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PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: what tournament play has taught me about Dota 2">Tidehunter Ravage

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

You're always learning, whether or not it feels like it. I've had games of Dota where I've felt like I've learned nothing at all, where my mistakes have been obvious to me (and probably to everybody else involved) and my victories have been conducted against enemies too busy screaming at each other or eating paint to make it mean anything. There is always, however, a way to learn.

If you work on your ability to pick apart a situation to understand its various components which is something I've written about in this column before then it's possible to derive rules and principles that are tremendously helpful. This is because your performance in Dota is made of up two things. The first is the obvious stuff: the mixture of game knowledge and mechanical skill that comprises the better part of your matchmaking rating. The second part is more nebulous, because it's bound up in things that are personal to you. Whether you have an ego or not. Whether or not you are calm. Whether you can comprehend and act on criticism. You are always able to work on the latter, and you should, because it'll make you happier and better at the game.

I've been playing in a couple of tournaments recently. I'm part of a games industry Dota 2 tournament called The Rektreational that has been running for a couple of months. I'm on team Venomancer, I Hardly Know Her? with Philippa Warr of RPS, freelancer Phill Cameron, PyrionFlax, and shaneomad. We've won our first two matches and are through to the third round.

I'm also in a team called the Hot Dukes and last night we took part in the qualifiers for the Epic LAN EGX Dota 2 tournament, the finals for which will be held at the EGX expo in London at the end of month. We won our first game and got crushed in the second. We learned a bunch of things. We'll turn them into rules and move on. That's how this stuff works.

Playing in this way has reinforced a bunch of things that felt like I knew about the game and myself and corrected many others. I'm by no means a good player, but I think I have an alright attitude and slowly but surely I've arrived at the point where I think I've got actual advice to share about playing structured Dota.

The first piece of advice, which anybody who was watching the Epic LAN stream last night will understand, is 'don't blink directly into a Disruptor ult'. Yep. Learned that one. The rest of this is somewhat more elaborate.

The theorycraft has no brakes

...and that can get you in trouble. The funny thing about Captain's Mode is that it looks and feels like the type of Dota that you see talented professionals playing. The thing is, you are probably not a talented professional Dota player. It is very, very easy to get carried away by imitating strategies you're not fully capable of pulling off, and to be led astray by a metagame that you think you understand fully but probably don't. That's the thing about the metagame: it's easy to learn because it's not, ultimately, about personal skill. It's about knowledge, and knowledge can be memories - and misused.

Adhering tightly to the same set of top tier bans because that's what the players you admire do can hold you in good stead when your opponents are doing the same thing, but it's not always right. If you know your enemy, banning out their favourite heroes is almost certainly better. If you don't, banning Razor, Viper and Void isn't necessarily going to save you. They might run Silencer, and that guy is a total prick unless you have the individual talent to outlane him and, later in the game, the team coordination to disengage from fights properly.

It comes down to humility, really. Don't bind up all of your hopes in theorycraft that you can't pull off. In turn, don't feel bad if your skill level restricts the kinds of strategies you can try that is just a fact of life. The moment you find yourself unable you pull off a strat you think you understand, you've identified something fixed and tangible that you should be trying to correct about your play. You've identified another rung on the ladder. Just expect to slip a few times before you get a hold on it.

It's okay to be a tryhard sometimes

This might seem contrary given what I've just written, but there are times when taking teamplay 'too' seriously is actually the best thing you can possibly do especially when it concerns all that ego and discipline stuff I won't stop talking about. Reining in your ambitions in terms of strategies and hero drafts is possibly a good thing. Learning to act and communicate like an actual team is, however, the best thing you can possibly do if you want to take Dota seriously.

When I started playing with a team we came up with communication rules that dictate how much we're allowed to rage at each other (we're not) and how we frame criticism and respond to problems. I've played in teams without these rules, and the difference is night and day. Around two weeks ago the Hot Dukes gave up four kills in the enemy jungle and went on to win from that disastrous start because we didn't freak out. A week later I played with a different team and gave up three kills in very similar circumstances. In that case, the game was lost from minute zero: people lost their shit, at themselves and at each other, and simply trying to coordinate properly was like fighting a losing battle.

The difference is that the former team had worked specifically to develop an attitude that could withstand an early game disaster. Ideally, we wouldn't have early game disasters at all. But being a bit of a tryhard paid off, and I'd thoroughly recommend it.

Figure out your tilt controls

Regardless, things will go wrong. They always do. People tilt, and games are lost because one setback is enough to send someone's confidence and with it, their ability slowly tipping over like a drunk at a house party. You need to figure out whatever it is that will make you feel better in that scenario, and more pointedly you need to work out if it's actually the best thing to do. It may be that your instinct, when you're tilting, is to mute your microphone, or sigh loudly, or play passively. There is a very good chance that these ideas are wrong because they broadcast your tilt to everybody on your team, exacerbating their own bad moods and worsening your collective position.

Your process for straightening your shit out needs to be quiet and internal, in this game if in no other context. That might mean stacking a few jungle camps and getting your next big item, doing some dewarding, or suggesting and acting on a rotation or a push. But it's on you to establish and follow the rules you set for yourself. Although it make you feel better, sighing your way through an uncontrolled tilt will lose you the game and make you feel worse.

Everybody throws

From the trench to the International, there are very few teams in the world that don't screw up from time to time. Even DK with their legendary control threw a game against LGD by allowing it to go too long. Everybody does this, even you, and even the opponent you feel hopelessly outmatched by. In team games, it is tempting to call GG after a few bad encounters or even a lost lane of rax the point, more or less, where the game feels like its over. It probably isn't. It is always possible for your opponent to make a mistake. Even if there's nothing you can do, simply surviving for an extra couple of minutes gives the enemy team a little more rope with which to hang themselves.

Most of the time they won't, and you'll be left to figure out whatever lessons you need to learn. But sometimes you'll go on to win the teamfight that turns the game and you'll remember that game forever. And it's not a cheap or chance victory, either: you got there because you stuck it out when other people would tilt or give up. You might not have the most effective trilane and your offlaner might keep blinking into Disruptor ults for no reason, but you kept your shit together. Good job, hero.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.>

“We do not examine individual win / loss streaks or try to end them,” say Valve staff in a blog about matchmaking and matchmaking ranking (MMR). I believe them. Right now, I am particularly inclined to believe them because I’m thirteen games into a losing streak and Dota 2‘s matchmaking system has not intervened to make my digital wizard experience pleasant or easy even once.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to ESPN boss claims e-sports are “not a sport”">International

In many ways, this year's Dota 2 International was a turning point for e-sports perception as a mainstream event. Not only did it boast the highest prize pool of any e-sports tournament, but it also found traction with North America's ESPN. The network broadcast the tournament through the streaming service ESPN3, and aired an exclusive grand final preview on cable channel ESPN2. But if you were looking to ESPN president John Skipper to validate a belief that e-sports are a sport, you're in for some disappointment.

Skipper was asked about Amazon's acquisition of Twitch at the Code/Media Series: New York conference, reports Re/Code, and gave a full appraisal of his perception of e-sports. "It's not a sport, it's a competition," he said. "Chess is a competition. Checkers is a competition. Mostly, I'm interested in doing real sports."

Previously, it seemed, ESPN were "delighted" with The International's performance. "ESPN have seen enough recent successes with e-sports and are about to double down," a source "close to ESPN" told The Daily Dot. "The numbers they hit with The International have only cemented the view that the time is right."

In other news: this.

Thanks, CVG.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: your Dota hero is having a good time and so should you">Storm Spirit

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

Dota 2 is funny, both by design and by accident. It's funny when people get angry. It's funny to screw up. It's funny to Force Staff your friends into the enemy fountain. It's funny to get a rampage as Axe. Laughing at the weird stuff that springs from Dota forms the basis of a healthy number of YouTube channels. It's as vital a part of the life of the game as the competitive scene or making items for the Steam Workshop.

Relatively speaking, the parts of Dota that are designed to be funny - particularly the writing - get less attention. This is a really interesting aspect of the game, specifically as it relates to a broad shift in the tone of multiplayer games over the last decade or so. In the 90s, competitive gaming on PC was characterised by grit. Quake looked like a prog-metal album cover. Counter-Strike was a Tom Clancy game given a shot of adrenaline. The early MMOs chased realism (elf realism, anyway) and Team Fortress Classic took place in some vague modern military otherworld where mercs with furrowed brows fought over the same flag forever.

Notable exceptions to this rule were games by Blizzard, which had always been funny, and, to a lesser extent, Valve's debut. The first Half-Life had a streak of black comedy running through it, though this wasn't something that manifested in the series' multiplayer until the second one allowed you to fire toilets at people. Then, all of a sudden, Valve became really funny. Portal came out, and Team Fortress 2 emerged from multiple attempts to create a 'serious' shooter as a kind of FPS Adult Swim cartoon.

This shift took place everywhere. Blizzard's sense of humour resurfaced in World of Warcraft and, as a consequence, comic characters and situations are now a stock part of an MMO gameworld. The lane-pushing genre grew out of Warcraft 3, inheriting Blizzard's tonal sensibilities along with DotA's game mechanics. The most successful games of this type, Dota 2 included, are cartoons of one sort or another. The characters may kick seven shades out of each other, but they do it while smiling.

To an extent this is done with the goal of attracting a large audience, but it's not entirely marketing-driven. In fact, marketing often complicates this general trend towards lighter, more accessible games - I can think of a number of games that might have had decent art if somebody in a suit hadn't stapled boobs to everything. Nor does it suggest that games have become easier or more infantile. Overall, the trend has more in common with the influence that Pixar have had on kids' movies.

Dota 2's character roster is so varied that it borders on incoherent. Its writers have always been reluctant to use backstory for anything other than flavour, and wisely so: it'd be quixotic to try to wring a plausible fantasy narrative out of a hundred-plus heroes. I mean, okay, yes, George R. R. Martin did it, but his characters are not - in the main - helicopters or bears. These characters, their backstories and their voices are designed to be emblematic of the types of things they do in the game, not to serve a function within a wider plot.

And yet, despite all of that variety, one remarkably consistent quality of these characters is how happy they seem to be. There's very little actual nastiness or complaining or strife, except - perhaps - from Troll Warlord, who is intended to be a send-up of his comments thread counterpart. He's one of the only characters that doesn't vocalise a genuine 'thank you' when the player types 'ty'. I mean, even Doom says thank you, and he's literally Satan.

There's a lot of funny writing in Dota, and the net effect of that funny writing is that the characters themselves come across as funny people. Windranger is funny. Storm Spirit is funny. Juggernaut and Brewmaster are funny. And so on, and so on. I'd go for a drink with most of these people. Hell, even Bane - I mean, he's a little weird, but everybody has a friend like that. That sense of personality plays an enormous role in balancing Dota 2's tone. If it was a game of tooth-grindingly serious battle between serious warriors I suspect it'd be unbearable: it's bad enough when you're stuck in a game with somebody who only wants to scream at you. If your character seemed to be hating the experience too, what would be the point?

But here's the conundrum - and, I guess, the irony. The way Dota characters speak and interact with one another sets a standard for behaviour that offsets the bad attitudes of other players but - in itself - doesn't succeed at influencing or moderating that behaviour. Nobody who is so self-serious that they're willing to scream obscenities at a stranger is going to be dissuaded from that path by the fact that the ancient undead ice wizard that they're controlling is actually kind of a nice guy. The game can demonstrate a model for competitive behaviour that doesn't involve being a dick, and it does so well - but most people ignore it.

As a result, Dota 2 is a game where Satan is - more often than not - more polite to his rivals than most of the people you'll meet in solo ranked matchmaking. There's a punchline there somewhere, I'm sure.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.>

A few days ago I was playing Dota as part of a group of four. The fifth slot went to a total stranger. Maybe it’ll be fine, we told ourselves. Maybe it’ll be alright, we thought as he took Pudge mid. Maybe it’ll be oh God no he’s a ping fan.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: the seven stages of Techies">Techies

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

The patch could be here tomorrow. Maybe? Hopefully. By the time you read this you'll probably know more than I do. Valve have promised Techies by the end of August; Valve have promised a lot of things. Anything - and literally nothing - is possible.

It'll probably be tomorrow. If it is, we'll finally begin the process of accepting Techies into the game. Techies, the argument goes, are going to change how pub Dota is played forever. All Pick is going to become a (literal) minefield. The old ways will be gone. It seems appropriate that a hero with a reputation for griefing should attract a seven-stage process of its own.

Shock and denial

This is how you are going to feel the first time that an enemy Techies shockingly denies themselves to secure first blood against you. It will feel cheap, at first, and unfair. Techies can achieve with a single allied Tiny what the entire Dire team normally pulls off by rushing into the Radiant jungle before the horn.

"The novelty will wear off" you'll think, when the surprise fades. "People will get bored of doing it eventually." Now you're in denial: they will not get bored. There will always be new Techies players, just as there are always new Pudge players. The future looks like an endless series of level one suicide attacks. As you stare into the flames you perceive motion, like a pair of sunglasses descending; deal with it, the fire whispers.

Pain and guilt

You'll give in eventually. Change your name and queue solo and lock Techies before anybody else can. You'll fling yourself out of the fog of war at Crystal Maiden or somebody and - boom - there's your first blood. You'll mine the side shops and feed terribly. This might make you feel a little bit better at first but then the guilt comes: you're not that guy, are you? You never used to be that guy.

Anger and bargaining

Everybody else, however, clearly is that guy. After a week of contending with Techies in pub matches the novelty has very much worn off: who do these people think they are? Why doesn't anybody want to play Dota the way it used to be? Is everybody new? You suspect that everybody is new, and say as much.

When anger doesn't achieve anything - because it has never, in the history of Dota, achieved anything - you turn to bargaining. "pls no techies" you hurriedly type at the beginning of games. "i support if no techies pls". As a gesture of good faith you pick Witch Doctor and buy wards, courier, smoke, sentries. Then, somebody notices that Techies are free and repicks their hero. You sob quietly into your single Iron Branch.

Reflection and loneliness

Perhaps it is time to simply move on: to leave solo queue for a week or two and wait for the fuss to die down. You could work on your last-hitting, perhaps, or learn a new hero. Then, the notion strikes you: what if you work on becoming a really good Techies player? Someone respectable. Somebody the kids will look up to.

And so you practice. You read guides on bomb placement and work on finding farm with that awful basic attack in bot matches. You devote yourself to the theory and craft of Techies play, and slowly you improve. But there's no life in it, no spark. You realise that, as guilty as you felt at the time, there's something innocent and carefree about throwing your life away to troll a support. You start to miss the flames, in your own way.

The upward turn

When you return to solo queue you're no longer as aggrieved by the presence of little explosive goblins. You roll your eyes knowingly both at the players who automatically pick them and the players who get angry about the same: you've been both, you've moved past both. Your time practicing the hero has given you the knowledge you need to avoid the most obvious traps, and while from time to time you find yourself wandering into a nest of mines it stings far less than it used to.


You've got your Dota back. It's a little different, and sometimes people explode, but it's Dota. When Techies show up in Random Draft or Single Draft games it's an opportunity to play something a little bit unusual. You and your friends work to include Techies into your plans from time to time: when playing with a stack the hero is just another tool in the box, and not the end of the world. You watch a friend wander into a shop full of mines and laugh the long laugh of the healed.

Acceptance and hope

You have been on a long journey, Techies and you. Dota isn't quite the same as it used to be, but it's always like this, isn't it? You remember back, way back to when Spirit Breaker was added and smile. It's just like that, isn't it? Why didn't you realise? For a while, all anybody wanted to do was charge across the map as an angry-looking cosmic cow. Now, all they want to do is explode. And just like Spirit Breaker, you are probably never, ever going to see somebody pick Techies in a professional match. You will be fine.

The game settles down, and you start to wonder: what next? By this point, a month has passed - perhaps two. We are entering the autumn. You cast around for something to get hyped about all over again. Then, it hits you: where the fuck is Diretide?

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.>

A few days back I was reading through Skeleton King’s lore and picking over his evolution through the years. It pulled me into a wider train of thought about Dota lore and how the game itself doesn’t go in for a particular obvious narrative conceit. You are a team of wizards some of whom know each other and you want to kick over the other team’s base. What the base does, what the team does after winning or losing, why the characters are on Radiant or Dire side none of that gets addressed over the course of a match. But why is that the case, and would Dota 2 benefit from a little more lore?

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: why Culling Blade is Dota 2′s most entertaining skill">Axe

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

Ultimate abilities are a good place to start whenever you're tasked with explaining why Dota is cool. They're silly, diverse, exciting to watch. If you're staring at an unconvinced game designer, show them how Chain Frost interacts with Chronosphere. Show them how Wraith King's Reincarnation power is both a safetynet and a mobile psychological deterrent. Show them almost any great Echoslam, but probably this one, because it's a tragedy and a comedy at the same time.

These abilities and the anecdotes they create are the soul of the game. They're why many people play. Faceless Void is popular because of the chance however unlikely that this time it'll be you that lands that perfect, game-turning Chronosphere. That glittering stasis bubble is symbolic of a pub metagame largely defined by players wanting to be lone-wolf superstars, a protected space where nobody can get between you and your rampage. I love the little double fist-pump Void does as the Chronosphere goes down it makes me think of that moment at the end of The Breakfast Club. Don't you forget about Void.

I've been thinking a lot about what makes certain ultimates work as part of the life of the game. This has nothing to do with how powerful or viable they are it's about the effect they have on the tone of a given match. As fun as Chronosphere is for the solo player, it's also an example of a spell that drains fun from the game for everybody else. Nobody other than Void wants to be inside that bubble. The same is true for Song of the Siren in fact, the only reason Chronosphere isn't the most frustrating ult to screw up is because a bad Song of the Siren is capable of ruining Naga Siren's plans along with everybody else's.

The best skills make the game more exciting for everybody, and that's why I submit to you, strangers from the internet, that Axe's Culling Blade is secretly the best ability in the game. This stems from the argument that Axe is secretly the best hero in the game, which I earnestly believe but will save for another time because I'd rather not have that argument.

For the unaware, Culling Blade allows Axe to insta-kill any enemy hero who drops below a certain health threshold. If you use it above that threshold, it goes on cooldown and merely does damage. Do it below the threshold and thanks to one of the best ability tweaks of all time it has no cooldown and can immediately be used to cull somebody else. The animation is this great leaping slam-dunk, accompanied by a sound like somebody smacking the world's most self-satisfied watermelon with the ringing hatchet of justice.

The last time I wrote about Culling Blade it was in the context of a tongue-in-cheek article about Dota's most meaningless numbers. I learned that day that many people do not want your tongue anywhere near their cheek, and they'll rush to call you an asshole if you ever suggest seriously or not that your right to Culling Blade somebody is more important than someone else's right to get kills or farm or whatever. Of course it isn't. A good Axe player knows among other things that there's a time when your team really does need you to dunk (a Shallow-Graving Dazzle, Abaddon just after Borrowed Time triggers) and a time when yes, maybe Ember Spirit can do more with those kills.

That's all well and good. The reason it's so heartbreaking to have your dunks denied is because the ability is so well designed. It feels incredible, and every successful dunk promises another. Like the dream of getting a rampage inside a Chronosphere, it's a selfish urge but where Void's glory-or-not occurs inside of a couple of seconds, an Axe rampage is this delirious, free-roaming thing. You get a movement speed boost whenever you cull somebody, as if the game is saying go, go! Go get the next one. Once you chop, you can't stop.

And here's the kicker: it's actually kind of fun for everybody else, too. Culling Blade is the only spell I can think of that regularly gets a cheer from allies. Yes, you probably stole their kill. But you did it with style, and Axe seems really happy about it, and who can blame him? He's from a mission from god to welcome whole teams to the space jam. I'd rather be dunked by Axe than picked off with pedantic precision by Sniper, because everything about Culling Blade communicates manic glee. It's a direct injection of energy and silliness into a battle in a game where most ultimates have the opposite effect Global Silence, Chronosphere, Primal Split and Doom are all good examples of stop signs. Culling Blade isn't a stop sign. It's that moment at the beginning of a motor race when the lights turn green. It is systematically impossible for it to be an anti-climax.

Has there ever been a better first blood, or a more entertaining gank turnaround, or a better start to a tournament than Pajkatt's double dunk at the beginning of ESL One Frankfurt? I don't think there has and I don't think there's another ability in the game that could get that reaction of a football stadium full of people. Because Culling Blade is secretly the best ability in the game.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

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