Trying to improve at Dota 2

Aui_2000, presumably now with a lot of time on his hands with being teamless, put out a video on his YouTube channel about how to improve at Dota 2 besides just playing games. While I think everything that he talks about is valuable, it doesn’t really seem to go beyond basics, so I thought I’d share my thoughts about how to improve at Dota 2 besides just playing games, and I will first touch upon the points that Aui mentions.

The focus of Aui’s video was that, to really start looking at the advanced mechanics of the game a figuring out how to play, you need to look towards the simple things. Last hitting is something everyone should be able to do. Regardless of whether you play carry or support, you should be able to get perfect CS (Creep Score) on any hero at any stage of the game, if uncontested. It should almost be second nature, and I agree with Aui’s statement that you should be able to do it without paying attention.

Building on from this, Aui talks about having a good “jungle.” Basically what he’s trying to say is that, if you are going to level your character by being in the jungle from level 1, then you should be able to reliably get good farm and experience from it regardless of the hero and regardless of the camps that spawn. I like to think that I am a fairly strong jungler, after all, my favourite hero is Ursa and I can pretty reliably get a 6 minute Roshan at level 4 by jungling him, however, you should be able to play people like Enigma, Chen, Lycan, Bloodseeker, etc. in the jungle and be able to get a lot of farm, especially if uncontested. That said, I think the talent in jungling is not to zone out and not pay attention to the game while you do it, and this is what separates people who play junglers from actually good junglers. You need to know what your timings are and need to be aware of when you need to help your team. There have been a few times in the 151 matches I’ve played as Ursa when I should have been more focused on the game at large rather than just myself and, while it doesn’t cost you the game, it is a small loss when you could have gotten a kill or assist early on, even if it’s more about inconveniencing them than bettering yourself. However, that’s a skill you gain from matchmaking rather than from bots, and I’ve already spent too long talking about this. As one last thing about this, I am still bitter about the Nature’s Prophet who said “I need 22 minutes in the jungle, then I can join the game,” and so we had to 4v5 for the entire game and he didn’t get anything from the jungle. Shadow Blade, Midas, Treads and a Maelstrom by 30 minutes. Nature’s Prophet sucks this meta anyway, but that guy was really irritating because he was just so stubborn and useless to the team.

Practicing micromanagement. Such a useful skill which so many people stay away from. Some heroes are more difficult that others for this, Meepo probably being the most infamous one but Chen, I would say, is actually the most difficult. To practice micro what you should do is just go into a bot match and try and maximise farm. Aui recommends Visage, I would probably prefer Broodmother and set the bots to Normal or Hard, but it works with any hero.

His final point was about knowing the hero skills and certain things about them. He recommended two quizes to test yourself on this, an easy quiz and a hard quiz. While I think it’s useful to know this stuff, I really don’t place much value on it. I think, as far as knowing the heroes is concerned, you should know the cooldowns of big ultis like Ravage (Tidehunter) Naga Siren’s Sleep, Phoenix Supernova,etc. Knowing that Sven’s Storm Hammer has a 13 second cooldown probably won’t win you the game, but knowing that his ulti (God’s Strength) last for 25 seconds and has a cooldown of 80 might, but Aui might be right and I, as a lowly 3.5k MMR scrub, may not be.

But now I must move on to my views, because Aui doesn’t talk, really, about how even low level and new players can benefit from learning more advanced mechanics. To start off with, I should say that, when starting out playing Dota 2, which of course has a steep learning curve and barrier of entry, it’s good to repeatedly play one hero. It would be even better if that hero was quite versative. Aui mentioned that he played Vengeful Spirit, I personally played Lion and then moved onto Ursa when I had learnt the basics but was still shockingly bad at last hitting. I think everyone can benefit, if they do want to get good at one specific hero, from watching people better than them play, and trying to think while they do it. Of course, I’m not talking about a completely new person watching professional Dota, the gap is too great, but someone who is 2k watching a match of a 3.5-4k player might give them a few insights into how they can improve. Bear in mind though that this does require a fair amount of understanding of the game, and it might be good to watch several people play your hero rather than just watching one person, as they will have a style that, perhaps, you shouldn’t replicate.

Keeping with the watching motif, I think the single best way to improve at Dota 2 is to watch the games you thought were close. If you get absolutely stomped or if you stomp another team then I don’t think that you can learn as much. You probably made the same amount of mistakes as usual, perhaps slightly more or slightly less, but the fact that you had a buffer or such a lack of one means that you couldn’t recover, and sometimes it might just be a case of you tilting. But, back on watching close replays, I think it’s most valuable to watch replays of a game that was close but you lost. If the net worth charts are dead even at 40 minutes and all of a sudden a teamfight happens and the enemy have a 10k gold lead, there was probably something you could have done in those first 40 minutes to make it so that didn’t happen, and you will have to look for it. It might be helpful to have someone else to look at your replay, or watch other people’s games first because they or you might notice something you wouldn’t usually. It is worth saying though that not every game is like this. Sometimes the hero you chose just can’t do anything against their lineup besides spawn, die and place wards, and sometimes you played your heart out, and played really well, but your team just couldn’t give you the support you needed to win the game.

Now, some general tips on gameplay:

  • Decision making is everything in Dota. If you have nothing to do, or you are waiting on one of your carries to finish an item, you should be farming, or trying to take farm away from the enemy. If you’re standing around doing nothing, farm.
  • Wards win games. Don’t be another one of those fuckwits that don’t buy wards if you can. I’m not just talking to support players here, if your lane partner is 0-4-1, and you got that 1 kill and didn’t die thanks to him, just show a little gratitude and help him out; buy the observer wards for 75g and drop them in base for him. Knowing where to place the wards is also important. Sometimes the waters of that can be slightly muddy, because there are some games where you want wards everywhere, but, as a rule of thumb, for the first 15 minutes you want wards along the river so you can avoid ganks as much as possible, and if you have an aggressive mid like a Storm Spirit you should consider having a ward on the enemy high-ground at mid. After that, if you have the momentum, you want wards in their jungle and probably one at rosh. If you are on the defense you want wards “in front” of the towers you still have, and by that I mean create a perimeter so you don’t have blind-spots. If the enemy are taking over your jungle, put one on the edge of your jungle so you can see if they plan on coming out to gank you.
  • Farm on supports is crucial. Your carry can be six slotted, with a Refresher Orb, Abyssal Blade and 2 Divine Rapiers in base, but it doesn’t mean anything if your support has brown boots, a wand and wards. A good example is a Force Staff. Force Staffs are cheap items, but they give the person who’s carrying it, and their team, a huge boon. He can use it to get away from ganks, get the carry away from ganks, get an enemy out of position, land that big ult, etc. One 2250g item can win you the game, and it’s more important than Bristleback getting a 2nd Heart of Tarasque.
  • Positioning is easy to learn, hard to master. Not much to say here, but positioning is something you really want to pay attention to in replays.
  • Flaming helps no one, and taunting doesn’t either. If you can’t stand someone, or just want to rage, mute them, or mute all chat, and give them a few pings. It’s much more cathartic if you just let it go and, usually, if someone made a mistake in Dota 2 they already know it.
  • Lastly, be very critical of your own item build. You shouldn’t blindly follow the same build every game. If you are a right click carry, against a Phantom Assassin or someone with evasion generally, you should make it a priority to make an MKB. Itemising is difficult, and there are games where you will make bad calls, but it is important, especially for carry players who are expected to have the most items on your team.

I could go on, getting ever more pedantic with my tips, but I shall leave it there. I hope this helps some of you improve at Dota 2.

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