Winning (and losing)

Dota Dire Ancient Gone

If there’s a universal truth, it’s that people don’t like losing. Ask anyone, and they’ll tell you that losing sucks; anyone that tells you otherwise is either lying or a sadist.

The question is: do I take winning too seriously? There was one time, years ago, where a friend and I were playing Left 4 Dead. We were in a co-op match with two other folks, and I was shouting obscenities into our team’s text chat in an attempt to get the other players on our team to do something useful. After the match, the friend I was playing with pointed out “that guy” that was trying to get the team to win. I pointed out that “that guy” was actually me, and things were pretty awkward from that point on.

I’ve played a number of DotA 2 games now. As of writing, dotabuff says 249 real matches, with perhaps an extra 10-15 versus bots on top of that. At the moment, my win-loss ratio is sitting just under the 50-50 ratio, at 124 wins to 125 losses. Anecdotal evidence (i.e. the dotabuff profiles of a number of friends who have played hundreds of more games than I have) leads me to believe the matchmaking in DotA conspires to keep you around a 50-50 WL ratio, but with a good enough team, you can beat the odds.

Despite what you may believe, the number one influencer on your win-loss ratio isn’t yourself. At least, it’s not about yourself as much as it is about other players. For example: if another player on your team, in a different lane, decides to die repeatedly to one of your opponents in the early game, then that opposing hero now has a level and gold advantage. And even if you’re playing to the best of your ability, there’s very little you can do from preventing that opposing hero from dominating the rest of the match. From there, your fate is all but sealed: the opposing hero which received early kills dominates teamfights, and hence wipes the floor with your team. Eventually, through no fault of your own, you lose. Good game, sir.

But I’ve played enough games of DotA 2 now to realise that it’s a little more complicated than that. I’ve seen my share of impressive comebacks and last-gasp pushes that result in a win to know that the balance in DotA is incredibly delicate. What one player does or doesn’t do can tip the scales in your favour, or lose you the match. Didn’t deny the tower when you had the chance? You lose because the enemy all gained gold. Didn’t carry a TP scroll when pushing? You lose because a Nature’s Prophet decided to teleport into your base and demolish your ancient with his army of trees. Spent too much time jungling instead of pushing with your team? You lose because your team just lost that 4v5 teamfight, the enemy pushed, and you lost a tower and barracks.

Don’t get me wrong, good team work is of the utmost importance in DotA 2. It’s why I gently push others to be the best they can be if they’re having a bad game, because good teamwork means you can bring a game back from 9-0, their advantage. 30 minutes in, and it’s 16-32, still their advantage. We’re behind in kills the entire time, but when we finally take their ancient, the scoreboard reads 44-54, still in their favour. You’ll notice I went 2-17 in that match. I contributed almost nothing to that game, and yet we won. So how does that work, exactly?


I’ve been playing really badly recently. I’m almost embarrassed to pull up my Dotabuff stats right now — of the last seven games, I’ve lost all of them, and my best kill/death/assist ratio is 3/12/16. I’m not really sure whether those losses are due to teammates performing poorly, but I’m sure not all of them are. Some are undoubtedly due to my own poor performance, either with characters I’m unfamiliar with or haven’t played a bunch.

A friend says I should stop randoming during picks and just get good at a few heroes. Maybe that’s not such a bad idea — I’m OK at a few heroes, but not great at so much more. There’s still heroes I haven’t played yet in real matches, and heaps of heroes I’ve only played once or twice. You don’t really “know” how a hero works until you’ve played them five or six times, in my opinion, and even then you’re not guaranteed to get how they work. I’ve tried playing as Sniper in a number of games now, and while I see where his ultimate ability comes in handy, more often than not it’s the niche case where an enemy is escaping from certain death to an even more certain one, thanks to your ultimate.

Perhaps there is something to the whole “getting good at a few heroes” idea, though. I play with someone who just plays Invoker, and he’s pretty good. I still remember the first time I played Inovker in a practice game, by myself, with bots — it was about as bad as you could imagine. I didn’t feed or anything but getting a grip on the spells and what they all do takes some getting used to.

But which heroes? I get the feeling I play better support heroes than I do carries. I haven’t quite figured out when to initiate on a character, as when I do, it usually ends badly. I think what I’ll end up doing is going though and playing all the heroes I haven’t played yet (in practice matches!), then going through and playing ones I’ve never won in real games (in real games), and then picking heroes from that point on.

I don’t even know why I care about my win-loss ratio so much. Winning is such a fickle thing, after all. In just a few short matches, my Dotabuff went from looking like this:
dotabuff wins

To looking like this:
dotabuff losses

I have no idea what happened. Except for the part where I lost seven games in a row. That much I do understand.

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