PC Gamer vs RPS
CHRIS I think we’ve got what it takes, although Andy is less sure. RPS have an advantage, because two of their players—Alice and Pip—have about as much Dota experience as I do. To make matters worse, one of their newbies takes a nap and doesn’t turn up. They get a ringer, Quinns, who was a member of my original Dota group. He hasn’t played in years, but a hundred hours of experience two years ago trumps five hours last week. I’m sure it’ll be fine if we stick to the plan.
I don’t stick to the plan. I was going to play Storm Spirit again, but I don’t want to beat up newbies with a hero they can’t handle. I pick Invoker instead, a flashy mage who combines elements to conjure spells. He’s an advanced character and I’m merely all right with him—I feel this is a fair compromise. RPS don’t compromise. They take Viper and Puck on their experienced players, characters that are very difficult for new players to deal with. Shit!
ANDY The team seems fairly confident about the big finale. I’m not. I’m just planning to keep my head down, kill monsters, and hopefully not make too many mistakes. But then the match starts and I catch my first glimpse of a rival hero and suddenly all I care about is beating them. I manage to stay alive for the longest I’ve ever stayed alive in Dota, even with a Drow Ranger pummelling my hero with magic arrows. This is promising.
TOM This is it. I’m a little terrified because I’m laning against Pip’s Viper. She keeps needling me from a distance, pushing me away from the creep wave. That means fewer last hits and less gold. There’s some slightly frantic banter about the whereabouts of the RPS midlaner, who is apparently some sort of rainbow-coloured death fairy. I try to focus on killing creeps.
PHIL Adam from RPS is playing Witch Doctor. I know how to play WD, and that, I realise, means I can respond to what he’s doing. At one point, I see his health start to tick up, and realise he’s activated Voodoo Restoration. I know for a fact that it’s bottomed out his mana, because I once made the same mistake. Annoyingly, I can’t do anything—Pip’s Viper is too effective for us to get a kill—but I’m pleased at myself for knowing a thing.
CHRIS I’m nervous. I don’t get anywhere near the farm I need. An invisibility rune spawns, and I figure I can use it to make a game-opening play on the top lane. I do so, but Andy and Sam aren’t anywhere near close enough to help and the enemy successfully withdraws. The long walk back to the fountain gives Alice plenty of time alone.
SAMUEL Andy and I are gradually getting to grips with the tactical retreat. Early on I take out Alec’s Drow Ranger, which is a great boost to my self-esteem. We’re working well together. Then Alice arrives to ruin it all.
ANDY Everything seems to be going well, but then I get killed by a giant floating frog fairy, and again, and again, and now I’m mad. Every time I see the magic frog I run away, and I spend the next part of the match just hiding in a corner, killing creeps.
PHIL I keep making logistical errors. I’m so focused on where to place wards that I forget to buy them. Twice I mis-click, activating my ultimate when I meant to place a ward. It’s frustrating, because despite having only played a few games, I already think I should be better than this. I’m not the only one getting annoyed. Chris sounds frustrated. I don’t know if it’s with us or himself, or some combination of the two, but it has a profound effect on morale. Until now, we’ve fed off Chris’s relentless optimism and belief. We’re not long into the match, and it’s clear he’s behind. His frustration hits me pretty hard. I go very quiet.
CHRIS Alice has built a Dagon, a magical laser wand that allows you to explode underleveled heroes in a single hit. My ducklings are underleveled. It feels like a dick move. Really, though, I’m cross at myself. I should have played what I knew, but I tried to both be noble and a show-off in a single stroke. I pull the team off their lanes, into a clump for safety. Regaining a bit of composure, I land a global snipe on Alec’s fleeing Drow Ranger with Invoker’s Sunstrike. We’re still in this, barely.
TOM It’s a huge relief to get out of the lanes. I start amassing a bit of gold by chopping away at the wildlife in the jungles. I’m gradually building the famed ‘BKB’, which I can activate to gain immunity from magic spells for a few precious seconds. I wait, and bide my time killing a colourful jungle ostrich.
ANDY The latter half of a Dota match, I’ve learned, is a lot more fun. Once you’ve got better items and abilities, the combat feels a lot more satisfying. I’m as engaged as I’ve ever been in a Dota game. I want to beat these guys.
CHRIS I’m running the numbers. Alice is scary, but she’s also pushing her luck. She over-extends more than once, and we’re able to feint, counter-attack, and kill her. But the big picture looks grim. Quinns has Shadow Shaman, whose ultimate—Serpent Wards—allows him to place a nest of menacing snake-turrets. They’re deadly against buildings and deadlier against players, and he’s good at trapping people in them. At the beginning of this journey, I assumed I could ignore most of the little details and lead a team to victory by focusing on the major themes. I’m wrong. You really need to know how to escape a Serpent Ward trap, how to clear them from a tower, and so on. There’s no time to explain. They close on our base.
TOM The mid-game felt like a fragmented mess of half-formed fights. Only now, on the doorstep of our ancient, do we finally rally. We’re all in one place, and our mission is clear: kill anything that comes up the steps. That gives us the focus we need to start getting kills. We even manage to wipe their team at one point. We’ve lost too many towers, though, and our barracks, which means we’re being swarmed by enemy mega-creeps. My items have brought me back into the game, but I have to spend all my time beating back the hordes. It’s a valiant last stand, but we can’t get out of our base. The end is nigh.
ANDY The RPS army is relentless. They won’t stop coming. I’m dying a lot, and they’re all a higher level than me. Game over. I stand in a corner, lower my rifle, and wait patiently for the match to end. I just don’t have Dota in my blood.
PHIL I’m distraught—partly at RPS’s win, but mostly at myself. I didn’t play well. I don’t think I can play well yet. As I wallow in post-game ennui, I realise that I’d really like to learn how.
CHRIS I’m heartbroken. I know this feeling. I look around the office. Phil feels it. Tom feels it. Sam feels it. Andy’s already moved on. Something occurs to me: I can tell which of us will keep playing—they’re the ones who are utterly, utterly crestfallen. “Dota this weekend?” Phil asks. I agree. Our next conversation concerns revenge.