Last week our Dota 2 noob superteam took on actual humans for the first time. They got taken apart like a bad sandwich, and vowed to get their revenge. Here's what happened next.
Day 7: After 20 hours of Dota 2
I started this diary to document one man's journey from noob to veteran. I still don't know how far off I am, but I do know that following that kind of beating, a man needs a hero. Fortunately, Dota 2's got no shortage of those.
I've met someone. And I think I love her.
Of Dota's cast of 108 heroes there are plenty where, on discovering them, you feel like an investigator blowing dust from a book in a library's secret basement. Nobody plays them because they're just so strange.
Never mind Shadow Shaman, with his mystic taser. I go Brood Mother now. The massive spider I mentioned all the way back in Part One.
Now, Brood Mother's no Invoker or Lone Druid, playing both of whom could be compared to trying to climb a wall with one hand down your pants. Invoker's skills are all power words, with which you "chant" ten different spells. Lone Druid, meanwhile, has a bear. A bear who also has access to Dota's multitudinous sodding shop, so on top of everything else that happens in a game of Dota you need to make sure your bear's wearing the right trousers.
Brood Mother's not necessarily harder to play than any other hero. She's just different. A Zangief to the game's Ryu. Most of this is down to her webs.
Brood Mother can spew permanent webs the size of tennis courts onto the map, and inside them, she's tougher, faster, and - are you ready? - utterly invisible until she pounces. She is Shelob. Horrible, eh? But we're just getting started.
Brood Mother can also spike her eggs into enemies, which erupt into spider minions if the enemy dies. Left undisturbed, I can breed an army. Horrible, horrible! But there's more!
Brood Mother's ultimate skill is just a "terrible thirst for liquids," so as a games journalist, I sympathise, obv. More importantly, it temporarily lets her steal health with every attack, which is perfect for me. I know the theory behind when I should be pouncing on enemies. I just lack the vulpine micro required to gank efficiently.
Brood Mother's ultimate is, essentially, a detonation device-style thing where I can smash the glass and turn the key when I know the time's right. It'll grant me increased survivability during those dark times when I'm expected to be competent.
I couldn't be more excited. This is just the kind of outside-the-box tactics that might, finally, make me an asset to a team.
...This is all going to go horribly wrong, isn't it?
Day 10: After 26 hours of Dota 2
KISS MY HAIRY SPIDER PALPS.
I don't play with bots anymore. None of us do. Why would we? Online, we can EAT PEOPLE.
Playing Brood Mother on the sorry public servers which Dota 2 inevitably palms us off on is a revelation. Nobody knows how to deal with invisibility. We should know, because we get shanked by invisible all-star Riki on a nightly basis.
But it's not Brood Mother's invisibility that makes me love her. It's her presence, or lack of it.
Once again: Dota 2's reputation is that of a game where you have to learn more than 400 powers, spread over 108 heroes, who can be transformed with some 130 items. But none of this will help you if you fall to the unholy temptation of following an enemy hero with three per cent of their health into enemy territory, or if you can't fall into lockstep with your team when they charge forward down a lane, then double back, then dart forward, then snap back.
Brood Mother's more than just a suite of numbers. She is fear.
Once I've dashed from my web to begin chewing on an enemy hero's kneecap once or twice, they'll only enter my webs as a last resort. And if I actually kill them - if I bring them down with a marksman-like ejaculation of eggs, causing their body to sunder in a spray of baby spiders - they just won't come back to my lane. Can you blame them? In two games, now, I've been left to farm my lane in peace because I've scared the enemy heroes off. Which, of course, lets me grow into something that's legitimately frightening.
I'm experiencing a thrill I've never found in a game before - that of giggling my way through the opening of a multiplayer match because if the other guys haven't seen Brood Mother before, I'll represent something utterly alien. Which, again, is a misconception around Dota. It's not a game where you have to learn 108 heroes. It's a game where you will learn 108 heroes, because that's part of the fun.
Yesterday I found that my webs turn my little spiderlings invisible, too. I can weave a less literal web around my prey, first coaxing them into a fight, then bringing spiderlings in from behind to encircle them like a noose. I can also use the spiderlings to scout, to spook, to push a lane, to hunt down neutral monsters in the jungle. The possibilities are endless!
Speaking of which, the rest of my team have found their own responses to last week's savaging. Chris has fallen into the loving arms of Storm Spirit, with whom he stands alone in our central lane like an end-of-level boss.
Storm Spirit is bright blue, excellently camp, and everything about him is a bit wrong. Case in point: his apocalyptic ultimate power simply lets him... run away. Or there's his Electric Vortex power, which sucks in enemies, but also slows him down. In Chris' words, the duel for "mid" is all about putting the wind up your opponent. Having to fight an archer or bear is par for the course. Being lassooed into an exploding disco thespian is not.
I'd also be remiss here if I didn't mention that Chris also calls Storm Spirit "Aggressively weird, like blowing into someone's ear over the internet."
Meanwhile, Matt's gone off the radar. He's chalked up as many hours in Dota 2 as myself and Chris put together. Never mind individual heroes, Matt's now functionally ferocious as any basic hero, able to slip into any of the game's silken shoes, hoofs or paws as the enemy line-up dictates.
We're all doing what we can to get better. But while I can't speak for anyone else, and despite my sickly-sweet spider successes, I still feel like a noob. After 27 hours of play, which is as long as I spent in Mass Effect 2, I'm still dimly ashamed that I have no idea what I'm doing.
At this point, I'm worried about what conclusion I'll be left to give my Eurogamer articles. Does Dota 2 ever let up?
Day 12: After 29 hours of Dota 2
Bored of Brood Mother now. It's not her, it's me. I'm tired of my own tactics, you know?
Think I'll try Witch Doctor, see what he's about.
Day 13: After 31 hours of Dota 2
Are you JOKING? IS A JOKE HAPPENING?
Today I accidentally found out that the enemy team gets gold for each of Brood Mother's spiderlings they destroy. All those spiderlings I was hurling thoughtlessly down the lane? All the babies I used to tie up my opponents? I was feeding the enemy team the whole time.
I wasn't playing Brood Mother wrong, exactly. I just thought my knack with her was the one and only bullet in my Dota 2 gun. Turns out I was holding a gun and using it like a hammer.
Times like this, you want to lay your face on your keyboard and email yourself the result.
What you need to do with Brood Mother, really, is send your babies off to die in the wilderness instead of letting them fall to enemy hands. Peeling them away from fights when they get injured. That's a whole layer of micromanagement that's almost certainly beyond me.
I'm having visions of this WW1 propaganda poster. My daughter on my knee, a decade from now. "Daddy, how good were YOU at Dota 2?"
Day 16: After 35 hours of Dota 2
Heh. Let me tell you a story.
I was playing a game of Dota 2 today. Single Draft mode, the "Here are three heroes, pick one" mode that so royally ruined us last week. Fact is, it's the fastest way to learn the game. You also get a slightly higher calibre of opponents. Less mid-game disconnects, less mouth-breathing team members.
I was playing Huskar. This turned out to be a horrible choice. Huskar's a loin cloth-clad huntsman who grows more powerful the more wounded he is, and whose powers involve injuring himself, healing himself, and leaping at enemies to remove a flat percentage of their and your life. Unintuitive doesn't begin to describe him.
So I'm there, fumbling at my hotkeys like a teenage boy trying to undo a bra, and it all comes to a head as my entire team are defending our base. A brutal assault leaves them all dead, with the exception of me. I showed up late to the fight. They watch, despairingly, as I sprint indecisively up and down our base's steps, trying to catch our besiegers with a thrown spear without wandering too far from our defenses. I run down, run back up, then up again. I am a crap Rocky Balboa.
More on Dota 2
"huskar, u suck," says Skvarica, one of my random team-mates. He's typing publicly, so both teams can see it. I've always had thin skin, and feel my heart begin tilting in my chest to a 10-degree angle. And then he says it: "delete dota."
I wince. But here's the crazy part. It was just a wince, followed by nothing at all. This guy's statement should have hurt, and it didn't, because I knew he was wrong. I was just having a bad game.
"thanks! :)" I type in response, trying to clear the air. Which is when I saw it clearly.
I wasn't a noob anymore. Because I knew - I actually knew - he was wrong.
I didn't give up as Huskar, equalised my personal kill/death ratio, and we actually went on to win that game. Shamelessly stealing a line I'd seen Matt say, I typed the following messages:
"gg. btw, Skvarica, it's possible to play Dota without being a prick."
"I just checked the Dota wiki."
That got some lols from the other team, and then the match was over. We were shunted back to Dota 2's manifold granite-effect menus, which record every single match you ever play and don't care about a damn one of them.
I'll win more games of Dota 2, and lose many more than that. It's not important anymore. But I can tell you this: Just as my team moved from playing All Pick to Single Draft, we will, some day, begin playing the as-yet terrifying Captain's Mode, which makes hero selection a mad duel involving hard counters and limited vetoes. And in doing this, we will be made awful.
No, let me phrase it another way. We will be born again. We'll have to be scrappy, and smart, and our reward for showing up to this one-sided fight will be abuse and a stomping that'll make our past defeats look like hobbyist re-enactments. And we'll love every second of it. Because heroism can't exist unless the odds are against you.
Because - and I see it now - being a noob f**king rocks.