Still Playing: Dota 2

They say you get more conservative as you get older. The weights of the world grind you down, you close off your idealistic impulses, and you draw inwards. You become selfish. You look out for number one. You uphold the status quo.

Dota 2′s status quo is anger. Seething, simmering anger, held barely in check by the civility inherent in a game ten people choose to play together. Like I’d been told I’d experience a gradual slide toward conservatism, I was told Dota 2 would make me angry.

So I told myself I’d be different. I told myself I’d buck the trend. Everyone else was made gnarled, wizened, cynical by this game. But not me. I’d stay helpful and friendly until the end.

Dota promotes anger by design. Mistakes don’t hurt just you – they hurt your entire team, another four humans who’ve committed upwards of forty minutes of their own time to a match that you’ve sent on an inexorable slide toward failure. The second a player makes a mistake is the second the levee breaks, and the anger pours forth. Someone moves into the wrong lane. Someone buys the wrong item. Someone – crime of crimes – dies.

Dying is the worst thing you can do in Dota 2. MOBAs pit equal teams against each other, and to go down to an opponent is to gift your opponents tangible and intangible benefits. Tangible in the experience and gold you pay out on snuffing it that goes toward their levelling and item pool, and intangible in the confidence boost and time they get freely farming your AI allies.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. There’s a period of downtime before your AI troops – creeps – meet your opponents’ at the start of a game. Players can sprint ahead of their soon-to-spawn compadres and fight each other without support. New players are tempted by the lure of a body flitting back into the fog of war, and often give chase. They chase right into a tower – a static, projectile firing defence that won’t come crumbling down until a concerted, multi-person assault ten minutes and several levels into the game. The art of tower-diving – chasing an opponent into a tower’s firing radius to score a kill, then escaping alive – is one of Dota 2’s most complicated manoeuvres to master, requiring deft control and a steely resolve.

I watched as an Anti-Mage on my team sprinted straight into a tower and died some forty seconds into a game. Dota’s in-game chat is terse, typed between moments of explosive action, and I had the text box open before I knew what I was doing.

“rly?”, I typed, still trying to work out back at base which of the four of us left would buy Dota 2’s item-carry donkey courier. Immediately, I checked myself. Inside the first minute of the game, I was already irate, passive-aggressively shaming a player on my own team. I felt bad. I didn’t want to call him out: I’d need him to be upbeat, performing his best, if we were to sneak this one with a win. I also wanted to retain my innocence, to not give in to Dota’s dark side.

He typed back. “1st game sry.” My heart melted. “plz just tell me wat 2 do.”

I spent the next 30 minutes guiding him through the game’s lengthy checklist of basics. Try to bag the last hit on an enemy creep to earn more gold. Stand within a certain range of dying enemies to hoover up their experience. Buy items that suit your character’s play style. Use the side-shop for boots of speed. Don’t call the courier when you’re about to be in a fight. Stay away from those towers. And don’t die.

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