Tag Archives: dota 2

I do not understand League of Legends

DSC01115Riot was in attendance at PAX Australia this year, and they were back with an even bigger presence than last year. Throughout the weekend, they ran their Oceanic Regional Finals tournament as well as casual games between PAX attendees, and let me tell you, their area was packed all the time — unlike last year, this time they came prepared with seating as well as ample standing room for spectators.

They tell me League of Legends is similar to Dota in that it’s a massive online battle area or action real-time strategy game, whichever acronym you want to use. The only real differences I know between the two off the top of my head is that there’s no “denies” in League, and the laning setup is a little weird — I saw people being referred to by their lanes, as opposed to the roles they played during the game. People played “top” or “jungle” instead of “carry” or “support”, for example, but that’s about all I know about League. I like to think I have a fairly good understanding of Dota at this point, but taking a few minutes to sit down and watch a game being played, I had no idea what I was watching. Subjectively, it also looks worse than Dota does, but that’s neither here nor there.

But not only do I not get League on a gameplay or mechanics level, I don’t understand it on a popularity scale, either. I read articles saying League makes more money than Dota and Hearthstone combined, but then I’ve also heard it’s the most popular title in terms of player base. That seems wrong for all kinds of reasons, but I’ll list just one: the biggest Dota 2 tournament in the world, The International 4, had a total prize pool of $10.9 million, with the winners taking home over $5 million. That ludicrous sum of money made headlines in traditional sports, not just e-sports, and so for a game like League to come in and say they’re bigger than Dota is pretty crazy.

I mean, I guess the numbers are by total revenue and not prize pools for tournaments (two of which at the moment have prize pools of over $200,000), but still.

Just about the only thing that makes sense is the acronym formed by the title of the game: LoL.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Perfect Last Hitting Mechanics

I call this one the PA that couldn't last hit for beans.

I call this one the PA that couldn’t last hit for beans.

OK, real talk: if a genie appeared and asked me what area of Dota I wanted to be perfect in, it’d probably be last hitting. Perfect decision making might be unachievable, but perfect last hitting mechanics are definitely within the realms of possibility. Not only can you practice last hitting without playing real matches, but it’s something you can improve in a measurable way.

Not only that, but having perfect last hitting mechanics has enormous potential to change your game, purely because if you can out-CS your opponents, you already have a huge advantage. You’ll have better items than them, and if you’re denying (something that’s incredibly important in the current patch), you’ll also have more levels over them, too.

When I started out playing Dota as a support, I didn’t think last hitting mattered all that much, purely because as a support, you’re usually not that farm-dependent. Sure you’d pull every now and again for your carry, but it wasn’t a big deal if you missed out on the last hit on neutral creeps in the jungle. A few more games of Dota later, and I can unequivocally say I was wrong in this regard, because last hitting matters to support as much as it matter for carries, and maybe even more so. Because you’re not getting as much reliable farm as carries, the last hits that you do miss out on matter even more as a support. Supports, generally speaking, don’t need items as much as carries do, but imagine how much better you could support if you had items. A fast Mek or blink dagger could mean the difference between a lost teamfight and one you win.

But I’ve started playing core roles now, and here, last hitting kind of matters. If I’m farming in the safe lane, I can average around 30-40 last hits at the 10 minute mark — not terrible, but OK I think for around my skill level. If I get free, uncontested farm, that number goes up to around 50-60, and if I’m having a bad time, I’ll have less than 30 last hits before 10 minutes. Against unfair Viper bot, with perfect deny mechanics? I’ll be lucky to have 20 last hits at 10 minutes.

I’ve thought about what to do when I’m playing a core role and am behind in last hits, and all it really takes is a couple of waves to get back to where I should be. That either means my team has to create space on the map so I can farm for a few minutes, or I jump into the jungle and hope I don’t get smoke ganked.

Unlike decision making, which can’t explicitly be practiced besides playing more games, you can practice last hitting pretty easily. By typing dota_tutorial_start lasthit will load up a practice game for you to practice your last hits against a single bot opponent, one that will stay the same depending on which hero and lane you pick. Starting up a bot game and just playing that has the same effect, but the last hit trainer means you don’t have to worry about ganks, tower pushes, or anything extraneous to perfecting your last hitting mechanics.

When I haven’t played Dota for a while, I’ll load up the last hit trainer just so I can get back into the feel for it. Because nothing — nothing — is as frustrating as a carry who can’t last hit. I practice last hitting so I’m never “that guy”, but I kind of wish other people would do the same.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

Perfect Decision Making

If I had to choose to improve in any area of Dota 2, it would be — without a doubt — decision making. Like, if a genie appeared and asked me which area of Dota 2 I wanted to be perfect in, I’d choose decision making, every time.

I know that’s a bit of a cop-out, seeing as “decision making” isn’t something you can practice or improve on in any sort of measurable way, but it’s true: if I wanted to get better at something in a way that would make a significant impact on my game (and by extension, win rate), decision making would be at the top of my list.

When you think about it, it makes sense: if you have perfect decision making, the only real things holding you back are technical skill and execution. Everything else in the game would become secondary: you’d always know when to farm as a carry, and when you should be teamfighting. You’d always know when to cast your skills as a support, and when to back up and wait for cooldowns. You’d always know when to initiate, when to retreat, when to push, and when to defend.

If you had perfect decision making, you’d know when to push the lane, when to contest the rune, when to go Roshan, when to press your advantage and go high ground. The game would become easy, because you’d know what to do at every stage of the game — no more wandering around as a support, or farming jungle creeps when you should have been teamfighting. You’d always know what items to buy for any given situation, and what kind of item progression you should be getting.

That said, there are potential downsides to perfect decision making, and they mostly come in the form of teammates who don’t know what they’re doing. I’ve watched EternalEnvy’s stream enough times to know how that feels, and it sucks. Even when your team picks imbalanced heroes in the current meta, if they have no idea what they’re doing or go for a weird build, the game just becomes so unwinnable that it’s not even worth trying.

To be clear: Envy plays a completely different level of Dota than I do, but the concept remains the same: if either of us had perfect decision making, teammates not doing the right thing for any given situation would easily be enough to lose the game.

But a guy can dream.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

It has been four days since my last Dota 2 game

…and I’m not sure I remember how to play the game anymore.

Here’s where I’m coming from: since I’m currently unemployed, that gives me a lot of free time during the day to do pretty much whatever the hell I want. A lot of the time, that involves playing way too much Dota, either by myself exploring the depts of the solo queue trench, or with a few friends and absolutely smashing the other team.

I have to admit, I was kind of tempted to play Dota at the freeplay PC area at PAX, but careful consideration meant I realised there were better uses for my time (plus, I could just wait a few days and play it at home).

It’s not that you forget how to play, but certain skills in the game do require practice. Last hitting, for example, can differ from hero to hero, and if you haven’t played a certain hero in a while, you can suck at farming which can potentially change how the game turns out. Same thing with landing skillshots.

While I’m not really into League, the serious numbers of people at PAX watching the Oceanic regional finals of some big tournament is totally understandable. I’ve watched a fair amount of Dota over the past few months, ever since this year’s International, and I can see where they’re coming from — League (or for the matter, Dota) played by professionals is a completely different thing to the Dota and League played by your or I.

Unless you happen to be a pro at either of those games, in which case, you’re the one that should be on stage.

These words part of Blogvember, a thing I just made up right then about getting back into blogging. You can read more words about Blogvember right over here, but the gist is that I'll be attempting to post something up on the blog every day in November 2014. Read other Blogvember posts.

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.

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Spectator Sport, Part II

As one World Cup ends and the other begins, I’m wondering how I managed to cope with The International 2014 Playoffs, where 123 games of Dota 2 were played over four days, starting at 2am our time and going for a solid 12 hours.

It was pretty mad.

Alright, so it’s not exactly the FIFA World Cup. But it might as well be: the total prize pool for this year’s The International Dota 2 tournament is going to get pretty close to US $11 million, making it bigger than the Tour de France ($3 million) and the US Masters ($9 million)1. Not bad for a game that’s free to play — and especially so considering everything bar the original $1.6 million has been contributed by players, representing a quarter of their total contributions to the game since May this year. To be fair, Dota 2 is the most played game on Steam by a long shot, but make no mistake — it’s making money, hand over fist, for Valve.

Ever since I started playing Dota 2, I wasn’t really sure what Valve were doing putting an emphasis on watching the game being played, as much as they did on actually playing the game. I’ll probably never understand why random pub matches can have hundreds of spectators, unless there’s some kind of video-game watching club on the internet somewhere that I’m not privy to. But after watching The International playoffs and soon, the main event, I now know that it’s about watching as much as it is about playing.

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Unique

Once I figured out I wasn’t good enough to play Dota 2 competitively (like the majority of Dota 2 players, I guess), I started playing for fun. And for some really cool, unique items that granted custom hero animations, like the super-cool custom Frozen Nova animation you see above for Crystal Maiden.

My piece over at AppleTalk writes about how I’m mostly OK with in-app purchases, including the ones offered by free-to-play titles like Dota 2, which offer no gameplay benefits other than minor cosmetic changes:

But eventually there comes a point where you realise you should spend something on a game. For me, I reached that point after spending a few hundred hours in Dota 2 without paying a cent

I started off by completing Drow Ranger’s Jewel of the Forest set, something I already had most of the items for. And then it kind of snowballed from there. I remember one of the earliest items I “had to have” was this one game where a Juggernaut had a Blade Fury animation that looked different to normal — watching the replay, I found out about the Fireborn Odachi, which I then hunted down on the Steam Community Market and purchased. Later on, I found out about Juggernaut’s Kantusa the Script Sword, only available with a limited edition SteelSeries mouse or via the Steam Community Market — as luck would have it, I managed to find the exact mouse during a recent trip to Malaysia.

Then it was Necrophos’ Scythe of Twin Deaths, with it’s 360-no-scythe animation when casting his ultimate, Reaper’s Scythe.

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Spectator Sport

dota 2014-05-15 08-39-44-58I’ve never really been into actual sport, least of all the AFL or NHL or whatever three-letter acronym people watch on TV these days. Incredibly un-Australian of me, I know, but the appeal just hasn’t been there. There are two exceptions to this rule, the first being international soccer and infrequently, cricket, both domestic and international — but for the most part, I just don’t watch sport, at least not in the traditional sense.

But ever since I can remember, I’ve liked watching people other play video games. Even if I wasn’t playing myself, I liked watching to see how they approached the same problem I came across earlier, or seeing how much faster they progressed through the game than I did. From other people’s battle strategies in Pokémon to seeing what kind of mischief they could get up to in the earlier Grand Theft Autos, I’ve always enjoyed watching other people play games.

Which is weird, because I didn’t think I’d be that into watching other people play Dota 2. I like playing the game, for sure, but I didn’t think watching games would be that great; somehow boring, having to watch people last hit, gank, and move around the map.

In this thread: someone gets mad before he realises that he's looking at the other team's picks in Captain's Mode. We ended up losing that match, but in another CM game I wanted the Mirana, another guy stole it and I ended up with Tiny. I've only played him a handful of times, but I bought a Midas and went to town.

In this thread: someone gets mad before he realises that he’s looking at the other team’s picks in Captain’s Mode. We ended up losing that match, but in another CM game I wanted the Mirana, another guy stole it and I ended up with Tiny. I’ve only played him a handful of times, but I bought a Midas and went to town.

The International 2014 is coming up, and after spectating umpteen games from the qualifiers, I can safely say it’s far more enjoyable than I ever predicted. I didn’t think I’d be into it because of the reasons listed above, because I thought it would be boring, but the combination of broadcasters and professional, high-level Dota 2 play, turns something I thought would have been boring into something interesting.

The broadcasters add a lot to the overall experience, to be honest. Having former pro-players cast the pro-level games gives real insight into all aspects of the game, from the picks and bans in Captains Mode to the various strategies employed during ganks, roshan kills, or what the teams need to do to win the game at any given point. I guess they’re kind of similar to normal commentators in that regard, in that they’re always adding commentary into the mix so that watching fantasy avatars kill each other doesn’t ever become boring.

The best casters don’t have to be funny, but they do have to know the game, and, perhaps more importantly, their audience. Watching Beyond the Summit is fine if you’re comfortable with the meta (or just like EG.Fear’s insights into pro-level play), but watching someone like joinDOTA cast a game is great if you’re looking to pick up a few tips. There was a recent game I watched where the joinDOTA casters were discussing the difference between blink and semi-blink, and the difference between them in terms of disjointing targeted spells, and that was useful stuff for someone who doesn’t play a lot of Anti-mage or Queen of Pain.

In this thread: dude picks the exact time, down to the second, when the Mouz vs VP match ends. Full size here: 1, 2, 3

In this thread: dude picks the exact time, down to the second, when the Mouz vs VP match ends. Full size here: 1, 2, 3

The other thing I like watching about higher-level Dota is the sheer skill of the players. Some of it’s because they’ve got great coordination and teamwork — rarely seen in the pub matches I play in — but seeing someone get disrupted into a Mirana arrow stun or someone get avalanched, tossed, only to then land in the avalanche again is impressive every time I see it. Granted, some of that comes with playing the game a tonne, but being able to do it consistently never ceases to amaze. In terms of my own improvement in the game, watching games has let me pick up a wealth of knowledge I (probably) wouldn’t have gotten just by playing. The International Qualifiers have inspired me to play better, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

It’s kind of funny — when I first started out with Dota 2 I wasn’t sure what Valve were going for. I didn’t really understand why the game had such a large focus on spectating games as much as it did actually playing them — but now I know. The prize pool for The International 2014 is something insane like $6.75 million so far — which is only 25% of all Compendium and in-game purchases since the beginning of this month. Valve were making so much money they even had to put some updated stretch goals.

I didn’t really think I’d be into watching long-ish games of Dota 2, but when it’s casted by current and former pros, those that know the game inside out, and when I’m seeing some impressive carries, it kind of becomes exciting. Perhaps this is what being a sportsfan is all about, but then again, I wouldn’t know 🙂

DotA for Recreation, Not Profit

Dat courier, though. Phwoar.

Dat courier, though. Phwoar.

Alternate title: remember when online gaming was fun?

As part of my ongoing adventures in DotA 2, I’ve stopped playing ranked matches altogether. After experiencing how much they brought out the worst in people (and I include myself in that), I decided they were making gaming less fun, so I gave them the flick. Of the online games I am playing, I stopped choosing “All Pick” as a game mode and starting choosing basically everything else: Single Draft, Random Draft, All Random, Least Played, Captain’s Mode, and Captain’s Draft. The other game modes change things up a little by not offering the full hero roster, and do a decent job of teaching me to be a better player by playing with hero and team combinations I’m not necessarily familiar with. Ability Draft, on the other hand, is just… weird, and almost seems like an arcade version of DotA.

The thing I enjoy the most isn’t sledging my teammates when the carries can’t actually carry, despite what you may hear or read. No, it’s playing DotA with friends, either in friendly 5-on-5 matches, against bots in coop, or even online, when it takes our fancy. Work and other commitments mean we hardly get to see each other and catch up as often as we’d like, but playing DotA together means we can jump in Mumble or TeamSpeak and catch up with other while participating in some truly epic teamfights.

And at the heart of it, isn’t that what online gaming is all about? Having fun with people you know in real life, online? I’m no stranger to playing single-player games, but every now and again, I enjoy playing with friends. Multiplayer games like DayZ, Wasteland, DotA, and so many others just aren’t the same when you play by yourself. You could argue that there’s a time and a place for playing single-player games by yourself, but at the end of the day, there’s no denying that online gaming is infinitely better with friends.

But you know what isn’t fun? When friends get too serious about a game. I’ll admit straight up that I’m guilty of this, but aren’t we all? Our naturally competitive nature means that a disappointing loss hits harder than any elation from a convincing victory, which leads to blaming people we’re usually on very good terms with.

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The Wall

DotA 2 Juggernaut

Alternate title: “how can someone who’s played this many games of DotA still be so bad?”

When you start out learning something new, you tend to pick things up quickly. Because you know so little about this new-fangled sport/technology/thing, you go from knowing very little to knowing a lot in a very short space of time. As you keep playing the sport/game or using the technology/thing, you’ll keep learning — perhaps not at the same rate as you did initially, but you’ll still pick things up here and there. You’ll get better and better at whatever new thing you’ve decided to pick up, and just when you feel you’re getting the hang of it — BAM — you hit The Wall.

The Wall is unforgiving. The Wall does not discriminate. The Wall will damn-near halt any progress you thought you were making in your chosen field, whether that be medical biotechnology or something as simple as an online game. Regardless of how well you thought you were going, or how much progress you had made since you started out, eventually, inevitably — almost cruelly — you’ll hit The Wall.

Hitting The Wall is unavoidable. You can do as much as you can to stave it off, but sooner or later, you’ll hit The Wall, and that will be that.

I feel as if I’ve already hit The Wall in DotA. From the games I’ve played in the last little while, while there are specific situations where I was just being stupid and died for no real reason (going in on teamfights when the other team vastly outnumbered us, “helping” by going in on teamfights when one of our carries had already died to a good gank), I feel as though there’s precious little I could have done to improve the situation. I ask myself: did I die too much during the early game? Or did I fail in my duty as a support and not actually support the carries on my team?

Because I’m not really sure of the answers, I’ve found solace in co-op bot games where you still play with other humans, but against bots, mostly on unfair difficulty. I’ve discovered a few things: while bots can smash you if you’re not careful, like any AI they’re predictable once you’ve played a few games against them. For example, they’ll almost always buy-back when you’re taking the high ground tier 3 towers. Mid-game, they’ll start grouping up and methodically taking down towers. They’ll only Rosh if they feel they’re far enough ahead. Because they always carry TPs, you can force them to move by threatening tier-2 towers — 9 times out of ten, they’ll TP from whatever they’re doing to defend the tower. But they’re prone to making mistakes, too — I’ve seen bots overextend when solo, leading to us jumping on them and getting the kill.

Playing bot games only gets you so far, though. It’s fine for practicing heroes you’re unfamiliar with, but totally unsuitable if you actually want to get better at DotA — while humans play similarly to bots, it’s the completely different stuff that will mean humans can successfully gank where bots can’t. What’s more, it’s this situational stuff that will make all the difference between getting better at DotA and staying where I am in terms of MMR.

But that’s the problem, innit — there’s just so much situational stuff to learn. Does Pudge’s ult go through BKB? Yes, in that you’ll disable the unit, but you won’t do any damage. Can a Juggernaut escape Pudge’s ult by using Blade Fury? Apparently yes. Does cancelling Shadow Fiend’s ult by using Vengeful Spirit’s ult to swap him out still trigger the cooldown on Requiem of Souls? Frustratingly, no.

Hence, The Wall. There’s no way around the wall, or under it. You can avoid it altogether by not playing, but that’s not really an option. No, the only way to get past The Wall is through it, even if that means I need to play many, many more games before I start to see improvements in my own game.

Then again, maybe there is no wall at all. Maybe it’s all just a figment of my imagination, an illusion conjured up by the part of myself that doesn’t want to admit I’m simply bad at video games, or perhaps even DotA’s weird matchmaking system that causes me and my party to be matched up with players that have vastly more experience than we do.

Putting aside The Wall — real or not — for a second, the question then becomes: how do I be better at DotA? Will playing more games help? Maybe. Will spectating more games and seeing how others play help? Perhaps. Will winning unfair coop bot games make me a better DotA player? Probably not, but it might make me feel better about myself for a period of time.

There are those that say the only winning move is not to play. That might be true for many games, but I doubt it is for DotA.