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What is Dota 2?

Lawrence Phillips  | 
PSG.LGD takes on Team Liquid on Day 3 of The International 2018 (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

PSG.LGD takes on Team Liquid on Day 3 of The International 2018 (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Dota 2 is one of the biggest titles in all of esports. With an enormous player base that spans the entire world, the most lucrative professional scene and the most grandiose tournament in the entire industry, the Valve-made MOBA stands as alongside any other juggernaut in competitive gaming.

That said, a lot of details about the game, ranging from its history to simple details about how it’s played, remain a mystery to those outside its community. With that in mind, let’s delve deep into the game of Dota 2 and give you everything you need to know about the popular esport.

How do you play Dota 2?

Dota 2 is a member of the multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) genre which combines elements of real-time strategy games (like Warcraft and StarCraft) with tower defense games (like Plants vs. Zombies and Dungeon Defenders).

As with other MOBA games like League of Legends and Heroes of Newerth, Dota 2 was heavily inspired by the Warcraft III user-made game mode ‘Defense of the Ancients’ or DotA. The game was developed by Valve with heavy involvement from the original creator of Dota, an unknown individual nicknamed Icefrog, who can be considered the creator of the genre. Dota 2 is technically a sequel to the original Dota but is mostly regarded as its own standalone title.

Like most of its constituents, Dota 2 features two teams of five players competing to destroy the core of the other team’s base, the Ancient. Each player controls a single hero who has a variety of skills that can be used to attack enemies, empower allies or increase one’s own strength. Heroes become stronger over the course of the game by gaining gold and experience from the death of enemy units. There are over 100 heroes to choose from in Dota 2 and while most esports titles have the majority of playable options whittled away at the pro level, Dota 2 is balanced to the point where major tournaments routinely see all but three or four heroes played.

Dota 2 is free for anyone looking to play the game and can be downloaded through Steam. You can find out more about Dota 2 and how to play it on the official website.

Who are the best Dota 2 teams?

When it comes to consistency, European organisation Team Secret have been setting an incredibly high standard in recent years, winning at least one Major in each of the last three Dota Pro Circuit seasons. Secret’s captain Puppey has routinely refreshed the organisation’s line-up post-The International. Each time successfully mixing experience with new blood, while still maintaining a reputation for excellence.

Meanwhile in China, Vici Gaming have cemented themselves as the leader of the pack, building on the success of their 2018-2019 DPC Season. That season saw them claim two Major titles and a top six finish at TI9. So far in the 2019-2020 season they have shown no signs of slowing down, and despite an average age of just 23, have shown experience beyond their years. Led by Chinese veteran ROTK, Vici Gaming are a force to be reckoned with at every tournament they grace with their presence.

Elsewhere in the world, Evil Geniuses are looking deadly despite the departure of star player and TI5 winner SumaiL in the summer. Filipino Abed’s move from SEA to North America worked wonders. The 19 year old’s standout performances helped secure top four finishes at the Chengdu and Leipzig Majors on the 2019-2020 DPC Circuit, putting his team in good stead for a direct invite to TI10.

Other teams to be making waves are SEA representatives and Chengdu Major winners TNC Predator, who are enjoying a resurgence after recruiting South Korean March to lead the team. Overall however, Europe remains the strongest region followed by China.

Who are the best players?

Picking out the singular best players in Dota 2 is an intensely difficult endeavor.

In a team game where chemistry tends to trump talent, a world-class player might seem average with the wrong people around him. Similarly, a less-than-elite player might look phenomenal in the right environment. Add to that the ever-shifting meta game where different roles can take on different responsibilities depending on the month and picking out the best at any given time is a tall order!

There are, of course, several players that stand above the rest in their respective roles for their ruthless consistency.

In the carry position Zhang “Paparazzi” Chengjun, now going by the alias Eurus, continues to dominate. His coolness under pressure has served Vici Gaming well over the last two years. Arriving on the competitive scene in 2016, Eurus was a late bloomer, but earned the respect of the international audience after winning the DAC Solo Tournament in 2017 and 2018.

In North America Artour “Arteezy” Babaev, who a couple of years ago was considered fresh blood, is now part of the old guard at Evil Geniuses. Now in his fourth year at the org, the Canadian has perfected his craft, successfully completing his transformation from mid to carry. Still on the hunt for his first TI title, Arteezy remains NA’s poster boy.

In Europe, newcomer Nikolay “Nikobaby” Nikolov of Alliance has been making noise, and carrying his team to dizzying new heights. The strongest new carry to come out of Europe recently, Nikobaby is the star of tomorrow, today. He is, of course, not the only deadly EU carry. Miracle-. who was widely considered the best mechanical player in Dota 2, remains a world class carry despite taking an extended break after finishing second place at TI9. Meanwhile Finnish TI7 winner Matumbaman is back to his best after being offered a chance for redemption under the Team Secret banner post-TI9.

In the mid-lane with double TI winner Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen out of action since TI9, SumaiL on the sidelines and Nigma’s Miracle- now a carry, the mantle of most prolific mid player is still up for contention. Vici Gaming’s Zeng “Ori” Jiaoyang is undoubtedly a strong candidate in terms of consistency, but when it comes to style points, 18-year-old Zhou “Emo” Yi of Invictus Gaming is proving a real handful on Storm Spirit and Arc Warden. 19-year-old Michal “Nisha” Jankowski, who was plucked from relative obscurity by Team Secret’s Puppey, is also a class act. With the lowest average deaths but the second highest KDA at the Leipzig Major in January 2020, Nisha is well on his way to becoming the world’s strongest mid player. As well as Evil Geniuses’ Abed, who has risen to the challenge of filling SumaiL’s shoes.

Support wise, Yazied “Yapzor” Jaradat is setting the standard in Europe, trumping his teammate Nisha for the best KDA record in Leipzig, despite not playing a core. Prior to Team Secret, YapzOr had not won a title, but since joining in 2017 he has played a critical role in the team winning four DPC Majors.

Nigma’s Maroun “GH” Merhej’s fortunes also changed in 2017, when he became TI7 champion less than a year after becoming a pro. Much like YapzOr, his combination of charisma and skill has made him not only a like-able teammate, but a beloved player in the eyes of the public.

Aside from the new generation, three TI winning captains have proven themselves year after year as world-class supports. Team Secret’s Puppey, Nigma’s Kuroky and OG’s N0tail are indisputably among the best players to have ever graced the game, and continue to amaze audiences worldwide.

Meanwhile the offlane is being defined by Alliance’s Neta “33” Shapira, Secret’s Ludwig “zai” Wahlberg and TI7 winner Ivan “Mind_ControL” Ivanov. The trio have performed well for so long that their skill is almost common knowledge. All three players let their play do the talking, much like Vici Gaming’s Zhou “Yang” Haiyang, who rose through the ranks over the last five years to become China’s standout offlaner.

What is The International?

Since 2011, Valve has hosted the world’s biggest annual esports event: The International. A gargantuan Dota 2 tournament, it distinguishes itself from anything else in the industry with its obscenely large prize pool and the shadow it casts over the entire calendar.

Everything in professional Dota 2 is about qualifying for The International, as the prestige is matched with a phenomenal reward. Ever since TI4 in 2014, TI has broken esports prize pool world records for six years in a row.  Over 63% of the $221 million given away in Dota 2 prize money has come purely from The International. In nine years TI has given away $140,755,722, with first place at TI9 in 2019 worth a staggering $34 million.

Valve achieves this each year by selling The International Battle Pass, a $10 add-on to Dota 2 which is available a few months prior to the start of the show that gives players a number of fun toys including skins, special game modes and a digital compendium for the tournament. Battle Passes can be leveled up by earning achievements, completing challenges or buying them from the Steam store. A cut of the proceeds from sales of The International Battle Pass and levels goes directly into the prize pool for The International, with an undisclosed amount being invested into the event’s production.

Though the event stands as something of Super Bowl for Dota 2 – functioning as its own standalone event that attracts a much wider audience than the standard fare – some have questioned whether The International actually hurts Dota 2 as an esport.

Because of the sheer size of The International, it profoundly overshadows every other tournament of the year, a la the Olympics in comparison to the Pan American Games. Additionally, invites to The International are sent by Valve directly to players rather than teams, a fact which has contributed to the diminished role of prominent esports organizations in the Dota 2 space. Finally, the importance of The International gives Valve incredible power over any and all stakeholders in the game, a fact which has burned tournament organizers and teams on several occasions over the years.

While those points are all open to debate, there’s no question that The International is a must-watch treat for fans and a potential life-changing windfall of cash for players.

What are the biggest Dota 2 events?

In 2015, in a bid to avoid The International becoming the only focal point of the competitive scene during the year, Valve launched the Dota Major Championships. Over the last five years the developer has tinkered with the format to arrive at what we know today as the Dota Pro Circuit (DPC).

The 2019-2020 DPC Circuit, includes five large-scale events known as Majors, and five smaller-scale events known as Minors. Both types of events are hosted by third-party tournament organizers, who submit proposals to Valve for the given dates. Once accepted, Valve provides tournament organizers with half of the prize pool. All five Majors are worth $1 million, while Minors offer a modest $300,000 in prize money.

At all ten of the DPC events, participating teams can earn DPC Points, which are tallied up at the end of the competitive season to determine which 12 teams will receive a direct invite to TI. For Dota 2 teams, ensuring their participation at TI is crucial, and despite there still being slots via Regional Qualifiers for Valve’s flagship annual event, most teams make DPC events their highest priority.

Qualifiers for each Major are held online for six different regions; EU, CIS, NA, SA, SEA and China. Teams who fall just short of qualifying for the Major, can then fight in a second qualifier to reach the Minor. Despite a smaller prize pool, the Minors are still important, as the winning team of each Minor is invited to the following Major, filling the 16th and final slot.

Unlike Overwatch and League of Legends, Dota 2’s professional circuit does not use franchising. This means any team can reach a DPC event so long as they win the Regional Qualifiers. In the 2019-2020 season, the DPC will head to China, Ukraine, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Outside of the DPC, Dota 2 fans can also enjoy an array of other standalone events organised by the likes of PGL, ESL, BeyondTheSummit and WePlay!. However, DPC events are still the most prestigious and lucrative for professional Dota 2 teams.

Lawrence is an esports dinosaur that started back in 2004 and has been a full-time freelancer ever since. He has worked for the likes of SK Gaming, PGL, ESL, Razer, Monster Energy, GINXTV, Dexerto and Starladder as an editor, scriptwriter and content creator. He currently spends his days trying to own in Apex Legends and Fortnite, in a bid to make up for his lack of skills in his main game, Dota 2.