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.
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.
Dota 2 is quite different from most esports. While games like Counter-Strike and League of Legends have some enduring, long-lasting organizations with rich, storied histories, Dota 2 has typically gone in the opposite direction, with Valve (intentionally or unintentionally) making it very hard to stick around for any length of time in their popular MOBA title.
Players have largely had complete control over where they play, which guarantees numerous high-profile shakeups and breakups each season. While that has its benefits on some levels, it has resulted in a serious lack of year-over-year consistency.
Short-lived stacks like Team NP and Team Tinker will show up out of nowhere, make a splash and then scatter to the wind. Major organizations like Cloud9 and Ninjas in Pyjamas will sign a Dota 2 team and then quietly step away from the game in under a year.
There have been some exceptions, of course. The Chinese scene has been an anchor in the stormy seas of Dota 2, with a number of organizations like LGD Gaming, Invictus Gaming and EHOME having teams since the game’s initial release in 2011. Western brands like Evil Geniuses, compLexity Gaming and Fnatic have all managed to stay in the scene for years on end as well.
Few, however, have been able to maintain greatness with any consistency.
As of this writing Virtus Pro, Team Liquid and PSG.LGD are likely the best Dota 2 teams on the planet. Will they be for any length of time, though? Precedent suggests not as each one is just a departure or two away from mediocrity.
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.
Mid laner has long been the most glamorous role in Dota 2. Often boiling down to a 1v1, teams put their most mechanically gifted player on something of an island, tasking them with both building up their own resources while stifling their opponent. Many of Dota 2’s first stars–players like Luo “Ferrari_430” Feichi and Danil “Dendi” Ishutin–were mid laners and that continues today across every region with players like Evil Geniuses’ Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan, Fnatic’s Chai “Mushi” Yee Fung and Newbee’s Song “Sccc” Chun.
Though mids often get the most spotlight the role of captaining teams, which includes drafting heroes and calling the shots in-game, typically falls to the supports. China has a long history of strong captains starting with Invictus Gaming’s Wong “ChuaN” Hock Chuan and LGD Gaming’s Zhang “xiao8” Ning and extending all the way to today in Vici Gaming’s Lu “Fenrir” Chao, PSG.LGD’s Xu “fy” Linsen and many more. Western teams, by and large, haven’t been so lucky.
Clement “Puppey” Ivanov, who captained Natus Vincere from 2011 to 2014, remains one of the best in the game today as the anchor of Team Secret. A former teammate of Puppey’s, Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi, currently helms Team Liquid’s Dota 2 squad and has carved out a reputation as one of deftest drafters in the pro scene. Peter “ppd” Dager managed to lead Evil Geniuses to the TI5 championship and remains a force with OpTic Gaming today. Outside of those three, however, European and North American teams are sorely lacking for skilled captains and often split that duty between multiple players or pin it on one of their supports.
Offlaner has arguably changed more than any other position in Dota 2 over the years, presenting a different set of challenges with each major patch. Through it all, Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora has stood as the most reliable player in this position and thrived with multiple teams in that role.
Finally, the carry role tends to be the most underappreciated as it affords little room for creativity or play-making, and instead requires extensive periods of grinding for gold and experience. Given the relatively high turnover at the position among top teams, struggling mids and offlaners often look for second lives as carries, with mixed results. Because of that, longevity with high-level teams is a generally solid way to pick out the best carries around.
Artour “Arteezy” Babaev has managed to set himself apart in the carry role through three years in the position with Evil Geniuses and Team Secret, and stands as one of the most beloved personalities in all of Dota 2, courtesy of his popular stream. Roman “RAMZES666” Kushnarev has worked his way to the top of the CIS region, most recently carrying Virtus Pro to an amazing 2018. The most enduring of all, however, is Liu “Sylar” Jiajun, who has been one of the foremost carries in China since 2011, carrying teams like LGD Gaming, Vici Gaming and VGJ.Thunder.
As with most esports, the bulk of pro Dota 2 action can be found on Twitch. Most major tournaments can be found there, and pro players from around the globe are all but guaranteed to be doing personal streams at any given time. If you ever have an itch for watching high-level Dota 2, just hop on and find something to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a single channel to subscribe to, Beyond the Summit offers solid coverage of most notable Dota 2 tournaments and is an especially great resource for finding English broadcasts of tournaments in China and Southeast Asia. That said, Dota 2 has a huge number of solid casters that work independently so if there’s ever an event, Twitch will have something to offer.
The sole exception to this is ESL One’s Dota 2 tournaments. In January 2018, the prominent tournament organizer tendered an exclusive deal to have their Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive events broadcast exclusively on Facebook. Though unofficial broadcasts can still be found, it’s best to either tune into Facebook Watch or check out the official ESL website.
That said, Twitch isn’t necessarily the best way to consume Dota 2 content.
The Dota 2 client has, quite possibly, the best spectator tools in all of esports, allowing you to choose between multiple observers, different language commentators, individual player perspectives and more. On top of all that, Dota 2 allows you to effortlessly download replays for both pro and pub games, and watch them back in their entirety or in abridged form with automatically generated highlight features.
Obviously, that comes with the caveat that you must watch it through the Dota 2 client rather than conveniently on mobile devices or smart TVs, but it’s a great way to either catch up on tournaments or study how the pros play!
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 and getting one of the enormous paychecks that come out of it. More than 50-percent of all the prize pool money given in competitive Dota 2 history has come from The International and from 2015 on, that number has become increasingly skewed with The International 2017 accounting for 65-percent of all the money paid out at tournaments that year ($24.87 million out of $37.98 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.
Dota 2, as is often the case, doesn’t take the same path as its other esports constituents.
While Overwatch completely revolutionized the industry with the introduction of the Overwatch League (which functions quite similarly to traditional sports leagues like the NFL or NBA), Dota 2 went in a different direction. In 2017, Valve introduced the world to the Dota Pro Circuit, a series of tournaments where top-four teams gain points during the course of a season, with the top eight at the end receiving a direct invite to that year’s The International tournament.
The DPC is set to return with the 2018-2019 season following TI8, albeit with several changes. While the inaugural season featured a whopping 22 events, the second will have just ten including five minors and five majors. Unlike the first season, all teams that play in DPC events will receive points towards an invite to TI9. Specific point totals for events have yet to be revealed, however, making it unclear how different tournaments are weighted based on their Major/Minor designation or proximity to TI9.
The tentative schedule for the 2018-2019 season (as well as other rules and stipulations) can be found on the official Dota 2 website.
As previously discussed, the biggest event on the Dota 2 calendar (and possibly in all of esports) is The International. The prize pool is just too large, the show is just too grand and the mainstream visibility is just impossible to deny.
That said, it’s not the only event that’s worth watching during the year as there are several large Dota 2 events that are appointment viewing.
For the last three years, Epic Esports Events’ Epicenter, which has also hosted Counter-Strike tournaments, has stood as one of the most consistently excellent shows, luring in fans with its extravagant stage and reeling in top-tier teams with sizable prize pools. Epicenter prides itself on being the biggest esports event in the CIS region and has made Moscow, Russia its home base.
For those looking west, European tournament organizer ESL is very active in Dota 2, hosting four ESL One events during the 2017-2018 Dota Pro Circuit season. ESL typically hosts events in Europe, but also ventures out to Southeast Asia fairly regularly (its four events over the last year, for example, took place in England, Poland, Malaysia and Germany).
PGL, another organizer from Europe, is also incredibly active in Dota 2. With an extensive history of working with Valve on the production of The International and Valve’s own Major tournaments in 2016 and 2017, PGL has done some strong work both hosting its own events in Romania and working alongside China’s Perfect World to put on events like the Dota 2 Asia Championship and the China Supermajor.
As of this writing, it is unclear which of these organizers will be hosting tournaments in the upcoming Dota Pro Circuit season. If any of them get the nod, though, make sure to tune in!