Three Lane Highway: how to communicate effectively in solo ranked matchmaking

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2.

It's scary, talking to strangers. You probably spent the first ten years of your life being told not to do it, the second ten years of your life trying to summon the courage to do it, and the third ten years of your life doing it but wishing that you were somewhere else. Playing Dota 2 by yourself complicates this already complicated scenario. Language differences. Age differences. Wildly divergent opinions on topics like 'who's fault was that' and 'what are reports for'.

I'm going to outline the best ways to go about communicating in solo ranked matchmaking. You'll notice that all of the statements that I've chosen to highlight are preset phrases that can slotted into the game's chat wheel. These are automatically translated when you use them, which affords you an obvious advantage when matched with people who don't speak the same language as you. The best thing about using the chat wheel, however, is that it makes you look like you've been muted. This is the fastest way to convince assholes on the internet that you are one of them, earning you the kind of edgy cred coveted by awkward thirteen-year-olds everywhere. All of the benefits of being a histrionic pint-sized racist, without having to actually be one!

► Sorry

I find it helpful to always apologise clearly and well in advance, which is one of two things that my Dota experience has in common with my love life. Preferably, you'll apologise right when the game begins, as your heroes plop down into the fountain and you all begin the busy work of determining whose fault everything is.

Saying 'Sorry' at this point will make everybody feel better. In this way you can express sympathy for the 2800 MMR midlaner who knows that he's really probably actually somewhere in the 5700 range and yet somehow—somehow!—he's ended up trapped in the trench with shitbirds like you. Imagine being him. He dreams of restoring himself to his rightful place, playing mid against Dendi. He dreams of the moment when Dendi will give him a look and say good and then moments later he'll be onstage at TI4 lifting the Aegis of Champions into the air and then Dendi will walk over and clap him on the back and be like gooood and everything will be light and money and hope and maybe he'll get to meet Purge, too.

Your presence in this young midlaner's life is more or less proof that dreams are born to die, so damn right you'd better apologise.

► Get back!

Let's be real: I have 'Get back!' bound to the 'B' key, and it's the best decision I've ever made. Do not allow cumbersome radial menus or finicky chat stand between you and and the ready expression of cowardice. There is no finer way to cover your ass than being the guy who thinks that everything you're currently doing is a bad idea. If you get wiped, it's because nobody heeded your warning. If both teams disengage, then it shows that you've got your finger on the pulse. If your team fights anyway, and you win, then at the very least you're the sensible one.

Never underestimate its ironic potential, either. Hammering your 'Get back!' key while your team is being relentlessly fountain-farmed at the end of an unwinnable game is a way of enlivening a difficult time with fun questions. Where would we get back to ? Is it possible to climb into the fountain itself? What temperature is the water? Where does the water come from? Could Slark, like, get up in there and swim away? Questions.

► Dive!

'Dive!' is primarily useful because it lets you sound like a cool submarine captain: but don't believe for a second that this is the extent of its utility. Nobody likes a buzz kill. Plans are for StarCraft players. Call for a dive, rush in, fluff your disables, and die! Anybody who doesn't follow you in is obviously new. Except that 'Get back!' guy. He's cool.

► Missing!/Enemy returned

There's nothing worse than forgetting to let your team know when an enemy has gone missing. This makes you culpable for anything that goes wrong in the match until that hero returns. By failing in this way you've handed everybody else on your team a free shot at calling you an asshole, and that is simply not how this game is best played. Dota 2 is about taking it in turns to call each other assholes.

For this reason, bind 'Missing!' and 'Enemy returned' and get used to spamming both along with your regular abilities or right-click attacks or whatever. Enemy hero wandered behind a tree? Missing! Enemy hero wandered back out from behind a tree? Enemy returned! Tree? Missing! Tree! Enemy returned!

Adopt the mindset of a toddler playing peek-a-boo: if you can't see them, they could be anywhere! They could be closing in on mid right now! Mid must be warned! Disaster must be averted! They are probably still behind that tree.

► We need wards.

Here's an interesting fact: 'We need wards.' and 'Okay.' are the only preset chat options that end in a full stop. Is that an interesting fact? Probably.

In any case, this additional punctuation indicates that these are firm, assertive statements. There's nothing indecisive about saying 'We need wards.', and the full stop is there to ensure that you intone it in the same low voice you'd use when saying "we need to talk" to your partner.

That's what 'We need wards.' means, really. It means "this isn't working out". It means "our lack of vision on the other side of the river means that you don't take me seriously". It means "you don't care if I get ganked". But it's not all negative. By saying 'We need wards.' you are indicating a desire to open up a dialogue, as long as that dialogue concerns things that you do not like about somebody else.

► Ultimate ready

Don't rely on strangers to check when your ultimate ability is going to be ready. Using the chat wheel or alt-click is a much more dependable way to indicate that you're hot to trot. Of all of the preset phrases that can be used passive aggressively—'Well played!', 'Game is hard', 'Nice'—this is my favourite. Declaring that your ultimate isn't ready as your team rushes blindly into the enemy jungle is a way of suggesting a retreat without committing to a full declaration of cowardice along the lines of 'Get back!'

Best, though, is using 'Ultimate ready' to goad your team into fighting. I like to poke the button over and over, letting my allies know that—hey!—I've got something we could be making use of right now and—hey!—maybe we should initiate and—hey!—those supports aren't going to Culling Blade themselves, are they? Look at this! Echo Slam! You like it when I Echo Slam, don't you? Nudge, nudge, nudge.

If you keep it up, I've found that eventually somebody will give in and humour you. This is the other way that Dota is like my love life.

► Sorry

It's usually a good idea to apologise afterwards as well, I find.

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.