Blog #15: My story of Dota

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I don’t have much in common with Michael Corleone, but there is one thing. What the mafia is for him, Dota 2 is for me. I’m in no way trying to say that I’m the godfather of Dota 2. I’m not. I never was. I’m actually dreadful at the game. But I also have a deep respect and fascination for what it is.

Where I’m from, Dota 1 was all around me. At school, all my friends played Dota. When you passed random males on the street, you could hear them discuss Dota. When you walked into a LAN cafe, on 90% of PC’s there’d be Dota (the rest were CS 1.6 and FIFA). So naturally, as a gamer, I played Dota. My roots in PC gaming were heavily influenced by the Blizzard holy trinity: Diablo 2, Starcraft and Warcraft 3. So playing Dota came to me naturally, it all made sense. Some guys made a mod where you didn’t have to do anything but play the Warcraft 3 hero micro-ing gameplay, coupled with some weird mutation of tower defense. It was actually more relaxing and inclusive than the traditional RTS gameplay of Warcraft 3, which I was in love with (but still sucked at). Instead of having to split into pairs of two, dishing it out Undead vs Orcs, Night Elf vs Humans and so on, we could all more or less play together in the same game, have a shared experience and later have banter about that experience.

I think the design of Dota and how it single-handedly created this genre is genius. There is so much strategic depth in a match of Dota, and the hero combinations are endless. It’s a miracle that a game with this many permutations, this many abilities can give pretty much every hero his own flavor, his own gameplay while maintaining a semblance of balance. What is even more miraculous is how long Dota lived on as a Warcraft 3 map file, garnering this huge player base all over the world without any commercial company filling the void of a commercial “Dota” like game. There sure was a demand for it. There was no real, reliable way to play Dota with strangers through match making. The closest thing was a 3rd party software that let people join games over the internet, but it was infested with trolls and leavers, so the experience was terrible. Actual team work wasn’t even worth hoping for.

But my experience of Dota was also sour. I don’t have (or didn’t have) the thickest of skins and I was pretty bad at the game. I didn’t have great micro, map awareness or hero and item knowledge. I could play casually, but anything on a higher level was beyond me. So I got made fun of by my own friends for being noob. I didn’t seem to get any better, school and later on work stuff became more pressing and so I could not justify spending more money and time on Dota. Also, why play a game if you get flamed or ridiculed everytime you do? I started to resent Dota, which really doesn’t have anything to do with the game, but my own noob-ness at it coupled with the dickishness of my friends. I sort of decided to never get back into Dota again, even if I didn’t do so consciously.

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Fast forward a few years, my work life has settled down, I have a certain rhythm going on in my life that I’m comfortable with. I’m still searching for a game that I can play on a consistent basis, a standard game. (Guild Wars 2 isn’t really doing it for me lately, mostly because I haven’t been able to get into the social aspect. MMO’s are designed around that, and when you fail at engaging with it successfully, it’s not as sticky.) I have tried and enjoyed Dota 2, it’s pretty much the perfect situation. I needed this game back in 2008, man! I could’ve improved so much more that this game with this control scheme, this ease of online play. I could’ve improved playing it at home then. So as I said, I’ve been looking for a game to stick with, but my memories of Dota 1 are so negative that it feels like I’ve been searching for any game but Dota. This search has led me to discover grand strategy games and roguelikes, which I love, but Dota looms in the back of my head like background noise, teasing me with my noobishness. Maybe it’s time to face this demon, it’s not letting me be either way.

I feel it’s a great time to jump back in, give this game another go. I’m already noticing significant improvement of my skills, the online community around this game is huge and the esport aspect is as compelling as football/soccer. I really hope I can keep with it, because I so want to love this game again.

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