Surviving the basics of DOTA 2

DOTA 2 is Valve's updated version of the classic WarCraft 3 custom map Defense of the Ancients, known colloquially as DotA. Though the game is currently in development and still carries the beta label, DOTA 2 has become an addiction for some for nearly a year, including myself.

The original DotA mod is credited with launching the multiplayer online battle arena genre (MOBA), spawning multiple titles, including League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, Bloodline Champions, Awesomenauts, and even the shooter Super Monday Night Combat. After a legal battle over the DOTA name, Blizzard and Valve have settled. Blizzard's own MOBA title – now named Blizzard All-Stars – remains in development and has been playable at a number of events.

Although League of Legends was created by two of the original curators of the Defense of the Ancients mod, it was a man known "IceFrog" that helped bring DotA into the height of its popularity as a mod. Now working at Valve, Abdul "Icefrog" Ismail and a team of developers have been tasked with injecting the classic mod into the malleable Source Engine with hopes to deliver a new experience with fresh artwork, effects, and features not originally possible within WarCraft 3.

The highly competitive game gets swarms of new beta users on a regular basis and its pending official launch will pile more into Valve's latest game. For those new users to Valve's free-to-play MOBA experience, we offer this breakdown of what the game is about and what strategies you should employ to be successful.
%Gallery-170519% DOTA 2 is a five-versus-five team game in which each player controls a single hero unit that has its own unique set of spells and play style. The game is played on a three-laned map with a series of towers lining each lane, leading to each "Ancient" on either side of the map. To win in DOTA 2, players must destroy the opposing team's "Ancient." To get the basics down, there are a glossary of terms used by MOBA players.

The most common "laning" setup is for two heroes to attack the top and bottom lanes, while one hero scours the middle. There are numerous variants and each team has one viable "jungle," an area with neutral creeps that can be killed for gold and experience that respawn every minute, to mix up the lane assignments.

Team creeps from each base will push out from the trio of lanes every 30 seconds and meet in the middle. Without player interaction, these creeps will just cancel each other out, but when players help to kill the enemy creeps, the lane will "push" toward the opposing team's tower. Each creep killed will result in some experience for nearby heroes and the person scoring the "last hit" will get a bit of gold, which can be used on items.

This "laning" phase can last 10-15 minutes as players fight for last hits, experience levels, and potentially some early tower kills, which grant a large amount of gold to the entire attacking team. After laning, the game tends to move into a roaming/pushing phase where teams will rotate around the map to try and kill towers. In the late game, the action focuses around 5 versus 5 team fights with the surviving team gaining a large advantage to push toward the Ancient while the losing team waits to respawn.

DOTA 2 is a very challenging, team-based game and as such, new players are often thrown into matches and quickly lambasted by their team. The mechanics of the game are such that playing poorly can really snowball the game in favor of the opposing team and the "rich" community of players will most likely tell you how they feel about your lack of skill. To avoid this, here are a few tips to survive your first few games.
  • Pick the right hero for the job: Heroes in DOTA 2 have roles that they fulfill and these can be seen on their cards. New players will want to avoid heroes that fall into the "Carry" role as these require the most game knowledge and skill. They must be supported early on, get a lot of items, and then carry the team to victory. Instead, look to play a support hero or someone with a good, easy to use ultimate spell, such as the melee strength hero Tidehunter.
  • Don't auto-attack creeps: When you get to your lane, fight the urge to constantly attack the enemy creeps. You want last-hits only. If you are overly aggressive, the lane will push closer to the enemy tower giving them safety and the opportunity to go for kills.
  • Follow the recommended item build: DOTA 2 features built-in item guides in the store interface. Do yourself a favor and just follow these as they will get you started on each hero.
  • Look up a skill build guide: There are numerous sites with hero guides, but DOTA 2 Alt Tab has a ton of great guides that are concise and can easily be digested quickly during the game. It's also one of the few sites that has been updated with DOTA 2 graphics and names.
Read up on some other detailed guides and watch pro games for high-level tips. Purge has a guide that I recommend and Twitch regularly features DOTA 2 matches and tournaments. For video guides, DotaCinema is your best source.

If you're a League of Legends player interested in DOTA 2 you've already got the basics down due to the similarities between both games. This section, however, should prep you for the big differences between the two titles.
  • No Recall: There is no recall spell in DOTA 2. Instead, you may purchase a "Scroll of Town Portal" which can be used to teleport to your base or any friendly building. This makes it harder to get back to base, but easier to jump to a tower and move quickly around the map.
  • The Courier: In DOTA 2, your team can purchase a courier unit, which has no attack, but can carry up to 6 items and deliver them to you and your teammates. Be sure to make use of the courier to do your shopping so you don't have trek to back to base and miss out on XP and Gold from your designated lane.
  • Secret and Side Shops: DOTA 2 has two side shops for quick item buying the top and bottom lanes and two secret shops, which contains items that cannot be purchased at the main base or side shops. Items with a little red circle on their picture must be purchased at the secret shop.
  • Denies: In LoL, you can only attack the enemy creeps. In DOTA 2, you can also attack your own creeps when they are at low health. Killing your own creeps will "deny" them from your opponent and reduce the amount of experience granted and prevent the enemy from getting the last hit for gold. Your opponents will probably be doing this to you as well, which makes the laning phase a bit more active than in LoL.
  • Runes: Instead of buffs granted by killing special jungle creeps, a rune will spawn every two minutes at the top or bottom of the river (between the middle and top and bottom towers). These runes are really important to the early phases of the game and can be stored in a bottle and saved for later (make sure to refill the bottle, which restores health and mana).
  • Roshan: Instead of Baron Nashor, you will find Roshan on the map. He's an incredibly tough creep that will respawn every 10 minutes after being killed. He grants a bounty of XP, gold, and drops the "Aegis of the Immortal," an item that will resurrect its carrier after 5 seconds when they die, granting them a second life. Control and timing of Roshan is just as important as Baron from LoL.
  • Items: DOTA 2 has many more items that grant active, usable abilities and can drastically alter your hero's power and usefulness. It would be a good idea to read up on what each one does in the "Learn" tab of the main DOTA 2 menu. There are items that can make you invisible as well as make you completely immune to most magic for a few seconds. Proper item use can really turn the tides of a game.
While DOTA 2 is still technically in closed beta, there are two ways to enter the fray. The easiest way, however, is to purchase early access from Steam for $30, which includes a number of cosmetic in-game items (Note: the only microtransactions in DOTA 2 are for cosmetic items). Alternatively, if you have a friend with access, Valve hands out beta invites to current users, albeit unpredictably and infrequently. Valve hasn't specified a date for DOTA 2's official launch, but it appears the free-to-play game won't be available in the near future – though 2013 seems likely."

You may have heard about DOTA 2's rough community and being famous for chewing up and spitting out new players, and to a degree, that's true. Valve, however, has laid the groundwork for a much better experience with hooks for coaching, bot-matches, and less stressful game modes, though most of that is still in development. Above all, I encourage you to give the game a shot and try to brave the hostile waters. I'm approaching 400 hours played over the last year and fully intend to double that in 2013.

Brian Leahy is a freelancer based out of Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured on GiantBomb, G4 and Shacknews, where he was a co-host of the weekly podcast Weekend Confirmed. Brian currently works for a managed hosting company. You can follow him on Twitter at @bleahy.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.