Three Lane Highway
Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2 and wizards in general. To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.
I'm the sort of person who orders games into to-do lists. For a long time I acted on the misguided notion that arranging my Steam backlog into neat categories would eventually somehow lead to me playing and finishing the dozens of games I've picked up and never touched. I instinctively believed that clearing my backlog held value regardless of whether I liked the games themselves: I regarded it as a lower-order sort of chore, something that I might not enjoy a huge amount but that I'd be glad I did later, like doing the vacuuming.
I don't think I'm alone in that. Turning games into chores is a consequence of taking them more seriously, which applies to trying to acquire a comprehensive knowledge of every game that has ever been £2 in a Steam sale just as it applies to attempting to get better at Dota. Don't get me wrong: I still valourise the process of slow improvement that competitive games offer. I still want to become a better Dota player. But lately I've realised how I've managed to turn doing so into a chore.
Solo ranked is something that needs to get done, because solo MMR is something that needs to get raised. Certain heroes need practicing, others need checking off lists: compendium challenges, A-Z challenges, and so on. These things have their place, but as I get back into Dota in the aftermath of Reborn I’m conscious of how much air they can suck out of the room. Over on Game Is Hard we frequently answer questions about MMR and solo queue woes with ‘if you’re not enjoying solo queue, don’t play solo queue’. I’ve realised that I need to start applying some of that logic to myself.
Way back during my last holiday from trying too hard I found myself playing a lot of All Random, and that’s where I find myself again. Of all of the unpopular ways to play Dota, this is among the most unpopular. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy it so much, and why I recommend it to anybody who sometimes wishing that they could just play Dota without all of these attendant issues and expectations.
It is typical of Dota to turn expectations upside down, and All Random is an example of that. On paper, it is the game’s riskiest mode: you have no say in which hero you play and are expected to cope with it. Roles, strategies and lanes have to be assembled on the fly, and you have to trust that the strangers that you’re matched with (assuming that you’re playing solo) will be up for that. Yet somehow, this makes it more accessible. Everybody is out of their comfort zones.
I’ve found All Random to be friendlier and more cooperative than other modes, and I suspect that it’s because it represents a self-selecting group of people. Although you do get the odd person who checked every mode because they wanted to play right now, for the most part you find people who get that not every player/character combination is going to work. There’s less fighting over specific roles, most of the time, and less finger-pointing when a draft goes south.
Similarly, it works because the results of the game are to a large part up to chance. Sometimes, you get screwed in the draft. There’s no way around it. You got Lone Druid on a guy who can’t play Lone Druid and four other hard carries with no disables. You get rolled by Tusk and Nightstalker in twenty minutes. It happens, you got unlucky, and you move on. Because here’s the thing: when you and everybody on your team has fallen foul of the random number generator on that scale, there’s not much to learn from it—and nobody, really, to blame. You just got to play some Dota, and it didn’t go so well, and maybe you learned something, maybe you didn’t. To quote hot take headlines the world over, "...and that's okay."
I find this really refreshing: All Random is a way to encounter the game outside of a pattern of play and improvement that can start feeling like an exercise regimen. If you worry about your winrate or Dotabuff stats or that Reborn skill hexagon thing then you probably shouldn’t play All Random, but I suspect that most players could benefit from caring about those things a little less.
All Random is an example of Dota 2 stepping briefly into a design space occupied by less stressful games. Luck plays a much bigger factor in accessible competitive games: the new Battlefront, for example, hands killstreak-empowering power-ups out like candy. It is a dispenser that you plug into for a few hours, mine for enjoyment, and then move on from for a while. All Random, for me, allows a Dota match to become something similar: a roll of the dice, an excuse to just play without reading too much into it. That won’t be necessary for everybody who plays, but it’s been a huge relief for me.
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