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Beginner’s Guide to Dota 2

So you’ve heard about Dota 2 from your friends, colleagues or perhaps on some gaming community website. Maybe you consider yourself a gamer; not hardcore, but more than just casual iPhone games on the bus or train. You’ve played the odd strategy title, commanded armies, managed resources and fought epic battles. You’re ready for this. So you download through Steam, get home from work and feel like giving it a shot. You sit down, briefly tussle with the interface, and manage to start a search for a game. “I can skip the tutorials, I’ll figure it out as I go.” is your thought as the search finishes, the game loads and you enter your first Dota game.

Skip to five minutes in. There are great chunks of your hair strewn around your desk, screaming frustration, sadness and rage at you as you feverishly tear your gaze away from the monitor. You look for your mouse, and find it embedded in the wall next to the keyboard-shaped indent. Your ears are bleeding from the horrific personal abuse over voice-chat, your screen is filled with cries of “Noob!”, “Omg stop feeding”, and….. the dreaded “Uninstall please”. My mistake, there are no manners or expectations of polite behaviour in Dota, so forget the “please” and insert personal insult comprised of abuse and hatred. Oh and don’t forget the CAPS WHICH DENOTE SHOUTING AND ANGER.

So you emerge from your first game of Dota dazed, bleeding and sad. Those same friendly internet folk you’ve met in forums, Facebook and Twitter have somehow mutated into savage, howling beasts determined to make your online experience equivalent to Hell. It is the first time you have finished a gaming session in tears, and far from enjoying your supposed ‘playtime’ you hated every second of it.

How did this happen? Aren’t games supposed to be about having fun? Isn’t online multiplayer a fun way to interact with others for a shared enjoyable experience?

Welcome to Dota 2. You have arrived in a new world of gaming, one which doesn’t play by the usual rules and regulations. Friendliness, forgiveness and fun have been replaced by another F-word, which howls through the atmosphere of Dota World like hatred personified in weather form. Dota World does NOT welcome strangers, has no welcome doormats where you can wipe your shoes, and is frustrating, soul-destroying and hostile to navigate as a newcomer. But not to worry, this guide is here to help.

There are many beginner guides out there; this one aims to address the psychology of Dota and how you should approach your entry into Dota World mentally. Dota is not a game where you can sit down for a while and then walk away from; it is a fully fledged sub-culture you must dive into heart and soul, mind and body, for better or worse. Mostly worse, at least in the beginning.

First rule: do not take things personally. If you are ever going to learn to actually enjoy playing Dota, you MUST not take to heart the things people say and type at you. Remember this is no ordinary online interaction. Dota-based online interaction takes place within the context of savage competition, in a ruthless winner-takes-all arena where losers are vilified, abused and ostracised. In order to survive long enough to actually learn the ropes, your mindset must be able to ignore negative external feedback and focus on individual improvement. In any normal community you would try to learn from external feedback, negative or otherwise, assuming it was in any part constructive. In Dota, 99% of feedback will be negative and absolutely unconstructive, being comprised of colourful personal insults and nothing else. Ignore it, concentrate on learning the basics, move on to the next soul-shattering defeat.

Second rule of Dota Club: be prepared to lose. A lot. Dota is a competitive game; players – both on your team and the opposition – will strive their utmost to beat you, and there is no sympathy for beginners. People will take ruthless advantage of the fact that you have no idea what you’re doing. Even if you’re not naturally competitive, the nature of the game makes losing extremely painful and frustrating. Allow me to explain.

In Dota, you control one character. If that character is killed, you come back to life after a short wait. If you are on the losing team, this can happen repeatedly within a short space of time. Even as a beginner with no understanding of how the game works, every single time you die you are brutally reminded of how bad you are. Over the course of a 30 minute game, it is very possible to die over 20 times. Momentum is hard to break in Dota – once you start losing (and dying) it’s very hard to stop, and the feeling of helplessness carries over into subsequent games. While you are learning the basics of Dota you WILL end up feeling helplessly stuck in an endless cycle of painful, frustrating losses. The important thing is to learn to accept the situation, and not let any short term anguish affect your long term outlook on learning Dota.

The third rule is perhaps the most important: you must be patient. Dota is a wonderfully complex game, despite its simplistic appearance, and will take a lot of game-time and research to master. On the surface it seems deceptively simple: it feels like an RTS (real time strategy) but instead of a base and armies you only have to control one character. Beneath the surface, however, lurk countless game mechanics which all interact with each other in complex, arbitrary and sometimes even hidden, ways. These include but are definitely not limited to: item choice, gold management, last hitting / denying, experience gain / hero level, vision / warding, spell radius / range / cooldowns, tower push / split-push / defend, Roshan…… you get my point. Oh and there are currently 107 heroes you can choose to control each game, each with unique abilities and unique interactions with the other 106.

Still want to give it a go? Dota is definitely not for the faint-hearted, and has a steeper learning curve than Everest. Read this guide, Google others, play some bots before you play a real match. Just be prepared for a long, frustrating, painful learning process which will continue as long as you play Dota. And know that at some point, the rewards will be great, for make no mistake: Dota is possibly the most engaging, replayable online multiplayer game out there.

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