue buff (the mana regeneration one) is useful in particular types of situation means you’re giving a bit of guidance without being prescriptive. Dragon and Baron (major neutral minions who grant particular bonuses if you kill them) passed without a mention. That might have changed if I’d wandered in and gotten eaten but they didn’t seem to be part of the basic tutorial steps and objectives so by the time the nexus was down I had no knowledge of either of them.

Smite’s better in that regard. It explains the Gold Fury and the Fire Giant (also major neutral minions who grant bonuses when you kill them), takes you over to them to kill them at basically the right points in the game and why you’re doing so. It also reminds you about jungle camps and about items that help with taking those down and why you want to kill them in the first place. I only had time for one tutorial game but I picked a melee hero for the Smite 5v5 and was pleased that it tailored the advice. Often MOBAs start you off on a ranged character and the switch to melee can be disorienting and difficult. I also found that Smite was a little better at explaining items, although there’s still a huge amount both games could do on that front. It never bloody tells you why the short lane is called the short lane, though, which I imagine would be irritating for a newcomer staring at the map. (It’s the one where the distance between the outermost towers on yours and the enemy sides is the shortest.)

Okay. I’m going to stop explaining what exists and switch to what I wish existed because I don’t want to get bogged down in too much granular detail. I’d say the tutorials that exist aren’t bad and they’re improving, they just don’t often do a great job of bridging the gap between the basics of a game and how matches with real people actually work, be that in terms of pacing, build or the billion other things you keep track of as you play.

I’M ON A MISSION

Dota and League are both good at setting out objectives for players to concentrate on and that highlights that the end goal of these games is not who had the most kills but who knocked over whose mystical crystal rockery. I also think you need to play whole games to understand how the individual bits come together to achieve that. But practicing those individual bits is important too. To that end I’m interested in missions. These would be little scenarios where you had a particular objective to achieve and doing so would use knowledge you need in the games. One could be putting you on a tiny bit of map with a tower and asking you to take down the tower without it doing damage to your character. You would need to know how towers prioritise their targets, you’d need an awareness of how many minions (friendly and enemy) there were in the area, when the next waves were arriving, the range of the tower and so on. Another could be an AI match being played out and you (in god mode) being in charge of placing wards. If you put them in places which spotted enemy AI coming in for a surprise attack or stealing an objective your friendly AI team would react, if your wards missed them the attack would be successful. Basically it would be a way to get players to think about where you put a ward and why.

THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO MARKET

Items can be one of the most overwhelming parts of a MOBA, the shops bristling with wares and accompanying text. I’d like a module where you have an AI character to outfit and the game pitted you against foes with different types of protection or escapes. The idea would be to learn the theory behind the items rather than the execution. I feel like that would make it easier to understand what to do in different situations or against different lineups instead of sticking with one build and hoping for the best. Dota 2 has a version of this in Reborn with the Demo Hero mode that lets you kit out a hero and a foe in a lane and see how they fare but I found it to be a bit fiddly. I’d like a way to compare and contrast more easily. Obviously this wouldn’t let you see how that stuff worked in a whole bunch of situations – like chaotic team fights for one – but I think it would do a better job of imparting the basics and letting people learn a little flexibility.

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?

I think often in the early stages of a MOBA you’re not sure what killed you. You get little fact cards that tell you the abilities other people used to take you out but I found these hard to convert into a meaningful piece of feedback. I was thinking that a highlights mode would be useful here. If something baffling happened you could press a button to “snip” the previous thirty seconds of play. After the game these snippets would be available and you could go through them in slow motion and with a side bar telling you what forces were acting upon you at any given time. For example, say you have no idea what killed you you would press the button and watch back. You’d see what protections you had and when they ran out, which characters were damaging you, which factors were mitigating that damage (if any) and so on. It would be up to you to take that information and learn from it but it would be another way of stopping that sense of utter confusion.

BFF

Players with a high approval rating (from playing nice with solo queue strangers rather than friends) could volunteer for a buddy system, sherpa-ing new players by taking on a coach role. Obviously you’d have to be so cautious with implementing this but it’s so nice to have a friendly knowledgeable person about in those early matches who can explain a bit more about what’s going on and why.

HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE

League is the only one of the three games that teaches you how to use the pre-game interface. That’s cool. Except it tells you that the chat box is where people discuss strategies. That conjures up an idyll where there is a strategy and give and take between players. Maybe if you queue with a group of friends that’s still the case. If you solo queue “discussing strategy” means people typing the lane they want as quickly as possible then complaining if someone else has already locked it in by the time they have typed. “BUT I CALLED TOP” they shout at an uncaring chat box. Sometimes they will then pick a different lane that someone else has already called or they might lock in another top laner and you will spend the game with two people locked in a grudge match. I wonder whether that’s an opportunity for change? Perhaps an explanation of the etiquette of the chat box would be useful? “For example, you can say which lane you would like or suggest Champions or even just say hello to your new teammates” – something like that.

ALTERNATIVELY

Look, I learned Dota back when there was no tutorial and the game seemed to hate everyone and it’s not done me any harm. I also used to walk ten miles to school and school was actually a Victorian factory and the factory made dragons and the dragons were awful. Kids these days have it far too easy.

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Philippa Warr

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