The hardest part about writing about DOTA 2 as a video game is that the game itself has changed so much as I’ve kept playing it that I can’t really levy any true criticism against it. Everything from the look, the presentation itself, the UI, loading screens, and the character models has changed dramatically since 2013. To bother trying to create some kind of post-mortem for what DOTA was when I started, as I played it and what it has become would go too far beyond my own personal experience with the game. The fact is that the moment I finish writing this I’m going to play one last game of DOTA 2, probably lose, and completely give up on the game in earnest. This comes after I returned to the game after a one year hiatus, where I just couldn’t stomach the people I was playing the game with anymore. But don’t let me get ahead of myself, that isn’t where I started with Valve’s bajillion dollar MOBA phenomenon.
It all started when I watched Johnny Chiodini (at the time he was on Gamespot UK) playing online multi-player medieval hack-and-slash game Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. He was hilarious and while the game was incredibly janky and unfinished at the time, I had to join in. The only way I could play it was to re-install Steam, a thing I hadn’t done since buying Bastion back in 2012. After about 20 hours of Chivalry, where I actually became good at playing the game, I grew bored. Well, for whatever reason Steam’s Summer Sales weren’t such a big deal to me at the time and I more or less ignored it until I saw the usual Valve pack that includes their Counter Strike and Half-Life series and offshoots. I don’t remember how this lead to me getting a Beta invited to DOTA 2 but I had some kind of instinctual hesitation towards whatever the hell a MOBA was. Whoa now, I didn’t mention that I was one of those asshole pre-teens who obsessively played Warcraft II, III and Starcraft to the point of actually injuring my neck. The issue I had with DOTA 2 and League of Legends (crap baby game) in 2013 was that they eschewed story and campaign for the sake of a pure team multiplayer game. Little did I know that MOBAs are totally hilarious crack made especially appealing to idiots like me. So, I did what any self-respecting fool does: Sat on my beta invite and didn’t play the game.
It wasn’t until I’d spent a few months obsessing over Giant Bomb’s premium content, after becoming a member, that I began to watch their live streams. Brad Shoemaker had a vested interest in DOTA 2 and once I’d watched his party burn through a few games on their short-lived “Daily Dota” series that I decided I had to give the game a try. Watching a few games was enough for me to realize that it was essentially a team-based real-time strategy game that concentrated the gameplay of Starcraft/Warcraft into a very simple set of goals. What I didn’t realize was the incredible depth of the game. Remember I’m that guy who could beat Frozen Throne on its hardest difficulty, the kind of wiener kid who put 300 hours into replaying Starcraft without even knowing there was a multi-player aspect to it. DOTA 2 is an amazing feat of balance, strategic movement, and it can be an absolutely beautiful thing to experience. So, my first 500 games were learning the skills and typical playstyles, roles and keeping up with changes made during the Beta phases. I became a good support player, was able to carry, and I really took the time to study just exactly when and where each hero was effective. Here are a handful of my favorites, though I’ve left out Razor, Dragon Knight and Crystal Maiden.
Things went to hell pretty quickly once the game was officially released and it didn’t help that I was taking a one year hiatus from college and had all of the time in the world to play DOTA even more. What happened? Upon public release of the game I began playing ranked matches. I quickly realized that I am personally very flawed in the realm of massive multiplayer online games. I am not good at making friends with other players, I am not good at cultivating those friendships within online games, and I generally do better when I am teaching rather than taking orders from others. It isn’t that I am not a team player it is that I do not fundamentally understand the impulsive non-strategic play style of most casual DOTA 2 players. The next 500 games were spent teaching other people how to play the game so that they might learn, get better, and hopefully play multiple games with me. The true issue was that I had studied the game intensely and knew several strategies to win but the public ranked solo matches I was getting into were full of people who hadn’t put in the same effort. Young men and women are resentful of being told what to do within the space of multiplayer videogames, this isn’t too much of a blanket statement and I feel comfortable generalizing. They simply cannot take direction, suggestion, nor can they learn from their mistakes when the culture of multiplayer games always, always gives room for scapegoating, harassment, and blame. I’m sure DOTA was always a toxic environment, team games played by the unskilled casual video game child often devolve this way. I’d heard about Counter Strike toxicity and absolutely had similar experiences playing solo Quake III and Unreal Tournament iterations. My expectations for MOBAs were that these were all people interested in strategic RPG gameplay, that these people would be intelligent and focused on making a team work. They weren’t, they aren’t, and they never will be.
Team play is the only proper way to play a MOBA and after a few years of trying to create friendships and teams around DOTA 2 play I finally realized that I’m not capable. I cannot find friendly people to play DOTA 2 with because of the matchmaking in the game. I was reported for abandons, for contributing to toxicity, for just being seen as the weakest link by a group of immature asshole children. I was muted several times for trying to reason with toxic players, the same thing always happened over and over where the toxic player would convince the other players that I was the worst shit ever and they would all win. Valve did nothing to help me out of this rut in fact they made it ten times worse when they started increasing the low priority matching penalties. Not only would you have to play several low priority games, full of the least skilled and most toxic players in the game, but you’d have to WIN with them. I loved DOTA 2 and I was so obsessed with the game that it crushed me to see the toxicity of others affecting my ability to just play the damn game. I decided that after so many matches I just wasn’t enjoying the people I was playing with. I had to mute everyone both their microphones and their text to enjoy the game again and that left me at a strategic disadvantage, plus I would get reported for not communicating. I just could not win the war against the fucking mean people that, one after another, were repeating the same ridiculous hate-speech to each other over and over.
The game broke me, no… The other players broke me. I became toxic, I joined in and I harassed anyone who so much as told me what to do. Like everyone else with me in the 1,000-2,000 ranked matches I became an asshole. I suggested reports, I called names, I was a fucking dickhead who yelled at anyone who did anything wrong. I became a cocksure bully idiot who was no longer having fun playing his silly fantasy multiplayer RPG garbage game. The people who loved me the most noticed it too, that my couple of hours of DOTA a night only frustrated me and at times depressed me. It was my fault, I lowered myself to a terrible place and the day that I realized it September 20th, 2016 I stopped playing DOTA altogether. It wasn’t just videogames that had pushed me into the realm of internet asshole, it was around the same time that I decided to get divorced. Somehow my own personal relationship was echoing itself into the game, not because of it but in addition to it. Almost a full year of my life had been verbal abuse from DOTA 2 players as well as from my spouse. The relentless disapproval, the constant nagging mentions that I was not good enough for the person I loved, nor the game that I loved, helped me realize that I did not belong where I was and that I could be happy.
“The casual shit-posting twenty-something who plays multi-player games to socially muscle their way through others, to push them around and piss in their face for fun, is the worst form of human being.”
Nobody has the right to verbally abuse you and it isn’t normal to exist in a culture of abject disapproval. When people fall back in their chairs and resign themselves to letting multiplayer games be negative, hateful experiences are enabling this culture. Speak out against it and if nothing improves abandon that toxic environment. It will affect you and it will eventually change the way you approach the people you should be enamored with: Other fucking video game fans! The casual shit-posting twenty-something who plays multi-player games to socially muscle their way through others, to push them around and piss in their face for fun, is the worst form of human being. I say this with salt-a-plenty but I am serious that this only bleeds into other places. Twitter wars, harassment of journalists and creators, GamerGate, etc. all of these abusive personalities have been allowed to incubate within communities of hate and feigned posturing for way, way too long. I came back to DOTA 2 during this year’s International tournament and I was nice, I kept things positive and steered players towards winning in the nicest way possible. What happened? I was harassed, repeatedly called a ‘faggot’ for being nice across 5-6 games. One player continued their harassment beyond the game across Steam chat, a first for me, and it was just too much. I do not belong to that world anymore and I never will again. If the consequence of avoiding toxic online video game communities comes at the price of isolation and single-player experiences then so be it. I quit, but before I go for good I want to be clear: I love DOTA 2, it was the deepest and most incredible experience I’ve had with a videogame since I started playing them in the late 80’s. Thanks for anyone who bothered with my salty rant, it felt good.