DotA 2 – A Modern MOBA Giant

I am never a hard-core gamer before. Athough I do have ever played good RTS games like StarCraft, Red Alert 2 or Empire Age, as well as others such as the famous FPS game – Counter Strike, I have never spent any second on Multiple online battle area (MOBA) games before. I can still remember clearly the time when all of my friends were crazy about Warcraft and Defense of the Ancients, because that was the first time I knew that some games are really popular, but I didn’t try it, until recently I got my hands on the DotA 2.

First things first, DotA 2, as a MOBA illustrator, is impossible to play on mobile devices or game consoles that without a mouse, so it has only been released on PC and Mac platforms. Similarly, the well known Riot Game’s League of Legends is the same, being accessible only on computers. The reason for that is because these MOBA games are so in depth, with tons of options and settings, and requiring a lot of accurate clicks and drags throughout the game session. Typically, a DotA 2 session can go from 40 to 50-minute uninterrupted time, with a 5 V 5 competitive gameplay. Thus saying, DotA 2 is also a team play game. You’ll need teammates to cooperate together to destroy the base of the other side, and vice versa.

It is an extremely difficult game to get hands on, since its depth in gameplay. But once you are in, you are in for life. If you are a casual gamer, it might not be the one for you, but if you are a purist, you have very little room to complain about its excellence in practice of MOBA. Being such a deep and well-balanced game, it is not without drawbacks. For example, it is too “harsh” on newbies, and it is also not mobile-welcoming. The complexity it possesses is a gem but also a fallback. It also lacks in the customization in skins and items, just like what Apple does to its iOS, limiting what the gamers to do to change the looks in the game, while instead offers exclusive skins on sale to attract hard core fans.

That said, it is a great game to be learned from if you are interested in the market of MOBA games, but it is also important to keep its dissect simple to not let readers down. Analyzing DotA 2 truly could be written into an entire book with tons of details and complexity.

The Core Loop

The DotA 2 can be simplified into the following loop: you use a hero to perform different game actions, with the goal to get more money. You can either do so buy killing enemy creeps or heroes, or you can do it to neutral creatures. With the money you get, the game offers a variety of items that can be purchased and equipped to heroes, all contributing to different ways. By making your hero stronger and stronger both in levels and items, you will have to finish the ultimate goal to destroy the enemies’ base to win the game, or your base being destroyed to lose the game.


DotA 2 is a free-to-play game, meaning it must have a clear long-term aspiration that appeals to the game’s target audience. This aspiration is, similar to The Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game, supported by medium-term goals that seem achievable to the player but are far enough away to require continued investment in time. I’ll use the Mad Lib-like framework to help see if this game hits all the notes:

• In this game, I: Use a hero to perform game actions

• To: Win this game with teammates

• That helps me: Understand the heroes and items

• That lets me: Become a better player

Perhaps the King of Free Games?

After you install the game, apply the updates, go through the guides and finish your first-ever DotA 2 game, you will be stunned that it really has everything right in front of your face without any further purchases. You’ll be able to play over 60 heroes and over 100 items with no limitations. The only currency you’ll use to affect the balance of the gameplay is the “coins” you earn in games. It basically means the better you are in this game, the better chance you’ll have to be rich in the gameplay, enabling you to purchase better items to increase your heroes’ abilities and making you more likely to win the game.

It’s quite different from the majority of free games in the market – you can’t purchase these coins. Gamers have to be in the game and get money themselves, making this game totally equal for different type of users. Helped by its depth in complexity, it has encouraged all gamers to explore and discover the endless fun in this game, without the worry of investing unnecessary money.

Short-Term Progression – Win the Game!

As a multiplayer game, it has a lot of channels to win the game. You can either go for a kill with the help of teammates directly, or individually. You can jump into the jungle directly to farm and get levels and money, and later you go out and kill. The MOBA system ensures there’re tons of possibilities in the gameplay, but in short there’re three prominent strategies.

The first one being a good liner. You get money from executing the last fatal move against a neutral substance or an enemy, otherwise you will only get experience with no money. Being a good liner can ensure you to have a chance to become both rich and high levels in the game.

The second one is to be a good jungler. There’re different sectors of jungles in the game, with different type of neutral creatures. Some of them are difficult to be killed but some of them are relatively weak. Being in the jungle can be more “quite” sometimes but it also contains a lot of risks of being killed by enemies since it is far away from your teammates standing in the lanes.

The third one is to be a team player. Some heroes are more capable of helping other heroes to get the kills instead of being a good money-maker. Also, by helping a hero to grow means your team will have a powerful late game hero since you are sacrificing your resource to him.

Fog of War is another important factor impacting the strategies you’ll use. You won’t be able to see anything that is not a friendly unit in the dark. This feature grants a ton of possible game plays with different type of heroes. If every player can see the whole map at once, it will be a very boring game since the map will not be changed after all.

Then how to win a game? After all it comes to the core of the game, the hero’s ability and the items you use in the game. Typically, a hero can have 3 special abilities and one ultimate move with greater damage to enemies. And each hero can only equip up to 6 items at the same time, but can carry three extra but inaccessible items in the backpack that can be used by putting them in the 6-item slots. Apart from the many strategies in the gameplay, the many combination of abilities and items are another important factor in winning a game.

Medium-Term Goals – Understand the heroes and items

Like what we discussed above, the complexity of this game lies not only in the strategies that can be used to win a game, but also in the tons of details and combinations in the hero’s abilities and items. Heroes are divided into three types: Strength, Agility and Intelligence. But within each type there’re still more detailed difference: some heroes can carry the whole team, while some heroes can only support; some heroes can go to farm in jungle at once, while some others have to wait until they are in higher levels to farm. After winning some games, players will be attracted to how vast the “Heroes’ Ocean” is, and will be eager to discover more out of this. Being good at a hero takes time, while being good at all heroes takes a huge amount of time in practice, and nearly impossible.

But that is not all for this game. The endless combination of items is also a factor driving players to keep his adventure in this game. The good news is all of these fancy items are accessible in games as long as you have enough money to afford them. Moreover, there’s no winning formulas for which hero should get which items to get the win, it all depends on the situation at the time, so it adds tremendous space for players to think and take actions.

Aspiration – Want to be better player?

If DotA is just a multiplayer platform where you can play 5 V 5 games with your friends against others, it will be not as successful as it is now in keeping players in this game for such a long time. The introduction of an MMR (Matchmaking Rating) in the server region makes this game extremely fun to invest time in, because simply we all want to be a better player. MMR is a value that determines the skill level of each player, and this value is used in matchmaking. Winning increases a player’s MMR, while losing decreases it. If you keeps getting better, you will be matched to higher-level players, too. So, after all, what makes it so addicted?

I’d like to raise the famous Nintendo game: Pokemon, as an example. The joy of playing Pokemon is not only in getting new Pokemons throughout the journey, but also in using the Pokemons you get to win battles with others. It is a really addictive model for games if there’s a system in which you can duel against players around the world, especially, in DotA 2, you are facing real players instead of AI bots. If you are good, why not show the entire world that you are excellent in this game, although it is an extremely tough task to accomplish.


DotA 2 is not originally designed to be a social game, since it is not linked to any kind of social networks. However, if we take a look at the game itself, it has contained every aspect a social game should have got.

Gifting and Invite Flows

DotA 2 has its own social system. Players can add other players using their own IDs. It is not limited to the player’s friends only, for example, after playing a good performance game with 4 other nice teammates, although they are strangers to you, but you can still add them to invite and play together in the future.

On the other hand, you can send gifts to your friends or even strangers. Sending Gifts, majorly being decorations which we are going to talk about later, is a good way to show your appreciation, because all the fancy decorations are not free!

Competition and Cooperation

As a MOBA game, it not only takes cooperation between your teammates but the competent spirits throughout the game. Teammates cooperate together to kill, to farm and get money. Sharing information with each other can get the best combination of all items equipped to friendly units, and get a better chance to kill enemy heroes when they are alone.

Nevertheless, the enemy team is thinking exactly the same as you do. They are also fighting together for the limited resource around the map, and want to destroy your base anytime soon. With 10 players in the game, we get over 40 abilities/moves and endless possibility in using items. This makes DotA 2 a very competitive game, and there’s nothing like a draw in it.

A Nearly Perfect Watch System

What is the best way to improve yourself while getting connected to others in the game – to watch how others play the hero, right? DotA 2 has built in a “TV” system on which you can watch live games being played by other players. Typically the live games are ranked from highest MMR scores to lowest, with options such as selecting a specific hero’s perspective to watch, selecting reporter’s perspective to watch and a lot of others. Having a watch system successfully makes this game an endless fun in social. In the watch system everything is connected, because you are not only getting the video itself, all of the items, special abilities the hero has are shown exactly the same as if you are playing the game, except the fact that you can’t apply them to “invade” their game play. Audience are also connected together, because they can chat on the platform, or listen to the team radio or reporter.


DotA 2 is not a game asking for player’s money to play, instead it is totally free. However there’s some areas where the developer has been succeeded in getting money from players, voluntarily.


Valve (developer of the DotA 2) has offered some customization in the games. For example, you can change your heroes’ looking by purchasing different packages from the store. Apart from decorating the heroes, players can also change the looking of the maps, slightly though.

Peripheral products

While not making money directly from the game itself too much, the developer has successfully utilized the love from the game fans, and both created and licensed the DotA 2 peripheral products to others. As a successful and long-lasting game, it is qualified to do it, just like what Nintendo has done to monetize from its famous IPs.


DotA 2 is famous for its fun and complexity when you are all in for this game. It is totally free to all players, making it a long-lasting and competitive game around the world. While it seems to be harsh to new players, it offers a very solid combination of short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Plus, its social feature adds to its excellence to the optimal extent without ruling out the fun to play with friends. It’s really difficult to be picky about this game, and it still grows day by day, thanks to the active development from Valve.

With all being said, I cannot simply say that DotA 2 is the best MOBA game out there, but I am confident to assert, it is the gem of MOBA games nowadays.

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