This September marks three full years that I have been playing the wildly successful video game, Dota 2. Defense of the Ancients 2, is one of three extremely popular powerhouse games in the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, or MOBA genre. Along with League of Legends and newcomer Heroes of the Storm, these games make up a huge portion of the competitive video gaming scene and since their splash in the mainstream gaming community approximately 4 years ago, they have since dominated the PC gaming world and truly set the standard for free-to-play games.
As a freshman in college, I was first introduced to Dota 2 by my roommate. Most nights I was kept awake by the incessant clicking of his mouse and tapping of his keyboard. The last straw came one night at 1:00 AM when I was jolted awake by a guttural roar to the tune of “GODDAMNIT TINKER”. With all the energy I could muster from my half-asleep daze I demanded to know what was wrong with him. Sheepishly, he peeked out from behind his monitor, “I’m really sorry man, I just got caught up in the moment. This one hero is really pissing me off!” From the next bleary-eyed morning on, I resolved to understand what made the game so compelling. I would watch him play and try to remember who all the heroes were and and understand the complex strategy behind the seemingly simple goal of destroying the other team’s base. Soon enough, I had downloaded game so I could get in on the action.
The following months consisted of being taught the ins and outs of the game with a few breaks here and there to go to class and play ultimate frisbee. I was quickly thrust into the role of support since it was the position that mattered the least if I screwed up. Supports also tended to encompass many of the easier point and shoot heroes that would allow me to help my team despite my limited skill. I would often consider the match a success if I had more assists than deaths. Getting kills on an enemy hero would elicit derogatory exclamations of joy due primarily to their rarity. Over those first few months, I lost more matches than I won and, in retrospect, probably caused my buddy to lose much more than if he’d played without me.
Skip ahead to today. Why am I still playing this game? When you lay it out, it really doesn’t have much content. It only has one map. It only has one game mode. There is no campaign. The graphics are average at best. The matches last an ungodly 30-45 minutes minimum. In the realm of gaming it is rare for someone to play any one game for as long as the 1800 hours I’ve logged playing Dota 2 . So then why do I still play it? To put it simply: because I still lose.
The types of games that end up on your shelves or as an unused shortcut cluttering your desktop are frequently the games that cease to challenge you. Is maxing your character level and stomping waves of new players fun? Of course it is. Is playing a turn one win deck in Magic the Gathering fun? Maybe the first few times. But for a true gamer, the thrill of being unbeatable will quickly lead to boredom. Why keep playing if you know the outcome? The sense of satisfaction and the thrill of winning can only be fully realized when you stand on even footing with your opponent and must rely on your skill and knowledge of the game to win. Dota 2 openly rejects the notion of giving players advantages as rewards. If a brand new player sat down to face off against a pro, both players would start the match exactly even in every respect but one: experience.
The top reason people cite for not trying Dota 2 is the immense amount of information they would need to learn to “get good”. This complaint certainly carries truth. There are currently 110 playable heroes, 137 items, and a near infinite number of combinations between the two. When I first started, I needed my roommate to roll his chair over and point to the items I should buy. Although Dota 2 has recently taken steps to make entry into the game a little easier by adding tutorials and in-game guides, diving into a game with so many moving parts is understandably overwhelming.
After 1800 hours I’ve gained an immense amount of game knowledge which helps me to make informed decisions on the fly without consulting my roommate. But it took me all 1800 of those hours to get to where I am now and guess what? I’m still learning and I’m still losing. A day will probably come when I no longer have time to play Dota 2, but I know that there will never be a time when Dota 2 will cease to be a challenge. I have been playing Dota 2 for three years and I’m still excited when a new match begins!