Three Lane Highway: keeping a level head in Captain's Mode

Wraith King

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

Way back when, I wrote something about how it wasn't very useful to think about Dota 2 as a single game. My argument was that players approach the game in such diverse ways that many are no longer adhering to the same rules as one another. This is the source of the game's most vicious arguments in solo pub play—between the two people who both want to go mid; between the carry that wants to play for the late game and his team who'd rather win; between the armchair generals and those who are playing—shock!—for fun.

I've retreated from solo ranked over the last six months. I simply don't enjoy it. 'Real' Dota 2, for me, takes place with a full team of five people and probably involves a drafting phase. That's not to say that there isn't tremendous skill involved in raising your solo MMR, but it's not a skill I'm particularly interested in. Nowadays, my focus has shifted to teamplay, macro-level strategy, and putting together a hero composition that works.

Somewhere along the way, I've learned a couple of valuable lessons about Captain's Mode—particularly if, like me, you and your friends occupy the middle part of the skill ladder. Needless to say, people at the top don't stand to learn much from a man who can't stop blinking into Disruptor ults. For everybody else, I hope you find this useful.

Meta isn't better

There's a corollary between playing Captain's Mode and aspiring to be a pro—it is, after all, the mode that most closely resembles professional play. It's tempting, in this environment, to assume that professional-style picks and bans are always the right picks and bans. That simply isn't the case.

The metagame is a product of, and specific to, the very highest level of play. 'Top tier' doesn't really mean 'powerful', it means 'powerful in the hands of the best players'. If I'm playing against a random stack in team ladder and their first bans are Brewmaster and Razor then I take that as a very good sign: in the majority of cases their captain is thinking about a game they've watched, not the game they're playing. If I see this from a team I actually know it's an even better sign, because targeted bans are always preferable at a level of play where players have limited hero pools.

In the middle of the pack, I'd argue that pace or teamfight-controlling heroes like Silencer, Faceless Void and Tidehunter make for bigger bans than the current top tier. These are heroes that can strongly entrench a lead, and in general mid-level players struggle most when playing from behind. When picking, always go for heroes that you're familiar with over heroes that pro teams are drafting—unless you want to practice them, and you're willing to lose.

Under pressure

This one might actually be applicable to pro players, but only in certain circumstances. Try to be conscious of the amount of pressure that you're under. You may not feel any, in a regular match, or you may be playing in an amateur tournament or in-house and feeling nervous. Be conscious if you are in any way off your game, because players that are not affected in some way by pressure are incredibly rare.

In game terms, nerves act as a straight debuff to everything you attempt to do. If you are a 4K player normally, you have to assume that you're going to be a 3K or 3.5K player under pressure. Draft with that in mind. I love Brewmaster, but there are days when I know my brain just isn't in the right space. In those circumstances, I should play Centaur Warrunner. The same goes for the whole team—if you're in game two of a best of three and you've lost the first game, playing safe with the draft isn't a bad idea. This principle is how my team has ended up two games from the grand final of the Rektreational games industry tournament despite doing awfully in the first game of almost every match: we think too hard about the first game, and then we pick lots of big circular spells in the second and third.

2 EZ

Credit to Blitz for this one: when assessing an enemy draft, or your own, don't just look for synergies and obvious combos. Look at how easy it is for your opponent to achieve what they want to achieve. If you see a Magnus, Sand King and Gyrocopter, you can see the kind of teamfight they want to have. But as dangerous as that seems, it relies on a number of things going their way. That Magnus needs to be able to land his ult. Their team needs the presence of mind for everybody else to be in position—and so on.

On the other hand, a team with a lot of reliable stuns has far more room to move because it means less if any one member of the team makes a mistake. Answer ambitious drafts by making the game easy for yourself with disables and AoE and you'll win matches that, on paper, you should lose. It's for this reason that I secretly love Wraith King as an early pick: you can cycle him through a couple of roles if needed, he has a reliable stun, he answers wombo combos relatively well and—most importantly—he seems to bait out complicated powerplays from the opposing captain. It's after you draft WK that you see people draw Wex Invokers or Diffusal Blade carries, and unless you're playing teams who are particularly individually skilled at those roles they've probably just backed themselves into a corner. Then you beat them up in that corner.

The unifying theme, here, is staying humble. Know what skill bracket you belong in, why you're there, and what you can practically hope to achieve in the match ahead. Bear in mind that you won't always be able to make the big plays that you want to and that, when it comes down to it, you're probably better off picking another character with a ranged stun than going for whatever it was that Team Secret ran last week.

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.