Dota 2 's First Blood update is interesting for a bunch of high-level reasons that should make people who care about the game hmm and hah and think about the future. It's the first time a patch has been given the microsite treatment, new concept art and all - an inheritance from TF2 that suggests that the game's official release in July was more than a formality. Valve's marketing engines are starting to thunder into life for a game that hasn't previously needed them, and more comics, trailers, and ARGs are an implicit possibility.
I once asked Valve's Doug Lombardi if they had any plans to create Meet The Team-style videos for Dota's 100+ heroes. I realised that it was a stupid question before I'd finished asking it. Based on their rate-of-fire with Team Fortress 2, you're looking at, I don't know, sixty years from start to finish. I'd still love them to do it, but I need to steel myself against the knowledge that I won't live to see it end.
Anyway. The Portal Pack, which adds the long-awaited GlaDOS announcer and AI core wards and a new UI, is interesting because it's the most substantial cameo appearance of another franchise in Dota to date. Bastion and Defence Grid have had their moments, but announcer packs are generally regarded as 'outside' the game, canon-wise. After all, Dota comes with the Unreal Tournament mega-kills voice over by default.
The wards are cute and innoccuous, but it opens the door to more sponsored content like the dreadful Deathripper courier from a few months ago. So it'll be, if it makes business sense to Valve, but the community is currently manning the wall, Night's Watch-style, waiting for the waves of TF2-type tie-in content to spill over them.
For the first time, common items will be saleable on the Community Marketplace - previously, the only in-game items that had direct real-money value were Immortals (equipment that had been otherwise removed from the game), keys, chests, and the odd special courier or Mythical item. To balance this, itemisation has been turned on its head. Cosmetics will now rotate in and out of the store and in and out of in-game drop lists. Valve are presumably trying to solve the problem of infinite supply, and the way it would otherwise cause the real-money value of items to bottom out. It could be the most significant chance to item trading since the system was introduced, and if it's successful then expect to see it repeated elsewhere.
There'll be a lot of I'M PANICKING from the trading scene in the short term - and probably a freeze as people hold on to see what their commons and uncommons are worth come Monday. Who knows? Maybe my fifteen Sven swords will be worth something. (This isn't going to happen.)
Luna's new mount - her nova Nova, if you will - caused a rift between fans of pathers wearing tea towels as hats and fans of lions that are dressed as The Phantom. The former won, in the end, and the new model has been shelved for inclusion in a future update according to Cyborgmatt .
The addition of proper LAN support is significant chiefly because it has been such a contentious issue for other games - particularly StarCraft. I don't want to applaud Valve's inclusion of it too much because ideally local play would be considered a basic requirement of any multiplayer game of this kind, but it's nontheless welcome. And that picture of five Meepos having a LAN party is kind of brilliant.
There's a lot of good in this update, and a lot of reasons to be positive about the future. What I find most interesting right now, however, is the way it comments on the very recent past. Specifically, The International 3, Day 3, Na'Vi vs. TongFu, game 3. (That's more threes than you'll ever read in an article about a Valve game, by the way.)
That was the match where Na'Vi used fountain hooking to zone TongFu out of their comfort zones, out of the game, and out of the International. If you're not aware, it's a technique that uses Chen's Test of Faith teleport in combination with a Pudge hook to send an enemy tumbling into the fountain to be destroyed. With a Force Staff and Dendi-level skill it's essentially a long-range delete button for enemy heroes.
At the time , I was torn about the way Na'Vi played against TongFu - it was entertaining, and it drew a huge response from the crowd, but at the same time it was scrappy and felt like a trick. It was certainly divisive at the time, and I've been wondering whether we'd see an official response from Icefrog or Valve. Now we have - fountain hooking is gone, in its current form. Pudge hooks will now drag enemies to where Pudge was when he threw the hook, not where he is when it hits them.
I think this was the right call. I want Dota to be a game of flashy, risky plays, but at the end of the day that's not the effect fountain hooking had. The technique itself was impressive to see done well, but it had a dampening effect on the match. The threat of it is enough to kill a team's enthusiasm from wandering beyond their own jungle, and that will ultimately lead to more stale, DK vs. iG style marathon matches. I don't know if I could sit through another one. I've only got a finite amount of years left, and I want to live long enough to see Valve make Meet The Hero videos.