Dota 2 Diary: How to learn a hero in two hours

I've played 183 hours of Dota 2. Some of you will be saying "Whoa dude, that's time you could have spent making a mean batch of marmalade ." Others will be saying "Rofl, l2play noob."

But Dota 2's depth means that despite me having played longer than it took Apollo 13 to fly to the Moon and return to Earth , there's still heaps of heroes that I never played a single game as. This is a problem that faces many new players -- how to get up to competence as quickly as possible with a hero you haven't played before. Here's how I learn a new hero in two hours.

[0:00:00] First, go and get yourself some paper, a pen, and a big glass of water -- ideally a pint glass or bigger. Good hydration is essential for learning - it's necessary to maintain the tone of your cranial membranes for optimum neurotransmission. If you're dehydrated, you won't learn a thing.

[0:01:00] Go to the Dota 2 wiki and search for your hero. I'm going to use Enigma as an example, because I've never played as him, and I've rarely seen him in battle. Look at the page, and write down three things. The first is whether they're a strength, agility or intelligence hero. Enigma is an intelligence hero. The second is whether they're ranged or melee - Enigma is ranged. Finally, write down the list of recommended roles -- initiator, disabler and jungler, in this case.

[0:03:00] Now go to Dota Cinema's Heroes page and find your hero. There are no names here, but learning how to recognise heroes from their portraits is useful. Click through, and watch the Spotlight video to see how your hero's abilities work. Make notes, if you want to, of things to remember - the idea is to create a cheat sheet you can glance at while you play.

[0:06:00] Now stop for a second and think. When are you going to use each of your abilities to best effect? For Enigma, I'm thinking I want to use Malefice to get ganks in early game, and when chasing later on. I want to use Demonic Conversion when jungling and pushing. I want to lay down Midnight Pulse early on in a teamfight, and want to combo that with a Black Hole. To make that work, I'm already thinking I'm probably going to need to build a blink dagger. Again, write down some brief notes.

[0:10:00] Okay. We're ten minutes in, and you already know how you want to play your new hero. Load up a bot-match. Grab the recommended items, and put points in skills wherever you think you should based on how the game is going. DON'T LOOK AT A GUIDE YET. Blindly following a guide is a bad way to learn a hero, because you'll get dependent on it and get ganked while you're trying to read.

[0:55:00] How did that go? Did you win? It actually doesn't matter. What matters is whether you used your skills. Go back to the notes you made and see whether you got the most out of your abilities. Make some more notes based on the game you played. In my case, I was pretty happy with my skill use - but I found they were powerful but very mana-intensive in the early game, so I made a note to buy more clarities and go for a quick soul ring. One thing I wasn't too good at was being present in teamfights, so I wrote "teamfights" and underlined it. Twice.

[1:00:00] Go make a cup of tea to get a screen break, and think some more about the game while it's brewing.

[1:05:00] Now you're allowed to read some guides. Head over to Dotafire and see what others have to say about the hero you want to learn. Now you've got some experience yourself, you can judge whether a guide is on-the-money or not. You'll almost certainly learn some new things about your abilities too, and some tips on how to use them well. Make more notes, grab more paper if you need to, but try and keep all the information on a single sheet if you can - it's easier to take in that way.

For Enigma, I learnt several things. I learnt that I can use Demonic Conversion on friendly creeps, which is useful for tower pushing. I learnt that I should hide before teamfights so that my black hole can be more of a surprise. I also learnt to stay the hell away from silencing heroes.

[1:15:00] Time to hit a real game. Make sure you've got "all pick" selected, and find a match. In any downtime (pauses, waiting for loaders, etc), glance at your notes to keep them fresh in your mind. Godspeed.

[2:00:00] Oof. I got demolished in my first game with Enigma. How did you do? I got unlucky with jungle spawns, and I couldn't quite get off ganks on the long lane, even with the help of Lion -- we didn't have enough damage early on, and another of our lanes was getting demolished so they slowly snowballed us.

But that's okay. I didn't play too badly, which after just a single bot-match with a hero isn't anything to be ashamed of. The key is knowing the hero's strengths and weaknesses, how best to use their abilities, and situations to avoid in the future. And keeping those at the front of your mind.

Now go, I hereby graduate you from the two-hour-hero academy. You're no expert, but you're well along the road. Good luck.