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Meet the item creators: pro and self-taught artists making millions from Dota 2

“Usually I just get a random spark of an idea which sweeps me up and I ride it as long as I can.” Anuxiamoon quips. “For Dota 2, I sometimes do a semi meditative think process, where in the chaos of my brain I find shapes and lines and ideas that I think would work well. Whether they do or not is something I then figure out during my brainstorm sketch process. If you could see my sketchbooks, they are filled with scribbles and ideas for lots of Dota 2 Heroes.”

"The process can take anywhere from three days to a week."

With others, it's a more streamlined procedure. Chemical Alia and DrySocket frequently collaborate together on projects. “The first thing we normally do is brainstorm. Here are a few of the things we'll consider: what characters are newly available to the store, what characters already have awesome recently sets, which characters contrast with the sets we've already made so they can keep things fun, what characters are popular with the player base and so on. From there, we brainstorm set ideas, become acquainted with the character through the models, lore and voice acting. Then, we start drawing a whole bunch of ideas until we settle on a final design.”

The process, according to the pair, can take anywhere from three days to a week. “After that point we split up the work, where each of us takes about half the set and does the high poly, low poly, texturing, everything. We'll bring it all back together again once that's done, take a consistency pass over the textures to make sure it all feels right, and start on our marketing shots. You'd be surprised how much work there is actually besides making the models that you see in Dota! Testing takes forever, and making the actual promotion shots always takes longer than expected.”

Dry quips, half mournfully. “My girlfriend does NOT like it when I say 'I'm almost done' because she never believes it anymore.”

"I see the Workshop community as more a group of gamers, rather than artists."

On top of harsh critique from their peers and personal obligations, Dota 2 item-makers must contend with the general public, a group composed of the frequently vilified players of Dota 2. While some rail against the acid so commonly associated with that demographic, others take it in stride.

“They're a pretty opinionated bunch, but I think that's to be expected because they care about the game and what content goes into it. I see the Workshop community as more a group of gamers, rather than artists. So, while the feedback we get from them might not be the most technically insightful or artistically constructive, it still gives us an idea of how your average Dota 2 player responds to your work and that is a super important metric.” DrySocket remarks.

“There's definitely this strange relationship between contributors and their fans.” Mrpresident says. “You wouldn't believe how many times I and others have been told to "read the art guide" as if people that have sunk hundreds of hours into item creation somehow haven't taken 15 minutes to read the art guide, and then intentionally try to push it and see if Valve likes it.”