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To 3220 and back – an update to my Dota 2 journey

To 3220 and back – an update to my Dota 2 journey

Despite not making it “a project” for the last little while, I’ve still been playing Ranked Dota 2. My mindset is starting to shift in that I haven’t been entirely tilted by my performance or MMR (matchmaking rank) number, because by playing with my friends I’ve been able to see a marked improvement in how I play the game.

However, this hasn’t kept that MMR number from falling back to where I calibrated: 2406.

This number isn’t going to mean a lot to some people, and it’s largely arbitrary; it’s more just interesting the in the grand scheme of this “journey” I’ve been on. I calibrated at 2406 after playing ten games, after which the game assigns you your initial value. That was July of 2015.

Since then, I went on a pretty decent climbing spree, peaking at 3220 in January of 2016. This process indicated to me that I’d actually improved – the 1000 tiers (2000, 3000, 4000, etc) are largely where the major brackets of skill fall on.

However, since that height, I’ve steadily fallen back down, going on losing streaks that outnumber the victories, falling eventually under 3000, under 2800 (where I was stalled for what seemed like months) and eventually back down under 2500.

While I mentioned before that these results no longer tilt me as much, they still cause a lot of insecurity. I’m not actually sure how I got to 3220: I’m not sure if it was luck, abuse of on-meta picks that have changed since then, or right now I am unable to apply new things I’ve learned, which lead to losses.

Someone on my stream the other week suggested that I write about what I’ve learned so far. Since I don’t think of myself as a particularly big expert in Dota, I am hesitant to both give my impressions of Ranked Dota as a whole any weight, or try to teach anyone in the process; all I know is how I feel about how things have changed for me.

I feel like at my level, there is kind of a coin flip that determines how the game will play out: usually, one team has picked significantly more greedy characters than the other, and whether they get punished for it is determined by how fundamentally sound and coordinated the other is.

In my case, it feels that if my team plays greedy, the enemy team will take the lead and keep running us over until there is no chance for comeback. If my opponents have played greedy, my team will be unable to punish their greed and even if we have an amazing early game, we will not know how to keep the momentum up, our opponents will scale into the late game, and will eventually beat us.

This is obviously dumb hindsight stuff, and isn’t 100%; there have obviously been games where I’ve been on the team doing the dominating, but being on the losing side highlights that mechanic harder. Suddenly you’re just that much more aware of how those games work: even the smug satisfaction of “we picked actual supports, we’re going to win” doesn’t really matter if your team doesn’t use those picks effectively.

Pretty much, even if you scoff at your enemy team taking five cores and having a terrible early game, you will still lose if you give them enough room to get enough farm to become five dangerous cores. This can come with cocky team fights, poor vision, trying to fight uphill, in bad spots, around Shrines, or without your full group. This separation can happen due to overfarming, complacency, or fear of throwing your lead.

What can make this worse, or more disheartening, is when you feel that you cannot affect change as a solo support, or “the one trying to get things done.” Obviously I am not going to portray myself as the only sane one in the asylum, because I definitely have my faults in Dota, but it is sometimes not enough to be self-sacrificing; thinking “well, no one is going to play support, so I might as well, look how suffering I am” doesn’t matter if that support pick doesn’t win you the game.

In short, I’ve learned what other people say when they explain “you can’t just buy your wards and expect the rest of your team to win the game for you.”

It’s frustrating, though, being the person who says “we can’t let the Alchemist farm the jungle forever, we need to go and disrupt him” only for that to never really get done. Especially when playing a squishier support, that cannot be done solo. You know that it’s the thing to do, but in some cases you pull your blanket up over your face, thinking that if you pretend it isn’t there, it’ll never become a big problem.

But it is, and it does. And then you lose.

When I was particularly frustrated with Dota before, I felt it was because I lacked the feedback to know what I did wrong, or how I could improve. I felt frustrated because focusing on my fundamentals — “at your level, if you just farm better, you’ll win!” or “make sure your cores have enough room and safety to farm!” — seemed to ignore things like my team making poor draft choices, poor decisions to go in, or things that seemed out of my control.

It felt like the answer there was “well, you just lose,” which seemed a bit anticlimactic. Focusing on myself and my actions in those games seemed like good advice, but it was hard to feel good about progress I made without seeing anything from it — sliding so much in terms of MMR scoring felt like negative reinforcement.

To be honest, I’d like to end this post by telling you that I’m “better,” but in honesty, I’m not sure. I know I’m not making as bad plays as before, some of my mechanics, panic and positioning are better, and I’m able to read situations in terms of what my opponents are going to do. However, my target selection as a core, ability to recognize how a fight is turning out (and bailing appropriately) and general mental attitude still need a lot of work.

In two years of Dota, it still seems like I have ages to go before I start seeing any kind of results, which makes me doubt I have the potential to climb at all. It makes me wonder if I have the aptitude for it, or whether I am just “bad at video games.” Part of me thinks that if I was going to learn/improve, I would have by now, which I know sounds irrational: I am obviously not doing all I can to be improving, and need to wonder if that time invested is worth the reward.

Increasingly, it feels like getting where I’d like to be with Dota requires the dedication and patience that I don’t know if I have at the moment — it makes me sit there and wonder “is it worth it to try?” Then, I have a good game with friends, or a solo game that goes particularly right,  or watch a tournament, and I’m hooked all over again.

A lot to consider, but a lot to explore.

Matt Demers writes about video games, culture and the Internet. You can find him on Twitter and watch him stream on Twitch.