In my first ever game of Dota 2, all my friends started laughing at me when I bought two sets of a boot from the shop. "What?" I said. "You need a pair of shoes..."
If you hadn't guessed from that anecdote, my friends (though trying their best) were not the best Dota 2 teachers, and I bounced off the game pretty quickly. But Valve is now attempting to make the game far more beginner-friendly, introducing several significant features to help new players learn the ropes - along with some tools to help returning players. Oh, and it's cracking down on veterans trying to sneak into beginner pools using smurf accounts.
The update coincides with the launch of the Dota: Dragon's Blood anime on Netflix earlier today, which will likely inspire a lot of viewers to try their hand at the game. Valve explained in a blog post that "the first steps of Dota discovery sometimes feel overwhelming," and it wants today's update to help with that.
"Different players have different needs, and we've found that linear tutorials alone aren't effective at helping people learn the game," Valve added. "Instead, we think a mixture of diverse tools and resources have the greatest potential at helping new players learn based on their specific needs."
The first of these is a streamlined version of the shop that will make browsing items less scary for new players. It will provide a guided experience telling players exactly what to build, and unveil new choices as players build each item. Once a new player feels they've mastered the basics, they can then opt to use the normal shop.
New players will also be presented with a "quest-like system of objectives". This features four tiers of progression, and contains tutorial-like scenarios to train players in specific elements of the game, and how-tos for using the client. To accompany the player objectives, there's also a new set of rewards - with each of the four tiers providing some goodies to incentivize players to get through the quests.
In anticipation of the Dota anime Netflix release, a community effort managed to create its own tutorial for new players, and rather sweetly, Valve is including this in a section of its new objectives. "If we see other similar activity in this space from the community, we'll look into adding it in the future as well," Valve added.
To give new players some much-needed background information, Valve is also adding a glossary, hero briefs, dashboard assistance, and in-game wizard tips (basically Clippy) to provide helpful suggestions for new players in live matches. New players will also receive two months of Dota Plus for free, allowing them to access "Plus Assistant, Hero Progress, Chat Wheel shenanigans, and all the rest".
On top of all that, there's a New Player Mode, which limits the hero pool, allows players to leave matches without a penalty, and pairs them with other new solo-queue players. For those wanting to practice on bots, these have also been updated, and will now support new abilities and gameplay changes. Once a player has mastered the default bots and heads into co-op, they will then be placed with (slightly more challenging) community-made bots.
And if newcomers want help from the community, they can access new player chat: a dedicated chat channel that should provide a welcome environment for questions. Experienced players will only have access to the channel if they have a high behaviour score, and will get banned from the chat if they misbehave. Another new addition is a flexible coaching system which will allow new players to ask for guidance from experienced players, even when in the middle of a match.
That's a whole lot of changes for newcomers, but if you've been absent from the game for a while, there's also something for you: returning players will now be placed into a "special calibration" mode that takes into account how long you've been absent. This means Dota will be "sensitive to monitoring how your skill compares to when you last played, placing you into good games so you can have fun catching up on everything that changed while you were away". A neat addition that should make the return less daunting.
In light of the anticipated influx of new players, Valve is also cracking down on smurf accounts (when an experienced player creates a new account to place themselves in easier matches). Valve will focus on new accounts created after today, in which it has "high confidence in their smurfing and game-ruining behaviour". But it will occasionally manually ban older accounts that are "clearly game-ruining". Anyone selling accounts, boosting or otherwise trying to ruin games will also get a primary account ban. And for cases where Valve isn't quite 100 per cent sure it's a smurf account, those players will be placed into a pool of other suspected smurfs until a decision can be made. With any luck, these measures should prevent genuine new players from encountering undercover veterans in their first matches.
Along with all these changes, Valve has also updated the Dota 2 website, and says you can expect to see the next game update (including a new hero) on "the Friday following the Singapore Major."
So, that's a pretty major set of changes, and we'll have to see whether the combination of the Netflix show and learning tools will successfully breathe new life into Dota 2's player pool. Not that it's doing badly: Dota 2 is consistently one of the most-played games on Steam, and is currently sitting at second place with 333k concurrent players (via Steam Charts). Even I'm thinking about dipping a toe in again - think I'd better buy some boots for that.