DOTA2 - Origins, Launch, and the Road to TI3
August 8, 2013 8:55 AM   Subscribe

Valve is in the middle of hosting The International 3, a DOTA2 tournament with the largest E-Sport prize pool in history - over $2.8 million dollars to be given out this weekend. This coincides with the official launch of DOTA2 itself, which saw player activity spike to over 500,000 concurrent users and 5.7 million unique monthly users. The game launched to wide acclaim, scoring an 89 on Metacritic, praised for its deep and rewarding multiplayer action [Gamespot] and "true" free to play model, where all gameplay elements are fully unlocked for everyone [Destructoid] - possibly the only competitive free-to-play game that is totally uncompromised by its business model. [PCGAMER]


Quintin Smith from Rock Paper Scissors says DOTA could never have surfaced from a commercial games development studio - the weird and at times completely counter-intuitive game is a result of natural evolution, and not deliberate design - and may in fact be responsible for this game's surprising longevity. DOTA is a one man mod project started in 2003 by Eul, with leadership passing to Guinsoo in 2004 and then to Icefrog in 2005, who remains the sole developer until today. Icefrog is famously reclusive and does not communicate with the community at all, only emerging to update the game and introduce balance changes - his Wikipedia page is only a few lines long and contains virtually everything the internet knows about him. Even his real name is unknown. In 2011, Valve announced they were collaborating with Icefrog to produce DOTA2, a free to play update of DOTA.

Valve's monetization strategy is also unique, being heavily community focused. Anyone can create cosmetics for the game, submit them to the in-game Steam Workshop for rating by the community - if it receives enough votes, and follows the extensive in-game art guidelines [PDF], it becomes available in game for purchase by other players, with the original creator receiving a 25% cut of all sales. In Team Fortress 2, another Valve free to play game, content creators have received over 10 million dollars for their contributions, and it's expected that the DOTA2 community will very quickly eclipse that. Valve has their own in-house artists, of course, but they cannot compete with the talent of the community, with several individuals earning over $100k per year just from item royalties. Individual artists can develop a cult following, for example, Stephanie, a freelance animator from Australia who created several iconic and recognizable item sets in DOTA2 today. Valve's community support doesn't just extend to artists - it provides a mechanism by which tournament organizers can set up their own tournaments and sell viewing tickets, in order to cover costs and provide prizes and logistics for players. Tournaments are watchable from within the in-game client, complete with audio commentary from multiple languages, and the ability to take control of the camera, watch the game through any commentator's screen, or even watch from any of the 10 players' perspective, providing an unrivalled level of control for the viewer and cutting bandwidth requirements to a fraction of what it would normally take to view a high definition stream. Players can purchase "Team Pennants" to support the team they are rooting for. Even the International 2013 is partially crowd-funded - sales of the digital Compendium have increased the size of the prize by over 1.2 million dollars.

The Road to TI3

The Group Stages are over, and the competition for the $2.8 million prize money has begun in earnest. But first, a retrospective of how we got here - notable games in the lead up to the TI3.

The last International, held in 2012, told the story of Chinese domination of the DOTA2 scene. When the dust settled, 5 of the top 8 teams in the world were from China - IG, LGD, TongFu, DK, and EHOME. Na'vi, the 2011 International winner, was the sole Western representation in the top 8. The remaining 2 teams - Zenith and Orange - were from Singapore and Malaysia respectively. Some were worried that this heralded an era of Chinese and SEA domination of the game, much in the same way that Korea dominates the Starcraft scene.

They were wrong. 2013 saw the emergence of new threats from the West - in particular, a newly formed Swedish team called The Alliance. They flew to China and defeated all the Chinese giants in a clean sweep at the G1 LAN finals. Their unorthodox playstyle - more popular among Western teams - is based on running a tri-core lineup, with 3 core heroes that get moderate amounts of gold and experience. This contrasted sharply against the preferred Eastern strategy of "4 protect 1", where they focus all the gold and experience on one single core hero. The Chinese had shown their hand in 2012, now it was the time for the Swedes to show theirs. The grand final match of the G1 LAN Final between LGD and Alliance was stomp, with LGD trying a variety of ineffective plays, never managing to find their footing. [VOD] The Alliance have rapidly become a fan favourite around the world, with a penchant for utilizing surprising strategies - like taking on a challenge during the EMS Raidcall One Summer Cup tournament against iNfernity to win the game within 10 minutes [VOD], or daring to run double stealth heroes against EG during The Defense 4 where they pick Riki and Bounty Hunter [VOD] or coming up with an unstoppable level 1 Roshan strategy against DK during the G1 LAN Finals 2013. [VOD]

Other teams to watch for - Team DK still have the arguably the best Carry player in the world on their team - Burning. They epitomize the "4 protect 1" strategy, with the entire team working in perfect harmony to maximize the gold and experience gain on Burning. They turned in a stellar performance at the D2SL Semifinals, where Burning managed to farm a full 6 slot inventory in 30 minutes and proceeded to immediately end the game against their helpless opponents. [VOD]

Na'vi, the winner of the 2011 International and runner's up in 2012, remain a firm fan favourite because of their extremely aggressive tactics and spectacular plays. They often feature unorthodox and risky strategies, like running Pudge mid [VOD] in the 2013 International group stage on Monday against LGD, winning the game in 15 minutes. They ran Windrunner mid against RoxKis in The Defense 4, winning the game in only 12 minutes [VOD]. They recently beat the Alliance at the Starladder Season 6 in a highly anticipated game with relentless aggression led by with Dendi on his signature mid Puck. [VOD]. Funnik, their off-laner, also makes waves when he gets to play Bone Clinkz - one of the only players in the competitive scene to play that hero - as seen when Na'vi beat LGD at the Alienware cup, where Funnik's Bone Clinkz terrorized the entire LGD team. [VOD] And of course, The Play they made in the 2012 International has forever been immortalized in the annals of DOTA2 history.

IG, the winners of the 2012 International, have been in a slump recently - but they managed to take a game off Na'vi in the Alienware Cup when they completely outsmarted Na'vi in the draft stage, forcing Na'vi into a very unfavourable laning position, proving you can win the game before it even starts. [VOD]

The results of the TI3 group stage on Monday continue to tell a similar story with Na'vi (11-3) and Alliance (14-0) topping their respective groups. But as we head into the playoffs - this year's TI3 will be anyone's game to win.

The main event will run for the next 4 days until Sunday, with games starting at 12 noon Seattle time. Matches are free to watch in the DOTA2 client, or on the official Twitch streaming channel.
posted by xdvesper (84 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
[reposting with mod permission]
posted by xdvesper at 8:55 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Third times the charm I guess? This is setting a precedent.
posted by ReeMonster at 8:56 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

with the original creator receiving a 25% cut of all sales.

So very generous.
posted by blue_beetle at 9:00 AM on August 8, 2013

Even the International 2013 is partially crowd-funded - sales of the digital Compendium have increased the size of the prize by over 1.2 million dollars.

The compendium also comes with a "courier" and the more matches you watch the more your courier "levels". And there's also rare drops that you can get when you're spectating, whether in client or even on Twitch. It's madness.
posted by kmz at 9:08 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

They made it to 3 on something for once? Half-life 3 confirmed!
posted by Yowser at 9:10 AM on August 8, 2013

xdvesper: "possibly the only competitive free-to-play game that is totally uncompromised by its business model."

Sorry, I can't hear you over the sound of how awesome I am.
posted by boo_radley at 9:11 AM on August 8, 2013

kmz: " And there's also rare drops that you can get when you're spectating, whether in client or even on Twitch. It's madness."

Holy moly, Varoufakis is a madman.
posted by boo_radley at 9:12 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Actually, 25% does seem generous to me. Valve isn't a charity, they just happen to be providing a lot of services for free.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:13 AM on August 8, 2013

1. I hope the Alliance will win, or at least I want to see a same hemisphere final

2. Don't forget about the Free to Play documentary (trailer) , a film from Valve about the pro DOTA2 scene.
They premier it on Saturday after the main event. And hopefully will release it afterwards
posted by bdz at 9:14 AM on August 8, 2013

I really do not believe Valve's Free To Play model is the shining beacon everyone believes it to be. The slot machine style rewards they use tap into some really unhealthy compulsive behavior in some people. I think it's just kind of ... gross, all the business with the keys and chests. And if it was any other company doing it people wouldn't be looking at it in such a positive light.
posted by malphigian at 9:24 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a vague understanding of how DOTA works and I have to say that listening to those sportscasters narrate the matches is amazing. It's English, but I don't recognize any of the nouns and I'm pretty sure that most of the verbs that seem familiar have different meanings than I'm used to.

And yet I still think I got the gist of that video where the team comes out of the starting gate and somehow cleverly kills a big monster that normally can't be killed that soon, and suddenly everyone on their team is a level stronger than everyone on the other team. And I think I'm gonna be watching more of these...
posted by straight at 9:36 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Even [Icefrog's] real name is unknown. In 2011, Valve announced they were collaborating with Icefrog to produce DOTA2, a free to play update of DOTA.

This seems to have been edited out of cannon, but there was a bit of a kerfuffle back in 2010 when a self-proclaimed anonymous Valve employee revealed the fact that Icefrog had also been doing some collaboration with S2 Games, possibly in breach of contract. In it, he identifies Icefrog as a man named Abdul Ismail. Various outlets covered it at the time (though I will now lazily not dig up their coverage). However, RPS repeated the identification as fact (and provides lots of other good historical info about the genre) in part one and part two of their "A Brief History of The Battle Arena" article.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:37 AM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Man I'd really like to watch games like this in a bar with other eSports nerds. There's been some discussion of Barcraft on Metafilter but last I looked there wasn't anything like that going on in San Francisco, at least that I could find. The game I'm following now is League of Legends, but I'd be delighted to watch DotA 2 or StarCraft or really anything other than an FPS while enjoying a frosty adult beverage.
posted by Nelson at 9:38 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you check the International's listing of pubstomps, you may be able to find a local venue.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2013

So am I the only dummy who just spent five minutes reading their site trying to figure out what DOTA stands for before giving up and just searching for DOTA on Google?
posted by Shepherd at 9:45 AM on August 8, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'm not even sure if the DOTA in DOTA2 stands for anything... it did in original DOTA, sure, but as far as I can tell, the game is just called DOTA2 (or Dota 2) everywhere in Valve's literature.
posted by kmz at 9:50 AM on August 8, 2013

Well, I didn't, but back when "Dota 2" was announced I was rather confused.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:50 AM on August 8, 2013

@malphigian, there have been discussions here and here about just this issue.
posted by zscore at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Shepherd: it's possible that Valve doesn't own the rights to the name "Defense of the Ancients." So DOTA it is.
posted by zsazsa at 9:51 AM on August 8, 2013

So is DOTA or League of Legends more of a big deal? Do they both have tournaments? If so, which is bigger.

I ask because I am not familiar enough with the distinction between the two, but I know I have read things here or somewhere online about the League of Legends tournament that sounded similar (actually, not similar but identical). Either they are identical or my mind is playing tricks on me.
posted by dios at 9:52 AM on August 8, 2013

They are superficially identical, since they are both derived from the same game - presumably they have been balanced a bit differently though are no doubt cribbing from each other. (Any experts here?) LoL had about 11 million users as of last December. DOTA 2 had about 1.5 million, but it's been in a semi-open beta for a long time, finally coming out with the Internatlional 3.
posted by Going To Maine at 9:56 AM on August 8, 2013

which is bigger

Define bigger.
In term of players Dreamhack is the biggest tournament where both games are played.
In term of prize pool The International is the biggest esports tournament ever.
posted by bdz at 10:02 AM on August 8, 2013

LoL had about 11 million users as of last December.

LoL has 32 million active monthly users as of last report not 11. The recent all star game had 18 million viewers.

League is without a doubt *currently* much bigger, but I wouldn't bet against Valve. DoTA2 is a way better viewing experience, thanks in part to how good the client is, but also due to some fundamental aspects of the game (e.g. DoTA2 has less frequently used and more impactful skills, which makes it somewhat easier for a viewer to follow).

They are VERY VERY similar games though. I personally prefer playing LoL to Dota2, but that's probably just inertia.
posted by malphigian at 10:06 AM on August 8, 2013

Oops. I'm dumb. Thanks for the correction.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:08 AM on August 8, 2013

League of Legends has more players, but then again it's older too. The LoL tournament scene is documented in confusing detail at Leaguepedia. The biggest tournament is the World Championship which will be finished October 4 at the Staples Center in LA. Not sure the full total, but there's something around $10M in prizes for LoL in 2013. A good way to get a taste for it is to watch the North American summer season. Here's a particularly good game that highlights the teamwork of the leading North American team, Cloud 9. Koreans have traditionally dominated the world scene; a lot of hay has been made about how Cloud 9 is playing in "the Korean style" (a dubious claim).

Both games are more similar than different, but fans will tell you in great detail about the reason their game is better. The main takeaway I took from what I've read is that DotA 2 has more complexity. (For example in LoL you kill enemy minions for gold. In DotA 2 not only do you kill enemy minions, you can kill your own to deny the enemy the gold.) LoL is quite complex enough for me though and really interesting and fun and well tuned. So I've stuck with it ever since they were the first to have a Mac client. It's really a great game.

Fantastic post about DotA 2 btw, thank you.
posted by Nelson at 10:10 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, small sigh about lack of women on any top tier teams.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:16 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah there's no women in the LoL tournaments I've watched either. There are some out gay men and a variety of ages from 18–35, but no women players. There's one female broadcaster in LoL, Sjokz, she's both a strong gamer herself and a good interviewer.

Related; the announcers for DotA 2 and LoL are a big part of what makes them fun to watch. I'm repeating myself from the other thread, but it's a lot of fun watching people play the game I play but play it way better than I can. Also the excitement of sportscaster style announcing makes the game more fun to watch. The casters are amazingly good at filling an hour+ of airtime, both the slow parts and the intense team fights.
posted by Nelson at 10:21 AM on August 8, 2013

I think you will find the name of the site is Rock Paper Shotgun, not Rock Paper Scissors.

How a rock is supposed to beat shotgun I have no idea
posted by ckape at 10:26 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Rock and Shotgun work together in co-op mode, ckape.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:30 AM on August 8, 2013

Well, if you hit the barrel of a standard shotgun with a rock it wouldn't function anymore, whereas bird shot or smaller loads of buckshot wouldn't do much to harder rocks (or minerals if you happen to be an Albuquerque DEA agent who cares about such distinctions).
posted by Thoughtcrime at 11:32 AM on August 8, 2013

There's one big time female caster in DOTA 2 as well, who goes by Sheever. She's not particularly great at the game itself, but she's one of the hardest working people in the scene and for some time her website was the only good place to get up-to-date information on all the ongoing tournaments.
posted by IAmUnaware at 11:41 AM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for getting the FPP up.

The production value of this tournament is pretty impressive [location, interviews, casting, commentary panel etc]

Anyway the All Star match happened today and it was lots of fun - the players were obviously just enjoying themselves and joking around, and generally making fun of the pervasive/shitty "pub" behavior - very entertaining to watch.
posted by xqwzts at 12:15 PM on August 8, 2013

The day 2 stream has just gone live on the official stream, by the way. Games should begin soonish.
posted by IAmUnaware at 12:20 PM on August 8, 2013

I keep hearing this clicking somewhere in the room and best I can tell it's my generation gap slowly getting wider.

I have no idea what any of this is about. At all. I'm going to the garage to play Robotron.
posted by JoeZydeco at 1:25 PM on August 8, 2013

AAAAAAH! That was a good finish.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:00 PM on August 8, 2013

(I can't really tell what's going on, though I do now know that the cheese is indeed cheese. But everyone gets shouty and the barracks get smashed and then they are bashing at those towers and the ancient and oh my how exciting.)
posted by Going To Maine at 2:02 PM on August 8, 2013

That was an unbelieveable game. Alchemist only needed to hit the Ancient ~4 more times to finish it, and with his improved attack speed and BAT that would have taken less than a second, I think.
posted by IAmUnaware at 2:02 PM on August 8, 2013

Best game so far? That was awesome.
posted by bdz at 2:04 PM on August 8, 2013

I didn't think the early game was that exciting, but the finish was certainly amazing and I doubt it will be topped (please let me be wrong about this).
posted by IAmUnaware at 2:06 PM on August 8, 2013

I started playing DOTA2 a few weeks ago on a bit of a lark, and it has been a fun experience. The hype around the tournament is really something else, but even with just a basic, cursory understanding of what's going on (from having played the tutorial and dozen or so games with people, and watching videos), it has been very compelling viewing. Valve and the casters are doing a good job of showing the viewers compelling stories about the teams and their members -- and certainly, some of it is a bit manufactured, with a wink and nod -- but there's definitely excitement from the human element combined with the strategy aspects.

One thing that I've noticed about DOTA is that the demographics of the game as a whole are very "international", and that's appropriately reflected in the tournament. Firing up the tournament game and then switching the commentary audio from English to Russian to Chinese to Korean is a pretty amazing thing. And for instance, Gabe Newell just said there are only 1 percent more players in the United States then there are in the Ukraine

I'm a bit discouraged by the lack of diversity on the "pro" scene, and things like the way Na'Vi announced their female squad leave a really bad taste in my mouth. At the same time, I am impressed with what Valve has done on TI3 with their hire of Seattle Fox reporter Kaci Aitchison to do interviews with the players. Aitchison has done a remarkable job as a journalist in building an interesting rapport and I really respect what she's done so far. Take a look at the positive reaction on Reddit, for instance.

And the economy and betting...Regarding betting, earlier this year there was a bit of a scandal where a player bet against his own team and was caught and banned from competitive play.

It's a fascinating metagame and the economy issues -- and seeing what Valve have done to create scarcity and commodities for collectors is fascinating. The players in the tournament have a barcode scanner, and can give their "autograph" by scanning an attendee badge. And the "autograph" can be digitally transferred to an in-game item. And since key events in tournament play can randomly cause items to "drop" (being awarded randomly to viewers), you could theoretically have that item "autographed" by one of the players involved. It's manufactured eSports memorabilia, all with zero effect on actual gameplay!
posted by QuantumMeruit at 2:38 PM on August 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

I tried playing this game for a few hours a couple of months ago and I guess I'm just a stupid old man who should stick to STALKER and Civ V but I literally did not understand it and could not play it.
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:38 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

turbid dahlia, I love DOTA but I'm not sure I have ever played a video game with a higher barrier to entry. There is a significant knowledge deficit to overcome before you can even be a little bit good at the game. That said if you can stick with it, it really is an intensely rewarding game and your potential for improvement is immense.

I'm a bit discouraged by the lack of diversity on the "pro" scene, and things like the way Na'Vi announced their female squad leave a really bad taste in my mouth.

Na'Vi plays some extremely entertaining DOTA, but the organization's attitude toward women is downright gross. Female teams from that region (I'm thinking of Virtus.Pro and OB here) are used as trick ponies and sideshows and it's disgusting. I'm not sure what we can do to make the game and community more female-friendly, but I think a few good female players (even if they only play at the minor pro level like Fnatic.NA or something) would go a long way toward correcting attitudes.
posted by IAmUnaware at 3:15 PM on August 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can only compare the learning curve of DOTA2 to Eve Online. Both incredibly steep but rewarding.
posted by bdz at 3:25 PM on August 8, 2013

Either way, I think this whole thing is just fabulous and I'm glad so many people are enjoying the hell out of it and getting super-excited for it. I'd sure as hell rather watch a DOTA tournament than a fucking AnyKindOfSports match, that's for sure.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:49 PM on August 8, 2013

Solo Championship Finals now! I really recommand that.

Even though 1v1 is not a regular thing, this is so much fun
posted by bdz at 11:51 PM on August 8, 2013

Holy crap, the game between Team Liquid and LGD was amazing. If you watch one game today do watch this one. Direct Link to Game Start. The crowd energy is crazy, because the entire crowd is rooting for Team Liquid, one of the only US teams in the competition. So many people shouting indiscriminately at the end.
posted by xdvesper at 3:21 AM on August 9, 2013

Better crowd cam.
posted by bdz at 3:30 AM on August 9, 2013

re: learning curve, I highly suggest finding a friendly LoL or DOTA player here or elsewhere to walk you through a game or two. then ask them to just give you dribblets of info at a time, not the firehose. you can know the basics in two or three matches. you might not be ready to have the metagame even described in broad strokes for ten or fifteen games. you may play a game or two a night for a couple of months before you get any serious a-ha! moments.

but man, when you do and it leads to some sweet plays...
posted by envygreen at 9:15 AM on August 9, 2013

"Gaming is a sport that can't be ignored"
Kaci Aitchison
posted by bdz at 12:28 PM on August 9, 2013

I've found this one-year-old explanation for understanding DOTA to be pretty helpful.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:04 PM on August 9, 2013

... I should add that I found that tutorial for how to watch the game by browsing this other guide.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:13 PM on August 9, 2013

What I still don't understand that how a team can let the other team to pick a stronger line up. I mean in the last Alliance vs DK game DK was so oudrafted, they didn't even have a real chance to win the battle.
posted by bdz at 4:46 PM on August 9, 2013

Well, you can't necessarily prevent that, right? There are too many strong heroes in the game to guarantee that you can draft your opponent into a corner, and that's somewhat worse than normal against Alliance because there are so many heroes that they play extremely well.

DK definitely made a big mistake in picking Spectre first, though. The Spectre wasn't necessarily a bad pick (although I can't see how it could have worked out), but it's not a pick that would have been contested. They could have left her for last without any danger of Alliance picking or banning her. Giving up a powerful early pick slot like that certainly contributed to their getting outdrafted.
posted by IAmUnaware at 5:10 PM on August 9, 2013

Na'Vi vs TongFu game 3 was deeply ridiculous.
posted by IAmUnaware at 7:44 PM on August 9, 2013

Na'Vi vs TongFu game 3 - another amazing game, direct link to game start (end of draft)
posted by xdvesper at 8:59 PM on August 9, 2013

The in-game tutorial overview is just another ultra basic, but good video to introduce the game.
posted by bdz at 8:29 AM on August 10, 2013

The bans seem very important, and correspondingly very underrepresented visually during the draft. (Tiny sidebar vs. big picture.) Come on, UI designers! Give us some clues. Also, the end-game stats seem mostly moot. The commentary and guides stress the importance of building your character up over time, or in certain ways. Some more visual displays of how their performance changes during the course of a game would be nice. (Maybe serious football fans feel this way?)
posted by Going To Maine at 9:53 AM on August 10, 2013

Some of the endgame stats are pretty important, but ultimately you're right. It's a scoreboard that doesn't actually measure the score of the game (which is always 1 - 0). GPM and XPM (that's gold per minute and experience per minute) are quite important, though, and the gold and XP graphs often tell the story of the game in a clear but simplistic manner. The long and the short of it is that really the only things that really matter are the Ancient and, correspondingly, the things you must destroy to get to it, but every little bit of gold and XP you can scrape together makes destroying the Ancient easier. You will occasionally see a team win while behind on kills, XP, and gold, but it is overwhelmingly the case that the team with the most gold is "winning".

As for picks vs bans, the primary value of the bans is in the disruption of multi-hero strategies, which is why they're spread out throughout the draft in that manner. There are a few heroes that are disruptive enough on their own that they warrant frequent bans (Batrider, maybe Pudge against Na'Vi, sort of Io although his strength really lies in combination with a certain other class of hero), but mostly it's about keeping your opponent off of the overall game strategy that they would like to use. It would be nice if the ban images were a little bit larger, but I do think they have pretty limited UI space. Maybe they could lay them out above/below the team's hero picks in boxes slightly larger than the ones they have now.

I could talk all day about the strategies and dynamics of the draft. Captain's Mode adds a lot to the game and I admire the skill it takes to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, it's not very fun to play Captain's Mode without a full team of friends. Playing it with strangers from the Internet always ends poorly for me.
posted by IAmUnaware at 11:49 AM on August 10, 2013

Guys! This Na'Vi versus Alliance thing! It's so fast.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:52 PM on August 10, 2013

I was really disappointed by game 2 of Na'Vi vs Alliance. Na'Vi had it completely if they pushed, but instead they backed off to the jungle to screw around and farm for 10 minutes and gave Alliance time to regain their footing and find an opening. Of course, the players don't have access to the graphs and they don't know exactly how far ahead they are, but Na'Vi usually has better gamesense than that.
posted by IAmUnaware at 9:08 PM on August 10, 2013

Whaaaaaat? 16 minutes!
posted by Going To Maine at 5:20 PM on August 11, 2013

The way this match has progressed has caused my previous comment to make me look like a doof.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:35 PM on August 11, 2013

My heart cannot take this match.
posted by IAmUnaware at 8:59 PM on August 11, 2013

Dota2 won
posted by bdz at 1:23 AM on August 12, 2013

I'ma just watch replays alllll day.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:00 AM on August 12, 2013

The last match... Just wow.
posted by bdz at 5:08 AM on August 13, 2013

Can anyone explain the all star game? The hero choices were radically different from the other games, but DOTA is still alien enough to me that I'm not clear why those heroes qualified as comic. Just because they didn't particularly complement each other well, or because of some established strangeness. (e.g. Meepo is singular, though I'm not clear why his odd abilities would necessarily make a skilled team less likely to choose him.)
posted by Going To Maine at 10:06 PM on August 13, 2013

Because his ultimate is almost unplayable? Cloning himself and you have to control all of them.
posted by bdz at 1:08 AM on August 14, 2013

Meepo is the most extreme example. The crowd also got worked up over the choices of Juggernaut and Skeleton King, for example, and they seem pretty conventional.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:04 AM on August 14, 2013

As I understood it, Meepo was hilarious because of the insane amount of "Michael skills" necessary to make him useful. (Earlier, Bruno, one of the analysts, was telling Kaci to ask about someone's "micro skills" and she misheard it and asked, "What about Michael?" So "Michael skills" became a thing.

I think that Meepo is supposed to be very hard to play competitively because of the insane micromanagement required, which is why he almost never seems competitive play?

I thought that the Sniper pick was kind of the same, in that Sniper also isn't used competitively. (In the video I remember one of the allstars saying incredulously, "You're going to make me play Sniper?" Although there's an argument that running Sniper against an all-melee team was actually good drafting.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:40 PM on August 14, 2013

Right, so I guess what I'm trying to understand is why aren't particular heroes in vogue for competitive play? What is it about sniper that makes him non-competitive?
posted by Going To Maine at 1:48 PM on August 14, 2013

Because he is a beginner's hero? The one used in the tutorial, one of the easiest one... dunno. Actually not really useful, only thing he can do is shot from out of sight. Good to learn the basics but nothing extra.

Btw if you look at the limited heroes pool (the 20 heroes for beginners) you can find some great ones that used in competitive play. Like Tidehunter, Drow Ranger... etc.
posted by bdz at 4:35 PM on August 14, 2013

And weak, you can't escape with him, extremely fragile... etc.
posted by bdz at 4:42 PM on August 14, 2013

Right, so I guess what I'm trying to understand is why aren't particular heroes in vogue for competitive play? What is it about sniper that makes him non-competitive?
posted by Going To Maine at 1:48 PM on August 14 [+] [!]

Of the roughly 100 heroes in the game, ideally you'd want all of them to be "viable". However, just because a hero is viable doesn't mean you will see him picked. The teams would need to have practiced with the hero and feel confident enough in fielding them. (Crystal Maiden in 2013, say, acknowledged to be strong, but only making an appearance at TI3)

The heroes you mention, Juggernaut, Skeleton King and Meepo are indeed unpicked, and for various reasons, but the single common thread running through them is that they are "greedy" heroes that need farm priority, yet fall off in strength in the late-game. When you play those heroes, you're putting all your eggs in that one basket - you need to win by 30 minutes, if the game goes on to 40 or 50 minutes you're going to be at an increasing disadvantage.

I might explain farm priority briefly here - there's limited resources (gold and experience) on the map, and you need to decide how to divvy them up between your 5 heroes. In a general game the distribution looks like this.

Mid lane - high exp, moderate gold
Safe Lane Carry - high gold, moderate exp
Off Lane Solo - moderate exp, low gold
Supports x2 - low exp, low gold

Juggernaut needs early Phase Boots and some initial items to come online (he relies on being faster than his opponent) and he can't mid or offlane, which forces him into your safelane. This means that the safelane slot, normally reserved for your hard-carry - the hero that will shine in the late-game - will be replaced by the Juggernaut, who shines in the mid-game instead. Experienced teams will "turtle up" and play it safe against your Juggernaut until their own hard carry becomes super strong 40 minutes in and then just beat you in a straight fight. It's viable as a "last pick" in a draft to surprise your opponents and they won't get the chance to counter-pick a defensive lineup (Na'Vi did that against iG last year).

Meepo is a bit of a joke hero for now, I think. He's probably strong enough to be viable, but no one currently in the competitive scene plays him seriously, and no team has really practiced with him. Someday one player might (like how Admiral Bulldog plays Lone Druid or how Funnik plays Bone Clinkz). It's not that the micro aspect of Meepo is hard, though everyone jokes about it... it's more about how much farm Meepo steals from the rest of your team especially in teamfights - he counts as 5 heroes, so if you have 4 heroes + 5 Meepos in the teamfight, any experience gets divided 9 ways, so more than half the experience from hero kills goes to Meepo. It's a fascinating mechanic with some interesting implications, there have been games where Meepo is level 25 while everyone else is still level 15, but no team has really figured out how to properly exploit this.

Skeleton King suffers from a lack of mobility. His hero design was probably more suited to the era he was conceived in, some 7 years ago. Since then, mobility has become a lot more important, it's an arms race of sorts. Defensive items such as Force Staff and Ghost Scepter have become available... Force Staff can push an ally away 600 distance, and Ghost Scepter gives you physical immunity for 4 seconds. Skeleton King, lacking any kind of mobility skill, just gets kited endlessly and killed as his targets either become physical immune or jump away, and his burst damage is poor even if he manages to catch up to someone.

All these explanations don't really make sense in a vacuum, until you compare them to what other carries offer. Other heroes can lack mobility as well, but offer other things in return - Sven and Ursa have high burst damage, Doom offers good disables, etc. I think you could make a good argument that Skeleton King is underpowered right now, but just because I can't think up a good use for him doesn't mean that one doesn't potentially exist... there have been many times in DOTA history where an unloved hero makes a stunning apperance in a tournament. But seriously anytime you could pick Skeleton King you could pick Naix instead and be better off...

Sniper (and Drow, while we're at it) are squishy carries with no lane presence and no flash farming ability. For the first 5 levels all they do is ... autoattack. They're like ranged creeps! Without the ability to flash farm (using AOE to kill creeps) they can't accelerate their gold income the way Shadowfiend, Gyrocopter or Razor can, so they always end up under-farmed relative to other carries. So they're relatively weak early, and also relatively weak late. The few games where Drow or Sniper has been picked they've been run in the safelane as the hard carry and to my knowledge, the enemy just ran an offensive trilane against them and just flat out won. That game I think Drow had 2 creep kills by 5 minutes in. Sniper + 2 supports versus random carry + 2 supports will lose most of the time. A good example of a ranged carry with good lane presence is Gyrocopter - he offers a stun and great AOE even before level 6. Sniper and Drow also can't mid properly because they don't have the necessary qualities - you either want AOE and/or mobility skills to win the runes (QOP, Mirana, Beastmaster) or extremely high base damage that allows you last hit and deny everything (QOP, Outworld Devourer) or... just resign yourself to losing the lane but have some very powerful game changing ultimate that you will use to contribute later (Nightstalker, Magnus, Wisp). Drow and Sniper have none of these qualities, they can't play any other role than safelane carry, yet they get straight up destroyed by an offensive trilane there. Again, I think you could make the argument that Sniper and Drow are underpowered.

All my explanations are regarding competitive play. In pub play, which is 99% of games that go on, all those heroes are perfectly fine, with decent win rates, because even if they get picked the opponents don't bother to counter them, everyone just does their own thing, there's not enough coordination or even desire to win.

I think answering your broader question is going to be too hard here, as it also deals with overall larger trends in the game.... TI2 had longer average game lengths and more games with "fully farmed" carries like Spectre Morphling, Antimage, while TI3 had much faster games with an emphasis on pushing and early aggression with carries that come online faster.
posted by xdvesper at 9:25 PM on August 14, 2013

xdvesper, thanks for that extended explanation. I'm really quite taken with the depth of a lot of what's going on in the game.

On a totally different note, Kaci Aitchison, the woman who did interviews at TI3, just finished up an AMA on Reddit. It's a great read.

This captures a lot of attitudes about online gaming, I thought:
Before this experience, I really thought gaming was this sedentary, solo thing. I HATE that I thought that. I was totally wrong. It's so much more of a community than anyone outside of it realizes. And it's evolved a lot since the 'gaming' i pictured from back in the day.

I was also particularly impressed with her take on women in DOTA.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 11:00 PM on August 14, 2013

xdvesper, you are the best!
posted by bdz at 2:16 AM on August 15, 2013

This is very helpful. Thanks! Having begun to steal data from DotaBuff, I 'm trying to figure out how to best explore...
posted by Going To Maine at 6:15 AM on August 15, 2013

Finally had time to sit down and watch a match, the final game. Much fun, thanks again for this post. I love that this level of strategic game is a big e-sports.

But.. the game camera was driving me insane! So hurky jerky. And the mouse pointer was visible, although I managed to ignore that after about 20 minutes. Compare to a LoL cast. I think the main difference is that the LoL spectator client has slower smooth camera movement for transitions. Also it's common when watching LoL to just follow a champion, so the movement is more naturally smooth. It looked like the DotA 2 caster was just moving the camera frame around at high speed, frequently. The DotA 2 client has such amazing spectator and replay capabilities, really superior to LoL in almost every way. Except this one bit, how it looks in a broadcast.
posted by Nelson at 7:11 AM on August 15, 2013

Nelson, I think from a spectator point of view LOL does simply have that as an advantage - the game is played more zoomed out, so the view doesn't have to shift as much, and the skills are generally more toned down.

In DOTA2, for example, Blink Dagger can teleport you 2/3 the length of the screen and it's on a 12 second cooldown, while Flash will let you cross 1/6th the length of the screen on a 5 minute cooldown. Pudge's Hook and Blitz's Grab follow roughly the same pattern. Following the action is a difficult task for the spectate camera and necessarily requires a lot of jumping around, while in a teamclash in LOL the spectator just centres the camera on the lane and his job is done. If the caster did that in DOTA2 or just centred the camera on a particular hero the view would be terrible and not show very much at all.

It's been the topic of much debate as to what is the "perfect" level of zoom, and I'm sure Riot thought long and hard about extending the camera view. But clearly there are advantages and disadvantages to both zoom levels.
posted by xdvesper at 8:17 AM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thanks for the explanation, xdvesper. I liked how the fights in DotA ranged over a bigger part of the map. Also loved the graphical effects in general, particularly the Wisp. Really beautiful.

Is destroying trees to change the strategic terrain a big part of the game? It seemed important in that final tournament game, particularly in the early ganks. That's a neat extra feature, another way DotA 2 seems like a more complex game than LoL.
posted by Nelson at 8:27 AM on August 15, 2013

Is destroying trees to change the strategic terrain a big part of the game?

Partly related: One thing that struck me first that how the terrain is important at the river for example. A unit on a lower ground attacking higher suffers a 25% miss chance. And that can change the strategy.
posted by bdz at 9:07 AM on August 15, 2013

Started watching some replays today... has anyone noticed that the player labels on the main site have changed? For instance, in this replay of the second championship game, two of Na'Vi's players have been renamed "Never Go Full Retard" and "Thrower", while one of Alliance's players has been renamed "orvarv".
posted by Going To Maine at 1:44 PM on August 15, 2013

Nelson: Yes, terrain is more complex in DOTA2, again that could be a flaw or benefit depending on your point of view. DOTA2 uses "true" line of sight, so you could play ring-around-the-rosie on a single tree, for example, or use trees to "juke" enemies in a somewhat more complex way than in LOL brush. This effect is amplified by the fact that heroes have turn rates and acceleration rates, which makes doubling back take time (while in LOL turning around is instant) so forcing the person chasing you to take a step to the left instead of to the right will gain you a lot more ground.

When warding, it's sometimes necessary to destroy trees to free up a greater view angle or to place the ward in an unexpected location. Many items and spells will destroy trees, which have strategic uses - deny cover to the enemy as they are fleeing or hiding, or simply to increase the amount of vision you have to protect yourself from ganks. For example, if a Broodmother is soloing the offlane against multiple opponents, she'll usually use her webs to destroy large areas of trees so she can't be ganked from the forest - it's actually one of the reasons why she can solo offlane. You also can't see uphill, so you have to be wary when chasing a fleeing opponent up a ramp - he could reach the top of the ramp and start channeling a devastating spell (Mushi did this with his Shadowfiend against the other team's Weaver) or in fact their entire team could we waiting to ambush you there. Not to say you can't do essentially the same thing in LOL, as Nunu you can flee the enemy team, run into brush and start channeling his ultimate and they all run into the brush with you just as you blow them up. LOL just does it in a more streamlined manner (in brush? out of brush?), DOTA2 is somewhat more random and organic / natural (true line of sight around trees, no line of sight uphill).

Also another thing to notice about vision in DOTA2 is the day / night cycle, vision is vastly curtailed at night (day vision is normally 1800 range and night vision is 800 range) so ganking is a lot easier at night - the game generally follows a cycle where heroes farm more in the day and gank / play more defensively at night. The first day / night cycle is particularly important, it's roughly timed so that some heroes hit their ultimate (level 6) as night falls for the first time. As you might expect some heroes have thematically more vision at night (Nightstalker, Luna, Drow) this has a pretty big impact on teamfights because Luna can see 1800 range at night while most heroes only see 800 range at night. Nightstalker has a really cool ability where if he buys an Aghanim's Scepter, it upgrades his ultimate to give him "flying vision" at night, vision that's completely unobstructed by trees and terrain. You really can't hide from him, haha, which is very fitting for his theme as the ultimate ganker at night time.

Some abilities allow you to go "through" impassable terrain like trees where your opponents cannot follow - like Spectre's Spectral Dagger, or any hero with a Blink type spell, so the heroes chasing them either have to cut the trees with abilities or give up.

Going to Maine: The "name" you see in the game is their current Steam Profile name which they can change at any time. This allows players a degree of anonymity when playing the game, though I suspect this was not an intended feature - it's just something you can do in Steam, and DOTA2 just piggybacks off that. If you go to their Steam profile or third party stats sites like DOTABUFF you can find a list of names that player previously played as.
posted by xdvesper at 4:19 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just some final words, I made an infographic earlier in the year, stuff I normally post on a DOTA2 site I maintain showing the relative popularity of heroes split by skill bracket - while player ratings are hidden, each game is "tagged" with a label calling it Normal / High / Very High - the Very High Skill games represent 4% of all games played in DOTA2 and generally have a very different distribution of heroes to Normal games, which are the bottom 83% of all games played in DOTA2. This is old and probably needs to be redone when I have time, but it does partially answer the question of how certain heroes are viable competitively and why some are not - different skill level of play allows different types of heroes to shine, so even though Sniper and Drow are "not viable" in competitive play they are hugely popular in the lower brackets.
posted by xdvesper at 5:37 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

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