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

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.

If you work on your ability to pick apart a situation to understand its various components–which is something I've written about in this column before–then it's possible to derive rules and principles that are tremendously helpful. This is because your performance in Dota is made of up two things. The first is the obvious stuff: the mixture of game knowledge and mechanical skill that comprises the better part of your matchmaking rating. The second part is more nebulous, because it's bound up in things that are personal to you. Whether you have an ego or not. Whether or not you are calm. Whether you can comprehend and act on criticism. You are always able to work on the latter, and you should, because it'll make you happier and better at the game.

I've been playing in a couple of tournaments recently. I'm part of a games industry Dota 2 tournament called The Rektreational that has been running for a couple of months. I'm on team Venomancer, I Hardly Know Her? with Philippa Warr of RPS, freelancer Phill Cameron, PyrionFlax, and shaneomad. We've won our first two matches and are through to the third round.

I'm also in a team called the Hot Dukes and last night we took part in the qualifiers for the Epic LAN EGX Dota 2 tournament, the finals for which will be held at the EGX expo in London at the end of month. We won our first game and got crushed in the second. We learned a bunch of things. We'll turn them into rules and move on. That's how this stuff works.

Playing in this way has reinforced a bunch of things that felt like I knew about the game and myself and corrected many others. I'm by no means a good player, but I think I have an alright attitude and slowly–but surely–I've arrived at the point where I think I've got actual advice to share about playing structured Dota.

The first piece of advice, which anybody who was watching the Epic LAN stream last night will understand, is 'don't blink directly into a Disruptor ult'. Yep. Learned that one. The rest of this is somewhat more elaborate.

The theorycraft has no brakes

...and that can get you in trouble. The funny thing about Captain's Mode is that it looks and feels like the type of Dota that you see talented professionals playing. The thing is, you are probably not a talented professional Dota player. It is very, very easy to get carried away by imitating strategies you're not fully capable of pulling off, and to be led astray by a metagame that you think you understand fully but probably don't. That's the thing about the metagame: it's easy to learn because it's not, ultimately, about personal skill. It's about knowledge, and knowledge can be memories - and misused.

Adhering tightly to the same set of top tier bans because that's what the players you admire do can hold you in good stead when your opponents are doing the same thing, but it's not always right. If you know your enemy, banning out their favourite heroes is almost certainly better. If you don't, banning Razor, Viper and Void isn't necessarily going to save you. They might run Silencer, and that guy is a total prick unless you have the individual talent to outlane him and, later in the game, the team coordination to disengage from fights properly.

It comes down to humility, really. Don't bind up all of your hopes in theorycraft that you can't pull off. In turn, don't feel bad if your skill level restricts the kinds of strategies you can try–that is just a fact of life. The moment you find yourself unable you pull off a strat you think you understand, you've identified something fixed and tangible that you should be trying to correct about your play. You've identified another rung on the ladder. Just expect to slip a few times before you get a hold on it.

It's okay to be a tryhard sometimes

This might seem contrary given what I've just written, but there are times when taking teamplay 'too' seriously is actually the best thing you can possibly do–especially when it concerns all that ego and discipline stuff I won't stop talking about. Reining in your ambitions in terms of strategies and hero drafts is possibly a good thing. Learning to act and communicate like an actual team is, however, the best thing you can possibly do if you want to take Dota seriously.

When I started playing with a team we came up with communication rules that dictate how much we're allowed to rage at each other (we're not) and how we frame criticism and respond to problems. I've played in teams without these rules, and the difference is night and day. Around two weeks ago the Hot Dukes gave up four kills in the enemy jungle and went on to win from that disastrous start because we didn't freak out. A week later I played with a different team and gave up three kills in very similar circumstances. In that case, the game was lost from minute zero: people lost their shit, at themselves and at each other, and simply trying to coordinate properly was like fighting a losing battle.

The difference is that the former team had worked specifically to develop an attitude that could withstand an early game disaster. Ideally, we wouldn't have early game disasters at all. But being a bit of a tryhard paid off, and I'd thoroughly recommend it.

Figure out your tilt controls

Regardless, things will go wrong. They always do. People tilt, and games are lost because one setback is enough to send someone's confidence–and with it, their ability–slowly tipping over like a drunk at a house party. You need to figure out whatever it is that will make you feel better in that scenario, and more pointedly you need to work out if it's actually the best thing to do. It may be that your instinct, when you're tilting, is to mute your microphone, or sigh loudly, or play passively. There is a very good chance that these ideas are wrong because they broadcast your tilt to everybody on your team, exacerbating their own bad moods and worsening your collective position.

Your process for straightening your shit out needs to be quiet and internal, in this game if in no other context. That might mean stacking a few jungle camps and getting your next big item, doing some dewarding, or suggesting and acting on a rotation or a push. But it's on you to establish and follow the rules you set for yourself. Although it make you feel better, sighing your way through an uncontrolled tilt will lose you the game and make you feel worse.

Everybody throws

From the trench to the International, there are very few teams in the world that don't screw up from time to time. Even DK with their legendary control threw a game against LGD by allowing it to go too long. Everybody does this, even you, and even the opponent you feel hopelessly outmatched by. In team games, it is tempting to call GG after a few bad encounters or even a lost lane of rax–the point, more or less, where the game feels like its over. It probably isn't. It is always possible for your opponent to make a mistake. Even if there's nothing you can do, simply surviving for an extra couple of minutes gives the enemy team a little more rope with which to hang themselves.

Most of the time they won't, and you'll be left to figure out whatever lessons you need to learn. But sometimes you'll go on to win the teamfight that turns the game and you'll remember that game forever. And it's not a cheap or chance victory, either: you got there because you stuck it out when other people would tilt or give up. You might not have the most effective trilane and your offlaner might keep blinking into Disruptor ults for no reason, but you kept your shit together. Good job, hero.

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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