Welcome to the PC Gamer Game of the Year Awards 2013. For an explanation of how the awards were decided, a round-up of all the awards and the list of judges, check here.
One glance at the Steam player statistics will hint at the popularity of our E-sport of the year. At one point today 609,248 were playing Dota 2 concurrently, more than five times times more popular than the second runner. The International proved that Dota 2 has tremendous potential as a spectator sport, but beyond the realms of professional competition Dota 2 has collectively absorbed more hours of our time than any other game this year, and it's only set to grow in 2014 and beyond.
CHRIS My hands were nowhere near a keyboard at the time, but being in the crowd during the final of The International 2013 was the single most powerful gaming experience I had this year. Those final clashes between Alliance and Na Vi have become legendary, and with good reason they represent exactly why the game is so exciting as a sport. In addition to principles of technical mastery that it shares with StarCraft II, Dota 2 allows for both virtuoso creativity and epic metagame strategy. It is both mechanically and psychologically complex in a way that brings personality to the fore, but it doesn t just create rockstars: it creates leaders, strategists, rivals and friends.
It s also excitingly international: no single region has a monopoly on the best players or strategies. This was Europe s year, but 2014 could well belong to China or the nascent South Korean scene. Malaysia had a phenomenal showing in 2013, drawing deserved attention to Southeast Asian gaming. Who knows 2014 s International could even go to the USA. It probably won t.
Valve have pioneered new ways for e-sports teams to reward their members, laying the foundations for a stable professional sport that isn t as reliant on sponsorship and prize money. The International s crowd-funded prize pool was a stroke of genius that has since been adopted by the MLG for its own Dota 2 tournament, and the arrival of team and pro player-branded cosmetic item sets in the store has given players a way to display their affiliations while generating financial support for the sport itself.
EVAN One of Valve s achievements remains making Dota 2 so much more visually readable than League of Legends. The scale of the roster and the fact that some of its mechanics are based on Warcraft III engine limitations would limit accessibility, you d think, but all of Valve s effort to use lighting, silhouettes and colour saturation to convey clearly what s happening on screen is brilliant artistic and technical work that happens to make for an incredible spectating experience.
CORY What Chris failed to mention is that he s spent more than 300 hours playing Dota 2, a number that just knocks me out. I admit that I m personally terrified of the game. The few times I ve played have left me frustrated and embarrassed by the sheer amount of things I don t know how to do in it. And yet, I want to learn more. Watching good players play is unbelievably exciting. My goal for 2014 is to keep learning how to play. If I get as addicted as Chris, however, please arrange an intervention.
CHRIS Not more than 300 hours , Cory. More than a thousand. By my calculation, I ve spent 8.2% of my life playing Dota 2 since June last year.
Dota 2 s insane complexity is what makes it so enduringly fascinating to people with an eye for the stories that emerge from systems. I ve seen things you people wouldn t believe. I ve seen Reverse Polarity-Skewer-Glimpse accidents teleport entire teams into the fountain. I ve seen Wisp Tether-Relocate- Blink escapes that d make a grown man cry. I ve seen a ghost fight a bear in a hat. All those moments preserved in time, thanks to a robust server-side replay system.
Before running away for a few days of competitive eating and cooperative gaming, Evan, Cory, and Tyler gathered to reflect on the most memorable victories, losses, and stories they virtually experienced in 2013. Watch the whole five-video series on the PC Gamer YouTube channel, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more regular content, gameplay footage, and conversations.
Not killed enough undead monstrosities this Christmas? Let Valve fix that for you. Left 4 Dead 2 is now free on Steam. In case you've missed it thus far, Left 4 Dead is blooming brilliant. You and up to three human buddies fight through 90 minute missions set in different zombie-infested locales across America. The zombie throngs are managed by an AI director, which measures your health and stress levels and doles out varying degrees of punishment to match your perceived mood. Watch out, also, for the special infected - hideous supermutants with unique ways of punching/eating/melting your face.
The Left 4 Dead 1 maps have all been ported into the sequel, making Left 4 Dead 2 the definitive entry in the series. There are also plenty of fan-made campaigns and mods on the Steam workshop, including a Helm's Deep Lord of the Rings map and a mod that turns your party of survivors into Velociraptors.
According to a Left 4 Dead 2 Steam announcement, the game will be free until 10AM PST 26/12/2013. Go, go, go.
While Dota 2 players are currently in the grip of Frostivus Wraith-Night, such necromantic festivities can't last forever. Valve are already planning the next update, and have announced its theme, if very little else about what it will involve. Referred to as "The Year of the Horse", it's due to arrive toward the end of January, to coincide with the Chinese New Year.
Given Dota 2's strong international following, it's a sensible move. Seasonal events in games - at least, in the games popular in the west - have a tendency to overwhelmingly map to western holidays, despite the real worldwide recognition of things like the Chinese New Year. Also, horses are cool, and should be celebrated.
Valve don't reveal what the event will involve, instead using the teaser post to kick the community into a Workshop submission frenzy. "We are looking for submissions that draw on visual themes from the Chinese New Year, Chinese history, and springtime. Be sure to mark your submissions using the Spring2014 tag when placing your items on the Workshop. For everyone else, the best way to help is to visit the Workshop often and vote for which items you d like to see in Dota."
You can view the seasonal Workshop submissions here. At least, you will be able to when there are some.
Maybe you've spent the last couple of years Doing the Dotes*. You've gained an almost scarily obsessive knowledge on the many intricacies of Valve's wizard-'em-up; and taken QoP to the top, Axe to the max, and Puck to... er, no. For all your successes, spare a thought for those on the wrong end of the queueing system that grated access to the game. Those who've never before had a chance to experience the thrill of sub-grouting a megascamp with a three-man sagwidget**. At least, they haven't until now, as the digital gatekeeper formerly restricting access to the client has today been retired. Dota 2 is available to all.
"We ve used this system to gradually increase the size of our playerbase, as we ramped up our infrastructure and improved the experience for new players," write Valve. "As we have recently completed a set of server management upgrades as well as released a huge number of enhancements to the new user experience, we re going to remove all restrictions to playing Dota 2."
It'll be interesting to see if this will spark a jump in player numbers. I suspect that most people who wanted to play Dota 2 already have access, but the promise of being instantly able to try the game might persuade those few people yet to push lanes into seeing what the fuss is about.
One thing of note in this announcement is Valve's reveal of the game's active monthly users. According to them, 6.5 million people are playing Dota 2 each month - which seems like a more representative figure than the easily available concurrent player total. To make the obvious comparison, in October last year, Riot announced that League of Legends was picking up 32 million active monthly users. Of course, with no solid data in the 14 months since then, it's hard to know whether that number has grown, or whether Dota 2's official release has dampened that figure.
*I have decreed: playing Dota 2 will henceforth be known as Doing the Dotes. **Er, or whatever it is you actually do in this game.
I've not much sympathy for "things were better in the old days" reminiscing. For instance, those who prefer the twitch action of 'old-school' shooters still have valid options for their acrobatic rocket-spam. Far better then, are those retro-pastiche projects that filter the philosophy of nostalgia through something entirely more ridiculous. Take Half-Life 2: Deathmatch mod Jaykin' Bacon 3. As you'll see in this trailer, its Instagib mode will let you play a flying Solid Snake shooting his deadly electrified finger gun.
There's no hint of a release date yet for the Jaykin' Bacon Source sequel, so while we wait for the mod team to provide further instructions, you can check out their official site. Alternatively, head over to ModDB to see how the creators have incorporated Perfect Dark Zero into their mythology.
It's taken me a while to realise this, but the Half-Life games must be set in a fictional universe where everyone's a complete badass. I'd always thought Gordon Freeman was the exception, but now I'm not so sure. What about Barney? A security guard for scientists. Not a lot of action in that job, but he still made it through the Blue Shift expansion and then later infiltrated an alien police force. Now look at the protagonist of Half-Life mod The Core. A mild-mannered engineer? Nope. As you can see from this new trailer, he's jumping between crates and gunning down aliens with the best of them.
Despite having been in production since 2008, there's still no release date for this return to Black Mesa. In the trailer reveal post, the mod's creators talk about their desire to match the anticipation that's built up in the community over the years. "As the mod has grown in popularity," they write, "so too has the realisation that this mod has to be the best we can possibly make it. Expectations are running high and we are trying our absolute hardest to create the gameplay experience you folks deserve for supporting us."
For more on The Core, keep an eye on the ModDB page, or the official site.
In a completely unpredictable shock twist, Dota 2's Frostivus event has been cancelled. Again. So what holiday halting incident has hit the wizard-'em-up this time? It's the return of the King. Sort of. Wraith-Night is the newly announced seasonal event, and it's centred around the Skeleton King's transformation into Wraith King. He's got a new look, a new name, a new voice, and, most importantly, he's ballin' out of control.
The new announcement page isn't entirely clear how the Wraith-Night mode will play out, only that the Wraith King must be protected, and that souls are to be collected. A good bet then, is that this is the rumoured 'Holdout' co-op mode: a horde-style defence against waves of enemies.
Also on the cards for this update: Legion Commander, who has seemingly been in the making forever. Other updates include the ability to set the minimap to right side of the screen, and the fixing of an annoying shop bug. I don't play Dota 2, but these things sound significant.
For more details on the Wraith-Knight update, due out later today, head to the update's Dota 2 micro-site.
One of the stupider things about humanity is that we keep engineering the future tools of our own demise. For instance, computers are now constantly ranking us based on a variety of factors that measure our performance against each other for fun and entertainment. Naturally, come the awakening of sentient machines, the AI Prime will look at these rankings and think, "hmm, xXx_n00bst0mper_xXx has a higher K/D ratio then any other meatsack in quadrant four. Let's shackle his consciousness with nano-orbs and harvest his muscles into slavedroid neurostims."
Ah well, while we wait for the inevitable to happen, we might as well enjoy ourselves. Valve's Dota 2 ranking system will soon be getting an upgrade that's designed to better support more experienced players. Ranked Matchmaking aims to enable the move towards more competitive play by making the game's usually hidden MMR (matchmaking rating) visible to players.
A post on the Dota 2 blog outlines the conditions needed to unlock Ranked Matchmaking:
Ranked matchmaking is unlocked after approximately 150 games. All players in the party must have unlocked the mode. Currently, only All Pick, Captains Mode, and Captains Draft are available. You may not participate in ranked matchmaking while in the low priority pool. Coaches are not allowed in ranked matchmaking. Matches played in normal matchmaking do not impact your ranked matchmaking MMR, and vice versa. Your ranked MMR is visible only to you and your friends. The MMR used for normal matchmaking is not visible. When you first start using ranked matchmaking, you will enter a calibration phase of 10 games. During this time, your ranked MMR will not be visible.
Head through to that post for a more technical breakdown of how MMR is calculated, and the aims of Dota 2's ranking system. Dota 2's next update will also kick off the Frostivus event, details of which can be found here.
Today, Valve announced that Dota 2's Frostivus holiday event is making a comeback this year. Judging by the official website, we should expect something similar to the last celebration, with special holiday maps and items.
"The longest night of the year is a time for weaving by the hearth!" The teaser site reads. "Collect bright winter berries and sprigs of fir, and twist them together into mementos for family and friends." It sounds like Frostivus will include drops that take advantage of the new crafting and socketing system introduced in the Three Spirits update.
"The traditional Frostivus truce is in effect," the site continues. "Radiant and Dire may gather to play games and exchange gifts. Find the Frostivus Wish-List of some worthy friend or prickly foe, and play the role of Furtive Frostus, gifting them with something they didn't know they wanted." This implies that some kind of Secret Santa gifting will play a big role in the event, and that it may even introduce a new mode.
Last year's Frostivus was quite eventful. In addition to the regular celebration, Valve used the event update to add in-game items created by winners of the Polycount Contest. Last year's Frostivus was also cut short by pesky Greevils, who did the Dota 2 equivalent of canceling Christmas.
With the inevitable Steam holiday sale on top of it all, it's sure to be a very merry time, with you glued to your PC while your extended family sips eggnog and wonders where you are.