I won’t start with “Once upon a time, there was something called DotA…” because this article is not an introduction to Dota, but a story about how I got into it. Dota and I have a long memorable journey together, even though it’s just a game.
Back in 2005, when I was in high school, I played a lot of Warcraft 3 and enjoyed every little bit of it. The story, the graphics, characters design, etc. Everything was amazing. A special thanks to Blizzard for their masterpieces trio: Starcraft — Warcraft — Diablo. These games always are the standard of their genres, at least for me.
At first, I only played campaign and melee mode. Unfortunately, RTS was never my genre. I struggled to manage multiple units and resources at once and was terrible at building bases. Something Warcraft-ish but more Action-RPG would be better for me. Thanks to Blizzard again, Warcraft 3 has one of, if not the greatest custom map editor ever. There were plenty of good maps out there, and I decided to try some most popular ones.
The best candidate at that time was DDay Judgement because almost all of my friends were playing it then. Overall, it was a good map. However, this map mainly focuses on quantity, rather than quality or strategy. It had a large hero pool with characters from different universes, but most of their skills lacked synergy and were nothing unique or innovative.
Too many types of creeps/non-player units also confused me a lot and made it hard to keep up with in such a fast-paced game. It was like you just threw everything possible in there to create an epic and chaotic battle. Playing it was fun for sure, but I got bored very quickly and could not stick with it.
Soon after, DotA Allstars started to get more and more attention from the community. I was very interested because people said it was well balanced and better designed than other maps. But my first impression of it as a newbie wasn’t that good. Three lanes, auto-spawning creeps and bases defense, it was DDay all over again but looked even more boring. The map was so huge I didn’t know where I should go 🤔. Unlike DDay, each side only had two types of creeps. Those small creatures automatically spawned and moved slowly along the lanes to bitch slap the others every 30s. Buying-items was the most confusing part. I clicked on a badass looking icon that was advertised to add tons of bonus to my hero then all I got was only a piece of paper 😐!?
Early 2006, a friend of mine invited me into a DotA match with him. He was not much better than me at DotA. But after playing with him, I learned a lot and regained my interest in DotA again.
I realized that I did it wrong. DotA is a multiplayer battle arena, therefore a match with no hero except yours will make no sense and of course, you can’t find the fun in it. So I started playing against computers with Cloud_Str’s AI map and was impressed by how good they were (compared to me 😝). Once, I got completely rekt by a Sand King bot. That’s when I officially took my first step into DotA by deciding to practice SK in earnest 💪. I watched replays, tried to imitate bots, found guides to read, practiced combo. Finally, I learned how to play SK in particular and DotA in general. Trust me it was a very satisfying experience and worth the effort!
After gaining enough confidence, I stopped limiting myself to only playing with bots and was ready to face human players. My next training ground was GG Client (later known as Garena) and private Battle.net servers. The best thing about these platforms was that you had the opportunity to meet all kinds of DotA players around the world. From casual newbie like me to competitive level skilled players. From toxic trash-talking jerks to polite and humble guys. I truly learned a lot. The downside was that you might face outrageous lag or delay problems, generally had to play in high latency condition. However, now I always think of it as a good thing. Having to play in such a harsh environment taught me how to judge situations and react in a timely manner while also training my senses and patience.
It probably was the time I play DotA the most. I played with my friends every day after school, at night when I had free time, at cyber cafe on weekends,… I joined several online forums to discuss DotA with other players. Aside from Sand King, I had figured out how to play Witch Doctor and Ursa as well. So most of the time, I switched back and forth between SK, WD, and Ursa to play. But I also learned new heroes very fast, and soon enough knew how to play all of them. 😁
For further improvement in DotA knowledge, I started to follow and watch the competitive scene. Virtus Pro (NS, Vigoss, Jolie, ARS-ART, and Admiration) was my favorite team back then. I also like some individual players such as Loda, Maelk, Merlini,…
DotA itself has grown tremendously during this period. It appeared in most e-sport events around the world and even replaced the traditional Warcraft in some tournaments. The community created many fanmade stuff about it, including artworks, videos, comics, and music. Talk about music, one song that I listened to over and over again was Bass Hunter’s “Vi sitter i Ventrilo och spelar DotA”, which everyone called the DotA Song. Some time later, “We Are Electric” by Flying Steps also became a song associated with DotA after WoDotA used it as the theme song for their highlight series.
After entering the college in 2009, I played less and less DotA. Probably the main reason was I just got into a new environment and had no friends. But life is full of surprises. I had never thought that one of the players I met on a forum before would be in the same class as me. I was surprised when he came over and called me by my online username. We quickly befriended and found some other DotA buddies in our class afterward. My DotA life was back. However, I still didn’t play as much as the old days.
In 2011, there was an event that awakened the world of DotA, which seemed to be saturated and entering its decline stage. That was the first public appearance of Dota 2 — the descendant of DotA Allstars, the stand-alone sequel developed by Valve and IceFrog himself. Even though information about Dota 2 had been around since 2009, but all they had given us up to that point was the first look posters of Bloodseeker, Drow Ranger, Lina, and Morphling. People were skeptical and had a lot of questions: “How close will it be to the original DotA?”, “Will it be like LoL?”, “Or will it be like HoN?”, “How will Valve handle such a different genre? (They mostly did FPS before)”.
Gamescom trailer somewhat dispelled all skepticism and reignited the passion of fans. Besides, hosting the first million-dollar e-sport tournament ever for a game that had not even been released was an exceptional marketing strategy.
Before Dota 2 came out, I had tried Heroes of Newerth (HoN) and League of Legends (LoL) but could not fit in. HoN was the original DotA version 2, but I couldn’t stand the dark blurry and flashy over-detailed graphics (not to mention the ridiculous cramped HUD). It gave me eyestrain while playing. Sometimes I did not even know where my hero was and what was happening on the screen. 😵
I had no problem with LoL’s cartoonish artstyle, but those ugly outlines around units and the oversaturated low-quality textures kinda let me down (I’m talking about the early graphics of LoL, the new revamped one is great btw). To be honest, LoL’s graphics was the closest one to DotA (or more precisely, Warcraft 3), but more colorful and childish feel with few irrelevant character designs. You would not usually expect a modern game to look like that. Besides, I don’t like LoL’s gameplay, which I find not as appealing as DotA’s.
Dota 2 at The International 2011, despite how rough it was, still had a special charm for me. From the moment I saw the leaked screenshots, I was already sold. The graphics was beautiful. It delivered a moderately clean and gentle artstyle, not over-realistic gloomy as HoN, nor too cartoony as LoL. Units and effects were well-detailed and contrasted with a smooth, bright terrain. Everything looked like a painting. HUD had a pretty good overall layout, but the stats placement hadn’t been optimized. I also love Valve’s new visual designs for heroes and items, fresh yet familiar enough for us to recognize what they were in DotA.
Not long after TI1, I was lucky to get a closed beta key. I used it to test the game. I also created a blog to share experience and update the changes after each patch for everyone (Probably no one read it 🤣). I even designed and coded an app that introduces Dota 2 as my final project for the interactive multimedia course.
Between 2012 and 2014, Dota 2 grew extremely fast. I played a lot during this period and enjoyed all the in-game events so much. TI3 was one of the most special TI. Not only because it was the first TI that introduced Compendium (later changed to Battle Pass, an interactive ticket for players to track statistics, make predictions, earn rewards) and crowdfunding prize pool, but also because of the epic performances of participating teams, especially the legendary grand finals. It was the first TI I watched from start to finish.
After getting married in 2015, I no longer play as much as before, mostly just follow and update the news or watch tournaments. If I play, I usually play with bots so I can relax and practice. Public matches sometimes too but very little and only when I’m in party with my friends.
I came to Manila Major with my wife in 2016. It was a great event, amazing production, incredible crowd. Sadly, I didn’t come in time to attend the photo booth session with Alliance’s TI3 lineup. That’s extremely unfortunate because it was the last chance for me to meet this legendary lineup before they completely disbanded shortly after.
It’s hard to believe that Dota 2 has come such a long way, no less than DotA in its prime age. During that time, it has undergone so many changes and became more mature. I can’t forget the excitement when Dota 2 Reborn was introduced. Or the overwhelmed emotions while watching the short video summarizing all 6.xx versions, and then burst into tears when the version number leaped to 7.00, ending a glorious era and opening a new one.
I like Dota because it’s a flexible and enjoyable game, and love it because of all the memories and emotions it has brought me. I have learned new things and made new friends, thanks to Dota.
No one knows what Dota will be in the future. 8.xx? Dota 3? Or it will be a ded gaem for real? Que será, será. But Dota will forever remain in my heart and be a memorable part of my life.