93 Hours In, I’m Still Not Sure If Dota 2 Is ‘Fun’

93 Hours In, I’m Still Not Sure If Dota 2 Is ‘Fun’

I had a conversation with my friend Will the other night. He said something along the lines of Dota 2 not actually being “fun”, that nobody really plays Dota to have fun.

Maybe he was joking a little bit, but it’s an interesting thought — looking back on my 93 hours with Dota 2, I wouldn’t exactly describe it as fun. I mean, yes, winning can be fun, getting kills can be fun. But most of the time, I’m not winning. Most of the time, I feel like I’m repeatedly getting my arse handed to me in gruelling no-win matches.

So why do I play? Because it’s competitive. Because there’s still a lot of strategy involved, even when there’s absolutely no chance my team can win. Because it’s a complex game that can be highly satisfying to figure out. Because it’s a game where I’m always learning, which means it never feels boring. And, frankly, because playing Dota 2 makes me feel cool. If you play Dota 2, you can say that you play Dota 2. It’s some King Nerd shit.

This Is Getting Nasty

When things get ugly in a game, you might hear the enemy team trash talk a little. This, unfortunately, is normal — though games like Dota 2 and League of Legends are famed in particular for having a “toxic/” playerbase. You know what, though? I’ve rarely come across folks like that while playing Dota 2. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Occasionally I’ll see someone say “commend me” at the end of a match (do people who deserve to receive positive feedback for their behaviour in a match ever actually say these words?) What I have noticed, however, is that I totally shit-talk myself while playing. Because Dota is so hard to pick up, I end up constantly berating myself as I play, especially when things get heated.

When I play Dota, I always feel like I’m making a mistake. Maybe I’m not in the right position. Maybe I’m being too aggressive. Maybe I’m not being aggressive enough. Maybe I used the wrong ability. Or maybe I made my least-favourite mistake: I spent all match saving up for an item, purchased it, and then forgot to use it when I needed it. What’s wrong with me?? (SEE, I JUST DID THE THING).

Maybe I’m just being paranoid. I never want to mess up and start feeding the other team, since that makes them more powerful. I become a liability for my entire team, since they have to suffer the consequences of my suckage. It’s a stark contrast to other more recently released games, like Titanfall. Titanfall does everything in its power to make you feel awesome even if you’re not very good. Can’t kill the other players? That’s cool bro. Here, kill some computer-controlled bots. Go do some cool parkour or something. Really, just don’t don’t sweat it, you’re gonna get a mech in a few minutes and it will be rad.

But in Dota, if you’re bad, it’s hard not to get into a bad headspace about it. Every time I perform poorly I imagine someone on my team opening up the scoreboard and staring at my name. The only person without a kill, bringing down the entire team. In that moment, they probably consider disconnecting from the game rather than sitting through 45 minutes of torture. At best, my teammates will probably resent me for feeding, or at worst they will actively lash out at me. I can’t really blame anyone, though. I definitely hate myself when I’m performing badly, too.

volvo pls

I hate spectating. Or, I don’t hate doing it, I hate that it exists. I hate that other people can watch me play. Right now I’m bad enough that even I don’t want to watch myself play, nevermind letting other people watch me.

But in Dota 2, you can’t avoid having people spectate your matches. If a friend comes online and wants to play with me and I happen to be mid-match, they will probably just watch me play until my match ends. And I understand that decision! We’re friends, right? Why wouldn’t it be ok for them to watch me? But the entire situation always gives me performance anxiety. Plus, it’s not as if we only play games with our close friends or whatever. If you’re like me, you add people you may not know very well just to have a healthy list of people that can play with you at any given moment (Months later, you’ll look through your friends list and repeatedly say, “who the fuck is that?”)

Every Dota player is itching to tell you how to play the game.

Anyway, lately I’ve been having this uncomfortable thing happen where a semi-stranger watches my matches and then starts telling me how to play. I’ve never experienced backseat gaming as badly as I do while playing Dota 2. Everyone is itching to tell you how to play the game the “right” way. And again, sometimes it’s useful! Let’s not pretend like I have much of a clue when it comes to Dota 2. But sometimes spectating and backseat gaming can feel annoying, or even worse, humiliating.

I’ve thought long and hard about this, and the best solution I can come up with is a mode where the entire screen is black and nobody, friends or strangers alike, can see what is happening on the screen. Hell, in this mode, even I can’t even see what’s happening. It’s just a black screen, and some Dota 2 sound effects. It might sound a little weird, but at least no one’s embarrassed.

Alternately, I’d appreciate having the option to choose whether or not other people can watch me play. I’ll accept whatever of these options Valve thinks is more reasonable.

Learning = Fun?

If Dota is a game of strategy, I don’t actually know what the heck those strategies can be yet. On its most basic level, we’re all trying to destroy the turrets and the ancients. But most of the time deciding stuff about coordination seems arbitrary. When is the best time to stop babysitting creeps and start getting aggressive? When is the best time to play defensively? I don’t actually know the answer to these questions, especially given that it varies from hero to hero.

I know that some hero pairings work well together, but at this level, there are only certain heroes that I’m familiar with, so it’s hard to pick characters that my team “needs” (quotation marks because I’m not sure I know what that means most of the time).

Part of the problem, I think, is that I still don’t always know what I don’t know. Contrast this with, say, playing a fighting game. In a fighting game, I might run into a situation where I can’t actually input a combo, but I still understand how it works. In Dota, it often feels like I’m flying blind, occasionally picking up bits of wisdom that I would have had no way of discovering on my own.

93 Hours In, I’m Still Not Sure If Dota 2 Is ‘Fun’

Don’t get me wrong, though. Dota 2 can be frustrating, but I’m enjoying how much complexity the game has to offer. I tried Captain’s Draft for the first time last night — that mode where a team captain chooses the heroes for your team — and it was something else. My team was coordinating on everything from what items we should buy to when certain attacks should hit. I know that’s how you’re “supposed” to play the game, but I’d have never picked up on some of this knowledge on my own. Take for example, putting up wards — the items which let you safely monitor areas on the map. I knew they were a good idea: wards grant my team more visibility of the map. But I didn’t know that there are traditional spots where people expect wards to go, not until someone told me what the locations were.

I guess I’m going to keep playing and hope for the best — hands-on experience has to be a good learning experience, right?

Wise Words

Here’s something I came across that stuck with me. It’s not about Dota 2 — in fact, it’s coming from someone over at Riot Games in response to a problematic League of Legends player. It’s something that I think both Dota and League players alike should read:


You’re already a step ahead by asking for help. But the trick here will be how you follow through.

If you’re genuinely interested in improving then you need to take a step back and really reflect on why you play League of Legends or any other competitive online game for that matter.

Seriously ask yourself: “Am I even having fun?” Be honest.

To me, it sounds like you’re not right now. Even though you admit to it, I bet you don’t enjoy calling people “autstic ****s” in game. That sounds incredibly taxing and draining to get so worked up in every game you play.

Chances are, if you’re not having fun now; you were at some point. You have A LOT of games played since you started in November 2010. You’ve been through the irelia nerfs, the UI changes, the server instability, the OP Win Xiao release, S1, S2, and S3 championships and a great many more.

If you’re not having fun then reflect to figure out why. Why did you come to League in the first place? Do you have a favourite champion? You love competition? The strats and plays? Maybe an LCS Player or Streamer you look up to and want to mimic?

From what you told me, it sounds like you enjoy winning. And you HATE losing. That’s pretty cool. Who doesn’t hate losing? If you’re going to approach League from that angle, then you need to have reasonable expectations. You need to be honest with yourself.

First thing to keep in mind: You win some. You lose some.

That needs to be your new motto.


If you really think about it like this and then you reflect on your last month or so of games there is only one conclusion. The biggest obstacle in your League of Legends ranked matches is yourself. You’re not giving the benefit of the doubt to your team mates. You’re not understanding that everyone is flawed. You’re not acknowledging that people are inherently good and want to do good.

You can try to “stop committing toxic behaviour”, but if you’re not going to get at the core philosophical reasons that fuel that toxic behaviour you will never succeed.

What Is This Game Even Doing To Me?

So there’s this restaurant in San Francisco that I’d been meaning to go to for months. Every time I tried dropping by, the place was full or something came up. So after many failed attempts, I finally just made reservations for a date night with my girlfriend. I figured, hey, we’ve both been really stressed lately, and we haven’t seen each other in a while, so maybe going out and having a nice dinner would be good for us. Just go out and have a pleasant night, you know? The entire thing was a Reasonably Sized Deal.

An hour before my reservation, I brilliantly decided that it would be a good idea to play some Dota. So I started up a match, only to have half my team disconnect within five minutes. Great! Needless to say, my team didn’t do so well against a full enemy team.

During this match, I played as Tiny for the first time — that golem-like creature that hobbles around everywhere. Since I couldn’t really make a push by myself, I opted to dutifully farm the enemy creeps for a while. The more experience I gained doing this, the bulkier and more menacing Tiny became. I’d never seen something like that in Dota before. Tiny, by far, has been the most gratifying Dota hero I’ve ever played: you can watch yourself become more powerful as the game progresses.

93 Hours In, I’m Still Not Sure If Dota 2 Is ‘Fun’

Still, regardless of how mesmerising it was watching Tiny transform, I was at something like 0-5. That’s…not so great. Eventually, though, I raised enough money to purchase Aghanim’s Scepter — which turned me into a beast that could carry around an entire tree with one hand. This item allowed me to single-handedly start turning things around — at one point, I wrecked the entire enemy team by myself. My score became something like 8-5 within minutes. It was amazing. Honestly, I’ve never had as much fun as I did during this match with Tiny.

…and then I noticed I had like ten minutes left before I had to leave for my date. I figured that, even if I was a powerhouse on my own, being able to destroy the enemy’s ancient would probably take at least 25 minutes. So I sat there and seriously thought about how I could make this work. I’ve made tough situations work before — this one time, my internet crapped out on me mid-match. So I tethered my computer to my mobile phone and kept playing Dota 2 that way. This new situation could probably be solved with some creativity, too, right?

I figured that maybe I could tell my girlfriend to go on without me. I mean, I just needed to finish this one match. That would be ok, right? Hey honey, I’m not at dinner right now because I’m playing a stupid video game. I don’t know how long I’ll be, but please don’t be mad at me. I can’t have a disconnect on my profile, baby!!

I ended up quitting the match anyway. But the entire taxi ride to the restaurant, and for the first 15 minutes of the date, I couldn’t help but think about that match — how much fun it had been, and how guilty I felt for abandoning my team. I think I even “jokingly” told my girlfriend how sad I was that I disconnected from the match.

Dota 2, what have you done to me?


  • I know what you’re saying there; Tiny is probably my second favourite hero (after Phoenix), and his mid-game is insane good (as soon as I get aghs + MoM, the enemy’s towers go down in a second); he is one of the reasons that Dota is fun, imo.

    Whether Dota is fun or not really depends on how you play it, though; when I play Tiny, I always play for fun, however more intense heroes like Queen of Pain can just get frustrating.

    In short; play as Tiny.

  • That’s the problem I have with “competitive” gamers today. The game is only worth it if you win it. Which is just wrong, everybody is playing to win, why else would there be a score or objective? But because of toxic masculinity they believe losing is admitting to being the alphas bitch. It’s completely possible to lose a match you thoroughly enjoyed but until they discover what they believe is masculinity is actually bullshit, they’ll never be happy.

    What’s worse is when those competitive gamers win but don’t feel satisfaction, so they resort to negative behaviour. Swearing, name calling, treating people like dirt, because winning is no longer enough for them. Then, they resort to holding the objectives so that they can spawn camp in order to pad out their K/D ratio. Then, they go onto the forums and start attacking the developers for not reading their mind and following his perceived idea of “balance”, Then, they start hounding the opposition, even outside the game (see Swatting). I don’t know what’s after that, but I do see some people quitting out of the game, or gaming general, and start talking about the good old days of the Golden Era.

    • Masculinity? I’ve had games where the foulest person on the team was a lady. Let’s not gender the argument eh?

    • Pretty much sums up why I don’t play multiplayer religiously anymore. But when I do I usually disable voice and the chat box if I can because the communities are always rubbish.It’s a real shame because you can’t get that invigorating rush from single player.

    • I’ve played several games of dota 2 where I have lost but the game was still fun, all though they are far and few
      They are the games that are close, and evenly matched. Where both teams had good winning chances towards the end.

      Most games of dota 2 that I play, are usually decided on by people in the game that either disconnect or are playing with an unplayable ping or have no idea what they are doing.

      It’s not fun playing with someone who doesnt know what theyre doing, and it’s not fun playing with someone with a 1 second delay, stays long enough to feed and then dcs halfway through.

      The dota matchmaking is just terrible. Evenly matched games with good connections all round are fun – but that rarely happens

      • Another problem is accessibility. If it takes too long to play the game to get everything to click, or if there’s a brick wall, then new players have trouble having fun and those who have already learned have trouble enjoying the game with them. That’s probably why FPS games are so popular, it’s easy to get into. Point at something moving that’s not you, kill it.

        Even though those who love Dark Souls love it to death, even they admit that the brick wall is too thick for someone who might be able to love the game from actually learning to love it.

        I actually hated DOTA style games. I decided to play League of Legends to justify that hate and discovered to my surprised that I actually enjoyed it. If I didn’t have commitments to every other game, I could see myself playing the game.

  • You must truly be lucky to have not experienced the “toxic” userbase.

    I watched my friend play his first game, and he was told several times to “go hang himself” for being a noob.

  • I must give my thanks to Kotaku posting actual content. Bravo.
    Don’t care for dota2 much, players take it to seriously

  • That’s a fantastic post by Wookiee from Riot, I heartily recommend everyone to have a read.

  • I’m not convince that DOTA is fun minute-to-minute. It’s fun in retrospect, or when you’re absolutely storming your way through the opposition, but I find the actual mechanics dull and it’s probably rage and a desire for retribution that keeps me playing most of the time.

  • I have found dota to be loads of fun, some times even when losing. If you can’t accept that occasionally you are going to get outplayed, or sometimes you just aren’t that good at that cool looking hero (especially split pushers which I am absolutely hopeless with) then yeah this sort of Game won’t equate to fun overall.

    Though it does get frustrating when you get screwed by rage quitters, disconnecters or feeders, it happens a lot less than I expected though (was very common back when I tried LoL).

    As far as the community goes dota 2 has one of the better communities of an online adversarial game I’ve encountered. Sure you get some real dickbags, but that’s life.

  • Dota is heaps of fun. Just play the heroes you know. If you decide to play a new hero, read up on them, watch the odd video of someone playing them, try them out in bot games, etc. If you get your ass handed to you, you can learn why that is and improve for next time. I’m an old school Dota player and I’m still playing 10+ years later and I still die a lot. If I get killed, I open up the death screen and look at the breakdown for who was doing how much damage and trying to decide who’s the threats and whether I can mitigate any damage. I try to see what items the enemy heroes have and how to counter them too.

  • For me, a big part of enjoying Dota has been in learning to appreciate ‘satisfying battles’.
    Even the ones you loose.

  • I don’t dislike the existence of games like DOTA and LOL but I find the games themselves somewhat boring.
    I think it comes down to my love of RTS games and the more complex and drawn out the better.

  • We all learn the hard way not to play within a 1 hour 40 min period before we have to leave anywhere. Even than we ran into a 95 minute game.

  • Depends on what you define as fun or enjoyment and how you derive it.

    I find that while some people say ‘fun’, it’s actually just the thrill and pride of winning as the fuel for enjoyment. These same people tend to lash out at their team, have a bigger ego and generally tend to exhibit the same obnoxious habits that extremely competitive folk tend to exhibit when it’s a win/lose e.g gloating at a win, flaming a team-mate for not playing well.

    In that sense, the game gets very frustrating very quickly and you tend to spend half the game either frustrated, halfway pissed or fully pissed at the enemy, yourself and the team.

    If you’re goofing off, it’s a continuous game of hilarity and idiocy which you can’t stop laughing from start to finish. I prefer playing with my laid back mates since Dota 2 can be a pretty comedic game if played with the right company.

  • And, frankly, because playing Dota 2 makes me feel cool. If you play Dota 2, you can say that you play Dota 2. It’s some King Nerd shit.

    That sounds like being a Hipster: “Oh yeah I play DOTA2. Why? Don’t you?”

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