PC Gamer

This article was originally published in PC Gamer issue 277. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.

Dota is hard. It demands moment to moment skill, collective coordination, and a vast amount of learning. Despite being the most popular game on Steam by an order of magnitude, it s an acquired taste—and one that, despite years of listening to Chris drone on about it, the rest of the PC Gamer team has yet to acquire. Over the course of a week, we set out to see if that might be changed. 

In the first case, our goal was to determine just how difficult Dota 2 really is to pick up. Is it possible for newcomers to have fun straight away, or will those first hours always be punishing? What can more experienced players do to lower the barrier to entry, and how do you best go about matching characters and roles to players with a diverse gaming background? How do you introduce Dota as an action game, a strategy game, a sport and a social experience all at once?

More to the point: why make the effort? For some of the team, gaining a new hobby was not incentive enough to pour hours into the game. We needed a goal—something to fight for. We found one. Concurrent with our own efforts, our longtime friends, rivals and (in several cases) former colleagues at Rock, Paper, Shotgun began training their own Dota novices. The stage was set for a showdown that would pitch veteran against veteran, newbie against newbie. We really, really wanted to win.

That meant training. With Chris as our guide, we set about getting our hands on the bottom rung of Dota 2 s daunting ladder. Over the following pages you ll discover what sunk in, what didn t, and how we fared when exposed to public matchmaking. Spoilers: Dota is hard.


Baby steps

CHRIS I ve thought a lot about how to introduce people to Dota. My approach is to simplify as much as possible. I start the first session by ushering the guys into a meeting room where I ve prepared a 15- minute presentation. Instead of focusing on the minutiae, I introduce general concepts. Dota 2 is a numbers game, I explain. Much like an RTS, it s about building and maintaining a resource advantage. How you go about achieving that is as complex as you d like to make it, but as long as you remember that simple concept, you can t go too far wrong.


Sam s role isn t to score kills, but to create opportunities and deny them to our opponents. He s learning to set the tempo of the match in a way that suits us, which takes skill.

I don t know how much of my introduction sinks in with the guys. It is, after all, a powerpoint presentation. When it s over, I assign roles and heroes that I believe suit our fledgling team.

SAMUEL Dota 2 is intimidating to learn, but Chris has been so specific in assigning us roles that we re really only learning the one small part of it we each need to function within his battle plan. I m the muscle, so Chris assigns me Earthshaker, a large hairy creature that turns up in the heat of battle to lay down Fissure, a powerful barricade that will help us control encounters.


Players are given position numbers to determine their place in the resource priority pyramid, with 1 on the top and 5 on the bottom. This doesn t correspond to importance or skill, it s about distributing gold and experience to the people who need it.

PHIL I m playing the support, although we re not calling it support . We re calling it position five, because of graphs. My take on the presentation is that our job as a team is to filter resources in a way that keeps our joint performance stable, even as our individual power shifts. As an intelligence hero, I ll start stronger relative to my teammates. The upshot of this is that I have to buy a donkey. 

CHRIS After the presentation, I load us into a private lobby and give the team a tour of the map. They line up behind me like ducklings, and already look confused. 


There s an intimidating amount to learn, and the only way to cram it all in is to play more. Eventually, terms like BKB and Heart become second nature, as do their uses and tactical significance.

TOM The strategic overview is useful for clearly laying out our priorities, but I can t help but start to get bogged down in the minutiae when we roam the map. The home shop is different from the side shops, which are different from the secret shops hidden in the jungle. They all have different items that you can combine into better items to give you stat boosts and special powers. These have weird names like the Black King Bar and Heart of Tarrasque . I comfort myself with the fact I m playing Sven. Sven s a blue barbarian guy who hits things with a big sword. I can do that. 

ANDY Prior to Chris s presentation, I don t know a thing about Dota. After it, I know a bit more, but I m still very much a member of the Clueless Club. Then we go for a walk around the map and my brain starts to rebel. Why are there so many items for sale? Which ones do I buy? I ve reached a point in my life where I m pretty resistant to learning new things, and Dota is a big thing to learn. I figure that when it s time to play against another team, Chris will just tell me what to do anyway. That I can deal with. I like that I ve been assigned ranged characters, because then I can just hang at the back.


Rise of the robots

CHRIS I ve assigned everybody two heroes. For our initial bot games, I take the middle lane and send Andy and Sam to one lane and Phil and Tom to the other. This gives me a chance to keep an eye on them from a position of relative isolation. Some take to the game faster than others.


Items can be sold back to the store with no penalty immediately after you buy them—just right click and select sell . Try it, Tom.

TOM Phil and I get into a good rhythm. I get used to Sven s attack timing and getting the last hit on creeps—this gets me gold to buy those complicated items. When you first look at a Dota battle, you might assume you ought to help your little guys get to the enemy ancient. In reality, they re RTS minerals to be slurped up, one hit at a time. Just when I think I m starting to get the hang of things, Chris asks why I ve bought two separate pairs of boots. I have no idea how that happened. I blame Phil s donkey.

PHIL You would think, given that my first job is to buy a donkey, that I would be good at buying a donkey. While the transaction itself goes smoothly, I forget to take him out of my inventory. My other job is to place wards. I do this by asking Chris where I should place wards shortly after every time he reminds me to buy and place wards. My job, I assume, is just to help other people be awesome. It s part way through the first bot game that I realise that s not quite right. Chris pings a location and telling me to wait. He draws in the enemy team and I activate Crystal Maiden s ultimate: Freezing Field. 

Everything dies in a flurry of snow and dancing. I cackle.


If you re being passive, there s always something else you could be doing. Ask your team how they re faring, buy a teleport scroll and see if the enemy is in position for a kill attempt. Otherwise, get some wards.

SAMUEL I m struggling with Earthshaker. I m not sure what my purpose is in the early game—I die a lot and I m pretty poor at aiming Fissure across groups of enemies. I enjoy teaming up with Andy but he s far more effective. In the next bot game, I switch to Lich, an ice-based long-range mage that seems a bit more well-rounded. This proves a far better fit and I die a lot less. A character fit for a coward! 

ANDY As Sniper, the game slowly starts making sense to me. I figure out that if I increase my range, I can attack towers without getting hit. If I keep killing monsters, I can earn money to spend on the thing that gives me lightning bolts. But when we fight tougher bots, everything falls apart.

I die constantly and start to zone out. I lose faith in my ability to get Dota. This isn t for me. I m not into competitive games that you have to play for a thousand hours to get good at. I play games for stories and experiences, not learning.


Oh, the humanity

CHRIS It s time. We need to actually play real people if we re going to stand a chance against RPS. I load us into a match against equally-new strangers, using a fresh account to mask my own rating. I know, I know, that s naughty. I justify it to myself by assuming that the other guys will be doing the same thing. I take Storm Spirit, the first Dota hero I fell in love with, to the midlane. 

ANDY Humans! Actual humans. This is the first time I ve played Dota with people I don t work with, and the pressure is rising. But once the match begins, they seem as clueless as me. I dutifully farm away, waiting for Chris to give me instructions. Occasionally I get into a fight with another player, and I don t die every time. That s encouraging. I farm and farm, and I buy the lightning bolt thing, and upgrade my character. 

PHIL My assigned heroes were Crystal Maiden and Witch Doctor. After trying out both against bots, I decide to stick with CM from here on out. Witch Doctor s stuns are pretty handy, but I like the more reliable damage over time of Crystal Maiden s Frostbite spell. Also, I just enjoy being a magical snow princess. She starts every game by flirting with Sven, which I think is having an awkward effect on Tom s and my working relationship.

TOM Playing against humans is one thing; the big problem is dealing with new and unpredictable heroes. Phil and I face off against Alchemist, who likes to throw bottles of gunk to stun and hurt enemies. Bounty Hunter can turn invisible, which he uses frequently to gang up on us and then run away. We re spending a lot of time laning against three opponents, and it s miserable. There s no time to mouse over enemy abilities to read their details—the only way you learn how an ability works is to be killed by it. 

PHIL Bounty Hunter is awful. Until now, I ve done a good job of faking competence and stoic reliability, but I am not a good Dota player. I struggle to disengage against the enemies I can see, and now I ve got to deal with this shit? Bounty Hunter s damage is mostly to our confidence. He s out there somewhere, and even with Sentry Wards laid down, I m jumping at every shadow. 

CHRIS I face Mirana in mid, and it s clear that this is actually a new player and not an asshole on a fake account. I win the lane pretty handily and realise that I am an asshole. I am, however, an asshole with options. I move top and score first blood, then roam the map scoring kills fairly effectively. A highlight is when Bounty Hunter moves in to kill Andy. I catch a glimpse of him on the minimap and know what he s about to do, so I tell Andy to stay still and bait out the kill attempt. I punish it with a flashy Storm Spirit play and feel like Andy s cool magical lightning uncle. 

Then, Sam gets called into a meeting and has to leave the game for 20 minutes. Rather than risk him getting pegged with an abandon, I get him to hand control of Earthshaker to me and I play both heroes for a little while. I m used to the notion that you can t quit a Dota game once it s started, but it occurs to me that this wouldn t necessarily be clear to anyone else.

As we approach the midgame, the enemy stacks up items that make it harder for me to control fights: Orchid Malevolence, Black King Bar. That Alchemist has a Shadow Blade; my ducklings are struggling to deal with the invisibility it grants him. They re struggling generally, actually. I feel like I m spinning plates—if I make a play on the top lane, Andy will die on the bottom lane. If I go bot, Tom and Phil will get in trouble top. These games were never supposed to be about me.


Someone always has to go first. If your team lacks a dedicated initiator , communicate clearly and make sure you listen to what others are planning. Once a commitment is made, there s no going back.

TOM We re having a shaky time learning how to fight as a team. A lot of us have stun moves that can start a big fight, but we re hampered by a strange awkwardness, as though we re all trying to fit through the same door. There s a lot of after you, no, after you, and we never quite manage to synchronise our charges. Four out of five of us have no idea whether we re winning or losing a fight, so we disengage in drabs and get picked off individually. Only now do I truly realise how hard this is going to be. 

ANDY A player using the Phantom Assassin hero keeps killing me, over and over again, and I start to lose interest. I still haven t fully embraced Dota, and I m reminded why I hate playing competitive games online. Even these low-level newbies we ve been matchmaked with are better than me. I know I could get better if I practised, but I don t want to. I don t want to Dota. 


Contrary to the belief of many pub players, the role of mid isn t just to bail out the other lanes. Using it to farm is viable too.

CHRIS This is salvageable, I think, but I m daunted by the number of small things I ve got no time to explain. I count off the enemy s full list of stuns and successfully teleport out of a fight gone wrong, but I realise that being able to do that represents the better part of thousands of hours of accumulated experience. It s no good saying teleport when they ve used all their stuns to people who have no idea how many stuns they have. 

PHIL We re relying on Chris too much. It s clear he wants us to start taking the initiative, but when he tells us he s coming to gank, we interpret it as him coming to singlehandedly make everything better. Even when he does lay out a step-bystep play, it turns out people are unpredictable. At one point, I hide in the treeline of the safe lane, waiting for Chris to draw the majority of the opposing team into Freezing Field s range. They move in and I pop it, waiting for the glorious snow-death. Instead, they move back. I miss everyone. It s deeply unsatisfying. 

CHRIS The game runs long—over 60 minutes—but we re pushed back steadily by Alchemist and Phantom Assassin, who both scale well into the late game. Eventually, our respawn timers run too long; there s nothing else to be done. If we re going to beat RPS, I resolve, we need to focus on fighting as a team


PC Gamer vs RPS

CHRIS I think we ve got what it takes, although Andy is less sure. RPS have an advantage, because two of their players—Alice and Pip—have about as much Dota experience as I do. To make matters worse, one of their newbies takes a nap and doesn t turn up. They get a ringer, Quinns, who was a member of my original Dota group. He hasn t played in years, but a hundred hours of experience two years ago trumps five hours last week. I m sure it ll be fine if we stick to the plan.

I don t stick to the plan. I was going to play Storm Spirit again, but I don t want to beat up newbies with a hero they can t handle. I pick Invoker instead, a flashy mage who combines elements to conjure spells. He s an advanced character and I m merely all right with him—I feel this is a fair compromise. RPS don t compromise. They take Viper and Puck on their experienced players, characters that are very difficult for new players to deal with. Shit! 

ANDY The team seems fairly confident about the big finale. I m not. I m just planning to keep my head down, kill monsters, and hopefully not make too many mistakes. But then the match starts and I catch my first glimpse of a rival hero and suddenly all I care about is beating them. I manage to stay alive for the longest I ve ever stayed alive in Dota, even with a Drow Ranger pummelling my hero with magic arrows. This is promising. 

TOM This is it. I m a little terrified because I m laning against Pip s Viper. She keeps needling me from a distance, pushing me away from the creep wave. That means fewer last hits and less gold. There s some slightly frantic banter about the whereabouts of the RPS midlaner, who is apparently some sort of rainbow-coloured death fairy. I try to focus on killing creeps. 

PHIL Adam from RPS is playing Witch Doctor. I know how to play WD, and that, I realise, means I can respond to what he s doing. At one point, I see his health start to tick up, and realise he s activated Voodoo Restoration. I know for a fact that it s bottomed out his mana, because I once made the same mistake. Annoyingly, I can t do anything—Pip s Viper is too effective for us to get a kill—but I m pleased at myself for knowing a thing. 

CHRIS I m nervous. I don t get anywhere near the farm I need. An invisibility rune spawns, and I figure I can use it to make a game-opening play on the top lane. I do so, but Andy and Sam aren t anywhere near close enough to help and the enemy successfully withdraws. The long walk back to the fountain gives Alice plenty of time alone. 

SAMUEL Andy and I are gradually getting to grips with the tactical retreat. Early on I take out Alec s Drow Ranger, which is a great boost to my self-esteem. We re working well together. Then Alice arrives to ruin it all. 

ANDY Everything seems to be going well, but then I get killed by a giant floating frog fairy, and again, and again, and now I m mad. Every time I see the magic frog I run away, and I spend the next part of the match just hiding in a corner, killing creeps. 

PHIL I keep making logistical errors. I m so focused on where to place wards that I forget to buy them. Twice I mis-click, activating my ultimate when I meant to place a ward. It s frustrating, because despite having only played a few games, I already think I should be better than this. I m not the only one getting annoyed. Chris sounds frustrated. I don t know if it s with us or himself, or some combination of the two, but it has a profound effect on morale. Until now, we ve fed off Chris s relentless optimism and belief. We re not long into the match, and it s clear he s behind. His frustration hits me pretty hard. I go very quiet. 

CHRIS Alice has built a Dagon, a magical laser wand that allows you to explode underleveled heroes in a single hit. My ducklings are underleveled. It feels like a dick move. Really, though, I m cross at myself. I should have played what I knew, but I tried to both be noble and a show-off in a single stroke. I pull the team off their lanes, into a clump for safety. Regaining a bit of composure, I land a global snipe on Alec s fleeing Drow Ranger with Invoker s Sunstrike. We re still in this, barely. 

TOM It s a huge relief to get out of the lanes. I start amassing a bit of gold by chopping away at the wildlife in the jungles. I m gradually building the famed BKB , which I can activate to gain immunity from magic spells for a few precious seconds. I wait, and bide my time killing a colourful jungle ostrich. 

ANDY The latter half of a Dota match, I ve learned, is a lot more fun. Once you ve got better items and abilities, the combat feels a lot more satisfying. I m as engaged as I ve ever been in a Dota game. I want to beat these guys. 

CHRIS I m running the numbers. Alice is scary, but she s also pushing her luck. She over-extends more than once, and we re able to feint, counter-attack, and kill her. But the big picture looks grim. Quinns has Shadow Shaman, whose ultimate—Serpent Wards—allows him to place a nest of menacing snake-turrets. They re deadly against buildings and deadlier against players, and he s good at trapping people in them. At the beginning of this journey, I assumed I could ignore most of the little details and lead a team to victory by focusing on the major themes. I m wrong. You really need to know how to escape a Serpent Ward trap, how to clear them from a tower, and so on. There s no time to explain. They close on our base. 

TOM The mid-game felt like a fragmented mess of half-formed fights. Only now, on the doorstep of our ancient, do we finally rally. We re all in one place, and our mission is clear: kill anything that comes up the steps. That gives us the focus we need to start getting kills. We even manage to wipe their team at one point. We ve lost too many towers, though, and our barracks, which means we re being swarmed by enemy mega-creeps. My items have brought me back into the game, but I have to spend all my time beating back the hordes. It s a valiant last stand, but we can t get out of our base. The end is nigh. 

ANDY The RPS army is relentless. They won t stop coming. I m dying a lot, and they re all a higher level than me. Game over. I stand in a corner, lower my rifle, and wait patiently for the match to end. I just don t have Dota in my blood. 

PHIL I m distraught—partly at RPS s win, but mostly at myself. I didn t play well. I don t think I can play well yet. As I wallow in post-game ennui, I realise that I d really like to learn how. 

CHRIS I m heartbroken. I know this feeling. I look around the office. Phil feels it. Tom feels it. Sam feels it. Andy s already moved on. Something occurs to me: I can tell which of us will keep playing—they re the ones who are utterly, utterly crestfallen. Dota this weekend? Phil asks. I agree. Our next conversation concerns revenge.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

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

The very first thing I wrote about Dota 2 was this article, originally posted to a blog and then republished on the Tumblr that preceded this column (before being republished, again, about a year ago. It's been around the houses.) In it, I describe the thing that drew me into Dota 2 in the first place: what I saw then as a 'performance-style structure' that recreated in an online game the kinds of experiences that I valued when I did a lot of live comedy. Dota was special to me from the start because I felt like each match—each 'performance'—taught me something about myself and the people I was playing with.

My perspective on the game has changed since then. What you're reading now, as it happens, is the 52nd weekly column I've written about Dota—a year of writing, representing almost three years of thinking too hard about wizards. Temporal neatness is as good a reason as any to explain the way that thinking has shifted.

If I started out thinking of Dota 2 as a complicated videogame and moved on to thinking of it as a form of performance, I now think of it almost exclusively as a sport. Much of what I used to understand as creative or social challenges—getting five people to work in harmony with one another, experimenting with the opportunities afforded by the hero pool—I now think of in terms of organised competition and self-improvement. Dota 2 isn't a toybox any more: it's a test. It's a wall to be climbed, an encounter with a system that demands respect and doesn't owe you anything.

There's something valuable about this transition, I think. The vast majority of games, even multiplayer games, promise the same sorts of experience: here is a challenge designed to be overcome. Here is how you level up; here is your reward for doing so. Here is entertainment, functionally: here is entertainment that, one way or another, is designed to make you feel good. Even when I started to perceive Dota in terms of performance I was still thinking about it as an entertainment product, albeit one where the players were collectively responsible for creating that entertainment for themselves.

While playing the game is entertaining, that's no longer the reason I do it. I play Dota to get better at Dota: to learn something, alone or with my friends, and to apply that understanding over and over again in a dozen different configurations. Play is practice, and practice is both gratifying and utterly, mood-crushingly frustrating. It's a fundamentally different approach to games than what is considered to be 'mainstream' or 'normal'. It's not even 'hardcore', because that as often as not translates to 'person who plays every game that comes out'. This is different: 'person that plays a game even when it isn't fun because they're getting something else out of it'.

I was thinking about this in a different sense, a couple of weeks ago, shortly after the release of Bloodborne on the PS4 (a crying shame that it's not coming to PC.) The backlash to the widespread acclaim for the game concerned its inaccessibility, challenging the ease with which critics praised Bloodborne for being punishing, repetitive, and occasionally unfair. Some of these arguments centred on the notion of the 'average' gamer, alienated from their hobby by a hardcore contingent who encouraged the creation of games that were too hard for others to enjoy. 'It's all well and good that you enjoy this', these arguments ran. 'But what about the guy on the street?'

I was the guy on the street when I started playing Dota 2—somebody whose critical interest in games was based on late-noughties singleplayer experiences with lofty cinematic or literary ambitions (BioShock, Mass Effect, GTA IV) and whose highest competitive achievements amounted to bronze-level StarCraft II and being terrible at Street Fighter. I was completely and abidingly average, and then I encountered Dota, and Dota taught me that committing myself to a single, very difficult game could teach me things—and deliver a sense of satisfaction—that I could only get by treating the game as a sport, a challenge to be personally overcome. There is a direct line from that change in mindset to my subsequent enthusiasm for Bloodborne. Dota opened up pathways in my brain.

The sting in the tail is that I am still completely and abidingly average, and not just in the sense that I'm a bit shit at Dota. Hundreds of thousands of people value challenge in just the same way that I now do. Many of them are playing League or Dota right now. The journey won't be the same one, in each case, but the pattern remains: the 'average' player of games values challenge, values being asked to get better at something, values having to work for something. This is true regardless of age, gender, or level of experience: these are the most popular videogames in the world for a reason.

There's a lot about my time with Dota that has made me question my place in the gaming community. It's a toxic environment, often, and there have been points where it really does feel just like being a rat fighting other rats for a go on the 'treat' button. Despite this the mass appeal of serious competition—of games as sports, collectively-owned hobbies that you engage in because they test you—gives me faith in gaming as a whole.

Wanting to get better at something is a very basic and very human drive, one that is diminished whenever somebody argues that the 'average' player just wants to be entertained. The great thing about taking a game seriously is that it proves that attitude wrong: not just in terms of what it says about the games industry, but in terms of what it says about people. People, it turns out, are very good at learning and working hard and, from time to time, at cooperating. Dota is no longer important to me because it represents a performance of personal traits: it's important to me because it represents a performance of these universal ones.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

The ESL is negotiating a deal with Twitch, Vulcun, and top Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams to establish a new CS:GO league independent of Valve. What's particularly interesting (and potentially alarming) about the plan is that according to the Daily Dot, the new league would be exclusive, meaning that teams playing under its auspices would not be allowed to play anywhere else. The ESL, however, says it's not seeking to prevent teams attending tournaments put on by other organizations.

The plan is being backed by Vulcun, which earlier this week announced that it had raised $12 million in new financing through investors including Sequoia Capital, Universal Music Group, Mark Pincus of Zynga, and other "angel investors." Sources say the total value of the package offered by ESL and Vulcun runs around $18 million, a "hefty chunk of which" will be paid to teams in exchange for the exclusivity agreement. The deal will also reportedly see exclusive online broadcasting rights granted to Twitch.

The exclusivity angle was challenged by Managing Director of Pro Gaming Ulrich Schuzle, however, who tweeted a link to an ESL post on Reddit shortly after reports of the negotiations came out. "There is only one thing to say about this: ESL is not interested in locking out any tournament organizers from running CS:GO events, nor teams from attending them," it states.

Either way, as the Daily Dot points out, it seems clear that the ESL would like to distance itself from Valve. The CS:GO tournament at ESL One Cologne announced earlier this year is billed as the largest in the world, with a $250,000 prize pool, but unlike previous tournaments that were "community funded" in conjunction with Valve, this year's event is being covered entirely by the ESL. The change struck me as odd at the time—why say "no" if somebody else wants to foot the bill?—but now it's making a little more sense.

An awful lot of questions remain unanswered, including how the new league would handle Valve-imposed bans on players involved in the recent match-fixing scandal. It's not yet a done deal, and the report says other CS:GO organizations are trying to reach Valve, which is apparently in the midst of its annual employee holiday in Hawaii, in hopes that it will intervene. If they can't, or if Valve decides to stay hands-off, it will mean some very big changes to the pro CS:GO scene.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

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

Last night marked the end of a long run of pretty bad Dota. I'd felt my enthusiasm ebb before, but never this substantially, and this is was the first time in the history of my almost-three-year-old hobby that I've considered taking an extended break. The main problems were thus: I wasn't winning very much, I didn't like how long games seemed to always run, and I felt like I was being more of a dick than usual.

The latter is the biggest problem. I don't valorise extreme 'saltiness'—I think it's a weakness, as I've written a bunch of times before—but I can't deny that I get frustrated with myself and with others. A little salt, I think, is fine. It's actually a pretty good analogy, as these things go—salt provides both flavour and, when things are icy, necessary friction. Aggression does the same thing. But too much of the former will kill you, and too much of the latter will kill your enthusiasm for the game—and your friends' enthusiasm for you, potentially.

Facing rising frustration in Dota, it was easy for me to commit more time to games I find less stressful—Destiny, Pillars of Eternity, Bloodborne, Smite. Eventually, that time commitment looked like it might threaten Dota's place in my favourites list. I then realised what I always tend to realise, in these moments: that when you're falling out of love with the game, you need to actively make a change. You need to figure out a way to make Dota fun again. You can't just wait for the salt to go away: you need to think about it.

Here's what I thought about.

Don't just play because you think you have to

Most of my Dota games start with someone asking me if I want to play Dota, which leads to playing when (a) I'd rather be doing something else and (b) I'm basically unready to do anything competitive. I play regardless because of the feeling that time not spent playing Dota is time that I'm secretly wasting. Does everybody feel that way about Dota? I assume so.

Rather than resisting the urge to say yes—and consequently playing fewer games—I find it helps to be the person pulling the stack together. If I'm choosing to play, it generally means that I feel ready to do so. What 'ready' means will change from person to person. For me, it's a case of having eaten and maybe gotten some sleep and generally feeling focused and like I might actually win this time. Emphasis on 'might'.

Actively choosing to play also means that I'm more accepting of the notion that the game might not go well. I know what I'm getting myself into, and one of my priorities is to feel good about the game afterwards: while that hopefully means winning the game, it definitely means not being a prick to people. If you go in with the right attitude, I find it's easier to come out with that attitude intact.

Resist the spiral of sadness (and saltiness)

Learning to pick up and try again after a loss is important when you play a lot of best-of-threes, but that's not the case for the majority of people who play Dota. Learning to recognise when you're on a losing streak and quit is important too: continuing to tilt is only going to make you feel worse. The perfect time to find something else to do is when playing more Dota is going to make you like Dota less.

This goes the other way. Last night, when I felt like I'd finally broken out of this kind of downward spiral, I only played a single game. I went 28/6/12 with an offlane Windranger: 'that'll do', I thought afterwards. 'That'll do for tonight'. I spent the rest of the evening clearing out a dungeon in Pillars of Eternity and killing a boss in Bloodborne. Because I ended on a high, my positive Dota experience retained its integrity for a little longer.

This isn't viable all of the time. You need to play more to get good, so bailing after your first match of the night isn't going to work in the long run. But it can be great for your salt levels: I finished that match feeling pretty good about the game, about myself, and about the people I was playing with, and that feeling hasn't abated yet.

Determine whether you need to change things up, or double down

One of my worst habits is that I rarely play the same hero twice even if I'm doing well. I know players who are the opposite: who will keep banging their head against the same wall even if it's never going to yield. Both approaches have problems, particularly when the game is becoming more intensely frustrating. I find myself playing characters and roles that I'm unfamiliar with, getting angry at myself for underperforming and second-guessing my teammates who find themselves dropping into the role I'd usually occupy. Similarly, getting counter-picked for the Nth time in a row because you only want to play Storm Spirit is going to make you angry.

In my case, I've found it helpful to pick a handful of characters and stick to them: a mixture of flavours of the month and old favourites that I reliably enjoy. By suspending the drive to 'learn' a new hero by leaping from one to another with every game, I'm playing a lot better. Playing a lot better, on the whole, is less stressful and leads to a more positive outlook.

The solution may go the other way for others: there are times when clicking the 'random' button opens up doorways and makes the game fresh again. Take a look at your situation, your skill level, and what it is that is making you angry about the game—then either mix things up or commit as appropriate.

Don't over-analyse

If there's a theme emerging here, it's this: that you can functionally take a 'break' from Dota by giving yourself a break from the most competitive parts of Dota. The people I know who have the biggest salt problems—myself included—are those who take their performance (too) seriously, and who are inclined to fix every problem they encounter by picking it apart, watching the replays, coming up with plans and data and formulae.

There's a time when that's appropriate, but I'm starting to learn that not every pub game warrants a post-game debriefing. We often think of 'salt' in terms of the frustration that manifests in-game—flaming, excuses, and so on. It's equally evident in the way you assess your own play, and that of others. It's here that the really insidious stuff creeps in, the micro-aggression that makes the game less fun for everybody. I'd be happy if I never again begin a sentence with "we just need to..." or "I was just trying to..." during yet another post-match breakdown. There are times where this works, where it makes you better. There are also plenty of times where it drags everybody's enjoyment of the game through the dirt.

It's a question of balance. Dota is distinct among competitive games for the way that it can be both extremely silly and extremely serious at even the highest levels of play: 'saltiness' and frustration arrive, I think, when you end up trending too much towards the latter half of that equation. My solution is to remind myself that it's okay to simply play for fun. That I seem to win more often when I play that way is a weird, but welcome, bonus.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Team Fortress 2 would probably work as a musical, but, unless Valve has something spectacular planned for the game's ninth year, we'll have to make do with this mod. Created by 'Vincentor', it replaces every piece of dialogue in the game with exactly the same piece of dialogue, only auto-tuned.

The mod covers all vocals—including every class, NPC and the announcer. To install, just download the mod and extract it into "tf/custom" folder inside your Team Fortress 2 root directory. You'll have to supply the house backing track yourself.

PC Gamer

Transmissions: Element 120 is a "short single-player" Half-life 2 mod that equips players with a new kind of gravity gun that enables them to leap over buildings and fall from great distances without suffering damage. Taking place after the events of Half-Life 2: Episode 2, it challenges players to figure out where they are and why they've been sent there. On the technical side, it boasts custom levels, code, models, sounds, and a number of upgrades to the Source Engine, including enhanced dynamic lighting, improved support for complex structures, and better AI. And it was all created by one guy.

"Hello, I've been working on this half-life 2 mod for 2 years, Transmissions: Element 120. It was a lot of hard work, coding, mapping, designing, modeling on nights and weekends but I'm finally done and its now available for free," the creator, who goes by the name of Shokunin000, announced on Reddit. "I hope you all like it, I put a lot of myself into this so be nice and enjoy. :) and of course valve deserves a ton of credit for letting me use their content to begin with."

I haven't played it yet, so I can't say if it's any good, but somebody at Gearbox certainly thinks so, because shortly after Shokunin000 posted his message, he was offered a job interview. "Hey, do you want a job in the industry? I work at Gearbox Software, we are currently looking for talent," a Redditor by the name of Jesterhole wrote in reply to the announcement. "This is 10x times better than most submissions I've seen. Great work. You should apply. I'd be excited to interview you. Good luck!"

In response, Shokunin000 described Gearbox as a "great company" but said he needed to discuss the offer with his family before he committed to it. We'll let you know which way he decides to go when we find out—in the meantime, why not give the mod a try? Download it free from transmission-element120.com, and if you dig it, throw it some love on Steam Greenlight.

PC Gamer
GeT_RiGhT, Ninjas In Pyjamas' consummate lurker. Photo via HLTV.org.

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, design criticism, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

Veteran Counter-Striker GeT_RiGhT did an AMA on the Global Offensive subreddit today, giving his take on the state of CS:GO and how his team, NiP, prepares for tournaments. Below are Mr. RiGhT's most interesting responses.

He doesn't mind the AWP nerf

Question: "What do you think about the new AWP update?"

"I'm fine with it, nothing that affects me in the whole to be honest - Even tho it sucks abit with the autosniper ;)"

Question: "Do you think Valve i heading towards the right direction with the last update and former updates?"


Question: "When you can change one thing (only one) in CS:GO what would it be?"

"I have no idea, I like how it is now.. Pistols could be nerfed tho?"

Question: "What do you think is the most blatant problem currently in CS:GO?"

"I don't know to be honest, there has been alot of different updates since the beg nning of GO - Some has been good, some bad - But in the whole general point of view, I think the most updates are fine. Like, I do like the new update even tho alot of people complains, but sometimes u have to just "adapt" on how the things are and be 'fine' with it if you ask me.

I'd love to get back when you could actually run'n'spray update tho.. ;)"

Cobblestone is his favorite map

Question: "What do you think about the current status of the competitive map pool? What is your favourite map, and your least favourite, and why?"

"I'm actually 'kinda' okay how it is now, even tho they have removed (train - best map before) and now nuke (my other favorite map) :((( But I'm really looking forward to see how the new train will be played, going to be cool.

My favorite map before was cbble/cpl_fire and nowadays cobblestone! And the least one, Not sure to be honest. I don't like dust2 time to time!"

NiP's newest player brings "calmness" to the team

Question: "What does Allu bring to NiP that allowed you to finally take down Fnatic?"

"We actually won over fnatic before we played with allu, so that wasn't the problem if you ask me. What allu brings is alot of laughter, more calmness (can you write that?) ideas that you thought of but thought it was not fit to us as a group and more understanding on how he/we want to play the game.. Basically, a great team player! There is more that could be added, but there is so many more questions that I need to answer so I hope this is fine for now! :)"

...and playing calmly matters

Question: "Did you have to work on keeping your cool?"

"We have forced ourself to become more relax and get a better understanding that if we want to become better as a team and feel more calm. We have to be calm."

His match prep is simple

Question: "Do you have any routines before you play a big match?"

"Take it easy, listen to music - Go volume 0 on the knife round - get a good grip/understanding on how You want to play the game. Nothing more."

Question: "What do you do in preparation for a major tournament?"

"Play play play play play play play play demos play play play play play play demos play play play play play play etc ;D"

He plays MOBAs

Question: "Do you actively play any other games than CS?"

"Alot of League of Legends at the moment.. But I'd love to play some Doto [sic] time to time and other mobile games on my phone (at the moment I'm playing Geometry Dash)"

PC Gamer

I've been banging the Half-Life modding drum pretty hard the last couple weeks, but hey, there's been a lot of good stuff lately! For example, Transmissions. It's a Half-Life 2 mod that gives you a new custom adventure along with a new toy: a version of the gravity gun that lets you fire concussive orbs and perform a rocket jump.

The mod begins with the assumption that By Now You Know What You're Doing. Get ready from the start to solve a few environmental puzzles by moving crates around to act as steps, bust padlocks off doors, provide power to generators using ridiculously oversized plugs, carry objects in your invisible hands to act as shields against bullets, and so forth. It's also not going to hold your hand in terms of difficulty: you'll be faced with zombies and Combine turrets from the outset, and you won't have the standard gravity gun to help you cope.

Blast the ground and anything nearby goes flying. Or rolling.

Before long, however, you'll stumble into an abandoned secret lab where a prototype weapon has been developed, the Zero Point Energy Projector. It looks like a gravity gun, but you can't pick up things with it. Instead, you can fire a concussive orb that can be used to kill enemies, blast physical objects, and shatter obstructions. You can also fire it at the ground while jumping, which launches you into the air. While falling, you can also use it to cushion your landing.

Orb-jumping to a rooftop can help you avoid nasty visitors.

The ZPEP doesn't need ammo, but it is tied to your auxiliary power, like your flashlight, so it does need time to recharge after about a dozen or so blasts. And, it's fun. The rocket jump is mainly used for reaching high spots on the maps, but the concussive orb is great for blasting zombies and soldiers, and for sending physical objects scattering before you.

It's something to keep in mind while you play: is there anything I can blast while I'm in a fight? For example, that cargo container dangling from a magnet? The one that strider is currently advancing under? Hey, maybe that will do something helpful.

Get squashed, Strider.

The mod is short, but very challenging, and there are several arena-type maps featuring swarms of enemies, so be prepared for some scrambling. You do have access to some of HL2's other weapons, like the SMG, shotgun, and rocket launcher, but it's way more fun to simply try to Zero Point the crap out of everyone.

You can visit the Transmissions website right here, which has download links and instructions.

PC Gamer

Three Lane Highway

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

A month or so back PC Gamer took on Rock Paper Shotgun in a single Dota 2 showmatch. We lost. It was awful. The shame of it hangs over the UK office still, a historic disappointment. The story of that shame ended up as a feature in issue 277 of the UK magazine: I've been thinking back to that process, this week, following the recent update to Purge's classic Dota 2 guide.

Purge's 'Welcome To Dota, You Suck' was my introduction to the game, as it was for thousands of other players. I imagine the new version will perform the same role for the next generation. Purge is unusually good at breaking down the component parts of Dota into a format that new players have a chance of understanding. Having tried to teach the PC Gamer team from scratch, I've seen how difficult that can be.

Trying to teach somebody to play Dota (or even understand Dota) is a surefire way to learn just how much of your own knowledge you take for granted. There's a point where you simply have to accept that the only way to learn everything you need to know is to play thousands of hours of the game. This means, as a teacher, that you've got to do more than just impart knowledge: you've got to impart the will to continue playing.

You can't just help them win. You've got to help them enjoy it. You do this, I've found, by explaining Dota in a way that suits the way they already play games. Some of these explanations are more popular than others.

It's a game about not dying

This is probably the single most important thing that newcomers need to understand, but it's also the least appealing—emblematic of a broader problem with Dota's accessibility. In most competitive games, your goal and the methods you use to get there are deeply linked. In a capture-the-flag shooter, you need to shoot the guys and capture the flags to win. There's nuance beyond that, but this basic interpretation is always going to be true.

In a traditional RTS, you try to destroy the enemy base by making smart strategic decisions at both the macro- and microscale, and these decisions are usually represented by easy military analogies: tank columns, factories, mineral extractors and so on.

In Dota, your goal is to destroy the other team's base—but your method for getting there entails manipulating a complex set of economic systems. Often, the very worst thing you can do is actually try to attack their base. Hence the deep truth of 'DON'T FEED' and why 'this is a game about not feeding' is unattractive to a new player: it's counter-intuitive, it's about stuff not happening, and most people start their Dota careers getting yelled at for doing what would follow naturally in most other types of game.

While you've got to stress this idea to your newcomer friends, it can't be all you get them to do. Telling them to stay safe while you handle the game for them will leave them bored; expect them to understand the strategic nuance that goes into not fighting and they'll switch off. You've got to do better.

It's a game about plays

This is better. Where Dota clicks, it often clicks here. People like landing stuns, nukes and hooks—particularly hooks. Abilities are fun to use, teamfights are fun to win. It's fun to get kills. If your newbies start to get kills and enjoy using their abilities, they'll play more and enjoy it more.

Overindulging in this direction is how you end up with the attitude that defines pub play—kills are everything, mid is everything, Pudge is everything—but it's useful in small quantities. It's also why I believe that the best 'chaperone' characters for new players are those that allow the newbies to get the kills.

Hypothetical scenario: you're playing mid while keeping an eye on new players learning to lane in pairs in the other lanes. Against bots, probably. If you want to show off, take Storm Spirit or Shadow Fiend or whoever and show up on their lanes to get a load of kills and demonstrate what experienced Dota play looks like.

If you actually want them to keep playing, however, pick Magnus. Magnus is an awesome babysitter. As long as you can land your Reverse Polarities and Skewers, you'll be in a great position to deliver plays into the hands of the people you're trying to teach. Get them to play Sven, or Crystal Maiden, or Witch Doctor, tell them where to be, and tell them to go nuts when you give the signal. Hand them the triple kill you might have taken for yourself and you're far more likely to make Dota players out of them.

It's a game about numbers

Another great thing about the Purge guide is the way it repeatedly links individual Dota mechanics back to the game's most important theme: resource management. Plays are cool, but having bigger numbers than the other guy is how the vast majority of games are actually won.

Not all players approach games the same way and not everybody is going to be excited by Dota 2's more abstract concepts—map control, farm efficiency, that kind of thing. But there are players that are, and they are usually those that are coming to Dota from a background in strategy gaming. Emphasising these things—explaining roles in terms of farm priority rather than 'support' and 'carry', explaining game phases and so on—is how you convince these people that Dota isn't just a game about mashing out spells until one team falls over.

I'd say this is the rarer sort of newcomer, but arguably the type with the most promise. They're the ones who will more rapidly grasp that the game is as much about why you fight as how you fight.

It's a game about details, rules and exceptions, and those details, rules and exceptions are going to screw you

My mistake, when I was teaching the rest of the PCG team, was ultimately that I thought that the above would be enough to get them through a match. I figured that if they understood staying safe, momentum, game phases, farm and when to push then they'd get away with not understanding how every individual character or item works.

That isn't the case. You need to understand these things, and that takes time. An example: the PCG vs. RPS match was the first time my guys had ever encountered Shadow Shaman. Serpent Wards aren't even that complicated, as abilities go, but they immediately contradict a bunch of things that players think they know. Whether or not you should disengage from a fight when the wards go down or simply destroy them is a judgement call that requires you to understand a dozen other things that are going on in the game at that moment—and that lack of understanding can be paralyzing. Your newcomers will encounter things they don't know how to deal with, constantly, and they will be undone by them.

I enjoyed this process, when I started out—I liked that every match seemed to contain some skill interaction I'd never seen before. If I didn't enjoy that, I don't think I'd still be playing. That said, I think it's a little misleading to say 'understand the basic principles and learn as you go'—while this is practically true, it undersells just how many times you're going to lose because of something you simply hadn't encountered before.

The final and most difficult thing to do, then, is to get your newbies to enjoy losing. I fucked this up, honestly, and I am pretty sure it's the one thing that even experienced Dota players devalue. Whether people come to the game to make flashy plays or they come to it to execute game-wide strategies, there are going to be a lot of instances where that isn't enough. This can either dampen or temper enthusiasm for the game, and it's the job of would-be tutors to push that needle towards 'temper'. Otherwise your enjoyment of the game will be entirely predicated on whether or not things go well, and when things go wrong you'll be exposed to the negative feelings that lead to blaming, flaming, rage quits, and so on.

Not that there's years upon years of precedent for that, or anything.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

PC Gamer

Earlier this week CS:GO released an update that made significant changes to some of the core aspects of the game, including the design of popular maps, weapon balance, and tagging (movement speed loss when shot). We asked Counter-Strike expert and commentator Duncan Shields to outline what these changes mean for CS:GO. —PCG

The CS:GO update released on March 31st contained numerous fixes, particular to some key weapons for the competitive scene and to most of the maps used in the Active Duty map group. Let's run through the major adjustments Valve made.

Slower sniping

The AWP has been changed so that players move much slower while scoped in. This change takes many of the standard AWP pick spots and turns them heavily into the favor of the Counter-Terrorist (CT) sniper, as the Terrorist will not be able to scope in before moving out to take a shot quickly, where previously it would have been a similar chance for both snipers and the offensive sniper could have perhaps gotten away to cover if he missed his shot.

The impact this will have on the competitive scene is likely to be drastic, as AWPing was already a niche skill and it was rare to even see teams run two AWPs on either side of the game. In particular, teams like Titan and Na`Vi, who rely heavily upon the individual sniping strength of kennyS and GuardiaN, should find some difficulty in adapting, as they will get fewer T-side kills from their AWPers and lose a key strength from their stars. Players of CS 1.6 may note that the changes are more in line with how the AWP was back in that iteration of Counter-Strike, but a key difference is that quick-scoping—firing without letting the scope animation complete—was significantly more accurate and possible to control back in 1.6.

In CS:GO, there is a random component to quick-scoping, meaning that AWPs are more likely to be overrun and killed. The kill bonus for AWPs was already weak to the extent that the weapon's strength primarily lay in either having a star AWPer or being able to control a position and win the round, thus making back some of the investment via the round win bonus. On their own, AWPs are highly cost-inefficient weapons, unable to make back the money spent on them purely by kills made with them. Many in pro scene have already spoken out about this change and it is hoped that it will be in some sense reverted, though, knowing Valve, that does not seem entirely likely.

The Tec-9 nerfs

To say the Tec-9 was overpowered previously would be a vast understatement. The pistol was so powerful that it made sense to buy it on every single save round as Terrorist at the pro level, such was the likelihood of being able to get a kill and then parlay that into picking up a weapon. Teams like FNATIC and EnVyUs were already the best in the CZ era and adapted to become even more frightening with the Tec-9.

Typically, weapons should be balanced in CS around making their accuracy related closely to how much you have to stand still to achieve such accuracy. The Tec-9 betrayed that balance and thus threw off the whole standard dynamic of CS:GO. Yes, we saw more T side rounds won, but it came at the price of the integrity of how the CT side should conceptually be able to be played.

The changes see the damage of the weapon fall-off, hopefully preventing some of those  long, random headshot kills onto enemies with full weapons, and rewarding the ability to close the distance. The magazine size has also been reduced to 24, since it could essentially be spammed with impunity in its previous, 32-shot capacity.


The price of the M4A1-Silencer was increased by $100 to $3,200 to "align the weapon s price with its utility," Quite a bizarre statement, really, in light of the fact its lower clip size of 20 bullets, in comparison to the M4A4's 30, already balanced the weapon heavily against its unsilenced counterpart. Many pros have already begun practicing their M4A4, as that $100 and 10 more bullets is suddenly looking vastly more cost-efficient.

Running and gunning

A regular complaint from professionals is that the movement speed and lack of tagging has allowed too much mobility from Terrorists, who seemingly fly around corners and overwhelm opponents who have even hit them on the way. The introduction of  increased tagging, based on weapon, looks to help balance that out and reward those who land shots on their opponent, hopefully allowing spots such as the pit in long A on Dust2 to be more easily covered when one does not immediately get the kill. 

All aboard

Train has, as previously promised, been added to the Active Duty group. In the early days of CS:GO, as in 1.6, this was a core part of the map pool, but was reduced due to both being considered tremendously CT-sided and rarely being picked to be played in competitive games. The new train has been reworked and it has been promised to be easier to secure bombsite takes with, particularly at the outside site. With the advice of some pro-gamers apparently having been taken on board, hopes are high that the map can bring a new dynamic to the map pool in the pro scene.

The old Train suffered from the differences between 1.6 and CS:GO, as it did not allow players to move under trains, a key component in 1.6 to allow Terrorists to hold onto sites after planting and not be easily found. Even with the outside bomb spot moved closer to the Terrorist mid, the map was still heavily biased to the CT side. NiP's early dominance on the map scared many top pro teams away from playing it, leading us into the era of it being almost permanently banned, similar to the status nuke has taken on now among the top teams.

I'm Duncan "Thorin" Shields, also known as "The Esports Historian," and I've been involved in esports journalism since 2001. I write for a number of sites on a freelance basis, provide on-camera analysis at CS:GO tournaments and produce YouTube videos on my channels. Follow my work on TwitterYouTube, and Facebook.


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