Losing (and winning)

One of the things that annoys me the most about the programming is the zone of suck, and how very large and expansive it can be. Probably because I’m a mediocre programmer, at best, but a lot of the time it feels like I’m single-handedly trying to fight backdoor protection on the other team’s ancient as Faceless Void.

Losses in Dota 2 feel like that, too. Sometimes you’ll realise you have nothing to stop the other team’s push strategy, other times you’ll know that your entire team can’t deal with one hero on the other team who got a few kills early on, and by that time, the game is pretty much over. I hate calling “gg” early as much as the next guy, but fighting against a split push with little farm and little to no hope against of coming back is incredibly frustrating1.

Yes, I’ve been playing a lot of Dota 2 recently, and while it might sound like I say that a lot, it’s the truth. Last weekend, a couple of friends and I gathered at my place for some five-stack ranked shenanigans. Incredulously, we somehow managed to win 10 of the 11 games we played; an impressive win rate on a good day, a downright amazing win-loss ratio on any other.

After a warmup game, we refined the strat we were running. We’d insta-pick the heroes we wanted when All Pick came up, and tried to not get them banned in Captain’s Mode. Provided none of us got off to a particularly bad start in the laning stage, we guaranteed kills with a triple-stun trilane, a mid Drow, and solo Invoker. And even if one of us was killed a few times during the early game, we usually had enough recovery mechanisms to get back into the game; usually involving the other players making space for the fifth to farm. Split pushing, adding pressure around the map, stacking neutrals, that kind of thing. By the time late game rolled around, we would be ready.

We did have a bit of trouble against some really good Tinkers. With no real mechanism to catch him out, an enemy Tinker ended up split pushing every lane while we were taking 4v5 teamfights, which would favour us most of the time. Eventually the Tinker would make a mistake and we’d pull him up on it, securing the kill, and because not even an incredibly farmed Tinker can carry a game single-handedly, we’d go on to win the game off the back of those pick-offs.

For the most part, our strategy carried us through games. Our team hero composition allowed us to be a little lazier in terms of items; Wraith King’s lifesteal aura helped out our team early-game with HP regen, and Maiden was the same was her mana regen. By running two position threes, both with the potent carry potential, any time a game went late always favoured us. At the same time, because our Invoker was building Necronomicons and doing his best to push down towers any time he was away from a teamfight, we’d usually have such a gold lead that one or two farmed heroes on the other team didn’t matter that much. Of the 11 games we played, only four went longer than 40 minutes — and of those four, the three we won we were playing against a Tinker, master of the split push.

But despite our impressive win-loss ratio, the game we didn’t win still sticks out like a sore thumb. Thanks to some combination of the Von Restorff effect and likely some negativity bias, I remember that game more than any of the others, despite the fact we won 10 of the other 11 games we played that night. It hurts even more to know that we could have won that game, too — the scoreboard showed kills that were more or less even all the way through, and we punished them for their mistakes every opportunity we got. Every time they got greedy and tried to push for more kills or objectives after using their ultimates, we’d wipe them, but couldn’t seem to take any objectives off the back of our kills.

It’s my fault, sort of. I didn’t pick or ban, and the person that did banned out Void and Dazzle during the first banning stage. The other team picked up Death Prophet and Shadow Shaman as their one-two, and even though our bans changed to stop them from picking an entirely push-oriented lineup, it was the Luna and Engima picks from them that really screwed us up. Enigma got off some really great 3 or 4 man Black Holes, and with Luna’s Glaives, we’d just melt. There was that one time I cancelled a 3-man Black Hole with a blind Sacred Arrow, which led to a 4-1 trade (with a buyback on our side), but arguably by that point they were too far ahead of us for it to matter.

Not that I’m saying we didn’t make mistakes in that game. Watching the replay revealed we took one or two teamfights where our Drow was picked off early, which meant our damage output was significantly lower. Hindsight, the bitch that it is, says we should have sacrificed the towers and avoided the teamfight until we had a team capable of taking on their 5-man, or at least waiting until their ultimates were on cooldown, but instead we took — and lost — the subsequent teamfights. Because they had a Death Prophet and Shadow Shaman, it meant they could capitalise on those won teamfights by taking towers or Roshan, completely uncontested.

It felt like we were on the back foot all the time. Our laning stage wasn’t terrible. The offlane trilane didn’t get a whole lot of kills, and when the Wraith King and Maiden moved towards the other lanes to help out, Luna managed to outfarm my Mirana solo. Clinkz must have managed to pick up enough levels top and stay elusive enough to not be caught out by the Invoker, meaning that lane was more or less even. With Enigma jungling and getting a 10-minute Mek, it was up to the Wraith King and Maiden to help out where necessary, and for some reason, that didn’t happen enough.

Looking at the numbers, I underperformed the entire game. 383 XPM and 336 GPM might as well meant I was playing support, and 9 deaths meant I was being caught out way more times that I should have been. Other members of my team weren’t exactly above reproach, but a few less deaths on my part could have been enough to turn a teamfight of two here and there, which might have made a difference in the long run. Saving our stuns for the Enigma’s Hole, before he had a BKB, might have turned teamfights. Better positioning so most us weren’t caught in a Black Hole certainly would have.


As much as I hate losing, I also recognise the importance of losing. Losing sucks, sure, but it’s integral in the process of becoming a better player. Ten wins was nice and all, but in my mind (Von Restorff effect be damned), the one loss was more important because it revealed potential weaknesses in our hero composition or individual plays during the game. You can learn from your wins, sure, but losing one game in 11 means you can really focus on that one game to see what went wrong; the idea is that you can learn from your mistakes and go on to win another 10 games.

  1. There are exceptions, of course. I recently played a game as Windranger where the other team just decided to 5-man all our outer towers by 15 minutes — but the difference was we had all the kills. We came back from an epic tower deficit to win the game, and boy, that felt good

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