What I learned playing Dota 2 with a professional player

Beat the Legends

Our James ventured out of unranked solo queue and ended up on a Dota 2 [official site] team captained by a professional player and being streamed to thousands as some of the most famous casters in the scene commentated his efforts. No pressure, then! Here’s a little account of what happened and some advice for if you ever find yourself in this not-at-all-highly-specific situation…

Last Thursday, Dota 2 production studio and general community hub joinDOTA hosted Beat The Legends, a rather unusual showmatch: while both teams would be led by a bonafide professional player, the remaining eight positions would be filled by members of the Dota-playing public, or at least those who entered and won the random draw. The pros would be Crescendo captain and on-again, off-again analyst Troels “SyndereN” Nielsen, and Henrik “Admiral Bulldog” Ahnberg, champion of The International 2013, former Alliance offlaner and Europe’s most popular streamer.

One of the randomers would be, unfortunately for everyone else, me.

Beat the Legends

I didn’t have any particularly profound reasons for putting my name in the hat, beyond slight boredom with the chaos of unranked solo queue, but what initially sounded like a bit of a lark soon began to induce genuine nerves. For starters, I learned that it wouldn’t just be streamed on joinDOTA’s Twitch channel, but on Synderen’s and Bulldog’s as well, meaning tens of thousands of the most enthusiastic (to use the polite term) Dota fans would witness my mistakes and misplays. I’d also missed the fact that all three games would be casted by Tobiwan and Capitalist, two veteran broadcasters with no qualms about pointing out errors, usually in excitedly raised voices.

By the time everyone had assembled in Discord shortly before the starting horn, I was already alternating between baselessly ambitious trash-talk and self-deprecating comments about the UK Dota scene in blatant over-compensation for my fears of imminent public humiliation. Luckily, I had the rarest of MOBA teams – a friendly one.

Among this band of jovial strangers, none did more to get our heads in the game than our glorious leader, Synderen. Not only did he barely act creeped out at all when I recalled my anecdote of us meeting in the lift at ESL One Frankfurt, but he was surprisingly disinterested in the kind of laser-focused tryhardiness one might expect of a pro player, starting with encouragement to just pick our comfort heroes instead of theorycrafting the most statistically optimal lineup.

Here’s the full lifestream – warning for language and general meandering caster chat including but not limited to the characteristics of dragon genitalia:

This concession towards simply having fun was, I thought, a lovely gesture, which is why I felt a bit bad when I got obliterated in game 1. I’d ended up as the team’s offlaner, a role I can handle with reasonable success in uncoordinated pub games. When faced with a full five-stack being captained by a TI winner, however, my Sand King got shut down harder than sixteen different branches of Blockbuster.

The early lead my (mercifully forgiving) teammates had eked out was ultimately reversed by a potent Faceless Void/Invoker combo*, and the first game went to Team Bulldog. As did the second, where once again our pick-it-‘cos-it’s-fun composition had no answer for the saves and sustain of a Chen/Juggernaut/Outworld Devourer** team.

We’d lost the best-of-three, but still had the chance to claw back some pride in the third game, which switched from regular Captain’s Mode (the standard tournament format) to Reverse Captain’s Mode, an evil twist where each team picks their opponent’s heroes.

Beat the Legends

Synd suggested we give them heroes which synergise horribly, which meant Drow Ranger plus four melee carries. Team Bulldog responded with a different (some might say, more annoying) strategy of giving us heroes which are just nigh-impossible to play without hours of practice and significant micro-management skills. Thus, I had to play Bulldog’s own signature hero: Nature’s Prophet. I have about three games clocked with Nature’s Prophet, the most recent being some time in 2015.

I got mulched, obviously, ending the hilariously one-sided final game with 3 kills and 14 deaths. A brief moment of hope emerged four minutes in, when I inadvertently destroyed a tree Bulldog’s Monkey King was standing on, stunning him long enough for me to kill him with his own signature hero(watch from 2m24s for that):

And yet, he had the last laugh:

Beat the Legends


Despite three consecutive losses and about twenty consecutive deaths, I very much enjoyed my brief glimpse into the other side of spectated esports. As it turns out, the feeling of being watched hardly registers when you’re focusing on the dozens of things that need focusing on in a game like Dota. In fact, let’s use that note as a segue into a little list of things I learned from the experience:

The pressure of spectators can be tuned out; internal exasperation and tilting cannot

Obviously I’d never claim to have the slightest idea of what it’s like in a LAN environment, but online, it’s easy to act like the people watching on stream don’t exist because you’re never exposed to evidence that they do. A much bigger threat, in my case, was my own tendency to lose focus and motivation after a string of mishaps. Fortunately, the spectator factor actually helped here; I wasn’t going to let myself freak out in front of a five-figure crowd.

Having a good shotcaller is vital

Most players (especially those who solo queue) learn a version of Dota where teamplay occurs organically, which is to say, by accident. I’m not sure I can go back to this after being bossed around (constructively!) by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing – having a leader call out player movements and even when to use specific spells produces instant improvement in individual players’ capabilities. I definitely want to teach myself how to captain now, even if I’ll never reach the levels of sage-like game sense SyndereN exhibited with moves like this Roshan detection and followup Aegis snatch (that’s me going “Noooice”).

Research your opponents

I’m still kicking myself for knowing the usernames of my foes a full day before the match, but not even bothering to look them up on Dotabuff. If I had, maybe we’d have known that they had a terrifyingly talented Invoker player, or that Bulldog rolls a mean Chen, and we wouldn’t have had our butts kicked quite so deeply. Also, speaking of usernames…

If you suck, don’t play on stream with your usual name and avatar

The following day, back in the realm of unranked All Pick, I foolishly entered a chat fight with a teammate over who was the blame for us throwing away a 20K gold advantage. Just as Bulldog had the last word over me, it turned out I’d given this gentleman some ammunition:

“this is why you lost with synderen”

Like I say, the match was great, but… damn it!

*Faceless Void is a jerk who can muck about with time and if he isn’t stopped he turns into a monstrous killing machine in the late game. Invoker is a jerk wizard who is played by show-offs who like wearing capes and casting TOO MANY SPELLS. – Pip

**Chen is a healing jerk who can create his own posse of jerks to make your life miserable. Juggernaut is a spinning jerk with a healing ward you can send to follow people round. The healing ward looks a bit like a floating toilet. Outworld Devourer is a favourite of Alice. OD can put you in space prison and then bop you hard on the head with magic. In case you are wonderering, yes. He is also a jerk. – Pip


  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    If it’s any consolation, my first and only time playing dota 2, I died before the game started.

    I was wandering around and got killed by a tower.

  2. Killy_V says:

    This is one of the most obnoxious, toxic, noob-unfriendly game ever.

    • Synesthesia says:

      Indeed it is. It is also so very very good.

    • Kyir says:

      I’ve found other games to be far more toxic, honestly. It’s a great game that is played by a lot of people, which inevitably means some of them are going to be shitters.

    • Aetylus says:

      Moba’s do seem to extract the the worst parts of the internet, which itself does a pretty good job of distilling down the bad parts of human social interaction. The only Moba(ish) game I’ve found not to have a toxic community is Atlas reactor. I suspect that is because it is turn based, so most of its player base is over 30, and thus – by definition – less likely to be steaming turds than those under 30.

      • BooleanBob says:

        I would quibble whether it’s necessarily that MOBAs somehow narrow in on a segment of irredeemably bad people, so much as that there’s capacity for anger in everyone and certain configurations of activity (such as competition itself) are very good at teasing it out.

        The nature of the games – intense, long duration, but capable of turning on a moment of action – does seem to bring out flashes of negativity which can quickly spread through a team. Still, on the whole I very rarely find I have to mute people.

        (Anecdotally, I do agree that turn based games often seem to have the most relaxed communities. You almost never find anger in the various Blood Bowl forums, despite the appalling caprice that game can display with its dice rolls.)

        That said, Dota has systems in place but to help deal with assholes in the heat of the moment (the mute options) and to hive off the worst of the base and keep them away from everyone else (behaviour score, low priority queue and the report system). If you play by the rules and aren’t toxic yourself you should find yourself matched with similarly well-behaved eeople. I think it also benefits from having a player-base aged slightly higher than the average.

        • Aetylus says:

          I think the thing that gets me is that toxicity has somehow become normalized in that community. It means that the shitheads revel in it, the borderline cases are happy to use it as their opportunity to throw aside social convention and occasionally act like knobs, and even the decent players tend to shrug and say ‘just mute it’.

          Perhaps my problem is that I still base my expectations on normal face to face interaction. If I went to a shop and asked a dumb question and the shop attendant told me to ‘piss off noob’ or something similar then – at best – I am not going to go to that shop any more. Needless to say that after a brief attempt I don’t bother to go to LoL or Dota .

        • Premium User Badge

          phuzz says:

          You almost never find anger in the various Blood Bowl forums, despite the appalling caprice that game can display with its dice rolls.

          Perhaps it’s because of the possibility of random results that means people don’t get as angry? Getting screwed by the dice/RNG is something that happens to everyone, and there’s no fault or blame attached.

          Personally I’m almost proud of my talent at not being able to roll a 3+ on up to five dice at once.

          • BooleanBob says:

            Mathematicians will tell you that 3+ on two rolls is better odds than 2+ on one. As Blood Bowl players we of course know better.

    • eyemessiah says:

      Personally, I’m starting to think that dota’s “toxicity” is really just a sort of sub-cultural affectation and isn’t truly as “toxic” as it looks – I think that people make a lot more of it than it deserves. In the dota community (and lots of other online communities actually) RL notions of good manners just don’t hold. A lot of it is just humour and banter and folk trying to relate to one and other by adopting the generally accepted lingua franca of their subculture (which these days also gets reinforced by reddit, twitch chat etc).

      Even where individual games genuinely devolve into rage-fests the ill-will is all bark and no bite and is only really tilt-inducing to the extent that you engage with it.

      I agree that it can be hard for a “normal” person who has no time for the dota community’s “toxic banter” not to engage when some random internet person insists that they immediately “delete dota” but the reality is that no one involved actually cares if they delete dota or not. “delete dota” is just a meme – it’s just an empty thing that people in a certain sub culture say in certain situations. It’s literally disrespectful but no one really intends or expects it to be truly hurtful. Its disrespect in a context where respect is of no real importance. 10 randomly selected anonymous internet handles get matched together for an hour and in all likelihood they will never knowingly encounter each other ever again. If one random handle doubts another random handle’s dota skills its simply inconsequential (which is why the disrespect flows so freely maybe?) – there just aren’t any stakes in play.

      At the end of the day any would-be dota player actually has lots of options when it comes dealing with the “toxic banter”. They can a) just ignore it (this comes naturally after a while), b) if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em and just learn to trash talk back (again – this isn’t really as truly “toxic” as it seems – and for a certain person is probably part of the fun), c) just mute (either selectively or mute-all – in pub games this is has absolutely no cost at all) or if you really value dota as a social experience d) just play with friends.

      Personally I’ve been solo-queuing for years now and do a little bit of all of the above. A lot of the time I’m only half reading the chat because I’m focusing on something like the mini-map and am only distantly aware that an enraged jungle Elsie has, for reasons that will forever remain unclear, become enraged by my very existence and is begging me to abandon the game. Sometimes my partner and I will be actively enjoying the hysterics and excitedly reading aloud every crazy barely spelled comment – sometimes the drama is hilarious. Every now and again I’ll allow myself to pointedly point out that said jungle Elsie hasn’t bought boots, but has purchased both the Maelstrom and Molly recipes and that you don’t have to be Purge to be disturbed by the poor value judgements exercised therein (again a source of more local laughter). A lot of the time I just mute anyone who shows any signs of especially poor sportsmanship and get back to playing the game – again this has basically no drawbacks in naturally chaotic pub games (especially in multi-lingual regions).

      • Vandelay says:

        You are probably right that there is a language and banter that has developed that may seem unnecessarily toxic to those that don’t play. Doesn’t stop the game being full of nobs.

        I’m terrible at the game. I have an awful MMR, in the low 1000s. I’m normally matched with people who range for 1000 to 2000 MMR, but normally somewhere in the middle. We are all crap. The general assumption of at least 1 or 2 people playing most games seems to be that they are N0Tail. Thus they are always correct and the rest of the team is wrong. Doesn’t take long for them to start throwing a hissy fit when things go wrong (or often when they are going well.)

        Weirdly, it is normally the ones that start friendly that become the worst. You will see them chatting in the hero picker, giving suggestions. It will then move into game and suggestions quickly become ordering. Sometimes they will be on a mic (often the most unpleasant,) or they will spam the ping. The blame game will start after they have died a couple of times. A couple more deaths will lead to them just giving up and very publicly telling everyone the game is already over (no towers are likely taken, you are probably the carry with a large pool of gold and money, or a ganker raking in the kills.) This will be followed by them continually throwing themselves at an already reasonably fed carry or aimlessly wandering into the fog of war (sometimes on purpose, normally just because they expect people to follow them into suicide.) The game will slowly tumble more and more in the favour of the enemies and eventually they will reach a point where there is no coming back. The so called “shit players” who need to uninstall, will have lowest deaths or all their deaths being in the last few minutes. The rager will likely have a fair few kills to justify him/herself with, but the highest deaths.

        I have no doubt that when this doesn’t happen and we win the other team is suffering the same thing (games at this level seem to be pretty much always very one-sided.) I also really think it is normally only 1 or 2 people in a match, so it isn’t the majority, but there is enough for it to be most games.

        Love Dota, but really wish I had a regular group of 4 people to play with (normally just party with 1 or 2 – don’t even bother solo queuing.)

        • eyemessiah says:

          @Vandelay – yep, lots of asshats playing dota. Maybe more than other games – but probably not an order of magnitude more than something like Overwatch for instance? Probably less asshaty than youtube comments? I’ll grant that the asshats aren’t evenly spread though and that dota at least seems like it has more than its fair share.

          I reckon though that the trash-talk banter makes dota seem more asshat infested than it really is (relative to other online communities – bit of a low bar I realise!).

          Maybe also some aspects of the game’s design contribute negatively – e.g. games can run obnoxiously long leading to lots of angst. I’ve been playing some HOTS recently and when games are only 20 minutes long it’s much easier not to care when things go sideways. On the other hand last week I played a 90 minute dota game (with mega-creeps in play for what seemed like the last 30!) and inevitably that was a bit of a dramageddon.

        • eyemessiah says:


          PS – my MMR is abysmal (lower than your’s unless you are exaggerating your greatness). I can only dream of one day reaching the fabled “trench”. My teammates and opponents are usually in the same MMR range as me – but generally seem to think they are gods of dota! That said I don’t think this is Dota specific at all, as far as I can tell Dunning-Kruger is pretty much as close to a universal feature of the human condition as you can get!

      • Aetylus says:

        @eyemessiah: This is a good example of how the toxicity that exists in moba’s is normalized within that particular space so that decent people ignore or accept it.

        If the behaviour shown in many moba’s happened in RL, it would get those involved kicked out of someone’s home, fired from work, or punched in the face on the street. It’s not okay – except in this odd subculture where being a prick to other humans has become normalized.

        • BooleanBob says:

          Strange how something as dreadful as punching a person in the face seems to have been normalised in this ‘RL’ genre you mention. Sounds very toxic to me!

          I know it’s only one or two extreme outliers we’re talking about here, but I think to be on the safe side we’d better immediately generalise that every single person in this odd ‘walking around outside’ subculture is an irredeemable loony in need of locking up.

          • eyemessiah says:

            The monstrous people playing dota are of course normal, RL people. You may even know some of them without realizing it and find them to be not particularly monstrous. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that, like many online communities, it might be that the “toxicity” isn’t so much a feature of a particular group of people as it is a highly superficial style of social interactions within a particularly sub-culture. As I say I think everyone is entitled to invoke the not-ok line wherever they wish but personally I think its important to distinguish between social interactions in the style of trash-talk and “true” abuse.

        • eyemessiah says:


          I respect your point of view and also don’t want to go too relativistic with this (because I’m not a loony) but I think that the reason you see two different outcomes (e.g. one player disrespects another in a game of dota with no consequences but if I disrespect you in our workplace there could be all kinds of serious fallout) basically re-enforces what I’m trying to say.

          It just doesn’t seem useful to apply standards of conduct that clearly apply in one scenario (where the stakes & potential harms are very real) to some other scenario where you agree that they are non-normal and where the harm is for the most part negligible.

          I should be clear I’m talking about empty, impersonal trash talk only here. There are plenty of not-OK types of online abuse that go-on and I agree that they are just straight up not-OK by me regardless of the cultural norms of some sub-culture or other. Also you are very much entitled to draw the not-OK line elsewhere and I totally respect that as I say.

          At the end of the day though I think that taking “RL” offense at some throwaway meme-y bit of trash talk just doesn’t make much sense. To me its a bit like taking offense at something rude that someone says to you in a dream! The stakes are roughly the same (non-existent) and you’ve as much chance of enforcing your manners on the disrepectful party!

      • Killy_V says:

        So you’re playing a multiplayer game, but playing solo. Ok. I’m an Eve online player, and it’s the social interaction I’m after. In Eve, when with new guys, there’s always somebody giving him/her tips. I have the impression it never happens in dota, on the contrary, how can new guys become better if they kept on being yelled at ?

        • eyemessiah says:

          I wouldn’t say I’m playing solo. I prefer multiplayer games precisely because I prefer playing with and against other people than playing with or against software. I wasn’t the kind of wow player to only do solo questing! In fact I did almost no solo questing at all. But yeah, your right, I typically don’t show up for the social experience. I may have been doing pickup instances since the miserable days before summoning stones but I also wasn’t spending a lot of time in guild chat (or even in guilds).

          Yes – dota’s community has created an on-boarding problem for their own game. I recognize that new players are about as likely to take my advice as the existing community is to suddenly start going easy on the new guys.

          EVE is interesting because its a social game though right, the gameplay “supports” social interaction? Short of playing exclusively with friends I don’t see dota being able to scratch that same itch. Then again I’m not sure other competitive online games do that either – isn’t EVE more like an MMO or other explicitly social experiences?

  3. Halk says:

    Sorry but i can’t view the Twitch clips at all. It doesn’t play and when i click on the Twitch “videos” a second time, it directs me to twitch.tv The page source also doesn’t help

  4. poliovaccine says:

    Having absolutely no idea about Dota, far, far less so than the author, only makes this an infinitely more amusing read. For all the terms I dont understand, I just imagine what I think they probably mean, and it’s got me cracking myself up over here haha

  5. Ghostwise says:

    It’s odd how I realised within a few words that the bottom-of-the-column notes in italics were by Pip.