Released in 2013, Dota 2 remains one of the most popular real-time strategy games in the business, offering the largest prize pools across the esports industry. Dota 2 belongs to the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) sub-genre. Two teams of five players battle it out to destroy their opponent’s base. The following guide uncovers the history, gameplay, merits, and criticism of this iconic player’s favorite.

Dota 2 Origins

The roots of the MOBA genre are said to lie with Blizzard’s original StarCraft, in the customized map of Aeon of Strife, which provided the inspiration for Warcraft III’s mod, Defense of the Ancients (DotA). This square, three-lane map and five versus five format laid the foundations for most modern MOBA titles.

Development of the sequel began in 2009, when the lead designer of Defense of the Ancients, known as IceFrog, took the reins in creating a modernized standalone game exclusive to the Steam platform. In 2011, the Windows version of Dota 2 was showcased to the public at Gamescom, promoted through a tournament involving 16 experienced Dota esports teams. This inaugural competition became an annual occurrence, entitled The International, which remains one of the industry’s landmark events. After two years of beta testing, the game was officially released for Windows, OSX, and Linux in 2013.

How to Play Dota 2

General Gameplay

The game consists of a single map or playing field separated by three paths or lanes and occupied by two teams, radiant and dire. Each team comprises five characters, known as heroes, who must work together to wipe out enemy units, topple their towers, and eventually destroy their final stronghold or Ancient. Aside from obliterating the opponent, players also have to contend with ‘creeps,’ computer-controlled creatures that spawn periodically from a set of barracks that run along the three lanes, attacking any enemies in their path.

Selecting a Hero

One advantage that puts Dota 2 above its fierce rival, League of Legends, is that the full range of heroes is available to new players from the very beginning, completely free of charge. And that range is pretty comprehensive, with a pool of over 115 characters to choose from, each with their own specific abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. Heroes are split into two categories; core and support. As the name suggests, the latter protects the core players, particularly in the early stages, allowing the core heroes to increase in power as the game progresses and carry their team to victory. The initial selection takes the form of a draft; hence two players cannot pick the same hero.

Tips for Beginners

Novices who have little experience playing MOBAs may struggle to get to grips with Dota 2’s infamous complexities. For starters, learning the traits and spells of every hero could literally take years. Add to that a somewhat intricate item and build system, the importance of last hitting skills, especially regarding friendly creeps, and the endless strategy possibilities. It’s easy to see why many newbies end up lost in the multifaceted Dota 2 landscape. With that in mind, here are a few handy hints to help beginners get off to the best start possible:

  • Don’t skip the tutorial: Yes, this is basic stuff, but initially essential to gain a foothold in the game’s general workings.
  • Play against the bots: One of the biggest deterrents to Dota 2 is its notoriously hostile community, with a 2019 study claiming an overwhelming 79% of players experience in-game harassment. As expected, newbies are often targeted, so beginners are encouraged to play as many games as possible against the computer before venturing online.
  • Do your research: On the plus side, one of the benefits of such a large community is the number of available resources aimed at improving gameplay. Reams of valuable guides can be found across the internet, covering an array of topics, from in-depth hero manuals to drafting tips and advice on mastering runes. Watching videos and live streams of various battles can be a real eye-opener, too.
  • Consider a coach: Those with friends already well versed in Dota 2 have a significant advantage over other beginners, providing, of course, that the group is prepared to take a novice under its wing. Playing as part of a supportive team early on, who are willing to answer endless questions and offer constant guidance, can really make a difference.
  • Beginner basics: Don’t try to study too many heroes at length. Pick a few and master them first. Think about honing skills in a particular role; many novices begin as supports. Watch replays. Communicate constantly. And above all, keep practicing.

Dota 2 Tournaments and Events

Dota 2 is one of the most lucrative titles in the thriving world of esports. Scores of both amateur and professional tournaments take place every year, with the game’s fame and financial incentives attracting experts from across the globe.

Unlike League of Legends and Overwatch, Dota 2 does not have its own publisher league, controlled by Valve. Instead, the developer employs and sponsors several third parties, including ESL, PGL, and StarLadder, to organize independent leagues and competitions, forming part of the Dota 2 Pro Circuit.

The COVID pandemic brought the Dota circuit, and the world at large, to a standstill in 2020, with the Pro Circuit on hiatus for most of the year. However, the new season began on December 1st with a seasonal quest reset and the announcement of a new female hero to be released mid-month. The DPC is to kick off officially on January 18th, 2021.

The circuit will comprise six Regional Leagues, each featuring two divisions with eight teams in the Upper Division and 8 teams in the Lower Division. The year will be divided into three seasons, culminating in a Major at the end of each season. The 12 teams with the most DPC points will qualify automatically for esports most lucrative event, the International.

2021’s edition of this prestigious competition will set a new standard in terms of esports prize pools, with a whopping $40 million up for grabs.

The Future of Dota 2

With such a dedicated fan base and a massive investment on the esports front, Dota 2 is expected to maintain its high-profile status for many years to come. For players considering whether to take on this epic game, the effort required may be significant, but the rewards can be immense.