Engaging with the Dota 2 community: A tale of two games

MOBA communities have a reputation, and that reputation is that they’re full of complete cockbaskets who will scream at you for the slightest wrong move. Die stupidly? Buy the wrong item? Level the wrong ability? UNINSTALL DOTA AND KILL YOURSELF, they will shout.

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This is all true (although I’ve mostly seen non-English speaking players demand that others commit suicide to remove the stain upon their honour; this is how I learned the word “suicidio”) but it’s also hopelessly unfair to the community, because there are plenty of perfectly decent players out there. Two games I played back-to-back exemplify this.

dota 2 - 1

I can’t say I played exceptionally here, but this match was worth it solely for this moment.

The first was horrible. Possibly one of the most unpleasant games I’ve ever had. It began… well, at hero selection. I’d been playing support-ish heroes (Windrunner and Warlock, mostly) for awhile, so I wanted to go with a heavy end-game carry simply for a change of pace. I picked Phantom Assassin, a character who is pretty dreadful in the early game, but is capable of annihilating entire teams by herself if she gets enough of a gold advantage. And then it began.

“why pick that char?????” appears in the text box at the bottom once everyone else picks, and the little Phantom Assassin character model is pinged repeatedly. This is quickly followed by “jesus”. We were 15 seconds into the pre-match shopping spree and it was already clear that this wasn’t going to be a fun game.

In fairness to my abuser – who we’ll call Teammate One – it turned out that I played horribly. I had terrible lag (along with two others on my team, and a few on the enemy team) and my lane contained a pair of heroes that could rip us to shreds in seconds. This did not endear Teammate One to any of us.

dota 2 - 2

I haven’t given you any context for the chat in this picture because THERE WASN’T ANY. This was just totally out of the blue. I’m sure he found it hilarious, though.

“omg worst team ever” after my partner died for the first time. “you guys fuckin suck” after a third enemy came down and ganked us from behind when we overextended slightly. And so it went on.

The problem with being verbally abused – if you’re as thin-skinned as I am, at least – is that it actually makes you play worse. You start second-guessing yourself in an attempt to find something that won’t make the other person shout at you, which makes you dither back and forth and play over-cautiously, which means you’re not getting experience or gold, which means that you’re rapidly becoming a massive liability and are far more likely to lose.

Then my laning partner committed the biggest faux pas possible: his internet connection cut out, which might’ve looked like a ragequit except that nothing had actually happened to trigger one. And thus spake our leader: “i hope he doesnt come back”.

dota 2 - 3

I’m posting this solely to prove that, occasionally, I can actually play well. Yes, I know it’s self-aggrandising, but it’s pretty rare for me to have the opportunity to actually do that.

He did, of course, and apologised for dropping. And when – a little later – he mentioned the horrible lag, and another teammate noted that he, too, was suffering lag, we received a lecture from Teammate One on how people with lag should just abandon the game, because if you lag “your a loser”. Then this shining example of humanity began speaking to our opponents, complaining that his team was terrible.

Possibly the crowning moment was when, in a relatively quiet period, Teammate One started trying to destroy an enemy tower. I figured I’d go give him some support, since he was on his own and their entire team was alive; at the very least, I’d provide a fair bit of extra damage in the event that we wound up fighting them, plus a second target to split their attention if we needed to run. “go fuck off pa” appeared in the text box at the bottom.

I can’t say I played well, but I did redeem myself with a few kills a bit later and a load of assists when things transitioned into late-game teamfights. Obviously, this wasn’t enough; Teammate One took it upon himself to explain to the enemy team that, while he played fine, his teammates were terrible and lagging and they should’ve just quit. He was notably silent when a few of the opponents chimed in noting that they also had horrible lag.

dota 2 - 4

Misogyny aside, some of the guides are actually kinda hilarious to read. This isn’t nearly so good as the manly build for Axe, but it’s a start. (Tip: guides are useful when getting to grips with a character, but chances are you’ll likely find things you’d do differently to suit your playstyle. They’re a starting point, not a demanded path.)

That’s the sort of horrendous game that makes you question why you play. Don’t get me wrong – every now and then, you will get matched up with people who can’t tell a Pudge from a Pugna, and it will frustrate the hell out of you. But there’s usually a degree of advice or assistance you can give, even if it’s just “move to this lane” or “stay back here” or “stop pushing forward when alone and their entire team is alive and we don’t know where they are.” Screaming and shouting and bitching and crying doesn’t do anything except make the game more unpleasant for everyone, even those who aren’t directly involved on either side of the verbal abuse.

In this case, we were basically just outmatched right the way through and didn’t effectively counter anything. Had Teammate One assisted for a few ganks rather than solely focusing on himself – because we sorely needed something to relieve the pressure on our lane – or had we pushed a tower a little earlier as a team and then played defensively while putting out some pressure, things might’ve turned out differently. I dread to think what I’d have been called had I suggested this, though. If this had been one of my first online games, I don’t think I’d ever have gone back in.

But I don’t like leaving things like that; finishing with a sour taste in my mouth is disheartening, and makes it harder to go back into the game in the future. After a quick break, I went back in to have one more match, just to remind myself that the previous game wasn’t the norm. I was rewarded with one of the most exciting and wonderful games I’ve played.

misdirection 1

I’ve now completely run out of both Dota 2 screenshots and things to say about Dota 2 screenshots, so here’s a kitten. OMAGAWD A KITTY ISNEE KEEEEEEWT

It was the polar opposite. Our team communicated continually and assisted each other regularly. Everyone died in stupid ways at least once, and it was laughed off. We had one teammate who, charitably, wasn’t very good, but rather than whinging we just offered advice and made sure to make it clear when we needed support, when we were pulling back, and when we were pushing forward.

All great by itself, but it also wound up being one of the closest games I’ve ever played. We took a fairly early advantage, but this wasn’t nearly enough because the enemy team had a lot of heroes (Axe, Luna, the why-pick-that-char Phantom Assassin) that bloom later on, and we simply couldn’t lock them down enough to stop them from getting to that horrible tipping point when they snowball out of control. The game dragged on, they started gaining in power, and after a couple of disastrous encounters they pushed into our base. This push let them take out our middle barracks and both towers that comprise the last line of a team’s defence, ensuring that we’d need a continual presence on that lane, or our Ancient – the game’s objective – would be whittled down by creeps. In fact, by the time we stopped that assault, our Ancient was maybe three or four hits away from us losing the game.

This is the point when a particular breed of player would start typing “gg” followed by “ff” (good game, finish fast) and would simply give up. We didn’t. We rallied. They got cocky and started attacking in smaller groups, and we’d harvest them for gold and experience. They started sticking together and we’d somehow force them back. We fought them back again and again, slowly catching up to them in power, until – whenever a fight broke out – it was anyone’s guess as to who’d win. Honestly, I didn’t think it was likely that we’d win the match, but it was at least possible.

misdirection 2

Look at their little faces! They think they’re people!

Then came a point where we broke even: we’d been the focus of their attention for so long that our creeps had somehow pushed through and destroyed their barracks on the top lane. In short, they were now under as much pressure as we were: if they didn’t have someone knocking those creeps back every time they spawned, they would eventually lose.

“You know,” I tapped out, “this has been a really good game. Win or lose, this has been amazing.” The rest of the team agreed.

What followed was possibly the tensest 20 minutes of Dota I’ve ever played, as both teams turned into duellists. One of them would kill creeps in top lane, and we’d send out a raiding party to take them down. They’d steam down the middle and take a few heads in retaliation, and we’d force them back at the last minute. We’d get cocky and push hard, and would all die – but they couldn’t use that opportunity to pressure us because they needed to fend off creeps on the other two lanes. And so it went on, for what felt like hours.

dota2 (3)

Ursa, you are not a cat. You’re a bear. Get out of my article.

In the end, it came down to a fight in the middle lane that we really didn’t want to get into. “Pull back,” shouted Tidehunter and I when we saw the five of them careening down the middle lane like a vindictive wrecking ball. We did. Our not-quite-excellent player did not, splitting off and getting caught out in the open. So, a little too late, we engaged.

Miraculously, it came off. I died and didn’t have enough money to buy back in immediately, but everyone else on our team either survived or bought back while the opposing team was down to their weakest characters, so I had to wait and watch while my four comrades charged straight into their base and tried to end the game as quickly as possible. And, while they were slowly whittling down the towers that guarded the enemy Ancient, I noticed a red blob moving towards our bottom lane. A huge swell of enemy creeps was poised to take out that tower and those barracks, which would have given us a sufficient disadvantage that – if we didn’t destroy their Ancient right now – we’d almost certainly lose.

“Keep pushing,” I said. “I’m back in 20 seconds. I’ll defend then.” They did. The timer ticked down. So did our tower’s health. With about three seconds to go, I started feverishly clicking next to the creeps so that I could get over there and defend the tower as quickly as possible.

dota 2 - riki 2


I made it, just in time. By the time I was done, the tower had maybe 100 health left – so little that a small number of creeps could’ve taken it out by themselves – and my other four team members were smashing away at the enemy Ancient. Victory was assured!

Victory was not assured. In almost every horror movie ever, just when you think the monster is dead, it gets back up for one last scare… and sure enough, while I was trying to catch my breath, there was a little blip and Phantom Assassin appeared next to me. This excessively-farmed hero hit me once, halving my health.

The danger is that Phantom Assassin does so much damage that, even by herself, she could credibly destroy our weakened Ancient before the other four could take down the enemy’s pristine and (until now) untouched Ancient. There was absolutely no way I could take her out, or even escape from her. I let loose a stun, which held her for less than a second before she broke free, hitting me again and reducing me to a sliver of life. And then she hit me one last time, and I died.

dota 2 - pl

…you know what, Phantom Lancer? This is the one and only time you’re getting a pass from me. (Image source: Jason C on the Steam Community)

I pinged her manically in the vain, stupid, impossible hope that someone would manage to get back and stun her and stop her from winning the game for the enemy team before she could hit our Ancient two or three times. I watched her charge through our undefended base, run up to the Ancient, and… the camera pivoted up to the enemy’s base as their Ancient sank, destroyed, into the cracked earth.

We won. Barely.

After a few seconds, I remembered how to breathe.

But the real heartening thing about this isn’t the victory – it’s that this didn’t trigger recriminations or wailing. The chat box was a scrolling list of “lol” and “hahaha” and“very gg, VERY well played” and “omg so close, really wp” from both teams.

dota 2 - grid

Oh, I give up. You can all be in the sodding article.

The first game made me question why I bother playing Dota 2. The second game made me remember that, for every terrible game you have that stars truly unpleasant individuals, you’ll have another that features people who remember that they’re there to enjoy themselves, and that being a dick doesn’t benefit anyone. At the end, neither team was noticeably angry. Neither team was mocking. Both were congratulatory towards their opponents for a game that was well-played and close-fought right the way through.

A lot of people treat “gg” as a custom; it’s what you say at the end of a game. Others use it to symbolise victory, shouting “bg” – or “bad game” – whenever they lose. Some use it as a conciliatory gesture to indicate defeat: “our mid rax gone, gg”. But this? This was a close-fought, entertaining, and tense match that taught a few lessons which Teammate One has presumably forgotten, or never learned: a good game doesn’t depend on whether you win or lose. Had we won the first, it still would’ve been a bad game; had we lost the second, it still would’ve been good. It doesn’t depend on your killstreak, or how well you personally do on the scoreboard (which rapidly becomes obvious if you’ve ever played support).

It depends on having good players in the game with you, and I don’t define “good player” as one who plays their hero like a pro. A good player is someone who appears to actually enjoy the game; someone who doesn’t ragequit, or publicly scream at teammates, or scream at opponents, or cry about imbalances, or come across like a whining teenager. Our less-than-skilled player? He was a good player. He rolled with the punches, took advice, and never lost his temper, and we did the same, never screaming or telling him he was awful or poisoning the entire match. We helped him play to the best of his ability, and made use of him as best we could. I don’t doubt that, had we screamed and offered nothing, he wouldn’t have done as well and either would’ve ragequit or we would’ve just plain lost.


Don’t be a bad player. If you do, you’ll have far more impact than you might think – both on other players and on your own chances of success.

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Tim McDonald
Tim has been playing PC games for longer than he's willing to admit. He's written for a number of publications, but has been with PC Invasion - in all its various incarnations - for over a decade. When not writing about games, Tim can occasionally be found speedrunning terrible ones, making people angry in Dota 2, or playing something obscure and random. He's also weirdly proud of his status as (probably) the Isle of Man's only professional games journalist.