State of the Union
Written by Aman Parmar
In November 2011, the online server count for DotA 2 reached 5000. Including all the test servers and the regular ones, the current count is 28,015 servers! Many of these could be temporary test servers which are part of the Valve cloud but feel free to scroll through the pages on this site www.gameserverdirectory.com as there might be a lot more servers spawning soon!
This just goes to show the amount of testing that has been going on behind those dev blog updates. Despite having a tough competition from the current RTS/MOBA/ARTS games namely League of Legends Warcraft 3 DotA and Heroes of Newerth, DotA 2 has managed to stand its ground. That's probably because Valve's aim seems to be much bigger – to bring the scattered DotA community and all its other versions currently in development under the same roof and make it the ultimate eSports discipline where the community chips in with cosmetics just like TF2 but the core gameplay remains untouched and confined in the hands of Valve.
Let's take a quick look at how far DotA 2 has actually come and what can we expect next?
DotA 2 at the World Cyber Games 2012
Many say WCG is more like a lost cause these days. It has been counted as an irrelevant event by a number of pro gamers and the community due to a number of factors. Perhaps the crown goes to the fact that $40,000 first prize was awarded to a guy who won Asphalt 6 on a Samsung Galaxy S2 at WCG 2011! So does anyone care if DotA 2 got picked over League of Legends for WCG 2012? Majority of the LoL community's reaction was a simple "do not care" for the event has lost its meaning.
After last year's fiasco, it wasn't much of a surprise that Riot and World Cyber Games could not reach a mutually beneficial agreement. The list also includes StarCraft II, Warcraft III and a promotional title – DotA! The decision was still somewhat absurd as the game is still in closed beta. Who knows if WCG are still busy testing the waters? It will take a long hard look at the situation before they decide to say goodbye to one and say hello to the other permanently!
DotA 2's Recent Past
Let's backtrack a bit to September 2011 when Icefrog made quite a few waves with the aforementioned blog post and I quote from that post:
"Our original plan was to spend the next year or so in beta, adding new features and slowly growing the number of heroes until we reached a level of parity with Dota 1, at which point we'd release DotA 2 to the world. But the feedback we're seeing everywhere is that people just want to play it, even though there's still a ton of heroes yet to be implemented. We've also seen that the folks who are already in the beta are chomping at the bit to show everyone else some of the fun games they've had. So we decided our original plan was dumb.Welcome to the new plan: We're going to take the current version of DotA 2, which has The International set of heroes, and get it out there as fast as we can. We've still got some work to do in a couple of areas, so we'll be keeping it invite-only for a (hopefully short) period of time. But there'll be no restrictions on what players can do with it – they can release screenshots, make movies, shout-cast matches, write guides, publicly make fun of our HUD, or anything else their hearts desire. While they do that, we'll be shipping regular updates with more heroes, new features we've been working on, and improvements on the existing content as we get more and more feedback." (Source - http://blog.dota2.com)
The updates that followed were big, specifically the content surrounding the core game which put the community on the hot seat. The introduction of the DotA 2 store where you could purchase courier sets, announcer sets, and specific items/gear for heroes that had only cosmetic significance but no in-game effect was a big move.
Then there was the workshop where you could submit your own content in terms of individual items or sets for particular heroes. You could see a tinge of TF2 in there but Valve had made the expectations from the model clear much earlier. The entire demographic has changed simply due to these two big changes made to the way a player would view the game as a complete unit.
DotA 2's Current State
Since the blog post from Icefrog back in September 2011, a lot of new heroes have already been added to the game and with the launch of the Store along with a more streamlined view of Hero customizations. The sequel has inherited a lot from the original but there are a lot of changes as well. While a lot of these factors are going to stay static, the community will get a few things nerfed or slightly juiced up as expected. As things stand, here's a quick run-down of some stuff worth knowing:
Economy: In DotA 2, if you die, you end up losing gold. This can make life difficult as the gold is taken from your kitty and given to the enemy team as an incentive for killing you. This factor alone changes everything during the early game where movement speed and damage per second are painfully low. In order to defend your tower, you have to make haste and so end up buying a TP scroll which equates to spending more gold after your initial loss! This makes rune-control even more crucial which spawn every 2 minutes on either side of the river and create opportunities for some awesome early & mid-game ganks. While last hits are great for farming, you have to keep a close eye on the enemy and deny your creeps too. Same goes for the towers as it can completely change the tide of the game.
Micro Management: If you're jungling, chances are you've run into early-game problems as your lane partner might not be pretty happy with creep pulling. While it denies your enemy the XP, it can backfire pretty badly if the opponents are aware of it. Once you do make Helm of the Dominator which allows you to convert hostile jungle creeps into allies, farming gets much easier. Also, a few heroes have these abilities built in as one of their skills. This makes micro-management in DotA 2 very important as you want to carefully position these allies and use their individual abilities/spells to the fullest for an effective lane push, surround or defense. The sight of 3 Centaur Warriors chasing their tail is enough to deny your opponents peace of mind.
Heroes: The 3 broad classes namely Strength, Agility and Intelligence continue to persist albeit with a number of nuances that every player has had a flavor of by now. Divided into Radiant and Dire, here's the complete warrior lineup:
Strength (Radiant): Earthshaker, Swen, Tiny, Kunkka, Beastmaster, Dragon Knight, Clockwerk, Omniknight, Huskar, Alchemist, Brewmaster, Treant Protector and Wisp.
Strength (Dire): Axe, Pudge, Sand King, Slardar, Tidehunter, Skeleton King, Lifestealer, Night Stalker, Doom Bringer, Spirit Breaker, Lycanthrope, Chaos Knight and Undying.
Agility (Radiant): Anti-Mage, Drow Ranger, Juggernaut, Mirana, Morphling, Phantom Lancer, Vengeful Spirit, Riki, Sniper, Templar Assassin, Luna, Bounty Hunter, Ursa, Gyrocopter, Lone Druid.
Agility (Dire): Bloodseeker, Shadow Fiend, Razor, Venomancer, Faceless Void, Phantom Assassin, Viper, Clinkz, Broodmother, Weaver and Spectre.
Intelligence (Radiant): Crystal Maiden, Puck, Storm Spirit, Windrunner, Zeus, Lina, Shadow Shaman, Enchantress, Nature's Prophet, Tinker, Jakiro, Chen, Silencer, Ogre Magi, Rubick and Disruptor
Intelligence (Dire): Bane, Lich, Lion, Witch Doctor, Enigma, Necrolyte, Warlock, Queen of Pain, Death Prophet, Pugna, Dazzle, Leshrac, Dark Seer, Batrider, Ancient Apparition, Invoker, Outworld Destroyer, Shadow Demon
Unreleased Heroes: Centaur Warchief, Tauren Chieftain, Bristleback, Tuskar, Phoenix, Goblin Shredder, Legion Commander, Naga Siren, Troll Warlord, Ember Spirit, Keeper of the Light, Goblin Techies, Skywrath Mage, Magnataur, Abaddon, Pit Lord, Meepo, Nyx Assassin, Medusa, Slark, Soul Keeper and Visage. Apart from the heroes, the Dragonspawn Camp and the Jungle Stalker Camp creeps are yet to be released.
Out of the unreleased heroes, the top 4 that are expected to be incorporated soon are Naga Siren, Meepo, Nyx Assassin and Keeper of the Light with Visage, Magnataur, Medusa and Slark to be expected in the next phase. The latest addition as per the July 12 update is Lanaya – The Templar Assassin. Disruptor and Undying were added in the July 5 update but all the 3 heroes have been incorporated into the Captain's mode in the latest update. While the bottom line still holds – a camera is only as good as the photographer behind it, the perfect Hero synergy is what most of the teams aim for. For instance, disablers are a must pick on each side even during pub games for effective ganks. Another popular pick is at least one silencer along with a carry and at least 2 support heroes. While this is neither a convention nor a rule, a number of teams aim for diversity as it adds so much more to team fights. Popular picks also include lane pushers like Nature's Prophet, an additional role that DotA 2 has accommodated seamlessly as part of its diverse gameplay. Counter picking is now pretty standard even in pub games as the community is up to speed with the pro-players and likes to emulate the 5 player gank at the very beginning of the match. Choosing the right hero makes all the difference to these players. The lane play is also very diverse with 3 types of openings gaining much popularity:
Standard: The usual 2 top - 2 bot - 1 mid approach is the most widely used style in pub games although it involves more traveling and hence more time lost to effectively pull ganks if TP scroll counts are running thin. The synergy is also often pretty off in this style.
3-1-1: 2 Support heroes and 1 carry in one lane (top/bot) in order to deny XP to the enemy by keeping your lane confined to your own tower and let the carry take last hits with an eventual gank from the jungle. The solo lane will have a carry or a durable hero who'll farm levels and push towers gradually. The mid one taking care of runes and often going to bot and assist the solo bot with ganks.
Gank/Jungle: The typical 1 jungle – 1 top – 2 bot – 1 mid strat is perhaps the most played opening in this kind of play style. The mid and jungle have a big role to play as the mid and jungle heroes will constantly move laterally across the map ganking top and bottom. This playstyle also makes best use of runes. If the rune is top then mid goes solo to gank-assist. If the rune is bot, mid takes the river to the top and the jungler pounces for the gank.
DotA 2 Items
As much as you love your heroes for reasons people might not even wish to hear (for they're that ridiculous at times), finding the correct build for your Hero can be one of the most fun things to do in DotA 2. I personally find it very therapeutic to just mouse-over each item and read the tool-tips and descriptions with all the time in the world. If you're farming good, DotA 2 literally makes you talk to yourself like a little kid. The aim for most of the carries and Tanks is to get a boatload of damage and combine it with attack speed and later on Life Steal. For instance, items like Daedalus grant the bearer +81 damage and a passive 250% critical strike with a 25% chance! For a carry like Drow Ranger, a combination of Daedalus with Manta Style (which creates 2 images of the hero that last 20 seconds) can be a deadly farming tool as the enemy creeps just don't know what hit them. Want more damage? Well, pick up a Divine Rapier that unleashes 300 damage but gets dropped if you die. That's a pretty decent trade-off and prevents a completely one sided game for if the enemy team ganks that one particular hero, they can pick it up too and perhaps change the tide of the battle.
There are plenty of builds out there with personal preferences leading the charts if not plain math. However, you don't just build items with your eyes closed. Teams like to counter pick items too, just like heroes. The majority of items have an active ability which equates to a lot of keybinds including auto-cast. You need each of these abilities during a team fight and the timing has to be spot on. You can even smoke bomb an area that renders your team invisible for some time but then there are dust and sentry wards that counter it! Competitive play is based around every little item that matters and can give your team the edge over the opponent. It's trade-offs like these that give the items their appeal in DotA 2. Vanguard, Soul Booster, Sange and Yasha, Desolator, Battle Fury, Butterfly, Abyssal Blade and Heart of Tarrasque are some of the most popular items used in most of the games.
DotA 2 Spectate, Learn & Socialize
The UI has inbuilt support for a list of Live games, Recent games and upcoming and past tournaments. The Learn mode lets you go through a grid of each hero categorized under Agility, Intelligence and Strength. Same goes for items which are divided among Basic and Upgrades with tool-tips describing what each item is capable of.
The Socialize tab is not live yet and seems to be work in progress. The feature is pretty slick as it sports a team management system which will allow teams to sign-up and compete against other teams that have signed-up using the same system. However, they haven't yet implemented it on the live environment.
DotA 2's Upcoming Changes
While the game looks and feels pretty solid and stable at this point, there's much more coming. A few beta testers decided to breach their Non-Disclosure agreement but were smart about it. The community now knows what's coming up and that is too difficult to hold in. Let's quickly run through the list and see what direction Valve is heading in:
Game Modes: The game will have a classic mode which resembles WC3 DotA 100%; Normal mode will feature Orb updates and bug fixes along with other minor stuff; Easy Mode will feature a Zero XP loss from deny, no loss of gold on death and other similar features; All Random All Mid mode will be a slugfest; Fortress Mode will feature one team attacking while the other defends wherein the defending team can buy traps and the attacking team can buy creeps; Arena Mode will be an FFA or TDM; Wild Mode will feature random heroes with random skills so you might have to make-do here!; Free Mode will feature no cool downs with no mana cost on skills so you can spam those global ulti's and irritate the hell out of each other with Zeus or Silencer; Commander Mode will let you spawn as another hero with the same items and same level when your original hero dies and the first side to run out of heroes or to lose their base loses. While these modes feature a lot of ported gameplay from original DotA, you can bet your last penny on the fact that DotA 2 is going to be much more fun.
Animation Canceling: You can cancel the reset animation by orb walking. So if you were to take Counter Strike as an example where you cancel the reload animation of an AWP by quickly pressing 'Q' twice in quick succession, you should be able to do that in DotA 2 albeit by not spamming a key but by using an inherent feature that comes straight from the original DotA.
Heroes: All the heroes have already been ported but only 75% of them are turned on for the public to play! The other 25% are turned on and off once testing determines that they're not quite ready. All the hero models are new as well. Also, all heroes are unlocked from the very beginning. Goblin Techies is now a cart with 2 goblins in the back holding a bomb and 1 goblin in the front. Pit Lord is fully redone and looks like a huge hell dog with two heads and dragon wings.
Orb Effects: The orb effects are 100% redone and have some basic trade-offs built in. An illusory Orb for Puck for instance will cost 10 mana less per 20 intelligence you have.
Auto-Shop: If you're in the range of a shop, you set up an auto buy for the items based on the gold you have. So if you want boots of speed at 500 gold, you'll be able to auto-buy them if you're in the shop's range which is pretty slick.
Maps: There are 8 maps currently, most of which are mode-specific. More maps are on the way. The question is how many of them will make it to competitive play?
Valve at Gamescom: Not a change but just an FYI! Valve are planning to do a huge event with a playable demo there. The rumor has it that the open/public beta is going to kick-off there or will be announced during the event. The word is once they have the last few heroes in, the open testing will begin.
Graphics: Valve have fixed the HUD and GUI which were the 2 biggest problems for gamers initially. The mini-map has also been tweaked with the correct amount of depth, brightness and contrast.
Tutorial: There is a great overall tutorial for the game as well as videos and separate tutorials for each hero. There's a nice single player training mode to learn how to play.
UI: The UI has in-built support for Clans, Tournaments etc. which will be spruced up further.
To set up a Tournament all you have to do is pick the mode you want, the rules you wish to use, whether pre-bans will be allowed and if it is open or invite only. Once you have it set up it will show up on the list of open tournaments or the players you invited will get a message.
As teams sign up (as a clan) it will create brackets automatically based on their current clan ranking. The tournament maker will have the option to change the brackets according to seeds. A slick addition here could be the seed shuffling feature which most of the bracket making software already have. Once everything is set up, a message will go out to the players and the system will auto-match people for the game. After each game the brackets will get updated automatically and invites will be sent out for the next game.
The biggest and most hyped DotA 2 tournament – The International will kick off on August 31st with the top 16 teams fighting it out for the 1st place. Na'Vi are the defending champions and the runners-up EHOME despite disbanding soon after the first international are back in business. With DotA 2's unique inbuilt spectate mode, this August will be quite a treat for every DotA 2 enthusiast and RTS lovers in general.