Year In DotA – 2014

I am a support player at heart. Not for any altruistic or sympathetic reasons–not because I have a need to help my teammates, or a secret fear of playing carries. I am a support player at heart simply because there are maybe 3 carries in the game that I enjoy playing, and even fewer mid or offlane heroes, while I can find merit in most every hero that is traditionally put in a support role, and so a strong desire to play them.

Further, it was my desire to prove that I could support my way up the MMR ladder, where many others thought the only way to climb was to pick core heroes and carry games. I mean, it’s not as if I didn’t do that myself. Even now, after having barely player her for a year, Queen of Pain is my most played hero (590 games, with the next highest at only 411). All the pubstomping I did with her gave me, even after a monumentally bad losing streak, a comfortable 4600 MMR rating when I first entered ranked play.

Anyway, let’s look at a graph.


What interested me most when I first saw this graph was that I could immediately match the biggest peaks and plateaus with real life events. For example, the period from mid July into mid August is when my PC first hacked up a lung and died on me. After having that fixed, there’s that abysmal fall in August, when I was within 3 wins of 5k. That’s when I got very, very sick, and decided to play anyway. It did not go well, as is obvious now, and I only stopped hemorrhaging MMR points when my PC died completely, forcing me to stop playing. That’s also when 6.83 was released, and I was sidelined for over a month while players became acclimated to one of the biggest patches DotA has seen in years.

There is a noticeable difference in the quality of the games I ended up in once I fell below about 4.5k. Above that it was common to get games with many 5k players, and even 6k players, depending on the hour. Supporting in those games was a breeze. I could depend on a carry that I secured farm for to get good items at a decent pace. I could rely on the mid player to at least hold their own in lane, and for the offlane players to not feed. Everyone did their jobs, and I knew that if I played well it would have a positive and measurable impact on my team’s ability to come out ahead. Isn’t that what everyone wants? I mean, it’s not as if I didn’t lose games where I played well, or won games where I fed like an idiot, but for the most part I knew that if I did what I was there to do, I could rely on everyone else to at least attempt to do the same.

When I fell below my starting MMR, and even lower than that, the games started to get bad. I won lanes for carries who couldn’t farm, or who bought the most boneheaded items possible. A Luna who went Midas into Shadow Blade and proceeded to run away from every fight. A Phantom Assassin who rushed a Diffusal Blade and then did nothing. The MMR distributions in those games is a lot safer, and trends downward instead of up. I started to be matched  with 3k players, and often I found at the end of a losing game that I was the highest MMR player on my team, which is off-putting when I’m also the only support.

My ranked win rate dropped below 50% for the first time, which was discouraging alongside the need to catch up with other players when I put my PC back together and entered 6.83 a month late. But I struggled on anyway, and even went back to playing support. I am not one to shrink away from something as petty as losing. I know that to ultimately succeed I have to play better than I was, and there’s every chance that would mean throwing away several hundred more MMR. Losing is something I’m used to, and I get over it easily.

winrate 1

There’s one more oddity.  Over the last 12 months I’ve also had 60 more Dire games than Radiant. During that same period I have a ~49% win rate in ranked matchmaking across ~670 games. Which is fine. I expected as much. However, I also have a a ~52% win rate on Radiant, compared to a ~46% win rate on Dire. This is in line with my historical average of roughly 48% win rate on Dire and 53.5% win rate on Radiant. This month alone I am under 40% on Dire and nearly 60% on Radiant. What gives?

winrate 2

It only makes me wonder how much the matchmaking system takes that sort of thing into account. Could it be that if I’d been given as many (or more) Radiant games as Dire I’d be well ahead? Might those 60 games have put me above 5k by now? Probably not, at least not completely. I wasn’t cheated out of anything. I played poorly, for whatever reason, and I lost a lot of games. Still, it sure would be nice to get those extra Radiant games.

The final question raised is, of course, why? I cannot say. There is nothing in my play that stands out as being more acclimated to playing on Radiant over Dire, except that Radiant itself has almost always had a higher win rate. Looking over the stats of some players I’ve been matched with, most of them are also winning more on Radiant, but only one other had such a drastic discrepancy between how often they get put on each side and how often they win or lose, and that player was 41% on Dire and 50% on Radiant. Like nearly everyone else, they also had more games played on their losing side. In fact, my informal survey showed the majority of players having more Dire games, at a lower win rate, with only a few players being lucky enough to get a lopsided amount of Radiant games. For my part, I tend toward believing that I am just terrible on Dire rather than being amazing on Radiant. Clearly the answer is not to hope I win the Radiant lottery, but to instead get better at playing on Dire. Perhaps easier said than done, since I don’t yet know what I’m missing. At least I have something to look out for, an aspect of my game to improve beyond generally not being so bad.

Anyway, 5k support is still the goal, and once I’ve managed to pull myself back up to reasonable games, I firmly believe I will get there.

Apparently I’m a Writer Now

I recently joined’s DotA 2 writing staff. The site, run by Mali, has strong ties to the Chinese DotA community, and connections with European DotA as well. Most of my non-personal DotA 2 related writing will be published there now.

For anyone interested, here is my first article:

Treads in Crisis

A Good Game

One of the things I enjoyed about going to tournaments, especially the big ones where people came in from all over the place, was a chance to speak to players in an environment where their entire focus was the topics I had in mind: competitive gaming and competitive mindsets. Everyone is different, and everyone has their own reasons and motivations, and each was interesting to me.

It was at one of these Majors that a player explained to me their philosophy about the nature of losing. He told me that there are feelings that every player experiences, but that they aren’t always aware of, and it was his goal to tailor his victories around these feelings.

He first explained to me the basics of losing, something I was already intimately familiar with. Broadly, there are two types of losses, you could call them the blowout and the close call. What they are is obvious enough: a blowout is a total stomp, where the losing player(s) are barely relevant to the game. More importantly, they know it. Often the losing player expected to lose before they even started the match, as when a new player runs into a top 5 contender during early pools in a large tournament bracket. The other loss, the close call, is when the player loses by a small enough margin that they are left with the feeling that if they’d just made a couple of different decisions, or guessed right one more time, the game would have won.

Someone who doesn’t have much experience with competition might expect a crushing defeat like a blowout to be harder on the loser, but that’s often not the case. If some fresh meat gets a first round match against a player that they know is significantly better than them they will often take that loss as a given before they’ve plugged in their stick. They will still try, and hope that their opponent also tries–there’s nothing worse than a sandbagger in a real match–but if they expected to lose they’ve already been tempered for the loss when it happens.

It’s the close call that tends to sting the most, though that still depends on the exact circumstances of the loss. If the game is close enough the loser starts to go back through the match and look for the branching universes. If they hadn’t dropped that combo in the 2nd round, if they had warded the jungle a bit earlier and spotted that smoke gank, if they had hit that one air rocket, or had done a little more economic damage with their drop. What if? What if they had guessed right one more time? They could have won. That type of loss can leave a lot of doubt in a player’s mind.

So, he tells me that the biggest difference for his opponents is in how they feel after a loss. Did they do everything they could have, but still got outplayed? Or did they lose because they could have played better?

The player has to decide whether they lost despite their best efforts, in which case there’s nothing they could have done, and they go back to training so they can do better next time. The alternative is that they lost because they’re a loser.

I don’t know how he expected to do it, but he told me that it was his goal to always make the player feel like it was their fault they lost, not his. Something about wanting them to come back for more, and the damage it did to their confidence over time. Yeah, he was a bit of a kook.

Personally, I don’t dwell much on losses. Probably because I have never once entered a tournament with the expectation of winning. I enjoy playing games competitively, but I am just not a competitive person. That’s the killer instinct that I’m missing, as I’ve written about before.

However, I do agonize over wins way too much. I managed to take all of that discussion about losing and invert it: I’m the type of person who, after a win, will wonder whether I came out ahead because I was the better player, or because my opponent was just being a little too dumb.

The problem with DotA, especially pub DotA, is that its nature as a team game, a team game where the overall state of a match is in constant flux and can be difficult for many players to grasp, even while they’re playing the game, is that my imagination runs wild. I second guess my second guesses, so I rely heavily on confidence to see myself through. I’ve found that in my solo ranked play it’s becoming harder and harder to get a feel for exactly what is going on around me. There are so many factors to a win or a loss that are out of my control that I focus even more on what I’m doing wrong, which erodes my confidence further. Negative reinforcement and all that.

I feel that’s a big contributing factor to how many pub players feel about DotA. After all these years, after having played a bunch of different games competitively across multiple genres, DotA is the only game where I can win a match and feel like I did nothing to deserve it. It’s not that I don’t know why I’m winning or losing a game, but more that I don’t know if my contributions to that game could have tipped the balance.

Why didn't anyone tell me the replay would expire!?
I used to play heroes that could actually win games.

These last few weeks have not been ideal for DotA play. Aside from my own connection issues, there were the major patches released, which caused server problems and took a giant dump all over my FPS for a few days. At least 6.80 brought some good changes to pub games. Even at the MMR I’m playing at (~4600) it wasn’t uncommon for an entire team to abandon a game if the other side picked Earth Spirit, and that’s before you factor in Broodmother. I had 4 Broodmother games in a row one night, and in at least one of them she had a Nature’s Prophet on her team as well. Win or lose, those games are not very interesting to play.

So sometimes I just want a win. A win where I know I did my part, even if I’m still left with the feeling that the other team picked and played so poorly that it wouldn’t have mattered. The important part is that I did what I could, I did what I needed to do, I did what it took to win the game.

Submitted for your approval is this rather anomalous Ranked game I played on the eve of 6.80’s release.

I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.
I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.

We get a first pick Invoker, then a random Luna. They pick Terrorblade and we pick Mirana.  They random Bristleback, we pick Ursa. I see how this is going. I figure I’ll try out the newly buffed Witch Doctor, even if he’s not always great against illusion heroes, and isn’t that good against Bristleback. After much deliberation the other team picks Timbersaw, Clinkz, and Bounty Hunter. Their Bristleback, having noticed that his team has 4 potential offlane heroes and no supports, repicks into Nature’s Prophet. I’m getting flashbacks of “To Serve Man.”

Starting Items

Luna may have random gold, but you can bet that she’s not going to waste a single penny on non-essentials like wards or a courier. I know what’s what, so I buy them both, and I’m pleasantly surprised that Valve’s new policy of using cheap Chinese labour to manufacture GG Branches means I can afford 4 of them now along with my single set of Tangos. My inventory feels pleasantly full.

First Blood

My reasoning behind loading up on Branches, besides the mere fact that I could, was that I’d be laning against Bounty Hunter or maybe Timbersaw, both heroes I could pick at like a really good scab. I seriously doubt Luna and I could kill Bounty Hunter at level 1 even if I bought Sentry Wards, and there are at least 3 heroes on my team who might get a Ring of Basilius. I am comfortable with being a mere ward bitch if any of our lanes turn out well.

So I sally forth to ward the rune spots. Bottom ward first, since I’m going to be heading to the top lane: no sense in doing top, then bottom, then walking all the way back top. Yes, it’s true that even I can figure out the order for simple tasks.

Immediately things get weird again. Timbersaw is mid, which is fine even if Invoker should have no trouble dealing with him. But they have sent a solo Clinkz into the offlane. A solo Clinkz with very little regen.

A solo Clinkz who put his first skill point into Searing Arrows.

Here’s the thing about Witch Doctor. He does a lot of damage with his right-clicks. His issue is that he has terrible armour and subpar starting strength. That means that he can dish out damage, but he can’t take it. That’s why I like to get something like a Ring of Protection at the start, because otherwise he loses the war of attrition against most other heroes, even if they do less damage. However, Clinkz is one of the few heroes around that is even squishier than Witch Doctor, especially when I have 4 Branches and he’s only got 2 Branches. As soon as I spot that he’s firing Searing Arrows at Luna I do the only thing that makes sense: walk right up to him, toss a Cask, and then right click him until he dies. If he had run back to his tower as soon as he was free of the Cask stun he would have got away with his life, and Luna would have had a free lane while Clinkz hid behind his tower munching trees. But he tried to fight me, figuring that his Searing Arrow damage would make me flinch. To hell with that! Thanks to Lunar Blessing, it only took me 6 attacks to kill him from full HP.

Early Game

Now I get to make decisions. It’s unlikely that anyone besides Nature’s Prophet will be going anywhere or doing anything on the map right now. I can either stick to my lane, ferry out some Sentries, and keep the pressure on Clinkz, or I can buy some boots and check out the other lanes. Luna has plenty of regen and is doing well enough that I doubt Clinkz would be a threat. Clinkz will hit level 2 as soon as he gets back to the lane, which will give him Skeleton Walk and make him much harder to kill. He’s also unlikely to get into another right-click contest with me now what he’s seen the results. Bounty Hunter could leave his lane and go after Luna, but I’d see that coming. Nature’s Prophet could show up, but I really doubt that would happen. It’s a bit of a gamble, but I’m a bit of a gambler.

I buy the boots and head to mid lane, where Invoker has been doing a good job of tagging Timbersaw with Cold Snap every time he tries to get near the creeps. Timbersaw still has plenty of regen and enough damage that he can get last hits, but he’s also very vulnerable. Bonus: they have no ward coverage. I wait for there to only be a ranged creep left and when Timbersaw gets too close to it I run in and throw my Cask and then a Maledict. I don’t often get Maledict at level 2, but this seemed like the ideal game for it. Invoker and I chase him back to his tower, where I missclick and run into it’s range for a little too long. Timbersaw dies, and I get out alive, but I have to get Voodoo Restoration when I level up to stop the tower from killing me. I’d much rather have another point in Cask. That’s two lanes down.

It’s two minutes in now and I see a Haste rune spawn top. I start eating my Tangos to get my HP back up, wait for enough mana to use another stun, then run to the bottom lane, being careful to stay out of obvious ward spots since I still have to assume they might have some. Bounty Hunter, who has been harassing the Mirana constantly with Jinada, senses blood in the water and dives her at the tower when his creeps push in. Unfortunately for him Terrorblade backed out, and I’m hiding in the trees.  When he gets close enough I hit him with Cask, and though he tries to go invisible and escape, he’s in the tower’s true sight range. Mirana hits him with a double Starfall Starstorm, and we get another kill. That’s 3 lanes and 3 kills in 3 minutes, which is exactly what I wanted.

I head back to the fountain, upgrade the courier, buy Dust of Appearance and a Magic Wand. I see that Luna is struggling a bit against Clinkz and figure I’ll pay him another visit now that I can make sure he won’t get away. Unfortunately, Terrorblade has Phase Boots now, and when Bounty Hunter gets back to the bottom lane Mirana gets murdered. Meanwhile, Ursa gets a lucky Regeneration Rune, which will speed up his jungling quite a bit by saving him a fountain trip. I get to the top lane, toss my Cask, use my Dust, and Luna hits a wonderful Lucent Beam that keeps Clinkz within range of another Cask bounce, which gets me another kill. Then it’s back to the mid lane for another easy kill on Timbersaw.

My main concern is that Mirana is still getting the business in her lane, so I figure I may have to keep myself planted there for a bit. I get down there just in time to interrupt another tower dive against her, and we kill Terrorblade, and almost get Bounty Hunter, but some clutch fogs let him escape with about 25 HP. We dive a little too far in his pursuit, so when Nature’s Prophet teleports in and Terrorblade respawns, their combined efforts take me down. I don’t care that much since I have enough gold for Arcane Boots and I’m level 6.

When I respawn I go back to mid lane and use my Death Ward to on Timbersaw. Another easy kill.

Bounty Hunter gets wise and finally goes to the top lane, where he and Clinkz kill Luna. Invoker and I, and Invoker’s Dagon (because why not?) get one back by taking down Terrorblade again in the bottom lane, and Ursa kills Roshan before 9 minutes.

Mirana uses her ultimate and we try to rush their jungle, but there’s nobody in there so I teleport to the mid lane and get another easy kill on Timbersaw with Ursa’s help. Clinkz kills Luna again. I guess I was wrong about her ability to hold that lane.

At 10 minutes in we take their mid tier 1 tower. The score is 10-4 in our favour, and I’m 3-1-6.

My plan now is to finish an Urn, put up some more wards, and keep putting pressure on their lanes, especially now that Invoker and Ursa are free and willing to roam and gank as well. Whatever we can do to keep them away from Luna.

Mid Game

By 12 minutes the lanes have broken up. We’re so eager to keep getting easy kills that we’ve given away a couple of tier 1 towers for no particular reason. I’ve got my Urn and Ursa has Blink Dagger. Time to start forcing them to make poor decisions. Let’s push some towers!

It seems like a good idea, and we get their bottom tier 1 easily enough, but after that we just run around in circles for a bit. We know at least Bounty Hunter is around, and I use a Dust but don’t catch him. Turn out it’s not just Bounty Hunter, it’s all of them. Their 5 heroes jump me, Invoker, and Mirana. I die, then Invoker dies, then they chase Mirana back to our tower. But a wild Luna appears! She uses her ultimate, kills Timbersaw. The rest of their team is too low to keep fighting. Mirana lives.

Ursa, sensing that his Aegis is going to run out, runs into their jungle rips Terrorblade in half, then picks a fight with Clinkz and Bounty Hunter. Only his Aegis does run out, mere moments before they kill him. That’s a sad bear.

Now my primary concern is being too slow to catch their heroes before they run away, or being caught out of position and killed so fast I can’t use my super-awesome spells. I need a Force Staff. Also, Clinkz has Orchid, so I’m not going anywhere unless I have backup.

Ursa, Mirana, and I hang around in their bottom lane for a while, taking the kills as they come. I’m waiting for my Force Staff gold and Ursa is waiting for another Roshan. We push as far as their tier 2 tower, but don’t destroy it. Clinkz continues to wander around aimlessly, possessing an Orchid, but with no solo target of opportunity to take take down. They have two invisible heroes who both specialize in ganking, but even if we didn’t have Dust they would be no threat. When I have my Force Staff I can even wander alone to ward with the certainty that Clinkz can’t kill me even with his Orchid.

At 20 minutes Ursa kills Roshan again.

The game is still far from clean, even though I never doubted for a second that we would win. Luna gets caught by Nature’s Prophet while she’s trying to take down an ancient stack. Invoker tries to gank Prophet while he pushes our top lane, only to find out too late that Clinkz was hiding in the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to finally take down a target weaker than him. Bounty Hunter decides to invest some of his Track gold into wards. But our minor mistakes aren’t important anymore. I’ve long since secured enough of a lead that squandering it would take more effort than we have in us. At least I’d like to think so: you can never be completely sure in a DotA pub.

Eventually we do get the kind of straight fight that every military leader with superior arms and numbers, and Han Solo, longs for. A bunch of our heroes against a bunch of their heroes, in our top lane, without them being able to pick us off or run away. Luna gets an triple kill, thanks in part to the Gem that Mirana just bought. We keep pushing, going for towers now, and they no longer have the option of running away. At 27 minutes we take out their last tier 2 tower and head for the high ground of their middle lane. They have no more gas in the tank, and I’ve got my Aghanim’s Sceptre. Nature’s Prophet tries to deflect us by blocking our creep wave near our tier 2 tower, but it doesn’t matter. We get both Barracks. It’s all over and they only thing left for them to do is start accusing each other of being Peruvians.

good game end

Did the other team make really dumb picks? Definitely. But that part of the game is out of my control. What is important to me is that I made the right plays when it mattered. For the first time in a long time I know that I was the greatest part of my team’s victory, and some days that’s all I need.




I’m not the sort of person who takes strongly to nature. I don’t mind it, and I’ve spent time in it without issue. It’s not as if I have a phobia. But it doesn’t interest me a whole lot. Put me in a lush forest next to a beautiful lake and I’ll use it as an excuse to do some reading and have a nap, no matter how good the fishing and hiking may be, or how nice the water is. However, there is one part of nature that I do adore. That would be clouds.

I love clouds. I love the big fluffy ones. I love the long lumpy ones. I love rain clouds and storm clouds. I’ll even take a grey, overcast day over a cloudless blue sky, if given a choice (and I rarely am!). Mostly I enjoy the way they look, and one of the best ways I have of relaxing is to go for a walk, listen to some good music, and look at some puffy, cotton candy clouds.

So I spend a lot of time looking up into the sky while I’m walking. More than most people I encounter. Sure, I have a tendency toward twisting my ankles on things I’m not looking at, but so far none of those spills have broken anything. The occasional public display of terrible coordination and rampant clumsiness is a small price to pay for a better view. And if it makes someone smile to see me nearly snapping my foot off while walking down the street, well, good for them.

I tell you all of that to give context to something I saw a couple of years back while on one of my walks. It was a very windy day, and there were clouds everywhere. It wasn’t cold or raining, just windy. Perfect jacket weather, though for some reason I was the only person on the street not in an enclosed vehicle. Anyway, I was approaching the nearest major intersection to where I live, and I was looking up at the sky. There was something odd up there, above the traffic lights. At first I thought it might be a plastic bag. But it wasn’t moving, or at least it wasn’t being blown away. When I got a little closer I could see that it was actually a seagull, flying level and against the wind. It was flapping and struggling, but no matter how hard it tried it couldn’t make any progress. So it hung there in the air, right in the middle of the intersection. Had I been in a more poetic mood, and was also playing myself in some terrible indie movie, I could have taken that encounter as the universe trying to tell me something. At the time I had other things on my mind, but I did stop to watch that seagull exerting with everything it had, yet making no progress at all, for a good 5 minutes, or at least until the end of the song I was listening to.

I never forget that bird, because maybe it was the universe trying to tell me something. After all, If people can see Jesus in their French toast then why can’t I see my destiny in an ugly, garbage eating animal?

Everyone who plays any competitive game with the intention of improving at it should know a few basics about how to develop skills, and also about how players plateau. As little regard as I have for anonymous matchmaking systems, I’ll admit that giving people nice, round numbers to attain can help with motivation. Now every DotA 2 player that wants to can get themselves a personalized number, and with time they can build on that number and reach newer, higher numbers that they have never reached before. That’s progress, I suppose.

Before I started my solo queue calibration games I made a few assumptions and predictions. Primarily, I looked at the MMR ratings and how they broke down as population percentages. I saw that a score between 3000 and 4000 would put a player in the 80th-90th percentile, and that’s where I figured I’d end up, if my calibration games went reasonably.

Seems a few of my assumptions were off. First off, and I only suspected this at the time, it’s generally agreed now that the 10 calibration games are only small part of what a player’s ranked MMR ends up being. The biggest factor involved is what their hidden non-ranked MMR was before they started their calibration games. There also seems to be plenty of disagreement about how the ranked MMR player percentiles break down compared to the non-ranked population. That makes sense: it’s a zero-sum system, and by adding conditions to who can play ranked games, both real (a player’s account needs to be a certain level before they can enter the ranked queue), and artificial (plenty of players who are able to play ranked will choose not to), plenty of the population will be cut from the equation. I remember when dotabuff was introducing their skill rankings, which they claimed were pretty close to the ones Valve used, and they said that a significant number of the overall player pool was dormant accounts or people who just play bot games, which would artificially boost many player’s numbers, since by the mere act of playing at all they would be elevating themselves above all the dead accounts. But I’m quite bad at numbers, so that’s as far as I’m going into that.

My point is that it seems less certain for ranked MMR which numbers are good, or even above average.

Anyway, I’ve been delaying it too long, so here is my final post-calibration MMR:

mmr rating

My feelings about that number have changed a few times since I first saw it. Initially I was a bit disappointed.

But then I read over, and remembered, my calibration games, and realized I had nothing to complain about. Even from the tone I was using it should be obvious that I was never that happy with how I played, and I did go 4-6. That’s not false modesty, either. I didn’t play that well in any of those games. It may not really matter how I played if the score was based on where I was before I started, but the important thing I took away, after some more thought, and maybe a dream about that seagull, is that it’s a score I don’t have to worry about. It’s a score that tells me I haven’t plateaued. The fact that I can now properly spell plateaued at all without having to use a dictionary is also a good sign.

A 4600 puts me within spitting distance of 5000 (I have since played a few more ranked games and am around 4700, even with a freak disconnect and abandon), and 5000 seems to be a generally agreed upon demarcation for good players. It also puts me in a place where I know I can play better, and therefore get a higher arbitrary number in my DotA 2 profile. I mean, if I can tumble down a flight of stairs into 4600, what could I manage if I didn’t play like I’m secretly left handed (I actually am left handed, but it’s not a secret). I could be at 5000 in as few as 16-20 games, if I pull my finger out.

So, universe, if that bird was supposed to be me then you got it wrong. Unless there is more to life than DotA, but that seems absurd.

All in all, I’m more satisfied with my score than I thought I would be. Maybe now someone will finally pity me enough to play ranked party games so I can find out what my party MMR is.