My friends and I often talk about teaching our parents how to use new technology. Ten years ago it was how to create an e-mail account. Today it’s how to play mobile games, which is so, so much easier. It’s not long until we get Candy Crush updates from our parents.
In 2010 Ian Boghost developed a satirical game called Cow Clicker. It was a pared down take on the state of mobile and social gaming at the time. The two word title itself was the instruction guide. You click on cows. The more you click, the more the cows moo, and eventually you were rewarded by purchasing new, fancy cows with “mooney.” It was deceptively simple, and what started out as a joke became a cult and viral hit.
If mobile and social gaming lies at one end of the “accessibility” spectrum, then Dota lies at the other end. For mobile games, everyone at the dinner table, from toddlers to their parents could play. You could squeeze a quick game in while waiting for coffee or ignoring an awkward conversation. Dota, on the other hand, requires your full concentration and a time commitment on average from 30 mins to an hour, and you are punished for failing to do so. It’s an insular community where 1000 invested hours can be considered the minimum for an experienced gamer.
The de facto introduction to Dota 2 has been Purge’s 15,000+ word behemoth of a guide, “Welcome to Dota, You Suck.” The document is a comprehensive breakdown on all facets of the game, from starting builds to the intricacies of illusion and item damage mechanics. Dota is filled with these “did you know” facts that can never be comprehended at once. There is no complete document for Dota’s minutiae and exceptions. It’s like learning English. It has to be learned through self discovery, word of mouth, and persistent correction. Did you know Manta Style has a longer cool down for ranged heroes? I didn’t either, until I saw a Reddit post about little known facts on Dota. Are you familiar with debuffs that can be dispelled by strong dispels, and debuffs that can not be dispelled by normal dispels? Wait until someone criticizes you for trying to avoid Oracle’s False Promise damage with Eul’s.
The largest hurdle isn’t even these details, but you do with them. Dota isn’t a game that you can jump into and figure it out as you go. You don’t even know where to go. It is like a game of Chess where a novice plots his next five moves, and the first one is already in the wrong direction. In Dota, there are enough aphorisms to fill a spinoff treatise of Sun Tzu’s, The Art of War.
“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.” (Avoid fights. Farm the map)
“Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.” (Baiting the enemy)
“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” (Don’t dive the T3s)
“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley” (Don’t flame)
At first glance, Dota’s reward is superficial in its cosmetic items. Other than our MMR, which may waver, there’s no other way to display our prowess. Part of the fun of investing in a game is to see our progress (and show it off), like an expansive culture in Civilization or a geared out character in World of Warcraft. However, in Dota, every game starts out from scratch. Every player starts with the same set of tools. The game doesn’t reward us by unlocking new features from game to game. Our heroes don’t level up and become more powerful. We can’t showcase our MMR. The only way to show off is by doing it. The secret of Dota’s reward is seeing yourself improve. The game doesn’t reward us—we reward ourselves.
It’s those same details and exceptions that gives Dota its learning curve but also its depth. Without this, we would never get those moments where we used our knowledge of cooldowns to exploit a window to push. Or when we recognize that their weak offlaner enables our two supports more freedom to pull, roam, and pressure other lanes.
Experience in Dota can culminate into what the community describes as "game sense." It's like a sixth sense. A player with high game sense will know where enemy players are, without much vision. He can feel the ebbs and flows of a game, and he'll know when it's best to retreat before a gank is in motion. He outwits his opponents with experience, knowledge, and intuition. It's up to us to decide whether it was worth it.