PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general. The art above comes from the Garb of the Cunning Augur set for Rubick by Es'Kophan.

The most significant difference between the majority of Dota 2's traditional game modes lies in the way you pick your character. Drafting is an essential part of the game, and opting in to different methods of drafting is a way of determining what kind of experience you want to have. I've written before about there being different Dotas for different players, and this is the most obvious way this manifests. If you play a lot of Single or Random Draft then your experience is fundamentally different to somebody who plays a lot of Captain's Mode—and so on.

Over time, Valve and Icefrog have made multiple tweaks to the way that All Pick works. They've adjusted the amount of time for picks and the amount of gold you lose if you fail to choose. When 6.82 launched last September, Valve acknowledged that ranked All Pick should work differently to unranked: they added a 'strategy period' to the beginning, enforced an alternating pick system, and increased the punishment for idling. Since then, the two variants of All Pick have amounted to (very subtly) different game modes.

I'd argue that these changes didn't go quite far enough. I've been playing a bunch of solo ranked again recently, and I'm struggling to come up with a reason why players should have the option to random their hero.

It's a fine idea in principle, and it works in regular All Pick (and in team ranked, for that matter—what I have to say really applies to solo games.) Randoming is a form of gambling that adds a degree of luck and chance to the drafting process—it can go well or disastrously and responding to your fortunes one way or another is an interesting strategic challenge.

This is fine if everybody involved agrees to it, but I don't think I've ever seen somebody say 'do you guys mind if I random' in solo ranked. Ever. It doesn't happen—what does happen is that someone loads in, immediately randoms, and then the five strangers they're matched with try to work around it. Or they don't try to work around it, and you end up with double mids or no support or no carries and the next forty minutes becomes an exercise in defying the mathematical likelihood that the game was lost before you started.

There's a lot of ways that solo players can make selfish decisions in the draft that screw their teammates—locking mid without any discussion, and so on. That stuff's unavoidable. In those cases, however, it usually stems from a player wanting to do something that will ultimately favour them in the match. Maybe they're insta-picking Queen of Pain because they're great with her. Even if they're wrong, the decision comes from a position of 'I want to win this game' and that's ultimately positive.

Randoming exposes players to huge risk—that they'll get a terrible hero, or a hero that they're terrible with, or a hero that requires somebody else to pick something to accompany it that they might not be happy to play (random Io being a good example of this.) Randoming doesn't express the desire to win the game—it expresses the desire to leave it substantially up to chance.

This is really bad for a competitive team game. The last thing Dota 2 needs is a 'screw everybody else on my team' button, and often that's what the random option amounts to. It's different in a one vs. one game—StarCraft comes to mind—because the time and energy that the player is gambling with is there own. Being able to random in solo ranked amounts to gambling with four other people's time too. I'd argue that Valve should do everything they can to reduce the amount that individual players can ruin games for other people. With this in mind, I don't think the random option has a place in solo ranked games.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Team Fortress 2 is getting a substantial new update in the form of the Gun Mettle Campaign. The campaign will offer two contracts per week over a three month period, with each offering a new skill-based challenge. Examples include "get a kill with a reflected projectile as Pyro", or "survive 1000 damage in a single life as Heavy". 

Completing contracts will grant campaign-exclusive weapons or an unlockable weapon case. These weapons will come in six grades of rarity but won't give you a competitive advantage, according to the Gun Mettle Campaign FAQ. Instead, each (and by 'each', I mean every single weapon assigned to every single player) will come with a unique paint job. If you don't like a weapon, you can sell it. 

Access to the Gun Mettle Campaign will set you back $5.99. Some of the profits will go to the map creators responsible for maps featured in the contracts. These maps, which come in the form of Borneo, Suijin and Snowplow, as well as the new Valve-built map Powerhouse, will roll out free for anyone not partaking in the Gun Mettle Campaign. More info over here.

PC Gamer

Last year's International Dota 2 Championship tournament, better known simply as The International, had a prize pool well in excess of $10 million. That's a lot of money. It's also a lot less than what's already on the table for this year's event.

Valve ponied up the initial $1.6 million for the International prize pool, which it then bolstered through sales of The Compendium, a kind of interactive, multi-level virtual book with unlockable in-game items. The base Compendium is $10 while the Level 50 edition goes for $27, and you can also spring for individual levels to gain access to specific items. Higher levels mean more stuff, and also more money for prize pool, which is the point of the whole exercise: 25 percent of all Compendium sales go into the pot for the competing teams to fight over.

The $15 million prize pool, minus Valve's $1.6 million slice, means Dota 2 fans have contributed $13.4 million to the big show. Borrowing Phil's trick, that means $53.6 million, give or take a few hundred grand, has been spent on The Compendium this year.

Can that possibly be right? It sounds utterly ridiculous, and I'm not great at the whole "math" thing, but I keep checking and that's the number that keeps coming up. And it's not over yet: The Compendium will remain on sale until The International is over, according to Polygon, and this year's event doesnt even begin until August 3.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

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

A few days ago, in an  article about ESL One Frankfurt, I made a point of praising Team Secret's decision making. This comes up a lot in my thinking about Dota. Something that applies to this game and many other things besides is the way that professionals 'make it look easy'. This is particularly apparent in esports, where the game the pros are playing is exactly the same as the one you play at home. Watching them pull off perfect rotation after perfect rotation, perfect counter-initiation after perfect counter-initiation, it's easy to sit back and think: I could do that.

I can't, though, because while I can imitate the visible aspect of their performance I can't replicate the thought processes that make it happen. The best players make (and don't make) decisions very quickly, drawing on a massive amount of prior experience to do so. I've written before about how, ultimately, there's no substitute for raw time investment when it comes to getting good. There are, however, a few approaches that I've found helpful while trying to become a better player—particularly with regards to decision making.

Always be running through scenarios in your head

This started, for me, with trying to get an intuitive grasp of blink dagger's maximum range. Rather than wait for a teamfight to discover that I didn't quite have it down, I'd think about it as I was running around and practice when things were quiet. If I was playing support and had blink, for example, I'd practice while warding. This isn't advisable in serious competitive games but in pubs I think it's a good way of getting your eye in.

The same applies to skill rotations and other items. If you're always thinking about what your next move might look like then it's far less likely that you'll panic, rush, or screw it up. That might mean something like 'I'm going to blink, hex, stun somebody else, force staff myself out and look for a finger of death opportunity'. Once you've figured that out, check which inventory slots your blink dagger and force staff are in. This is about as basic as advice gets, but the speed at which you make a decision doesn't matter at all if you haven't done the basic groundwork that makes sure you don't fat-finger your dust and force staff yourself in the wrong direction.

Say what you're about to do, but don't let that stop you

I've spent a lot of time over the last year writing about communication—particularly about the importance of being clear and vocal with your ideas. The flipside to this is that in an idea world you shouldn't need to wait for a reply once you've explained what you're going to do.

There's another word for this, and it's 'trust'. If you trust that the people you're playing with have your back, then saying 'I'm going to blink-echo slam with the next wave' and then doing it is fine. If it's what you need to do to break their base then it's what you need to do, and it's on them to follow you up. I've seen a lot of teams fall apart due to hesitancy resulting from a committee-ish need to make sure that everybody agrees with the plan before anybody pushes the button.

If you don't trust the people that you're playing with, arguably you should go for it anyway. They might surprise you: you're just another pub random to them too, after all.


I mentioned hesitancy above. It is, I find, something that intermediate teams really struggle with. This indicates lag in the decision making process—it's everything to do with thought and communication and very little to do with reactions. Although there are certainly times when rushing in ruins it for everybody, I increasingly believe that you learn more about the game if you're willing to make a move without hesitation.

Don't get me wrong: this is how many, many matches get thrown away. Ultimately, however, you only learn to make better decisions by making decisions. If you wait for the perfect play, you probably won't make one. If you make no plays, you won't learn—all that time running through scenarios doesn't mean much if you don't take that knowledge into the wild. This taps into a broader truth—if you're going to learn, be willing to lose—but it is specifically relevant here. If you need to blow a long cooldown ult to make sure a kill happens, do it. If you think you can outplay an isolated enemy, try it.

This might sound a little dumb, but acting more confidently when making a play is the wrong idea helped make me more confident when it was the right idea. It also helped me learn the myriad ways in which an idea can be a bad one. There's no substitute for time, after all, and you cannot learn to make better choices by not choosing.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Photo: ESL/Adela Sznajder. Fair warning: spoilers follow for ESL One Frankfurt 2015.

In the aftermath of ESL One Frankfurt, the professional Dota 2 status quo seems to be very much set. Team Secret's 2-0 defeat of IG and 3-1 victory over EG establishes them, convincingly, as the world's best. Meanwhile, the metagame has stabilised to a substantial degree. Tusk, Shadow Fiend, Queen of Pain, Clockwerk and Leshrac are the heroes of this patch, with the first pick and ban phase of the draft now largely an exercise in determining which team gets which set from that narrow pool. That's not the whole story, of course: the weekend saw strong cases made for Naga Siren, Rubick, Bounty Hunter, Visage and Sven (and Io remains Io). It certainly feels, however, that there's a way to play version 6.84c and the top teams largely agree on what that is.

It's interesting to compare this situation to last year. ESL One Frankfurt 2014 convinced me that TI4 was going to be the tournament of EG and maybe IG, of dazzling Brewmaster counter-initiations, greedy supports like Kunkka and Wraith King, and a lot of Tiny-Io. That this turned out to be wrong is well-documented: but a similar switcheroo seems less likely this year. There's no would-be Newbee waiting in the wings, and nobody (Valve included) wants to see the metagame flip into a rut as dramatically as it did back then. It could happen. Optimistically perhaps, I don't believe it will.

With that in mind, it might seem strange to say that this is a very exciting time to be following high-level Dota. This game traditionally struggles when it becomes too stable. Yet ESL One Frankfurt demonstrated a type of stability that we don't see very much. This wasn't about one strategy beating out all others. This was about there being so much talent at the top of the ladder that the game itself seems to warp around it.

The standard has never been this high

There have never been better Dota 2 players than the ones playing right now. On the analysis desk, Nahaz said that we might look back at RTZ and SumaiL as the best to ever play the game. I think the game has a longer life than that perhaps implies, but I agree with the general point. Of note also are those veterans like Fear, Puppey, KuroKy and ChuaN who have continued to improve and improve over the course of long careers. Taken in combination, you have teams that play as close to perfectly as I have ever seen. It used to be that 'never making a mistake' was a quality attached to specific teams (TI4-era DK, for example). Now, it's a flat-out requirement if a team is going to be in the top three. It's hard to imagine old Na'Vi, beloved as they rightfully were, making it in this environment. It's never been more punishing to attempt a risky aggressive play and fail.

Plays don't end games, mistakes do

Case in point: the end of yesterday's grand final. There'll be those who herald the return of the EG throw, but really what happened was a moment's miscalculation being expertly turned into a tournament defeat by a team that knew exactly how to do so. Fear and PPD's choice to re-commit to the fight outside Secret's base might have cost them the tournament, but it's a completely understandable decision. There's a parallel universe where it worked: where we woke up this morning to a million gifs of the Echo Slam-Mana Void rampage that forced a fifth game. In reality Secret's positioning was too good; they didn't let it happen. EG lost.

There's something exciting about that, too: against another team, that play might have worked. It didn't because Secret's second-to-second decision making, both as individuals and as a group, is peerless. This is what high-level Dota is all about: not plays or killstreaks, but high-pressure strategic decision making so advanced that it amounts to massaging probability.

It's like a staring competition: don't be the first to blink

This translates into a defender's advantage, of a sort, and I suspect it's why we saw (and will continue to see) the most dramatic moments arriving in the form of counter-initiations rather than initiations. This is the reason that players like KuroKy and UniversE are so valuable to their teams and so entertaining to watch. It also explains the sudden rise of Virtus.pro. Their victory over Alliance was built on the back of clutch defensive decisions: the use of Silencer, Tusk, Centaur Warrunner and Winter Wyvern to create in an environment where being a playmaker carries more and more risk, where the first person to blink is often also the person who loses in the end.

Virtuoso Dota lives: but it means far more

SumaiL's Storm Spirit in game two of EG vs. Virtus.pro is the counterpoint to all of this. He may well have matured as a player in the last few months, become less prone to crazy over-aggression, but here he demonstrated that he doesn't always need to hold back. Virtus.pro are hardly pushovers, as they demonstrated the day before that they can deal with a Storm Spirit. They couldn't deal with SumaiL at his best, however, and that's what makes it so exciting: sometimes the person who moves first does win, but only if they are at the absolute top of their game. Only if they can defy probability. What were impressive plays before are moreso now because they carry greater risk. Risk translates directly into drama, and that's good for Dota as a whole.

I have a few concerns ahead of TI5. I'd like to see an upset to the metagame, as long as it keeps matches dynamic. There's also a more general issue that higher-level Dota means a game that is harder to follow for newcomers: consider StarCraft. That's a problem for the future, however. For now, it's a great time to be a fan.

PC Gamer

Photo: ESL/Patrick Strack

If you missed yesterday's incredible day of Dota, here are the two games you should watch before the next round begins: EG vs. Vici Gaming game one, and Secret vs. Fnatic game two. In both cases, though in different senses, these games were made special by a support player gone rogue. In the case of the latter you have a wildly entertaining Techies performance by KuroKy. In the former, you have Aui_2000's extraordinary run as a 'support' Naga Siren who finished the game at the top of the net worth leaderboard.

Afterwards, I caught up with EG captain Peter 'PPD' Dager about the team's resurgent return to form.

I wouldn't say that you had the roughest time in the seeding bracket, but I imagine it was rougher than you hoped. Was that just a bad first day and now you've managed to move on?

There were a lot of problems with the seeding bracket and it's mostly just a case of where it was. It wasn't actually a LAN. There wasn't really soundproof headsets, there were headsets but they didn't have any white noise playing so basically you could hear everything your opponents were saying and if you were in one of the rooms you could hear the casters talking about the other game that was going on in the other room.

The Chinese players are super loud, they're always yelling because they don't use TeamSpeak or Mumble or anything. They just yell. Their yelling is coming through our mics and going into our ears through our TeamSpeak and it was just... frustrating, to say the least. That being said, we lost to IG twice and they played really well. We made some mistakes but we learned a lot. It made us more prepared for this event so I'm glad I was there.

This may sound like a stupid question, but based solely on today: what position does Aui play?

It depends on the game! Sometimes he looks more like a one than a four. Generally he's the second support, the four position, generally I buy most of the wards unless I've run out of gold and I'm too poor. I say "Aui, please buy me a ward" and he's like "...alright...".

Out of his 27k net worth. Was that something you knew you could get away with in these games because of the Io, or was it something more general about breaking down that division between positions?

It's always an option when you've got Naga. She's able to farm a lot in that situation as a support. We didn't really want the game to go in that direction, it just did.

You're not going to say no, though, right?

Yeah. After too many mistakes in the early game we just said "right, there's no way we can fight them head on, let's just split the map, dodge teamfights, spread them out." Fighting five on five just wasn't going to work out for us.

That second game felt so much stronger. I wonder about the influence that momentum actually has on teams. Was that a momentum thing, was it a case of now knowing Vici's weaknesses? What made that happen so much more convincingly?

It's very difficult for me to say whether a team is tilting a little bit or not, but game one was very frustrating and I could understand if they were upset with the loss. They did really well in the early game and it looked like it was going in their favour and then we just slowed the game down and it had to be frustrating for them to deal with because that playstyle is always a little bit obnoxious.

Game two, I think we had a bit better of a draft. They went with a different style for their Wisp, they went Wisp-Tiny and I'm not even sure that's Hao's best hero. I don't think he plays it amazingly well and we got really good picks against it: Winter Wyvern's very exceptional.

I was surprised you got that, actually.

Yeah. And Fear was able to do what he wanted to do in game one on Clinkz which was go to their jungle and make kills happen on their supports.

I guess people associate Fear with a farming style, a more passive style. Is this, like, a side of him that occasionally you can just let off the chain?

Yeah, he plays Clinkz really well and the way he played in game two is, like, how the hero is meant to be played. He uses his ult, eats that big creep and he's got 1800 HP at eight minutes. You get in there and go fight and he's so, so strong.

As a drafter, it must be a huge benefit to you that you have players that can switch between roles that well, or play the same role very differently to what other teams might expect.

The more options you have, the more advantageous it is. Fear is one of the best carries out there because I never have to worry about him being able to play a hero. It's like... "oh, this hero could be good hero or maybe this hero." Then we go, "what's the best hero for this game" and I have full confidence that Clinton will be able to play that hero to its full potential.

You're playing VP tomorrow. Any thoughts, ahead of it?

I haven't thought about it too much. Just relaxing and watching the games that are going on today. But, they're one of the scariest teams at this tournament at least for us. We do much better against the Chinese and I'd much rather be facing up against IG. Maybe not Secret, but I think VP will be a good challenge for us.

They've had an extraordinary run so far.

Yeah, they haven't lost a game yet. That being said I think we can beat them, I don't think they're at any untouchable status. Hoping for some good games and I think we can win out.

Thanks for your time.

EG face Virtus.pro in the semi finals today. You can watch them, and the rest of the day's matches, on Twitch. A full schedule is available on the official tournament site.

PC Gamer

Photo credit: ESL/Helena Kristiansson

ESL Frankfurt 2015 begins tomorrow and runs until Sunday night. This is the biggest Dota 2 event of the year in Europe and the last major tournament before the International. If you're looking to get up to speed before the world's best teams compete for that staggering $14m+ prize pool, this is your best chance to do so. Besides, it'll be fun. You can either watch the games for free via Twitch or, if you're in the Frankfurt area, tickets are still available for the live show.

Here's what you need to know.

What's the prize?

A base prize pool of $250,000 has been increased north of $290,000 by the sale of tickets and cosmetic items. Of this, the winner will get 40% (about $117,000) with a sharp drop off from there. While every participant is guaranteed to come away with something, the bottom four finishers only get 5% each.

What's the format?

Yesterday, all eight teams played a best-of-one double elimination bracket to establish their starting positions in the tournament proper. This seeding bracket was done because the tournament itself is going to be single elimination. Last year, ESL One Frankfurt hit scheduling problems when games ran long. To fix that, they've removed the lower bracket.

The downside to this is that if a fan-favourite team loses a single match, that's it: they're out. On the plus side, it means plenty of time to get those best-of-three series played and guarantees a proper best-of-five grand final on Sunday.

What's the schedule?

The first match, Alliance vs. VP, will be played tomorrow (Saturday 20th of June) at 10.00am CEST (9.00am BST/1.00am PST). After that, matches are scheduled at roughly three hour intervals.

Who are the teams?

Competing this weekend are Virtus.pro, Alliance, Team Secret, Fnatic, Evil Geniuses, Cloud 9, Vici Gaming and Invictus Gaming. Let's run through them one by one.


Despite their victory at DreamLeague, Virtus.pro would not have made many top three lists until very recently. Their aggression and consistency made them the surprise winners of the ESL One seeding bracket, toppling Secret to enter the main event as favourites. A win here would confirm them as serious International contenders. Their first round match-up against Alliance certainly looks favourable for them at the moment, and they're guaranteed not to meet IG or Secret until the grand final.


Once the Kings in the North, Alliance have never quite regained the form they demonstrated at the 2013 International. Having failed to qualify for the International this year, ESL One Frankfurt represents their last shot at glory, at least for the next few months. Their situation is a strange one: they qualified for this tournament in April with a different roster. Having since swapped out Niqua for AdmiralBulldog, they've struggled to find the traction they need to beat better-established teams. Alliance have a lot of experience and they can be brilliant, but ESL One's single-elimination format is punishing to inconsistent teams and that could be their downfall.

Team Secret

A supergroup of sorts, Secret represent the best of the last two years of western Dota. Arteezy and Zai, formerly of EG. Puppey and KuroKy, formerly of Na'Vi. S4, formerly of Alliance. They have a vast amount of collective experience, a lot of former captains, and a lot of former drafters. They can be beaten (Virtus.pro proved that) but they nonetheless remain the team to beat. Of note to newcomers is the fact that they have no sponsor, and belong to no esports organisation. What they win, they keep: and they have a good track record when it comes to winning.


Formerly Team Malaysia, Fnatic represent some of the best of South East Asian Dota. This is a region that has always produced phenomenal players and that has always done well on the world stage, but not well enough to bring home many titles. They stand to do similarly here: their performance in the seeding bracket was better than some, having beaten C9, but they lost to both of the Chinese teams and their prospects against Secret, who they face first, look shaky. Fnatic have a lot of versatile players and something to prove, however: if there's a fairytale result this weekend, Fnatic could be at the centre of it.

Evil Geniuses

While not quite the unstoppable force they once were, EG haven't fallen that far either. They're certainly considered to be at the very top of international Dota. Their run through the seeding bracket was a little rough, however, losing out to IG after claiming wins against Alliance and Vici in the lower bracket. Poor day one performances are an EG tradition, mind, and they may well have found their feet by the weekend. They need to: this single-elimination format provides little room for heroic turnarounds.

Cloud 9

Talented but with inconsistent results, it's hard to get a precise read on C9's prospects for the main event. They lost both of their seeding bracket matches, but were playing with a standin, paS, while regular offlaner b0ne7 recovered from an operation. With their full lineup restored, they could cause a real upset. That said, their first match pitches them against IG: right in the deep end against one of the best Chinese teams in the world.

Vici Gaming

Having won second place at last year's International, Vici didn't do quite as well in the seeding bracket as some might have expected. They certainly seem to do less well in international tournaments than their counterparts, IG. They face EG in their first game, who already beat them in the seeding bracket. Keep an eye out for fy and Fenrir, who have proved themselves over and over as one of the best support pairs in professional Dota.

Invictus Gaming

Last year's ESL One Frankfurt winners return with a new lineup and a third-place finish in the seeding bracket to their name. If they can maintain their momentum, they should do very well: this is a roster of players who are not only world-class, but have been world-class for many years. An unmissable IG-Secret match in the second round seems likely: almost a shame, really, given how many fans would like to see these two face off in the grand final. Their close best-of-five series at Red Bull Battlegrounds remains one of the best pro Dota matches in recent memory.

Check back tomorrow for highlights from the first day of play.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

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

It's been ten months since Valve released the Source 2 toolkit for Dota 2 custom game mode developers. It's been seven months since they confirmed that something big would be arriving in 2015, a project that accounted for the lack of Diretide and Frostivus and the ever-slowing rate at which new heroes arrive. Despite the warnings, however, I'm taken aback by just how important Dota 2 Reborn feels. This isn't simply a major update: it's practically a new game. Valve's mysterious alt-text writer might have joked that we're back in beta, but we really are. Two years into the life of Dota 2, we're at the cusp of a change that they could probably get away with calling 'Dota 3'.

In detailing what I think the major changes to the hobby are going to be, I'm going to gloss most of the serious connection and technical issues that are an undeniable problem with the current beta. Let's assume that, given a few months, Dota Reborn works the vast majority of the time.

Even so, Dota 2 is going to gain a scrappy new identity. That stunning new UI disguises a fundamental change in the type of game that it is. At present, your experience is curated by Valve. Old Dota 2 demonstrates the developer's commitment to the original mod, with every menu, mode and system trending towards more Dota, more of the time. Lots of people want this, and for them the game doesn't need to be any more than that. You play Dota 2 because you want to play Dota. That makes sense.

With Reborn, Dota 2 is becoming a game development platform. Classic Dota dominates three quarters of the UI, but that 'Custom Game' tab will ultimately represent an offering far, far bigger than it. The notion that you play Dota 2 because you want to play Dota will become a thing of the past: you might play Dota 2 because you want to play Bomberman. You might play Dota 2 because you want to play a kart racer, or a survival game, or solve a puzzle. Although the majority of custom games will be derived from Dota's basic systems, they're not committed to that: the potential for divergent experiences is huge.

Similarly, the potential for negative experiences is huge. Most custom game modes will be bad. Lots of them won't work. The ones that work well will still be impacted by the lack of skill-based matchmaking and the ready availability of the abandon button: there's no way they can be seriously competitive as Dota is without a bit of curation from the community. This isn't a problem, in and of itself. It means the return of low stakes Dota, of negotiating lobbies, of rough placeholder models and design experiments that go nowhere. The return, in short, of the golden age of modding—with all the inconsistency and homebrew jank that this entails.

This is a huge tonal change for a game defined by its singular focus and high production values. In becoming a game design sandbox, Dota 2 doesn't just gain a whole bunch of new ways to play—it becomes messier, easier, more inviting to more people. If you ever wondered how the game could get bigger, this is it. Right now, despite this being an opt-in beta that doesn't work half the time, the player population for Skillshot Wars is equal to that of the Marvel Heroes MMO. Pudge Wars has more than double Evolve's player base. Overthrow's playerbase would be enough to put it in the top 30 games on all of Steam.

Dota 2 custom games are going to be utterly massive. You will have friends who play them and don't touch Dota itself. The ideas expressed within this game over the next few years are going to spin out into full games in their own right; possibly even genres. It's happened before.

I've been thinking about the effect this is going to have on the community—aside from it simply getting larger. I suspect we'll see a lot of anger about AFK lobby hosts, quitters and so on. In that sense, Reborn might give an already fractious group of people new reasons to shout at each other.

As a counterpoint, however, today I had one of the nicest interactions with a Dota 2 stranger I've ever had. I loaded into an Overthrow match, on the map that divides players into teams of two. During hero selection, my randomly-assigned teammate admitted that they'd never played it before and had no idea what to pick. I said that I was in the same position. We talked back and forth about combos we might try, settled one, and played. We lost but it didn't feel like a big deal. It was fun, and, more importantly, it wasn't taboo to say that you didn't know the best way to play.

The Dota 2 community is enormously elitist—a sign of weakness is tantamount to blood in the water. Nobody wants to admit their mistakes, everybody wants to blame somebody else. This is a community with a widespread working knowledge of the Dunning-Kruger effect, for heaven's sake.

Custom game modes disarm that by creating a scenario where everybody is new again. Because it doesn't 'matter' in the same way that traditional Dota is seen to, it's okay to ask questions. It's okay to clown around. Even if this is only the case for a handful of popular modes, it's enormously healthy for the community as a whole. Will it lead to nicer Dota players? Too early to tell. But it does make playing with assholes optional, and that's a quality-of-life improvement on par with anything else Valve are doing with this update.

This time next year, Dota 2's going to be unrecognisable. Hell, the genre is going to be unrecognisable. Imagine being the developer of another me-too MOBA right now, watching a Dota 2 custom mode blitz past your concurrent player records in a single day. You'd just stop, wouldn't you?

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Portal Stories: Mel is a massive mod for Portal 2 that will be released on Steam on June 25. Representing four years of work by a dedicated team of modders, it contains five chapters, a custom story and original voice work, lots of new assets, and of course a buttload of new test chambers and levels to explore and solve. In other words, it's entirely new Portal game.

The mod begins with a little Half-Life flavor (a long tram ride) and then a scene reminiscent of Bioshock: a stroll through a town built by Aperture Science to house its employees. It's 1952, when Aperture is still a plucky startup with a bright future, and the facility beneath the town is filled with scientists, though unfortunately they're all out of reach so you can't actually interact with them.

Let it go, Jake. It's just Aperture Town.

Aperture being Aperture, it's not long before something goes horribly wrong. Having been preserved in a cryo-bed, you awaken to find the facility in a shambles. The environments are massive and incredibly well designed with tons of detail, and there are a few professional-looking cinematic sequences. The mod assumes you know what you're doing when it comes to portals: there's no slow build-up to the puzzle-solving as in the Portal games themselves. You get the portal device and are immediately faced with some challenging rooms to solve, and they remain tough for most of the game.

As a Portal player, I'm a bit more fond of the types of puzzles without searing laser fields and acid pits: I like to experiment freely without worrying about dying and having to start over. Many of the puzzles in Mel, however, are of the more fatal type, to be approached carefully and methodically. Gels, cubes, lasers, switches, turrets, and force fields are the main tools and obstacles you'll face in the sprawling and complex levels. Naturally, you'll engage in a showdown with a malignant A.I. near the end of the game.

Using water and portals to fight fires. Fun.

As far as voice-over work goes, one actor provides a pretty good Cave Johnson impersonation, and another voices Virgil, the personality core who accompanies you through the majority of the game. I didn't find the humor particularly effective, and much of Virgil's dialogue feels like overkill as it's based around him encouraging you to find a way out of the facility. You'd be doing that anyway, right? At the very least, it's done with a lot of enthusiasm and an obvious fondness for the Portal series.

This massive mod is completely free if you own Portal 2, and provides around 6-10 hours of gameplay. Portal Stories: Mel will be available on June 25 via Steam.

PC Gamer

Valve only announced Dota 2 Reborn last week, but the Source 2 revamp is available in beta right now

"Unlike our traditional Test client, your match history, MMR, cosmetic items, and friends are shared across the two versions," Valve's announcement reads. 

"However, Ranked Matchmaking is not enabled yet. We anticipate that we'll be able to turn it on in a few days, but we need more testing of the basic functionality first. Also, it is possible new items may make their first appearance in either the beta or the main client. These items may be temporarily missing from the other client while their assets are converted."

Check out the update page for information on how to access the beta. 


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