Turbo Mode Makes It Easier To Fit Dota 2 Into Your Life
According to Steam, Dota 2 has taken about 3,200 hours of my life. That counts over 2,200 matches played, hundreds of hours spent in private lobbies, finding friends to play and queue up with, and watching friends, high-level players, and tournament matches through the in-game spectator client, but doesn’t count the several hundred hours I’ve spent watching matches on Twitch, reading character build guides, and pouring over forum and Reddit threads. Dota 2’s staggering complexity is neither easy to grasp or kind to those with a lack of disposable free time.
With its “Dueling Fates” update (which hit earlier this week), Dota 2 is finally doing something about that. Among a slew of additions (new heroes, items, community features) and changes (character reworks, map layouts, and number-tweaking), the update introduces Turbo mode. The mode accelerates the pace of the game by upping the gold and experience players earn from killing fodder enemies, others players, or just standing around, while also making base structures much weaker. This cuts down match lengths by about half, making it the most exciting part of Dueling Fates for me so far.
Turbo mode is exciting because a lot of the fun of Dota 2 comes from the way it ties skill to economic gains, and the way both of those tie into power. Although outsmarting or outplaying your opponent is the glue that binds Dota 2 together, those moments are facilitated, to some degree, by the act of slowly scraping together enough gold to buy powerful items that let you survive longer, deal more damage, or be more useful to your team. Because of this, items like Bloodstone, Manta Style, and Butterfly Dagger are tied to a sense of accomplishment; if you managed to build any of these early enough in the game they feel like a reward for being frugal, playing it safe, or being making aggressive plays that worked out, scored you kills, and got you gold.
On the other hand, this link between the game’s economy and power can make losses feel brutal. When a team starts falling behind in gold and kills, it shows, as its members’ inventory slots are either empty or filled with starting items like Iron Branch, Tangos, or Boots of Speed. This also leads to downward spirals that feel impossible to escape, such as when the enemy team scores multiple kills in a lane you weren’t involved with, gains a gold advantage, and uses it to crush your dreams before you could really do anything about it.
Turbo makes Dota 2 more fun by offering everyone the thrill of being powerful. Even in the Turbo matches I lost, I was still able to buy items that made me feel like I was doing well earlier than I would have in a regular match. This leads to a sense of accomplishment (however false, since everyone is getting their items more quickly) that comes from getting new items. You never feel like a loss is so inevitable you may as well sulk in your base for the next five minutes, because you’re more quickly awarded with items you’ve come to associate with victory.
This offers a new kind of fun for veterans, but also offers an olive branch to the curious, though not a starting point. Turbo omits the need to buy a courier (a team pet that ferries items bought at the base to players on the battlefield) by letting players buy and combine items wherever they are. This makes one less thing new players have to be cognizant of, which lets them focus on the rest of the game. While Turbo matches go by far more quickly, they still follow the general trend of matches: Players start off in one of three lanes (or venture into the jungle) to kill creeps and earn gold, then slowly but surely start converging together to pull off ambushes and, later, form up and try to play as a unit (or divide and conquer. Dota is a tricky game!) to start chipping away at their opponents’ base. This doesn’t necessarily simplify Dota 2 (new players will still be completely lost without reading a few guides or tutorials), but it does offer an express lane for new players to experiment and put whatever lessons they’ve learned elsewhere to use.
It also makes it easier for me to fit more Dota 2 into my life. When thinking about playing a regular match, I understand I’m committing about an hour of my time. Matches often run shorter, but I can’t count on it, so if I’m heading out to meet friends at the bar at 8pm, I can’t in good conscience play a match at 7pm. I haven’t had a Turbo match go much longer than 40 minutes, which is a relief, since matches don’t feel like something I have to plan around as much. It makes the game kinder on my free time, and I’m less hesitant to hop into a match whenever the mood strikes me.
For those who aren’t familiar with Dota, it may be strange to see players excited about a mode that advertises itself with the tag line “A Game of Dota in Half the Time.” If players are so excited about the prospect of shorter matches, doesn’t that make it a condemnation of Dota 2’s default state? Why not just play something like Heroes of the Storm, which has already designed its progression curve around matches with a shorter lifespan? Why shouldn’t Valve make this the norm?
Dota 2 is one of my favorite games of all time, and while I often describe my relationship to it as love-hate, I think it’s because of those swings that I adore it, not in spite of them. As enjoyable as Turbo is, I don’t think it’s terribly balanced, and key aspects of the game go by the wayside at this speed. For one, the viability of supports is kneecapped since the early game (the part where supports tend to be most effective) is cut short. In their place, carries (characters who don’t offer teams much initially but form the cornerstone of a team’s fighting prowess later on) and offlane initiators come “online” much earlier, reducing the need for supports to babysit them.
Postgame stats for two matches of similar length in patch 7.07. Note the higher gold and team damage numbers for the winning team in Turbo (left).
Standard supports like Shadow Shaman and Rubick can strive for more aggressive builds due to Turbo's increased revenue, but that then turns them into semi-carries. The reward of playing a hard support role comes from knowing your sacrifices early on benefited the team and lead them to victory, but that reward is greatly diminished here, since most players will get their items and be viable with or without supports. Players have definitely realized this, and it’s not uncommon to see 10 carries across both teams (normally a recipe for disaster) fight it out. As a result, while the flow of the game is still recognizable, the nuances of player strategies are wildly different in ways that can feel like feel hollow in the face of well-earned victories at the game’s default speed.
The increased time commitment of a regularly paced match also ups the tension in ways that can make matches more exciting. Most of the time, any match that goes past the hour mark begins to feel like it’s teetering on the brink. Although one team is usually far ahead of another at that point, they may not be able to use their advantage to break the enemy base for a number of reasons – the enemy lineup might be great at defense, the winning team may not have heroes conducive to destroying buildings effectively or may fall off after a rousing start – and things get tense.
Although the idea of a 100-minute match can sound grueling (and often is), perhaps my highest high in Dota was a 90-minute slugfest in which I, as Techies (a hero known for their annoying ability to slow down base sieges) was able to slowly turn the tide by making it difficult for the enemy to use their advantage against us, giving the rest of my team time to catch up economically and finally use a single opening to win the match. After winning, I could feel my heart beating. Although the ride was fun, I felt as though I’d helped validate the time my team and I had committed to the match, in a way. These matches, and the ridiculous variety of ways they can play out, are what elevate Dota 2 above most other video games for me.
Turbo mode offers some of that thrill. By the time a Turbo match gets to the 25-minute mark, it begins to feel reminiscent of a hour-long match in the regular mode. And being able to get your character’s key items, even if your performance isn’t up to par, feels empowering. But while Turbo mode still offers that thrill, it isn’t as accentuated, not as euphoric because of the lack of tension that builds in the moments where, between hectic fights, you’re simply wandering the map as you accomplish some sort of objective (until you stumble into the enemy and are obliterated almost immediately).
The great thing about Turbo mode, however, is that it makes Dota 2 a more malleable experience. If I feel the need to take the game seriously, think about drafting and hero counters, and strategize with my teammates in search of the most satisfactory experience Dota 2 has to offer, I can queue for a ranked match. But that’s not always what I’m looking for. Sometimes, I just want to test out a new item build, character change, or simply interact with the myriad interlocking systems, intricate characters, and rewarding progression curve that makes this game so special. Turbo mode is perfect for that. And perhaps most importantly, it lets me fit matches of Dota 2 in places I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. That alone is worth celebrating.