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.

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.

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.

PC Gamer

This, via Kotaku, is a good video.

It's by Nathan Hibberd and it's thirty entertaining seconds long. Maybe watch it?

PC Gamer

Dota 2 still plays second fiddle to League of Legends, but its star continues to ascend: at the weekend, 1,075,464 Steam users were logged into the game at the same time, easily doubling the next most popular Steam game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. That's the highest concurrent figure in Steam history, but it's still no serious challenger to League of Legends, which has attracted well over 5 million

The spike in players was no doubt prompted by the New Bloom update, which introduced a new game mode in the form of the Year Beast Brawl, as well as a new hero and community-made gear, among other things. Oh, and if you noticed Dota 2 update frequently yesterday, it's because of a few hotfixes made during the Bloom. 

There have also been some price adjustments to Ability Point packs, with previous purchasers compensated. Check out the full details here.

PC Gamer

While it's not a remake of Silent Hill, the Alchemilla mod drags tons of the game's atmosphere, dread, and overall creepiness into Half-Life 2. There's an abandoned hospital full of locked doors, darkened hallways, foreboding sounds, and hellish imagery to explore, if you've got the nerve.

I can guess which one I need to open... but that doesn't make me want to.

This mod is an adventure game: there's no guns, melee combat, or monsters to fight. Explore, glean information from notes and messages, find missing keys and tools, and solve puzzles as you make your way through a multilevel hospital that becomes progressively more creepy and disturbing as you go.

The mod looks great: yet another fine use of the Source Engine that makes you forget you're using the Source Engine. The environments are wonderfully detailed, spooky, and dripping with dread (and sometimes blood). Occasionally a bit of Half-Life 2 shows up, but for the most part it's an complete transformation.

Ohhhh kayyyyy I don't think I need to know what that is.

The puzzles are of the sort we're familiar with. A flooded basement needs draining before the power can be turned on, but there's a valve missing. There's a keypad on a door: scour the building for a code written in a note, or solve a number puzzle to learn the answer. Locked doors are common and keys can be gathered by careful searching or solving more puzzles. Despite their familiarity, the puzzles are still mostly fun and challenging, and they all involve creeping through the rooms and corridors looking for clues and bracing yourself for scares.

I love games where you can see yourself in the mirror. Except when I'm not expecting it.

There's plenty of tension and dread. Some of it is subtle: a sound from behind a door or around a corner, a spooky operating room, the creak of a restroom stall door as you open it. Sometimes the horror is a bit more obvious, in the form of corpses or gore splattered on the walls. Knowing there's no monsters to fight seems like it should defuse some of the spookiness, but it really doesn't. I spent most of my time convinced there'd be something horrible waiting for me behind the next door. There are a couple instances where you can die, so make sure to save your game every now and then.

Public restrooms, am I right?

This mod is obviously aimed at Silent Hill fans, but I never played much Silent Hill and I still enjoyed it. I think if you're a fan of horror in general there's plenty to enjoy in the few hours it takes to play.

You can download Alchemilla at moddb.com. It comes with it's own installer, and after restarting Steam you'll see it in your game library.

PC Gamer
face off

Evan Lahti, Editor-in-Chief, US

Evan is legitimately afraid of CS:GO becoming the horse racing of e-sports.

Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor

Tyler really hopes he comes out on top in this debate, because he s got five dollars on it.

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Evan and Tyler argue whether or not betting on e-sports is a healthy part of its growth, or if it will only lead to more problems like the recent match fixing scandal.

Evan: UH, YEAH. Every week seems to bring another shocking revelation that more professional Counter-Strike players have thrown matches in order to win in-game skins through CSGO Lounge, a third-party betting site. These players have thrown their careers away in order to earn hundreds or a few thousand dollars worth of weapon skins. Their actions have devastated CS:GO s integrity as a competitive game. It s unclear how long these events will leave a scar on the scene, but for many, it s already gutted their interest in what was a thriving, growing e-sport. Say it ain t so, ShahZam.

Tyler: NO WAY! Sports and gambling go together like pure rocky mountain spring water and the best High Country barley! Where there are sports, there are bets (and watery, ice cold beer, mm). So, if e-sports are in fact sports, it follows that betting is inevitable, and I say it s healthy. Except when it s compulsive (unhealthy gambling is a problem of its own), betting on sports is an expression of passion. It s saying, I follow this so closely I can out-predict you. And it s just fun. It adds a layer of excitement and investment in the game, even if you ve only got a buck down.

Evan: If an e-sport needs that extra layer of excitement to survive, it doesn t deserve to.

Tyler: I don t think betting is necessary—people are still going to watch the Super Bowl even if they aren t in a pool—but the fact is that it does increase investment and help the sport grow. And that s good! Tomi lurppis Kovanen said himself: There is so much evidence in terms of viewership growth that betting is great for CS:GO that this really should not be a discussion.

Evan: Here s the difference: most e-sports don t have a singular governing body like the NFL or FIFA (which have their own problems, certainly!) to police these issues. Riot does the best job of it—they committed themselves to manicuring every aspect of their game a long time ago. But in CS:GO s case, it was actually CSGO Lounge—the betting service itself—that exposed players wrongdoing after noticing suspicious betting. That s completely absurd! That s like relying on the Mafia to report on racketeering.

Tyler: Even if CSGO Lounge is the wrong entity to police this, it still did. Clearly there are people who want to make this work, and e-sports just needs to grow into it. We ll figure out which players and teams can be trusted, which ones police themselves and promote fair matches. There s a demand to put money on e-sports, and that demand is increasing viewership and getting more people into it. Because of that, it will get better. There s money to be made, which means cheaters won t be tolerated. Capitalism at work!

Evan: It s greed and immaturity at work. Look, I like that CS:GO and Dota 2 have open markets for items. It s generally a good addition to their ecosystems. But the extent that the CS:GO scene has given betting a full-on, legs-wrapped-around-each-other embrace makes me uncomfortable. Teams make their own weapon skins in hopes that they ll get officially released so they can get a cut of their Steam Market income. Leagues like FACEIT feature CSGO Lounge as sponsors and talk about betting like it s just another, normal aspect of commentary.

I m sure that betting has attracted a larger audience, but it s also permeated competitive CS:GO with paranoia. Was that poor performance by LDLC just them having an off-day? Was that victory by North American underdog Cloud9 legitimate? In the same way that hacks! has been a ubiquitous accusation, these events have undermined competitive play for the foreseeable future.

Tyler: But that s just the thing: over time, people will stop betting on matches clouded with doubt. No one wants to put money (or skins that cost money) on a suspicious competition. They ll take their money to tournaments and matches they can trust, and in return, those organizations and teams will get bigger viewership and the untrustworthy will falter. And the whole CS:GO skin thing is just one little part of this. I truly believe that right now we re just seeing growing pains. We re seeing a sports scene which hasn t quite matured discover the consequences of poor behavior, and it s going to get better.

Evan: In the meantime, betting s affecting everyone s spectating experience. It s gotten better, but DDoSing still disrupts matches to the point where they re rescheduled or need to be cancelled altogether.

Tyler: I ll return to lurppis to field that one. It is easy to blame DDoSing only on betting, but it was already taking place in the CS 1.6 days when betting didn t really exist, he said. Some people just want to see the world burn. And it s true, DDoS attacks are difficult to counteract, and they happen all the time for no reason whatsoever. Betting is just another excuse for dicks to be dicks, but they were already dicks.

Evan: If e-sports—CS:GO in particular—want to become truly mainstream, they need to kick their reliance on gambling for growth. They need to stop embracing betting as something that s married to the metagame. Match fixing remains a threat to competitive games, and more betting and fantasy e-sports sites are popping up. Consider this: there are no real safeguards in place to prevent underage people from using their parents money to buy in-game skins, then gambling with them.

Tyler: I agree that that s a problem. But hell, it s a problem in gaming as a whole. How many purchase systems in free-to-play games could be considered gambling? What about buying TF2 keys? One thing I think needs to happen is a move away from things like skins. Stand-ins for money won't do—there should be no way to pretend gambling isn't gambling. If you want to bet on CS:GO or any other e-sport, you ought to have to do it properly... you know, with a company that legally takes your money.

It may be seen as a low form of entertainment, but with safeguards against abuse (both from players and betters), betting is just a bit of fun and it ll do a lot to grow the scene. I admit that, right now, I wouldn t want to bet on CSGO or any other e-sport—I ll probably stick to hockey—but give them a few years and I think the market will figure itself out.

PC Gamer

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

It's update week! For Smite in particular—season two went live on Wednesday, fundamentally overhauling the Conquest map and introducing a broad sweep of balance changes equivalent to a major Dota 2 patch. I've played Smite exactly twice since then because Crystal Maiden has a puppy now. Conquest revamp, puppy. Conquest revamp. Puppy. Look at the puppy! Look at it.

It's entirely too early to tell whether I'll one day regret having spent 18 on a magical cape that comes with a dog. I suspect that the answer is 'no' when it should probably be 'yes', but that's how it goes. I'm almost two thousand hours into this particular series of questionable life decisions. One day I'll end up spending even more. Imagine if the Crystal Maiden arcana extended Freezing Field's duration to three minutes and thirty-nine seconds and replaced the channeling animation with the entirety of 'Let It Go' from Frozen. I don't know how much I'd pay for that. A lot, I suppose. I wonder how much my kidneys are worth.

I'm not in a position to offer comment on the New Bloom event itself yet because of the way it is structured—the new mode is only accessable at random times, with warning given an hour in advance. I suspect that Valve has structured it this way to ensure that people in my position play it exactly twice—once when it appears by chance, and once after spending an entire day waiting. I have a job and commitments: I need to plan my Dota time in advance, and that is directly incompatible with the structure of this year's New Bloom. I imagine there are reasons for it being this way, but from my isolated place in the crowd they seem like they might be dumb reasons.

That being the case, I'm going to discuss something else. Specifically, I'm going to explain why this support-centric update adds to a long list of reasons why Silencer can go fuck himself.

Phew. It feels good to finally say that, you know? Over the last couple of years I've worked through most of my personal problems with certain heroes. I used to loathe Nature's Prophet, and Pudge, and Faceless Void—I had a very specific sense of the types of people who would play those characters. Nonetheless, I'm aware of how silly and immature it is to make assumptions about somebody's personality based on the types of characters that they like to play, and I appreciate the way that all of these characters ultimately make the game more interesting. I'd even extend that to Sniper. Sure! He's an irritating shit sometimes, but there's a kind of tragic comedy to his impact on the lategame if he gets out of control.

At the end of this long period of personal development, only Silencer remains as the hero I truly and personally dislike. He's a prick and I hate him and here is why.

I love Winter Wyvern. I love how Valve have reimagined her, and I love how silly and showy her abilities can be. Like Omniknight, she's only ever going to be a very situational counter-pick—but like Omniknight, her impact on a fight can be visible and exciting. Her skills come with plenty of potential for clutch saves and dazzling plays. In my last game with her, I discovered that she acts as a hilarious foil to Chaos Knight and Io. Watching them teleport in only to force CK to murder his glowing blue life partner in cold blood is a precious gift that doesn't get old. Other highlights: the moment your carry realises just how good Cold Embrace is. When you realise that she can do 1700 damage split between the entire enemy team at level 7. She's dependent on the circumstances being perfect, but man—what an interesting set of new ideas to add to the game.

Most heroes are like this, one way or another. I've written something similar about Axe in the past. Dota is about systems colliding in new and unexpected ways. It is fundamentally about stuff happening.

Silencer is about stuff not happening. He is a brutal counter to Winter Wyvern and any other hero that subsists on spells at the bottom of the farm priority pyramid. Expect him to be one of the major factors curtailing Winter Wyvern and Crystal Maiden's brief surges in popularity, because by design he shuts down exactly what makes these characters interesting.

This is a design issue, not a balance problem. The character has plenty of weaknesses—but, like Faceless Void, they're the kinds of weaknesses that pub players typically struggle to exploit. He's one of the kings of the potato bracket because he requires your team to do the exact things that pub teams are typically terrible at doing: building BKBs, disengaging properly, and timing engagements to coincide with ultimate cooldowns.

Unlike other powerful heroes, Silencer isn't exciting to deal with: he's just depressing. There's no spectacle or impact to his skill set. Think about how extravagant a Refresher Orb feels on other heroes. Think about the pushing power of a double Chaotic Offering—'full boy band mode'—or the way double Thundergod's Wrath feels like the actual wrath of heaven. Compare that with two Aghs-upgraded Global Silences—twelve full seconds of nothing happening, watching your health and mana slowly tick away.

He stops spellcasting. He drains mana. He steals intelligence. He disarms. He stops spellcasting again, for everyone, everywhere. Unlike every other character in the game, Silencer is designed to reduce the number of interesting interactions that take place. Replace him with literally any other hero in a line-up and the game becomes more fun for everybody. He's the only character whose complete removal I would applaud.

Just look at him. Look how unhappy he appears, in a game full of vivacious and lively characters. He's the awful guy at the party that everybody wishes hadn't come. He's the commenter that shows up to derail the discussion. He's the mob that floods your Twitter replies and doesn't know when to stop. He makes conflict less fun. He makes everything less fun. If there is ever a Silencer arcana, it should involve a fedora and change all of his voice lines so that they begin 'WELL, ACTUALLY...'

This should be a new golden age for support players. We've got a dog now and we can force carries to kill their friends. Except we can't, because there he is in every game. They've just locked in three punchy melee carries? It's Winter Wyvern time! Here they come, pushing down mid. You anticipate the teamfight to come. It's your time to shine. You're in the trees, your force staff ready, your finger over 'R'. Then -


To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.


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