The release of Dota 2 is imminent. Valve has kept it in beta for months showering it with constant updates and tweaks. After logging a number of hours into the beta, I’ll attempt to answer questions you might have if you have never heard of Dota or played a MOBA-style game. Read on to learn a bit about what is sure to become one of the next big competitive games.

What is Dota?

Dota is short-hand for Defense of the Ancients, the full name of the PC game. The original Dota was created by the users Eul, Guinsoo, and IceFrog in 2003 as a mod for the game Warcraft III. Dota proved to be immensely popular and went on to spawn similar games like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth. It almost single handedly created the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) genre. Each match pits two factions of players, the Dire and the Radiant, against each other. Each faction must defend their Ancient (i.e. base) from the opposing faction.

Do you need to play Dota in order to enjoy Dota 2?

The short answer is no. Having come into Dota 2 knowing almost nothing about the original game I can safely say that you can enjoy the sequel without background knowledge of Dota. There is no plotline that is continued or narrative that the game follows. Each hero you can play has their own back-story, but no overarching story. That being said, it is useful to have some experience in either Dota or a similar MOBA-type game in order to comprehend what is happening. I would recommend playing with another friend who has some experience or playing against AI-bots until you have a grasp on the action.

How do you play Dota 2?

The gameplay is similar to that of a RTS, but is much more fast-paced. The main difference is that in a MOBA game you control a single champion. As of right now there is only one map in Dota 2. It has three lanes branching off of the main base and connects to the enemy base. Each lane has three towers guarding it. These towers shoot magic energy at any enemy that come too close and dole out a great deal of damage. Between these lanes is a forested area with many pathways. Each base spawns creeps which travel down the lanes attacking anything hostile in their path. Killing creeps grants gold to the killer and experience to nearby friendly champions. As the game progresses your hero gains experience and levels up. This gives you a point to spend on an ability or buffing your hero’s stats. Gold can be used to purchase stat boosting weapons or consumable items that disappear after they are used. Each game consists of ten players divided into two teams working together to destroy the enemy Ancient.

There are many different ways to play Dota 2. Heroes have three main types: strength, agility, and intelligence. These champions are further classified into different categories: support, pusher, ganker, carry, tank, to name a few. Support heroes are good at buffing their fellow champions and helping them to get kills on enemies. Pushers can quickly kill creeps in their respective lanes as well as put out a fair amount of damage. Gankers are good at leaping in and assassinating a single target and then escaping. A carry hero is capable of putting out incredible amounts of damage. To compensate for this, carries are very easy to kill if focused. Tanks are, as their name implies, tank-like in their ability to absorb a great deal of damage. There are other hero types as well, but generally they fall into these categories. Many champions can be played in different ways; you will have to experiment to find your favorite heroes and ways to play.

Navigating the User Interface

The lower right portion of the screen shows you what items your champion is currently carrying. You are limited to six items. This might not sound like much, but you can upgrade many of the weapons you begin with by purchasing extra components at the store in your base. If the item has a usable effect or is consumable, it will be mapped to a number key. The amount of gold you currently posses is displayed below the Shop button.

In the middle of the bottom part of the screen you will see a picture of your hero and a number of bars. The green bar is health. The blue bar is mana. The small yellow bar underneath the character portrait is your current level of experience. If there are small boxes above the health bar, those are buffs and debuffs. A small ring around those boxes shows how much time they have left until they wear off. Below the mana bar you will see four boxes. These are your abilities and they are mapped to the Q, W, E, and R buttons. The other box underneath the mana bar displays your current stats: attack damage is under the sword, armor is shown under the shield. The three sections below that are strength, agility, and intelligence. Strength affects your basic attack damage and health, Agility affects your attack speed and critical hit chance, and intelligence affects spell damage and mana.

In the lower left corner is the mini-map. This shows you the positions of allied champions and creeps. You are also able to click on it to “ping” your allies, alerting them to danger or requesting help. The map also reveals any vision your team has from towers, wards, etc. A fog of war covers the map and hides enemies, so you need to be careful when going into unknown territory.

The upper portion of the screen contains less information than the bottom, but is no less vital.The top left portion of the screen contains menu options, more detailed information on your team’s performance during the match, and chat logs. The middle of the top shows what champions are alive on both sides. Dead champions will have their portrait grayed out and a little timer telling how much time is left until that champion is resurrected at their respective base. The very middle of the top shows an in-game clock. Some heroes like the Night Stalker gain additional powers depending on the in-game time.  This area also has a number showing how many kills each side has on the other. At night vision also diminishes making it easier to catch enemies unaware. The upper right corner tells you how well you are doing (kills/deaths/assists).

Buying items

I am not going into the infinite complexities of item compositions or builds etc. Instead I just want to give a rundown of how the store works. When you are in your base, there is a creature who sells your hero items. You click on him to open the shop menu and then purchase what you desire by right clicking on your item of choice. Many items can be upgraded. If you have the necessary items and are close to a shop, the component items will be combined automatically to form your more powerful equipment. If you buy more items than you can hold they will be put in storage and you will have to be back at your base to switch out items. Some of the more powerful components can only be bought at secret shops. These you will find scattered around the map in the forested areas between lanes.

Yep. This guy sells you stuff.

Observation Mode

One of the great aspects of Dota 2 is the ease with which it provides players opportunities to watch other players play. This is sure to be a popular aspect with those that follow the eSports scene. From the main menu (which spotlights three of the top matches currently in progress) you simply click the watch tab and are provided with either a list of current games that can be observed in progress or a list of replays that you can watch. There are great tools in this observation mode like different graphs that chart the experience and gold accumulation between the two teams. The camera can be manipulated in a number of ways. You can set it to follow a hero, move it yourself, or switch to a player’s perspective. You can also engage the camera’s smart mode that takes it to where the action is the most heated. It is remarkably easy to manipulate and I am sure all the aspiring eSports commentators will appreciate the features.


The last thing I’m going to talk in some depth about is gaming etiquette in Dota 2. One of the number one things you should never do is leave a game before it is finished. This is extremely unfair to your team and can ruin a good game for everyone involved. For the sake of having  good manners, begin a game by saying hello to your team and saying to your opponents ‘good luck have fun’ or ‘glhf.’ Even if you got crushed in the game and are feeling upset, when the game is finished you should type out ‘good game’ or ‘gg.’ If it was a really close game you might even type out ‘well played’ or ‘wp.’ If you don’t know what you are doing and you are playing with others, ask questions. Most players would be happy to answer and assist. Another thing you should not do is leave your lane without telling your laning partner. If the enemy heroes you are laning against suddenly go missing, you should tell your teammates they are missing. At the beginning of the game usually the team carry will go to the middle lane and two champions will go top lane and two will go to the bottom lane. When multiple champions are gaining experience from creeps they gain less experience than if they were killing creeps alone. The hero in mid will therefore be more powerful later in the game. Don’t go mid and siphon experience and gold from your carry. One last, important piece of advice: do not get involved in insulting the enemy team or your own team members. Cooperation is vital and insulting people neither fosters a good game nor makes you look good.

Advice on how to play

•    Pay attention to the mini-map. This can save your life.
•    The shop provides a list of recommended items. If you are just starting out, buy those. As you become more familiar with the game you can branch out into different builds.
•    Mobility is really important; you want to buy boots (an item which increases your movement speed) relatively early.
•    Try to deal the killing blow to the creeps in your lane: that is where your gold comes from. More gold = better stuff = more kills = win
•    If you are close to the fountain in your base, you regain your health and mana. Go back to base to buy items and heal if you need to. Just bear in mind that it will take you some time to return to your lane.
•    If you don’t know what champion to play when just beginning to play, try to pick one that has a lot of health. This will make you harder to kill. You can find these in the strength category.
•    If you want to know more about the heroes be sure to click the learn tab at the main menu to read up on their various abilities and lore.
•    Don’t be afraid to talk with your teammates during the game. Just press ‘enter’ and type out what you want to your team and press ‘enter’ again. Don’t forget that communication is an important element of teamwork. You are all in this together.
•    If you don’t know where your enemies are, you should probably stay back by your towers.

Is there anything you feel I overlooked?

What are your thoughts on Dota 2 or games like it?

Anyone else interested in Dota 2 eSports?

Look forward to my review once the finished game goes live!