Three Lane Highway

Three Lane Highway: patch 6.82 and the Dota 2 of tomorrow

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

My PC's power supply exploded a few hours after the patch notes for version 6.82 were released, which should tell you a few things about how significant this update is—even if it ultimately teaches you nothing about the relationship between correlation and causation. Post-International patches are always a big deal, but this is the big one. Sweeping changes to the map, and in particular the structure of the early game, mean the death of the deathball and a refresh to which heroes can be laned where. Combined with a fresh set of nerfs and buffs and some silly new Aghanim's Scepter upgrades and, well, it's time to start learning again. We are entering the era of 6.82.

Three Lane Highway: exploring the expensive e-sports hype trailers of tomorrow

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

Today I watched a very dramatic and slick and expensive-looking trailer for League of Legends' Worlds 2014 tournament. I thought about it in relation to the game of my own preference, and how I spent part of July in a basketball stadium getting really worked up about international wizard conflict. I've written about the narratives that surround the rise of e-sports before. Today, for these reasons and despite many others, I felt compelled to do so in the form of a science fiction press release.

Three Lane Highway: what tournament play has taught me about Dota 2

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

You're always learning, whether or not it feels like it. I've had games of Dota where I've felt like I've learned nothing at all, where my mistakes have been obvious to me (and probably to everybody else involved) and my victories have been conducted against enemies too busy screaming at each other or eating paint to make it mean anything. There is always, however, a way to learn.

Three Lane Highway: your Dota hero is having a good time and so should you

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

Dota 2 is funny, both by design and by accident. It's funny when people get angry. It's funny to screw up. It's funny to Force Staff your friends into the enemy fountain. It's funny to get a rampage as Axe. Laughing at the weird stuff that springs from Dota forms the basis of a healthy
numberofYouTube channels. It's as vital a part of the life of the game as the competitive scene or making items for the Steam Workshop.

Three Lane Highway: the seven stages of Techies

Chris Thursten at

The patch could be here tomorrow. Maybe? Hopefully. By the time you read this you'll probably know more than I do. Valve have promised Techies by the end of August; Valve have promised a lot of things. Anything - and literally nothing - is possible.

It'll probably be tomorrow. If it is, we'll finally begin the process of accepting Techies into the game. Techies, the argument goes, are going to change how pub Dota is played forever. All Pick is going to become a (literal) minefield. The old ways will be gone. It seems appropriate that a hero with a reputation for griefing should attract a seven-stage process of its own.


Three Lane Highway: why Culling Blade is Dota 2's most entertaining skill

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

Ultimate abilities are a good place to start whenever you're tasked with explaining why Dota is cool. They're silly, diverse, exciting to watch. If you're staring at an unconvinced game designer, show them how Chain Frost interacts with Chronosphere. Show them how Wraith King's Reincarnation power is both a safetynet and a mobile psychological deterrent. Show them almost any great Echoslam, but probably this one, because it's a tragedy and a comedy at the same time.

Three Lane Highway: there are many Dotas, and other thoughts on custom game modes

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

Dota 2's popularity goes against all of the received wisdom about game design I can think of. It is complicated and inconsistent and it pushes people to interact in a way that generates all sorts of well-documented discontent. What it offers can't be summed up in a single sentence, and even a documentary dedicated to explaining its competitive side can only do so much to explain what you actually do in the game, or why that is fun.

Three Lane Highway: surrender buttons, Gordian knots, and other thoughts on giving up

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

When someone describes something as a Gordian knot the presumption is that it's waiting for the sword. There's virtue associated with solving complicated problems quickly and decisively—the legend of Alexander and the knot expresses a cultural preoccupation with the notion that twisted impossible things are deserving of a direct and just and violent 'solution', normally at the hands of somebody with unusual power and perspective (read: some dude with a sword.) Anything else, it follows, is a waste of time.

Three Lane Highway: unstoppable forces, immovable objects, and other thoughts on the metagame

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2.

'Metagame' is a sharp, cyberpunkish word for a pretty cloudy and unscientific concept. Which is not to say that it's impossible to get an exact read on a game's competitive landscape, but that sense of certainty is usually unsustainable. The moment a team does something that nobody expects and it works, questions are raised. Figuring out the answers to those questions - or watching other people do it - is one of the major draws of this part of the hobby. It's natural to chase certainty, to be sure, but it's doubt that creates drama.

Three Lane Highway: what it means when games become sport—and why you should care

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes serious, sometimes silly column about Dota 2. The image above is from the ESL Flickr account.

We've always had a complicated relationship with e-sports. By 'we' I mean not just PC Gamer but PC gamers: I think it's fair to say that the paradigm shift that e-sports represent hasn't always been widely understood or accepted. That makes sense—it's a form of gaming that the majority of gamers will never participate directly in, and this is a hobby that is defined by participation.

Three Lane Highway: ways to think more usefully about your Dota 2 MMR

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes serious, sometimes silly blog about Dota 2.

Last week I wrote off the concept of MMR as part of a not-entirely-serious list of 'meaningless' numbers in Dota. My thinking at the time was that discussing the problems raised by ranked matchmaking at all was going to attract a particular attitude in the comments, so I'd be better off treating it as a punchline. That was an error. I tried to use irony to mask something that I think and care about rather a lot, falling into the same trap that I'd accused certain competitive players of falling into only a week earlier. Sly winks don't carry well on the internet, and when you're discussing the relative worth of somebody's internet wizard skill rating it's fair to assume that most readers are going to take it pretty seriously.

Three Lane Highway: a guide to Dota 2's most meaningless numbers

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes silly, sometimes serious column about Dota 2.

Dota 2 is a numbers game, but then again they all are, really, aren't they. Counter-Strike is about shooting numberbullets into the other guys' numberfaces until all of their numberbrains fall out. Football (see also: soccer) is about how many goals you score and how many shirts you sell and how much it costs to ship vast premanufactured chunks of stadium up the Amazon.

It's all numbers, and Dota 2 has no greater or fewer than any other game. But it does host some truly, spectacularly, galvanizingly pointless numbers. Digits that communicate nothing and convey no worth. They exist outside of any formula or algorithm, and to treat them as if they mean anything is to slip into the kind of superstition usually reserved for numerologists. We're dealing with the unknowable, here, with un-knowledge: you might want to sit down. Some people can't handle it.

Three Lane Highway: learning to take a hit, and other thoughts on trying too hard

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes silly, sometimes serious column about Dota 2.

Yesterday I discovered a phrase that I like. I was reading this article about faster-than-light travel in the Washington Post, an article that includes probably the most exciting picture of a spaceship on the internet at the moment. The article links back to a previous interview between io9 and leading NASA engineer Harold White in which he describes the search for his "Chicago Pile moment".

"Chicago Pile moment" is his own coinage, and refers to the development of the first nuclear reactor in Chicago in 1942. It generated very little power, looked like a stack of bricks, and took up most of a large room - but it was proof that nuclear power was a possibility in practical terms. After the Chicago Pile, building a viable reactor was a matter of improving on proven principles. It's the difference between trying to tame the yeti in your garden and trying to prove that the yeti exists at all.

Three Lane Highway: learning to watch Dota 2 as a newcomer

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes serious, sometimes silly column about Dota 2.

Later this month I'll be attending ESL One Frankfurt to cover the tournament for PC Gamer. It's one of the last high profile Dota 2 competitions before The International, and the best chance most European fans are going to get to watch some of these teams play before they win eleventy million dollars at TI4, buy private islands, and vanish.

If you're considering attending then you probably play Dota 2. You know something about the meta, drafting, laning, teamfights, whatever. You're capable of replicating many of the things that you watch professional teams do—albeit imperfectly—on your own time, and doing so constitutes a big part of your hobby. You watch Dota because you play Dota.

Three Lane Highway: why Dota 2 isn't really about heroes at all

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes silly, sometimes serious column about Dota 2.

It is the most human thing in the world to want to be the coolest person in the room. Competition for status is written into our society and culture. It is why we valourise the assertion of individual will and downplay collective success. It's how teenagers figure out who they are. It's how democracy (sort of) functions, how movies get made, how lies pass into general acceptance. It's a process we can't shake, a process that generates politicians and celebrities and bullies and—to the point—some really, really shitty Dota players.

Three Lane Highway: $18m is an awful lot of money to spend on magic books and other thoughts on the Compendium

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes silly, sometimes serious column about Dota 2.

Somewhere, in the offices of a distant videogame publisher, a mid-level business guy is crying. He's crying because a couple of years ago he was all like "we should sell an internet magic computer book for our competitive online game" and his bosses were all like "lol no". He's crying because everyday he has to fill out reports with words like "outreach" and "conversion" on them. He's crying because the Dota community has, at the time of writing, spent $18,867,328 on internet magic computer books.

Three Lane Highway: why The International's prize distribution should change this year

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes silly, sometimes serious column about Dota 2.

Last year I arrived in Seattle a couple of days before The International began. Being ahead of schedule meant spending a few afternoons hovering around the hotel where the players were housed, watching the group stages and trying to grab interviews with whoever I could. Some of that material ended up in the feature that I subsequently wrote about the tournament, but a lot of it didn't.

Every player I spoke to was keen to point out that the prize money wasn't as important to them as being able to say that they were the best in the world at something. Despite that, many players felt dissatisfied with the way the prize pool itself was divided up.

Three Lane Highway Revisited: anger as failure, and other thoughts on empathy in Dota

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes silly, sometimes earnest column about Dota 2. The following was originally posted on the Three Lane Highway Tumblr in September 2013 - we're republishing it today as Chris is currently on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic. Enjoy!

In 2005 the late David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech to graduates at Kenyon College, Ohio. I’m going to quote a few paragraphs of it below, but before I do I want to lay out why it is relevant to you, a person who presumably came here to read about Dota.

The majority of the things you need to learn to be good at Dota are not things that will make you good at real life. You are probably never going to land a sick Sacred Arrow on a fleeing mugger. You won’t place wards at strategic locations around your cubicle to let you know when you should be alt-tabbing away from Reddit. You’re not going to invest an unexpected tax return - sensible as it might seem to do so - in a courier upgrade and the first parts of a Mekansm.

Three Lane Highway: how forming a team has improved my enjoyment of Dota 2

Chris Thursten at

Dota 2 is a staircase. Like any other competitive exercise your progress is defined by improvements and plateaus, periods of progress and periods of stagnation. The thrill of the former is balanced by the frustration of the latter, and identifying what you're doing wrong—and how to fix it—isn't easy. You are asking yourself to find a lack in your own play that you are by definition ignorant of: the weakness of the staircase analogy is that staircases typically go in one direction. Dota 2's skill curve twists, turns, and doubles back on itself. Getting better is hard. It means finding new routes, opening new pathways within your thinking.


Three Lane Highway Revisited: Dota 2, performance and play

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2.

I wrote the following article a couple of weeks after I started playing Dota 2, back in July of 2012. Now that I'm approaching my two-year anniversary with the game I've been thinking a bit about why I'd recommend it to other people. There are lots of reasons, obviously. It's exciting, deep, and there's a badger tied to some balloons in it. There's also a mammoth-rhinoceros-minotaur guy who can alter the properties of matter and a shit load of skeletons, albeit fewer of the latter now than there used to be. There are lots of wizards.

What I'm saying is that there are many reasons to like Dota 2, but that doesn't necessarily help somebody face down that vertical learning curve. The game is arguably less forgiving now than it was in beta: the community is larger, and more players are willing to create new accounts to beat up newcomers. The game has had time to settle, and in that environment it's easier to feel like a total outsider.