Less Elementary Dota 2: The Courier and Shopping

For the first post in this series, see Elementary Dota 2.

I’m wearing this right now. Source.

The courier, the donkey, the crow, chicken. The ever inscrutable, ever occupied courier. It comes in many forms (pictured above: badger), but the default in Dota 2 is a donkey (pictured below).

The courier consults the shop in the fountain.
The courier consults the shop.

Dota 2 is a shopping game, and the courier delivers the goods. It costs 150 gold and is invaluable to the team, yet nobody wants to buy it, so if you spend your Dota 2 career playing with pub scrubs, then you may never actually see one of these.

If you are lucky enough to have semi-competent teammates (or be semi-competent yourself), you need to know how to use the courier.

Shopping basics.

There are three shops on each side of the map. One in the fountain (that’s where you spawn), one in the easy lane (“side shop”), and another one called the “secret shop”. Either team can use any shop, but trying to purchase one’s items from the enemy fountain is not usually advisable.

The side shops

Here’s the deal with items: you can open the shop tab at any time and buy items (unless they are secret shop items – see below). If you happen to be adjacent to the appropriate shop at the time of purchase, the item goes into your inventory and you can begin using it – hurray! If you are not adjacent, the item goes into your stash.

"Oh no! My items are in the stash!"

Think of the stash as a locker you have back at the fountain, where your wayward purchases end up. To get items out of the stash, you have to return to the fountain. This is a major pain/waste of time, so you should use THE COURIER to do it for you. Grabbing stuff from the stash and bringing it to you is basically the point of the courier.

Note: you can also use teammates to courier items for you, although they will probably just steal them and mock you in a foreign language. Teammates can’t take items from your stash, but you can “drop from stash” (right click on the item in the stash to see this option), which causes the item to appear on the floor in the fountain. A teammate/courier can then pick this up and bring it to you. Only consumable items (potions, wards, dust, smoke, etc.) which weren’t purchased by a teammate can actually be used by them, so they have no reason to steal your Manta Style/whatever beyond malice and spite (you will never see your precious Manta Style again). This also means rich teammates can’t buy items for the poor ones – there will be no redistribution of wealth in Dota 2!

Using the courier.

A: Go to fountain, B: Take items from stash, C: Bring me items, D: Speed boost

I have highlighted the main courier skills (there are a total of six. Learning the courier should not be challenging.)

  • A: “Go to the fountain.” Courier will walk (or fly, if it has been upgraded into a flying courier) back to the fountain. Note: the ability after this (W in my keybinds) sends the courier to the secret shop.
  • B: “Get items from stash.” This transfers items from your stash into the courier’s inventory, if it is at the fountain. Unfortunately the courier cannot use (most) items, so its inventory is purely for storage. Note: the courier can actually use healing potions/clarities on heroes, and Smoke Of Deceit more generally.
  • C: “Give me my goddamn items.” The courier will fly to you and automatically give you any items in its inventory which belong to you, and then fly back to the fountain. If it’s not carrying anything of yours, it will still fly to you (and back), so be warned. I always hit “get items from stash” before using this command, to prevent accidental empty-couriering. If you don’t have space for all/any of the items it wants to give you, it will give as many as it can before returning to the fountain. I don’t know how it decides which item to give, but experience suggests it is “whichever item is least useful right now”. Be warned.
  • D: “Fly fast, little one.” This ability is only available if the courier has been upgraded into its flying form. It causes the courier to move at maximum speed for 20 seconds, and has a 40-second cool-down.

And so, I use the courier by ensuring it’s at the fountain, then mashing D,F,R*, and continuing on my merry way.

*If you share my key-binds, you should make sure you have the courier selected before you do this. Many’s the accidental ult has been triggered (usually bound to R) by careless courier-use. Just hope nobody witnesses your shame.

You can also buy items directly using the courier, if you send it to a shop and buy your items while it is selected.

A final note about the courier: see its hitpoints? It can die. It dies very easily (although it is magic immune). If it dies, it gives the enemy team 175 gold each. It won’t drop/lose its precious items, but they will be inaccessible until it respawns three minutes later. If you/your team are soon to engage in a fight, or otherwise go into a dangerous area, be careful about using the courier! Getting the courier killed can be even more shameful than wasting your ult.

The secret shop.

What is this mysterious secret shop, I hear you cry? Well, some items are awkward and require a specialist merchant. You can tell an item can only be purchased from the secret shop by hovering over it in the shop tab (or noticing the red mark on its icon):


As I mentioned, secret shop items cannot be remotely purchased and placed into the stash. (The stash is located at the fountain, and the secret shop is in a jungle somewhere! What merchant would risk transporting valuable stock through the dangerous jungles? The side shops are okay, because the goods can be transported via the darkness outside beyond the map, clearly.) Either you or the courier have to go there in person to shop. Sorry! On the upside, items from the secret shop tend to be a little bit exotic, so you shouldn’t need to buy from there too frequently.


More shopping: building items and quick-buy.

Many items are made of more basic items. In order to build one of these composite items, you simply have to have all the required ingredients in your(/the courier’s) inventory. If you left-click on an item in the shop, it will tell you what (if any) other items are required to build it. Note: the “piece of paper” item depicted here is a recipe. Recipes can only be purchased from the fountain, and are useless beyond their role in building items.


Also highlighted in this screenshot is quick-buy area. Dragging an item from the shop tab into this region will place all of its ingredients here, ready to be purchased with a simple right-click. If you have enough gold to purchase any of these parts, they get a golden border (in my incredibly illustrative example, I have enough money to buy all of them). They don’t get automatically purchased for you. Quick-buy is useful if you fear sudden and unexpected death, as it allows you to frantically spend your money before you die (and lose some of it). I play Dota 2 a bit like StarCraft 2, so I buy items as soon as I can, and try to spread creep(s) evenly across the map.

Apologies for wildly varying image size and quality in this post. Since starting it, I changed operating system and lost my Adobe software. I struggle on with GIMP.


Juking, hiding and neutral camp map for Dota 2

Warning: large image (5120×5120)

Critwhale posted this map in the Dota 2 group on g+ (whoever knew g+ would turn out to be useful!). I haven’t tested it so I can’t vouch for its accuracy, but if nothing else it’s a really great high-res game map.

For the uninitiated:

  • “to juke” refers to the act of evading an enemy who is pursuing you by taking an unexpected route. Or in practice, “dodging around a tree”. I imagine the jungles of Dota 2 to be filled with incredibly dense foliage, because hiding behind a single tree can sometimes completely shield you from vision.
  • A spawn box is the regions in which a creep camp can be blocked from spawning. The neutral camps respawn on the minute every minute (with the exception of their initial spawn, which is at 30s on the game clock), if the spawn box is empty. That includes heroes, creeps, and wards. You can use this offensively to impede the enemy team (if a camp doesn’t spawn, it can’t be farmed!), but accidentally blocking a friendly camp is also a danger. I usually give creep camps a wide berth around the minute mark, but knowing exactly where the box is is clearly the superior option.

I have some more guides in the pipeline (notably “how to shop” and “how to ward”), but I cannot promise graphics as beautiful as this.

Elementary Dota 2


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.

The game, in brief.
Dota 2 Ancients

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.

The map.
Dota 2 has one map. It looks like this: (ingame minimap)
Dota 2 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.

Top is easy for Dire and hard for Radiant, Bot(tom) is easy for Radiant and hard for Dire.
Top is easy for Dire and hard for Radiant, Bot(tom) is easy for Radiant and hard for Dire.

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.
Dota 2 heroes
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:
    Dota 2 hud
    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.
    Magic missile on venge
  • 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.

Dota 2 shop

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.
  • Roshan.
  • 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.