Dote Night: First Impressions, First Heroes

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.

I spent the last few Dote Nights talking about tutorials in three MOBAs – what they did well and what they did poorly. I realise I didn’t make any suggestions of my own for where to start in terms of characters, though. This post is about which heroes I learned to play Dota 2 [official site] on:

The prevailing wisdom – or at least the most common scenario – is to introduce you to the game via a ranged damage dealer. In League the first champion you get your hands on is Ashe. Ashe is an archer who can fire arrows to slow targets, scout out areas using her hawk spirit and has a big old skillshot stun which also deals damage. Smite hands you Neith. Neith’s an archer who can backflip out of (or into) trouble and has a big old skillshot stun which also deals damage. Currently Dota has Sniper. Sniper is a gunner who specialises in hitting enemies from a safe distance – he slow enemies as well as dealing high damage per second. He also has a huge range on his ultimate – a shot which deals massive damage and gives a mini-stun.

The implication in all of this is that ranged damage dealers are the ones to give people at first. I think it’s a fair assessment. With MOBAs you want people to learn where to stand and how to avoid taking damage. If you give them a ranged character you can just tell them to stand behind the creep wave (the group of friendly minions which run forward and attack the opposing minions). This means the friendly creeps absorb the majority of the opposing creeps’ attack power leaving your hero pretty healthy and able to chip away at enemy heroes or kill enemy creeps from a safe distance.

Melee characters are harder to get the hang of because they involve being nearer the fight. You have to learn how to divert enemy unit attention and you have to get a feel for how much harassing you can withstand without leaving yourself vulnerable. (With Smite, playing melee also affects what you can see of the field of play and can mean you’re caught off guard by attacks.)


I did learn Sniper as my first ever hero in Dota 2. I remember sitting in a friend’s study as he prepared to move to a different country and wandering around on the bottom lane trying to kill things. Everyone else was low level too (I *think* it was real people not a bot match) so I managed a few pickoffs despite behaving in a way that would get me reported for feeding nowadays.

The thing I like most about Sniper for newcomers is that I think he teaches you a lot about positioning. You’re fine when you’re shooting from afar but he doesn’t have any built in escape methods so if you’re caught out you become aware of exactly how squishy he is. The lesson is that you were caught out and need to adapt so you play a bit differently next time (hopefully). I remember finding that attack speed was great on Sniper so I went through a phase of building four hyperstones on the character until I realised exactly how inefficient it was. It was still pretty though.

Another thing about Sniper is that you can use his Assassinate ability to clean up kills (that’s the big single target damage thing I was talking about). It has huge range so that means instead of diving far too deep into enemy territory to get a kill you can hang back and use Assassinate. You might not actually finish your foe off but hopefully you won’t die in the process either. For me that meant matches were a more pleasant experience because I wasn’t getting flamed or beating myself up about that stuff. Obviously the ideal would be understanding teammates who don’t flame for that stuff, but it was a curious little point that helped me feel better in the early games.

Drow Ranger

Drow is an archer. She’s actually pretty similar to Ashe from League of Legends. She can use her frost arrows to slow enemies, her gust to silence them and her precision aura to help knock over towers or turn teamfights. Her ultimate also gives a little boost to her damage and attack speed when there aren’t any foes nearby. What all of this means is that she’s another good candidate for keeping safe behind a creep wave but she’s also good at chasing down kills or heading off to try to take little objectives by yourself. For example you can see an unguarded tower so you get your creep wave to push up against it, then flick on your precision aura and you and the creeps start hammering the building. You can probably do a fair chunk of damage before people start teleporting in. Alternatively you might be out of position on the other side of the map and without any way of getting to a fight but you can still activate your precision aura to give teammates a boost from afar. Drow’s ultimate ability (the one that gives extra agility – so extra damage and attack speed and a bit of armour) has the bonus of being a passive ability so you can level it up and then concentrate on getting the other three abilities right instead of all four.

Chaos Knight

I tried to learn better melee tactics using Chaos Knight. It went so badly that my boyfriend told me that I was the natural counterpick to Chaos Knight. I am still bad at judging how much harass I can take from creeps and from enemy heroes and frequently get into arguments where someone points out that I’m being too cautious so I get more in-their-face and then die. It’s like when you learn to drive and the instructor gets you to feel the biting point by raising the clutch until you feel the engine and the wheels start to make contact with one another. The only problem is that this is a conceptual biting point rather than one you can feel in your foot and so I am far better at driving than I am at controlling a horseback ancient being.

I actually stopped playing melee characters altogether for months after encountering Chaos Knight.


Sven was the character I had my first ever hero moment on. He’s a melee hero with a whack-you-in-the-face stun, a limited time strength boost, an ally movement speed boost and the ability to deal splash damage to nearby characters when he hits something. I didn’t acquit myself remarkably in that particular game but I remember running to the top lane as my teammates were retreating. “GET BACK” I was ordered. Usually I just do what I’m told when a teammate is shouting at me because I simply don’t care to have the fight that ensues. This time however I jogged along, waiting until I was in range of the fleeing group and activating my ally speed and armour boost. “Actually,” I said, “I think this is a better idea.” We all lived and I was a genius because I had been paying attention to my skills and positioning.

I didn’t learn as much on Sven because I stopped playing melee and he fell out of favour with the metagame gods but I think that having those moments is a fantastic mood boost that keeps you playing and makes it feel like you have actually learned a new thing after all. Sven’s ally boost, his stun and his ability to turn into a big strong Santa Claus version of himself and deal a whole buttload of damage meant I found it easier to find those hero moments on him than I did on other melee characters.

Which heroes did you learn on and why did you like them?


  1. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    Venomancer was my gateway hero. The ability to put down a Plague Ward and back off made the derpy banana the safest way to get my feet wet. Plus his Plague Wards grant vision, so he naturally has a better-than-usual view of his surroundings to avoid ganks.

    • Juan Carlo says:

      He was my gateway hero too, but he didn’t work as much of a gateway as I more or less quit after like 30 hours of playing mostly as him. He’s definitely the most fun of all the heroes I’ve tried, although higher level players seem to use him completely different than I would, which would suggest I suck at him. I’m happiest with him as a pusher, clearing out lanes and taking down towers quickly in support of another hero. But I never learned how to play him well offensively or defensively.

      His mini-worms are neat, though.

  2. DedlySpyder says:

    Looking back at my stats, the first “holyshit” moment was on Huskar, getting 33 kills (still my highest record), probably because new players don’t realize that magic doesn’t do shit to him.

    I was never a single hero person though, (my friend who started with me has 5 heroes over 75 games with >700 total), but the first heroes that I played for extended time frames were Zeus and Troll Warlord. I quickly noticed how much damage output troll had, and Zeus was just great to blow people up near you and ks from across the map.

  3. Drew says:

    I think the first time I felt I was actually being useful was playing as Lich but I wasn’t being a very good support. I was just controlling the creep wave reasonably well and saved a few group fights with his ultimate.
    But the first time I think I nailed both was playing as Kotl. That was when I really learned what a support was supposed to be doing plus he can be an absolute pushing machine!

  4. Atog says:

    Can’t really think of any hero I learned to play Dota with as I tried (and still do) to keep my pool as large as possible, but I kinda remember I enjoyed a lot playing Spirit Breaker, Timbersaw and Tusk and, well, CK.

    Wraith King can be a good beginner’s pick with his 3 passives, sustain and reliable stun.

  5. The7 says:

    Always joined those dota – no zeus games, well with zeus.
    So yeah. Zeus!

  6. weltensturm says:

    Lanaya. Heroes suddenly were butter.

  7. XhomeB says:

    Chaos Knight is actually a really hard hero to be consistently good with… I basically HAVE TO pick Helm of the Dominator (for health regen upon hit&armour bonus) and Manta Style (he relies on his illusions to deal the damage, yet his ultimate takes AGES to come off cooldown) – if I don’t, I flat out lose. Period. Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but he’s nowhere near as strong as some other carries.
    Night Stalker is very fun to play – too bad he starts sucking as soon as the daylight hits the field.

    If there’s something I really hate in Dota 2, it’s how STUPIDLY strong some heroes get when they get “fed” a bit. They basically win a game solo and you see them almost every single game for that reason…

    • default_name says:

      CK is one of the best carries because he gains more stats per level than most (if not all) of other heroes.

  8. symuun says:

    I learned with Death Prophet, of all people, but it’s not really a character I’d recommend to anyone else, knowing what I do about the game now. It didn’t help that I somehow thought she was meant to be a support character, but even so I feel like her last-hitting ability is fairly mediocre and all her spells have a little bit of a steep learning curve.

    But then later on I found Shadow Shaman, and that was when the game really started to click with me. I’d feel a lot better about showing him to someone new who wanted to play support. He’s got two strong disables, and his ultimate is good for teamfights or for pushing towers.

    Lich might be another good choice, or maybe Lion. Neither of them has to worry too much about health or mana, assuming they build Tranquil Boots, and most of their spells are high-impact and fairly easy to land.

  9. Horg says:

    After briefly trying a lot of the popular heroes from the TI2 / TI3 meta days, the first hero I settled on was Lone Druid. AdmiralBulldog was making it popular at the time, and as an ex-Warcraft 3 player I wasn’t intimidated by setting up some control groups. If you can micro even half decently the hero is easy mode at low account levels. Bears belong in the woods, so you should farm the woods. It’s not a strategy to build a long term play style out of, as you level up your account people will start counter jungling to disrupt you, but against new players more often than not you will only be harassed by accident. The old strategy was pretty simple, Hand of Midas, Radiance and Phase Boots as fast as possible, then go start knocking down towers. Tower bounty was larger back then so usually you could snowball very quickly into your next two items, usually Assault Cuirass and Monkey King Bar. If the game went super long, and I had a few that did, double Skull Basher to perma-stun the enemy carry usually puts the nail in the coffin.

    Having said it’s a low level only tactic, there is still room for skillful play in farming the jungle. There is a huge amount you can learn about farming efficiently with Lone Druid, and you can transfer that knowledge to other jungle capable heroes. I wouldn’t play jungle Druid these days unless the lane was impossible to farm in, the lane just has better gold gain even if you aren’t farming perfectly, but I do miss the old days of quiet, contemplative walks in the woods with my bear buddy. Times were simpler then. No one warded camps or knew what a ”Blink Dagger” was. Co-ordination was a dirty word and no one knew enough about the meta to know if what you were doing was badness or genius. Ah, to be n00b again.

  10. Wurank_Vashmilla says:

    I played Brood Mother as my first and she is also my best. I play tanks, pushers, and supports. If I have to play middle lane (this does not happen) I would play Queen of pain or Timbersaw (Timbersaw I normally play as a solo laner against two enemies and get fed). My first game I laned against Riki (Before he was redone) so I won the lane and later on it was just him sitting invisible while I won :).

  11. Banyan says:

    Witch Doctor. Fire and forget Casks and Maledicts are ridiculous for getting ‘undeserved’ kills and an uninterrupted Death Ward in the middle of the teamfight is one of the most spectacular events in Dota. A Maledict death 10 seconds after the enemy hero had disengaged and tried to run back to fountain is among the dirtiest ways to get a kill, and I loved it.

    • DedlySpyder says:

      Early on I noticed the existence of AA, those were the best, cause no one knew what his ultimate did.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    Pip –

    As someone who has zero desire to ever play a Lords Management game, I wanted to say how much I appreciate your writing on it – you’re really, really good at communicating the depth and complexity at work while still making it cogent to non-players.

    • JFS says:

      I’m still baffled at how many people seem to genuinely care about this type of game, judging from the comments here.

      • Iajawl says:

        MOBA are the biggest growth in gaming in the last like idk 10 years or so. Dota2+LoL + the clones = more people than WoW x2 maybe even x3.

  13. Fenix says:

    I think my first hero was either Jakiro or Ogre Magi, which may be the reason why I am still fond of tanky intelligence supports. I was a big WC3 fan and my cousin made me try the new Dota mod and he was watching over me as I attempted to play it as an RTS while telling me what to do. Mind you, this is from a time when not even OD existed yet, so the average pub was full of absolute noobs like I was.

    I think I learned how to play and had my first moment with Mirana, that one instant when I realized her ult is not “worst ult in the game” I think I leveled up from Dota scrub.

  14. Synesthesia says:

    I learned a lot with gyrocopter. He has a great animation to get accustomed to last hitting, and you can get creative with his builds. (Just always get a manta)
    Jakiro and earthshaker showed me i was a support player. Man, blinking and echoslamming a team into the win will never, ever get old.

  15. RookTBK says:

    For me Dragon Knight was the hero that really helped me understand the game. He’s the main hero I recommend whenever someone is playing for the first time since his skills all show how Dota really works, point+click nuke, targetable stun, a passive buff and an ult that really that makes you aware that it isn’t there to be spammed. Plus he’s naturally tanky enough to let new players survive in team fights and feel like they contribute and even get some kills. If we were choosing a hero that really represents what Dota is about I’d say DK hands down.

  16. Iajawl says:

    My Dota experience is quite different. I learnt on the original Dota on the Bored Aussie servers. Middle lane wasnt generally the solo lane and we generally played AREM.
    So I learnt to play Dota by playing whichever hero no one else wanted to play and by doing whatever was needed to keep my team mates alive and to secure them kills. Supports obviously.
    I stopped playing Dota 2 a while ago because it is so frustrating to be actually good at CS (reliable 50+ CS in 10 minutes) but always pushed into playing support for new players(who are lucky to get 30 in 10 minutes). At least I understand that is why things are the way they are now I guess.
    Learning Dota by always thinking about what the other four people on your team need you to do isn’t such a bad way to learn in my opinion. Carries who don’t understand supports can be real pieces of work.

  17. Lars Westergren says:

    I tried lots of heroes (mostly against bots) in the beginning and just kept dying over and over. Lich was the first one that worked, where I felt I was actually contributing something at all instead of just feeding. Melt a creep, ice blast the enemy carry, keep repeating until they are out of regen items and have to run back to base. As soon as a team fight breaks out, ulti.

    A dozen matches or so I realized how much more effective I could be. Run back past your tower and melt creeps from the approaching friendly wave. Then you get all XP yourself. If you do it where the creep waves meet, near your enemy heroes, they get half the XP. If you ice blast the enemy carry where the creep waves meet, you injure the enemy creeps and push the lane equilibrium forward. Instead keep pinging away at the enemy carry with right clicks, and when they disengage and are alone or next to the enemy support, THEN you ice blast them. Being patient with the ulti and waiting until the exact right moment was the most difficult thing. I still fail that sometimes, especially when playing silencer.

    Viper was the first carry that worked for me, the armor/magic resistance was great, as was the “doing more damage against injured foes” thing.

    My current fav is Phoenix, but like lots of utility heroes he needs a somewhat coordinated team to work. My team is never coordinated.

  18. Nova says:

    I never liked playing one hero repeatedly so even in my early days I cycled through all available heroes after playing a game with them. In the WC3 days that wasn’t really a problem. A friend and me hosted games ourselves (listchecker) and just played easymode and outright named them “-noob” games. So it was a pretty safe place to learn Dota while still playing with real people.

  19. gwathdring says:

    I got along nicely with … er … it’s been a bit. Warlock? The wizard-y guy with a book and a creepy voice.

    He had a ranged attack, a kickass Ultimate, a life-siphon ability that helped me regain health after I screwed up and become a less tasty looking target for ganking … and I’m not remembering the rest. I remember doing pretty ok with that hero and then doing intimidatingly badly with everything else. I’m sure that says more about me and my playstyle than it does anything useful about the character, but at the very least I did not find it to be an impenetrable and unfriendly first choice. :)

  20. Jaran says:

    For newbies like me I found that heroes with escape abilities/item builds are fun to play, because I tend to make a lot of positioning mistakes. I also like to start fights.

    Tide with blink&ulti is fun and wins teamfights. Even Puck with his ball/blink&silence&ulti combo is fun although it makes my fingers feel clumsy.

    Some strong melee heroes can easily win lanes early games because opponents don’t understand them. I play Axe and opponents come to trade with me in middle of creep wave while my spins are killing them. Also his blink+call is very nice to have. Opponents also like to trade with Undying, which always goes bad for them early game.

    Clinkz is fun as well! His searing arrows give me an edge to harassing and last hitting. After level 6 it’s great to start do invisible roaming and you can also use invisibility to escape from poor situations.

    Often I also like to just play supports since teams are often lacking them. Strong disables are always good to have, Crystal Maiden or Lion are my favs, sometimes Venge as well. Plus harassing enemy out of lane or doing pulling can be fun to do even if they are not always so useful on my skill level (carries leave lane and come kill jungle camp when I pull).

  21. MrFlakeOne says:

    I’m a DOTA 2 occassional player and a noob, but I love Tusk and Kunkka. Tusk has a lot of CC which I love in MOBA games and Kunkka has nice skillset to play with. Besides both of them have great model design.

  22. Scads says:

    When I first started Dota, I had been out of playing MOBA’s for a while. Could barely do anything. Friend told me, I need to play Riki and get used to the game. I mainly played Disruptor and Riki alongside eachother, sucked at both. I eventually got back into the feel for things, and next game, we did all random. I believe I got Morphling. However, my friend knew I wouldn’t be able to play him, and switched me with Undying.
    Since then, Undying’s been my favorite hero. Through Undying, I discovered my love for aoe’s, bursts, and complete teamfight turn- arounds.

  23. Premium User Badge

    It's not me it's you says:

    I ran roughshod over a LAN game back in WC3 Dota in a way I have never replicated since with Clinkz. I think he might be shit? Anyways he wasn’t that game. Everyone and everything fell before me. It was glorious.

  24. Carrot says:

    I got started with Tidehunter, whose easy to use cause he’s hard to drop and his ult is hard to miss.

    After a couple of games I switched to Kunkka, mostly because of all the yelling Tide was doing about him. He’s still my most played character. I don’t know if I can recommend him to new players, or anyone really as he’s not in a great place right now. But I still love the Admiral.

  25. Billzor says:

    Jakiro, still my favorite, who segued to Ogre Magi, who is awesome, who then segued to Phantom Lancer. Still love Jakiro, but if I need a hard stun I go with Vengeful Spirit nowadays. Been working on my Clockwerk lately as a core.

  26. Dog Pants says:

    My first hero was Bat Rider, because I liked the look of him. I sucked.
    Then I looked up some easier heroes and learned how to beat easy bots with Viper. He was good at holding the enemy at arm’s length and taught me how to not die.
    Later Slark became my favourite because I learned that I enjoyed mobility and hit-and-run tactics, but I probably learned the most, specifically about positioning and awareness in team fights, from pubbing as Tidehunter.

  27. DrDeath8520 says:

    Never played a MOBA before Dota, so I panicked at the character select and went with Abaddon first. Can’t remember how successful that was. :P

    I played the limited hero mode so there was a smaller pool to get used to and I did fall into a phase where I always picked Sand King, just because I loved sitting in the sandstorm being a nuisance to the enemy. Until I found that Zeus could reveal me, and Drow’s gust was too easy to stop me with.
    After a period of trying out everything I’ve settled into the support role, finding that not being relied upon as much as a carry is nice. I prefer greedy supports though, mainly to make up for any bad team mates so Witch Doctor and Shadow Shaman are my BFFs right now. <3

  28. Scrobbs says:

    I started with Sniper, mainly because he was in the tutorial. Thought I’d got the hang of him with a build from Dotafire, waltzed into pub matches and got royally rinsed 90% of the time. Eventually made some headway, but then switched to Drow. I liked her a lot, but towards the late game if your team isn’t doing well, she’s so hopelessly outclassed. Or maybe, I get hopelessly outclassed. Then I joined a friendly beginners guild, who are patient, explain things and even coach me. They encouraged me to try CM, and I liked her. Then I tried WD and Lich – after some coaching about wards and placement etc. I actually started enjoying it. It was suggested I play a damage toon – so tried DK. I didn’t get on with him at all; then I tried PA. I love PA. She was also the first hero I actually got to experience late game items with – you know, the ones that the casters all talk about at TI. I’m still only 150 hours into the game, and still struggle with positioning, but I’m enjoying the game a whole lot more now that I can actually participate. Would heartily recommend playing with kindly folk on comms. I have improved a lot. They’re all mid-high range MMR so I still get outclassed when matching making with them, but when I join pubs, I generally do ok now – love playing supports in pubs. When you actually ward and buy the carries things, upgrade the courier and whatnot, if your opponents have supports who are trying to get a good KDA, you generally romp home. Not all the time, obvs, as that is the nature of dota, but there you have it.

  29. Scrobbs says:

    Christ. Wall’o’text. Sorry about that. Edit function, wherefore art thou?