The Winter Battle Pass is Valve's best Dota 2 event yet

Dota 2 Winter Battle Pass

Three Lane Highway

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

They've finally done it. The maniacs, they've finally done it. Valve have launched a community Dota 2 event that really works. The Winter 2016 Battle Pass came out yesterday with no warning whatsoever and has, so far, avoided making almost all of the mistakes that Dota 2 events traditionally make. If you've not been playing for long, let's recap the traditional problems:

It's a separate game mode that doesn't really work half the time

eg. New Bloom 2014, New Bloom 2015, Diretide 2012, Diretide 2013

It changes the way people play regular Dota 2

eg. Nemesis Assassin

It's about abusing a system until you get free stuff

eg. New Bloom 2014, New Bloom 2015, Diretide 2012, Diretide 2013

It's fun but a grind

eg. Wraith Night

It's basically gambling with real money

eg. New Bloom 2015

It didn't happen

eg. Diretide 2014

Only one other event that I can think of dodges most of these pitfalls—the wonderful Greeviling, vanished never to return along with Valve's deep but fleeting obsession with dinosaur gremlin muppet creatures, alas.

The Winter 2016 Battle Pass is a lot of things in one. It's this year's replacement for New Bloom, which traditionally ran—as this will—through spring. To that end it introduces a new time-limited quest system, community-spanning meta-objectives, and a bunch of achievements and trophies and so on.

It also includes the compendium for the Shanghai Major, which encompasses the traditional esports tie-in booklet that somebody presumably reads along with a leveling system, temporary in-game rewards, and a lot of new chests and sets. With the exception of a new custom game mode—they've become the exclusive preserve of the 'Arcade' tab—the Battle Pass incorporates almost every idea that Valve have had over the last three and a bit years of running these things.

Except they all work in harmony with each other. And with the exception of a day one duping bug, nothing is terribly broken. And it's not terribly expensive. And it doesn't invite you to sink lots of money after your initial purchase. And it's more about engaging with the game than grinding for specific rewards. And the interface doesn't take thirty seconds to load for no discernable reason.

This provides a kind of compound relief. One, it's a substantial update in its own right, something that Dota badly needs given the long wait between patches and heroes. Two, it's a great use of the Reborn client that makes me glad that we got through that long, messy relaunch. Three, it's a live event that doesn't feel like a funfair being operated as a social experiment by a haywire AI. At least, not as much as usual.

I can list off my 'serious' problems with the update on the fingers of one hand:

  • This Skywrath set shouldn’t be red I guess.
  • They shouldn't have nerfed Skywrath's incredibly lengthy 'in the bag' line by making it less likely to play. From my high horse I can see to the ends of the world, and from this vantage point I declare with utter certainty that this is a terrible decision and the game is dead.
  • If they're going to make Skywrath red, at least make him shout his 'in the bag' line over and over so that I know that Legion Commander and Beastmaster's hawk haven't had a baby or something.
  • Pouring money into a compendium that doesn't increase the associated prize pool is still weird.

That's basically one problem and three lots of nonsense! Good job, Valve!

Through all of this, however—the well-implemented quest system and the daily challenges and the gambling and the new sets and the great terrain and the cool seasonal effects and so on and so on—there's one thing that really makes me happy: Valve are talking about player behaviour again.

Tucked away among the new additions is the 'conduct summary', a one-sheet review of your behaviour over the last 25 games that you've played. In the associated FAQ, Valve explain that they want to make the way the game keeps track of player conduct much more transparent. Your report is designed to let you know that, actually, 77% of players don't incur reports. That assholes are outliers. That a single match isn't enough to get you committed to the low priority queue, and that—through all the strife of matchmaking—a handful of people liked you enough to commend you.

This is a positive change in and of itself, but it's the increased communication that clinches it for me. When I spoke to Valve's Erik Johnson last year, he didn't regard player behaviour as a major issue for the game. This is likely because, if you have all of the data in front of you, the amount of players that cause enough trouble to be worth punishing is actually relatively small (the new conduct summary attests to that.) In the intervening time, however, it seems that Valve have realised that they need to open that data up to the community: it's not enough to say 'this isn't a priority' in private and leave people to get frustrated with what they perceive as a toxic player base.

The conduct summary FAQ puts to rest a bunch of urban myths regarding the report system: that you can be bullied into low prio by an ill-meaning party of players, or that the system is rendered ineffective by 'noise'—players filing reports for the wrong reasons. I don't know that the players who most need to read this FAQ will do so, and I suspect that the most serious offenders won't care when their conduct summary flashes up a run of red icons—but it's progress, and it speaks to increased openness on Valve's part.

I'm really pleased with the Battle Pass system, and it has me excited to try and complete all of the objectives before the event ends, but it's this single simple thing that has me hopeful for the future of the game. Valve's long run of experimental community events has finally borne fruit. If they go on to figure out how to encourage better behaviour from the average Dota player, and do so while writing more openly about their working, then I can’t think of a better start to 2016.

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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.