Dota 2 By The Numbers: Getting Started In Valve’s MOBA

The first time I played Dota 2 was a couple of years ago and, to be honest, I absolutely hated it. At the time there was plenty of talk about the game. Blizzard and Valve were at loggerheads as to who actually owned the rights to the name while League of Legends’ player base continued to swell. The MOBA genre was well and truly taking off and I thought it high time I jumped aboard the bandwagon.

Being an avid fan of real-time strategy and online role-playing games, I rubbed my hands in glee as Dota 2 booted for the first time. Although I had been tempted to give League of Legends a whirl, for some reason its art direction and roster of heroes failed to resonate with me. In a genre that is dominated by solid mechanics it may sound trivial, though my pursuit of a more fantasy style game lead me to Dota 2.


Knowing nothing about the game – or the genre, for that matter – my first match was a complete and utter nightmare. Although I knew what our main objective was, getting there seemed impossible, especially with so many statistic and numbers to keep an eye on. As my clumsy mits pawed away at the keyboard I was getting berated by my teammates and slaughtered by the enemy. When my thirty minutes of misery were over, I found my cursor already hovering over the uninstall button.

Needless to say, Dota 2 can be brutal, especially for new players who have done little to no homework on the game. It’s a demanding game and one that requires at least twenty hours of solid play before you can even fashion yourself as a novice. For those who give up at the very first hurdle, you will never be able to claim that you’ve truly experience Dota 2. It’s an ongoing journey and not before long something will eventually click – a moment of enlightenment in which you understand just why so many flock to the game.

As touched on before, however, the first few hours are going to be rough. Not only is there a lot of take on board, Dota 2 will also have you shrugging off gaming habits that have been with you for a lifetime. Though we can’t teach you everything, here’s a rundown of the basics to hopefully send you on your way.


3 Lanes, 2 Ancients, 1 Victor

No matter how many variables there are in Dota 2, your core objective will always remain the same: destroy the enemy team’s Ancient. This superstructure forms the very heart of your base and is protected by a network of towers, each one spewing lethal bolts of energy that easily mow down careless heroes.

These towers are stationed along the three lanes that connect the you and your enemy’s base. Before you can even think of sacking the other team’s Ancient, you’ll need to get through these first. Doing so is easier said than done and requires the help of Creeps, AI minions that march directly down their lane, attacking the first enemy tower in sight. These grunts are largely expendable and will mainly be used as cannon fodder while heroes continue to advance or “push” their lane.

Movement isn’t limited to just these areas of the map, however. Between lanes there is a stretch of land known as the “jungle” which harbours neutral creatures. Given that the jungle is shrouded in a fog of war, this allows players to roam in and out of lanes, occasionally moving to ambush unsuspecting heroes.

Once you have destroyed two of your opponent’s towers in a lane, there are two more nestled inside their base, standing either side of a barracks. These are the structures that spawn creep waves and, when destroyed, you own creeps will get bigger and stronger, swinging the game in your favour. Over the course of twenty minutes to well past an hour, a victor shall be crowned as one of the Ancients is finally overwhelmed.


10 Heroes, 1 Million Combinations

In every match there are two teams, each made up of five unique heroes. These robust combatants come in all shapes and sizes with no two being alike: some are melee-based, some are ranged, some require an active playstyle, some don’t.

Learning what each hero can do on the battlefield is essential to becoming a good at the game. For instance, if you don’t know that Mirana can skewer you with an arrow, that renders you useless for a few seconds, chances are, you’re immediately at a disadvantage. That’s not to say you should be swatting up on every individual hero though: the only way to truly learn is through experience.

Most heroes will have four abilities mapped to the Q, W, E, and R keys by default though some of these are passive, conferring stat bonuses in place of active abilities. Playing with such heroes -like Sniper and Drow Ranger- is a great place to start for newcomers as you won’t need to be keeping an eye on your hotkeys or mana consumption.

From there you will be able to get a feel for the game as well as the numerous player roles that combine to make a solid team. In a nutshell there are carrys, supports, and gankers, with plenty of sub-roles and overlaps in between.

Carrys are your bread and butter: heroes that start out weak but eventually dominate as you approach late game. Supports, as their name suggests, follow team members and make sure they have sufficient mana and health while also employing their abilities to slow and disable opponents. Gankers are heavy hitters who usually have skills geared towards picking off enemy heroes. Though fun to play as, being a successful ganker takes skill and insight.


128 Items

What I probably disliked most about Dota 2 when I first started playing was the item shop. Five of these are scattered across the map with players able to exchange their gold for provisions and equipment. It’s this combination of gear, which resets before every match, that ultimately defines your play style and capability in battle.

The part I couldn’t get my head around at first was choosing which item complimented my hero. With a variety of stats, from attack speed and lifesteal, to special effects including bash and cripple, I found myself clueless as the match continued to unfold around me.

Luckily Valve had a solution up its sleeve. For new and even intermediate players, online guides are a go-to resource, immediately hooking you up with a solid build catered to your specific hero. Cutting out the middle man, Valve implemented a feature that allows guides to become active in-game, highlighting which items to buy and in what order. On top of that these build even indicate how to upgrade your core abilities as you level up. It’s an invaluable tool and one I adhere to in every single match.

The only other advice we can offer is just to keep persevering. Unless you have a natural flair, you’re going to get absolutely battered but that’s fine. Just a hint of determination will force you to evolve your play-style and perhaps even hit YouTube or Twitch to pick up a few moves from the net’s top players.



  1. The berating of new people is what put me off for good recently after several attempts to get into it. I don’t expect someone to be my best friend if I’m new but feedback shouldn’t be in the form of the abuse I received.

    A community that doesn’t have tolerance for beginners is one I don’t have time for, its not something I should have to ‘persevere’ with. It’s a shame because when you get the handle on a character and the abilities you can see that their is an awesome game there, just a shame its ruined by dicks.

    • That’s part of the game’s brutality and in turn, if/when you find yourself at a moderate level, you will pound your fists in frustration when let down by lame players. Matchmaking means that by the time your good enough at the game you will never encounter newer players.

      The solution? Try and play with people you know. You may be able to find some DOTA 2 in our Steam group.

  2. Are there really 107 different heroes to choose from? That’s just silly.

    And makes somewhat more than a million combinations. It’s more like over 14 billion combinations. For one team of 5 heroes.

    Or close to 200 quintillion combinations for the 2 teams. I like the word “quintillion”. You don’t get to say it often.

    Hmm, I’m starting to see how it could get interesting. If all of those heroes are as useful as each other. And you’ve got the right combination. I may just have to look into this game and probably get completely overwhelmed by it all.

    • Yup, every hero demands a different approach though, through experience, you will be able to transfer playstyles between select groups.

      Chemistry within a team ultimately depends on what sort of abilities you have including stuns, slows, etc.

  3. I’ve just signed up for an account just to say job well done in writing this article. While there are probably a billion and one articles out there describing a first time experience, none of them gives this game a fair judgement like you did. Most just writes about the learning cliff, and complains how the community aren’t friendly towards new players. Yet here you are, writing about Dota 2 only after you’ve made it past the “initiation”, and better yet, defending the game from the point of view of someone who has actually put in time to learn the game rather than just bashing the game like the losers over at PCgamers. Kudos to you Mr. Hargreaves.

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