Immediately I was dropped into a mildly-artifacted, color-heavy firefight. What shocked me more, however, was the two-man broadcast team. DOTA 2 had a call guy and color guy, as if this were any other televised sporting event. And they were speaking in intense volleys of complete fucking gibberish.
As I struggled to find purchase in the muddy layers of jargon, I gathered this was a match between teams dignitas and Rsnake, and someone on one of the teams was named way2sexy. I started to try to differentiate game terms from usernames. I spent a good five minutes trying to figure out what kind of strategy "snaking" was, drinking in the delightful rainbows of carnage. It turned out I was wasting my time, that there was a user named sneyking. As the first game wrapped, I imagined this is how grandpas feel when they try to use Internet Explorer to check the electronic mail. I resolved to not let DOTA2 beat me.
The next matchup was mouz v. LDG.int (my first DOTA 2 lesson: don't create your team name using real damn words). This was my first chance to see a match from beginning to end. Before the action could begin, teams were 'drafted' via an alternating pattern of choosing 'hero' characters and banning them—a tense game of keep-away that required knowing your opponents' strengths and predilections. It's something I'd like to see in professional football. Just imagine it: "Shots fired, Joe. The Buffalo Bills have banned Tom Brady, and the Patriots have banned CJ Spiller." Once the draft completed, each of the players on the 5-man team claimed a character, and the match began. I ended up staying up past midnight, catching four games, and I think I've got DOTA 2 pegged.
|I know exactly what I'm looking at. Kind of.|
The square playing field is the same every time. Two teams: good guys who get the pretty forests, and 'The Dire,' who get the ugly half. I imagine the good guys want to raze Uglyville to increase the real estate value of their own neighborhood, and The Dire just want a nicer place to live. Each team has a 'base' in opposing corners. The ultimate goal is destroy the other team's base.
There are three 'lanes' through which there is egress to the other team's base, but each team has three 'tiers' of sentry towers guarding the lanes on their half of the map. In this way, DOTA 2 is a game of calculated stalemates and mutually-assured destruction. The five characters on each team sort of claim responsibility for the lanes, which are called 'top,' 'mid,' and 'bot,' respectively, and it is their job to make sure their towers stand, while 'pushing' toward the opponents' towers with their sights set on the base.
|If you look closely, you can see Meepo pushing mid.|
So 5 characters, three lanes, nine towers, grinding. Except each team also spews seemingly infinite waves of 'creeps' down each lane, which as far as I can tell just serve as cannon fodder for the other team. They're easily brought down by heroes. So there's that.
Early game seems to be devoted to farm, be it creeps or mobs, scouting through the fog of war, and mildly harassing the guy across from you in the lane via spitballs and spanks on the ass with the broad side of your sword. Except for that one character that just plays PvE all alone in some remote corner. Also you can cut down trees, so that happens. Heroes level and tension builds until a hero makes a mistake – gets caught out too far in enemy territory, gets lazy, is terrible, etc. – and is brutally murdered by another hero. This is called 'first blood,' and holy shit do crowds and announcers love first blood.
|Lifestealer draws First Sap|
A few minutes after first blood, there are usually enough heroes with significant levels that the pyrotechnics show can begin. This is also where my comprehension stops. So there are runes which do things like invisibility and double damage. Gems do things. There are also smokescreens. Some heroes have legit Zelda hookshots. Also everyone can teleport if they want I guess. The announcers call it 'TP,' which might just be short for teleport, or might mean we're in Diablo and it's a Town Portal? Anyway. Once everyone can teleport and throw down ninja smokescreens and turn fucking invisible, DOTA 2 stops being a game of stalemates and starts becoming a game of taking potshots at people who are being dumb, trying to snag stray kills for profit and map real estate. Except this is called 'ganking' and I'm legitimately shocked that word hasn't died yet.
If a gank (kill me) backfires, if it's repelled by backup, you can sometimes get two or three or five heroes duking it out in a skirmish, and that's really when the crowds flip out and the announcers pee their pants. The screen melts into an impressionist painting of pixel shaders as everyone pops their skills and suddenly giant glowing buzzsaws and fat ice bridges and huge AoE red death circles and this cool thing called 'tethering' happens where a hero is either pulled from danger by a pal, or pulled back into the fray to have mean and bad things done to them at close range. I fucking love tethering.
Anyway. Gang war. The first casualty on either side usually dictates who will win, as that's one less target, one less source of damage. Retreats are preferred over actually dying, as it denies your opponents the gold boon and the ability to run on your towers. If a team loses a pair of heroes, it's bad times. But I got to see 3, I got to see 4, I got to see a full team of 5 wipe out. Then it's sad times. You know how during the Civil War, the Union would burn down everything in their wake? That pretty much happens when you have 5 uncontested heroes in their opponents' territory after a team wipe.
|We sell gank and ganking accessories.|
At this point there's usually a clear leader. The team with the most EPIC GANKS usually have destroyed the most towers, usually have better gold and EXP production, usually have nicer items (I hear a lot about shadow blades and 'BKBs' I think—no idea what they are or do), and can usually exert the most pressure. Will usually win any team fights.
One of two things happens next: either the leading team steamrolls their way into the enemy base, raping and pillaging until the white flags wave in the form of "gg" in the chat (which I can only assume isn't 'good game' but is in fact 'gankgank' because GANK), or— remember that dude who was fucking around in PvE for like 45 solid minutes while his teammates floundered, dropped all their towers and were reduced to teary puddles? Yeah, that guy is like level 1 million, has all his crazy skills, is topped out with items, and is a new incarnation of God. I guess this is called a 'carry.'
You know how in every sports movie, the crappy team takes down the better team at the last minute thanks to the power of friendship and teamwork, but mostly their improbable ringer? Yeah just picture that with particle effects.
And that's DOTA 2. I think.
Feel free to light the comments section of fire with my infinite inaccuracies.
Regardless, it's way better than baseball.