Product Update - Valve
* You may now peek inside a charm to see the contents of the treasure you can win
* Fixed problem where client would occasionally fail to connect to a gameserver, with the error message “bad challenge”
* Earth Spirit will correctly move into range when casting Boulder Smash
* Fixed heroes with undroppable Aghanim's Scepter Upgrades being able to gain their upgrades from Scepters owned by other players (Meepo, Ogre Magi, and Treant Protector)
* Fixed Duel and Supernova Aghanim's Scepter upgrade interaction
* Fixed top bar buyback indicator sometimes being inaccurate
* Corrected an issue where the combat log was not being displayed
PC Gamer

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

One of the best things I read about Dota 2 this week was this JoinDota article about the impact of cosmetic item bundles on the competitive scene. Their evidence is compelling, and it's hard to read through the entire thing without wanting Valve to rethink the way that tournament tickets are marketed and sold.

The article both rests upon and reveals the fact that players really covet cosmetic items. That's not a groundbreaking observation by any stretch, but it's one of those things that gets weirder the more you think about it. I mean, I collect Dota items and I'm not even entirely sure why. I am guilty of buying tournament tickets for the cosmetics first and the tournament itself second.

Players desire this stuff to the point where that desire eclipses the game it supports. I gestured at this last week—Dota events traditionally stumble because players will do literally anything, even if it isn't fun, to get a shot at free stuff—even if it makes them less likely to continue playing the game those items are for. I sometimes wonder if we're guilty, generally, of just assuming that 'hats are popular' without interrogating why—of missing a broader point about the game itself because the mania that surrounds cosmetic items has become a running joke.

A pet theory: collecting cosmetic items provides everything that traditional Dota 2 does not. They allow you to make clear, visible progress in a way that is quick and easily broadcast to other players. You can work on it entirely alone, and the factors that might mitigate your progress—money, time, luck—are all nontheless things that you can control. The ineptitude of four other people does affect your chances of getting items unless there's an event on, and the way the community behaves during events backs up what I'm saying.

(This doesn't mean that collecting items is always compensatory—it's perfectly reasonable to covet something because you, you know, like it. This is more about figuring out why collection gets taken so seriously, how it ends up valued above and beyond aspects of the game that, if pressed, most players would agree are more 'important'.)

In this sense, the negative influence of cosmetics on e-sports is symptomatic of a broader malaise experienced by Dota players: the drive to derive instant gratification from a game where almost everything you aspire to do or be takes significant time and effort. Watching a tournament requires engagement, investment of energy, learning, and so on. Collecting hats requires clicking on the hats.

The only thing that makes you better at Dota is playing more Dota. The best way to show your commitment to e-sports is to watch more e-sports. These are easy notions to forget, or at least it's easy to be distracted from them. It's so tempting to look for shortcuts to that feeling of progression that you may not even realise that you're doing it—at least, that's been my experience of this hobby over the last couple of years.

I had this fact hammered home late last week. I'd spent a week teaching four total newcomers to play Dota, colleagues from PCG's UK office with less than ten games played between them. We faced off against Rock Paper Shotgun's more experienced lineup—two and a half experienced players, two and a half total newcomers (one had played the game years ago for a hundred hours, but not returned since.)

I'd theorised that it was possible to break Dota down into general, easily-remembered principles that would ultimately give my wizard-babies the edge even if they had no idea what the majority of heroes did, how the majority of items worked, or even how their roles functioned. I attempted to explain what a gold and experience advantage looked like, what staying safe looked like, what map control was and how you got it—and I think I succeeded, to a limited extent.

What I realised, though, as we lost that game, was just how much Dota has passed into the lower, reactive levels of my brain. As I attempted to formulate a simplified conscious approach to Dota, I remained ignorant of just how much I'd picked up simply by playing a lot of the game for a long time. I can see it, now, in every screenshot of that match. A level 4 Sniper pushing a tower right next to an incoming TP belonging to a level 7 Puck who would inevitably kill him. I realised how natural it was for a new player to think nothing of another glowing effect among so many glowing effects; I realised how many different experiences contribute to me seeing that image in such a powerfully divergent way. Where the Sniper sees nothing wrong, I see imminent disaster: and I see it because I've lived it, in thousands of different ways, over the course of thousands of hours.

As our ancient exploded, I realised that there's no shortcut to that kind of experience—no way for me to simply beam it into the heads of my newbies with a couple of simple instructions. I realised, also, that there was no way I was going to get better through anything other than more experience. I had been on a losing streak, otherwise, from the finals of the Rektreational industry tournament (3-2, damn!) to my recent return to solo ranked. And all of it comes back to the same thing: hours invested, energy committed, losses accepted, lessons learned. It is so, so tempting to go back to 'proving' myself with a hat collection, to amass the badges and stack up the tournament ticket stubs and get the cosmetics that say this guy cares. But that is, I think, a placebo. It's a behaviour pattern that resembles nothing less than a mid-life crisis: the attempt to spend your way out of some broader sense of inadequacy.

It's actually kind of a relief to arrive at that understanding. It takes the pressure off. You really probably don't need every item set that comes out. You probably don't even need to worry about your MMR, or your winrate, or your all-time records. You probably just need to play more, and that is the least demanding thing Dota ever asks of you.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

Product Update - Valve
- Fixed flying units not moving correctly when issued move orders off the playable area of the map.
Product Update - Valve
- Fixed various pathfinding bugs
- The Year Beast Brawl hero picking now uses the Ranked All Pick rules (players take turns picking their heroes)
- Rescaled some values used for Year Beast Brawl's Refresher Aura
- Fixed a rare bug with Ember Spirit getting stuck after using Fire Remnant
- Fixed Ember Spirit sometimes becoming invisible after Sleight of Fist
- Fixed Fire Remnant buff icons remaining stuck after Remnants expire
- The experimental auto-repeat feature dota_player_auto_repeat_right_mouse now interacts with the minimap
- The experimental directional move feature dota_unit_allow_moveto_direction has been changed to pivot in place to face the direction before starting to move
- Added a new confirmation particle effect to dota_unit_allow_moveto_direction movement commands
PC Gamer

The ESL has announced a $1 million prize pool for the 2015 ESL One Dota 2 tournament series, which it says represents a quadrupling of its investment in the series last year.

"We re starting with ESL One Frankfurt 2015 in June this year, where the prize money has been raised from US$150,000 to US$250,000 - and this is just the beginning," Ulrich Schulze, ESL's managing director of pro gaming, said in a statement. "ESL One is here to set a new standard for professional Dota 2 events at this level. We re dedicated to pushing the boundaries, and giving players from around the world more chances to make their careers as professional gamers is a key aspect of that."

As MCV UK pointed out, last year's Dota 2 series consisted of two events, in Frankfurt and New York. Assuming my math is correct, 2015 will see that number at least double, with tournaments set to take place "in some of the world's most iconic stadiums and arenas."

The news follows closely behind last week's announcement that the ESL will hold the world's largest Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament in Cologne, Germany, with its own $250,000 prize pool funded entirely by the ESL. I'd say it sounds like things are going pretty well over there.

PC Gamer

Positioning is a part of Counter-Strike that many players don't lend the proportional amount of consideration to. Where you are in relation to your teammates and the enemy (and when you're there) has a huge impact on how a round plays out. Positioning is also a massive topic—more than a 10-minute video can cover every aspect of—but for this week's Triggernometry I've focused in on the CT side of that most ubiquitous of maps, de_dust2.

Product Update - Valve
Fixed Towers denied while in the fog of war taking too long to disappear

Year Beast Brawl:
Refresher Aura is now tracked per-ability and has a slightly greater chance of initially triggering, but a diminishingly lower chance of triggering for each subsequent proc
Tower Flak shots now apply Skadi
Teleport cooldown reduced from 60 to 30 seconds
Teleport channel duration increased from 3 to 4.5
Product Update - Valve
- Released the first New Bloom Treasure along with a Charm version.

Year Beast Brawl:
-Global Active Abilities now scale based on game time, similar to the Beast Passive Upgrades:
-Thundergod's Wrath:
350 damage to 0-10 minutes: 125 damage, 10-20 minutes: 250 damage, 20+ minutes: 375 damage
-Global Chakra :
100% mana to 0-10 minutes: 60% mana, 10-20 minutes: 80% mana, 20+ minutes: 100% mana
-Hand of God:
300 health to 0-10 minutes: 200 health, 10-20 minutes: 300 health, 20+ minutes: 400 health
-Global Silence
5 seconds to 0-10 minutes: 4 seconds, 10-20 minutes: 5 seconds, 20+ minutes: 6 seconds.

-Fixed using beast actives while the game is paused

-Fixed KOTL Illuminate, custom spirit models now appear when custom Illuminate is used with Spirit Form
- Support for High-DPI (4k) displays has been added. This requires Windows 8.1 or later. Dota 2 will now use the native resolution of High-DPI displays and will use larger mouse cursor sizes when available.
PC Gamer

The ESL is hosting what it says will be the largest Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament in the world this summer, in the biggest indoor arena in Germany. It also promised that 2015 will see more CS:GO action than any previous year in the ESL's history.

The Score reports that the 2015 Cologne tournament will see 16 teams battling for $250,000 in prize money, which will be funded entirely by the ESL. Last year's Cologne tournament offered a similar prize pool but was "community funded" through sales of the 2013 Arms Deal update. Ulrich Schulze, the ESL's managing director of pro gaming, said the ESL-exclusive funding  demonstrates its commitment to CS:GO as a professional e-sport.

ESL One Cologne is going to be the largest Counter-Strike: Global Offensive event in the world," he said. "Taking place in the biggest indoor arena in Germany, we re sure it ll be a massive hit for fans from all over."

The ESL One Cologne tournament will take place at the 20,000-seat Lanxess Arena in Cologne on August 22-23. Tickets to the event will go on sale on February 23.

PC Gamer

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

Everybody is angry about a seasonal Dota 2 event. This does not tell you very much. Events have always made players angry, and not entirely without reason—traditionally, they are not very good. That said, the angriest the Dota community has ever been was when a seasonal event didn't happen. This complicates things, somewhat. If the community is equally enraged by events that exist and events that don't exist, what have we learned? Primarily, that hardcore gaming communities are often angry about something, and that 'something' may or may not map fully onto reality. This is not a revelation, and nor is it news. Don't let that stop you, though—it's op-ed season! Grab your gun, honey, there's fish in that barrel.

Valve continue to make weird decisions about how they implement optional modes into Dota 2. Generally, knowing Valve, you can assume that this is a form of experimentation—discerning what the community will accept, what it won't. The company's weaknesses has always been that this experimentation takes place in isolation from what other companies have learned and, sometimes, in isolation from common sense. Valve give the impression of a company that is attempting to invent community events from scratch—a homebrew approach with its roots in lush, organic data. I wonder how they store and process that data, sometimes; how they account for the significant portion that is just the phrase 'FUCK THIS' over and over. It's all useful, I suppose. Nothing grows that isn't fertilised at least in part by the shit that came before it.

Where Manifold Paradox's problem was that it affected how people play regular Dota, Year Beast's issue is that it allows players to purchase an advantage in new, optional Dota. If you have lots of points your team gets a better Year Beast and that's kind of shitty to deal with. I think you'd have to attempt some pretty tricky rhetorical gymastics to take criticism further than that: Year Beast does not mean that Dota as a whole is 'pay to win'. 'Pay to win' is not a force with its own agency: it cannot creep out of one game mode and alter another. It cannot slip off the whiteboard and infect a room full of designers, it does not corrupt its hosts from within and you will never find yourself approaching Icefrog in the street only for him to raise a finger and honk "PAY TO WIIIIIIIIIN" at you like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

In short: it's bad, you don't have to play it, you definitely don't have to spend any money, and you probably wasted any time you spent sharpening pitchforks (do you sharpen pitchforks? I guess you must.) Lasting impact on Dota, the decade-old fantasy wizard sport you play every day of your life for some reason? Nil.

What does concern me about Year Beast is that it demonstrates that Valve haven't really learned their lesson regarding event rewards. In every case, the outcry over an event has ultimately been grounded in the assumption that you have to do whatever terrible thing the event is making you do, and that you have to do it because otherwise you don't get whatever reward is being dangled in front of you. During Manifold Paradox, people had to bend their entire strategy around helping or thwarting Phantom Assassin because otherwise they wouldn't get items. Now, people have to build the best Year Beast because otherwise they don't get item sets.

In gaming communities, 'material' rewards tend to override every other incentive to play. People ruin their experience of Dragon Age: Inquisition's opening hours because they convince themselves that they need all of the stuff in the Hinterlands before they allow themselves to progress. Over in console-land, hand-wringing about Destiny's loot system has eclipsed the game's successes (and failures) as a shooter to such an extent that it might as well be a Faberge handle on a slot machine. This is the age of people saying 'I had an amazing time but I didn't get the right space hat so fuck it' without irony, a sentiment that is for some reason taken seriously and not laughed at like we laugh at those teenagers publishing tearful video blogs when they don't get the right car for their birthday.

In short: the chance to win stuff tends to make gaming communities behave in some really weird ways and Valve have been naive in their approach to that. On paper, giving a reward to winners makes sense. In practice, it changes the emotional register of the entire thing. It introduces entitlement, irrationality and negativity. They made the same mistake with the first-ever Compendium, which gave every owner a different Immortal item from a limited set. Technically, they were all equally valuable. In practice, everybody wanted the Pudge hook or the Kunkka sword. The system created winners and losers, and the result was much wailing.

If every Year Beast participant had the same chance of getting a reward regardless of the match outcome then nobody would care much that it was pay to win. Well, some might, but it would be those few that are genuinely concerned with the health of the game in abstract and that tends to be a far more level-headed set. It'd also mean that fewer people would feel the need to spend money on points alone (as opposed to the points that come with the Arcana), but if Valve are serious about steering clear of Bad Free To Play then they'd have to accept that.

The goal with a community event shouldn't just be to raise a bit of extra money, nor should it be to experiment with what the community will enjoy or invest in. The aim should always be to create a sense of communal attachment—to stick a pin in the calendar at a certain point and encourage people to invest that time with meaning. You should look back on a seasonal event and think 'remember that? That was cool. That's where I got this hat.'

That goal is not incompatible with an experimental approach, nor is it incompatible with making money. But Valve need to get better at it. At the moment, the memory they are creating is closer to 'god, remember that? That was awful. I spent half an hour of my life convincing one guy not to abandon the game because he wasn't going to win a hat. I can't believe I spent actual money on momentarily enhancing my team's magical rhino-dragon so that it might win me a Sand King set from two years ago that I didn't even want'.

The key is distributing rewards evenly to create a sense that everybody wins out just by participating. By doing so, the event becomes a pinata that everybody gets an even whack at—and, like at the very best children's birthday parties, every attendee is guaranteed some candy or a toy. Have you seen what happens when a parent underestimates the importance of egalitarian distribution? It's exactly like what is happening in the Dota community at the moment, only with real six year olds instead of functional six year olds.

Here, then, is how you fix Year Beast. Remove the points system, and give both winners and losers an equal chance to earn whole sets. Match this with a reliable progression track that you move along with every game you play, unlocking scaling rewards as you go. You should know roughly what you stand to gain when you start a Year Beast match, not when it ends. That way, players go in feeling positive.

Instead of selling points, sell tickets for the mode itself. Give every player one free ticket for every day they log in and scale reward distribution with that in mind. Give extra tickets to Arcana owners, and give players who play with an Arcana owner a chance to earn tickets through playing regular Dota matches. Ticket prices should be slightly lower than the lowest-value reward from a given Year Beast game, because there's no reason why the player should stand to lose: Valve have learned this lesson before, with item chests.

Then, watch a happy seasonal event unfold and watch players flock back to the next one. If there is a next one. You might have handed the whole thing over to the community by then by adding custom game tools. In which case, it's their problem. Let the little shits run their own birthday party. Uncork a bottle and bar the kitchen door: you've earned it!

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.


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