Since the beginning of September, Dota 2's servers have been invaded by characters called Techies -- for better and for worse.
After over a month of anticipation beginning with their reveal at Valve's International Dota 2 tournament in July, Squee, Spleen, and Spoon have finally made their way into the game (as one character, mind you), and their initial reception has been... divisive.
In the leadup to the trio's release, fans were getting antsy about getting the character along with a new balance patch and content for Dota 2. The most popular heroes at the International (Faceless Void, Skywrath Mage, Razor) were running rampant in pickup games, and people wanted that to change. They wanted something new. Techies was all but a given, but patch 6.82 was not. Finally, on the night of August 29, Valve posted a big splash page with information about the eccentric goblins, mentioning that the update wouldn't actually hit until the week after. Also, no balance patch.
The following Thursday, Valve finally released the update. One of the interesting things about Dota 2 is that, thus far, Valve hasn't released a hero for the game that didn't premiere in the original DOTA. Instead of wondering what new strategies the character could add to the game, veterans of the original WarCraft III mod already had stories of playing with and against the character -- as well as ideas for what items to buy and skills to pick to maximise the hero's potential, as they have had for every other hero added to Dota 2.
The fanbase was split. Some had been spamming "༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つGIVE TECHIES" in whatever forum, social medium, or stream chat they could for months, unable to wait for the moment they could wreak havoc on their opponents with the character. The dopey-looking goblins have a friendly, inviting air about them, and they were a change of pace from the stern, imposing faces of the last few heroes added to the game. Between his ability to plant bombs around the map and being able kill himself and take someone with him, Techies appeals to the miscreants who want to gleefully laugh at blowing up their opponents more than they want to win (fans of proximity mines in Goldeneye or Team Fortress 2's Demoman should feel right at home).
Many others, however, dreaded his arrival and cited him as the end of regular matchmaking. Most new characters are usually bemoaned in Dota because they're initially too good: Earth Spirit, Terrorblade, and Phoenix (among the few the last few characters that were added) were all released in overpowered states. It was a point of pride for some players to not pick them, but one couldn't necessarily be upset if someone on their team played as them, since it upped their chances of winning considerably.
Not so with Techies. Many had decided that the character was not viable in competitive play, and that a Techies on their team effectively meant they were down teammate. Even worse, in the first few days of Techies' arrival, those dreaming of landing big multi-kills with bomb clusters wouldn't know how to play him, flooding the servers with their ineptitude and losing their team the game.
Because of this, some players decided before the update was even released that they would play modes where they weren't yet available (like the more competitive Captain's Mode) or stop playing the game altogether for a few weeks after his release. They didn't want to play as him, with him, or against him.
After a few test runs of the character I can see why the community is so bisected by his mere presence. Techies, regardless of how he's involved in your game, drastically changes the way you play Dota 2.
In the first few days of Techies' arrival, they worried, players who dreamed of landing big multi-kills with bomb clusters wouldn't know how to play him, but would flood the servers with their ineptitude and lose their team the game.
No matter what hero you play, Dota's three-lane map is the same. The objective is the same: destroy the towers around your opponent's base until you leave their ancient (a massive building in the middle of their base) exposed, then destroy that too. In basic terms, teams do this by combining a mix of characters that focus on gathering gold so that they can buy the items they need deal lots of damage later (called carries) and those that can protect the carries or pressure the enemy team early in the game (called supports).
Techies aren't not really a carry (he gets most of his damage from his abilities and not items), and they isn't really a support (most of his abilities aren't well-suited to keeping carries safe). They're sort of in a category of their own; they have landmines and stasis traps that can deal huge damage or freeze you in place when you walk over them, a suicide bombing attack that deals absurd damage at close range at the cost of his life, and remote-controlled bombs that can be detonated from across the map.
Above: Techhies plant bombs; GIF excerpted from this YouTube clip uploaded by TryMike4instance.
Most of Techies' skills have a delay on them, which means that you can't walk into a fight, pick a target, and engage them on sight like many heroes can. They have the potential to deal lots of damage, but requires some foresight. Dota is always the kind of game where you have to trust your teammates to have good decision-making skills, but Techies stress that trust harder than most. If you're up against one of them, you have to more vigilant about where you're going. If he's on your team, you're going to have to account for them not always being around to fight, whether they're out planting mines, pushing towers, or killing themselves at the start of a fight.
Techies' arrival even changed how people play the character select screen. When the update hit, it took until the following Wednesday for me to even play a single game of Dota 2 in the All Pick mode (where everyone is free to choose whatever hero they please) that didn't include him. Techies pickers (myself included) wanted to play him in every match they could, crowding the servers in the hopes of getting their chance to wreak havoc. Stories abound of someone instantly picking him only to have everyone else leave the game because they all wanted to pick him instead. See here:
This can be the case when any new hero is released, of course, but in this particular instance it's been exasperated by the lack of a balance patch in the update. The last few hero updates have also included balance patches that affected the entire roster, so while you'd see new heroes quite often in the days following their release, if you didn't get a chance to pick them you could move on to your favourite heroes instead to see how they'd changed.
Without any other big changes to lure people away, there was nothing to stop people from playing the "Pick Techies First" game (the only other noteworthy change has been the addition of a new mode called All-Random Deathmatch but it seems few people are playing it consistently). In a game like Dota, picking first means having the enemy team pick heroes that counter yours, and Techies are shaping up to be one the most easily counterable characters in the game. And because people are generally afraid of what they don't know, seeing the Techies pick forced people to choose based on Techies alone, meaning that even if you didn't plan on playing Techies once, he'd impact any games you'd play in All Pick.
As soon as a match actually begins, Techies are already impacting it. Because Techies' role in Dota is a bit outside the roles and norms of the game, they rely on mindgames more than amassing gold and experience or helping others. The enemy team can't see his mines and traps, so they either have to avoid the usual paths they might take to drop wards that give invaluable vision to the team, or invest heavily in items that allow them to see the mines. From minute one, you're not really sure if you're up against the kind of Techies player that sped to your side of the map to plant bombs in the hopes of landing an early kill.
These mind games can be powerful. Before the character was added, a $US35-dollar cosmetic item that would accompany his release was going to add a seemingly harmless new ability: planting a warning sign that enemies could see. The sign itself did nothing, but the potential tricks you could play with the sign (stick the sign down one of two paths so that wary opponents would avoid it and run into the real mine you'd secretly planted down the other) caused enough commotion online that Valve made the sign a default ability for the character days before his release.
Playing the kind of mind games Techies relies on requires a keen sense of critical thinking about where the enemy might be at any given point. This sort of "game sense" takes hundreds of hours to develop.
In general, however, teams playing against him need to almost constantly think about where they're going, where the enemy Techies player could have planted mines, and how to find them. The Techies player, conversely, needs to outthink the enemy and try to put his mines in spots that won't get found easily but will have an impact later on. This is very similar to Dota's warding metagame, where you want to place wards in places that give you the best view of the enemy but won't get found and destroyed. There's also his insanely powerful suicide ability, which often requires him to dive head-first into fights; players too eager to blow themselves up could die before setting themselves off and lose the team the fight instantly.
This is perhaps why the Techies haters are so wont to avoid the Techies pickers. No one wants to have to tread lightly throughout the course of an entire game, and no one wants to have a kamikaze Techies on their team if they're going to blow themselves up at the first sign of trouble, or set up traps in areas where no one will enter while the rest of the team is fighting without him.
Playing the kind of mind games Techies relies on requires a keen sense of critical thinking about where the enemy might be at any given point. This sort of "game sense" takes hundreds of hours to develop to the point where someone would be able to use it outside of avoiding danger. Others characters, like Pudge and Shadow Fiend, also rely on this, but their use of it revolves around predicting the enemy movements that they can see, rather than those they can't. Techies asks that you understand how players move over the entire course of the game and predict the best place to surprise the enemy, sometimes five or ten minutes in advance.
Played correctly, Techies are one of the most rewarding heroes to play in Dota, and he's one of my current favourites (Here are the characters' latest stats, via the site DotaBuff, in terms of popularity and team winning percentage. The latter stands at about 43%).
My first game with him went on for over ninety gruelling minutes, and as the enemy team were knocking on our own base I detonated a cluster of remote mines that I had been amassing over the last few minutes, killing their strongest character and opening the door for us to finally win the game. Every landmine kill, every trap sprung, every multi-man suicide bombing made me feel like I was the high school geek getting one over on the jocks by outsmarting them rather rushing them down with brute force.
I don't think many will argue that Techies isn't a fun addition to Dota 2. But I get that there are plenty of Dota 2 players who are already tired of seeing them in every one of their games or who expected a balance update to upend current hero selections trends. Still, it seems that the Dota 2 community was, for a little while, excited about having something new to talk about. Here's hoping the wait for the next big thing in Dota doesn't last too long.
Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer who has to admit he briefly considered going back to Diablo III or biding his time until Destiny came out to avoid this whole Techies debacle. You can follow him @SurielVazquez.