"You are the most useless shitstain of a support I have ever encountered. Please, for the love of God, uninstall."
This isn't even the most remotely abusive line directed at me over the last few weeks as I've been stubbornly journeying through the cesspool that is Dota 2's ranked play. It hasn't been a successful trip, with my matchmaking rating plunging into some truly miserable depths. And despite the losses, and the agony of the people I've encountered, I'm somehow enjoying myself.
It's been said before that learning Dota 2 — or League of Legends, since the two communities and games share so much in common — is one of the worst experiences in gaming.
It's hard not to agree.
A large part of MOBAs is learning How Not To Die. Thing is, you can't really do that until you properly understand distance and spacing. You often have to get hit by an ability before you know what its range, power and effect will be.
You could click on the hero and have a quick read pre-game, of course, but that's useless if you're starting out yourself. And you have to go through most of this process again too if you take a massive break from the game, which is what I did.
New heroes change everything. New items change everything. The map was slightly different. Where you're supposed to place wards so they don't get taken down instantly is slightly different. It's a completely different game, even though everything looks familiar.
It's an exercise in discovery — not just in mechanics, but what I want from games.
The more seasoned players among you will probably be wondering why the hell I'm playing Ranked Play in the first place. After all, Normal Match is there for a reason.
In fairness, so are the bots. That's where you should go to practice.
But I grew up playing a lot of StarCraft. And while there was always the option to play unranked matches there, everyone knew — especially in Brood War, and vanilla SC2 — that it was a trial-by-fire kind of game.
You hopped onto the ladder and risked it all. Points on the line. You win, you get the rewards. If you wanted a fiercer challenge that didn't affect your MMR, join a clan or hop into a tournament.
Losing precious points is practice. That's how you learn. That's the mentality.
To me, not playing Ranked Play would be an admission of defeat. And that's simply not on.
Even though I've won 3 out of the last 20 games.
A friend of mine likes to regularly ask me if I've downloaded Dwarf Fortress yet. I picked up the management sim ages ago, although it isn't and won't ever be a game I actively play. It's not my type of simulator. I don't have the right type of mentality for it.
That's how a lot of people seem to feel about Dota 2 in general, that you need to think a certain way. Or be wired a certain way, to at least weather the torrent of abuse and scum you'll quickly encounter.
The chat in the main lobby alone is off the rails.
— Alex Walker (@thedippaeffect) August 30, 2016
It's a truly wonderful game pic.twitter.com/EI6G6yyAFk
— Alex Walker (@thedippaeffect) September 18, 2016
For the count, I've lost 15 out of my last 20 games. I've tried to maintain some sort of consistency throughout: largely picking supports, or using the useful Dota Picker website to gauge what heroes might be the most practical.
After all, I don't enjoy losing. I had two Grandmaster accounts in Starcraft 2. I spent some time overseas playing Counter-Strike 1.6. I've spent over a decade playing games competitively. I'm not the kind of player who enjoys deliberately watching their MMR sink into the earth.
But I've broken through that barrier. Losses no longer hurt; sledges against my soul, dead grandmother, impotent body and alleged lack of awareness no longer sting.
And it's not as if I'm not learning, refusing to help, or improving. Originally, I only used to play support because I thought that was the simplest role to understand. Buy wards all the time. Make sure your carry and cores don't die — or at least that you die first. Assist in every team fight imaginable. Deward if necessary. Don't. Last. Hit.
It's ... not going well. But, weirdly, it's fun. Losing is somehow fun. And going through the entire process, trying to unpack little objectives — how can I win this battle, how can I push the team forward — is weirdly soothing.