Swimming Against the Tide: Dota 2

In Play

For those of you who have never heard of Dota 2, it is a multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) which pitches two teams of five against each other. There are 109 characters (‘heroes’) to pick from, each with different skills and a lot more on top of that to consider. It is arguably the biggest game in e-sports at the moment, with last year’s prize pool at The International tournament weighing in at $10,931,103.00, the largest prize pool for any e-sports event so far. It is well known to be a game with a steep learning curve for beginners, and you’re almost guaranteed to be incredibly shit for many months – as outlined by the now ubiquitous “Welcome to Dota, You Suck”, introductory guide on Purge Gamers.

I became aware of Dota 2 whilst I was at university, a steadily increasing amount of Steam friends logging into the game over the course of a few years. It was only recently that a friend asked me to give it a go with him that I thought I’d take the plunge.

So far I have played as Axe, Centaur Warrunner, Abaddon, Queen of Pain (a woman after my own heart), Lina and Enchantress. Abaddon and Queen of Pain were pretty successful outings for a total rookie’s standards, which meant I got a couple of kills in and the amount of times I died was in the single digits too. My stint as Enchantress, a character who’s chirpier than Princess Peach, started well but got increasingly tough as the game progressed – I was described by another player as “squishy and tasty” as he quickly took me out. Axe was a categorical fail, mainly because I seemed to be about 8 levels behind the rest of my team due to getting continually mauled by one hero early on called Bloodseeker.

What does rupture do again?
What does rupture do again?

Before my first ever game I went into a total panic when selecting a hero, to the point where I selected ‘random’, then backed out and picked someone else. I was told a little too late that doing that lost you money from your starter amount. I then spent about 20 seconds angrily searching for a guide to point me in the right direction, as well as yelping into my microphone that I couldn’t close the shop.

Playing bots with my friend coaching me was fun. It was leisurely and I was learning things. I was getting to know the map and the different roles. The bot heroes would wander around in a fairly unaggressive manner and it was satisfying knocking down towers as they did little to stop me.

I came into trouble playing with two friends against real peopletwo friends who had several hundred hours practice ahead of me. This meant I was auto-matched against real people who were far outpacing me and clearly thought I was a total liability (which, to be honest, I was). A lot of the time, I was dead before I’d had any chance to react, lost in smoke and light and blood. Turning the Tide? More often I was swimming against it.

Some people were actually rather pleasant, advising me on the persistent Bloodseeker who killed me a solid 5-10 times by combining his horrid Wiccan-esque blood circle and ‘rupture’ spell. Somebody else told me to delete the game- har har har.

Items were something else to try and get my head around, and seemed to go particularly awry during my matches against the living. There are so many items that can be constructed and used and there is no one correct answer as to which items work with which hero. Each item was seemingly more complex to build than the last, with names like ‘urn of shadows’ and ‘eye of skadi’, rows upon rows of them in a catalogue that I quite often browsed at completely unsuitable times which ended in my inevitable death.

In one game I bought two different boots but was told that their effects didn’t stack, which was upsetting as I liked the idea of Centaur Warrunner in two green boots and two blue boots: he had enough legs for them! There is one famous Dota player, Dendi, who is known for his ‘creative’ use of items; I hope I am on the path to this method of playing with my multiple-boots angle.


In one of my earliest games, I bought the Gem of True Sight which allowed my team to see invisible heroes on the opposing team. Invisible heroes I’ve found generally like to sit around watching you get on with your business, then cut you up before disappearing again. They also tend to be the ones that scarper first in a big team fight. I was killed about 10 minutes after acquiring said gem and it was picked up by the other team. Great.

I was fortunate in that my crime was somewhat absolved by something called the Divine Rapier. This is the most powerful damage-dealing item in the game and like the Gem of True Sight, can be picked up from the floor on the death of the holder. My friend bought the rapier, over the protests of the rest of the team, and was killed about 30 seconds later, dropping the item for the other team to find. There was a lot of bemoaning and blaming but we still somehow managed to win.

There are some aspects I’m getting better at, including last-hitting and generally realising that it’s far better to run than be killed.  There’s nothing quite so annoying as watching your character fade into a pool of blood, then having to wait 30 seconds or more to respawn back into the game whilst the other team are richly rewarded for their efforts. It’s a refreshing frustration though; few games really punish death nowadays.

I might be the “shitty wizard” at the moment, but a couple of good mentors and hard learned lessons have helped my knowledge base increase massively already in only a few weeks; a colleague popped up on my Steam chat during my debut and suggested that I should play as Meepo. You might be laughing now, my friend, but give me a few more hundred hours and I’m going to Earthbind all over you.

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