So there I was, going up the middle lane alongside a bunch of my creeps. Across the river stands Zeus, the God of Thunder, pacing around behind his own creeps, seemingly like a general directing his troops in battle, but really more like a predator waiting to strike. I had my gameplan, which I stuck to since the beginning: I would harass him by attacking and sending claps of thunder – slightly ironic, I know – his way, and when he runs I would send him back to where he was four seconds ago and keep hitting until he goes down. It helped that I knew he was going to stick around when he should be running, even if I knew that he had a similar plan.
I went in and he managed to kill me as I was retreating. When I got back to life, I went in again and he killed me again, but not without me landing a finishing blow as well. When I came back, he and a friend teamed up to kill me a third time.
And I would continue to die and die and die. Most of the time it was through my own fault; but I guess you can say it was all my fault, even when it might not have been, because the enemy grew stronger and I stayed the same each time they slew my sorry ass.
Needless to say, we went on to lose that game.
For the unfamiliar, this is the world of DOTA 2 and all the games related to it, including the original on Warcraft III. DOTA is a team game, like a lot of other games online, and gamers on the internet are an admittedly unmerciful bunch because it’s easy (too easy) to be a tough guy behind the cold blue light of a computer screen. This growing corner of the web is no different. If you do not play up to a decent standard – and you must, at the very least, because one terrible player can drag an entire team down – your teammates will let you have it. Just thank your god that the game doesn’t have a kick function for underperforming players.
And have it did they let me. After my fourth or so death they started saying that I sucked ass and calling me a feeder – all understandable sentiments, and all the same thoughts I would have towards lesser players, if I myself were still the good player I was years ago. They were right. I did drag the team down. I’m not running away from that.
But that doesn’t faze me or hurt my pride at all, because I was perfectly aware of where my current skill level was coming into the game. I hadn’t played proper DOTA in years save for a couple of pick-up games with my friends a few months ago, and I’d only been playing DOTA 2 for less than a week. I’m not saying my team should’ve been thankful I could still net more than a couple of kills, but I wasn’t a total noob out there. Nor do I want to be a mindless drone again, spending too much time on this particular video game just to be really, really good at it – and to what end? So I can wield superiority over some people I don’t and will never know in real life?
What they should be grateful for, though, is that I didn’t quit – even if we were losing so badly, even if deep inside they might have wanted me to – because that would be a bigger violation of rules both official and unspoken. Some people haven’t gotten it through their heads that what you do when you’re losing reveals your character. I chose to continue playing the best I can, so that I keep on learning and re-learning the game, reprogramming the things I should be doing so that I can do better the next time around. All because I know I suck, and I’m perfectly fine with that. It allows me to be honest about how much I need to work on.
See, the thing is DOTA 2’s in-game match finder doesn’t discriminate between who’s a good player and who isn’t (at least, to the best of my knowledge). The Battle Points leveling system is more of a log of how many matches and hours you’ve spent in the game than it is of how skillful you are overall. So the only way you know if the rest of your team is any good is to find out the hard way in the heat of battle.
And the practice field isn’t really a huge help. Going at it with artificial intelligence is all right when you’re trying to learn someone new, but it does not really prepare you for the brutal reality of playing against fellow nerds around the world. (Or maybe I just haven’t logged enough time fighting bots.) Either way, the dilemma then becomes: at which point after killing X bots and winning N of these games should you become confident and take on humans? Should you wait until you can beat an entire team of Unfair androids, or is it better to hone your skills on players with heartbeats, taking all the flak that comes with it?
I guess it depends on what you want to do. I want to play with actual people, so I’m just trying to get back to a level which is socially acceptable. And that means not being insanely good at this game. Yes, I don’t really like it when I let anyone down in a match, but I’m not going to beat myself up if I play in a way worthy of being cussed out and raged on in real life.
I don’t know if it’s a mark of maturity that I can look at DOTA and playing it in a relatively nonchalant manner, that I can scoff at those who take it too seriously, at those who can play the game too well. I would certainly hope not, because I know that people like this the way I like other things too much. But at the very least, I’m glad to say that right now, I’ve gotten over that part of my life where the way I played this game was a very huge deal.
So to the people I will play with and against in the future, I apologize in advance because I will disappoint you someway, somehow with all my relative casualness. This is my gameplan, and I don’t care. I play this game to have fun. And deep down, I hope you do too.