A New Venture: DOTA 2

One video game genre I have steered clear of is the MOBA — the so-called Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, as descended from the Warcraft III mod “Defense of the Ancients” and its relatives and descendants. This genre has largely taken the place of the MMORPG as the big moneymaker in the world of PC gaming, and has stolen much of the spotlight as well.

I did try. I played Mythic’s Blood of Heroes WAR spinoff when it was in beta and dabbled very briefly in Funcom’s Bloodline Champions and even League of Legends. The former was… well, it was obviously a pretty half-assed piece of work that never even made it to launch, but it wasn’t the worst thing that I have ever played. Had it actually been released I would likely have fooled with it a time or two.

League of Legends, on the other hand, I just couldn’t get into. I can’t even say that I disliked it, but I found even the tutorial needlessly opaque. I ditched it after maybe an hour. Bloodline Champions, which, as a then-subscriber to Age of Conan I got a beta invite to, had an even shorter lifespan on my hard drive. I’m not sure if it’s even still alive.

Still, anyone paying attention to the online gaming scene in general can’t help but be vaguely aware of what’s going on with the major MOBAs, which to my ignorant and increasingly nearsighted eyes look like LoL, Heroes of Newerth, Smite and Valve’s DOTA 2. Smite in particular looks kind of appealing for thematic and control-scheme reasons.

Still, even knowing how these games basically work, watching anything resembling gameplay footage or commentary is completely baffling. It’s like watching a game of Cricket — I can see that stuff is happening but it all looks more or less random and the commentary uses English words but is not recognizably English in any other way. For a genre as popular as this is, these games strike me as complicated, user-unfriendly and anything but accessible to lowly casuals. In that sense they kind of remind me of Advanced Squad Leader — games narrow in scope but so packed with fiddly bits that it’s hard to imagine those who play them having the time or mental energy to get into anything else.

So, yeah, I gave DOTA 2 a shot. Superficially it’s not as attractive to me as Smite but it’s playable through Steam (something that has developed a considerable value to me,) and has Linux support. Between the new (I gather) tutorials and some carefully-selected YouTube videos for total noobs I think I’ve kind of got a handle on the rudiments of it. I’ve haven’t ventured within whimpering distance of a human player, of course. I will probably try my first actual match against bots this weekend, and we’ll see how that goes. The single-lane tutorial matches went pretty well once I got used to the character I was playing.

But there’s a lot to learn, between the 110(!) different characters, all with completely different attributes and abilities, the synergies between them, the huge array of items, most of which you have to build in play, and the subtleties of the map. Which, thank Christ, there’s only one of. This thing could probably be played regularly for months or even years without ever reaching the level at which you’d be confortable facing human players.

On the other hand, my experience with playing PvP matches in WoW and other MMOs, as well as playing FPS games in the vein of TF2 implies that the majority of players are actually disorganized imbeciles rather than the savants you see in the video streams. So what’s one more imbecile, then?

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