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How To Play Dota 2

Michael Hassall

Dota 2 is one of the most popular games globally, with close to 600,000 active players on Steam. Its record competitive prize pools (which have peaked again and again), addictive gameplay, and stylish graphics have kept it popular for close to a decade. With the announcement of the game’s very own Netflix series, the game looks to continue to thrive. And so whether you’re a new player, or someone returning after some time away, you’re bound to ask, “how do I play Dota 2?”

How To Play Dota 2 heroes

Dota has a lot to learn for new players, but can bring infinite joy for those willing to take the time (Image via Valve)

What is Dota 2?

Dota 2 is a Multiplayer Online Battle Area (or MOBA Game). If you’ve heard League of Legends, Heroes of the Storm, or SMITE, you may be familiar with the genre. If you haven’t, MOBAs are real-time strategy games in which teams of super-powered characters battle it out in lanes to destroy their opponent’s base.

Dota 2 takes place during the Battle of the Ancients, a conflict between two ancient sentient relics. Here a group of legendary Heroes battle it out on the side of these two forces, The Radiant and The Dire. Heroes are often associated more heavily with one faction or the other but can still be played on either side.

In each match of Dota 2, players pick from various Heroes to assemble two teams of five. The heroes then battle it out across three lanes and a shared jungle to destroy their opponent’s Ancient and win the game.

Dota 2 heroes

Assembling a balanced team is key on Dota 2 (Image via Valve)

How Much does Dota 2 Cost?

Dota 2 is completely free to play! Available on the Steam Client, Dota 2 requires you to have enough space to install the game. From there, you can download Dota 2 for free and play straight away. Dota 2 comes with all its heroes available to play, so there’s no need to worry about unlocking characters.

The monetization model in Dota 2 instead comes primarily from cosmetics. Heroes can be customized in various ways, from the weapon they hold to the voice lines and taunts they use to their entire appearance. These are done through items and item sets. Some of the most sought-after items are part of Arcanas, which completely transform the way a hero looks and often sounds.

In the run-up to internationals, Dota 2 releases a battle pass. Players can purchase a battle pass with real-world money to help support the prize pool of The International, Dota 2’s premier competitive event. A battle pass unlocks a huge variety of rewards, including cosmetics for players.

Dota 2 also offers a premium service called Dota Plus. Dota Plus is a subscription service that adds additional features, from hero guides and trends, to in-game advice and overlays. Dota Plus is advertised as a tool that allows you to learn quickly from your gameplay.

How Do I Win Dota 2?

There are multiple game modes in Dota 2. The most common is All Pick, in which each player gets to choose from the full pool of heroes. However, there’s also Turbo Mode, a quicker, more streamlined version of All Pick, Captains Draft (the mode competitive play uses), Single Draft, Random Draft, All Random, Ability Draft, and All Random Deathmatch.

However, whichever game mode you play, the main objective is always the same: Destroy the enemy team’s Ancient at any cost. In a typical game of Dota 2, the two teams will face off over the standard map. Across three lanes, creeps (small non-player controlled characters) are periodically spawned at each player’s base. They will slowly progress towards their opponent’s Ancient. In their way, however, are multiple sets of towers.

Towers are the first objective you’ll need to topple, and to do so, you’ll have to support your lane creeps as they attack. Opposing heroes will try and stop you. Using your abilities, you’ll fight over each lane until the towers are destroyed. Once three towers in a lane fall, the Ancient becomes vulnerable to attack. Destroy the Ancient to win the game!

The Dota 2 Map

Dota 2 map

It will take time before you know the ins and outs of the Dota 2 map.

The standard Dota 2 Map is a battleground over which players’ heroes fight. This map’s key features are the two high grounds, three lanes, the central river, and the jungle.

The high grounds are located in the bottom left and top right of the map. These are the home base for the Radiant and Dire, respectively. Heroes will spawn at the start of the game in the fountain, a heavily protected area at the back of the area. There is also a shop here, where players buy items. The rest of the base consists of towers, barracks that spawn lane creeps, and various other defensive structures.

The three lanes run across the top, middle, and bottom of the map. Each contains four towers, two for each side. A third tower in each lane sits at the top of the high ground. Dividing the map in the middle is the river. This low area spawns various relics which appear on timers. It’s also a very open and dangerous area. In the middle of the river is a stone pit containing the powerful neutral monster Roshan. This incredibly strong monster is a full team effort to defeat but will grant whoever defeats it special items.

The rest of the map is taken up by the jungle. A heavily forested area, the jungle contains destructible trees, outposts that grant vision, and jungle camps filled with neutral monsters. These creatures drop neutral items when killed. But they also get stronger after each defeat. The jungle is also the location of the two Secret Shops, which can be used to purchase rare items.

 

The three lanes run across the top, middle, and bottom of the map. Each contains four towers, two for each side. A third tower in each lane sits at the top of the high ground. Dividing the map in the middle is the river. This low area spawns various relics which appear on timers. It’s also a very open and dangerous area. In the middle of the river is a stone pit containing the powerful neutral monster Roshan. This incredibly strong monster is a full team effort to defeat but will grant whoever defeats it special items.

The rest of the map is taken up by the jungle. A heavily forested area, the jungle contains destructible trees, outposts that grant vision, and jungle camps filled with neutral monsters. These creatures drop neutral items when killed. But they also get stronger after each defeat. The jungle is also the location of the two Secret Shops, which can be used to purchase rare items.

Dota 2 Heroes & Abilities

void spirit snapfire

Snapfire and Void Spirit are two of the newer Heroes in Dota 2 (Image via Valve)

In Dota 2, players each control one of 120 unique heroes. Besides appearance, each hero has its own unique stats and abilities. Each hero has three basic abilities bound by default to the Q, W, and E keys. Heroes also have a fourth Ultimate ability unlocked at the sixth level. Abilities can be active, meaning you have to cast them actively, or passive, meaning they are either constantly on or can be toggled. At the start of a game, none of your abilities will be unlocked. Instead, you’ll have to choose which ability to start the match with.

As the match progresses, you’ll gain experience. Experience is gained both passively over time and through attacking opponents. Killing minions, jungle monsters, and other players also earns experience. At a certain threshold, you’ll have enough experience points to level up. At this point, you’ll be prompted to put another point in one of your abilities. Leveling up also grants a bonus to heroes’ stats, increasing their health and damage, etc.

At level 6, you’ll unlock your hero’s ultimate ability. Ultimates are the core component of a heroes’ kit and often their strongest ability. A pair of powerful items will also unlock additional abilities in heroes. Using an Aghanim’s Shard or equipping an Aghanim’s Scepter will unlock a further power for your hero.

At level 10, and every five levels after this, heroes gain a choice of talents. These improve and change the effects of your abilities. At level 30, the maximum hero level, all talents are unlocked.

How Do I get Items in Dota 2?

Items are a vital part of Dota 2. They improve your hero’s stats or act as consumables that can heal, buff, and aid your team. Items can be combined together to create powerful upgraded versions. The most powerful items in Dota 2 can change the tide of a team fight or make you practically unkillable.

At the start of a game of Dota 2, you’ll have a chance to buy a series of starting items. In some game modes, you can also pre-buy these items before the game starts. After this, you’ll need to get items from either your team’s shop in the base, the secret shop in the jungle or from killing neutral monsters.

Each player can carry six items in their inventory that affect their character and one neutral item. Players can also carry an additional item, Town Portal Scrolls, in their own slot. This item allows you to teleport from anywhere on the map to a friendly building. Spare items can be stored in your backpack and additional smaller inventory. Neutral items can also be stored in a shared stash.

What is that little donkey following me?

How To Play Dota 2 Courier

Make sure to get familiar with your couriers! (Image via Valve)

That’s a Courier! Couriers are used to purchase and collect items from the shop even if you’re nowhere near it. They can also pick up gear from the Secret Shop and even items other players drop.

What are the Hero Roles in Dota 2?

Each hero has a distinct role category they fall into. Roughly speaking, these roles define that heroes playstyle and how they should be used in-game. They are:

Carry

Carries are the heroes that do the most damage to opposing heroes. Their style usually involves spending the early game acquiring as much gold as possible before winning the game almost single-handedly later on. They must rely on their teammates to protect them until they are powerful enough to do this.

Support

Supports try to help their team win, often at the expense of their own power. Their abilities will often heal, protect, or otherwise buff their teammates. Supports are often good strong early game but fall off in power as the match progresses.

Nuker

A hero specifically designed to take an opponent’s health from 100-0 in the shortest time possible is a Nuker. Sometimes this is with a single powerful ability, or otherwise a lethal combination.

Disabler

Disablers specialize in locking down enemy heroes so they can be killed. They usually have a lot of crowd control abilities.

Jungler

Sometimes called a roamer, junglers take to the jungle (unsurprisingly) to fight neutral creeps. Their abilities are often tailored around taking the huge amounts of damage that jungle creeps inflict without dying.

Durable

More often known as a Tank, Durable heroes are designed to take a lot of punishment and survive. They’re often used to distract opponents from more high-value targets such as Nukers and Carries.

Escape

Escape heroes excel in doing a lot of damage and then getting away. Frequently their abilities will include teleportations, blinks, and stealth elements.

Pusher

Pushers are best at pushing waves of creeps, killing creeps, and destroying towers. Frequently these heroes will also have ways of summoning their own creeps or controllable creatures.

Initiator

Initiators pick fights. They often have crowd control or are otherwise able to force opponents to fight them with their abilities.


Heroes often have multiple roles, as their abilities complement multiple styles of play. Durable Initiators, for instance, are great for starting fights and then surviving. At the same time, Escape Nukers take on assassination roles in the game.

What are the Player Roles in Dota 2?

Dota 2 roles

There are five roles when playing Dota 2 (Image via Valve)

Within your team, roles are simpler than Hero roles. A team usually has two supports and three carries. The first carry is the Hard Carry or Core and typically plays in the safe lane alongside the Hard Support. Cores must build up their strength so they can eventually use their power to win the game.

The second carry is the Solo Mid. This alternative Core uses the short length of the middle lane and the river buffs to offset the fact he does not have any support. Solo Mid players share the responsibility of carrying the team along with the safe laner.

Offlaners work in the final lane, frequently opposing the enemy safe laner in a losing battle. The offlaner must balance safety and security with his own need to farm. Offlaners must limit how fed their opponent gets while still getting strong enough. While supported by the Soft Support, he must often go it solo or 1v2 as his support roams the map.

Soft Supports or Roaming Supports use their abilities to try and affect all lanes. While sometimes accompanying the Offlaner, often they’ll be on the move attempting to press an advantage for their whole team.

The Hard Support is the final piece of the puzzle. A dedicated support for Cores, Hard Supports will sacrifice gold, resources, and anything else to get their Core fed.

In competitive games, these positions are assigned numbers, relative to how much farm, experience, and other resources they will get during a game. Cores are position one, Solo Mid is two, offlaner three, Soft Support four, and Hard Support five.

What Are the Best Heroes for New Players in Dota 2?

There are literally hundreds of heroes in Dota 2, and they range in complexity from incredibly intricate to almost insultingly simple. But for beginners, it’s often best to pick a hero that has a low entry-level (can be picked up and played simply) but a high ceiling. Below are some of the best:

Axe

For beginners, Axe is perfect because despite his simplicity, he can still make a huge difference in-game. His taunt, Berzerker’s Call, forces opponents into battle with him. This synergises perfectly with his Counter Helix, which grants a passive chance to deal massive damage to opponents. His culling blade makes farming easier early game, and deals lethal damage late game. Axe is ideal to be played as a side lane carry.

Dragon Knight

Besides being the star of the new Netflix animated series, Dragon Knight is also a great hero for beginners. The melee hero has a ranged nuke thanks to his basic Breathe Fire ability, and at level six gains the ability to transform into a Dragon. As a carry pick, he’s versatile enough to be played in all lanes, and his passive ability means he can take a lot of punishment. He can be played in the middle or side lanes as a carry.

Dragon Knight

Dragon Knight is a great hero for new players to learn.

Lich

Lich is one of the most simple and safest casters, thanks to his variety of ice abilities. His basic abilities give him enough damage to harass and kill opposing laners while protecting himself and his carries. Almost exclusively a hard or five position support, Lich survives with very little farm and is still able to deal incredible damage.

Lion

One of the more complex Heroes on this list, and is best played as a support. Able to sustain in lane while spamming abilities thanks to his Mana Drain ability, Lion is a hero that only needs one or two items to be deadly. His Hex and Earth Spike abilities give him tremendous amounts of crowd control. Meanwhile, his ultimate, Finger of Death, is the perfect support nuke. Gaining bonus damage with every kill, this ability grows unstoppable late game.

Michael Hassall
Michael Hassall

Michael is a Brit-based esports generalist and timezone traveler. He spends his free time polishing his collection of fighting game tournament participation trophies.

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