There’s a point at which one should probably admit to their vices, and in the last six months or so DOTA2 has probably become one of mine. Four-hundred and seventy-three games (not including games that are not logged statistically due to abandonment of one of the other nine players before the end of a game) and knocking on six-hundred hours of time with the client open with my Steam account logged in: it’s fair to say I’ve had gotten my fair share of enjoyment out of the pricetag of “free.” It’s an odd occurrence that games get under my skin enough for my mind to wonder to strategy and neat things that I could do when I’m away from the game, but just as with Dark Souls, DOTA2 has put me in that space. Maybe it’s due to the rigid set of rules that both games rarely stray away from (except when they do, increasing both the knowledge and skill cap of both games); maybe it’s due to the social aspect of the games that lead to spirited discussion about the micro and macro elements of gameplans: whatever the case, it is something that has gotten its claws into me and shows no signs of letting up.
Finding one’s home: a role for all
Upon starting with the game, it is not at all difficult to feel lost: with such a large variety of playable characters (“heroes”, the term harking back clearly to the game’s Warcraft III roots) and an incomprehensible amount of jargon that has no use elsewhere than in the game, the game is actively hostile to new players. In spite of this, and because of the way in which early games develop and how the matchmaking system works in terms of seeking to match players with other players roughly of the same skill level, every game will be a learning experience of some sort well into the hundreds of hours of games played.
Yes, players will have terrible games in which they provide nothing of value to their team until they learn what sorts of heroes and what sorts of roles suit their “natural” playstyle, and the ability to realise one’s role will only increase over time. Revisiting a role that one cannot undertake in their early engagement with the game later is always worthwhile: from experience of how other players successfully, for example, play cautiously with the variety of characters that start of fragile and weak but scale well over the course of a game in the early game, will only serve to improve one’s overall understanding of the game and thereby one’s own game.
For me, it was established that I couldn’t play carry (early fragility; late game damage-dealers) heroes well at all quite quickly: with the support of the small community I had started playing DOTA with, it was advised that I should attempt to play a support hero to provide value to the team while not putting myself particularly in danger to get a better feel for the mechanics of the game before trying anything else. Over time, I gravitated to heroes best when given a one-on-one lane (traditionally the mid lane), which is where I found the greatest amount of competence. While the game is designed to punish hubris and overextension away from one’s teammates, my playstyle – generally quite conservative and risk-averse – suits the sort of “get an early advantage from the lane and then aid other lanes” playstyle that synergises well with the likes of heroes such as Shadow Fiend, Invoker and Storm Spirit. Equally, this playstyle has lent itself well to the sort of “stay out of trouble and farm” carries that have a decent amount of impact throughout the game, but peaking with a variety of items once picked up, Naga Siren being key amount these.
Yes, there is a high cost of entry in terms of the knowledge required to understand what a character’s responsibilities are to their team, but there is something so incredibly satisfying about being able to acquire this knowledge and use it to your own advantage where their are gaps in an enemy team’s knowledge.
I’ve always taken pride in the idea of knowing my fields of interest well, perhaps to the point of obsession. “Obsession” is a term that, I feel, has a number of unfortunate and, frankly, sad negative connotations. It’s an odd thing to admonish someone’s dedication to a given subject matter where this dedication provides them with a competitive advantage in a matter even as frivolous as a video game. Surely this is just sensible, given how wont people are for victory in all endeavours?
Perhaps I’m just trying to rationalise the amount of time I’ve spent working out the exceptions to the general principle that Unique Attack Modifiers don’t stack with each other – except where they do – and that Black King Bars prevent the damage taken from magical attacks – except where they don’t – but the level of knowledge that can be picked up around the game speaks to its complexity and the depth of strategy that can make its way into decisions of which items should be picked up to synergise well with a hero; which heroes should be picked to form a strong team throughout the entire course of a game; and the odd little exceptions that can be used to counter decisions made by an enemy team.
The game rewards knowing as much as actual execution: while proponents of twitch-based games may find such an idea utterly abhorrent, the balance of in-the-moment key-pressing and mouse-clicking with the tension that is generated from the waiting for opportunities to capitalise on poor decision-making from an enemy is second only to the anticipation of thinking that that attractive person of the gender that fosters your attractions has noticed you and may well be attracted to you too, only without the crushing bitter disappointment of the realisation that that, that fleeting moment of a shared glance, was all in your head. They think that you lingered with your eye contact a little too long and Jesus Christ, they’re just trying to get to work without being stared at.
Maybe I’ve lived in London for too long.
The virtue of complexity
It’s a fairly established fact within the MOBA community that League of Legends’ decision choices are, for the most part, designed to rationalise the complexity inherent in a lot of DOTA’s systems. As but one example, the concept of denying the experience and gold that can be obtained through creep kills does not exist in LoL, where it does in DOTA. Yes, it is more for players to think about and does make the game less accessible. In doing so, however, it creates a further metagame aside from hero choices, item choices and the hero-hunting-type metagame in terms of lane equilibrium management: push the creeps too far, you’re going to take damage from the enemy’s towers; pull the lane too far and you’re going to have difficulty getting last hits. Complexity being seen as a bad thing where it adds to the variety and depth of gameplay seems more of a cry for mass appeal to foster a pay-to-win free-to-play ecosystem rather than generating a game that is truly novel and challenging well into the hundreds of hours played.
A toxic community
It is unfortunately true that many folks who play MOBAs are, not to put too fine a point on it, arseholes: sniveling manchildren who have not suffered enough adversity in their lives to be able to deal with the concept of losing a match of a video game. This is incredibly unfortunate, and the system of reports and commendations available to punish and reward players creates no positive incentive to play nicely with the other children. In fact, it seems to create a perverse set of incentives for some people to actually be more aggressive – do something that a teammate doesn’t like? You’re probably getting a report.
There’s a simple resolution for this problem, and that is to play the game with friends. Unfortunately, if you’re like me and have few pals that can be difficult. If you’re reading this, and you got to the end, you’re probably an alright sort: let’s play a game.