I had the odd and gratifying experience of introducing some of my friends to Dota 2 over the weekend. What started out as watching a game while we waited on people to go out became a marathon as we sat through most of the longest game of Dota 2 in professional history. Another six (!) or so hours followed on Sunday as we watched the last day of matches. By the time Alliance finally took the last game, they were invested, even if they didn’t know half of what was going on.
So in case you had a similar experience, and want to start playing the game, here’s primer I wrote up a while ago that might help nudge you along.
It’s true that Dota 2, like most games that spawn from its predecessor, is a “hard” game to learn. You could play for over 600 hours (like I have) and still feel like you know nothing. Even after that much time spent, I haven’t messed around with every character, and I sure as hell haven’t played most characters to their fullest. By that time, you’ll still learn something new with every match -- mostly minor details and combinations that learn when they’re used against you. For example, you can send Axe, Silencer, and Outworld Destroyer into a lane where they may not belong individually, but combining Axe and Silencer’s abilities to drain health and mana with OD’s mana replenishment means your opponents will starve as you collect some easy gold. You may not know what a lot of that last sentence means, and that’s fine. Dota 2 isn't necessarily “hard” to learn; it’s just too big to hold all at once.
I could make this a "proper" primer by describing the rules of the game and such, but that's not the best thing to tell you (you'll learn all that stuff anyway, should you choose to dive in). What's important is that you understand that Dota’s too big. It's too big because you have to keep track of a lot of seemingly nonsensical rules. It doesn't make much sense that a courier -- a donkey (or chicken, or ferret, or a gnome carrying a pig) on wings that ferries items to and from the base you buy them from -- is slower while carrying an empty bottle item than with a full one. It doesn't make sense that you can “stack” neutral creep monster groups by luring them away from their camps at the right time, then going back and attacking the second group that spawned while the first was away because no one could see into the camp. But shake off the dissonance for the sake of balance. I swear it pays off.
The tutorial is a good place to start, but it won’t teach you everything. It’ll teach you the basics of last-hitting and a little bit about laning, but it will also teach some bad habits. If you just sit there in lane, bashing creeps until you last-hit them, you’ll push the lane, putting you and any allies with you at risk. If you spam spells the way you’re encouraged to in the first tutorial, you’re not going to do well. And you won’t learn about specific character item and skill builds, which can vary per match. I found that the easiest way to learn was to read up on some guides, and ask as many questions as I could -- if you tell people you’re bad going in, they’re a little more likely to be helpful.
You may also suffer from being unable to keep track of everything you need to do at once; in one match, you may remember to check the runes, but you’ll forget to harass the enemy properly to deny them gold and experience, and that your ward (which gives you crucial vision to counter ambushes) placement was poor. Early on, you’re very likely to have a match where you have no idea what you’re doing and will be overwhelmed by teamfights, asking what the hell just happened. It may even cost your team the match.
Again, just fine. You can’t hold all of Dota 2 at once. You don’t really have to. Perhaps the best thing about Dota 2 is that, like Team Fortress, it lets you to help your team in different ways, which allows the game to cater to different player tendencies. Have a knack for hotshot daredevilism and don’t want to worry about teamwork early on? Play a ganker like Nyx Assassin or Night Stalker. Are you the quarterback that wants the glory for every win? Play a carry like Luna, Lifestealer, or Faceless Void. Prefer to sit back, set up kills, and be a team player? Play a support like Tidehunter, Omniknight, or Witch Doctor. This variety begets longevity; you can play five different matches in a day (not recommended for socialites, but I’ve done it before) and play five completely different “games”; you can lane support one game, jungle-farm another, and carry the team on your back the third.
Yes, Dota 2 has lots to learn, and you’ll never really stop learning, but it’s just about the most fun I've had in multiplayer gaming in years. I’m still getting my ass kicked constantly, still cursed out by people who don’t speak my language, but I enjoy the game enough to go back in again and again. And, when you finally have the experience of winning a close game (and you will, trust me), it's a high few games can match. With the game finally out, it’s much easier to find groups of people to play with online and learn together, and once you have a semi-regular group of players to join up with, it gets even better. I still can’t hold all of Dota 2 at once, but I’m bursting at the seams to tell you about self-indulgent anecdotes that once every hundred games or so. And dammit it if I just didn’t talk myself into going and playing another match by writing this.