Dota 2 is notorious for its unforgiving learning curve. The barrier to entry is admittedly high. There are currently 101 heroes in the game, each of which has four skills (each of which has four levels), and over a hundred items (many of which come with active abilities). In order to “know” Dota 2, you would need to be familiar with all of these. Some would argue that new players should essentially read a Dota 2 textbook before approaching the game, because lack of familiarity with skills/heroes/items can lead to death, which leads to losing, which leads to your team shouting at you in languages you don’t understand.
Frankly, that’s boring, and probably unnecessary. A lot of this knowledge can be obtained “on the job”, especially if you play with friends who already know the game (and are patient). That said, the first several times I played Dota 2 I was confused to the point of extreme frustration, so here is an introductory guide to Dota 2 – information which should make the first few games a little bit more pleasant for both you and your team.
Note! I’m assuming you already want to play Dota 2, but know nothing about it.
In Dota 2, two teams of five players attempt to destroy their opponent’s “ancient”, which is just a building in their base. The ancient is defended by various structures such as towers which must be destroyed first. Each player controls a “hero” which has unique skills and attributes. The game largely revolves around the acquisition of experience points and gold, which are obtained by destroying enemy units and buildings, or neutral units. Gold is used to buy items, and experience points cause one’s hero to level up and become stronger. Basic.
Note! Levels are not persistent. Each game is self-contained.
Dota 2 has one map. It looks like this: (ingame minimap)
Each team inhabits one half of the map. The bottom-left half is for Radiant (“the good guys”) and the top-right is for Dire (“the bad guys”). The dividing line is the river. Map control and awareness are critical in Dota 2, and not accidentally walking into enemy territory is an important skill.
The map is divided into three “lanes” and one “jungle” on each side.
The red/green squares correspond to buildings, usually towers. These are quite powerful and attack nearby enemies. To reach the enemy base, one must destroy the enemy towers in a lane. Towers cannot be rebuilt. The jungle contains neutral units which can be killed for personal gain. The lanes have the following names:
- Mid: surprisingly, in the middle.
- Easy: this is the lane adjacent to one’s jungle (top for Dire, bottom for Radiant).
- Hard/long: the other one (bottom for Dire, top for Radiant).
Team composition, and more about lanes.
There are five players per team. There are three lanes. What do? Almost always, it looks like this:
- Mid: one hero.
- Long lane: one hero, infrequently two. For this reason, long lane is often called “solo lane”.
- Easy lane: two heroes, sometimes three. If there are three, it’s called a “trilane”.
- Jungle: at most one hero.
The variation in this is due to differences between heroes and strategies. Not all heroes can be played in all positions (particularly jungle). This information is important to you, because every game starts with team selection, and not every combination of heroes actually works. Team selection is perhaps the most important aspect of the game, and a badly chosen team can spell ruin. New players are unlikely to have to make these decisions, but it is a crucial aspect of the game which one should be aware of.
So why these lane choices? Every thirty seconds, a wave of “creeps” spawn at the start of your lane, and walk towards the enemy base. Creeps are allied units which will fight enemies they encounter. Whenever enemies are killed near you, experience is shared between all allies, so for much of the start of the game you obtain experience by standing near your creeps while they fight the enemy ones. The distribution of heroes amongst lanes is generally designed to maximise the experience/gold “important” team members get. I’ll explain the specifics of how to behave in lane in another article.
Heroes, and more about team composition.
I mentioned there are 101 heroes. Thankfully, they can be grouped in various ways.
Note! Heroes are partitioned into Dire and Radiant, but players are free to choose any heroes independent of their faction.
By attribute: there are three “attributes” in Dota 2, and each hero has a primary one, which gives a rough indication of how they’re played:
- Strength: influences hit points and base health regen. ~”Tanks”. Usually melée.
- Agility: influences attack speed and armour. ~”DPS”.
- Intelligence: influences mana pool and mana regen. ~”Wizards”. Often ranged.
By function: this is more meaningful, but less immediately obvious at the selection screen. Very very roughly, the basic roles are:
- Carry: purpose: becoming an unkillable machine of destruction. Carries are those “important” heroes which, if given enough gold and experience, become incredibly dangerous. They are defined by this property. CARRIES REQUIRE GOLD. CARRIES ARE SELFISH. If you’re a new player, you probably won’t be playing a carry. Carries are often agility heroes. Examples: Antimage, Faceless Void, Phantom Lancer, Ursa, Lifestealer, Shadow Fiend, Luna, Riki, Phantom Assassin, …
- Support: purpose: selflessly helping the team. A support is basically the opposite of a carry. They’re a hero which does not benefit much from gold and experience, and is not expected to do much killing. A support buys useful items that benefit the team as a whole, and will often have skills that disable/stun/control enemies, enabling teammates to kill them. New players are often given support roles, because mistakes are more easily forgiven here. Supports are often intelligence heroes. Examples: Lich, Crystal Maiden, Dazzle, Witch Doctor, Tidehunter, Vengeful Spirit, …
After the support/carry distinction, roles are less prescriptive, but some additional ones are:
- Ganker: purpose: swiftly murdering single enemies. A ganker might have very high burst damage, or skills enabling them to creep up on enemies (eg: invisibility, blink, other movement-based skills) or disable them. You should fear gankers. Examples: Queen of Pain, Spirit Breaker, Bounty Hunter, Nature’s Prophet, …
- Initiator: purpose: starting team-fights. This means they have some skill which is particularly effective for this purpose. A proper initiation can greatly influence the outcome of a fight, so new players are unlikely to be given this role. Examples: Tidehunter, Earthshaker, Magnus, Enigma, …
- Pusher: purpose: “pushing lanes”, that is to say, destroying enemy towers. Such heroes may have good area damage (for killing entire enemy creep waves at once), or have control of units which can “tank” towers while they attack them. A team which includes many pushing heroes is usually trying to end the game quickly. Examples: Venomancer, Broodmother, Leshrac, Phantom Lancer, …
- Jungler: purpose: starts the game in the jungle, thus enabling other lanes to have fewer heroes and more experience! Only a few heroes “can” jungle successfully, and the play style is a bit different, so new players are unlikely to jungle. Examples: Ursa, Nature’s Prophet, Lifestealer, Enigma, Axe, …
- Solo laner: this is a hero that can survive in a lane on their own, usually against 2+ enemies. Escape abilities are essential, and being ranged helps. In this position, getting experience/gold can be difficult, so this hero is unlikely to carry. Examples: Windrunner, Dark Seer, Bounty Hunter, Mirana, Nature’s Prophet, …Some of the examples I gave overlap, which reflects the fact that hero role is not entirely set in stone. However, if you pick a “classic support” hero such as Crystal Maiden and try to play them as a carry, your team will shout at you. There is a natural order in Dota 2, and respecting it yields results.Actually playing the game.
So that is the basic premise of Dota 2: you choose a collection of heroes with skills such that you can defeat the enemy team, and subsequently destroy their home. Now, naturally, you want to play. The game interface is quite intuitive, but here are the basic components nonetheless:
From left to right:
- The minimap: Enemy heroes (if visible) will appear as coloured Xes. Allies are circles. Look at the minimap.
- Hero portrait and level: check out the cleavage on this ghost. :| Not pictured: the level bar fills up.
- Stats: We have attack damage (sword), armour (shield), move speed (boots). If you hover over this you’ll get more information, like attack speed and what your armour score actually means (% damage reduction). The green bar going across the top is your hitpoints, and blue is mana pool.
- Attributes: Red is strength, green is agility, blue is intelligence. Vengeful Spirit is an agility hero, so her agility icon has a little gold circle around it.
- Skills: As I said, most heroes have four skills. Here they are, with their key-binds (adjustable). The gold boxes underneath tell you what level that skill is. Every time you level up you can choose an ability to improve. Vengeful Spirit’s third skill is passive, so it is not selectable. The fourth skill is called the “ult”, because it is usually pretty impressive (and has a long cool-down). In the bottom corner of the skill icon, the mana cost is given. Hovering over any skill gives a description of it, and shows its cast range if applicable.
- Items: You have space for six items. Some items can be “used”, so they have key-binds. You can see which ones I use. The items I’ve included are very important. The top three are all regeneration items (health, mana) and the three on the bottom are: boots (to increase your movement speed), wards (these can be placed on the ground and give vision for 6 minutes), teleport scroll (you can use this to teleport to any friendly building, useful for escaping back to base).
- Gold and shop: You can see your gold (note! Vengeful spirit will never have this much gold.) and the button to open the shop tab.
The shop is slightly confusing at first, but there is a search function which will enable you to find items by name. The left panel shows “suggested items”, which is a good place to start. You can also see what items are required to build a more complicated item.
Many items can be purchased without being adjacent to a shop, but to acquire them you must physically go to the fountain (this is the place you spawn), or use a courier to bring them to you.
Less elementary Dota 2.
This is only the beginning. I haven’t mentioned many important and more advanced aspects of playing Dota 2, such as
- Last hits and denying.
- Creep equilibrium, stacking and pulling.
- Wards and runes.
- Ability and item effects, orb effects.
- Game modes.
- Skill/item builds.
- Ridiculous tactics.
- In the mean time, here are some links:
Dota 2 Wiki: read about all the heroes, and the items, and the everything!
Play Dota: this is the official website for Dota 1. Dota 2 is basically just a reskin of Dota 1, so while things will look a little bit different on this website, the information is relevant. This page contains useful skill builds for heroes.
Frustration Free Beginner’s Guide to Dota 2: may be helpful. Yes, I did steal their idea of including pictures of the ancients. What are you going to do about it?Final advice.
Dota 2 can be an incredibly frustrating but also deeply satisfying game. Because it is team-based, I strongly recommend playing it with friends. Communication is essential and the game can be very fast-paced, so using Mumble/Teamspeak/etc. really makes a difference. In addition, many players do not speak English, which can make coordinating strategies problematic. As well as making your team better, playing with friends can reduce the likelihood that you’ll encounter the unmitigated assholes who give the community a bad name.
Unless those people are your friends.