“Is It Too Late to Learn X?” aka a Newbie’s Decision to Start Playing DOTA 2

So I have to confess I only reliably recognize Juggernaut in this picture... (I had to go look up Crystal Maiden and Rubrick there.)

In the last couple of days, I’ve decided that I wanted to devote a little time to gradually (very gradually) learn a game that I’ve always felt was too enormously deep, time-consuming and overwhelming for a complete newbie to grasp.

In part, this was born out of reading the umpteenth post on the GW2 reddit of someone asking “Is it too late to join in / learn this game / pick this up now?” or “Help, I’m overwhelmed, I don’t know what to do!” or “I have no motivation / talk me into continuing with this game / etc.”

  • No, for heaven’s sakes, it’s never too late to learn to play a game (or learn anything, in fact) until the servers shut down (or your mind’s server shuts down.)
  • Yes, it’s a big game (or topic), overwhelm is natural, you’re not going to be an expert after fifteen minutes of reading about something, be patient with yourself and take it slow and learn bits and pieces at a time!
  • *spreads hands helplessly at the last* Ultimately, your motivation is your own business. We can certainly help to encourage or inspire you (in general) or advise or coach you (on specifics), if you’re open to that kind of thing. But if you’ve decided that something else is more attractive and worth focusing your attention on at this time, go do that thing first, no point hanging on to this thing like a sinking ship when your interest or motivation isn’t there.

(And for the Newbie Blogger Initiates, this totally applies to you too, re: joining in or learning to write and blog regularly.)

I decided that I want to have a sort of solidarity of experience with these unknown newbies or irregularly returning players, a bit more of a shared understanding of what they’re going through, and to try and record that beginner state for myself and for others on this here blog.

I’ve played GW2 for 1000 days, apparently.

I vaguely recall that there was a time where I fumbled around with putting weapon skills together to effectively do damage, where I had to stop and read all the tooltips and actively figure out “which button should I press first? then the next? and the next?” and then proceed to test out this chain on the next 100 karka or so (hey, solo karka shell farming is a thing, ok?)

I took this screenshot today. I just turned off the UI and killed two karka without dying.

I took this screenshot today. I just turned off the UI and killed two karka without worry that I might die. I was busy adjusting the camera with my right hand to get a nice angle and then lifting it to press PrintScreen repeatedly, the left hand was running on automatic.

These days, the muscle memory is just -there-. Shift+E triggers my F1 skill, providing 3 stacks of might, and lighting the next thing I hit on fire. 2 sends me Flashing Blade teleporting into whatever I’m targeting, conveniently blinding its next attack. I let the auto-attack of sword take over, only controlling my positioning via strafing to make sure I hit, while avoiding getting hit as best I can. I trigger 3 if I want a projectile burst and a shield to absorb.

In a split second I decide if I need to use my defensive focus skills or utility skills to protect myself (which are on longer cooldown and usually only triggered for harder stuff, not regular open world mobs), if not, I may weapon swap to land a smite, immobilize and head back out of range with scepter autoattacking, throw a spike burst with torch for a little more dps or cone AoE a group as appropriate, or just be lazy and let sword finish it off via autoattacks.

I don’t even have to think about it. I just do it.

Conversely, a newbie (or someone unfamiliar to the game) may be squinting their way through those couple of paragraphs, going “WTF? I didn’t understand a word of that? Well, no, I understand each word of English, but put together, those sentences contained zero meaning to me.”

So I’ve decided that I want to start at that total ground zero on a game that I’ve always admired and enjoyed watching the pros go at it, but never felt I had sufficient time to learn and do it any justice, DOTA 2.

League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth or Smite fans may be all “:(” over this decision, but I can’t learn four different games as a newbie, I gotta start with one first, and dammit, I want to learn the big granddaddy of them all.

(Also, I had about a weeks’ worth of exposure playing the first DOTA with some friends, so a few hero names are not completely alien to me.

And I love the pomp and shininess around the International, and the slickness of the whole client that turns messing around with cosmetics in the store, reading up for more information and spectating into a mini-game or sport itself – it’s nuts, you can spend money on DOTA 2 without even having played a single match yourself and still feel like you had fun, following your celebrity heroes or doing all the other stuff spectators do for other sports, like speculate/discuss/bet on match results or what not.)

My vague goal is to gradually learn enough about the game that I can watch the International streams (sometime in July or August, apparently, so that’s a loose deadline) and appreciate more of what’s going on, without having to rely on the newbie announcers to hold my hand each step of the way.

I’d like to be competent enough at the game that I can meet a random friend or colleague and go “Oh, you play DOTA 2 too? Cool, let’s play a friendly game together” and not look like a colossal ineffectual flailing idiot, ie. attain average to good levels.

To be frank, I see this as very much a process that will never end.

I have no illusions about becoming some top-ranked player on the global stage, nor any aspirations towards that end. I don’t need a high MMR or some platinum diamond super-black definitely-not-copper-or-bronze trophy rank (or whatever they’re using to depict high-level play.)

I generally don’t seem to get noticeable adrenaline or dopamine boosts from winning and am thus not attracted by nature to competitive play. I’m fully aware that I’m going to drop in and out of this like all the other games I’m fond of. (eg. Minecraft, Path of Exile, Don’t Starve Together are all out of the immediate loop right now. Still enjoy ’em, just not ready to dip back into them yet.)

What does draw me like a beacon is an intense curiosity about the learning process – I kinda want to observe the progression from n00b to decently competent – “just how do people learn things?” and the thrill of having something new to explore, new concepts to understand and practice and slowly attempt to master (if ever. Work-in-progress.)

It turns out that the topic of learning is a big thing in education circles, as well as games, and I’ve been going down one rabbit hole and another of reading and watching videos about this fascinating meta aspect while trying to get at least one game of DOTA 2 finished each day, so that I can -eventually- complete this massive tutorial chapter that requests you play 5 games vs bots, and 10 games vs humans, each game probably lasting 45 minutes on average, give or take 15 minutes.

I’m discovering a lot of interesting stuff. Now I just need sufficient time to synthesize concepts and put it all together in short enough coherent blog posts.

It’s gonna take a while.

But that’s what I’ve been up to in the last few days, so do expect topics along that vein in the next month or so, once I finish up with CoH nostalgia and the NBI.

(Not to mention, GW2 will probably throw a spanner in the works with some mindblowing expansion-related revelation or other, just when I think I’ve got it all sorted out.)

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4 thoughts on ““Is It Too Late to Learn X?” aka a Newbie’s Decision to Start Playing DOTA 2

  1. bhagpuss says:

    The 1000 days thing came as a complete surprise to me. Someone mentioned it in WvW and there was a flurry of people checking their /age and exclaiming in surprise so I guess a lot of people haven’t been counting.

    I think you are wrong to some degree about why you can now kill Karka with the UI off and your mind elsewhere. Oh, of course you aren’t wrong about the muscle memory and the practice and the knowledge – it’s just that I think that behind the scenes, across the game, difficulty has quietly been tuned down. It happens in all MMOs. They all start with tougher mob and weaker players regardless of understanding and ability. Then the numbers get changed. Sometimes there’s an announcement and its made a feature but more often it just happens in the background, you could even say secretly.

    If you feel GW2 is easier now than it was 1000 days ago that’s because it is. Personally, though, I still find it a vast and, if not overwhelming, then mysterious and puzzling entity.

    Playing more than a dozen characters regularly means I have not developed much in the way of muscle memory or intuitive understanding about more than a couple of them so I am frequently lost for what to do or how to play. Almost literally every single day I play I need to ask Mrs Bhagpuss how something works or go to the wiki or Dulfy or Reddit to look something up. Newbies ask questions in map chat that I can’t confidently answer without fact-checking first.

    This is my experience of every MMO I’ve ever played. I have never yet reached a level of ability or understanding where I felt each day wasn’t a learning experience.

  2. Alrighty, you might have just pushed me into trying eve. I’d always been concerned about the absolute breadth of information and systems there is to learn. Just seemed rather insurmountable but no time like the present really.

  3. Filnis says:

    I always feared playing Dota 2,since I thought it would be a crushing experience,because of my inexperience.

    Turns out,like in most games if you aren’t particularly,how should I put it,”learn-resistant”,you can have a lot of fun as soon as you grasp the basic concepts and are able to see the underlying connections between things.

    Courtesy to me not being much of a competitive player,my fear of failing in a naturally competitive environment was also rather big,so I had to tell myself the same thing when I started playing PvP in Guild Wars.

    It is somewhat nice that you can see yourself progressing from new player to veteran if you are able to gain the perspective for that,tends to help identify your personal weaknesses when starting to get into new games.

    I still fear Crusader Kings 2 though.(Not really a good comparison to various online games,but still somewhat relevant)

    Also,this was a really nice read.

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