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A Newcomer's Guide To Watching Dota 2's $23 Million International Tournament

A Newcomer's Guide To Watching Dota 2's $23 Million International Tournament
From Deadspin - August 7, 2017

More than $20 million in prize money is on the line this week in The International 2017, a tournament for the video game Dota 2 that can leave new spectators baffled. Were here to help, in case you want to watch one of these matches and be able to tell a core from a support, or just want to be able to enjoy whats actually an intense, exciting but often inscrutable competitive experience.

This is a guide to Dota for the average spectator, either someone who comes in with some faint understanding of concepts, possibly played an adjacent game like League of Legends before, or someone who has never played a game like Dota 2. We wont teach you how to play the gamethere are better tools out there for that anywaysbut we can help you know what to look, listen, and cheer for when gameday rolls around.

What you need to know from the outset is that Dota 2 is a five-on-five game in which players fight from opposite ends of a large field, with the goal of destroying the other teams Ancient. As a match unfolds, each players character unlocks more and more powerful abilities, intensifying the action and escalating the scale until it moves from minor conflicts and concentrated skirmishes to full-blown, five-on-five team battles.

How to Watch

The tournament will stream on the Dota 2 Twitch channel, where one stream will take you through the action over the coming week. The schedule is on the Dota 2 website, and results are kept up-to-date in the Dota 2 client. If youre looking for a really friendly ease into the games, several commentators are running a Newcomers Stream, which will spend more time discussing specific items, builds, and strategies for those new to watching Dota 2.

Hero select

Before the game even starts, the two teams are already competing in a separate, smaller game: the draft. Dota 2 has a pool of 113 heroes, and each team needs to select five from that pool, one for each player, to field. The pick-and-ban phase goes back and forth, with each team banning heroes they dont want available and picking heroes they want. Roles and picks tend to vary depending on who plays who, but each team will generally look for two cores, two supports and one flexible position called the offlane, which sits in the between.

Each hero brings certain strengths and weaknesses to the table. Phantom Assassin can rip apart weak heroes with her daggers and critical strikes, but struggles against magic damage. Crystal Maiden has immense utility, but is slow and vulnerable. Some heroes, like Enigma or Tidehunter, rely on their ultimate abilities to make an impact, while others are more focused on constant damage output with less immediate impact.

The commentators and analysts do a good job highlighting heroes that are often in contention, so keep track of certain trends. At one International, Naga Siren was constantly contested, and in another, Wisp was the crux of several teams strategies. Some heroes, like Drow Ranger, will have teams built around their specific abilities. Note those big picks that commentators keep coming back to, and keep an eye on them as the real game starts.

The map

Like chess, Dota 2 is all about the board state, or rather, the map state. The game takes place over a battlefield and imitates war, in a sense. The lush, green side of the map is the Radiant, while the decrepit trees and scorched earth denote the Dire. Each team selects a side of the conflict to represent, with one goal in mind: destroy the others ancient, the massive building in the heart of either base.

The distance between the bases is linked by three lanes, referred to as top, middle and bottom (shortened to top, mid and bot). A river divides the Radiant and Dire sides, and between the lanes there are trees and camps filled with neutral monsters who attack when provoked. Since these woods, called the jungle, provide monsters and more avenues for assault and escape, each team has a safe lane and a hard or off-lane.

Every thirty seconds, minions spring forth from each base and run mindlessly down each lane to assault the enemys keep, held back by giant, tiered defensive towers.

Kills and deaths are important, but the only path to victory outside an early forfeit is through destroying the enemy ancient. Map control is key, so for newcomers unfamiliar with the game, its easier to keep track of objectives on the map.

Which towers are being pushed, and which arent? Is a team focusing on one lane over another? Its hard to learn to read the negative space as much as whats actually on the map, but seeing where large waves of minions are crashing can help give you a sense of which team has the lead. Commentators will also help by noting net worth differences, and theres a new graphic this year that keeps track of which team has the gold advantage. Generally, anything over a 5k gold lead means one team is solidly ahead of the other.

Gold and experience

Gold is power in Dota 2. Teams gain power through gold, because gold allows them to buy items. Some heroes can go without, some heroes require it, but everyone benefits from a healthy stream of gold income. Experience points are also vitally important to each player. Experience is a nebulous good that increases a heros level, giving them more damage, health, mana for spells and points to spend on increasing their abilities or adding new ones to their arsenal.

These two critical currencies are obtained through simple means. Anything, from minions to heroes, will give experience to heroes when it dies, and gold is awarded to whoever lands the last hit. Now, this is Dota, so there are caveats. Heroes can deny (land the last hit on) their own teams minions to lessen the experience the other team gets and deny their bounty. The overarching theme is the more things you kill, be it minions, heroes, monsters, or towers, the more powerful you become.

At a high level of play, Dota 2 teams try to sabotage their opponents economy while enlarging their own. A common phrase is that some heroes, both literally and figuratively, need space to work. A Spectre or Medusa is more fragile than other heroes to start, and needs a lot of time and farm from killing minions, monsters, or heroes in order to get the items and experience they need to shine. Its why damage-dealing heroes are often referred to as cores or carriestheyre the key to dealing out damage and killing the enemy team, and can carry a team on their backs to a win.

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