If you own a computer of any type, you’ve probably heard about Valve, the company behind the digital distribution platform, Steam, which they use to make infinity billion dollars every three months or so by selling games for incredibly low prices. You may also know that Valve is also game developer, though their production tends to take a very long time and is shrouded in almost complete secrecy. Over the last few years, a relatively small team within Valve has been constantly at work on their current flagship game and money printing machine, Dota 2.
Now to be fair, not everyone has heard of this game, as it fills somewhat of a competitive niche, but rest assured, it is quite an interesting thing. In a single sentence, it’s a game where two teams of five players each pick a hero from a pool of playable characters and fight to knock over their opponent’s base. To expand upon that, let me just mention that I’ve put at least 700 hours into it at last count and have probably hated about 400 of those hours. Now you know the basics of the gameplay and the spirit of Dota.
Like Thunderdome, But Sweatier
Dota 2 is the sequel to Defense of the Ancients (usually abbreviated as DotA or DOTA), which itself was a mod for the real-time strategy game Warcraft III. Dota 2 is a fun and addictive game on its own, but what’s most interesting about Dota is the culmination of every year’s national tournaments into a single massive world tournament known as The International, a tournament that started with a then unheard of grand prize of one million dollars 4 years ago and currently holds a ten million dollar prize pool.
This year, The International is being held from July 18th to July 21st at Seattle’s KeyArena, a venue with a capacity of over 17,000 people. 16 teams from around the globe are set to compete for a shot at the grand prize, an as-yet-unreleased chunk of that $10 million prize pool. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a fan of “eSports,” but The International is really a tournament unlike any other. It’s a veritable World Cup for the competitive gaming community, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the action.
Dota 2: The King of Gaming
The objective of Dota is very simple; break all of your opponents’ shit before they can break yours. The map is a essentially a square, cut in half diagonally with three “lanes” carved out in the middle, top, and bottom of the map. These lanes are lined with three defensive towers and protected by waves of small computer-controlled allies called “creeps.” The towers are pretty dangerous for a single hero to try to destroy, as they fight back, and require teamwork and waves of creeps to push down.
Generally teams split up into a group of two in the top lane, two in the bottom, and one in the middle. This is all very subjective, as unique strategies developed in professional games end up working their way into amateur games where average players try to mimic them. The constant though is that players will often try to pick heroes with abilities that complement each other. Every hero has a role, and these include…
Carries: While initially weak, these characters become more dangerous the longer they gather experience points, gain new abilities, and collect gold to buy items and improve their attributes. They do large amounts of damage and can be the key to winning or losing, hence the term “carry,” as they carry much of the match’s weight.
Supports: These heroes can generally improve the abilities of their allies, stun or disable enemies, cast large spells that cause damage or disruption over wide areas, and other annoying things. Supports tend to scale laterally throughout the game and generally never become as strong and powerful as a carry. Because of this, they are generally paired with a carry to help them get kills, which helps them become strong, faster.
Initiators: A group of mostly beefy heroes that can take large amounts of damage before dying, initiators are the first ones into a fight and make it their goal to draw the brunt of the other team’s attention while their allies try to win the fight before they keel over. These heroes might not do a ton of damage on their own or have the most devastating abilities, but what they lack in those fields they make up for in staying power.
Gankers: These are similar to carries but generally become dangerous very quickly, and are meant to roam between lanes and help pick off lone heroes to throw the match off balance as quickly as possible. Like carries, these heroes become more and more dangerous over time, but generally contribute less to team fights, die quickly when outnumbered, and scale unevenly over time. They might hit their peak during the mid period of a game and become outclassed the longer the match goes on.
Junglers/Offlaners: These are the odd roles that don’t come up incredibly often. Junglers spend a large portion of the game in the wooded area called the jungle, located on one side of each team’s territory. Inside are neutral monsters that can be killed over and over for gold and experience, this is called “farming.” Now, this throws off the balance of the lanes, so when someone plays as a jungler, someone else will often compensate with an offlane carry. This is basically a person that takes on a lane of two heroes, which while tougher, gains them levels quicker as they don’t have to split their experience points with a teammate.
Easy There, Killer, It’s a Team Effort After All
While this sums up 90% of a Dota match, there are a few additional outliers. For instance, the gold I mentioned is used to buy items that can be consumed to heal, teleport you to a friendly structure, or provide vision in an area without any heroes to monitor it. More importantly, it can be used to buy items that improve a hero’s abilities or even add additional powers to their repertoire.
There is also a pit inhabited by a large monster named Roshan. If your team can kill it, it drops an item called the Aegis which will automatically revive the hero that holds it a few seconds after death. This one-time-use item is very useful for turning the tide of a fight or contributing to a successful attack on enemy structures. The Aegis can be picked up multiple times, as Roshan respawns a set time after it is killed.
Finally, each base contains two special structures. The first are the barracks. These are located in each lane, directly behind the 3rd tier of towers. Once they are broken, the opposing creeps in that lane become much more powerful mega creeps. The second structure is the Ancient. This is the core of the base, situated behind two final towers. It is invincible until those two towers fall, but once they do it can be destroyed, ending the game. This is the ultimate goal, destroying the Ancient. As soon as it falls, the game ends, regardless of any other standing structures.
On the Next Episode
Now that you have a general idea about how the game is played, later this week I will introduce some of the favorite teams, so that you can have a better idea about who to cheer for should you decide to watch The International this year! If you’re interested in trying the game for yourself, it’s available through Steam and completely free to play. However, you might want to try out the tutorials or at least watch some videos first before attempting a game yourself, as the learning curve is a little steep. If you still don’t get Dota 2, here’s a handy guide by Dota‘s foremost humorist!
Check back later this week for the second part of Kyle Herr’s guide to Dota 2 and The International!