Pillars of Victory: A Dota Primer
A Dota Primer by Cranberry Thunderfunk
Over the years, countless veterans of Dota have contributed many guides and introductions to try and explain Dota, in all its complexity and nuance, to newcomers. Many of them are very helpful, and have eased thousands of new players into the game. However, they do not answer the most important question of all: how do you win every game of Dota 2?
This is a guide for the advanced beginner. You have played the game, and you have been gifted with a desire to understand why you’re losing, why your teammates treat you with such disdain, and how it happens that the other team’s Riki is always doing unspeakable things to your dignity. You want to know how to make this stop.
I present to you four Pillars of Victory that, when fully understood, can answer these questions.
Pillar of Victory I: Last hitting
See also: Gold, Farming
You should already know that killing creeps, towers, and heroes gives you gold. You should also know that dying causes you to lose gold. This single fact is going to cause you to fart bricks of pure, molten frustration in countless games. You will be a poor-ass fool and you will not be able to buy a single item. If you do not have items, you are irrelevant, nothing more than fodder for the enemy team. Your continued deaths will feed the enemy team ever more gold and experience, and your team will curse the day you were conceived. You will lose that match, because in Dota, items are what keep your hero relevant as the match goes on – no matter what hero you’re playing.
Items are extremely powerful, and they are also extremely expensive. You may notice that you slowly gain gold over time (100/minute). If you were to wait for that gold to acquire a single high-tier item (e.g. Scythe of Vyse, 5675 gold), you would be waiting 57 minutes. Even if your team manages to destroy the 6 outer enemy towers, which would reward you a total of 1728 gold, you would still only acquire this item in 40 minutes. Most matches last about 40 minutes. The game would already be over.
This is why you have to learn to last hit. To last hit is to get the killing blow on a creep. Killing one lane creep gives you 43 gold. Early game, killing one hero gives you a little over 200 gold. FIVE — count em’ — FIVE last hits is equivalent to killing one enemy hero.
The first and most important skill to master in Dota is last hitting. If you cannot last hit creeps, you will not be able to acquire expensive items in a timely manner. Many items are far more powerful than individual hero abilities. There is the Refresher Orb (5225 gold), which instantly resets all ability and item cooldowns. This item alone has single-handedly won countless games, both professional and amateur. There is the aforementioned Scythe of Vyse, which provides a 3.5 second ranged hex on a single target - flatly better than many heroes’ disables. There is the Blink Dagger (2150 gold), which allows you to instantly blink 1200 units (1/2 of screen width) every 12 seconds for no mana cost. These are all insanely powerful abilities. These aren’t just a convenience or a fun bonus to have, but for many heroes, will make or break whether you have any impact on the game whatsoever. Without last hits, you will never acquire them.
Pillar of Victory II: Ganking
See also: Teleport scrolls, Map awareness, Wards, Vision, Juking
When the game first starts, each hero on your team heads out to their respective lanes, where you compete against the enemy heroes in your lane for last hits. For the majority of games, you and your opponent will have comparable chances at winning the lane. To tip this balance, enemy heroes in other lanes will leave their lanes to gank yours, likely purchasing a teleport scroll to quickly move from one lane to another. Teleport scrolls allow you to transport to any allied building still standing.
Before you know it, there are now 3 enemy heroes ready to bone you in the ass. You might have been safe 2v2, but you’re hopeless 2v3, and now you’re dead. The third hero may have returned to her lane, but now the original 2 enemies have the advantage, and you are no longer able to farm – and that’s on top of the gold you lost from dying and the opportunity cost of missing out on creep kills while you were away from the lane.
You have been ganked, and it was probably your fault. This is why you need to check the minimap approximately every 5 seconds to see which enemies are visible on the map. If your teammates are nice, they’ll tell you when heroes go missing, but you should learn to rely on yourself first. If you are far away from your tower and the enemy in the middle lane is gone, you need to back your ass up and wait until the coast is clear. You might be losing farm, but so is the enemy hero that’s waiting in the jungle for you to step out too far. Avoiding death is absolutely critical to success in Dota. If you die to the enemy, you’ve just fed them a healthy amount of gold and experience, not to mention allowing them room to farm freely.
By the same mechanism – teleport scrolls – it is possible for you to immediately assist your teammates when they are being ganked, or to set up a gank in another lane. Teleport scrolls are extremely powerful, and you should carry one at all times. They’re an essential tool for ganking, defending towers against pushes, returning to the lane quickly after death, and escaping situations where it is not possible to run to safety. Keep in mind that teleporting to another lane is not going to be successful if the enemy can see your teleport, so you should wait until the enemy does not have vision of your tower. Conversely, if you do not have vision of the enemy tower in your lane, you should be extra careful to watch for enemies missing from other lanes.
There is a day and night cycle in Dota. Day and night each last 4 minutes, and it will cycle between the two throughout the game. During the night, your vision into the fog of war is greatly decreased, as well as the shared vision you get from allied towers and ranged creeps. This is important because it means that a lot less of the map is visible, making it harder to know where enemy heroes are. That’s why you need wards. Wards provide a huge area of vision to your team which does not decrease at night. If you don’t have wards, you will likely not be able to farm your lane. If you try to farm without wards and there are several missing enemy heroes, you will be ganked, and that is not acceptable.
It’s important to understand that not being seen is a major advantage, and that you do not need to be invisible by a rune or an ability to acquire this advantage. If you aren’t visible, you can’t be auto attacked or hit with targeted abilities. You might be a few inches away from the enemy, but if there’s a line of trees in between you and the enemy, you’re as good as invisible. If you’re running away from an enemy, in many cases, all you have to do is walk around a tree to be safe – if they can’t see you, they often can’t hit you. This, of course, does not apply to AoE or ground-targeted abilities, but even then, you’re forcing the enemy to guess where you are, allowing you to “juke”. Juking is using a combination of vision-impairing terrain (trees, cliffs, hills) and movement-impairing objects (trees, cliffs, units) to fake out an enemy who is chasing you, buying you time to heal, escape, or for your teammates to come assist. Learn the terrain and use it to your advantage.
Pillar of Victory III: Lane control
See also: Denies, Creep pulling
The first mistake every player makes in Dota (or League of Legends, for that matter) is to constantly attack the lane creeps. The logic goes that if the goal of the game is to destroy the enemy barracks, you should get there as fast as possible, right?
There are two problems with this, and they are the aforementioned Pillars of Victory. Auto attacking the lane creeps, also known as pushing the lane, makes it much harder to last hit, meaning you get less farm. More importantly, it increases the distance between you and your tower – this makes you vulnerable to ganks. Most heroes cannot dive a tower to gank you, so if you are within running distance to the attack range of your tower, you are less likely to be ganked and more likely to survive a gank if one does come.
To control the position of your lane, you can attack your own lane creeps once they drop below half HP. Doing this helps prevent your lane from getting pushed further away from your tower. If you get the last hit on an allied creep, that’s a deny, and in addition to guaranteeing the enemy doesn’t get the last hit on that creep, it reduces the experience awarded to the enemy. When creeps die, the experience is divided among enemy heroes within 1200 range of the creep.
This brings up another benefit of being near your tower: zoning the enemy heroes out of experience range. If you’re winning the lane, you can harass the enemy through auto attacks and careful use of your spells, and force them away from the lane creeps. Through good lane control and proper positioning of your hero, you can completely shut down the enemy. This is not possible if the creeps are near the enemy tower.
It’s also possible to pull neutral creeps (from the jungle) to the lane, where the lane creeps will then be diverted into attacking the neutral creeps. This is an advanced tactic, but of extreme importance – a properly pulled lane can result in completely eliminating all experience and gold for the enemy. If the enemy creeps have mysteriously disappeared, check the jungle. Much more can be said about creep pulls, but it is outside the scope of this article.
Pillar of Victory IV: Team composition
See also: Hero roles, Support, Carry, Attributes, Hero stat growth
Over the course of the game, some heroes will become more powerful, while others will naturally weaken in comparison to others. Every hero can remain powerful and relevant with good farm, but not all heroes are able to farm effectively or will be too easy to gank repeatedly.
Supports are heroes that tend to have strong nukes or disables in the early game. Some supports scale well, others do not. It’s hard to generalize about supports, because there are many different types, and as your understanding of the game deepens, you will learn that the factors determining when a hero is a support or is not are complicated. Suffice to say, supports need less farm to be effective, and serve to help their carries acquire the farm they need primarily through warding, ganking, assisting when allies are ganked, and defending against early pushes.
A carry is a hero that will have low impact on the early game but high impact on the late game. It is said that “your team will carry you until you carry them” – meaning that you are a liability to your team until a threshold of gold and experience is reached.
There are a few factors that determine the late-game potential of a hero. The first is that hero’s stats. Each hero has different starting stats and stat growth per level, as well as a specific primary stat: agility, strength, or intelligence. Agility heroes tend to scale strongly because they receive damage, attack speed, AND armor for each point of agility. Strength heroes tend to scale decently because they receive both HP and damage for each point of strength. Intelligence heroes tend to scale poorly because although they receive mana and damage for each point of intelligence, mana pool does not directly convert to survivability or killing power.
This does not mean that intelligence heroes cannot carry. There are intelligence carries, but their natural stat growth is not what they rely upon to win the game. Strength carries tend to need fewer items to be effective, but they also fall off in effectiveness as the game goes on longer; past the 35 minute mark, they will have trouble standing toe-to-toe with an equally farmed agility carry.
Regardless of the type of carry, carries require enormous amounts of farm. This means that if you are not able to last hit effectively, you will not be able to carry. If you are ganked repeatedly, you will not be able to carry. If you do not control your lane, but the enemy carry does, you will be outcarried. This is why team composition is the last Pillar of Victory. If you cannot last hit, gank, or control your lane, you will lose almost every game regardless of what heroes you pick. If your skill in last hitting, ganking, and controlling your lane is equal to your opponent, the fate of your game now depends on having a quality team composition.
The basics of quality team composition are this:
- Too many carries creates a weak early game.
- Too many supports creates a weak mid-late game.
- Pushing power is required to take down towers, barracks, and to defend against enemy pushes
- Initiation is required to start team fights on your own terms
- Disables are required to enable your carries to DPS enemy heroes or to stop enemy initiation
There are myriad advanced tactics and strategies yet to learn about the game, but I recommend focusing on learning what every hero does first and foremost. Play each and every hero at least once. Be ready to get murdered over and over, but the more quickly you can take responsibility for your own failures, the faster you will learn. Every time you want to blame your teammates, stop and think of at least one choice you could have made that would have improved the result of that failed encounter. If you can’t think of one, you aren’t thinking hard enough.
You see that kid taking balls to the face? He just stopped a goal. Twice. Then he got right back up because he knows there’s no time to waste. He has a soccer ball to wrestle from the
It’s time for you to be the kid taking balls to the face. If you are persistent and resist discouragement, like a fresh clam, Dota 2’s juicy innards will be revealed to you, and once in a while you might even get a pearl of a match where you leave feeling like a god because you won against all the odds. There aren’t many video games out there that can leave you with such a raw feeling of pure accomplishment and satisfaction. Dota 2 is one of them. I encourage you to come learn and revel in the absurd depth and complexity that awaits inside Dota 2’s mechanics, gameplay, and strategy.