How To Play Dota 2

Steven Rondina  | 
Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

If you’ve ever consumed any sort of esports content, you’ve probably heard of Dota 2 at some point.

Its massive prize pools and global talent pool have made it insanely popular with fans. Meanwhile, its exciting, addictive gameplay has grown it into being one of the biggest PC titles of this generation.

But what the heck is it? And how do you even get started playing it? Read on and find out!

What is Dota 2?

Dota 2 is a game in the MOBA genre that is based upon the popular Warcraft III mod ‘Defense of the Ancient.’ In most ways, it has the look and feel of its RTS parent, but it adds extra RPG and tower defense elements that make it a unique experience from other titles.

How Do You Play Dota 2? How Much Does Dota 2 Cost?

Dota 2 is available exclusively on PC, where it can be downloaded through Steam. The game is completely free to play and nothing of in-game importance requires money. Unlike other MOBAs, there is no “pay to win” factor with Dota 2, as all heroes, items and abilities are available with the basic version of the game.

The game does have microtransactions but these are purely for cosmetic items or various other bonus content.

You can find out more, and how to get started, on the official Dota 2 website.

What is the Objective? How Do You Win in Dota 2?

Victory in Dota 2 is achieved when one team destroys the other’s Ancient, the large structure which sits at the center of their base. But of course, winning a game isn’t quite that simple…

What are Lanes? How Does the Dota 2 Map Work?

The Dota 2 map is largely comprised of three paths called “lanes.” Two of these lanes bend half-way at a right angle to form a square (called the ‘side lanes’) while another runs diagonally down the middle (called the ‘mid lane’). Between the lanes are ‘jungles’ which contain monsters that are passive, but can be killed by both teams.

Groups of small, weak, AI-controlled monsters called ‘creeps’ spawn for either team once every thirty seconds, and run down the lanes, seeking things to kill.

Creeps in each lane are kept in check by “Towers,” large obelisks that shoot fireballs at enemies and serve as something of a barrier that must be broken as the game progresses. There are three towers in each lane, and each needs to be destroyed in order, with the third being untouchable until the second is destroyed, and the second enjoying the same invulnerability until the first is destroyed.

Once all three towers in a lane have been destroyed, the enemy’s base can be penetrated. The Barracks for each lane lie along the perimeter. Though these are not technically critical objectives, eliminating them strengthens one’s own creeps for the duration of the game. At the center of the base, meanwhile, are two more towers which serve as the final layer of protection for the Ancient.

Once those have been finished off the Ancient can be attacked and once it is destroyed, the game ends.

What are Heroes? How Do You Control Them?

The characters that players control in Dota 2 are called ‘heroes.’ There are over 100 heroes to choose from in the game, with each possessing its own unique set of skills and abilities.

Heroes are controlled similar to a real-time strategy game, with movement controlled by right-clicking the mouse and skills mapped to the keyboard. Most heroes have four different abilities which are set to the Q, W, E and R keys (though there are some exceptions to this).

How Do You Strengthen Your Hero?

Heroes get stronger throughout the game by acquiring experience points and items, similar to a role-playing game.

Experience points are gained by being present for the death of an enemy unit (whether it is an enemy creep or hero). When a unit dies, experience points are divided among each enemy hero in the vicinity. Creeps give off a set amount of experience that remains static while heroes give off more experience, which grows based on their strength.

After a certain amount of experience points are gained, a hero levels up. Each level increases stats, and allows the player to strengthen one of the hero’s abilities. The maximum level is 25.

In addition to leveling up, items are are an important part of strengthening a hero. Different items have different effects including boosting stats, granting new abilities that heroes don’t naturally have and adding additional effects to attacks.

Items can be purchased from shops for gold, which can be obtained in various ways.

A small amount of gold is acquired passively but more can be obtained by delivering the killing blow to creeps. Destroying a tower or barrack grants gold to the entire enemy team. Killing a hero, meanwhile, grants gold to all nearby enemy heroes.

What Types of Heroes Are There?

Every hero helps its team in different ways. Some are capable of efficiently killing enemies, some are capable of quickly knocking over towers and some bolster the strength of allies. A hero can’t naturally fulfill every role, however, and as such, heroes can be categorized based on what they do best.

Here are some of the different hero types:

Tank – Tanks are naturally durable and often have skills that amplify this. They don’t do much damage, but their ability to distract enemies and give space for teammates makes them valuable.

Nuker – Nukers are heroes capable of appearing suddenly and quickly dealing massive damage. This power often comes with a tradeoff of being more fragile than other heroes.

Roamer – Effectively Dota 2’s setup man, roamers travel between lanes in order to assist in killing enemy heroes.

Hard Carry – Hard carries are traditionally weak early, but become incredibly powerful as the game progresses. They often have some manner of amplifier to their attack that makes them untouchably strong once they obtain enough experience and gold.

Disabler – Dota 2 heroes can be disarmed, slowed, held in place, silenced and even turned into pigs! A hero that excels at doing one or more of these things is called a disabler.

Pusher – Heroes that have tools to knock down enemy towers are called pushers. This can be done in a variety of ways including casting spells that deal damage to buildings, pressuring lanes from afar or empowering allied creeps.

What Roles do Players Have on a Team?

Generally speaking, there are three roles on a Dota 2 team; core, support and off-laner.

Cores tend to be the strongest heroes in the game…eventually. Often starting off weak, their strength grows exponentially as they level up and buy items. Cores usually inhabit the ‘safe lane’ or mid and can be incredibly powerful if they are given the opportunity to grow.

Supports are the opposites of carries. Effective with minimal resources and typically strongest early, they work to ensure the growth of cores by setting up kills, placing wards, healing or providing buffs. No support hero can do all of those things effectively, though, and choosing the right one for your team can be a tricky decision.

Offlaners, as the name suggests, work in the offlane (the side lane not inhabited by the core, sometimes called the ‘hard lane’). Playing in this lane tends to be more difficult, as enemies have more avenues to stage an ambush and dedicated help from supports is less frequent, resulting in tricky two-on-one situations. This lane can provide either ample amounts of gold and experience or leave the offlaner working from far behind, making versatility and play-making skills critical.

In pro games, these role are often assigned numbers from one through five, based upon how much gold and experience they need relative to their allies. Cores are often referred to as No. 1 or No. 2, while supports are No. 4 or 5.

What Are the Best Carry Heroes in Dota 2? Which Are the Best Supports?

Dota 2 is distinct from other MOBA titles because the vast majority of heroes can fulfill more than one role.

Windranger, for example, has a very good stun and the ability to increase her attack speed while targeting a single unit or building. By building different items and leveling her in different ways, players can make Windranger into an effective core, offlaner or support.

That said, there are certain heroes that sacrifice versatility to excel past others in one specific role. The ones that stand apart as the best carries and supports in Dota 2 are…

Best Carries – Anti-Mage, Terrorblade, Phantom Lancer, Spectre, Chaos Knight, Juggernaut, Lone Druid, Sniper, Medusa

Best Supports – Lich, Bane, Rubick, Omniknight, Dazzle, Io, Warlock, Treant Protector, Crystal Maiden

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

When you play your first games of Dota 2, seeing that Hero Select screen can be harrowing, and that’s completely understandable! There are loads of heroes and plenty of them require lightning-quick reflexes, sniper-like accuracy and Stephen Hawking-esque game IQ.

Rather than stepping onto a Meepo or Invoker landmine, it’s worth knowing which heroes new players can reliably make an impact with. Here are some of the best options:

Wraith King- Wraith King is easily the best carry option for new players. His intuitive attack animation and high damage make him easy to farm with. He also has one of the most effective, straightforward stuns in the game. And, of course, his ultimate lets him come back after he dies! How great is that!?

Lich- Lich is one of the most intuitive characters in Dota 2. His Frost Blast skill does a lot of damage early, Ice Armor is incredibly useful and his ultimate is powerful, even if it doesn’t get favorable bounces. Most importantly, however, is that Lich’s Sacrifice spell grants huge amounts of exp when used across the duration of a game, allowing him to get levels even if things go awry.

Lion- All of Lion’s spells are high-impact and easy to use. He has two no-fuss disables, an ultimate that reliably does huge damage and a Mana Drain skill that allows you to utterly spam spells early in the game.

Dota 2 Gameplay and Strategy Tips

Try and kill things as frequently as possible- This might sound like a no-brainer but it’s incredibly easy to get rattled in Dota 2. You’ll die twice, get called out for it by your team and spend the rest of the game standing next to towers, falling further and further behind as a result.

While staying safe is important, don’t pass up opportunities to get at least a little bit of gold and experience. Stand behind creeps to get experience (you can be a good distance away and still get something) or stick your nose into the jungle in order to farm a camp.

Warding is the job of the supports- You’re going to witness plenty of arguments about warding in your Dota 2 career and while is often plenty of room for debate about where wards should be placed and whether anything could have been done to prevent a player’s death, one thing is certain! Warding is the job of the supports.

Cores require items and experience to be effective. If they’re buying wards, they’re spending gold on something other than the items they need. If they’re planting wards, they’re spending time on something other than getting gold. Support heroes, as discussed, are not as resource-dependent as cores and because of that, the burden of buying and planting wards should fall to them.

No hero is OP- At some point, you’ll feel like a specific hero is way too powerful to deal with. In reality, though, no hero is unstoppable! The best way to identify the weaknesses in a hero is to play it yourself! After just a few games, you should know how to handle playing against them.