Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2 and wizards in general.
Dota 2 just underwent the most substantial update that it has received since the game entered closed beta. Suddenly and without fanfare, the Reborn beta test came to an end and the new game client took over. Custom games are there to try, the UI and new player experience have been completely refreshed, and the world has its first officially-released Source 2 engine game.
I think everybody was expecting more spectacle. The launch of Reborn hasn't been accompanied by a balance patch, a new hero, or even a new section on the website. Relative to comparatively unimportant updates, Valve have put almost no weight behind this moment. Perhaps that's deliberate: maybe they want this to feel like just another day in the history of the game, to play down the hype so that any problems—and there will be problems—emerge against a backdrop of relative calm. Nonetheless, it's a surprise that Reborn has been launched so quickly and so quietly—like returning home to find out that somebody has updated the operating system on your PC without asking, with a lot of the same attendant concerns.
When I spoke to Erik Johnson from Valve at the International, I was surprised by how confident he was that Reborn would launch shortly after the event. My experience with the beta to that point hadn't been fantastic: stuttering on my PC at home, inputs sometimes failing to register on my PC in the office. Admittedly I'd mostly played the beta to try out custom games, where Dota 2 is at its most unstable, but my experience was of a litany of problems with lobbies, match stability, the interface, and so on.
It has improved a lot since then, and playing today I've experienced no significant performance problems—but there are bugs and absences, lots of them, and I can't help but feel that Dota 2 has been less reborn and more restarted. There are undoubtedly many updates to come, and this new client gives Valve more power and freedom when it comes to creating them, but that's not quite where we're at yet. This feels less like Reborn leaving beta and more like Dota 2 as a whole heading back.
It's the stuff that's missing that most concerns me—and I'm not just talking about that silly item-building quiz that you used to be able to do while queuing. Formal team functionality has vanished overnight. As far as I can tell you can no longer create your own teams, set custom graphics for banners and base logos, or queue specifically to be matched against another stack. I can't find my team MMR anywhere on my profile, although my 'pro info' (their words, not mine) is still there. My team still exists, I think, but there's no obvious way to access that information.
Valve haven't done much with the team ranked ladder over the last year, and given how buggy it used to be I get the impression that it was never a priority. Yet it was an important part of the game for me and for others: a way to bridge the gap between ranked pub games and in-houses, a convenient source of organised opponents to practice against. Setting custom team logos was a fun addition to the amateur tournaments I've played, and it no longer appears to be possible. There could well be a brilliant replacement for these old features coming down the line, but there's been no guarantees and no communication to that effect.
Although I like the new interface for cosmetics—particularly the new shuffling system—I understand why traders are upset about it, particularly the sorting systems that have been lost. You can also no longer manipulate or reset stat-tracking gems. It feels like whatever form your hobby took before, something is quite likely to have suffered in the transition to Reborn. Team matchmaking is my gripe, but every player will encounter something they miss. That's understandable, given the magnitude of the task that Valve have taken on, but it distracts from the genuine good that this update promises.
Custom games, as I've written before, could represent an epochal shift for Dota 2. The new engine runs faster on better hardware and supports a much improved spectator experience. It looks and feels more modern, and with this change Valve free themselves up to focus on the really exciting stuff: new heroes, new events, and so on. I'm trying to focus on all of these genuine benefits even as I encounter small gripe after small gripe.
What it comes down to, I think, is that the communication surrounding this week's changes simply hasn't been good enough. Valve have said that they'll be iterating based on feedback and that there are features to come, but they haven't said what or when. I think the community deserves better than that, particularly when functionality is being refactored or removed. There needs to be an acknowledgement of what Dota is losing along with what it has gained, ideally with a sense of which features are due to make a return—and if they're not coming back, some reasoning why. Otherwise you have a situation where Dota 2 is ready for Reborn, but the Dota 2 community isn't. That's what we're seeing now. Reborn doesn't need marketing, perhaps, but it does need transparency—even if the most honest thing to say at this point is "relax, guys, we're back in beta."
To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.