Dota: An Odyssey

Dota 2 has become much more than a video game for me and many of my friends. At over 1000 hours invested, I have put more into this free-to-play video game than I have some of my favorite series. More time into it than I’ve spent doing most other things aside from the essentials in my life; eating, reading, driving, etc. I can’t even begin to fathom that transformation and thought processes that got me here. But I know I haven’t traveled alone.

For me, Dota 2 began May 10th, 2013 with an match against AI bots. I was Sniper, a hero notorious for his playability as well as his propensity to swing a game back in his team’s favor. Sniper is a gnome-like assassin exiled by his people to fulfill a prophecy he stumbled upon after killing a beast in the cliffs above his village. Sniper is also a ranged carry; a hero who needs help from his teammates to reach his maximum potential mid-late game. In Sniper’s case, that’s killing. I ended the match with one kill, 16 deaths, and no assists. Knowing what I know about the character now, my skill build is acceptable, but veered in the wrong direction with some misused ability points as I peaked at level 11(/25). Only two of my six item slots were filled. The first was Boots of Speed, an early-game staple for nearly every hero as it adds 50 movement speed, which is crucial for escaping unwanted engagements and chasing wounded or out of position targets. The second item was the consumable Teleport Scroll, which allows players to travel across the map to their base or towers quickly, every minute.

The first thing I learned about Dota – other than it was incredibly difficult – was taking towers is very important, especially in those early games. Killing other heroes is, arguably, equally as crucial, but that endeavor takes far more skill than I clearly had then. Thankfully, playing with three of my best friends (our fifth player, a friend of a friend) made a blur of frustration and attempts to apply knowledge on the fly palatable. Dare I say, enjoyable. I was over Sniper. I’m kind of still over Sniper. Among the various roles in Dota 2, Carry is not one I specialize in. If anything that early pick sent me down a different path. After that first bot match ended, we played one more. This time I chose Sven, a carry whose attacks primarily require him to melee at close proximity to the enemy. Like most new players, found the character that would become my comfort food through most of my next ten matches. Sven infiltrated the order that executed his father and ostracized his mother to an early grave, then vowed to bring it down. After succeeding, he now lives by his own code of honor and seeks glory on the battlefield.

Too Strong

Too Strong

In my second match (a win), I managed three kills and two kill assists while still feeding the enemy bot team 20 deaths. My item build included many of Sven’s core items, or at least pieces of them. I had a stat and damage boosting Bracer; a Morbid Mask, which grants the ability to steal a small amount of health (HP) from any enemy you attack; an Oblivion Staff, which doesn’t build into any common core items for Sven, but does give him improved magic (Mana) regeneration for spell usage, as well as greater damage and attack speed; a Mithril Hammer, which *does* build into one of Sven’s core items, the Black King Bar (BKB), and does a nice bit of bonus damage in the meantime; an Armlet of Mordiggian, another core item for the Rogue Knight, which grants bonus damage, attack speed, and strength at the cost of 40HP per second while the Armlet is active; finally, I managed Boots of Speed again, though I failed to upgrade them.

Dizzying, right? I didn’t go into specifics of stats and how they help or hinder the hero. Let alone why the Oblivion Staff isn’t a great choice. All of this is independent of my skill build for that game, which started off great until I got Sven’s Ultimate skill. Ultimates grant a gamechanging ability for a limited about of time usually, though there are exceptions. Sven’s is God’s Strength and it grants bonus damage for a period of time based on his main stat or attribute of Strength. The higher his Strength, the greater the damage increase. You can see how item stat bonuses come into play here. It’s easiest to think of Dota as Valve’s attempt to solve the greatest math problem of all time by simulating thousands upon thousands of variables and outcomes. At least, it was for me early on. Don’t sweat the math. It’ll begin to make sense down the road. I didn’t know any of this when I clicked my first few steps out of base as Sniper. Speaking of Sniper, the key differences in those characters boil down to their primary stat and how they attack. You’ll recall Sniper does damage at range, but grows based on his Agility rather than Strength, like Sven. The third stat is Intelligence, which is now my favorite type of character.

As a point of order, Sniper’s ultimate skill is Assassinate. It’s impossible to escape from within a huge range after he takes aim and does a staggering amount of damage through early to mid-game (on average, mid-game is 15-35 minutes). We’ll get back to this another time, maybe after we get some more matches under our belts, huh?

Sniper and Sven helped me through the earliest stages of my Dota career and maybe they’ll help you, too. Over those first dozen games, my item builds improved as I began understanding core items, my ability builds normalized, and following two public game losses, Sven finally helped me to my first public match victory. Of course, my friends were there too working through things with me. If there’s one thing I’d recommend it’s to play with friends over a VoIP service like Skype, Teamspeak, or the legendary Ventrilo. It’ll be far less frustrating than playing with random people and communication is vital, so save yourself some sanity. As I continue researching my old games, that those experiences are shared is the thing I cherish most. As I begin writing this, I noticed that my friend’s friend who playted that first game with us had changed his alias to Ulysses. The beginning of an odyssey, then.

If readers enjoy this, I could follow it up with other posts of varying themes, exploring different aspects of Dota 2 as I’ve experienced them. My goal is to come across as straightforward as I possibly can so if this was too “inside baseball,” feel free to offer suggestions (even on something you’d like to my take on). It’s hard to stare back at this 1000 hours later and not over think it. If you have any questions about anything I covered in this piece, want to talk shop, or want a recommendation of who to play, please leave a comment!


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