A spectator’s guide to Dota 2

When The International 3 starts on August 7, Dota 2 won’t have been out of closed beta for a month. Unfortunately, that means most players haven’t had time to learn the intricacies of the incredibly complex game before it’s time for the highest-paying eSports tournament in history.

Fortunately, Dota 2 is significantly easier to spectate than it is to play. There’s no need to memorize every Hero’s skills or item stats to get into the excitement if you have a basic understanding of what’s going on. This guide is a quick primer to let you know what to watch for when watching The International next week. It is not intended to teach you how to play, and won’t discuss some of the knowledge required to play the game itself.

Let’s start with the basics. The goal of Dota 2 is relatively simple: Two teams of five players work to get across the map and destroy the enemy team’s Ancient deep within their base. Sounds pretty simple, right?

There are complications, though. For players to get their building Ancient destruction on, they must first make it through a series of high-powered turret-like Towers, enemy creep units, and opposing heroes.

Brawls happen in one of the three “lanes.” If you take a look at the Dota 2 map, you’ll see two L-shaped open spaces winding around the edges of the map and another right in the middle. Those are the “lanes,” and are labelled as top, mid, and bottom (or “bot”). The space in between the lanes is called the “jungle” and contains more neutral monsters that can be killed for experience and money.

Typically, the majority of the team spends most of their time in the lanes, fighting to kill the AI-controlled creep units and opposing champions. During the early game, you’ll see them focusing on leveling their characters and obtaining items while simultaneously attempting to slay their opponents. All the while, regular waves of creep units will fight it out among themselves.

Taking down enemy characters is nice, but the real goal here is the Towers, which rain fire down upon anyone who gets within their range. Heroes need two things to bring them down: A wave of creeps to shield them from the Tower’s blows, and some serious firepower.

The Towers also serve as a good way to figure out which team is winning at any particular moment. In general, the team that has cleared more of their opponents’ 11 towers is in the lead. The clear, obvious objectives make figuring out who’s winning in Dota 2 significantly easier than many other games on the eSports scene.

In order to pull off the downright Herculean task of taking down a tower, heroes must power up. Just like in most RPG-oriented games, there are two ways to do this. First, and most obvious, is leveling up. Killing just about anything awards experience, and when enough is attained, heroes level up and are awarded a skill point to improve one of their skills or simply buff their base stats.

But perhaps the most influential way to power up heroes is by way of items. Whether players are looking to improve their attack speed, defense against magic attacks, or gain a quick speed boost, items are necessary. And you get items by spending gold at one of the map’s shops. When you see a player making their way to one of the three shops on their side of the map (one at the base, one in the corner of the bottom and top lanes, and one in the jungle), expect a big power boost.

Finally, positions. The roles of the 102 heroes are extremely flexible, but at the most basic levels, they get split into one of three categories: Carries, supports, and junglers. Carries are the fighters of the bunch, and tend to be weak in the early game, while gaining a the capability to do huge amounts of damage as they level up. Supports are there to help the carries get to that point using stuns, buffs, and slows to keep them alive. Junglers are the rolling stones of the group, wandering from lane to lane, killing monsters in the jungle, and surprising opponents in their lanes in order to get kills.

Obviously, there’s a ton more to learn about Dota 2, but these tips should give you a basic idea of what’s going on in The International next week. Of course, the best way to learn the game is to play it, and Dota 2 is recently out of beta. Just be prepared for a crazy steep learning curve.