Dota 2 doesn’t seem to care whether you know how to play it or not.
Earlier this week I talked about how great sports coverage laid a foundation for my interest in MOBAs like Dota 2. Then I discussed how the aggressive DLC and annualization of AAA multiplayer has driven my friends toward free to play games, especially Dota 2.
But as I’ve been reminded in comments both here and on Twitter over and over, there’s an elephant in the room: the biggest barrier to getting into Dota 2 is Dota 2 itself. It has over a hundred heroes, with more on the way. It has a complex item system. It carries over some of the more sophisticated level mechanics of real-time strategy games. Much of the audience is toxic, full of homophobia, racism, abusive language, and sometimes deliberate team sabotage.
There is a wall that many people see in front of Dota 2, and it can be hard to climb. Like many challenges, it’s best to find some help to start.
PLAY THE TUTORIAL
You wouldn’t play a sport with a bunch of strangers without knowing how it works. Dota 2does have a tutorial and, while it offers a small taste of the game’s depth, it’s better than nothing. You’ll learn a few heroes (including Sniper, a popular, incredibly annoying pick), and you’ll learn about the kinds of abilities characters have and how to activate them.
This is all very intro-level, but it’s incredibly important, especially if you don’t have much experience with Warcraft 3, which is the evolutionary basis for the modern MOBA genre. You’ll also get a very basic introduction to items. Learn what Tangos are. You’ll be using them often.
FIND A COACH
This might seem premature, but my first experiences with Dota 2 skipped past the “playing with bots” stage and went straight to “playing with friends who knew how to play Dota 2.” I’m impatient. I started playing Dota 2 specifically because it was the only thing anyone I knew was playing with any regularity, and I wanted to play games with my friends. It was only later that I started playing without them. This is what allowed me to find fun right away, as opposed to struggling against bots in a game I didn’t understand. I asked a ton of questions as we played and, because these were people who wanted me to understand the game, no question was seen as stupid.
There are a number of resources online, but constant supportive communication early on was key in getting me involved and keeping me from fleeing in terror at the prospect of Dota 2‘s complexity. So, if you’ve got friends on your Steam list who play Dota 2, ask if they’d be willing to show you the ropes. Also, get a mic. Voice communication is critical, especially when you’re learning. This should be seen as mandatory.
ON THE OTHER HAND, PLAY AGAINST BOTS
My sister started playing Dota 2 months before I did, primarily learning the game by using online resources and, unlike me, playing against bots. She played matches against the AI hundreds of times to learn the game and, as Dota 2‘s bot AI tends to be very aggressive, it’s not a bad primer on player behavior in public, unranked games.
The result after hundreds of games is that my sister has a better win-loss record in matches than I do. That’s not indicative of skill necessarily — and my team beat her team when we were randomly matched against her and her new Dota 2 friends, thank you very much — but she’s put in a ton of practice and has used the in-game guides to learn heroes and the game very well.
I also play bot matches occasionally, for a very specific purpose: I can try new heroes, and pause the game to search online for strategies on how best to employ their abilities. It’s a test environment where you can screw around without hurting your team or embarrassing yourself, and with a game like Dota 2, that’s really important. The best way to avoid criticism from the community is to not be new, and the best way to not be new is to play against the AI.
USE IN-GAME GUIDES
You’ll see an open book icon in the upper-left corner of Dota 2‘s in-game UI. This is the guide menu, which contains player-written and rated guides for every hero in Dota 2. I like guides written by Purge personally, but explore different builds for heroes in bot matches to find the ones that seem most tailored to your abilities and sensibilities.
Guides aren’t static resources to look at and close. As you earn levels, the guide you’ve selected will highlight the next recommended skill/skill level to pick, while giving the guide writer’s explanation as to what each skill/spell is good for. Guides are just as useful for Dota 2‘s item shop — they create customized lists of recommended items to buy. Remember that guides aren’t a rule-book, and that you can and should deviate based on what your team needs from you. But they’re an excellent starting point to learning characters and the game.
LISTEN TO PEOPLE WHO ARE BETTER THAN YOU AT DOTA 2
I’ll add the caveat that you shouldn’t put up with a ton of abuse from teammates, and I advise using the mute button in these cases; it’s found by holding the “~” key in-game and clicking the speaker icon next to the offending player. That said, the best way to learn how to play Dota 2 is to play with people who know more about it than you do. They can tell you where you should be, what hero best fits in the existing lineup, what items the team needs, etc. Also, people are more inclined to help you if you seem keen to help the team. Noobs aren’t actually the worst teammates in Dota 2 — stubborn players who want to do their own thing are, and most people I’ve played with seem to know that. This segues nicely into my next suggestion, which is …
PLAY SUPPORT HEROES
It’s important to learn about hero roles in Dota 2 as quickly as possible, but as a beginner I gravitated towards support characters. Support heroes are self-explanatory – they act to help the more powerful damage-dealing characters survive and win the game. They’re also usually responsible for spending their gold on consumable items to help the team. If you want to get on your team’s good side, offer to buy the courier before heroes are even picked. Tell them you’re playing support. As you learn more heroes, let them know which supports you’re capable with and ask how you can fit into the team lineup for the most success.
In my experience, this has had two effects. First, as I’ve gotten better about helping my team, rather than playing the character I arbitrarily want to play at any moment, I’ve had a better time. But also, I find that positive behavior in lobbies helps create a better environment in chat with random team members. Good vibes are often contagious. And when my team is working together, positively communicating with each other, I have more fun, even if we lose. As you’re learning the game, figure out what kinds of heroes you’re best with. Maybe you won’t need to roll support for long, and you’ll be a better asset as a carry hero, focused on doing damage and winning team fights.
GO OUTSIDE THE GAME
You’ll learn a lot about playing Dota 2 by playing Dota 2, but eventually you’ll want to venture outside the game client into the greater community. Having more than eight million unique monthly players has the side effect of an enormous amount of community-generated content, and much of it is quite good. And if you’re new, there’s good news: you don’t have to participate in it to benefit from it. Outside of the community is the professional circuit, and this might be the most eye-opening experience you’ll have with Dota 2. Professional competitions will show you ways to play heroes that you never imagined, and give primers on high level tactics and strategy on everything from map control to macro, which is the ways you handle your character moment to moment.
More importantly, it’s fun to watch Dota 2 when you know what you’re watching. It’s exciting to see high-level play on a game that you understand, and in my experience, MOBAs are second only to fighting games in their readability. They move much more slowly than shooters and there’s more action visible on screen at any given moment, making for something I’ve found much more entertaining to watch. The excitement is contagious.
Hell, the constant chatter this week about The International may be the whole reason you’re reading this in the first place. Now it’s time to take the next step and play the game.