Dota 2 is an incredibly complex game that can take years to master, but for the uninitiated, we’ve broken things down the key elements that you’ll need to know to get a handle on what’s going on.
Dota 2 is often shortened to Dota, which is not to be confused with Defense of the Ancients or DotA, which was Dota 2’s predecessor.
In Dota 2, two teams of five players are separated into factions known as The Radiant and The Dire. Before each game, the teams will choose 10 unique heroes to play during a pre-game drafting phase. There are 112 heroes in Dota 2, but professional matches are generally played in what is called Captain’s Mode, which currently has 110 heroes available to choose from. The drafting phase includes both picks and bans stages, as each team will ban five heroes over the course of the draft.
Here is what the pick/ban phase looks like in Captain’s Mode. It's simulated to represent what happens when Radiant goes first, but nothing would change should Dire go first.
Dota’s map is made up of three lanes that run between each of the two team’s bases. Each lane spawns groups of creeps at set intervals throughout the game. Creeps are melee and ranged units that are allied with the Radiant and Dire teams, and march down each of the three lanes until they meet somewhere in the middle and fight each other. Heroes can “farm” enemy creeps to gain experience and gold if they can deal the killing blow. If a hero is close enough to an enemy creep when they die, they will receive experience. Similarly, if a hero deals the killing blow to one of their own creeps, they reduce the amount of experience gained by enemy heroes in the area and deny them the potential gold. Experience is used to level up a hero (to a maximum Level 25) and gold is used to purchase items.
As for the three lanes, each of them contain three towers. A team’s Ancient is located in the center of their base, and destroying the enemy team’s Ancient ends the game . A Tier 2 tower cannot be damaged until the corresponding Tier 1 tower in the same lane is destroyed, and so on. In order to win the game one team must destroy enough towers to be able to damage the two Tier 4 towers in the base (which can be killed as soon as any Tier 3 tower has fallen), and then take down the Ancient itself.
Barracks control creep spawns, and when an enemy’s Melee or Ranged Barracks is destroyed, the melee or ranged creeps spawning from your base become stronger. If a team destroys all six of an enemy’s barracks, their creeps become Mega Creeps which are much stronger and difficult to kill. A team with the Mega Creeps advantage usually wins, but comebacks against Megas are not unheard of.
Heroes can travel between the lanes through two different regions: the jungle and the river. The river is a vulnerable place to travel because it is the lowest point on the map, and heroes cannot see uphill without another source of vision (this could be an Observer Ward, an allied tower or allied hero). The jungle contains several camps that spawn creatures periodically throughout the game. Jungle camps are a valuable source of gold and experience in addition to killing creeps and heroes.
Image credit: Valve
There are 148 purchasable items in Dota 2, plus “Recipes,” which combine specific items to make more powerful ones. There is also the Aegis of the Immortal and Cheese, which are dropped by Roshan, a powerful neutral monster located in a cave near the river. The Aegis drops every time that Roshan is killed and brings the holder back to life when killed (however it disappears if it has not been used in five minutes). Cheese only drops from the third Roshan kill onward, and may be used at a time of the players’ choosing to restore 2500 health and 1000 mana. Unlike the Aegis, Cheese does not disappear if it’s not used in a set amount of time.
Each hero has unique active and passive abilities that can turn the tides of battle. Active abilities, also known as spells, can only be used when they are available — factors affecting their availability include a hero’s mana (a resource used primarily for spells), whether the spell has been used recently and whether the hero is under the influence of status effects (some heroes can use spells to stop other heroes from using spells, these types of spells are most often called “Silences”). Some heroes use their health to cast some spells, and mana to cast others.
There are several roles that each player in a game of Dota 2 fits into. Here is an overview:
Carry (Position 1)
The carry is traditionally allocated the largest share of the team’s gold and experience. Carry heroes are quite literally meant to carry their team to victory by building the most expensive items and being one of their team’s main damage dealers. Carries usually start the game in the safe-lane, but as with many things in Dota 2, this is not a hard and fast rule, with teams adapting to the heroes in the enemy team’s lanes as necessary. Many carry heroes are Agility heroes, which usually rely on basic attacks to deal damage.
Common Heroes: Gyrocopter, Anti-Mage, Juggernaut
Mid lane (Position 2)
The mid laner is usually alone in (you guessed it) the middle lane. Sometimes, a mid laner is babysat by a support because they are often the focus of ganks, which is a word used to describe early moves where one team’s heroes gang up on the other team’s hero in an attempt to kill them. Mid laners are usually allocated the second most gold and experience on a team and are also a major damage dealer in fights.
Common Heroes: Invoker, Dragon Knight, Queen of Pain
Offlane (Position 3)
The offlaner is often left alone to fend for themselves against multiple heroes in the enemy’s safelane. Offlane heroes are typically initiators, or the ones to start fights using their abilities and items. Their role is considered “core,” and they have more farm allocated to them than supports do, however they often do not accumulate much gold in the early game unless they are laning against a solo enemy hero. Against a lane with two or more enemy heroes, it is often safer to stay in range to get experience from creeps dying to other creeps, but to only go for last hits when it’s safe.
Common Heroes: Broodmother, Enigma, Dark Seer
Jungle (Position 4)
Not every Dota game has junglers, but sometimes when a team feels that their lanes are strong enough without two supports, or that they can afford to be a bit more greedy, they’ll pick a hero to start off in the jungle. Having a hero in the jungle also means that the other heroes will have a more even distribution of experience, giving the team with the jungler the potential to have a level advantage early on. Jungling heroes generally have units they can control or summon to hit the jungle creeps, or have an ability or passive that allows them to heal (known as lifesteal) when they use their basic attacks.
Common Heroes: Chen, Enchantress, Axe
Support (Position 4 / 5)
Supports are the poorest members of a Dota team, both financially and when talking about experience. If there is no hero in the jungle, there are two supports on a team. They are allocated significantly less gold than the team's cores, and are the primary purchasers of consumable vision items called Observer Wards and Sentry Wards. Support heroes have useful spells that they can use to control enemy heroes in fights, or save allied heroes, but often have lower health compared to core heroes and must position themselves very carefully in fights to avoid being killed. Killing a support is valued less than killing a carry because the net worth of a hero, as well as their previous kill score affects the amount of gold given for killing them, and cores heroes usually have more farm and kills than supports. Often, one support hero will primarily stay in lane with the carry while the other is more focused on roaming between lanes to help the team where needed.
Common Heroes: Io, Earthshaker, Phoenix
Annabelle "Abelle" Fischer is a writer for theScore esports with a love for Dota 2, birds and cheese. You can follow her on Twitter.