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.

GW2: Wading in the Cesspool of Hotjoin sPvP

Death is temporary, dolyaks are forever...

The other day, I queued up for my first ever solo queue sPvP match.

I ended that game with a stunning realization that I (almost, kinda, as of this moment anyway) preferred hotjoins.

Oh, the game wasn’t that bad. It was actually 5 vs 5 players, not 5 vs 4. It ended up 450-500, not in my team’s favor.

I tried a necro vs necro duel on a side point, which was damnably evenly matched, until I somehow no-idea-how managed to down him, whereupon I struggled with the finishing stage between having some 1000 hp left with his flesh golem still after me – not daring to even get close or within LOS, trying to wait out my heal’s recharge – and made an error in judgement, which resulted me falling over while he was at 1/5 downed hp remaining and both of us out of sight range of the other – except his danged flesh golem was still up and mine wasn’t, so he got to revive and I didn’t.

Then I tried it again, except a teammate came to his rescue while mine were nowhere in sight, so fleeing was the better part of valor.

And ended up just team vs team duking it out in the center trying to off the opposing team faster than me or mine got offed.

But what I ended up taking home from that experience, besides the fact that solo queue wasn’t the devil after all and that I might do it again when I’m in the right mood and frame of mind with plenty of time to kill, is that it was SLOW.

Before you even get to the match, you have to queue up and wait.

I waited for three minutes out in the Heart of the Mists, steadily going out of my mind with boredom, threw up my hands and got into a hotjoin game which was pretty exciting for 4+ minutes when my queue popped and I was faced with the prospect of giving up a nice and easy ~540 rank points for a 1000 or bust (300) gamble, with the odds against me (since I’m sure I lack the experience to contribute as much as a veteran sPvPer.)

Then the match itself seems to be a more measured strategy chess match, where players actually stay on points and defend them with bunker builds, and 5 vs 5 tends to yield slower paced skirmishes of 1-3 players a side only. Between that and having more competent players on average taking the game format seriously, the match drags on much longer than a hotjoin would.

And suddenly, the prospective reward of 1000 rank points for a win doesn’t look as attractive in comparison to the time spent to -maybe- get it.

Of course, this boils down to what exactly your goal is in sPvP.

If you’re a warrior – a competitive sort that’s looking for an evenly matched “good fight” where you can test your individual skills and build against a controlled number of opponents (1-3 preferably, where you have a realistic chance of winning if you’re good to very good), solo or team queues are probably your ideal cup of tea.

Many PvPers, I suspect, fall into this category, hence the heralding of the game format as the pinnacle to strive toward and hotjoin derided as a cesspool of filth.

If you’re a soldier – the sort who prefers working in unison to achieve a goal and doesn’t mind taking directions and supporting the team, you’d probably prefer team queue or be out in WvW already, assuming your server hasn’t fallen in population to the point of WvW league failure.

(Quite a number of PvPers have both warriors and soldiers in ’em, so don’t take it as a dichotomy, more of a description of preferences.)

I’ve seven team tournaments on my non-PvPer belt, six of which were won. How?

I walked in as a guild team. Some of my guildies are more serious PvPers, but when they do a guild PvP event, they inclusively take in any old rabble, including me.

I’m not competitive, I’m not much of a PvPer, but I do try to use a meta build (could be outdated, who knows) due to my interest in performing at least decently if not 100% optimally, and I do have something of a soldier mindset, which lets me appreciate aspects of WvW.

The guild tells me to stick with so-and-so and follow him around. I do so. We go to a point. We sit on it.

I do my best to support, control, and help my teammate(s), and let them do the all the  communication stuff of sending a more competent roamer to one point or another to adjust the odds of battle. I only leave the point when they tell me or in a pinch, when it looks like no one else can respond in time. I try my best not to die, and since I’ve only brought a guardian and necro to sPvP, I’m conveniently rarely the primary target and when I am, well, both classes are designed to be annoyingly tanky and my innate tank nature loves being a frickin’ nuisance that way.

There was one memorable match where the guild’s team were down to 4 and had apparently just lost a match to a premade team when they went in with an extra pug that wasn’t on voice comms. Then they asked around on guildchat if anyone wanted in, and I decided what the heck, I need the experience, right?

And sidled my way in, warning them that I was pretty much a noob to team PvP. I had no mic either, and always just listen.

We ended up facing the exact same premade team. The prematch chat was very civil, praising the pug guardian as ‘very annoying.’ Then they asked about why the delay for the queue. “Oh, we brought a guildie in,” was the offhanded reply.

Good lord, the pressure, right?

The match was so lopsided it wasn’t even in question at any time. In our favor.

We sent three (me included) to the center point, two to our home point and just sat there. Repelling all comers.

1-3 would come by to the center, our leader would call a target, and they’d just fall over dead eventually. It was probably one of those coincidences of well synergized builds again that managed to counter the opposing team’s, but I don’t know what their reaction was in their own team’s communication channels when the final scoreboard came up and they saw that the only factor that was different between the previous match was a less than rank 20 necromancer.

(Who just happened to be in the same guild and on the same voice chat as the other four. Communication and coordination over skill, I guess.

Or you can blame the OP dhuumfire meta build, though I hear it’s already nerfed and fallen out of favor? I’m too lazy to change what works decently, though.)

I love my guild.

I’m way too much of a wuss to try team queue without a team I trust, that’s for sure.

You see, I’m not competitive.

Leaderboards and ranking do not interest me.

I’m not actually fired up by the prospect of an evenly matched 1 on 1 fight except as a technical exercise to just see if I can do it (or more likely, fail miserably in the process and try to figure out what the other guy was using and doing.)

All I really wanted in PvP was to get a dolyak /rank to play with. Because the more dolyaks the merrier, y’know?

Oh, and the extra 4 AP from the PvP daily doesn’t hurt.

(And I suppose, when the new PvP rewards and incentive scheme comes up with the feature patch, that would be something interesting to strive toward too.)

So my personal goal was rank. Enough to bootstrap me to 20. With as little time spent in the Heart of the Mists as possible, so that I can spend the rest on more compelling stuff.

Along the way, if I get a bit more PvP experience, that’s a bonus that comes with the territory of playing a minigame and learning as you go.

Lately, I’ve figured out that hotjoins are a decent enough vehicle for those non-ambitious goals.

The “Play Now” button dropkicks me right into an ongoing game. I can leave at any time I want. The 8 vs 8 format is exciting in a casual team deathmatch style, with action flying around fast and nonstop furious, getting the adrenaline going with less “serious business” pressure weighing on one’s shoulder. Dying and respawning are painless and penalty-less.

(Ironically, it’s like Natural Selection 1’s Combat mode versus the RTS strategic mode, except there I really enjoyed the strategic side of it more. Population-wise, far more gravitated to mano-a-alien combat mode though.)

Yes, there is shameless stacking going on in hotjoins.

I paid my noob dues by losing a bunch of matches, wondering how the hell I kept ending up on a side with less players, whose collective PvP experience probably equated to one player on the winning team, getting relentlessly ganked by meta builds while sporting a non meta one, massively teamed up on, and whose only redeeming experience was learning how to harden the fuck up and attempt to survive as long as possible (tank mode, yeah!) against impossible odds.

Then I finally figured out the UI.

And got my own meta build.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, and all that.

You know, with the new rank rewards, I don’t mind the stacking at all because it’s totally possible to game the system to get rank points (which, we have established, is one’s primary individual objective for playing hotjoins – the fun little cesspool of anything goes.)

First things first, identify the winning team. This comes with experience, and making a good guess when first entering a game. Or just memorize the higher scoring, higher rank, high-kill-achieving players in your first game (which will probably be on the other side.)

Then spam the fuck out of the “join their side” button.

Assuming you aren’t a total hopeless case who will pull down the team merely by being on their side, contribute to the cause by capping and scoring kills. Preferably by creating “teamwork” mini-scenarios where one ignorant person from the other team runs straight into a group of you playing together and meets the expected fate at the hands of 1 vs X.

Very soon, likely before hitting 200-300 points into the match, first one then another on the losing team will quickly give up and flee out of the game, seeking greener grass elsewhere.

Then the “dreaded” auto-balance button pops up on the side.

Many dread it. I revel in it.

I volunteer the fuck out of it. It’s an extra 25 rank. You guarantee yourself the winning rank reward of 500, no matter what happens (assuming your internet doesn’t die unexpectedly.)

Sure, the next part of the match turns into a stream of *your name* deaths littering the side of the game’s UI, but you know, the deaths are meaningless if your ego is not involved in it.

And it’s the absolute best of both worlds in one game.

First you get the steamroll experience of doing horrible horrible things to players who aren’t playing very well, and identifying their mistakes so that you improve by watching what -not- to do. It’s a primitive ego boost when you realize that you and your build have at least had miniscule improvement to the point where you aren’t -that guy- at  least some of the time anymore. You get to play alongside better players and a team that actually tends to cooperate with each other.

Then when you get switched, and you probably will, since everyone else was hoping they weren’t “it,” you get to test yourself against all the -good- players who have conveniently self-selected themselves out for you.

If 3 or more jump you and tangle you up in cc, obviously, you’re going down. Seriously, there’s no dishonor in it. It’s like you’re roaming alone in WvW and this 40 man zerg rounds the corner and over you. Nothing to be done about it. *shrug*

If it’s 2-3 players, it becomes a game of “see how long I can outlast and outwit.” Necros are built to be annoying, I hear. They’re supposed to waste your time. They can’t escape very well, but they can make you regret spending the time getting entangled up with trying to kill them. Hopefully a teammate or two or three come over eventually. If not, well, see above. Still a fun minigame of survival.

If it’s 1 vs 1, then well, things become interesting. It’s those duels that the PvP warrior types yearn for. Me, not so much, but as mini-practice within a larger game, why not? Sometimes, I even win. Which is pretty awesome when it does happen. If not, it’s a more-entertaining-and-firsthand-than-a-video experience of how a pro takes down an amateur. Chalk it up to the learning process.

It’s a hotjoin, you can choose to play it straight and sit on a cap and wait for people to come. (I like to lurk underwater in Raid of the Capricorn and bleed people to death until they get smart and bring more than one person.) If the game is really hopeless, then throw score to the wind and play for the fights. Your new team is already frickin’ losing anyway, with or without you. Run to the mess of players duking it out in the middle somewhere and see how many sneak attacks you can get in and maybe even turn the tide.

Absolutely rarely, the tide can even sometimes turn and your new team ends up winning (usually because the points shift a bit, some guy on the initially winning team decide to flee and leaves the team one man down, some other new fella joins the game and picks the team you’re on as the fan favorite to stack,) which then becomes a funny exercise in come-uppance, and is even a bit of an ego-booster. (Did -I- do that?! No wai.)

If not, expected team wins, but you get the reward anyway because you were a member of that team in the beginning. (And you even helped more people get the rank reward because you generously made way for more people to stack onto it. Let it not be said that GW2 isn’t a cooperative game!)

Hell, you have mathematically made it impossible for yourself to lose because you’re getting 500 rank points no matter which team wins.

Red versus blue? Doesn’t matter.

You are OMNI-TEAM. You are PAN-TEAM. You encompass multitudes. (Gogo minion or clone zerg.)

You get the full experience, meeting ALL skills levels from 0-50+, bumping into a spectrum of meta to weird builds, at a super-quick non-time-wasting pace.

It’s like ultra-rapid-fire LoL or something.

A hideous perversion of what the spirit of the game is probably supposed to be, but entertaining in its own right.

And 3-4 hotjoin games of this nature is surprisingly palatable for someone who just wants to get their dailies done and get in a couple hundred rank points per day.