Three Lane Highway: how to play Dota 2 and feel good about it afterwards

Troll Warlord

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

I've written a lot about the importance of attitude in Dota 2. 'How you act' is as interesting and important a subject to me as 'how you play'—or, at the very least, it's the subject that I feel I'm more qualified to talk about. I've got two and a half years of Dota experience, but significantly more experience of being a human who has to interact with other humans in order to achieve things and be happy. Dota is no different to a vast number of other difficult things you might try to do with other people in that regard, and there are patterns of thought and behaviour that, once you learn them, are a general help. You will be a better player, I've always argued, if you spend some time learning how to avoid being a dick.

I've come at this idea from a couple of different angles over the last six months. Recently, though, I've had another run of unhappy encounters with the game. You might have picked up half a paragraph ago that there's a 'but' coming—something that complicates my typically unquestioning approach to The Importance Of Being Nice. There is a 'but' coming, I'm afraid. Specifically, a 'butt'. I am the butt. I have been a butt, lately. That was a pun. I am really sorry.

I've realised, the hard way, that keeping your shit together during a stressful game isn't something that you learn once and take for granted. Even writing essays about this stuff isn't enough, it turns out, to prevent a backslide into being a backside to your friends. I experience this feeling of having broken my own rules with sufficient regularity that it has become a recognisable psychological scenario in my life: lying in bed about 1am, wishing that I could have closed out that last game of Dota without being a dick in this way or that, feeling generally and pervasively unhappy about the type of person I can become under pressure.

If you've got to this point in the article and thought "chill out, man, it's just a game" then, well, yes, that's the goal. But games make you have all kinds of thoughts and feelings—that's why you play them. You probably play Dota 2 because of the feelings it makes you have, and those feelings make you do things. Controlling what the game makes you do is important. There's no 'just a game' here because games are powerful, and no 'chill out, man' because chilling out is, paradoxically, hard and requires work. Besides: I've been going deep on Dota 2 for long enough now that I might as well keep going. I'm pretty far up the Mekong at this point. The horror, the horror, and so on.

I've realised that setting yourself rules doesn't work if you struggle to provide yourself with an environment where following the rules comes naturally. An analogy for this problem would be the difference between a practice game and a streamed competitive match: the strats you plan, the high-concept drafts you consider can crumble quickly when the parameters of the game change. The same is true for a rule like "never start a sentence with 'why'"—it makes tremendous sense on paper, but Christ! Why did she/he/we try to contest a Roshan attempt that she/he/we knew they were ready to defend? This stuff is rhetorical comfort food. It's bad for you, but it makes you feel better and it's hard to resist unless you are specifically ready to resist it.

One of my new rules, appropriately enough, comes from preparing for competitive matches: treat every game like somebody else is watching. I realised that my outlook is generally more positive when I'm streaming or playing with strangers. If I treat Dota 2 like a performance then I find it less stressful and my behaviour is better. There are obvious concerns raised here about how authentic I'm being—but honestly, I'm authentically an asshole. I'd rather be a pretend person who is fun to play with.

The second point is related, but almost the thematic opposite: watch how other people play for your benefit, not theirs. I'm terrible at this, because I'm bossy and habitually micromanage unless I make myself stop. The key thing I've realised is that in the vast majority of cases the small inefficiencies I might perceive in someone else's play are either entirely in my head or totally insignificant to the match as a whole. The urge to educate is more accurately an urge to replicate my own behaviour in somebody else. And I suck! I'm far more likely to learn something about what I'm doing wrong by watching somebody than find something to correct in them—and its even less likely that what I attempt to correct will be so significant that it's worth sundering the mood of the game to do so.

There's one exception to this, and it's when someone has actively and clearly asked you to comment on what they're doing. It's nice to be micromanaged by a better player—useful, fun, energising. You should try it. But doing so unbidden, deliberately or not, is pointless. You might as well walk up to somebody in the street, look at their outfit, and advise them to wear all of your clothes because they're your clothes, and they fit you, so they must be the right clothes.

The key here, I think, is recognising the benefits of actively cohabiting rather than passively coexisting. That sounds pseudish and awful but there's truth there. Being actively engaged is key, because you can't ever trust your passive urges to lead you in the right direction. I might really want to chew somebody out for a mistake, and it might make me feel better, but I know from repeated experience that it'll make me feel bad later. I'd be dumb to fall into that trap again.

Finally: quit while you're ahead. There's another thing you should never do even if you really want to, and that's play another game of Dota 2 when you just lost one and you're already tired but you really want to win. This is the error, for me. It is the fun-killer, the little death that brings total obliteration. You've got to Bene Gesserit up in the face of that 'just one more' urge. It won't be fine next time. You won't learn, because you're already tilting. Nobody ever turned a tilt around by tilting harder in the same direction. Tilts do not work that way. They are not cyclical.

The ultimate way to create a scenario where you don't lose your temper with your friends is to go the fuck to sleep. You can't stare at the ceiling at 1am regretting your decisions if you're happily unconscious by then. This is the nuclear option, I guess, but honestly? The community as a whole would be much more positive place if Valve tried an event where players earned Arcanas by taking a lovely nap every time they lost a game.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.


Chris is the editor of PC Gamer Pro. After many years spent turning beautiful trees into magazines, he now oversees our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports.
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