Three Lane Highway

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.

Three Lane Highway: how to communicate effectively in solo ranked matchmaking

Chris Thursten at

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

It's scary, talking to strangers. You probably spent the first ten years of your life being told not to do it, the second ten years of your life trying to summon the courage to do it, and the third ten years of your life doing it but wishing that you were somewhere else. Playing Dota 2 by yourself complicates this already complicated scenario. Language differences. Age differences. Wildly divergent opinions on topics like 'who's fault was that' and 'what are reports for'.

Three Lane Highway: several exciting ways for friends to lose games of Dota 2 together

Chris Thursten at

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

I've been in a few teams in the two years I've been playing Dota. I say 'teams', but what I mean is 'groups of five people that agree to put up with each other's ceaseless theorycrafting'. I'm in a team right now, in fact. We're called the Hot Dukes and if you play on Europe West you've probably beaten us.

It's a lot of fun. One of the things I like most about playing with a dedicated stack is learning new and imaginative ways to throw matches. I mean, we're not terrible - our matchmaking ratings range from Questionable to Pretty Good - and we're all capable of big plays in the right conditions. But we're nonetheless capable of falling on our assess with a weight and precision that belies the fact that we'd rather not fall on our assess at all. We've developed a methodology for screwing up that approaches a kind of science, and it's this methodology that I'd like to share with you today. If your friends are looking for new ways to extend the range of your throwing arm, or are simply looking for an explanation for why you lost that game, I think I might be able to help.

Three Lane Highway: why I am deadly serious about the phrase "wizard-'em-up"

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2. It runs every Thursday on PC Gamer.

Are you interested in language? I think you should be, but then again I would say that. I peddle language for a living. Don't freak out, but I'm doing it right now. My rent is paid by the notion that some sets of words are of greater value than others. That's kind of a terrifying thought, really, but it's no more terrifying than the alternative: that in the future we will communicate about videogames by honking and pressing 'Like' buttons in a branded metaverse that we access by consenting to give over fifty percent of our brainpower so that Big Data can cloud-compute a solution to free will using our frontal cortexes.

I digress. I'm going to use this week's Three Lane Highway to talk about words. If that's not of interest to you, that's cool. I'd appreciate it if you'd still honk and push the 'Like' button, though.

Three Lane Highway: four and a half shocking Dota facts they don't want you to know

Chris Thursten at

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

Dota 2 is a complicated game. Everybody knows that. It's so complicated that nobody understands it completely, and that's why we surround ourselves with experts who are able to pierce through Dota's thick fog of mechanical noise to deliver sound commentary and guidance. Today, I am your guide. Tens of minutes have been invested in bringing you the following Dota secrets: cold scientific facts that they don't want you to know.

Three Lane Highway Revisited: Twenty-four hours, eight games of Dota 2, and $2,874,382

Chris Thursten at

This article was written in late August 2013 and originally published in issue 258 of PC Gamer UK. I've been thinking about my experience at The International 2013 since watching Valve's Dota 2 documentary, Free To Play. As a companion piece to today's Three Lane Highway column, then, we thought we'd make the following available online.

It takes the five members of Alliance ten minutes to move around Benaroya Hall’s curved mezzanine to the off-limits corridor that leads to their private balcony. They are surrounded at every step by fans, pushing up against windows and leaning over tables to sign T-shirts and mousemats. Their manager, Kelly, alternates between apologetic determination and abrupt for-the-camera enthusiasm as she attempts to shepherd five sudden celebrities into a single doorway.

Three Lane Highway: Valve's Dota 2 documentary sets an example for the community

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2. Previously a Tumblr blog, it now runs every week on PC Gamer.

Being in the crowd during The International 2013 grand finals was more or less the highlight of my career. It was certainly one of the most powerful experiences I've had in connection with a videogame. When Alliance won and green confetti streamed from the ceiling and the Dota 2 theme started to play and the crowd were on their feet I understood something about sport that I'd never really understood before. It was one of those rare moments when you are aware that you are experiencing something important even as you experience it. The adrenaline didn't give out until deep into the early hours of the following morning.

Three Lane Highway: why now is a great time to introduce new players to Dota 2

Chris Thursten at

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2. Previously a Tumblr blog, it now runs every week on PC Gamer.

Introducing somebody to Dota 2 is hard, and gets harder as your own skills improve. I was lucky to start playing with a group of people who all had exactly the same amount of prior experience - zero - and who were relaxed enough in each other's company to dodge the bickering and gamesmanship that skill imbalances can provoke. Most of the time.

Three Lane Highway: what Gabe Newell's choice of Dota 2 hero really means

Chris Thursten at

Welcome to Three Lane Highway, Chris' weekly column all about Dota 2.

Sand King is - like Lich, Axe, and, I like to think, Phoenix - a gentleman's hero. Characters with a lot of early and midgame potential are key to setting the pace of the match, and if your team is snowballing off the back of a few crucial early kills then it's likely that someone like Sand King was involved. Opting to play Sand King is a declaration that you are a team player; that you will buy wards and smoke; that first blood will be secured with a reliable two second stun and the sound - distant, like thunder - of somebody listening to Darude.