Three Lane Highway: heroes of solo ranked matchmaking


Three Lane Highway is Chris' weekly column about Dota 2. Art by biggreenpepper.

Imagine the Power Rangers. Not the Dota 2 pro team—but we'll get to the game in a minute—but the actual, cornerstone-of-my-childhood Power Rangers. Now imagine that instead of assembling a team of Earth-defending teens with attitude, Zordon pulled together five strangers who mostly didn't speak the same language and were predisposed to loathe one another. Imagine those five shitty Power Rangers attempting to form a Megazord where nobody wants to be the legs or left arm: everybody that wants to be the head or hold the giant sword. Three different guys decide that they're the Red Ranger. Midway through the finale, the Megazord's torso declares that life's too short and abruptly vanishes.

This is solo ranked matchmaking, and for whatever reason, I still play it. The notion that your solo MMR is your 'real' MMR is a compelling one: it represents you individually, the argument goes, whereas your party rating (or organised team rating) is skewed by the undoubtedly more talented people that you play with. I've written about the problems with this idea a few times before, without ever really shaking the assumption that to be better at Dota you've got to be better at solo Dota.

This notion has to be offset against the fact the solo ranked matchmaking queue is the single weirdest place to hang out in the Dota community. Trying to play seriously in this mode is like going to a club and expecting to have a real conversation—maybe, one time in five, you'll get what you want. The rest of the time you're going to be running up against people who're really just there to follow their id for a couple of hours, who can't hear you, and in any case don't care what you think. It's a grab-bag of crazy: the equation for calculating your solo MMR is your technical skill divided by the universe's willingness to match you with actual full-on circus clowns. Like these.

Commited singleplayer RPG fan

I met one of these recently. He picked Spectre and demanded the safelane—a legitimate call, in its own right—and farmed slowly for the first five minutes of the game, which was also the only time he spoke. When pressured he moved full-time into the jungle, and then into the enemy jungle. He finished his Radiance around the thirty minute mark, but only used Haunt to try to escape when the enemy team caught him stealing their camps. Otherwise, he'd run down his mana using Spectral Dagger to last-hit and had almost no presence in teamfights as a result.

A few of the other members of my team weren't happy about this, and told him so. The word 'report' was used, as it often is. Spectre didn't care. Spectre kept farming. Spectre farmed for sixty minutes, then seventy, and then the game ended. He had scored two kills, and I suspect one of them was an accident—a consquence of using Haunt with a Radiance while an enemy support happened to be low on health.

His silent, implacable farming could be interpreted as an attempt to mimic Arteezy-style efficiency, but I'm not sure that was what was going on here. If he wanted to play like Arteezy, he'd probably also demonstrate some desire to win the game. But he didn't. He just farmed, farmed, farmed. If we won a teamfight and asked him to push, and all three lanes were available, he'd take the jungle instead. It was clear that he didn't want to foreshorten a game that he was enjoying. He wanted to right click creeps and collect the money forever.

Who were you, mysterious singleplayer Dota fan? I would like to find you, and maybe buy you a World of Warcraft subscription, or something. I'd also like my 25 MMR back.

Captain metagame and the world of yesterday

I've met this individual in a few different guises over the years, but the parameters are always the same. This is always someone vocal, someone with ideas about team composition and strategy, and somebody who has watched a few professional matches. This experience has armed them with the confidence to tell everybody else what to pick and how to play, and to point out staggering mistakes in other peoples' interpretations of the game. What makes these people special is that they watched those few professional matches months ago, and haven't adjusted their thinking since. These people see the metagame as a document to be read once and internalised, not a process that requires continual work to understand.

Now is a very good time to seek out these guys in the wild, because (a) The International was a few months ago and (b) there's been a very significant patch since then. This is fertile ground for strangers to angrily demand, for example, that Tinker is an essential hero that games can't be won without. To cite Newbee's 8 minute victory over ViCi as proof that eight minute deathball Dota is how you win, noob.

The irony here is that at the level of most pub players it doesn't matter. Yesterday's pro meta may as well be today's pro meta, because the technical skill necessary to differentiate between them isn't present. That Tinker picker wasn't stacking and farming ancients before, and they're not doing it now, so not only would you not make any progress if you tried to talk them out of their misunderstanding but you wouldn't necessarily even be right to do so. There are, functionally, as many metagames as there are people willing to earnestly believe in them. Many of them are dumb.

Friendly neighbourhood spider guy

This is an old story—it happened a couple of years ago, now—but it's probably my favourite, and I've nothing but respect for the person involved. Solo All Pick, in the days before MMR was a thing. Somebody auto-locks Pudge. Another guy picks Dark Seer. Then Juggernaut, so I take Crystal Maiden. There's a long wait. We need a second support, maybe, or a jungler.

Ten seconds to go. Click! Broodmother.

Instant rage from the rest of the team. Report, GG, noob brood, etc. Then Broodmother wanders towards mid before the horn and Pudge loses his shit, as pub Pudge players are wont to do. Broodmother is in the middle of the lane, scuttling in little circles. He types in chat for the first time.

"hey man. im really high."

"just wanna make the spider do things"

He hovers around in mid for a while but lets Pudge take the actual lane. Then he goes to the jungle and places all of his webs. Then he goes to the safelane for a bit and, with that experience under his belt, returns to the jungle to make spiderlings out of the little satyrs and has them run around in the webs for a while. He goes top, for a bit, at which point I lose track of him. I catch sight of him a while later, back in mid, running back and forth. Level four or something. Then, he disconnects and we never see him again.

Now I don't want to glorify his lifestyle or anything but this guy is my hero. I think about him all of the time. Here is somebody who knew exactly what he wanted to achieve in his game of solo Dota 2. He knew the experience he wanted to have, and did this without doubt or remorse. He booted up the clicky-man wizard game because he wanted to make the giant spider do things, and god damn it that is exactly what he did. He had fun, on his own terms, and made no apologies for it.

He had fun. In solo ranked matchmaking! Can you imagine it? Baked spider guy has so much to teach us.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.

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.