The case against random hero selection in ranked Dota 2

Rubick Augur

Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general. The art above comes from the Garb of the Cunning Augur set for Rubick by Es'Kophan.

The most significant difference between the majority of Dota 2's traditional game modes lies in the way you pick your character. Drafting is an essential part of the game, and opting in to different methods of drafting is a way of determining what kind of experience you want to have. I've written before about there being different Dotas for different players, and this is the most obvious way this manifests. If you play a lot of Single or Random Draft then your experience is fundamentally different to somebody who plays a lot of Captain's Mode—and so on.

Over time, Valve and Icefrog have made multiple tweaks to the way that All Pick works. They've adjusted the amount of time for picks and the amount of gold you lose if you fail to choose. When 6.82 launched last September, Valve acknowledged that ranked All Pick should work differently to unranked: they added a 'strategy period' to the beginning, enforced an alternating pick system, and increased the punishment for idling. Since then, the two variants of All Pick have amounted to (very subtly) different game modes.

I'd argue that these changes didn't go quite far enough. I've been playing a bunch of solo ranked again recently, and I'm struggling to come up with a reason why players should have the option to random their hero.

It's a fine idea in principle, and it works in regular All Pick (and in team ranked, for that matter—what I have to say really applies to solo games.) Randoming is a form of gambling that adds a degree of luck and chance to the drafting process—it can go well or disastrously and responding to your fortunes one way or another is an interesting strategic challenge.

This is fine if everybody involved agrees to it, but I don't think I've ever seen somebody say 'do you guys mind if I random' in solo ranked. Ever. It doesn't happen—what does happen is that someone loads in, immediately randoms, and then the five strangers they're matched with try to work around it. Or they don't try to work around it, and you end up with double mids or no support or no carries and the next forty minutes becomes an exercise in defying the mathematical likelihood that the game was lost before you started.

There's a lot of ways that solo players can make selfish decisions in the draft that screw their teammates—locking mid without any discussion, and so on. That stuff's unavoidable. In those cases, however, it usually stems from a player wanting to do something that will ultimately favour them in the match. Maybe they're insta-picking Queen of Pain because they're great with her. Even if they're wrong, the decision comes from a position of 'I want to win this game' and that's ultimately positive.

Randoming exposes players to huge risk—that they'll get a terrible hero, or a hero that they're terrible with, or a hero that requires somebody else to pick something to accompany it that they might not be happy to play (random Io being a good example of this.) Randoming doesn't express the desire to win the game—it expresses the desire to leave it substantially up to chance.

This is really bad for a competitive team game. The last thing Dota 2 needs is a 'screw everybody else on my team' button, and often that's what the random option amounts to. It's different in a one vs. one game—StarCraft comes to mind—because the time and energy that the player is gambling with is there own. Being able to random in solo ranked amounts to gambling with four other people's time too. I'd argue that Valve should do everything they can to reduce the amount that individual players can ruin games for other people. With this in mind, I don't think the random option has a place in solo ranked games.

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Chris Thursten

Joining in 2011, Chris made his start with PC Gamer turning beautiful trees into magazines, first as a writer and later as deputy editor. Once PCG's reluctant MMO champion , his discovery of Dota 2 in 2012 led him to much darker, stranger places. In 2015, Chris became the editor of PC Gamer Pro, overseeing our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports. He left in 2017, and can be now found making games and recording the Crate & Crowbar podcast.