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.
A recent Dota 2 update furnished owners of Valve's digital wizard fundraising book, the Compendium, with new in-game weather options. I've had the weather effects enabled since they were patched in and have spent the intervening time pondering their impact on the experience of playing.
Once they're unlocked, Compendium owners can pick from a set of three environmental effects each time they play or put them on random shuffle. One is Moonbeam – a purplish summer night type environment, heavy on dragonflies and what seem to be mystical dust motes. Rain and Snow are the other two and they involve exactly what you'd expect. I really hope you're expecting "rain" and "snow" respectively, otherwise this is a terrible start to an article.
Before I start talking about the potential to affect performance I would, however, like to register my displeasure that the default "Lovely Spring Day" option disappears while you've got the effects equipped meaning you're unable to get a sunshine option via shuffle. This is exactly like the time the Manic Street Preachers released their album, Send Away The Tigers and the tracklisting had Indian Summer, Autumnsong, Winterlovers and.. NOTHING. Where's the Spring, James? Why the seasonal shunning, Nicky? Were you even paying attention, Sean?
Right. On to the matter at hand: I have a suspicion that the different environmental effects have the capacity to alter how people play. More specifically I think there's a chance they could affect win rates. Not by a dramatic percentage, perhaps just a few percentage points, but in a competitive environment where tournaments now have millions of dollars at stake it's well worth investigating.
It's something I would love to be able to prove rather than writing about in speculative terms so I got in touch with Bryan 'Kpoptosis' Herren while putting together this piece – he's a statistician with eSports gang Beyond The Summit and uses his stats skills to pepper matches with fascinating facts about the heroes, items and players. His response was that "currently there's not a way to track cosmetic items in the API to my knowledge." As a result it's not something I can prove empirically. YET. But let me explain the thinking and perhaps Valve and their API will back me up on it someday.
The impact of weather on our psyches is probably best known through Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – a type of depression which descends during winter months. But SAD has repeatedly been linked with decreased exposure to daylight across weeks and months. With Dota 2 games lasting around an hour and not offering up anything in the way of natural light it's actually not the most helpful starting point here. Far more useful are the fields of colour psychology and noise frequency.
The environment and weather changes caused by these additions to Dota are strongly characterised by the way in which they affect the colour palettes of the game map, the moving particles they add and the sound effects which accompany them. The colouring is most obvious in the Moonbeam map where everything is tinged with purple. The sound effects are clear in the Rain map – a constant patter punctuated by grumbles of thunder. All three are liberally splattered with moving particles, either insects or various types of precipitation.
Investigating colour psychology you quickly run into all kinds of road blocks. Because of the cultural differences in colour associations as well as personal biases and perception disorders it's incredibly difficult to properly control experimentation. Most of the research involves the colour red. Red shirt colour in football gets associated with long-term team success, red lights combined with fast-tempo music are linked with higher spending in casinos, red placebo pills produce stimulant effects. Hell, giving players red warning messages about harassing teammates before League of Legends games was seen to lead to an 8.34% drop in negative attitudes.
Blue has been linked with lowering the risk of suicide in public places, with placebo pill depressant effects and a higher win rate in judo competitions. That League of Legends research also showed that blue messages about treating teammates positively led to a 5.13% decrease in negative attitudes. The implication in all this is that colour does do something to our brains and that this something can impact our performance but it's so tied up with other issues it's going to be hard to unpick. The wealth of data at the disposal of the likes of Valve, Riot and all the other companies could mean we start to see more of this stuff analysed in terms of competitive gaming. Anecdotally, I find the Moonbeam map effect to be generally soothing, although I find myself missing the brightness of regular daytime after a few hours.
The moving particles are more of a negative. They're not covered by the colour or sound research fields I've been looking at but they deserve a mention as they might skew a win-rate effect in the other direction. In-game I've had moments when I couldn't immediately see my cursor on the Moonbeam map because the particle effects can sometimes become visual clutter or a distraction. Friends have also mentioned not being able to make out Mirana projectiles as clearly on the Rain map view and Snow has very occasionally made me feel motion sick when scrolling sideways across the map too fast. That's the biggest reason I'd like the default sunny map option on the shuffle rotation, to be honest. A kind of declutter, a way to stop everything moving just for a second.
Finally, there's the audio side of things. Rain is the most obvious – there's the patter of the droplets on the ground and the rumbles of thunder I mentioned earlier. Snow and Moonbeam have a more subtle wind-blow noise. Again anecdotally, I feel that I concentrate better in the Rain environment. It's the option I, and the people I play with seem to gravitate towards. Thinking about why this might be so takes in noise frequency research. You might be familiar with white noise – it's a random signal like a kind of staticky fuzz which contains sound from across all frequencies. It's used to block out environmental noise if you're trying to concentrate and it also helps to mask tinnitus. But there's another type of noise called pink noise. It's a signal which has equal noise power per octave and would look pink if you applied the same principle to the visible light spectrum. Pink noise is less harsh than white noise and sounds incredibly similar to the Rain effects in Dota 2. White and pink noise in particular have been promoted as helping with tasks requiring greater concentration and if there's one thing which has boosted my Dota 2 win-rate, it's concentration.
Obviously this is all just conjecture, or it is until that cosmetic tracking appears and dumps a mountain of data into my lap. Until then I'm going to try to collect all the anecdotal experiences I can. Less for science, more for personal curiosity. That's where you come in. I'd be fascinated to hear your experiences of the different weather modes and how they've affected your mood or your play, if at all. As an extension of that thought, I posted a similar question on Twitter a couple of weeks back. A more general question about when mood has been noticeably affected by weather in any game.
The results were wonderful to read through so I'm going to finish by sharing them here too. Enjoy!