PC Gamer

We asked some of the top minds in four of today's top e-sports about the state of their games.

Dota 2

Will "Blitz" Lee

Will "Blitz" Lee is a professional Dota 2 player, streamer, and sometime caster. You might know him for his Storm Spirit, for his work on the International 2014 newbie stream, or for his role as waifu to Purge's husbando. Formerly of Team Zephyr, he crossed the elusive 7K MMR barrier in January.

What was the highpoint of 2014 for Dota 2?

I'd say the TI matches between DK and EG. All the matches these teams played between one another were highly innovative and close, demonstrating the best of the west, and the fan favorites of the east.

How would you describe the health of the Dota scene?

Fairly strong, I think the active user base is growing, but I hear unrest from competitive players. It feels with how much TI is worth, all other tournaments are just sideshows along the way. There needs to be some way to incite interest again, maybe making tournaments worth seeding points or something.

If you could ask Valve to make one change, what would it be?

Be more transparent with how TI invites are sent, and how tournaments are weighted. Are ones earlier in the year worth less? etc.

In terms of Dota, what do you think was the funniest thing that happened last year?

That I hit 7k before Arteezy.

What is the biggest challenge that the competitive Dota scene faces in 2015?

Probably figuring out how to grow the tournament scene without relying on massive prize pools. It seems the tournaments that pay out 50k+ which is really good money have been left behind or interest is waning for them. I'm not sure how to solve this issue though, just random thoughts.

Who are the players or teams that you think will make the biggest impact this year?

Iceiceice is probably the x factor for VG, think Secret will do well but that isn't really a surprise.

What heroes are you personally enjoying right now?

Storm, Phantom Lancer, Sniper, Lina, all seem really fun and active around the map.

What do you think are the key components of a good Dota stream?

Humor, being able to make fun of yourself/take a joke, being informative, and not letting the chat get to you. Interaction with your stream is also huge, being able to make a personal connection with everyone helps bring people back.

Which Twitch meme makes you secretly smile?

"I sexually identify as an attack helicopter."

Where do you expect the next big innovation or upset in the Dota scene to come from?

Probably a team like Hellraisers or the Koreans, I feel team's like Phoenix/Rave/HR just sort of do whatever fits them without paying attention too much to whatever is popular in other regions.

How would you describe the current state of Korean Dota? Where is it headed in 2015?

Strong, Phoenix and Rave make good cases for being invited from the SEA region, and both can upset top teams, in 2015 I think one Korean team will make it into the main event, but if they make a splash remains to be seen. Maybe one more year till they get top 10 worthy, but with the work ethic it s possible.


Tomi lurppis Kovanen

Tomi lurppis Kovanen is a writer at HLTV.org and former competitive CS 1.6 player from 2004-2013. Since then, he has been casting and hosting CS:GO tournaments.

What was the highpoint of 2014 for CS:GO?

I believe the highpoint of 2014 for CS:GO was when NiP won ESL One Cologne. The way it happened probably made it the best storyline of the entire year—you really couldn t have scripted it much better. To top that off, CS:GO as a game broke all the previous records (viewership, players, etc.) during that same event, though they were again shattered later on in 2014.

How would you describe the health of the CS:GO scene?

CS:GO is doing tremendously well. There is no question that Counter-Strike as a whole has never been doing better. It seems—though it would be great if Valve could clarify—that we re set to have three or so majors a year now, which allows the rest of the circuit to be built around it. As far as I can tell we re going to have top notch Counter-Strike all-year round in 2015. It s a great time to be a fan of the game.

If you could ask Valve to make one change, what would it be?

In my opinion, and I have written about this in more detail roughly a month ago, the only real issue with CS:GO as of right now is that it is an incredibly counter-terrorist sided game. In my article I have outlined some ideas to make the game more balanced, but if I had to choose just one, it would be fixing the smokes so they d maybe last a second or two less, would be slightly smaller (think 10-20%) and, most importantly, they wouldn t glitch for the player trying to go through them.

In terms of CS:GO, what do you think was the funniest thing that happened last year?

I found it legitimately hilarious when Fifflaren essentially replaced me as the analyst at DreamHack events after retiring from NiP. Contrary to popular opinion there are no hard feelings between us and he actually is my favorite caster to watch.

What is the biggest challenge that the competitive CS:GO scene faces in 2015?

I actually believe the scene is getting slightly oversaturated in terms of tournaments and online leagues, and we are already seeing some top level teams withdraw from many events with a good amount of prize money up for grabs.

Who are the players or teams you think will make the biggest impact this year?

Though kennyS already is the world s best player individually in my opinion, his team s struggles in 2014 didn t allow for him to have the kind of impact you would expect. I think that will change in 2015 as he continues improving and the team around him will get better.

What weapon or knife skins are you running right now? Is there anything in the Chroma update that you d really like to get?

In terms of skins my taste is far too conservative for the average user, I tend to like skins without any odd graphical features. I like the Night knives, as opposed to the shiny Chroma ones, for example.

What do you think are the key components of a good CS:GO stream?

Since my personal appetite for streams is so inconsistent with that of the public, I will answer for what I believe makes for a popular stream. You need positive personalities who can kill some time while waiting for matches, preferably some players as guest analysts sometimes, and you need to be consistent in streaming. As for my personal preference, to me it s very important that CS:GO itself looks default I dislike custom crosshairs, odd-colored HUDs, etc.

What Twitch chat meme makes you secretly smile?

My friend allu, who currently plays for Finnish 3DMAX, has a ridiculous looking meme of a face I made around eight years ago. It s pretty funny.

Where do you expect the next big innovation in CS:GO to come from?

Well it wouldn t be very innovative if I called it out right now, would it? One thing is for sure—it will not come from Valve, who have never been very innovative when it comes to the game. Hopefully a governing body of some kind could be put together by some people to help better organize the tournament circuit. That would be good for the scene.

Is item betting helping or hurting CS:GO?

To be honest I have never bought the argument for how betting could potentially be hurting CS:GO. There is so much evidence in terms of viewership growth that betting is great for CS:GO that this really should not be a discussion. It is easy to blame DDoSing only on betting, but it was already taking place in the CS 1.6 days when betting didn t really exist. Some people just want to see the world burn.

If you could pick the competitive map pool, what would be in it?

Out of the maps that are currently available, I would keep de_cache, de_dust2, de_inferno, de_mirage and de_overpass. I would then bring back de_train instead of de_nuke—which is basically never played—and replace de_cobblestone with de_season. I would also look into bringing on de_tuscan, maybe instead of de_mirage, if that becomes popular—and gets finished—at some point.

League of Legends

Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles

Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles is a caster for the Korean OnGameNet Champions league. He was also previously a coach for team Counter Logic Gaming in the NA LCS, and is frequently brought on to cast international tournaments.

What was the highpoint of 2014 for LoL?

I look back fondly on the series between KT Arrows and Samsung Blue in the Champions Summer finals. Not only did this best of five deliver high quality gameplay, but also some of the most exciting and gut-wrenching games of the year. This was undoubtedly the high point of LoL in 2014.

How would you describe the health of the LoL scene?

Viewership for League continues to grow on average for broadcasts around the world, so it seems to still be going strong. Riot's changes to balance at the end of 2014 and the new Rift should keep the game fresh and strategically interesting as 2015 unfolds.

If you could ask Riot to make one change, what would it be?

I think the main aspect of competitive play currently lacking resides in the limited amount of international competition in the current format. Cross-regional competition provides the most exciting matches for fans and helps fuel rivalries that otherwise remain untapped in a region-locked system.

In terms of LoL, what do you think was the funniest thing that happened last year?

As an analyst there are many moments of comedy gold, but the hope that springs eternal for Western teams from fans at Worlds perpetually provides amusement.

What is the biggest challenge that the competitive LoL scene faces in 2015?

Given Riot's stellar production and ambitious multi-country Worlds circuit in 2014, I believe that the most formidable challenge lies in somehow topping Riot's production from last year.

Who are the players or teams you think will make the biggest impact this year?

The obvious choice given performance and rosters look like SK Telecom, Najin, and OMG. Faker seeking his second World Championship should form the core of storylines in 2015, though it is nearly impossible to predict a winner at this early stage.

What Champions are you using personally right now, and how are they performing?

I don't play the game much. I watch film.

What do you think are the key components of a good LoL stream?

I do not watch player streams but instead prefer professional matches. For me, a pro game relies on quality casting rather than production wizardry.

What Twitch chat meme makes you secretly smile?

ognTSM ROTATIONS ognTSM gets me every time.

Where do you expect the next big innovation in LoL to come from?

Until they are dethroned in a convincing manner, Korean teams will reign supreme in terms of innovation and quality of play.

What are the consequences and benefits of Riot expanding their e-sports broadcast to the Eastern Hemisphere?

Given Riot's stellar production quality, their expansion into more leagues likely benefits the majority of fans. The consolidation of English broadcasts onto a single channel will likely boost viewership for all leagues and therefore increase sponsorship opportunities for individual regions.

How would you compare the current state of Korean LoL to how it was last year, now that you're a couple weeks into the spring split?

Balance seems great so far, with many more interesting facets of the game unexplored to date. The new jungle remains relatively untapped and itemization options continue to expand.


Dan "Frodan" Chou

Dan "Frodan" Chou is the voice of Hearthstone, with his easy charm and laconic wit heard casting back to back tournaments around the clock. He s also the man with the unenviable job of keeping Reynad s salt at optimal levels, as manager of team Tempo Storm. We asked him about the state of play in the Hearthstone scene.

What was the highpoint of 2014 for Hearthstone?

From the fan side, the biggest part of 2014 had to be the release of Hearthstone and the Naxxramas adventure. It was exciting to see how Blizzard would take their first step into expanding beyond the core set which is key to keeping the player base active. From the competitive side, the high point was the World Championship. It was the first time that I got to see a legitimate crowd of 2000 people showing up for the event, getting hyped, cheering for their favorite player, and going nuts.

How would you describe the health of the Hearthstone scene right now?

Hearthstone is in a great spot. It is baffling to think about what this game can do once it releases on mobile phones and gets consistent content out there. Dozens of other game developers and communities would kill to be in a similar position to where it is now relative to e-sports and Twitch.

If you could ask Blizzard to make one change to the game, what would it be?

Content! It's important to keep the game fresh. I also would like more social aspects of Hearthstone to develop. Clans, chat channels, tournaments, spectator mode. They all have one thing in common—interacting with other players!

In terms of Hearthstone, what do you think was the funniest thing that happened last year?

Funniest moment had to be sharing the couch with Ben Brode. His laugh is a real life version of Patch Adams.

What is the biggest challenge that the competitive Hearthstone scene faces in 2015?

The biggest challenge is spreading the wealth of fandom and storylines. We need more people with different kinds of backgrounds and personalities to cheer for. I believe there are a strong batch of Hearthstone players that are undiscovered, great at the game, and fun to follow.

Who are the players or teams you think will make the biggest impact this year?

If I may be biased for a second, I really do believe Tempo Storm will turn heads this year again. Last year, we hit a few rocky patches, but the team has really taken off as we are starting to turn out incredible high quality content on our website tempostorm.com for all skill levels (beginner to legend). Archon also has strong potential with Amaz at the helm and I wish them the best of luck.

What sort of deck are you using personally right now, and how is it performing?

My favorite deck to play right now is Fatigue Mage. I love the feeling of desperation when a player has literally run out of options and are completely hopeless. When they hover over their Hero Power and realize they will die faster than they can kill me, my heart skips a beat.

What do you think are the key components of a good Hearthstone stream?

A great Hearthstone stream involves a good mix of personality, information, and interaction. Some streamers have natural charisma. Some are good looking. Some have fun gimmicks like cosplay, showmatches against other streamers, etc. The whole point is that one isn't better than the other, but there are all kinds of streams to enjoy. I personally love watching Reynad for the laughs, Dog for the education, and Trump to calm me down for a nap.

What Twitch chat meme makes you secretly smile?

Too many, but my favorite involve all of the variations of Kripp's excuses. Too good. This guy's interview questions are CRAZY! He needed precisely those 13 questions to ask me. I answer the question perfectly.

Where do you expect the next big innovation in Hearthstone to come from?

It's hard to say. This is primarily what teams are for—to help refine and practice decks in secret. Hearthstone's primary innovations come from unknown players who inspire the well known innovators. Kolento and Firebat for example often have people behind the scenes helping them with their wacky decks. True innovators like StrifeCro and Reynad will definitely keep coming up with their own material.

What s your opinion on BM ing in pro matches? Do we need more?

I don't think we need more of it, but I think it's great to showboat a little. There's a difference, however, in trying to be mean-spirited versus having fun. I think its a fun element where it sets up natural storylines: see Savjz vs Realz in ESGN fight night!! :D

Do you think Goblins vs Gnomes has had the desired effect in terms of increasing deck diversity at tournaments?

Absolutely. Contrary to popular belief, Hearthstone has an incredible amount of diversity at the moment. There are so many ways to play classes that its hard to keep track of them. You have to be highly advanced in order to tell from one or two cards and even then, you can still make mistakes. People who moan about the unpredictability are often the people who care the most about winning and not having fun. They will have their time in the sun once the metagame is figured out.

Which card deserves to be nerfed most: Dr. Boom, Mech Warper, or Wisp?

I don't want them to nerf Wisp or my budget Dr. Boom will be useless on EU!

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2 and related games. Art this week is Clash of Heroes by Kunkka.

I started playing Dota 2 because somebody needed to. It was that simple, at first: here was a new and popular game in an ascendant genre, and nobody in the PC Gamer office played it. We looked for writers online but found nobody suitable. The problem wasn't just confined to our walls. Many of my colleagues in the UK reported something similar, and the solution we found was to collectively set about fixing this gap in our knowledge. I stuck with the game long past the point where I knew enough to cover it for the magazine and website—this column is the product of that prolonged engagement.

The origin of my hobby was a desire to learn what a 'Dota' was and why people liked it. I more or less did so, and I've developed that understanding over time since then. Sometimes in fairly convoluted directions, as regular readers of this column will know. Lately I've realised that my understanding of the genre is entirely coloured by having learned Dota 2 first. Now that I'm experimenting with other games, I've come to the conclusion that Dota 2's particular business model is fundamental to my experience with the game, and to many of the conclusions I've reached about it since. So fundamental, in fact, that I've come to think of Dota 2 as occupying a subgenre by itself.

Recently I've been playing Smite, which I wrote about last week, and Heroes of the Storm. I've had access to HotS since the earliest days of the technical alpha, and played it intermittently at every stage of its development to date. I like it but don't love it: I appreciate its value to people looking for a light and accessible way into the genre, but having been swimming in the deep end for so long I don't see myself investing a considerable amount of time into it.

In its closed beta incarnation, however, I've become more aware of how alien I find the game's business model. As Blizzard refine the account-wide unlock systems and progression mechanics that surround the core game, I'm more conscious of the levels I don't have, the modes I don't have access to, the characters I need to grind for or buy; the amount of content that I can't quite get at. In a way, I'm surprised at how surprised I am. I understand, on paper, that all of this is a staple of the genre, and that the expectations of many players have been set by League of Legends—for whom all of this is fine. I never played League, however. I started with Dota 2. And I find this way of structuring the game deeply offputting.

When I finally understood what Dota was, I understood it in terms of steady personal growth along two skill axes: personal skill and, relevant to this article, knowledge. The game was a vast open resource, a complicated web of characters, skills, items and contradictions, something I traced a different course through every time I played. Understanding every character seemed paramount, so I played every character. I picked a path through the roster based on gaps in my knowledge, rather than personal preference or success rate. This is how I ended up as such a generalist player, with no particular role or hero that I'd say I was very good at. In some ways, I wish I had focused more closely on something specific. In others ways, it has helped—particularly when it comes to drafting.

Nonetheless, my experience of the genre was fundamentally grounded in the notion that it was a library that I had free access to. A mountain to climb, but with full freedom of movement. It's only now, playing Heroes of the Storm, that I realise how important that feeling was to my continued investment.

In Heroes, characters are unlocked with in-game gold or real cash. They cost different amounts and new characters tend to cost more. You can complete daily quests to earn extra gold, but you're still looking at a substantial grind to unlock everything. Beyond that, each character must be leveled up through play to gain access to the full range of passive traits—Heroes' equivalent to Dota 2's items.

Imagine if Valve adopted the same model for Dota 2. Let's say that the full hero pool was still technically free, but you needed to unlock new characters with in-game experience. Let's say that after you unlocked Juggernaut, you were restricted to a 'newbie-friendly' set of items—Phase Boots, Vladimir's Offering, Desolator. After three games you unlock the right to build Power Treads, Aghanim's Scepter, and Mjollnir. This would likely make for a more manageable experience for new players. It would, however, turn Dota 2 into a different type of game.

Not a worse game, necessarily! This is not a qualitative judgement, but a question of design. Bumping into Heroes' paywall—seeing a hero I don't understand, wanting to test it against other players and being unable to do so—has made me starkly aware of how philosophically different these games can be from one another. Heroes of the Storm sets out to be entertainment, and it is entertaining in a way that an MMO is entertaining. You level up and get new stuff. You always have something tangible to work towards. You are encouraged to invest deep in a single character, a favourite, and worry about the others only if it suits you.

This is anathema to how Dota 2 is best learned. In the Dota 2 community, serious novices set off on the A-Z challenge and decry pub players who lock Pudge every game. Breadth is valued, graft is valued, because the game is work. And it's not work that returns an easy reward, either—getting better at the game is noted by an incremental bump to your winrate, not with a whole new character to play.

It was utterly vital to me, in these circumstances, that Smite offered a 'pay once' option—a generous way to circumvent its god-purchasing system with a single 30 purchase that unlocked everything, forever. If Hi-Rez didn't provide that option, I don't think I'd be playing the game. Because it has this option, Smite occupies a weird position between both sub-genres. When you download it, it's a game in the League of Legends tradition. If you buy the Ultimate God Pack, it becomes Dota 2.

I've long argued that comparing these games is unhelpful. What I'm considering, now, is whether it'd be more useful to think of Dota 2 and League of Legends as occupying different conceptual spaces entirely. That argument would go: Dota 2 is characterised by an overwhelming plurality of things to learn. League is defined by a process of personalisation and selection, both in terms of character choice and in terms of MMO-style progression through the summoner system. These two divergent threads only recombine at the very highest level of play. For everybody else, these may as well be different genres. Neither is better, necessarily, but the division highlights the deep influence that business models have on the types of games we receive.

I've always been uncomfortable with 'MOBA', as a descriptor. It's clumsy, non-specific. It never felt right for Dota 2, whose proposition has always been slightly different to that of its relations—at least for me. I wonder if this is how we redefine our terms, then: Dota 2 simply isn't a MOBA. In a MOBA, you level up your account and unlock new characters for gold or cash; you pick your favourites and participate in an ecosystem of who-owns-what. Dota 2 is, well, Dota. It's propelled by different business interests—driving investment in Steam—and offers a different experience. It's the messy open source equivalent to League's proprietary software. It's Unix to League's MacOS. You could start comparing those things, if you want, but approximately fifty percent of the internet would rise up in arms against you.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2. And Smite. It's about Smite now too, apparently. The amazing fan art above is by Reddit user Pitran.

I've played Dota 2 almost exclusively since July 2012. For a long time it was the only game of its type that I played, and I've spent an order of magnitude more time with it than any other game of, well, any other type. I wouldn't be surprised if the time I've spent learning to wizard exceeds the time I've invested in games generally over the last two years. I held, for a long time, that you couldn't play more than one of these games seriously. I still believe that. Over the last few weeks, however, I've made a concerted effort to learn another—Smite. It's taught me a few things about the genre as a whole, and made me question a few further things that I held to be true about Dota 2.

Here's one new idea: surrender mechanics directly benefit support players. Back in July of last year, I wrote this article about why Dota 2 doesn't, shouldn't give its players a surrender button. I haven't entirely changed my mind about that. I still believe that the 'white flag' option makes these games less interesting overall. The Dota 2 experiences you remember are the late-game upsets, the incredible comebacks. Surrendering truncates the game, closes off possibilities, places hard limits on all of that fascinating complexity. In the abstract, I maintain that if a player is in a position where they must surrender then something has gone wrong with the game's provision of comeback mechanics. What I now realise, however, is that the decision to surrender is, in and of itself, a phenomena worth examining. The possibility of surrender creates new dynamics that alter the way you perceive the story of a match.

Dota 2's lack of a surrender option means that regular matchmaking games always end when one team destroys the other team's base. They can end no other way. It takes carries with good items and smart play by core heroes to do this, and the run of patches following last year's International have attempted to do away with ten-minute death pushes by giving defenders more options. Not only do games run longer, but the most important characters, in the end, are almost always the ones at the top of the farm priority pyramid. Earthshaker might start the ball rolling, but Faceless Void gets to kick it into the goal.

The same is true of Smite, to an extent. The role of the support, in both games, is to control the first half of the match so that it is your carries, not the other guy's, who ultimately succeed. This is where the 'Soccer Mom Crystal Maiden' meme comes from, and why support players are generally so rare—the role requires you to give up a substantial portion of your claim to glory. I've been playing support exclusively since I started to learn Smite because almost nobody volunteers to do it. As in Dota, everybody wants to play a solo roaming hero or carry. They want to make the big, game-ending plays—not the subtle supportive ones.

Teams can surrender in Smite, however, and this alters the prospects of what a support player can achieve. The goal stops being 'how do I ensure we have the best possible lategame' and becomes, in part, 'how do I break their spirits to the extent that there is no lategame'.

I'll give you an example. I've been playing a lot of Ares, a durable support who lacks burst damage but whose ultimate ability can completely turn a teamfight. The spell is called No Escape. Chains fly from Ares towards enemy players in a radius as he leaps into the air. After a few seconds he crashes down, dragging every player chained towards a central point and stunning them. Dota fans: imagine the lovechild of Magnus' Reverse Polarity and Disruptor's Glimpse. New Smite players tend not to buy the crowd control-breaking items that would get them out of dodge, so in these low-level brackets No Escape can act as a game-ending psychological weapon.

Case in point: my last game. The scoreboard is relatively even twelve minutes in. Both teams are almost entirely comprised of junglers and high-damage solo mages. As support Ares, I'm the exception. One of our guys disconnected at the beginning of the game and didn't come back for a few minutes, ceding an early gold and experience lead to the other team that we're only just clawing back. They've grouped up to push down middle lane. I tap two key combinations into the Tribes-style audio command system.

[VD2] Defend middle lane!

[VVVR] Ultimate is ready!

I approach the clustered enemy team from behind, from the jungle. The third-person perspective makes shooter-style sneak attacks a possibility. My blink is on cooldown, but I'm among the enemy team before they have time to do much about it. No Escape connects with all five. During the leap I draw them forwards, closer to our tower. They're dragged into a Chronos nuke; into that impassable ring thing that Odin does; into Loki, who presses a bunch of buttons I guess. (I'm still learning the gods.) Full teamwipe, a five-to-zero victory. They surrender immediately afterwards.

I wasn't the character who picked up the multi-kill, but I, the support, was the character who ended the game. I'd dealt the killing blow to morale in a way that I couldn't aspire to do to the enemy's base.

While I still don't think that a surrender mechanic is ultimately right for Dota, its presence in Smite has demonstrated the role it can play in redistributing power among the team. It allows for demonstrable displays of authority among 'subordinate' player roles, and creates scenarios where victory emerges from something other than a mounting lead in farm or experience. These kinds of psychological early wins play a huge role in Dota 2, of course, but I think the greater emphasis on the power of late-game carries makes them less visible to players who aren't specifically looking for them.

'Momentum' is a word that comes up a lot while discussing the way that teams win games of Dota, and I've written before about the way that this can be thought of both in terms of game mechanics and team psychology. Wins tend to beget more wins, because you've gained a material and emotional advantage. 'Snowballing'. Recently, I've been thinking about this slightly differently. I think there comes a point in the game where your team is in a position to decisively flip the 'victory switch', to turn an advantage into a done thing. This means more than just following the trajectory your momentum has laid out for you—it means identifying an exact methodology for ending the game and then pulling it off. It means closing off uncertainty and confirming victory; if a team's surrender represents a collective willingness to lose, then flipping the victory switch means collectively voting to win.

In that Ares game, the 'switch' could be defined as the moment we planned and achieved a one-sided teamfight victory. In a game where the majority of players on both teams had found themselves taking inconclusive trades in the jungle, a single convincing five-on-five was needed to establish dominance. In a sense, our opponents were right to surrender when they did: that fight in mid demonstrated superior capability stemming from a better-rounded draft, and it is reasonable to assume that we'd be able to repeat that success throughout the game and ultimately win. It was the beginning of the end and therefore, in some ways, the end itself.

Teams throw away their leads when they fail to make their advantage appear insurmountable. In Smite, the version of this I've seen most often is the single-lane death push. The key objective in the game is a Titan which, unlike the Ancient, can fight back against an attacking team. It loses power with every lane of buildings that you eliminate, but players on a roll typically attempt to punch through a single lane and win the game the most direct way they can see. This is often a really good sign if it happens to you, because it demonstrates that your opponent is willing to take risks—they are keeping the possibility space of the match open even as they attempt to end it, giving you options rather than decisively flipping the switch that takes your options away.

In a Smite match like that, that 'switch' might constitute the destruction of a second lane of towers, another Phoenix, or the Fire Giant. In Dota 2 it might be a faked-out split push that baits enough teleports to open up Roshan, followed by a jungle invasion that catches the smoke gank designed to counter the push your opponent believes is coming. These strategies are rarely seen in mid-level pub matches because they require teams to stop, assess what it would take to undo their own advantage, and then act decisively to reduce the chance of that happening to near-zero. It requires a desire to end, not just finish fast.

Learning to play a game with a surrender option has helped me to get better at identifying these moments, because it gives you unique insight into the mind of the enemy team. A surrender call tells you the exact point at which you have successfully drained hope from the equation: where even they agree that the victory switch has been flipped, and flipped by you. Over the course of a couple of weeks you learn the various shapes that moment can take.

That it sometimes takes the form of a play by the guy who buys all of the wards is a bonus, all things considered.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

Way back when, I wrote something about how it wasn't very useful to think about Dota 2 as a single game. My argument was that players approach the game in such diverse ways that many are no longer adhering to the same rules as one another. This is the source of the game's most vicious arguments in solo pub play—between the two people who both want to go mid; between the carry that wants to play for the late game and his team who'd rather win; between the armchair generals and those who are playing—shock!—for fun.

I've retreated from solo ranked over the last six months. I simply don't enjoy it. 'Real' Dota 2, for me, takes place with a full team of five people and probably involves a drafting phase. That's not to say that there isn't tremendous skill involved in raising your solo MMR, but it's not a skill I'm particularly interested in. Nowadays, my focus has shifted to teamplay, macro-level strategy, and putting together a hero composition that works.

Somewhere along the way, I've learned a couple of valuable lessons about Captain's Mode—particularly if, like me, you and your friends occupy the middle part of the skill ladder. Needless to say, people at the top don't stand to learn much from a man who can't stop blinking into Disruptor ults. For everybody else, I hope you find this useful.

Meta isn't better

There's a corollary between playing Captain's Mode and aspiring to be a pro—it is, after all, the mode that most closely resembles professional play. It's tempting, in this environment, to assume that professional-style picks and bans are always the right picks and bans. That simply isn't the case.

The metagame is a product of, and specific to, the very highest level of play. 'Top tier' doesn't really mean 'powerful', it means 'powerful in the hands of the best players'. If I'm playing against a random stack in team ladder and their first bans are Brewmaster and Razor then I take that as a very good sign: in the majority of cases their captain is thinking about a game they've watched, not the game they're playing. If I see this from a team I actually know it's an even better sign, because targeted bans are always preferable at a level of play where players have limited hero pools.

In the middle of the pack, I'd argue that pace or teamfight-controlling heroes like Silencer, Faceless Void and Tidehunter make for bigger bans than the current top tier. These are heroes that can strongly entrench a lead, and in general mid-level players struggle most when playing from behind. When picking, always go for heroes that you're familiar with over heroes that pro teams are drafting—unless you want to practice them, and you're willing to lose.

Under pressure

This one might actually be applicable to pro players, but only in certain circumstances. Try to be conscious of the amount of pressure that you're under. You may not feel any, in a regular match, or you may be playing in an amateur tournament or in-house and feeling nervous. Be conscious if you are in any way off your game, because players that are not affected in some way by pressure are incredibly rare.

In game terms, nerves act as a straight debuff to everything you attempt to do. If you are a 4K player normally, you have to assume that you're going to be a 3K or 3.5K player under pressure. Draft with that in mind. I love Brewmaster, but there are days when I know my brain just isn't in the right space. In those circumstances, I should play Centaur Warrunner. The same goes for the whole team—if you're in game two of a best of three and you've lost the first game, playing safe with the draft isn't a bad idea. This principle is how my team has ended up two games from the grand final of the Rektreational games industry tournament despite doing awfully in the first game of almost every match: we think too hard about the first game, and then we pick lots of big circular spells in the second and third.

2 EZ

Credit to Blitz for this one: when assessing an enemy draft, or your own, don't just look for synergies and obvious combos. Look at how easy it is for your opponent to achieve what they want to achieve. If you see a Magnus, Sand King and Gyrocopter, you can see the kind of teamfight they want to have. But as dangerous as that seems, it relies on a number of things going their way. That Magnus needs to be able to land his ult. Their team needs the presence of mind for everybody else to be in position—and so on.

On the other hand, a team with a lot of reliable stuns has far more room to move because it means less if any one member of the team makes a mistake. Answer ambitious drafts by making the game easy for yourself with disables and AoE and you'll win matches that, on paper, you should lose. It's for this reason that I secretly love Wraith King as an early pick: you can cycle him through a couple of roles if needed, he has a reliable stun, he answers wombo combos relatively well and—most importantly—he seems to bait out complicated powerplays from the opposing captain. It's after you draft WK that you see people draw Wex Invokers or Diffusal Blade carries, and unless you're playing teams who are particularly individually skilled at those roles they've probably just backed themselves into a corner. Then you beat them up in that corner.

The unifying theme, here, is staying humble. Know what skill bracket you belong in, why you're there, and what you can practically hope to achieve in the match ahead. Bear in mind that you won't always be able to make the big plays that you want to and that, when it comes down to it, you're probably better off picking another character with a ranged stun than going for whatever it was that Team Secret ran last week.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

The PC doesn't have a platform holder, and that's a blessing. But there's no denying that Valve's role is an important one in the industry, and that its decisions often have a tremendous impact on our hobby. With great popularity comes great responsibility: here's how we'd like to see Valve apply itself this year.

Make TF2 exciting again

Phil Savage

My favourite Valve thing of 2014 was the anticipation around the release of Love and War update. There was excitement, there was speculation, there was a funny Source Filmmaker video. It was everything a TF2 update used to be, with one exception: the update. There was a time when TF2 updates warranted the amount of excitement they received. The class events were significant. They dramatically changed the way you could play a class—giving new, divergent tactics to familiar operators. Also maps. TF2 launched with six maps. It now has over 70.

The Love and War update didn't have that game changing feeling... Sorry, I'll try that again. With the exception of the Conga taunt, the Love and War update didn't have that game changing feeling. The weapons were good, but I don't think weapons—even something as well-defined and desirable as the BASE Jumper—carry the same weight they once did. When there's only one way to play a class, a new item set has massive ramifications. Now there are multiple ways to play, and one more doesn't make as much difference.

In all, 2014 was a quiet year for TF2. Even the long-anticipated End of the Line community update was muted by Valve's decision not to include the Snowplow map. Their reason, supposedly, was that it was deemed too confusing and challenging for new players . And this is from the people who made Hydro. This is my worry with Valve now. It feels like they're afraid to take risks. The most exciting new inclusion of the year was the grappling hook, and that happened without fanfare as part of the Mann Co. Beta initiative.

Imagine if the same energy and excitement leading up to the Love and War update was rewarded by a new game mode, new maps and a goddamn grappling hook—all definitively released, rather than hiding away in beta. TF2 would, once again, feel like an event. Yes, maybe one of those maps would be terrible, but that would only make it more exciting when more maps appeared—these ones learning from past mistakes.

Aside from the Halloween event, every map added to TF2 in 2014 was released into beta. In 2015, I'd love to see the confidence come back. To see the TF2 team declare something ready—not just with a release, but with a week-long build-up that showed how a seven-year-old game could still feel fresh, exciting and essential.

Make the Steam Controller work

Tyler Wilde

It feels like ages ago that we were all talking about Steam Machines and the Steam Controller. It wasn t really that long ago, but Valve went pretty quiet on both fronts after a generating a lot of interest. I m still interested—not so much in Steam Machines, because if I stick a PC under my TV it ll probably be a laptop or something I build myself, but in the Steam Controller.

I m fascinated by what Valve s trying to do with the thing. Back when Evan tried it last year, he found the trackpads unwieldy, but if Valve can really design a new kind of controller that both emulates a mouse (and it ll never be as effective, of course) and works for games I d rather play with a d-pad or analog stick, then we may have a new best PC gaming controller in our hands. It s promising that, after we were a bit unimpressed by the first demos, new mockups keep appearing, which suggests that Valve is still tinkering with the whole design. I hope we see the latest prototype soon, and I m betting we will at this year s GDC.

Grow CS:GO

Evan Lahti

CS:GO became, with plenty of breathing room, the second-most played game on Steam in 2014, hitting 400,000 concurrent players for the first time this month. A lot of that growth is owed to CS:GO s reawoken popularity as an e-sport: more people than ever are watching competitive Counter-Strike, and the recent DreamHack Winter tournament (even with a bit of controversy) was an exciting watch.

But Valve s content updates, patches, and e-sports aid hasn t come close to the support given to its flagship game, Dota 2. CS:GO s support isn t proportional to its popularity, and Valve faces a playerbase that s hungry for anti-cheat fixes, new maps, weapon skins, and ways to engage with the game they re invested in if they want CS:GO to retain its position as the most popular FPS on PC against games like Evolve and Rainbow Six Siege.

Valve needs to continue to keep pace with hackers, and it needs to look to the old days of TF2 for ideas on launching in-game events that don t simply feel like money-grabs veiled in playfulness. But what would really propel CS:GO is a proper, The International-level major tournament—something that Valve owned and operated itself rather than relying on CS:GO s great-but-fragmented leagues to build interest around it as an e-sport.

Beyond that, I d love to see a CS:GO API opened up. Part of Counter-Strike is eliminating bad habits, and right now there s no easy way to track your match history (beyond watching your last few replays) or dig into meaningful stats.

A full year of Dota 2 updates

Chris Thursten

In 2015, I'd like to see the Dota 2 team continue to open up about their plans and processes. At the same time, I really hope that they're able to make this a bigger year for the game than last year. A lot of time has been invested in an engine update that will introduce custom game modes and make it easier for Valve to develop new additions in the future. That's great news - and user-generated content represents a potentially exponential increase in the game's scope. At the same time, I don't think I'm alone in wanting a stronger run of official updates. That means more new heroes in 2015 - potentially the first Dota 2-specific heroes - and proper seasonal events.

Valve may not see it the same way: they could argue, convincingly, that the future of Dota 2 was and should be in the hands of its community. Be that as it may, I think the last couple of years have shown that leaving everything up to the wisdom of crowds creates confused expectations and entrenches divisions. From the pro scene to the potato bracket, the Dota 2 community could use a bit of stability - and a solid year of official updates from Valve could help establish that.

Steam would benefit from a visual overhaul

Andy Kelly

Steam s feature set took a big step up with the addition of curators and, er, the colour blue in the client s basic skin in 2014. I would like to see a bit of housecleaning on the design of it—maybe contemporise the fonts a little bit. Reskinning is obviously an option, but I d like Valve s basic layout to be little more up to date. It s still very similar to when I first signed up years ago. On the one hand, that familiarity is nice, but on the other, Big Picture Mode and the Steam app on iOS show how much cleaner the basic layout of Steam could be with a refresh.

The thing we all really want

Chris Livingston

Let's address the strider in the room. For years now, every single bit of Valve news and every update Steam pushes through has resulted in a fresh round of sarcastic yet subliminally hopeful chatter: Half-Life 3 confirmed!

To which I say: slow your roll, Internet. We've got some unfinished business to attend to. A broken promise. A missing chapter. A little something called Half-Life 2: Episode 3.

I'm confident this is, deep down, what we all really want: another two-to-three hours of content using the same assets and enemies from Half-Life 2. We want to fight more slow, stupid Combine soldiers while they issue their familiar barks. We want to solve yet another giant see-saw puzzle with the gravity gun. We want to stare at a brick wall waiting for a new level to load, then run through the new level for three minutes, then stare at another wall while the next level loads. We want to climb back into that rusty, ugly-ass car and hit the gas only to immediately hit the brakes because the radar is showing a supply cache. We want to spend more time watching Alyx Vance do a bunch of cool things like bashing zombies with the butt of a shotgun or using a sniper rifle or climbing over walls, which we, as Gordon Freeman, cannot do ourselves for some reason. Most of all, we need to hold Valve accountable for their promise, made in June of 2006, that the three episode series will conclude by Christmas 2007. That's the "three" that's important, here. Not Half-Life 3. Episode 3. Make it happen.

j/k, of course. This year, Valve, just announce something, anything genuine about Half-Life 3, even if the announcement is that it's never going to come.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

Dota 2 is about winning. I'm not sure that's a very controversial point. Interpretations of the game are split by experience and skill level, role, personal investment, taste, and so on. How much winning matters is perhaps a more divisive topic, but what it comes down to in the end is this: Dota 2 is about winning. It's about executing your plan in such a way that your opponent doesn't get to execute theirs. It's about tumbling into the random number generator in the hope that this time will be your time. It's about clicking on the little wizards and hoping that their health bars run out before yours do.

That's the theory, anyway. My experience of Dota 2, particularly my recent experience, is a little different. I'd say that while most people would agree that their ultimate goal is to win, the majority of matches actually revolve around other goals entirely. At some point - usually in the midgame, after establishing a startling early lead that makes victory in twenty minutes all but a certainty - many players find their priorities shift. If there's one defining characteristic of normal and high-bracket Dota 2, for me, it's this: that the majority of teams do not actually want to win in twenty minutes. At the very least, they do not act like it.

Here, then, are five things that are often seen to be more important than winning the game. Another way of putting that might be 'ways to throw a game' - but I think that's too reductive. What I'm exploring, here, are the directions you throw in. You can't just throw something; you have to throw it somewhere.

Endorsement of the Faceless Void extended schooling program

Poor Level 7 Faceless Void. Nobody believes in him. He's a little slow. He was this first-picked, supposedly brilliant addition to the enemy team, but look at him. All that popularity amounts to a young man that barely has the mana to string his two spells together. He's rocking brown boots and Gloves of Haste. Even popular kids, you realise, need help sometimes.

Extra tutoring is what is needed, here. With space, time and encouragement, Level 7 Faceless Void has every chance to make good on his potential. You see the importance of a flexible education system that accounts for the needs of the individual, one that understands that not every Level 7 can be expected to perform to the same degree.

To your delight, the program works. You give Faceless Void the freedom to work out his issues on jungle creeps if that's what he needs to do. You feed him a few free meals, now and then, to allow him to focus on his studies. But most importantly you show him that it's worth persevering: you step willingly into Chronosphere after Chronosphere, demonstrating that - yes! - he lives up to the hype. The first time you see a smile creep across that faceless face, lightning bristling from a freshly-completed Mjollnir, you cant help but smile back. Then your ancient explodes.

Dire victory.

Respect for Roshan's personal space

You understand that you are a visitor to this place and that - unlike another team we might mention - you respect the rights of its native inhabitants. Roshan is a prisoner of a sort, yes, but that does not mean that he is below your regard. It would be entirely more proper of you to simply leave him to get on with whatever is he's doing in that cave that's barely big enough for him. What one hunchback dinosaur demon bear monster thing does in his spare time is entirely up to said hunchback dinosaur demon bear monster thing, you resolve.

As for planting wards around his pit - what are you thinking? How would you feel if somebody set up surveillance cameras in your driveway? Violated, is how you would feel. Monitored. Roshan may never leave his cave, but should he ever decide to - likely to go off and ruin an all-star match somewhere - he deserves the right to do so without being tracked like an enemy of the state.

You're not like that. You respect Roshan, and believe that he respects you right back.

Roshan has been slain by the Dire.

Getting the high score in famous singleplayer character action game, Dota 2

Sure, sure. It's a team game. More like asymmetrical co-op. Remember how, in Super Mario Galaxy, Player Two could sit there with a Wiimote and hoover up stars or whatever while Player One went about the actual business of beating the game? It's like that. You're Player One, and your friends are basically just four Player Twos, planting wards and clicking creeps or whatever while you play the actual game. But Dota 2 isn't Super Mario - it's Devil May Cry. It's Bayonetta. You're Player One and you're going to S-Rank this thing. You're 10-0 at eight minutes: it's time to dig deep.

You don't build combos going one-on-one. You need to be taking two, three, four enemies at a time. One versus five? Why not. Let's go. Time to fine-tune those clutch counters and perfect your dodge-roll. You are totally Dante. You are not Dante. There is no dodge-roll button. Shit. Guys?

The integrity of your minimalist performing arts piece about the failings of Athenian democracy

"Guys!" "Guys?" "GUYS." "Guys..."


Dire victory.

Pursuit of a Cultural victory

Military victories are boring, more about rote lategame clean-up than creativity or finesse. Culture is where it's at. You don't just want to win: you want to demonstrate that your way of life is more advanced, has greater inherent value than that of your opponent. That you are so sophisticated that you do not care about how sophisticated you are.

It is for this reason that your supports do not need Mekansms or Force Staves. These things are feudal barriers in the path of enlightenment, expressions of man's feeble paleolithic need for shelter, protection, warmth and safety. A true culture is beyond these things. In a true culture, every single god damn person has a Dagon.

The Dire have achieved victory through Domination!

Astute readers will have noticed that these noble goals are not mutually exclusive. In the right conditions, it is possible to achieve every one of them in a single match! And still lose.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Valve has announced that the 2015 edition of The International Dota 2 Championships will begin on Monday August 3 and run for six full days, with 16 teams battling for the title. Further details haven't been revealed, but Valve said it wanted to make the dates known so fans would have sufficient time to plan for the event. Invitations to teams will be sent out shortly after May 1.

Last year's International took place in July, attracting more than 20 million unique viewers and well over two million peak concurrent users. It was also broadcast by ESPN for the first time ever; sources said afterward that the network was "delighted" by the success of its coverage and wanted to expand its e-sports programming, but ESPN President John Skipper sounded somewhat less enthusiastic about it a couple months later.

PC Gamer

Proudly sat atop Reddit's /r/Dota2—and for good reason—is this Steam Workshop submission for a reskinned Shopkeeper. I'd explain with words, but this video says more than I ever could.

It's Valve boss (and, let's be honest, Steam mascot) Gabe Newell. Would you like to buy a flying donkey from him? Creator 'down_limit' is hoping you'll be able to, and has submitted the model for consideration in the upcoming New Bloom item collection.

Admittedly, I'm not sure how well the skin conveys the concepts of Chinese New Year, Chinese history, or springtime. Nevertheless, if you'd like to show your support, head over to Gabe Newell Shopkeeper's Steam Workshop page.

Thanks, PCGamesN.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2, and this is the last installment for 2014. We'll be back in January!

Dota 2 is a game about momentum. That's an often-repeated truth—it's one of the best ways to explain the drama of a competitive match without getting into the inaccessible specifics of high-level play, and it's a piece of advice that I return to over and over as I try to get better at the game. The momentum you build in the early game is important, but what wins matches is your ability to translate that momentum into a strategy that leads, step by step, to the enemy ancient. A dominant start is great, but it needs focused guidance to make good on its potential.

I am a middling Dota player at best, so it's in the midgame that most of my matches stall. Luckily, I can rely on the fact that most of the people I'm matched with are bad at closing out games too. The story of Dota, most of the time, is the story of a team with a bunch of kills and big items trying to summon enough collective will to achieve something in the here and now. It's the story of people wandering off to farm for no reason, of Roshan attempts left uncontested and teamfights lost because the carry has decided to chase Puck halfway across the map rather than pin down the soft and slow enemy supports left behind. Of a lack of focus, in short, and of the faint disbelief that comes with losing from an advantage: 'we were fifteen kills ahead! Why are they knocking over our tier four towers?'

This is also, I think, a fairly good metaphor for Dota 2 as a whole in 2014. This was the year that, after the giddy rise of the game's first two years and the triumph of its departure from beta in 2013, Dota 2 settled into its all-important midgame. And, consistently, what we saw spoke to a mellowing scene and a downward shift in momentum.

Four new heroes were released in 2014 compared to ten in 2013, and two of those arrived right at the beginning of the year—so much so that Terrorblade and Phoenix feel like part of the previous set. An equally dramatic shift occurred the previous year, of course (more than thirty heroes were added in 2012), but it nonetheless speaks to a slower rate of change. The coming engine update and addition of custom game modes will be the most significant thing to come to Dota 2 since its inception, but they arrive at the expense of the Diretide and Frostivus events—and, I suspect, at the expense of Winter Wyvern, Abyssal Underlord, and Arc Warden.

For Valve's part, they've actually got much better at talking to fans and setting expectations—but the nature of that communication has always been 'check back in 2015'. It's like struggling through your midgame and deciding that you're going to take the game late. "Just farm and we'll be fine" is often good advice, but it's hard not to feel some of the same inertia, that nagging concern about whether it's all going to be worth the wait, when so little happens for so long.

If the internal development of the game has entered a kind of passive hibernation, then the growth of the professional scene is defined by a fitful emergence into the real world. The relative simplicity of the last couple of years is over: there are dozens of tournaments now, arguably far too many, and not a single event I've attended this year has been free from technical or scheduling problems of some kind. Top-tier players feel overstretched and under rewarded, and play and audience numbers both suffer as a result. EternaLEnVy's blog on this subject has its detractors, but a lot of what he says is believable in a scene that has grown this quickly and with this little guidance.

E-sports has ever been thus, and the solution is never easy to come by. Centralised control a la StarCraft's WCS can kill momentum just as readily as a run of badly-managed individual events, and besides it's an approach that runs so counter to Valve's philosophy that we might as well write it off as a possibility right now. Valve's faith in the wisdom of crowds is rewarded when the data they gather is processed by a team that understands the limitations of that process. Ceding control of the professional scene for most of the year to a scattering of e-sports organisations doesn't constitute quite the same thing: it's chaos that can only resolve itself by passing through periods of rough adolescence. That's what this year has been, I think: the overconfident teenage Dota 2 scene stumbling into arenas that are too big for it, business deals that do not benefit it, and schedules that it cannot sustain.

That this year's International was a bit of a let-down is actually a separate problem, one that stems from Valve's own stop-and-start growth as an event showrunner. Could they have anticipated that the popularity of exclusive Secret Shop wizard hats would drain a third of the arena at any given time? Probably not. Should they factor that in next year? Absolutely, yes. Could they have guessed that the metagame would stabilise so absolutely—and in such a boring way—right before the grand finals? No. Does it require a response? Again, yes.

2014 revealed 2013's wonderful International to have been a perfect storm in many ways: a confluence of a dynamic scene, fluid metagame and intimate venue that well suited the type of event that I associate Valve with. It can be that way again, I think, but work needs to be done both on the game and on the structure that surrounds it. Meanwhile, the broader pro scene needs to find its feet again, and stabilise long enough for accessible narratives to emerge that we can watch play out on the road to TI5.

This has been a muted year for Dota 2, but it is not—to borrow one of the community's favourite phrases—a dead game. Nor is it dying. It's simply reached the point where, for the first time, growth for growth's sake isn't good enough: where momentum needs to be matched with strategy. Dota 2 just lost that big teamfight around the nineteen minute mark that tells you you're in for a fifty minute epic. Victory is on the cards, but now it's going to take work.

Happily, I think that's what is happening. Valve need the technical apparatus in place to allow them to update the game regularly and sustainably, and that's exactly what they've spent so long creating. The new engine will enhance their ability to entertain the community, and custom game modes open the door to a potentially-infinite source of new ideas. Patch 6.83, released this week, continues the work 6.82 started. Dota 2 is slowly evolving into its next form, and while that work started in 2014 I think we'll feel the result most keenly next year. Finally, the pro scene will be forced to change. MLG and JoinDota are taking an active role in restructuring and unifying fractured tournaments into something better, and player feedback (even if it comes in the form of protest) should force other showrunners to seriously consider the logistical task they're setting themselves when they go for this venue or that schedule.

You know that bit, in a Dota match, when your team loses momentum and somebody immediately taps out 'gg'? That's what I think we've seen in the last couple of weeks. 2014 was a stall, but not the end—and if anything, Dota 2 looks ready to take this one very, very late.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

I've written a lot about the importance of attitude in Dota 2. 'How you act' is as interesting and important a subject to me as 'how you play'—or, at the very least, it's the subject that I feel I'm more qualified to talk about. I've got two and a half years of Dota experience, but significantly more experience of being a human who has to interact with other humans in order to achieve things and be happy. Dota is no different to a vast number of other difficult things you might try to do with other people in that regard, and there are patterns of thought and behaviour that, once you learn them, are a general help. You will be a better player, I've always argued, if you spend some time learning how to avoid being a dick.

I've come at this idea from a couple of different angles over the last six months. Recently, though, I've had another run of unhappy encounters with the game. You might have picked up half a paragraph ago that there's a 'but' coming—something that complicates my typically unquestioning approach to The Importance Of Being Nice. There is a 'but' coming, I'm afraid. Specifically, a 'butt'. I am the butt. I have been a butt, lately. That was a pun. I am really sorry.

I've realised, the hard way, that keeping your shit together during a stressful game isn't something that you learn once and take for granted. Even writing essays about this stuff isn't enough, it turns out, to prevent a backslide into being a backside to your friends. I experience this feeling of having broken my own rules with sufficient regularity that it has become a recognisable psychological scenario in my life: lying in bed about 1am, wishing that I could have closed out that last game of Dota without being a dick in this way or that, feeling generally and pervasively unhappy about the type of person I can become under pressure.

If you've got to this point in the article and thought "chill out, man, it's just a game" then, well, yes, that's the goal. But games make you have all kinds of thoughts and feelings—that's why you play them. You probably play Dota 2 because of the feelings it makes you have, and those feelings make you do things. Controlling what the game makes you do is important. There's no 'just a game' here because games are powerful, and no 'chill out, man' because chilling out is, paradoxically, hard and requires work. Besides: I've been going deep on Dota 2 for long enough now that I might as well keep going. I'm pretty far up the Mekong at this point. The horror, the horror, and so on.

I've realised that setting yourself rules doesn't work if you struggle to provide yourself with an environment where following the rules comes naturally. An analogy for this problem would be the difference between a practice game and a streamed competitive match: the strats you plan, the high-concept drafts you consider can crumble quickly when the parameters of the game change. The same is true for a rule like "never start a sentence with 'why'"—it makes tremendous sense on paper, but Christ! Why did she/he/we try to contest a Roshan attempt that she/he/we knew they were ready to defend? This stuff is rhetorical comfort food. It's bad for you, but it makes you feel better and it's hard to resist unless you are specifically ready to resist it.

One of my new rules, appropriately enough, comes from preparing for competitive matches: treat every game like somebody else is watching. I realised that my outlook is generally more positive when I'm streaming or playing with strangers. If I treat Dota 2 like a performance then I find it less stressful and my behaviour is better. There are obvious concerns raised here about how authentic I'm being—but honestly, I'm authentically an asshole. I'd rather be a pretend person who is fun to play with.

The second point is related, but almost the thematic opposite: watch how other people play for your benefit, not theirs. I'm terrible at this, because I'm bossy and habitually micromanage unless I make myself stop. The key thing I've realised is that in the vast majority of cases the small inefficiencies I might perceive in someone else's play are either entirely in my head or totally insignificant to the match as a whole. The urge to educate is more accurately an urge to replicate my own behaviour in somebody else. And I suck! I'm far more likely to learn something about what I'm doing wrong by watching somebody than find something to correct in them—and its even less likely that what I attempt to correct will be so significant that it's worth sundering the mood of the game to do so.

There's one exception to this, and it's when someone has actively and clearly asked you to comment on what they're doing. It's nice to be micromanaged by a better player—useful, fun, energising. You should try it. But doing so unbidden, deliberately or not, is pointless. You might as well walk up to somebody in the street, look at their outfit, and advise them to wear all of your clothes because they're your clothes, and they fit you, so they must be the right clothes.

The key here, I think, is recognising the benefits of actively cohabiting rather than passively coexisting. That sounds pseudish and awful but there's truth there. Being actively engaged is key, because you can't ever trust your passive urges to lead you in the right direction. I might really want to chew somebody out for a mistake, and it might make me feel better, but I know from repeated experience that it'll make me feel bad later. I'd be dumb to fall into that trap again.

Finally: quit while you're ahead. There's another thing you should never do even if you really want to, and that's play another game of Dota 2 when you just lost one and you're already tired but you really want to win. This is the error, for me. It is the fun-killer, the little death that brings total obliteration. You've got to Bene Gesserit up in the face of that 'just one more' urge. It won't be fine next time. You won't learn, because you're already tilting. Nobody ever turned a tilt around by tilting harder in the same direction. Tilts do not work that way. They are not cyclical.

The ultimate way to create a scenario where you don't lose your temper with your friends is to go the fuck to sleep. You can't stare at the ceiling at 1am regretting your decisions if you're happily unconscious by then. This is the nuclear option, I guess, but honestly? The community as a whole would be much more positive place if Valve tried an event where players earned Arcanas by taking a lovely nap every time they lost a game.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.


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