Dota 2: Noob Learning Journal #1

It’s hard to know where to begin with this post.

I’m slowly realizing that it’s difficult for me to blog about a subject that:

a) is very big and overwhelming

and b) that I know very little about and distinctly not an expert about

The only thing I do know is that perseverance is one of the key factors of success, so one may as well keep going and chip away at the big problem with small bites, ie. figuring out how to blog about learning Dota 2, and figuring out how to even -play- Dota 2.

The first thing that immediately became clear to me after an experimental game or two was the importance of customizing controls and keybinds.

Controls are probably the first obstacle any newbie to a game encounters, and that regular players often take for granted.

My camera and character control was awful and I knew it. (The perils of not-entirely-newbie-to-games-hood.)

I initially tried the MMO default keybind and was more than a little disoriented using WASD to move the camera, nor was I entirely keen on losing some important keys in that region for skills and so on.

So I ended up using edge pan to move the screen around like most RTSes and trying to adjust to the Dota 2 default, minus one or two keybinds that seemed more convenient. I’m sure there’s still a lot of tweaking to be done on this front.

A week or two later, I’m still struggling with basic controls about 30% of the time. I lose track of my character after having shifted the camera around to look at other stuff and so on.

There’s not much for it but more regular practice and being patient with myself and just actively remembering to try and keep track of where I am moving all the time, but yeah, just thought it worth mentioning for those who interact with newbies – be patient and aware of the fact that they’re probably fighting an uphill battle with unfamiliar controls.

The other thing that I’ve been trying to utilize in my learning is the principle of spaced repetition.

Now technically speaking, this requires increasing intervals of review to be considered “spaced” but since Dota 2 games take so long to play out anyway, I try to get just one game in every day or skip a day or two and then play again.

Presumably I am still learning from this irregularly spaced play, as opposed to “cramming” it all in by trying to play 10 games on the weekends or something.

Anyhow, I find that one game is a reasonably sized concept in my mind that I don’t end up procrastinating over it too much.

So what have I learned from just jumping in and doing it?

One, your imagined fears are sometimes a lot worse than the real thing. I had this image in my head of a hostile, toxic community that would spout abuse by the bucketload.

To get over the initial hesitance, the first thing I decided to learn was to read up how to mute another player (turned out to be pretty easy, bring up the score screen and click on a certain icon.)

Through most of my tutorial games with limited heroes, I found that the matchmaking mostly put me in with similar noobs at my level (or worse, which sounds incredible, but hey, take heart, no matter how noob or expert you are, there’s always someone better or worse off than you at any time.)

This created mostly silent games for a sizeable majority of them, especially if I played in the SEA timezone (it seems we just don’t talk much), with a few notable exceptions.

There were one or two garbled microphone users that either produced high-pitched noises or just were saying something I could barely make out – eventually muted for peace of mind. There was an amusing game where I was fairly sure a great deal of abuse was probably being thrown around… except it was either in Indonesian or Tagalog, so it was a moot point since I understood neither language.

And even when I finally encountered a perfect English-speaking specimen who decided to take a specific and distinct dislike to my display of noob-level lack-of-skill and seemed to enjoy calling it out at every opportunity, I found it pretty much water off a duck’s back. I could have muted him for peace of mind, but didn’t really see the need. I mostly ended up finding it pretty funny that his expectations were set so high in a PUG who had already picked a lousy complement of heroes to begin with.

The only sad thing was that I generally find it rather difficult to cooperate as a team with someone who evidently has a problem with another team member. Plus it’s a morale drain for everyone else, so a loss is almost guaranteed at that point and there’s nothing for it but to work on personal improvement for the rest of the match. 

(Note to self: Playing in the EU timezone is probably not a good idea. From prior observations in GW2, EU culture seems to be more elitist. Also, I was probably playing with NA schoolkids who are not working in the afternoons.)

The other thing that really helps is realizing that the MOBA playing audience is SO huge, one is likely to never see any of the same names again. Ever.

So all the other players can essentially be treated as more unpredictable (and more characterful) bot AI, especially at my particular stage of learning where I have no investment in becoming part of a community around this game.

One will worry about communicating for teamwork purposes -after- mastering individual basic principles and concepts first.

Two, there’s really a LOT to learn that vets probably take for granted.

I realized I barely recognized any hero from their portraits, let alone what they looked like in-game, even while playing Limited Heroes mode, which only has 20 or so.

As suggested by a guide I skimmed, it was something I found that needed to be addressed by focused attention and intentional review. I ended up “testing” my recall every match, intentionally asking myself “Ok, look at that picture. Which hero is that?” then mousing over to check after answering.

I’m not perfect yet, but definitely a little better with this now.

Even the map paths and where all the shops are or what mobs are in which part of the jungle are unfamiliar concepts that I’m still working on, let alone all the items that can be bought or built.

Three, it’s easy to fall into comfortable ruts that produce an illusion of competence.

Since there was so much to take in at once, I ended up picking a hero recommended for beginners, Lich, who functions as ranged support and played it over several matches to get comfortable with other aspects of the game.

At first, there was the expected struggle with learning his skills, learning what items needed to be bought and what they even did, and later, over several games, I started to get just that bit better with the hero and began enjoying the ability to pull back the creeps to a point of advantage for my lane with his sacrifice skill, conveniently getting mana off it to boot, and how to wield the other spells at my disposal.

Then I realized all I wanted to do was play Lich all the time because he was now familiar and everything else was so unknown and threatening.

However, that’s not exactly going to help me learn what all the other heroes do, which is probably a requisite concept in my overall goal of understanding Dota 2 enough to appreciate an International game.

Hence my new goal, after having managed to struggle through the extremely lengthy tutorial and complete that, is to give all 20 of the Limited Heroes a try at least, before picking a couple of favorites to get better at and possibly move on to All-Pick mode.

I expect there to be a fair amount of carnage and name-calling in the attempt, and a bunch of lost games, but hey, failure is a part of learning.

P.S. I apologize for those easily enraged by semantical misuse of the words “newb” vs “noob.”

I am well aware that in certain circles, some people find it important enough to distinguish the two, one who is still learning as opposed to one who plainly has no interest in getting better while playing badly.

Except that it’s really all in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Who decides? It’s a little judgmental on someone’s part if they’ve decided so-and-so has no capability to learn further and thus deserves the ‘noob’ moniker in an abusive sense.

So anyhow, I like the word ‘noob,’ and will quite fondly reclaim it. Friends (or at least, a group that I run with) call each other that all the time and it’s not expressed in a hateful way, more in a joking manner.

Noob, and happy to be one, until one gets enough practice and learning in.

3 thoughts on “Dota 2: Noob Learning Journal #1

  1. Good luck with the learning curve! I’m starting my journey as a noob in MOBAs too, but I’ve picked Heroes of the Storm as my poison of choice. Funnily enough I’m starting out with a Lich character as well, in the form of Arthas. I like the link re the illusion of competence – the quote “this bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their ineptitude” made me laugh out loud. I’m proud to be a noob, and when other players type in chat “WTF are you doing in the top lane?” I come back with “What does lane mean?” or “What’s the goal of this game?” and wait to see what abuse they come up with.


  2. Gosh I applaud you. I tried to stick with the Moba thing through the learning curve even trying several different games and just found that learning curve or no, mobas are not my thing.

    Also yes. I’ve noticed that about EU players and elitism.. it’s mostly the Scandinavian lot from my experience. Means I don’t get entirely torn up when playing NA and not catching many people during my prime time because those I meet are more likely to be good folk. Of course this is a generalisation but something I’ve noticed.


  3. Best of luck to you.

    As a former MMORPG PvP junky I made the switch to mobas a year back and haven’t looked back. It’s a great format in my opinion.Quick to learn the basics, a bottomless abyss of time to master but it’s really great fun and far less time consuming or elitist than most online RPG’s.

    The best part is the lack of timesink with emphasis on skill based play.You go from zero to max level and geared out hero in 20-50 minutes and that’s it…game over.Re-roll.

    No grinding for 4 months to get that shoulder armor that will lift your DPS 3%….by the beard of Zeus….what a breath of fresh air. The genre is amazing for me as I get the same fix in under an hour compared to the years and thousands of hours I have invested in MMORPG PvP to even remain relevant or competitive.

    In saying I have a couple of pieces of advice that I learnt the hard way which may or may not help you in your experience of the genre.

    1.Play against bots, solo or co-op before jumping into pure PvP matches.Again and again and again until your spanking hard level bots and wiping the floor with them every game.

    This is such a fundamental for new players to MOBA’s imho it should be dogma. It will teach you a huge amount of the basics and you will have a vastly improved experience. I played against bots for maybe 1-2 months in Dota before even entertaining the thought of diving into matches and I’m so glad I did.

    I get there can be an elitist attitude in the community but much of it is actually mistaken frustration at the complete imbeciles that take no time to learn the game outside the tutorial and dive straight in. It’s akin to running in to join a game of basketball only to ask where the round bouncy thing is meant to go before kicking it off the court and screaming “GGGOOOAAAALLLLL!!!!”.

    Yeah…dudes will get pissed.

    2.Play other MOBA games.

    Dota 2 is really the A-Grade top-tier.It’s the hardest MOBA out there and is far from casual or noob friendly at times.LoL and Smite are two other MOBA’s I play. They are far less restrictive and way more casual friendly.Smite in particular is great fun with a more welcoming community and I play it just as much, if not more, than Dota.

    To use another sporting analogy if your learning to play basketball you wouldn’t just run out and start trying to dunk in an NBA game. You would be practising either by yourself or with people of a similar skill level probably at the hoop down the local park or in your driveway.

    Other MOBA’s by their very mechanical definition and restrictions offer the same fundamentals Dota does but have a far more approachable format and community hence the basics learnt are often easily transferable.

    I have had several friends try Dota only to run for the hills after the complexity and community scared them off but many are now back after playing other MOBA”s which can offer many a more relaxed and enjoyable experience to learn in before moving up to the “big league” that is Dota.

    Hope it works out for you bud.I look forward to future posts on your experience.

    gl and hf noob 😛


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