Join 3,432 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Valve Presents: Free To Play
March 19, 2014 8:05 PM   Subscribe

FREE TO PLAY [1h15m] is a feature-length documentary that follows three professional gamers from around the world as they compete for a million dollar prize in the first Dota 2 International Tournament.
posted by hippybear (33 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
I tried to get into DOTA 2, but it's just not there for me. I immersed myself in strategy discussions and wiki articles for several days, but it's just not interesting enough (for me) to keep up with.

Well, there are two interesting things about it:

1. They seem to be able to get away with using the actual name of Lina Inverse, main character from the classic anime Slayers, complete with her signature spells, as one of the heroes, apparently without the rights-holder's permission.

2. There is a hero character named Meepo, apparently after a prominent fan-favorite NPC from a classic 3E D&D module. I have considered writing a post about D&D Meepo, and the DOTA 2 version would make an amusing footnote.
posted by JHarris at 8:31 PM on March 19


I'll be honest, I really don't get into videogames much at all myself. But documentaries about subcultures are a thing which attract me strongly. This is less about the game and more about this one tournament and the mentality of professional gamers.
posted by hippybear at 8:36 PM on March 19


what is DOTA?
posted by awfurby at 8:36 PM on March 19


It's crazy this whole thing came from Starcraft/Warcraft III "Use Map Settings". And most of those I hated, they were often the equivalent of taking a chess board and using the pieces as slingshot ammunition or just "ok, you can hack that into Starcraft, but it's not good", but I guess these became real...
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:37 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


awfurby: Defense Of The Ancients
posted by trackofalljades at 8:53 PM on March 19


I never could get into Dota 2 or any Mobas for that matter. Two major reasons: team games (I can't stand those) and normal match lasting way more than an hour.

I much prefer Starcraft 2, just 1v1 and matches do not last more than 20 for most of them.
posted by zouhair at 9:00 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


The documentary says DOTA is not very popular in the US with strongest following in Asia, and obviously Europe.
posted by stbalbach at 10:06 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


what is DOTA?

It is the subject of this song.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:41 PM on March 19 [1 favorite]


The idea of someone paying out a million dollars for the winner of a game with 385,000 players worldwide seems... overreaching.

(Oh, it's connected to WoW's community. Well, in that case... nevermind.)
posted by markkraft at 12:13 AM on March 20


DOTA, and its variants and clones and remakes, reportedly has multiple millions of players. And yet it seems to have a very low profile in the 'states. Many times games that are popular in other countries but don't do much to break the surface in the US turn out to be awesome, but I don't see it in this case.
posted by JHarris at 12:37 AM on March 20


The idea of someone paying out a million dollars for the winner of a game with 385,000 players worldwide seems... overreaching.

In 2010, Dota had over 10 million players, and maybe as many as 20 million. Dota2 had over 7 million players last month, and has between 600,000 to 700,000 peak concurrent players each day. LoL (League of Legends, a spin-off of the original Dota) has a playerbase and activity around nine times that of Dota2, although some take those figures with a grain of salt.
posted by kithrater at 1:06 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


The idea of someone paying out a million dollars for the winner of a game with 385,000 players worldwide seems... overreaching.

The first tournament (held before Dota 2 was seen by the general public at all) was basically a publicity stunt, but considering the money printing machine Dota 2 is for Valve, I'd say it was successful.

(Oh, it's connected to WoW's community. Well, in that case... nevermind.)

Dota2 is at least 2 or 3 steps removed from WoW.
posted by kmz at 1:26 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]


For those who are wondering if they should watch it and want a bit of a summary before plunging into it, I'll try to summarize (I just watched it)

Free to Play follows the lives of three competitors in the lead up to the first major DOTA2 tournament - hyhy (Benedict Lim Han Yong) from Singapore, Dendi (Danylo Ishutin) from Ukraine, and Fear (Clinton Loomis) from USA. It's primarily about the players, not so much about the game itself, so I felt it's a general thing applicable to all forms of E-Sports. I thought it offered a fascinating look into the diverse home lives and cultures of people around the world - there are interviews with their parents, siblings, etc. Some of the scenes are real tear jerkers (especially the ending shot), but no spoilers so you'll have to watch it for yourself.

In typical Valve time (tm), most of this documentary was shot around the time of TI1 which occured in 2011. The scenes from the game were from an Alpha build of DOTA2 - it wasn't even in closed beta yet. The aim of it I think is to document what they think is the beginning of the rise of Esports. Today prize pools for tournaments are larger than the $1.6 million dollars offered at TI1, but the tournament at the time was unprecedented.

Trailer for Free to Play

---

I've played with high level teams (was ranked 35 in the world at one point in 2005, in a game where the first place prize was $50,000) and I've often felt the pull of wanting to dedicate myself to competitive gaming. I'm supposed to be way past my prime, though (very few professional gamers last beyond 27 years old) and for now it remains a hobby.
posted by xdvesper at 1:34 AM on March 20


I used to play a lot of League of Legends (the leading dota-like game), and although I don't play that much anymore, I find that I watch a lot pro competitions; it's not just about understanding of the game but how cohesive the whole scene is, there is no disconnect between the fans, the pros and Riot (the gaming company). The casters are celebrities in their own right and everybody actively participate in r/leagueoflegends, or twitter with plenty of candid talk from everybody.

It's pretty great, and for the most part free of pro sports bullshit.
posted by valdesm at 2:25 AM on March 20


They've been slowly letting purging the game of their various copyright infringing heroes. Their primary issue was that most of the heroes were named after characters from Blizzard's Warcraft Universe, and they were already embroiled in legal battles with Blizzard over the actual name of the game itself. In original DotA, every hero had a name and a title, like "Furion the Prophet." For a character like that, which was named after one of the lead characters in Warcraft (and incidentally one of the playable classes in Hearthstone) they needed to use his generic title "Prophet." This is endlessly confusing for new players, because Dota 1 players will frequently use the now-changed names of heroes instead of their current titles. You'll hear casters and players alike refer to "Furion" instead of "Nature's Prophet" even though the name "Furion" doesn't appear anywhere in the actual game. Old habits die hard.

It does seem like Lina's days are numbered, though. They've been changing hero names every so often for (presumably) copyright issues (Necrolyte -> Necrophos, Windrunner -> Wind Ranger, Skeleton King -> Wraith King, Obsidian Destroyer -> Outworld Devourer) and I don't think anyone would be shocked if Lina changed. They might be able to get away with just changing her spell names since Lina is a regular name in some parts of the world.

That's enough obscure Dota history nerdery for one day I think. I hope folks enjoy the movie! Dota is basically the only game I play anymore. It's an unbelievably complex piece of machinery that somehow makes unraveling its complexities intensely satisfying. I find it hard to want to play any other games because even after nearly 1000 hours of game time, an hour spent playing Dota is nearly always more satisfying than any other games in my library. If anyone ever needs a hand learning, shoot me a memail - I'm happy to provide an introduction! And as they go out of their way to make clear, it's ... free.
posted by heresiarch at 6:20 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]


I never could get into Dota 2 or any Mobas for that matter. Two major reasons: team games (I can't stand those) and normal match lasting way more than an hour.

The average game of Dota does not last anywhere near an hour. I'd say ~35 minutes is much more normal, which is why datdota (the leading dota stats website) has a "per 35 minutes" normalization.

For anybody looking for someplace to start watching competitive Dota, you can visit the GosuGamers Dota 2 page and check out the tournament schedule in the upper right. We're currently in a period where a lot of tournaments are running concurrently, so there's a pro game being broadcast from somewhere in the world something like 20 hours a day. The game is complex enough that you may want to have the Dota 2 wiki open while watching so you can look up hero abilities until you get familiar with it.
posted by IAmUnaware at 6:49 AM on March 20


Here's a primer on the gameplay of DOTA2, just the basics, for those who might find it useful. Of course, this is open to correction from more involved players. Most of this applies to DOTA2, which is the game I've read up on.

First, DOTA2 is Valve's online version of DOTA, aka "Defense of the Ancients," the original game and Warcraft 3 mod, with backstory and lore somewhat scrubbed to remove legal ties to Blizzard. Its designer is IceFrog, who was the last in a succession of maintainers of the original DOTA. (Side note: Despite being the designer of a big property for Valve, IceFrog's personal identity is still a secret from the general public. For all we know, he could be Edward Snowden.) League of Legends is Blizzard's version, which is kept up by earlier DOTA maintainers. These are not the only "MOBA," or Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games, but they are the most popular. LOL, in particular, currently gets millions of players more than DOTA2.

Each player begins the game by selecting a hero, a character to represent them. DOTA2 has over a hundred of these to choose from, and some of them are impressively different from the others. (For example Meepo, who I mentioned above, can actually make clones of himself, each with nearly all of the abilities of the original Meepo, but if any of them die, they all die at once.) There are a variety of metagame options revolving around allowing and restricting character choices for each side, so sometimes you don't just get to pick anyone you want. Each side has five heroes, whether played by a human or an AI opponent; this is what makes DOTA a team game. A single player, even one of exceptional skill, cannot carry a team by himself. Players must work together in order to succeed.

(Side note: In League of Legends, or LOL, players cannot select from every hero but have a changing rotation of 10 to choose from, and must unlock them by playing games or using real money. Valve has decided to make a statement against this practice with DOTA2, which makes all heroes available from the start, saying it's bad design. They make their money from selling cosmetic items; more on this below.)

The game is played on a map, with each player having a base in a corner, one in the lower-left and one in the upper-right. Unlike most RTS games, it's always the same map. The developers have made conscious decisions to keep the battlefield the same and focus on variety through character choice. (Other DOTA-inspired games provide different maps; LOL has four.)

At the end of each player's base is an Ancient, basically a big, stationary damage sink for the other team to pound at in order to win. This is the objective of play, but you can't just go out and do it; the Ancient is invulnerable while its defenses are up. Instead, each side has to plug away at those defenses set up along the way, which take the form of towers that attack foes that come near. These lane towers are invulnerable if there are any surviving friendly towers further down the lane; they must be destroyed in sequence, from the furthest from the Ancient to the closest. There are two additional, powerful towers in front of the enemy's Ancient; both must be destroyed before the Ancient itself becomes vulnerable.

The map is laid out in the form of lanes, three of them, generally paths through the terrain that extend across the map from one base to the other. Periodically originating from each side's bases are creeps, weak AI-controlled units allied with that side that automatically run out towards the other side's base. These run down the lanes and, if nothing is done about them, typically meet their end when they reach the enemy towers, or perhaps the enemy creeps running down the lane from the other end. This is where the RTS elements enter into the game, except none of the characters has control over the creeps, who largely do their own thing. This aspect of the game is automated, and instead the players focus on their own character.

DOTA2 supports an experience progression for each character. Each character begins each game at Level 1 and during a game can get as high as Level 25. As they kill enemies, creeps, towers and enemy heroes, if they can manage that, they gain experience points, and before long experience levels (character growth in DOTA2 is rapid). This process is called farm. They also earn gold pieces for spending in shops, both at base and in various places on the map.

Each time a level is gained, that character's stats go up a bit (which ones and the amount depending on the character), and he gets a point to put into one of his skills, each of which is an ability unique to that character. Each character has at least four skills, one of which is an ultimate skill, which can be improved less often than the others but is generally much stronger. Some skills must be used, like a special attack or a spell, and have a cost in mana (basically, magic points) and a cooldown, or minimum time between uses. Some skills, alternatively, are passive, and provide beneficial effects automatically. Some other skills are autocast, which will be used automatically in a relevant situation, like when attacking, and consuming its mana cost then. Autocast skills can be turned on or off. Instead of improving a skill, a character may opt instead to increase his stats by a bit more.

Because each character starts the match at Level 1, and because the stats and skills improved through level gains are potentially a huge advantage over under-leveled opponents, the rate at which characters grow is of vital importance. A character with a one level advantage over an opponent will, all other things being equal, have a greater than 50% chance of winning in an altercation, and defeating an enemy hero is usually itself worth enough experience for a level. So, a character who gets a lead in the experience race has the opportunity to use the increased power to widen that lead. Because of this, inexperienced allies that let the opposing team kill them without fighting back effectively can be a big handicap, because not only is the deceased character out of play for a while but the other team will have another experience level in power, which they can then use as an advantage in killing others. Letting yourself get killed foolishly is called feeding, and will often attract the ire of teammates.

One thing that can be done to prevent opponents from getting experience and gold is killing your own allied creeps, so as to prevent the enemies from doing so. You can only do this if the creep is already 50% or more damaged, and you gain no experience or gold yourself from it. This is called denying, and although it has kind of an air of an ascended bug about it, it can be an important part of strategy.

Another important aspect of character development is in the choice of items to purchase from shops. These include limited-use restorative items, but also items that improve stats and grant abilities. DOTA2 has three kinds of shops: a shop at base, normal shops in the field, and "secret" shops in the field that sell different items. In addition to outright purchasing, there are items that can only be obtained by combining other items, effectively having the cost of the sum of the costs of the base items used to make it, and giving characters a logical upgrade path that looks a bit like a tech tree.

This isn't a full description of the game. There are also neutral, or jungle creeps, which are stronger but worth more experience. One of these is a neutral boss on the map, Roshan, who's worth a lot of experience and a special item. There's team roles like carries, and tactics like laning, harassing and ganking. One obstacle to learning about the game is absorbing this terminology, which tends to be soaked in the culture of both RTS and online multiplayer games.

DOTA2 is free to play, and after some basic tutorials the entire game is unlocked from the start. Valve has had some experience running free games from noted hat simulator Team Fortress 2 (ENGIES REPRESENT), and has decided to avoid muddying up the main game through purchase schemes. Thus, real money is only used on cosmetic features that add more entertainment to the game. Additionally these can "drop" after a battle randomly or when advancing in rank on the game's ladders. The metagame around this seems to be patterned after TF2s, and players can trade with each other for items or sell them using the Steam Store.
posted by JHarris at 12:48 PM on March 20 [5 favorites]


Edit to above: "denying" is mostly a feature in DOTA2; I have read that it isn't a part of LOL.
posted by JHarris at 12:54 PM on March 20


It does seem like Lina's days are numbered, though. They've been changing hero names every so often for (presumably) copyright issues (Necrolyte -> Necrophos, Windrunner -> Wind Ranger, Skeleton King -> Wraith King, Obsidian Destroyer -> Outworld Devourer) and I don't think anyone would be shocked if Lina changed. They might be able to get away with just changing her spell names since Lina is a regular name in some parts of the world.

I mention Lina with what sounds like annoyance above, but really I'm kind of fond of the name; it's just a trademark issue that I'm surprised has survived this long. "That'll be a lawsuit there." It's far from the only infringement. As you (heresiarch) mentions, a number of Warcraftisms are being scrubbed, but there are also plenty of references to other games. As just one example: an item in the secret shop is Agahnim's Scepter, which should sound familiar to anyone who's played The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past.

I do like the idea of video games merging together and providing a common base from which new games can expand their lore. But I'm not sure how sustainable it is legally.
posted by JHarris at 1:04 PM on March 20


> League of Legends is Blizzard's version

I'm sure this was a typo, but League of Legends is by Riot Games. Blizzard's version isn't released yet, but will be soon and is called Heroes of the Storm.
posted by gilrain at 1:56 PM on March 20


JHarris, excellent write up. Except for this little part:

"League of Legends is Blizzard's version"

LoL is owned and developed by Riot Games, and has no affiliation with Activision|Blizzard nor Blizzard the studio.

You might be thinking of "Heroes of the Storm," Blizzard's new MOBA.

Source: I work for Activision.
posted by hellphish at 1:58 PM on March 20 [2 favorites]


Oh! My error. I don't know where I got that idea from, it was probably just an errant assumption. Thanks for the correction!
posted by JHarris at 3:56 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


(These things slip through once in a while. I can't afford to spend the time to fact check everything for what amounts to message board bantering, but am happy when the hive mind catches something.)
posted by JHarris at 4:01 PM on March 20


I, an ardent Dota2 player, and my non-gamer partner both enjoyed the movie. I found the examination of player motivations and the viability of the scene a little shallow, but we both agreed it was a good and engaging introduction to the concept of professional gaming.

The "Chinese Threat" theme was interesting in retrospect. While they didn't perform particularly well in the first International (2 in the top 8, 1 in the top 4), they dominated the second International (5 in the top 8, 3 in the top 4). Many in the West predicted a repeat at the third International, with a lot of talk about how the top Western strategies (in particular a reliance on Wisp/Io) would be inherently ineffective against the Chinese and their presumed superior team cohesion. This ended up not being the case (3 in the top 8, 1 in the top 4), with the finals being decided between two Western teams.
posted by kithrater at 6:21 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


Because each character starts the match at Level 1, and because the stats and skills improved through level gains are potentially a huge advantage over under-leveled opponents, the rate at which characters grow is of vital importance. A character with a one level advantage over an opponent will, all other things being equal, have a greater than 50% chance of winning in an altercation, and defeating an enemy hero is usually itself worth enough experience for a level. So, a character who gets a lead in the experience race has the opportunity to use the increased power to widen that lead.

It's a little more complicated than this. Due to the incredibly large number of possible matchups and the sometimes complex interactions between heroes, a level advantage may not allow one hero to defeat another, and even more important is the idea of power curves.

Imagine simplifying each hero's ability to fight enemy heroes and accomplish map objectives (like the destruction of enemy buildings) down to a single stat that we'll call "power". Due to combinations of things like the scaling of their abilities, their stat gains per level, and the degree to which their abilities synergize with items, each hero effectively gains amounts of power from experience and gold. Some heroes get a lot of power from early experience, but then have their rate of power gain taper off suddenly in the late game, while others gain relatively little from experience but get a lot of value out of gold, meaning that they need to focus on last-hitting creeps for a while before they're any good in a fight. The difference in hero power curves is one of the most important elements of draft strategy, and it can allow for really interesting comebacks as some heroes that have been powerful through the early game fade into irrelevance while others rapidly surpass them.
posted by IAmUnaware at 7:12 PM on March 20


The "Chinese Threat" theme was interesting in retrospect. While they didn't perform particularly well in the first International (2 in the top 8, 1 in the top 4), they dominated the second International (5 in the top 8, 3 in the top 4). Many in the West predicted a repeat at the third International, with a lot of talk about how the top Western strategies (in particular a reliance on Wisp/Io) would be inherently ineffective against the Chinese and their presumed superior team cohesion. This ended up not being the case (3 in the top 8, 1 in the top 4), with the finals being decided between two Western teams.

This was one of the most interesting narrative threads to follow through TI3. For those who don't know: The hero Io (previously called Wisp) has a powerful spell that lets him teleport along with one ally to any point on the map with very little warning. This allows him to turn fights all over the map to his team's advantage, and in the run up to TI3 Io was one of the absolutely dominant heroes of the Western metagame (along with a hero called Batrider, who was equally loved in the East). He was either picked or banned in nearly every draft for months before the tournament.
The Eastern teams, meanwhile, rarely picked or banned Io. Following TI2, the Chinese playstyle was seen by the community as inherently superior, so the Chinese disdain for Io was taken by many to mean that the Io strategy must be weak in some way. People theorized that the pickoffs and uneven fights that Io allowed simply couldn't occur against the superior Chinese team play. (It was often held that superstar Western players were every bit as good as their Eastern counterparts, but that Western teams simply didn't coordinate very well.)
This continued into TI3's early stages, with Western vs. Western draft strategy hinging on where Io landed and Eastern vs. Eastern drafts being completely Io-free. But several Eastern teams allowed Western opponents to pick Io up uncontested, and they were punished for it. It was kind of fascinating to watch the complexion of the community conversation change over the first week of the tournament, as people started to admit that that Chinese juggernaut might not be invulnerable after all.

By the way, I cannot say enough good things about Valve's production. These events are a total delight to watch, and I strongly recommend trying to catch TI4 if you have even the slightest bit of interest in esports. Last year Valve brought in a local (Seattle) reporter named Kaci with no Dota or esports experience to serve as a surrogate for newbies in the audience, and watching her learn about the game and start to become passionate as the tournament wore on was wonderful. (To give you some idea of what a hit that was, one of the first questions Gabe Newell was asked in his recent AMA was whether Kaci would be returning for TI4.)
posted by IAmUnaware at 7:31 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


It's a little more complicated than this. Due to the incredibly large number of possible matchups and the sometimes complex interactions between heroes, a level advantage may not allow one hero to defeat another, and even more important is the idea of power curves.

Yes, which is why I said "all other things being equal." It's all more complicated. That's why it's a primer, an introduction. I know about power curves, I assure you I am no stranger to game design.
posted by JHarris at 7:36 PM on March 20


(Remind me to tell you how all that applies to Fire Emblem some day.)
posted by JHarris at 7:37 PM on March 20


My Physical Therapist told me that his coworker's son is apparently pretty good in the DOTA2 scene and is going (did go?) to an international competition (sorry - I don't see much in this thread specifically about where these competitions are (I imagine S. Korea? But I see talk of China in the thread, so is it in China?) Anyways, I can't remember, but I imagine it's one of these tournaments.

Other than that, I think I played Heroes of Newerth years ago and really hated the Crossroads/X-Box GAMERZ level of chat so never gave a damn to go back, expecting that LoL was pretty much just as bad. And I didn't really get the idea, and I don't like team games that much (why I don't play TF2, for example), except for maybe SC/SC2 which I can play with close friends for fun and not worry about being serious, and since it's a game I know from solo play it's easier to get into.

I hear that basically SC2 is dead in terms of mass viewership/e-sports and that DOTA/MOBA games are pretty much *the* thing now, and that some of the SC people are going back to SC1?
posted by symbioid at 4:47 PM on March 21


I found the guy - he's not a player, but a caster, I guess, known as Purge.
posted by symbioid at 5:41 PM on March 21


Other than that, I think I played Heroes of Newerth years ago and really hated the Crossroads/X-Box GAMERZ level of chat so never gave a damn to go back, expecting that LoL was pretty much just as bad.

The word is that the culture around these "MOBAs" is really bad, teammates will flame you for being a newb at the drop of a hat, and that it comes from their origins in the RTS Warcraft fan community. I had heard somewhere (likely a previous MeFi thread) that one of the things Valve was trying to do was rein it in a bit, although I've seen some pretty hateful things in TF2 so I don't know how good they are at doing that.
posted by JHarris at 6:22 PM on March 21


Yes, pretty much this. If I'm playing on my own, and I get dumped in a team of 4 who're grouped together, if I decide to do random stuff on my own like pick a strange hero or play it in an unconventional way, I'm sure to attract so much rage in chat. And this isn't me just being bad at the game (I'm rated in the top 2% in the world in DOTA2) but it's just the culture of raging that's permeated all competitive games, it seems.

The mute button is there, as well as report button for verbal abuse, use it and love it. You also grow over time to giggle at other people being mad, you just message them "you mad???" which makes them even madder, because if they say no then why were they flaming you, if they say yes then they've lost because you've made them mad.
posted by xdvesper at 7:12 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]


Symbioid, Purge recently moved to S Korea with Team Zephyr. Surprisingly in spite of their SC2 dominance, the South Korean Dota scene isn't that strong right now. I understand the move was a way to join an up-and-coming scene.

Purge is a great caster. He's especially well known for having a kind demeanor and providing good tutorials for newer players.
posted by Uncle Ira at 9:11 PM on March 21


« Older I lost my phone after the St. Patty's parade and t...  |  There are two main options whe... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments