State of Mind

Alt text Have you ever played games like Super Hexagon, Stepmania or Danmaku?

I did, and I am a big fan of this kind of pastime. The trick I've learned over the course of beating harder difficulties in these game is to "turn off" your mind. Stop thinking about everything else, and let the muscles of your fingers get direct commands from the brain - unhampered by reasoning or questioning.

This state of mind is really hard to keep - you will get distracted by something in the outer world or will suddenly remember your ex-girlfriend that has left you heartbroken (It is not as sad as it sounds... but pretty freaking close to it).

And never in the long history of my playing Dota, HoN and Dota 2 have I thought that this state can be achieved in MOBAs. Until...

Forever a Scrub

About 5 months ago began my short history of playing competitively - in the beginning it was very easy. Most of the players in my team were really good. Two of them are 4.9k+ and rising, the rest are in the 4.6k range... and then there is me - a 4.1k. Forever a Scrub.

Soon we started getting some results - we managed to break the hell out of Amateur league very fast - luckily there were qualifiers into the Semi-Pro. Tougher opponents meant we needed to get better ourselves. I was training day and night on relatively easy supports like Crystal Maiden Crystal Maiden and Vengeful Spirit Vengeful Spirit, while leaving some time for R&D in multi-unit control heroes.

The Visage Era

We loved aggressiveness. We could put a Tri-lane by the enemy tower and still farm, while finalizing on any opening our opponent gave us. That is when I decided to ask picking me Visage Visage. The team was very reluctant - they never saw me playing multi-units. But since we've already won two out of three opponents of our group stage, they let me give it a try.

And did it pay off!

While Crystal Maiden and Vengeful Spirit are both very aggressive supports, nothing compares to a Visage in a Tri-Lane vs Tri-Lane situation. A 215 damage nuke at level 1 is a force to be reckoned with.

Soon after Visage was the only hero I've ever played. He was picked first, if not banned, and we rapidly climbed to the top of Semi-Pro. And that is when this happened.

The "Flow".

At first I did not even realize what had happened. Our team shattered, leaving me the only remaining hero on the battlefield from our side. I was facing an almost-full Earthshaker Earthshaker and heavily damaged Gyrocopter Gyrocopter and Crystal Maiden Crystal Maiden. My ultimate just went off cooldown, and I still had two previous familiars alive (had an Aghanim's Scepter already).

We were in the Dire jungle, by the CrossRoads stone (a plateau slightly to the top of Dire T1). I squeezed into the tree pathway by the large camp, with the enemy heroes chasing me. With one of the familiars I pulled the Centaur from the large camp, consequently stunning the three heroes I was facing, while attacking Crystal Maiden with the second familiar. One Soul Assumption and she was gone- right before she could cast Frostbite, which would kill me. I just never gave her the chance.

At this point I was very close to death - Earthshaker had stunned me with the Fissure and Gyrocopter was already dealing damage with Rocket Barrage, melting the layers of my protection. Summoning three new familiars spread the damage, and let me survive on 120 HP. I closed the exit from the trees with one of the familiars, so they had to go all the way around, sending the other one to block it from the other side, while they were stunned.

Trapping them in-between two Familiars in the stone form is what let me kill Gyrocopter - being out of reach of his attack, I right-clicked two attacks, giving the vision with the last Familiar, to once again, finish him off with a Soul Assumption.

The rest was textbook - kiting Earthshaker so that he would always feel like he can kill me, while poking his health away: Alt text

All of the above, except for killing the Earthsaker, happened in less than 10 seconds. For me it felt like an eternity. Everything was in slow-motion - the same kind of state, as in the games I have mentioned in the beginning.

I am not claiming that I am a good player - if anything I am probably somewhere in the top 25% (we all know MMR distribution does not tell the whole story, so me being in a 4.1k+ does not mean I am in the 1% of top players, as Valve's post suggests). The fact that I did this was something extraordinary to me - both because it required a much higher amount of multi-unit control than I posses, as well as some extra thinking in terms of trapping enemy heroes in-between the trees or pulling the Centaur.

So where did this effect come from?

Adrenaline Rush

It is said that people can do unbelievable things when in danger. And I believe this to be true - it has been proven countless time both in real life and scientifically.

In fact, there was an article a couple of years ago, regarding the performance of prominent F1 Drivers in virtual F1 simulators. Initially, they were expecting the results to be better - after all, without the danger of getting physically harmed, the driver could try higher speeds and riskier moves.

The actual outcome was exactly the opposite - drivers under no stress underperformed.

Of course, there are limitations to the technology used - the physics in the real world remains understudied, let alone programmed "models" of it. But the point can still be made: that being fueled by your hormones, one can achieve more.

What about Dota 2?

There is a definite distinction between a simulator of the real world and a completely made-up world of Dota 2. Moreover, if professional drivers did not feel the same way with the simulation of what they are used to, how can we reasonably expect gamers to have a hormonal response to a virtual event?

In fact we can - there is known concept of the "Flow". It is the state, which I have described above - a singular focus without regard for anything that is happening in the outer world. I strongly suggest reading through the Wiki article if you are interested, since it is too spacious to put into the blog post.

So I now know for sure that there is a way to play better. I have experienced it. I have lived through it as my Visage to tell the tale. And I think many of you also know the feeling.

Why did it happen to me?

Knowledge is Power

Well, I believe there is a definite advantage in knowing the game. It is not necessarily the case that the most knowledgeable people are the best ones, but it certainly helps. Have I not known that the Familiars in the stone form can actually block the unit's passing, or that Gyrocopter has a lower attack range than Visage, even pumped with adrenaline I would not be able to pull it off.

So my first advice would be studying the game. Trying yourself out in different roles and positions can greatly increase your awareness in many given situations. Pretty basic, right? You could also watch VOD's and streams to see how professional players deal with certain aspects of the game.

Another thing that I personally do a lot is counting. Once you see an important spell used by your opponent, start mentally counting the cooldown for it, so that you would know when it will be used again. Try it out with big ultimates first - making a time stamp is always welcome. Then go on to smaller things. Gradually, it will be very natural to you - it will be done in the background of your mind and you will "feel" most of the things.

This skill will also help coordinate better with your team - if you see an enemy team using most of their abilities on one or two targets, you know for sure there is an opening in their defenses you can act on. Hence, there is no point to run in a situation that seems really bad - if your team has managed to survive the enemy initiation, you have an upper hand, and can make a turnaround.


And of course there is the second aspect - I would name it "immersion". For a period, Dota 2 was all that I did - it was my whole life. I would wake up, take a shower and trained. I identified myself with the hero I was playing and the same survival instinct, we all have in real life, transitioned to my virtual self. The compassion I had for my friends in a team has also found a way into the reality of Dota 2 - something that cannot be underestimated for a support player.

I do not suggest you do the same thing yourself - after all not everyone has as much free time on their hands, as I currently do. But when in game try to concentrate fully on the game. I turned off all the announcers and unit speech so I would not get distracted. The only thing you need to hear are your teammates and spells.

I also did not listen to music or eat while playing - something that annoyed me a lot when I played with some casual friends.

Immersion requires visualization of the events in-game. Playing at lower settings is not a problem - I personally keep everything at low settings since my computer is very old. But there is one option that should be set to "on" no matter what - "Additive Light Pass". A lot of effects are simply not visible on the units without it! So you brain has to go through extra trouble of reverse engineering the situation to understand why one of your team-mates is slowed, while the other one is taking damage-over-time.

This kind of attitude towards the game - regarding it as something serious and important helps a lot.

If you don't believe my word - here is the trend for my win rate during the period (since I had more than 1.3k games at the time, the changes do not look that significant). Alt text

As you can see, about roughly 5 months ago, the graph went up. And it went up big time - I was playing with a completely different mindset. It was rising for three months in a row - I was truly playing to win!

Return to Reality

I understand that most of you have little concern to what happens in a different part of the world and I am in no place to object. Just know that two months ago things have started moving in Ukraine, where most of my team comes and I currently live. Things happening meant that we could no longer keep up with the training schedule and participate in as many tournaments as we want to. Most of the people I play with, as well as our manager are patriots and they believe that Ukraine can do better than under the current government. And I feel extremely proud to have friends like this.

Ultimately it led to us putting the whole e-sports things on hold. We still play, and we keep playing together most of the time. But the results are depicted in the graph above - the same composition of players are achieving less results not because they suddenly forgot how to play Dota, but because there was no longer a mindset for it.

Back to the Point

So it ultimately leads to the point I have made in the beginning. To play better you do not necessarily need to increase your dexterity or to read through all of the Dota 2 wiki to know each hero to its core. These things certainly help, but in a longer term, what you need is a different mindset, a tranquil mind that concentrates on the game to achieve the "Flow".

It can be as short as a split-second - seeing an opening for a fight-turning 2-3 man stun, or "very" long, like in the case I have presented you with. And I think that each player in each fight in the TI3 grand-finals was in that state. That is what separates good players from the best.

I hope this post did not bore you down. I also hope you found it somewhat entertaining - I've certainly tried to make it such.

Here, at DotaBuff we really care about the community - that is why we want you to learn and see your progress. That is why we provide as much statistics as we can - we are passionate about the game and about the players. And if this has been at least somewhat useful to you, then I guess, we are on the right track.

Thank you for reading, and please do not hesitate to leave feedback and share your stories in the comment section below!

More from The Dotabuff Blog
42 коментара

    nice :D


      Great post admin!
      Looking forward to reading more blogs from ya.


        Great post and great read!

        You know I would be interested on what draws people to Dota 2, and what kind of gaming background they had too. I loved playing strategy board games very young like Checkers/chess/Stratego then when I moved to computer games it was Command and Conquer, then Warcraft, Starcraft, etc.

        I love the balance, rules, teamwork involved in a game like this. I could play plenty of high end games, but I am drawn to this due to the infinite possibilities.


          This is also known as Wu Wei. A paradigm of Taoism, Chinese teams used to be masters of this non-action style of playing, sometimes even going forty whole minutes before doing anything.


            I know what you mean, i have had games where i am "in the zone" and just rock super hard.

            Super Meat Boy

              Glad you mentioned Super Hexagon! Just found out i still have it installed on my PC, and when i tried it again... Damn, reflexes are still there.
              Nice post btw!

                Овај коментар је избрисан.

                  Can you link some kind of video of your game? I want to see, that awesome centaur stun!!!!! *.*


                    Match ID?


                      playing with an emotional state of mind also makes players to be under-performed
                      keep calm everyone!:)


                        I can't share the reply for the match I've described - it was a passworded private lobby, as any games in the StarLadder series are. For anyone interested in some Visage gameplay by me, you could check this one. It is not against a coordinated team or particularly strong players, but it could be fun to watch, and has a couple of decent game moments.


                 some epic centaur stuns) Russian Commentary though. =/

                          Sup m8

                            Great post!


                              I really like your idea of immersion.


                                Hope you're safe in Ukraine.


                                  I really liked this post.
                                  It is well written and I can say that I have experienced the same to a smaller degree than you, but still similar.
                                  I agree that the mindset is really important and it helps you focus and perform really a lot better than even you would expect.

                                  So thank you for the nice read and keep on bringing us great insights :)


                                    An spiritual side in Dota 2, that sounds Great!

                                    Sheriff Rango

                                      A very interesting and informational read, enjoyed it waaaay more than I expected



                                        I can say much much more, but i will not, because I am lazy. But I can give an example of correlation of games like at your introduction - when I just started to play Dota (2005-2006), I tried to play WC3. And so as more experience and success I've got in WC3, I could show more performance in Dota. Especially on hard "multi-touch" heroes like Chen. But now meta is changed and I don't play WC3 since that 2006, so actually my comment isn't really helpful because now tricks and things are much different, but still what I meant is that Dota 2 isn't unique game which stayed apart from all others, but all the games can give you different experience which you can use also in Dota 2 (or in the other game if you wish).

                                        Once it had been said: "All things are interconnected". So enjoy your experience everywhere and everytime and don't forget to use it in all the situations.

                                        ps: sorry for mistakes, i am Ukrainian too, so English isn't native or even familiar language...

                                          Овај коментар је избрисан.
                                          caesar joestar

                                            Nicely written.

                                            Stone Cold Steve Austin

                                              TO add to MrG's comment:
                                              I occasionally (though nearly none at all recently) play League of Legends too, and if it's good for something, it helps you practice coordinating chaotic, hectic and very fast teamfights, what with most LoL fights happening in only a few seconds and almost every hero having some kind of blink based skill.


                                                I'm a support player, and play in defensive positions in IRL sports, and have found that they link very closely to this state-of-mind that you mention. MY dota state of mind is terrible, as I've not really been able to refine it, as I have with my sports. You make an interesting statement when you say "I turned off all the announcers and unit speech so I would not get distracted. The only thing you need to hear are your teammates and spells."; personally I play really pacey music and base all of my timings off of it to get a full sense of what is where, when (if that makes any sense outside of my head).

                                                Anyways, a very interesting read, and I'm definitely going to try to develop my mindset into a very relaxed one, maybe even attempting the lack of sound method.

                                                As always, good luck, have fun and never stop progressing! :D

                                                NS-17/RGBD/R-18 ?
                                                  Овај коментар је избрисан.

                                                    Very good post!


                                                      I love you.


                                                        great read


                                                          Nice one ty very much


                                                            Good article!

                                                            I'd also like to provide feedback, though it's not on this topic: You have previously mentioned your liking of the Dotabuff community, which left me a little baffled. While you can find several interesting posts on the forum, it's general atmosphere it very toxic. Interestingly it's the same players again and again who are causing this with childish name calling (even whole threads for that sole purpose), insults ("autist" is very in vogue lately) or other bullshitery (your MMR is lower than mine, therefore you are not allowed to post).

                                                            I think that even minimal moderation could improve the forum's usefulness.
                                                            It's understandable if noone is available for that time investment, though... or maybe you actually like the "energy" that's flowing in there ;-)


                                                              awesome post.

                                                              i think you captured the depth of what's going on really very well.

                                                              and few people do.

                                                              it takes time to uncover things below the surface and even more time to put it into practice through training.

                                                              thanks for sharing all of this with us.

                                                              and take care in ukraine :)


                                                                Ukrainan Stepmania and danmaku player? Greetings from Mother Russia.
                                                                And thanks for the post, it was very useful.



                                                                  Thank you for really nice feedback - you have no idea how much I appreciate your kind words - reading through them literally makes my day!


                                                                  Sorry for the late response - was really busy these last 20 hours. With two new blog posts coming today I had very little time to spare. And since it is now undergoing Proof Reading and Editing (credit to eggs -, without him you would encounter a lot more grammar mistakes in my posts, and they wouldn't be as fluid), I can now respond.

                                                                  As I have said here: I really like the community developed around Dota 2 - not only because I absolutely love the game, but also because it brought together a lot of like-minded people.

                                                                  While some of the individuals in the community do express quite a bit of "childish", "abusive" behaviour, for a brother of a 15 year-old girl and a 5-year old boy, it is not of a big concern - kids will grow up at some point, even if it takes 20+ years for some individuals.

                                                                  If anything, I think the more mature part of the community should behave appropriately. Responding in the same manner will only create a vicious circle of constant toxicity and will prevent a lot of people from having fun, both on our web site and in the game - something I personally do not want to happen.

                                                                  I agree that the forum could use more moderation, but nothing will prevent people from creating new accounts to keep on trolling. So, in my opinion, a wise approach of non-involvement in the vicious circle, with valid remarks on the topics, rather than continuity and promotion of toxic behaviour, is preferable.

                                                                  There might be some amendments to the forum in the future - sub-categories and "sticky" posts is something I would personally really like to see, but at the moment the whole team is very busy at creating and maintaining the amazing web site we use. One of them was the addition of the blog a lot of people (I hope) enjoy.

                                                                  I hope that at least partially answers your question.))

                                                                  Good Luck, Have Fun!


                                                                    Really nice Post!

                                                                    I also recognized that the mental state has much influence of my game.
                                                                    I have games where i got some tards and i notice myself flaming and chatting them cuz they feed 0:5 after 5mins Offlane.
                                                                    usually that games getting lost and my performance wasnt that good at all.

                                                                    there are games where i also have tards, but i have a mate and we say: dont flame, dont chat, mute them and make ure own game. dont think, just play the game u would (in hard cases, like u would without them in team. if they go in 1v5 leave them, dont try to help)

                                                                    the games like mentioned last were always better. ofcourse that doesnt mean they were 100% win guaranteed, but my performance was still good. Let the Flow get you!


                                                                      Yes, Dota2 "unagi" is indeed quite hard to achieve on a consistent basis. It's also important to note that the opposite state of mind of the "flow" is worth keeping in check, this is where one is too distracted/tired/sad to pay attention to every detail that the game requires players to stay in tune with to achieve victory.

                                                                      That was a nice read with some extra social commentary at the end which is always welcome.

                                                                      Melware 死を待っている

                                                                        Nice post, I remember going through that when playing stepmania and PIU, match ID?


                                                                          Added Russian Translation. As always - thanks for kind feedback!


                                                                            It reminds me of when I play sports, the game is all you think about and the adrenaline of a goal or final stretch on the track makes you do things you never thought possible


                                                                              Great post! Helped me out a lot!


                                                                                Amazing post packed with information. Definitely one to take your game to the next level!

                                                                                  Овај коментар је избрисан.

                                                                                    Lovely post, stuffed with usefullness!

                                                                                    aikyu3 SuBi ♪

                                                                                      This is really good.