The great Dota 2 social Axe-periment

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Three Lane Highway

Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2 and wizards in general. To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

I’ve written a lot about how to talk and how to behave to get the most out of Dota 2—or, at the very least, to get through your solo ranked games with your dignity and maybe your MMR intact. I don’t think there’s anything left for me to say about staying positive, giving clear instructions, and shrugging off the bad attitudes of other players. With that in mind, then, I decided to find out what happens when you ignore all of that and just decide to pretend to be Axe for a game.

I’ve got this theory, see: Axe probably has the perfect mentality for solo ranked. He’s confident, aggressive, but he is also fundamentally having a good time. He is unlikely to respect defeatist talk and when you’re a one-man army there’s no reason to complain about what anybody else is doing. In fact, he’d probably be delighted by it. Has an ally gone in too deep? AXE APPROVES! Has an ally died, but left one or two enemies low on health? AXE APPROVES! Has an ally failed to arrive in time to defend a tower, giving Axe no choice but to dive in solo against their entire team and the creep wave? AXE APPROVES!

The following is a social experiment designed to prove, totally scientifically, that being Axe is a surefire way to raise your MMR. Not just playing as him, but becoming him: speaking in all caps, referring to yourself in the third person, taking stupid risks.

I change my Steam avatar to a picture of Axe’s face and change my Steam name to ‘AXE’. I boot Dota 2, queue for solo ranked. This is what happens next.

Axeperiment Pregame 1

I’m able to lock Axe immediately and indicate that I’d like to go to the offlane. It’s funny: normally I’d be more cautious about insta-picking a hero, but my obvious commitment to a high concept somehow justifies it—at least to me. One of my allies (name removed, obviously) suggests we go aggressive. It’s pretty rare, in my experience, that lane strats start getting discussed this early. AXE APPROVES!

Axeperiment Pregame 2

The discussion then turns to what hero should accompany me to the offlane. Myself and another person suggest Omniknight or Dazzle, but the ally that suggested pushing early doesn’t want to play a support. After draining a bit of gold by waiting too long, he locks Leshrac. I’m not 100% on this but it’s not a terrible pairing. What’s more, Leshrac starts bellowing Axe lines back at me: not only is he willing to cooperate, but he’s getting in on the joke too. I’ve got a really good feeling about this game.

Our final draft is Lich and Anti-Mage (safe lane), Kunkka (mid), and Leshrac and Axe (offlane.) We are up against Invoker (mid), Gyrocopter and Necrophos (safe lane), Queen of Pain and Puck (offlane). It is a solo ranked game of Dota 2, all right.

Axeperiment 0 mins

I buy a ward for the offlane, but so does Leshrac. Cooperation! ‘LICH! AXE WILL GIVE YOU THIS SPARE WARD’ I bellow, and Lich replies by also yelling in the third person, which I am delighted by. The horn hasn’t sounded yet, and currently more than half of the team are pretending to be Axe. This isn’t quite what I’d expected, but it’s more fun than 95% of the solo ranked games I’ve played.

Leshrac and I contest the bottom rune and get the enemy safelane pair—Gyrocopter and Necrophos—low but don’t kill anybody. Then, we manage to cancel some salves on the way to lane. This is a pretty confident start.

Axeperiment 1 mins

Our first proper kill attempt is a success and we get first blood on the Necrophos. I back up a little to regen and Leshrac decides to go all the way back to base. At this point, warning signs start to show. I am level two, with one point in Berserker's Call and one in Counter-Helix—nothing unusual there. Leshrac starts to complain that I don’t have two points in Counter-Helix, and doesn’t seem to understand that I’m not level 3. This argument lasts until I hit level 3.

We go deep for another kill and get one, but on the way out I’m hit by a Sunstrike from their midlane Invoker and a right-click from Necrophos finishes me off. I’m okay with this: Axe for Gyrocopter is worth it. Leshrac is not okay with it.

Axeperiment 3 mins

For the next couple of minutes, our relationship steadily collapses. I don’t really know what he wants from me. We continue to get kills and trade favourably against their safelane, but either it isn’t clean enough or we’re not getting enough out of it for Leshrac to be happy. I go a little too deep to kill the Necrophos, but Puck emerges from the jungle with a double damage rune and she and Gyrocopter kill me. The inevitable happens.

Axeperiment 5 mins

What was once the beginning of a beautiful friendship is now the middle-stage of a terrible marriage. Leshrac has turned on me and I don’t really know why: I am doing offlane Axe things, we are suppressing their safelane, and it’s going reasonably well—I think. Then, I take a look at Leshrac’s build and figure out why he might be so angry. He’s completely ignored Lightning Storm in favour of alternating Split Earth and Diabolic Edict. This makes him much less able to harass and, to my eyes, ruins his potential synergy with Axe—but it does make him more effective at pushing early. He’s sad because he thinks we aren’t pushing hard enough, I realise.

Axeperiment 8 mins

Our fractious relationship enters a new, passive-aggressive phase. I don’t think it’s out of character for Axe to be passive-aggressive: after all, his most damaging ability is a passive. I cut the wave a little bit, but have to back out to fight in the toplane. Our teams are even on kills and Anti-Mage is farming but it starts to look like the other guys are simply better: they’ve drafted far too greedily, but they’re making it work. Invoker is good, and is reliably Sunstriking me during Berserker's Call—making big plays a risk.

The pace of the game slows right down. We lose all of our outer towers, but I manage to take their safelane by cutting the wave and get my Blink Dagger in the process. We’re steadily getting pushed back, but we’re fighting four vs. five while Anti-Mage farms, which means I’m still fairly confident. I’m dying a bit too much, because every blink initiation I make is followed up by Gyrocopter and Queen of Pain ults, Death Pulses, Reaper’s Scythes and so on. It’s rough, but we’re hanging on.

Kunkka and Anti-Mage are quiet and relatively focused. Lich is decent and talkative. At this point, Leshrac starts to rage at anybody who makes a mistake, calls ‘gg’ after a bad teamfight, and is seemingly messing with the courier whenever somebody else calls it. I have to force it to drop some Sentry Wards because he moves it away whenever I call it to deliver them: later, we find out that he’s delayed the delivery of Kunkka’s Crystalis by a couple of minutes. Despite that promising start, then, pretending to be Axe hasn’t really done anything to improve this guy’s attitude.

Axeperiment 20 mins

At twenty minutes, Leshrac has brown boots, Drums of Endurance, and hasn’t put a single point into Lightning Storm. I disagree with this decision and let him know, which I wouldn’t normally do but screw it—I’m Axe. Weirdly, his next skill point goes into Lightning Storm. Now, it could simply be that he’d maxed his other two abilities and there was nowhere else he could go other than stats: but I like to think that Axe’s even-handed, all-caps approach to backseat Dota sank in in a way that actual person-to-person advice wouldn’t.

The enemy are fighting as five, now, pressuring our top lane tier 2 tower. I’m ready to jump on Queen of Pain when they pause—Puck has disconnected. We wait, but Puck never comes back. The fight that follows is a complete rout for the other team, as you’d expect, although one of them is micromanaging the Puck the entire time. This is the fight that the game turns on, both because they lost a player and because, having farmed very well, Anti-Mage arrives to clean up. Afterwards, Leshrac gloats in global chat.

Axeperiment 23 mins

Buoyed by my apparent success at advising Leshrac earlier, I try to police the tone of the game a little. Axe is a violent man, but he’s not a dick. They lost a key initiator: the least we can do is stay humble about winning the fight that followed. Leshrac promptly informs me in no uncertain terms that no, there are plenty of reasons to be a dick about it.

A couple of minutes later we hit a massive setback: we attempt to do Rosh, they spot it, and we get annihilated. The Puck has abandoned the game but one of them is using him as a one-shot initiator, which is enough to keep them in the match because basically they’re better at this than we are. Leshrac calls ‘gg’, again. I decide to remind the team that we’re still in a very good position: “WE HAVE AN ANTI-MAGE”.

Then, Leshrac escalates our rivalry in an unexpected way: he attempts to spell check me. “A anti-mage” he replies. “Not an”. Lich steps in. “No, you mean an”. The grammar war has begun.

Axeperiment 27 mins

This is approximately half an hour into the game. We could push and possibly win, at this point, but almost everybody seems content to farm. We take enough bad fights against a big fat Gyrocopter to make us very cautious about pressing the advantage, even though the game is now four vs. five. It’s hard to find much to say in character while clearing camps and building my remaining items.

There’s a lot of fighting, and it’s going reasonably well, and we’re inching closer and closer to taking barracks on all three lanes. By forty minutes, we’ve successfully taken Roshan and knocked down their tier 3 tower on the bottom lane. I die in the engagement, but Kunkka sticks around and takes their ranged barracks. He lingers too long, however, just as Gyrocopter respawns.

Axperiment 43 mins

I ask them to be careful but it doesn’t work—it’s a teamwipe for us this time, one that prolongs the game by another half an hour. Leshrac points the finger at me: I’m 11/11/something at this point, far from ideal but I don’t feel too cut up about it. He’s 5/9 with plenty of assists, but then again he has two buttons that give him assists in a massive AoE.

It’s hard to maintain character very much at this point, so I go quiet for a while. We come back from that bad fight but once again it prompts an extended round of farming and split-pushing. Leshrac is getting more and more irritated, particularly at Anti-Mage who he accuses of inefficiently using his Abyssal Blade. I don’t really get it: we are almost certainly going to win this game. The odds are simply in our favour.

I will say this, though—even though the Axe impersonation hasn’t keep the mood particularly high into the lategame, the team is much more talkative than I’m used to. Anti-Mage has become more communicative, Kunkka and Lich both seem like nice guys, and there’s no reluctance to share plans or discuss where to ward. Even if it simply acted as an ice breaker, the plan seems to have worked.

At 65 minutes—more than half an hour since Puck abandoned—Leshrac catches out Gyrocopter with Split Earth as he’s returning to base. I’m nearby and blink-Call, our old laning partnership briefly returning. We’re able to kill him, the pair of us, and he’s dead for two minutes without buyback. This is the opening we were waiting for. We finish off their bottom barracks, take mid as well, take another fight. I die, buy back, Boots of Travel to the bottom lane, kill Queen of Pain, and help Anti-Mage secure Mega Creeps. We have definitely, definitely won now.

Leshrac calls everybody noobs, for some reason.

Axeperiment 67 Mins

I may never know. What I do know is that pretending to be Axe can indeed net you +25 MMR—but it was far from the easiest +25 MMR of my life. Solo ranked is still a lottery, and doing an impression of a giant happy red murderer isn’t necessarily going to reform every single asshole within a radius. That said, this is the most fun I’ve had in solo ranked—possibly ever. I don’t think I’m going to go back to being ‘me’ in this context. Silliness takes the edge of what is normally a fraught and stressful experience, and while I won’t commit to saying that typing in the third person in all caps kept me from tilting it definitely didn’t hurt, either.


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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.