Three Lane Highway: why now is a great time to introduce new players to Dota 2

Three Lane Highway is Chris' sometimes earnest, sometimes silly column about Dota 2. Previously a Tumblr blog, it now runs every week on PC Gamer.

Introducing somebody to Dota 2 is hard, and gets harder as your own skills improve. I was lucky to start playing with a group of people who all had exactly the same amount of prior experience - zero - and who were relaxed enough in each other's company to dodge the bickering and gamesmanship that skill imbalances can provoke. Most of the time.

I've seen the other side too. It's difficult to introduce somebody new to a group of knowledgeable players in a way that doesn't potentially ruin the game for everybody. Matchmaking will try to balance the average skill level of each team, but it's too hit and miss - and Dota is too complex - to guarantee actual parity. If you're trying to teach a friend to play, you're probably going to lose a bunch of games. Nobody likes to lose, and few newcomers are likely to be happy about the fact that they're (a) creating issues for their friends and (b) getting seven shades kicked out of them.

This problem has been on my mind. The last couple of patches made sweeping changes to how Dota 2 functions, and while the most dramatic upsets are felt at the professional level they have also had an impact on how new players are best introduced to the game. It is now, I'd argue, easier to win a game with a newbie in your team than has been for a long time - but to do so, certain attitudes need to change.

When I was starting out, being new meant playing support. There are a bunch of reasons for this. Warding and stacking are relatively easily-taught techniques that provide a general benefit to the team. Reliable stuns and easy-to-land teamfight ultis allow new players to be useful even if they're only capable of mashing all of the buttons and hoping for the the best. Nudging somebody into the support role also allows more senior players to reserve mid and carry for themselves, and this is sometimes symptomatic of a trend towards perceiving support as a subservient role. It's wrong, but it happens.

Problems arise when this creates an underclass of players who never get to play anything but support. If they take to the role and enjoy it, great - but there's an equal danger that somebody's entire experience of Dota will be warding the runes and bashing out stuns. These are players who won't be encouraged to master last-hitting, learn about stats, or to buy items that aren't arcane boots, pipe, and mekansm. This line of thinking is grounded in the idea that games will necessarily run long - that the game will be decided on a teamfight at the thirty minute mark when carries have had time to farm. The message it sends to your newbie friends is "don't touch anything and I'll win this for you in half an hour."

These are the players who will struggle most in the current meta. As IceFrog has worked to speed up the early game, on-point support play is becoming more and more important in intermediate pub matches. That means smoke ganks and early rotations. It means understanding fog of war, being able to anticipate enemy laning decisions, and knowing how to execute strategies with minimal farm. It means knowing what a push strat is, and how to see it coming. It's becoming less and less useful for a support to get their wards down and babysit the safelane, and as such it's no longer a good way for somebody to learn Dota - if it ever was.

Similarly, experienced players who lock the safelane carry role for themselves are missing out on what is arguably the most enjoyable phase of the game. Farming and rat Dota still win games, but just as many are won - and won more entertainingly - by teams that can pull off a gamechanging strat in the first five minutes. Na'Vi ran an offensive quadlane this week, for heaven's sake. I'm not saying you should try it in your next pub match, but you should be trying to figure out why it worked.

For these reasons, I'm starting to see the safelane carry role as the best way for somebody new to be introduced to the game. Rather than recruiting your inexperienced friends as ward mules, think about putting them in a position where you don't need them to secure the early game for you. What's more, the role provides a grounding in crucial skills: last hitting and finding farm, awareness of enemy rotations, and adaptive item builds. Whereas most new support players eventually find themselves needing to unlearn their early passivity, new carry players pick up skills that will remain relevant whatever role they subsequently settle on. In order for this to work, however, their experienced friends need to give up their claim to Void, Sven, Luna, Gyrocopter et al.

If you have a friend who is looking to get into Dota, then, try placing them on the safelane as a farming hero. Then, focus on executing strategies that give your team the advantage by the ten minute mark. Make it as easy as possible for your newbie friend to do well, and they'll have more fun - and you'll be playing more modern Dota into the bargain. Everybody wins! Except fifty percent of the time. Fifty percent of the time, you'll probably still lose.

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.