In DOTA, certain heroes have certain reputations: among the group of people I regularly play with, there is a special class of heroes that fall firmly into the category of “bullshit” – heroes that have a seemingly “unfair” advantage in certain situations, chief among these being Spirit Breaker (for his ability to charge around the map and seemingly improbable number of bashes), Sniper (for the annoyingly long range of his attacks and potential to slow heroes with these attacks) and Riki (just for being an illusive, invisible thing). Of course, in a more measured state of mind, such as when one isn’t losing a game in which these heroes feature), it’s plain to see that their dominance is not due to them being “unfairly” powerful or imbalanced, it’s because your team has not played against them correctly. Naga Siren is a hero with a similar, though subtly different reputation: she’s in the class of heroes that is deemed simply “boring” by a lot of people owing to the way in which she can be played – it is this style of play, however, that means that she appeals to me as a hero, almost as much as my previously discussed favourite.
My playstyle seems to be quite different to a lot of those who play DOTA: I’m not in it for the fights or the kills, I prefer to be able to control the tempo of the game, whether I’m playing in a support or carry role. Swap and Magic Missile provide Vengeful Spirit with this ability, and Naga’s viability in this regard is provided through her illusions, net and Song of the Siren. The illusions, particularly combined with Radiance for its area of effect damage that propagates to illusions and some stats items like a Yasha, Manta Style or Eye of Skadi, allow the team to be able to push out lanes and prevent or delay the loss of buildings; the net allows for the pinning down of one enemy even through magic immunity; and the Song of the Siren freezes all enemies within an area in place, allowing for either the setting up of a teamfight control spell like Tidehunter’s Ravage or Enigma’s Black Hole or the buying of time for teammates to escape a fight doomed for failure. This versatility in tempo control, combined with the speed of farm that can be attained through the Radiance burn on lane and jungle creeps means that there is always something to do with the hero; always some micromanagement-type play that can be made to gain some small advantage for your team.
The downside of playing like this, however, was made clear to me in a recent game: DOTA’s issuing of abandonment for perceived inactivity by players, designed to prevent people from just doing nothing in games that may not be going their way, is premised on the idea that if one does not gain any experience (from being near enemy or neutral creep or hero kills) for five minutes, it is said that one simply must not be playing the game. The power of Naga, as I’ve mentioned earlier, is in the fact that she can send images of herself into lane to farm and push the lanes out in this way. Where games have not gone well in the early stages and map control has been lost through the loss of outer towers, one may reasonably think that the only safe way to gain any gold would be to send images out to farm. This was the case in this recent game: all towers save for our middle tier 2 tower had been taken, with very little chance of feeling safe about the map owing to Mirana’s presence on the other team, and her ultimate ability of being able to make her team invisible. I played this way for around five minutes, seeking to ensure that we lost no more buildings and until I had a few more items to make my participation in fights more useful.
Then I was told I was set to be levied with the shame of having abandoned the game.
Not to be disheartened by the fact that this game would not be reflected in my win-loss statistics, and owing to a well-humoured enemy team not taking the opportunity to disconnect from the game following my “abandonment” of the game, I was able to keep the lanes pushed enough for my teammates to feel safe to farm, and aside from a couple of mistimed Songs that resulted in Ravages being missed, kept my team safe as best I could also. This is sort of game that I play DOTA for: the real possibility of a comeback being realised through good team play. Having given up an eight-thousand gold lead to the opposing team by the fifteen-minute mark, we rallied and ended up with a ten-thousand gold lead by the close of the game. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this turnaround was my perceived change in attitude of the enemy team: from playing with a palpable sense of hubris on the early game, seeking to get kills behind our tier one towers, they began to play defensively, rushing to the defence of their buildings rather than seeking to obtain an advantage by attacking us head-on as they had previously.
I’m unashamed to say that DOTA is a game that I fall in and out of love with frequently due to the nature of the community that seem to tend to play it: angry, aggressive folk who don’t accept the idea that one can possibly make an error in the context of a real-time game; people who may not have received enough affection as children in order to acclimatise them to the fact that sometimes, just sometimes, it’s OK to fail in minor tasks of no real bearing. Sometimes, just sometimes, you have a team of people who will at least not express their discontent and anger – or even say “it’s OK” in rare situations – and the mechanics just shine through. DOTA is, and I’m sure by now I’m repeating myself, a set of wonderful, transparent mechanics that allow for even the most unlikely of comebacks if one team outplays the other.