PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

Last weekend I spent almost exactly two and a half hours in the International Open Qualifiers. I wrote beforehand that I'd have been delighted to get through the first round, and technically that's what happened. Technically. As it happened, our first round opponent didn't show up and we waited, waited, waited for the game that'd determine our next match to finish. It started late and ran long, meaning that we were sat on Skype for almost two hours building KSP rockets and tinkering with Invisible, Inc. Eventually, we got to play. Then, soundly outmatched, we lost in under half an hour.

I'd hoped to be able to roll into this week's column with a better story than that, but that's more or less the extent of it. We didn't acquit ourselves terribly, but it turns out that if you lose all three lanes and they have a draft that can teamfight early and push then it's pretty hard to fight your way back into the game.

We were disappointed but neither particularly surprised nor particularly disheartened. We had some very specific shot-calling and strategic problems to solve, but we understood them and they seemed solvable. A similarly positive line of thought was this: that we'd lost but understood why, knew that our opponents had much more experience of the game than us but could also see the road from where we are to where they are. And so on. There's comfort in seeing your failure in these granular terms, in picking out the little things that went well and appreciating the skill it took to make other things go so badly.

That's the note we ended on. Since then, I've been thinking about a lot. I've started to suspect that, in reality, that sense of a linear course between you and a superior opponent is actually pretty misleading.

For one thing, your ability to parse why an opponent has been successful is very much grounded in your own experience of the game—in the sorts of things you value, and therefore in your own conception of how you win. When you watch somebody play well and think 'I could do that', you're probably focusing on the aspects of their play that you already understand—i.e, exactly the stuff you don't need to learn.

That's a pretty disheartening thing to realise, particularly because it means that raw practice isn't a catch-all solution to an experience deficit. It's not enough to dump time into the game: you have to learn to invest that time into the right places. With that in mind, then, it's useful to identify the way in which the nature of skill changes as players become more experienced. Not 'improved'—changed.

I found this chart, by Redditor Ave-Nar, pretty interesting. Here's the original thread. It illustrates the changes in hero win rates both across different patches and across multiple skill levels—normal, high and very high in this case. There are some really interesting patterns, and these patterns tell us not just about the heroes themselves but how they relate to player skill.

Take, for example, Necrophos in 6.82 and Omniknight in 6.84. Both show a high winrate that declines linearly as you progress from normal to very high—a downwards diagonal slant. Although they are played in different positions, both heroes also have a similar impact on the game (tremendous teamfight sustain and laning presence) and are, crucially, straightforward to play. An Omniknight only needs to press R at the right time to completely tip a pub-level teamfight where half of the players have locked physical damage carries. A sub-par Necrophos can get away with spamming Q and using R to steal everybody's kills—the fact that he is also healing his allies and extending enemy respawn times as he does it is a bonus that the normal skill-level player doesn't really need to think about too much.

As a result, winrate declines with skill—because better players know how to work or counterpick both of these heroes, and neither of them have very many options when they've been outmaneuvered or outplayed. That linear decline demonstrates something basic: that as players get better, they get better at denying the enemy an easy way to win.

Contrast with Undying in 6.84. His pattern is similar to Troll Warlord in 6.83—lowest winrate in normal skill, highest in high skill and then a dip down again in very high skill. This inverted 'check' shape is really interesting. Undying in particular is a hero that requires a bit of expertise to use properly. You need to know how to gauge the impact of stolen strength on an enemy. You need to understand how to position a tombstone, and particularly how the many recent changes interact with his skillset—I still encounter people trying to counterpick Undying with Bristleback who look surprised when the quills do nothing to the zombies. In short, you don't need to be a great player to use Undying effectively but you need a fundamental understanding of how Dota works and how it has changed over time.

You also need to understand drafting, to a degree. You need to be able to both pick a partner for Undying and know where to lane him to do the most damage to the enemy's laning phase. All of this is what signifies a high skill player—and explains why Undying's winrate takes a huge leap between the two brackets.

Then, in very high, he falls off. With good reason—the best players can do all of the above and understand that their opponent is also doing all of the above. If an Undying pick is likely, a very good player will have planned for it. The process of getting better at Dota—as with other competitive games—is one of gradually transitioning from a focus on you to a focus on them.

Put it another way: as skill increases, player aspirations change. This is a generalisation, but the trend is for lower-level players to enter a game with a plan that they intend to execute. Land a lot of Pudge hooks. Play Void—whatever it is. They understand this plan in and of itself, they understand the hero and the items they need, but the plan doesn't take into account the enemy. Thing is, the enemy isn't thinking about them either. Two self-focused plans smack into one another and 50% of the time yours comes out on top.

Then comes outdrafting, whether by directly countering picks or simply by playing the meta. This involves a better understanding of the game and some sense of what the enemy's strategy might be, but it's still ultimately a series of decisions that are focused on the self. The composition of most pub drafts is, I think, the product of these two forces acting against each other: someone vanity picks, so somebody does an obvious counter-pick, and so on, where actual team-wide synergy is a rarity.

Improvement, then, is a matter of moving steadily away from understanding what you want to do—or what you might be able to do—and towards what your opponent wants to do. Towards figuring out what their dream looks like, and breaking it. It's never that simple, of course—if I understood everything that went into making that work, I wouldn't be shit at Dota. But thinking along these lines is useful because it gives you the shape of a solution if not the steps to get there: getting there is, after all, is a matter of time. It's not enough to look at an opponent and think 'that could be me'. When you have that extra experience, you don't want to want to be them. You want to look at the way they play and see all of the holes.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

You know who's fun at the moment? Beastmaster. Back when I started to take five-man Dota seriously I played him a lot—he was one of my first dedicated solo offlaners. The pushing power. The free ward. The versatile ult. The way he sometimes says 'who's stool is this?' while moving, suggesting that at least one Dota hero spends a certain amount of time shitting in the woods (looking at you, Ursa.)

I fondly refer to him as 'Beefmaster', and he is one of two heroes—the other being Axe—that I have ever committed to fully roleplaying during a solo ranked game of Dota. 'WHO KILLED MY PIG', I'd bellow in all-chat. 'I'M COMING FOR YOU.'

He's great in 6.84, one of my favourite characters to play in the era of level one bounty rune fights. His buffed base damage isn't as absurdly high as Treant Protector, but he's faster and I've found that most players haven't quite internalised just how hard he hits. Encounter a lone enemy moving to secure a bounty rune and you've probably just got first blood. Get the rune too and there's your level 2, your brown boots, and an Orb of Venom. After that, the offlane is a party.

I bring this up because Beastmaster, like Axe and Rubick, is one of my silly heroes. Which isn't to say that these aren't impactful characters, but that I'm noisier when I'm playing them than at any other time. After two thousand hours I'm still amused by the fact that Beastmaster's ult amounts to yelling really loud, and I remain incapable of doing it without trying to reflect some of that bravado. I mean, come on. The guy yells so loud it stuns couriers.

I blink, I ult, and I rely on the fact that I've just bellowed 'BOO' or 'NO' or 'OI' over Skype to let my teammates know that, er, I've probably started a teamfight. This is fine, I think, in the context of a pub game with friends. One important aspect of Dota, something that sits aside from its competitive nature, is the sense in which it is a performance you put on for your friends. It's not just about stomping noobs, or at least it shouldn't be. Dota is also entertainment and a lot of that entertainment is provided by the people you play with.

Not everybody plays that way, of course, but I suspect everybody knows somebody who does. This isn't just limited to the trench: old-Na'Vi were as well known for their sense of style as their ability to win games. There is a whole strata of pro players—Dendi, SingSing, N0tail, AdmiralBulldog, among others—who are entertaining showmen as well as skilled players. They enter into the spirit of the game when it's appropriate.

Yelling along with Beastmaster was something I started doing without really thinking about it—I was having fun, and expressed that in the way I acted. Thinking about it recently, however, I realised that this drive to put on a show affected the way I played in more substantial ways.

I realised that there are certain types of play that I'd avoid declaring to my team before I did them: flashy initiations and silly gambits that I'd launch into without warning to avoid spoiling the surprise. I played not only to win, but for the gratification of delivering a first blood or a multi-kill that nobody else on my side expected. I'd attempt to secretly build Dagons during matches that we were already winning. Sometimes, the instinct to say 'hey guys—watch this' would lose games that we were already winning.

It sounds like the dumbest thing in the world, and it probably is—but the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I wasn't alone. This attitude is fairly common in Dota. It determines a lot about which heroes are popular. Everybody wants to be seen landing the star Pudge hooks. Everybody wants to be the Faceless Void that gets the perfect five-man Chronosphere and subsequent rampage. Being seen to succeed is as important, for many, as succeeding.

In identifying this, I identified a gap in the way my team communicated with each other. I've always taken communication a lot more seriously when playing 'properly'—by which I mean team ranked matchmaking, a little JoinDota League, and the forthcoming TI5 Open Qualifiers (we're doomed)—but I'd not really solved the problem of the 'surprise play'. It was a behaviour pattern that both myself, our midlaner and our carry shared. We'd communicate openly until it became more fun not to.

Not intentionally, of course. This is just another unexamined instinct, something you pick up during the thousands of hours it takes to get semi-competent at Dota and that, if you don't face it down directly, can ultimately hold you back.

The solution was to introduce a really simple rule for communication in games that matter: talk constantly about the match. Offer as close to a running commentary as you can. Talk about how your farm is going. Talk about what the enemy supports are doing, how their midlaner is doing. When you see an opening for a play, say something—even if it ruins the 'surprise'.

I've found it helpful to temper this by asking teammates to avoid talking about non-match-related topics (including Dota more broadly) until the game is over. This also means no more Beastmaster-yelling—but we've got random pub matches for that. Organised Dota is about teamwork, and teamwork means communicating continually and openly about your experience of the game.

It also means being selfless. This is an angle I keep coming back to, it seems: that learning to play Dota better often means learning to dial back your own selfish instincts. Anybody who has ever stood on a stage knows that it takes a certain amount of ego to get there, even if the point of that ego is the performance you subsequently deliver to others. Dota 2 is a stage, too, sometimes, but your teammates aren't your audience. They're up there with you. They're not the people you need to impress. And if you're about to do something brave or stupid they should probably know.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

Every International Compendium has been more about hats than the one that preceded it. When the concept made its debut in 2013, it was called the Interactive Compendium. It was specifically designed to allow fans of the competitive scene to involve themselves more actively in the International tournament. Exclusive cosmetics were, I suspect, intended as a bonus feature rather than the main selling point.

That's not the way they were received, of course. This was the peak of online trading and resale of Dota items, and the random distribution of rewards from the original Compendium caused a lot of community unrest. If you were unlucky and got the Abaddon mace, your Compendium purchase was worth less than that of somebody who got the Pudge hook or Kunkka sword. This might not have mattered so much if the majority of players had seen the Compendium's match prediction and sticker collection minigames as the main reason to invest in one, but that wasn't so. 2013 was the year we (and Valve) learned that cosmetics trump every other incentive to spend money on Dota, every time. You can draw a direct line from that learning to the concerns about the influence of cosmetics on the pro scene raised earlier this year.

I'm not convinced that the ascendancy of the special hat is a terrible thing for Dota. I think it simply 'is'. It's easy to point out all of the ways that spending money on internet hats is irrational, but that irrationality is now the norm. 2014's Compendium introduced many more Immortals, with direct incentives to spend to collect 'em all. It also allowed players to vote on aspects of the game completely detached from the tournament it supports, like voice packs and future Arcana items. Valve's second pass at the Compendium ditched the 'interactive' label and confirmed that it had become a community event for Dota as a whole, not just a companion to the International.

I'm enjoying the new Compendium on that basis. I think it's the best magical internet hat book that Valve have produced to date. The challenge system is a far smarter integration of optional objectives into regular Dota than Manifold Paradox was. The new Immortals are all great, and I'm excited for sets two and three. The rapid delivery of stretch goals so far suggests that Valve have been busy getting all of this stuff done in advance, which is exactly what they should have done last year. They've learned a lot of good lessons from 2014.

Yet I have no idea how this Compendium will tie in to the International, beyond the prediction minigames that have been a factor in every Compendium to date. Should we expect another round of player trading cards? How about Compendium matches—remember when you queue for games that challenged you to win with a draft that had been used in the pro scene that week? Has interest waned in item sets and reward systems that directly benefit professional players? Do Valve now trust that 'Compendium as item store' will trump 'Compendium as esports event' when it comes to inflating the International's prize pool?

Getting more people to tune into pro games clearly isn't the goal, here: selling more Compendiums is. Once, those two ideas weren't so separate. They now are, and I suspect the reason—ironically—is to ensure that the International prize pool gets bigger every year. If a bigger prize pool means a higher profile tournament and more eyes on competitive Dota, then it's all for the good—right?

According to the data on Cyborgmatt's prize tracker, this year's prize pool is about a million dollars ahead of where it was this time last year. Almost all of that difference occurred on the first day of sale, when all you got for your money was a friendly armadillo and the promise of more treasures to come (a sentence, incidentally, that I never thought I'd write.) On day two, the first Immortals were released, which helped 2015 to maintain its huge sales lead a little longer than it might otherwise have done—but not enough to prevent it from dipping below 2014 on day four.

It looks like a safe bet that this year's prize pool will top last year's $11m, but I expect that it'll be a far more incremental increase than the one from 2013 to 2014. Growth will spike when the next sets of Immortals come out (which is, I suspect, why there are three sets) and then return to 2014 levels. In 2014, the release of the Immortal items on day 22 caused sales to jump by around $600k. Similar spikes are possible this year, but, I'd argue, less likely: if you're not going to put down cash for the hats that are already on the table, I doubt you'll put down cash for the next set to come (another sentence I never thought I'd write.)

In this regard, the level 175 Enigma item makes for an interesting case. It came out six days into the 2015 Compendium drive, accompanied by a comic—the sort of thing Valve normally reserves for new heroes or Immortals. Yet its impact on sales has been, so far, muted— arresting the huge drop-off in daily revenue, but not causing it to spike in any immediate way. Given that getting a Compendium to level 175 currently involves spending upwards of $77 ($27 for the level 50 bundle plus five lots of 24-level booster packs at $10 each), it's highly possible that this exceeds the upper limit of what people are willing to spend for a cosmetic. The suggestion is that there's a saturation point for interest in Dota hats, and that we might finally have found it. And if there's only so much that the average player is willing to shell out, then there's only so much the International can grow when the thrust of the fundraising effort is hats.

What the 2015 Compendium needs, right now, is a more diverse offering. If nothing else, it needs a way to level up without spending cash—even if it's slow. With the Challenge system tied to a separate economy (coins, which are traded for items), there's no way to think of the Compendium as anything other than a money sink with uncertain rewards. Ironically, I think its old form—that of an interactive companion to an esports tournament—can help here. A Compendium that encourages players to check out professional Dota is a Compendium that increases the sense of Dota's worth as a whole—and that sense of worth will translate into more eager investment in the Compendium itself.

There's obviously only so much that Valve can do at this stage. It's May—the qualifiers are a way off, the International itself even more so. Yet they had the option to foreground esports in the initial pitch for this year's Compendium and chose not to do so. I'd argue that no matter the fundraising potential of the hats themselves, encouraging players to care about the tournament they're funding is just as important.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Gifting things on Steam can be more trouble than it's worth, thanks to the regional and time restrictions in place when it comes to trading. Now, Valve has offered a rare explanation for the latter's existence on the Dota 2 subreddit, in response to concerns about the game's seven-day trading/gifting cooldown, and referring to the 2015 International Compendium, but really concerning all Steam gifts.

If you bought the newly minted International Compendium yesterday, and you were wondering why you can't gift it immediately, here's why, courtesy of Valve's DanielJ:

"We hate the gift restrictions as much as you do. We thought it'd be helpful to explain to you why they exist so that you can have a better view into the challenges surrounding fraud. Throughout this post we'll talk about gifting compendiums to friends, but this applies in general to all items purchased from the store.

"Here's the problem: Bad guys buy compendiums with stolen credit cards, and then resell them to other players at a discount. It can take days to determine that the cards were stolen, and that a fraudulent item had been added to the economy. We can't effectively punish the fraudsters, because they're not really traceable - they commit the fraud on new or stolen accounts, never on their own accounts. In addition, these side markets make it very easy for people to get scammed.

"When this started happening in 2013, we decided that the impact fraud was having on players and the economy wasn't big enough compared to the drawbacks of imposing restrictions on everyone. Unfortunately, like all scams that make money, it ballooned rapidly. The moment a method of fraud becomes profitable, it will explode in scope until we can find a way to address it. In 2014, the percentage of compendium purchases that turned out to be fraudulent became very significant and we also saw a massive growth in scam-related support requests from users that didn't receive their items or had their accounts stolen. Additionally, credit card fraud can become a big problem for us because if our fraud rates climb too high, we will no longer be allowed to accept credit card payments at all.

"So, we added the time-based trade restriction to allow time to detect and limit the impact that the fraudulent activity has. We believe it actually hurts sales when we put restrictions on our players, because it means it's harder to buy a gift for your friend, for example. We hated doing it, but we didn't have a better solution. We are continuously exploring different methods to solve these problems, because we want to be able to stop fraud without affecting legitimate users."

PC Gamer

The 2015 International Compendium has been released, giving Dota 2 players the opportunity to contribute to the prize pool of the Dota 2 International Championship. 25% of each Compendium sold goes to the prize pool, and as the prize grows, more items are unlocked for owners of the big glowing book.

As of this moment, the prize pool is over $3 million, meaning owners receive The International Coin Charm and Cursor Pack, the ability to vote on All-Stars, and Immortal Treasure I, which contains one Immortal item and the slim possibility of some other rare treasure. You can take a look at the full list of rewards here.

The 2014 International's prize pool was initially $1.6 million, with sales of the Compendium and other purchases ultimately raising the prize to nearly $11 million. $5 million went to the winner, team Newbee. We'll see if 2015's total trumps that.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

I've been playing Dota 2 for just under three years. In that time, I've seen a few dozen new heroes. I've seen multiple patches turn the meta upside down and force me to reconsider my (ever-fledgling) understanding of this vastly complicated game.

Even so, I've started to anticipate certain kinds of change. Hero rebalances and redesigns are expected, when you play a game like this. Even the addition of crazy new Aghanim's Scepter upgrades has become familiar—a theme of the last few patches, something that is exciting every time it happens but not, at this point, a surprise.

It doesn't take much for a Dota 2 patch to feel like a big deal—new heroes reliably achieve that. It does, however, take something really different for a patch to feel like the start of a new era. Every now and then, Icefrog does something to the game that makes people say 'is this even Dota'. That's how I felt when 6.82 dared to change the map. I didn't expect 6.84 to meet—or even exceed—change of that magnitude, and yet it has.

A lot of this is down to the new items. It's funny—new heroes form the most obvious milestones in the game's history, but items are far less common and a far bigger deal. A new character squeezes into the roster, upsetting some strategies and galvanizing others. New items—let alone nine of them, with substantial changes to existing ones—affect every character and every player. Learning a new hero, no matter how different, is a known quantity. Incorporating new concepts into every single hero you play is something else entirely.

The Dota community is currently dealing with the ramifications of the Lotus Orb, an item that allows you to reflect single-target spells back at their caster. This adds a new dimension to what could be described as Dota 2's substantial 'crazy shit' component: a million new ways for already-complex abilities to interact with one another. Here, via the Dota 2 subreddit, is Tiny's Toss being reflected. Here, also, is Doom dooming Doom. Here are five Snipers sending off 6.83 in the best way possible.

This is highly visible Crazy Shit; it makes for good gifs. Less visible are 6.84's fundamental changes to core Dota 2 concepts. In the era of midgame items that can be 'consumed' to gain a permanent buff reflecting some of their benefits, being 'six slotted' doesn't mean what it used to. This is also the era of farm being given to a character—Alchemist—so he can produce Aghanim's Scepters for other players, a substantial expansion of what it might mean to be a support in a Dota match.

On top of that, you've got the introduction of magical lifesteal and cooldown reduction, concepts that have never been part of Dota despite featuring in more or less every MOBA to follow after it. Figuring out the long-term ramifications of these changes will take months or more: we should expect surprising ideas to fall out of 6.84 for a long time to come.

I've seen some cynicism, in comments and on Reddit. 'We League now'. 'Is this even Dota'. That kind of thing—it happens every time, and its intensity this week simply mirrors the unusual number of new ideas in this patch.

I want to argue that this very much is Dota. In my mind, the process that is about to begin in earnest—a massive, community-wide adaptation to new ideas, new situations and new interactions—is the exact thing that defines the game. Other games might aim for a stable set of game mechanics that sustain entertaining competition in perpetuity, but not this one. Dota isn't stability. Dota isn't balance. Dota is chaos.

Back in January, I wrote an article about why I don't see Dota as a MOBA. In it, I argued that business models have a substantial effect on the type of experience that a game offers. I still believe this: your time with a game isn't just defined by what happens in a match. It's defined by the structure that surrounds that match, what you're asked to pay for and what you aspire to achieve with every game.

In that regard, Dota and League (and all of the games that imitated League) are very different. Consider how important account progression is in the latter: a high-level Summoner account represent months or years of effort, collection, and progression. It's equivalent to a high-level set of MMO characters, and includes a lot of the same ideas: a long-term commitment represented by cooler stuff and fatter, healthier XP bars.

Dota doesn't work like that. At all. You might collect cosmetics, I suppose, but your account level is one of the game's most meaningless numbers. Your time with the game is vaguely represented by your MMR, but that's hardly consistent from player to player. Dota has no MMO-style progression system, and as such it's a vastly different proposition. It's not a MOBA; it's Dota. This doesn't mean that either type of game is better than the other. It means that they offer very different things, and have different obligations to their players. Which one you prefer is a matter of taste.

That's what I argued back in January. The comments were a mixed bunch. A lot of people—hilariously—sent me the Wikipedia list of MOBAs, as if the terminology we use was determined by Wikipedia and not the other way around. Some people simply don't believe that business models influence game design: I'm more sympathetic to that view, even if I disagree with it.

Here's the thing, though: to me, Dota 2 is defined by its ability to undergo vast, sometimes fundamental changes. A Dota 2 match might only last an hour, but the (meta)game of Dota takes years and its most dramatic moments come when Icefrog does something totally game-changing. This isn't just a concern for pro teams. Everybody experiences it. It's what it means to be a Dota player.

Dota is never more Dota than when one complicated and probably broken game mechanic combines with another complicated and probably broken game mechanic to create a totally unexpected outcome. And it's Dota's business model—first free and community-curated, as a mod, then totally free as a professionally-developed game—that allows it to continue to be this way. It requires a development philosophy that values unexpected combinations of game mechanics, and a business model that keeps player investment and game design separate.

Chaos is the soul of Dota, but chaos is undesirable when your game is also a service. XP bars and microtransactions represent an investment of player time and money, and players expect that investment to be protected by a game's developers. MOBAs need to be balanced and fair and reliable as a courtesy to their long-term players.

Dota doesn't.

That's why there's nothing like it, and the 6.84 update symbolises that perfectly. The reward for your years-long involvement with this game isn't measured in progression bars or an expanding roster of characters: it's measured in the number of times you've looked at the patch notes and thought 'this changes everything.' Dota isn't just three lanes and ten players. Dota is crazy shit.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

For the past few Junes, right before one of the busiest gaming weeks of the year, we ve taken a moment to imagine the E3 press conference that PC Gamers deserve. It s become one of our tiny traditions (along with Chris questionable behavior in survival games). Mostly it s an excuse for us to publish something entirely detached from reality before we fly to Los Angeles and publish every scrap of gaming news and opinion that our bodies will allow. It s therapeutic to daydream about Gabe Newell materializing atop a unicorn through a fog of theater-grade dry ice to announce Half-Life 3.

We get valuable stories, videos, and interviews out of E3—you can imagine how handy it is to have almost every game-maker gathered under one roof for a few days. But it s no secret that the PC doesn t have a formal, organized presence during E3. Generally speaking it s the time of year when Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo jostle for position about who can create the most buzz. Despite being a mostly exciting few days of announcements, E3 has never given the biggest gaming platform in the world an equal place at the table.

That s our collective fault, not E3 s. One of our hobby s greatest strengths is the fact that there isn t a single owner. The PC has no marketing arm, no legal department, no CEO to dictate what should be announced or advertised. And thank Zeus for that. The fundamentally open nature of our hobby is what allows for GOG, Origin, Steam, and others to compete for our benefit, for the variety of technologies and experiences we have access to—everything from netbook gaming to 8K flight simulation to VR.

Everyone involved in PC gaming has shared ownership over its identity. One of the few downsides of that, though, is that there isn t really a single time and place for PC gaming to get together and hang out. We love BlizzCon, QuakeCon, DreamHack, Extra Life, The International, and the ever-increasing number of PAXes. But there s something special about the pageantry of E3 week, its over-the-top showmanship, its surprises, its proximity to Hollywood. And each June, even as we ve jokingly painted a picture of PC game developers locking arms in a musical number, we ve wanted something wholly by, for, and about PC gaming.

Well, hell, let s do it.

For the past few months we ve been organizing the first ever live event for PC gaming during E3, The PC Gaming Show. Tune into our Twitch channel on Tuesday, June 16 on 5 PM and you ll see a spectrum of PC gaming represented on stage: a showcase of conversations, announcements, hardware, trailers, and other stuff that makes PC gaming great. We ve been talking to everyone we know, big and small—if there s a game or developer you want to see—tell us! So far, Blizzard, AMD, Bohemia Interactive, Boss Key Productions, Paradox, Dean Hall, Tripwire, and more have signed up to be a part of this inaugural PC gaming potluck (Paradox has promised to bring nachos), and we ll be announcing more participants as we lead up to June 16. And hey, the endlessly friendly Day[9] is hosting. We love that guy.

We re sincerely, stupidly excited about this. The PC gaming renaissance we re all living in deserves a moment of recognition during the biggest gaming expo of the year—it s about time! Listen in on Twitter and on our Facebook page as we share more details leading up to June.

PC Gamer

That promised Dota 2 "major balance update" is in testing, and as the patch notes reveal, it's a doozy. It's probably too early to tell whether it will change the dotes in any significant ways, but the community has uncovered a reference to the much-missed Terry Pratchett in the meantime.

One of Dota 2's new endgame items is called the Octarine Core, an object "formed from Mystic Staff and Soul Booster" that reduces all cooldowns by 25%, and bolsters intelligence, HP, mana and some other bits. Octarine, you might be aware, is the colour of magic, as seen in Terry Pratchett's 'The Colour of Magic'. It is not the name of a fruit; you're thinking of pineapples.

It isn't the first game to smuggle in a reference to the author—Elite: Dangerous recently honored Pratchett with the addition of a new starport named Pratchett's Disc.

Dota 2's update 6.84 changes so many things that I'm not going to list them, but you can check out the ginormous notes here. (Thanks, Eurogamer.)

Correction: The patch is now available in the Dota 2 Test client; not live in the game.

PC Gamer

The world of professional Dota is about to get a lot busier. Valve have just announced the Dota Major Championships, an annual series of 'marquee' tournaments that will include their established The International event. The other three shindigs, they say, "will be Valve-sponsored events hosted by third-party organizers at different locations around the world".

As you can see in the above picture, there will be an event in each season, starting in Fall/Autumn and culminating in a bigger event, presumably The International, in Summer. The first is scheduled for this Fall/Autumn, and Valve say they'll reveal more details as that draws nearer.

Next week, Dota 2 will receive a "major balance update", along with this year's version of The International Compendium.

PC Gamer
Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.

I just played a sixty-minute solo ranked game of Dota 2. We were winning for a long time. Then, as happens often, we stopped winning—they had Sniper, Veno, and Techies, and fighting uphill was a pain in the ass. Around the fifty-minute mark, we killed Roshan with the intention of giving the Aegis to our Slark. Then, our Axe took it. Then, Axe destroyed the sentry wards that Necrophos had dropped so that I could carry them. Then, Axe blinked blind into their base, died to mines, came back to life, and died again without buyback. They pushed. We couldn't defend. The game ended.

Axe threw, I think, because he was bored and kind of a dick. The latter is a tough fix; the former indicates a problem worth exploring.

Bored players are a bigger problem in this patch than they have been before. This is the era of game-prolonging comeback mechanics, Sniper, and pub teams that can't fight uphill. It won't last forever. There will come a time—hopefully soon—when regular Dota gets faster and snappier. I imagine Valve and IceFrog are looking towards the fifth International with a view to ensuring that matches don't run long and cause the whole thing to overrun (while also, y'know, putting the idea of an eight minute victory to rest.)

Regardless, regular Dota will always be a long, demanding game. I've internalised that side of it, as have most players. When you play, you are committing to a game that is likely to last between thirty and ninety minutes and that you're not allowed to quit. Back when I taught the rest of the PCG team to play, this was one of those things that I had to learn to see from their perspective: the notion of a game that you're not allowed to stop playing is totally alien to most people.

I also play a decent amount of Smite and lately I've been playing Infinite Crisis for review. Both of these games—as with the majority of MOBAs that followed the League model—provide surrender options and a variety of game modes, including those that result in shorter matches (single lane variants, and so on.)

For the majority of new players, the length of a Dota match in is an obstacle in the way of enjoyment. Developers of new MOBAs treat it as a problem to be solved.

For the majority of Dota players, however, it isn't a problem. It's part of what makes Dota what it is. That the game is demanding and that it asks a lot from you is a bridge you cross over on the way to getting more out of it than you'll get out of other games—and a lot of players are happy to make that journey. Its complex mechanics require room to breathe, and that 'room' is provided by having long matches. As a player, you're asked to respect that. If you don't respect that, you move on to something else.

The issue with this approach is that it divides players up along binary lines. The reality isn't really like that. Everybody who plays the game—even those who play it a lot—has a different amount of time and patience. Some are more willing to commit energy in the lategame than others. Some will play until it starts to get boring or hard, then throw or abandon in order to move onto the next one. This might be the wrong attitude, but it's sustainable for the players who engage in it. That they are sacrificing the enjoyment of nine other people in order to get their way is only a problem if they agree that it's a problem, and from their perspective it probably isn't (see also: 'dicks'.)

The issue with a purist approach to Dota, then, is that it doesn't account for people who play but don't care about spoiling the experience of others if it suits them. In an ideal world, people who didn't like playing Dota 'properly' would get bored with the game and stop playing: in reality, they show up as that guy who costs you a handful of MMR points every now and then. Even if most players never do this, even if some players only do it once and then quit the game forever, enough people play that it will reliably crop up as a problem for those that stick around.

With that in mind, then, I've started to see the value of 'shortform' modes. They don't really exist in Dota at present—1v1 Solo Mid takes less time, sure, but it changes so many of the game's basic systems and victory conditions that its relationship to regular Dota is limited to a few very specific areas. All Random Deathmatch is more lightweight, but can still take a substantial amount of time.

When official custom game modes finally make their debut, I hope that they'll play a role in offering alternatives that help to draw the throw-happy player away from regular matchmaking. Valve could do this themselves, of course—a 2v2 or 3v3 mode on a single lane would be interesting—but it's far more likely that they'll leave it to the community to build. And, honestly, I think it'd be a success for Dota as a whole if somebody does.

While there are many things about the regular MOBA model that I hope stay far away from Dota 2, the provision of more accessible ways to play is a proven good. It's a rare example of a community-dividing design decision that actually divides the community in the right way: not between serious and casual, but between 'willing to play for twenty minutes' and 'willing to play to the end'. I'd rather players declare the limits of their attention span when they choose a game mode, not when they throw at the end of a long match.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.


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