How to Play Dota 2, a Beginner’s Guide

by Fabio

We know that Dota 2 is not an easy game to get into. There’s quite a lot of knowledge required before you will make your first kill, let alone become an impactful part of your team. All the heroes, abilities and items in this MOBA game can be overwhelming at first, we understand that. However, there’s no shame in asking for a little bit of help. So stick around, after this Dota 2 guide you will have learned the basics of how to play Dota 2!

The Creatures of Dota 2

There are quite a lot of creatures that you will come across in this game. Most importantly, there are heroes. Every player chooses a hero at the start of a match, depending on their role. Some characters work well in a supportive position, others can deal huge amounts of damage. It’s up to you which direction you want to pursue, but a well-balanced composition of heroes can take you and your team a long way.

During the match, you will see an awful lot of tiny monsters run around on the map. These are called creeps and will attack the opponents and their buildings. You can kill those in order to farm gold, which will enable you to buy items. More on that later.

Finally, there is Roshan. This gigantic monster is a centerpiece of Dota 2. Slaying it will grant your team boosts and, most importantly, will drop an item called the ‘Aegis of the Immortal’, which gives its holder the ability to instantly revive after having been killed. 

Understanding the Dota 2 Map

Here, we are only covering the basics. If you want to know how to play Dota 2 there is a lot more to learn. But you can’t learn all of it at once. Most crucially, you won’t be able to process everything and apply it to your game at this early stage.

Overview of the Dota 2 map
The Dota 2 map, labelled (dota2.gamepedia.com)

Dota 2 is played with ten players on the server, divided up into two teams. These teams have bases, which sit at opposite sides of the map. One side is called ‘The Dire’, the other is called ‘The Radiant’. During the game, it is your team’s task to destroy your opponents base, but before you can do that, a few obstacles stand in your way.

Most of the map is jungle area. Here, lots of experience and gold can be generated through clearing creep camps. In the middle of the map, the two factions are separated by a river, which is where you can find the Roshan pit as well. 

The mid-lane is the fastest and most direct way to your opponents base. On the sides, each team has a so-called safe-lane and a hard-lane. See those small tower symbols? Within a specific radius, these structures will attack oncoming enemies and serve as a safety beacon for you and your teammates.

Let’s assume you’re playing on the Radiant side. On the bottom right side, your towers actually reach quite far out into enemy territory, whereas the towers on the top left are pushed back a bit. This means that, if you’re advancing on the bottom side, you have a much smaller distance to travel in order to get back into safety. If you’re pushing the top side, the farther you go the less protection you have. That’s where the terms ‘safe- and hard-lane’ come from, by the way! 

Can’t I Just Run Into The Enemy Base and Win This Thing Already?

Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy. The base has three entrances and each one is covered by yet another tower. You need to dismantle at least one of them in order to get access into the enemy base, where you have to face two more towers guarding the Ancient, which you need to destroy in order to finally win the game.

Destroying the towers guarding the base also reveals the barracks. If you demolish one of your opponent’s barracks, you will start spawning super-creeps on its corresponding lane. These creeps are much stronger and will force the enemy team to dedicate much more time to fighting them. 

Now you might think that a match of Dota 2 revolves around running down the lanes, destroying the towers, unleashing super-creeps and finally bringing down the Ancient. Of course it’s still much more complicated than that!

Camps and Objectives

There are lots of neutral creeps in Dota 2. These creatures don’t belong to any of the sides (unlike the lane creeps) and are just there to farm gold and experience. Additionally, they drop so-called ‘neutral items’, which can be really useful. Most of these creatures are concentrated into camps. These camps exist in different sizes and difficulties and will scale along as the game progresses. This means that they can stay useful and relevant even late into the game.

Video of a fight around the Roshan Pit
A fight in and around the Roshan pit (Kotaku Australia)

Killing Roshan showers your team with useful items and rewards. After his first death (and onwards) he releases the ‘Aegis of the Immortal’, which will give one of your heroes the ability to instantly revive. The second kill gets your team the ‘Cheese’ as well, which completely restores mana and health. Kill number three adds either a ‘Refresher Shard’ (resets ability cooldowns) or ‘Aghanim’s Blessing’ (useful ability booster) and all subsequent kills will release all of those four items. Slaying Roshan grants additional bonuses as well, which makes this action an absolutely critical venture for both teams. Often times, a fight around the Roshan pit may decide an entire game.

Match Phases

Not counting the hero draft at the start of the game, a Dota 2 match can roughly be split into three different phases. In each of these phases, the players have distinct objectives to accomplish in order to set themselves up for the next portion of the match. Learning how to play Dota 2 is all about understand what you have to achieve in each of these phases.

During the laning phase, the heroes are tasked with generating as much gold through farming as possible. They’re supposed to grind levels fast, buy lots of items and become strong before the fights start to break out. 

During the mid game, the teams will clash in 5-versus-5 situations and try to to fight over map objectives. Those can be towers, camps and, most importantly, Roshan. Often times, the game is decided here. Once a team starts to amass a huge gold difference, they can effectively steamroll the game. This will force the enemy team into yet more fights, resulting in even more gold and experience for their side. 

The late game is where it gets really dangerous to move out alone. At this point, if the game has not already ended, the big damage dealers will have completed all of their items and will be insanely strong. Again, the teams will try to advance in formation and many 5-versus-5 fights will ensue. Only few buildings will still be left standing and it is imperative to finally demolish those. The barracks need to be destroyed in order to spawn super creeps and if all barracks are down, you will be spawning mega creeps left and right. Usually, this signals the end of the match. In professional Dota 2 tournament history, only few teams have ever managed to come back after their opponents had acquired mega creeps. 

Roles and Positions

In Dota 2, players and their heroes can be put into countless different roles and positions. Unlike in League of Legends or some other MOBA games, these are not set in stone. The margins between the roles are fluid and often times, heroes can fill multiple purposes. Generally, there are five different roles, which correspond to individual positions in the game. 

Three of those are defined as the core heroes, who are set up to grow into the big damage dealers as the game progresses. The below positions are sorted in order of farming priority. This means that position 1 should generate the most gold through farming creeps.

Position 1: Carry

The carry occupies the safelane and is set up by his teammates to become the most dangerous and lethal figure within the late game. During the laning stage, the carry will work hard on acquiring massive amounts of gold, enabling them to buy lots of useful items and strengthening them for the combat to come, which will take place during the mid- and late-game. The carry will never initiate a fight, so as not to become the primary target for their opponents. But once a teamfight ensues, will have to take out the supports and damage dealers of the enemy team. 

But beware, carries are usually weakest during the laning phase. They are susceptible to rotating heroes and ganks (group attacks). So the most difficult part of being a carry is surviving this stage and coming out with lots of gold and experience.

Position 2: Mid Core

In Dota 2, the mid hero takes on a long list of tasks. As the only hero that is working alone, strong game sense is an absolute must. Here, you’re responsible for farming and levelling all by yourself. Usually usually there is no one around to support you if things get heated on your lane. 

If you have reached Level 6 and feel somewhat confident, you can branch out into the other two lanes. You could try to gank on the enemy heroes, as it is especially important to suppress these early on. Conversely, if you can’t seem to find your opponent on the mid lane, you have to signal that to your mates immediately. That player could be well on their way towards ganking your team!

Draft between Team Liquid and OG at The International 2019
A draft between Team Liquid and OG at The International 2019 (Reddit)

Position 3: Offlaner

By default, the offlaner is never really meant to dominate their lane. Playing on the hard-lane (which means the safe-lane for your opponents), the offlaner’s task is really only to try to counteract the enemy carry and to try to keep their farm as low as possible. 

Because the creep waves on the offlane meet so much closer to your opponents’ tower, tanks or heroes with escape abilities are usually best-suited for this role. You want to avoid dying, but also engage the enemy carry enough to distract them from their job.

Position 4: Utility Support

Utility supports need to assist their core heroes. Often they can do that by directly contributing on one lane, for instance helping the carry secure early kills. They can also roam and help out on other lanes, or secure gold and experience in the jungle. While it is their priority to not get in the way of the cores in terms of farming and scaling, they are supposed to slowly start building up their own inventory. 

Position 5: Hard Support

Hard supports are the sacrificial lambs of Dota 2. If you’re playing this position, you need to be prepared to die often and to throw yourself between your cores and the enemy if the fight becomes too heated. Usually, you will see hard supports reaching the mid game with only a handful of items bought. Only when the utility support has started to amass some value are they supposed to start building items themselves. 

With a role like this, you will have to ensure that your cores can achieve their farming goals and keep away the opposing players. In terms of representation on the final scoreboard, this may be the least thankful role – but it is just as crucial as any other in Dota 2!

Items and Item Builds

Finally, we want to talk about items in this Dota 2 Beginners’ Guide. There is no way to provide a conclusive overview for all the items in Dota 2, let alone a guide on which item to use for which champion. Here, the game can help you massively. Purchasing guides are incorporated into the buying menu, so that you can always look up which items your hero needs in order to grow. 

Read: The Most Exciting Dota 2 Games Ever Played

What Do You Do Next?

Now that you know the basics of how to play Dota 2, there is nothing stopping you from jumping into a match. Before you do that, however, we advise you to decide on a couple of things. 

First, you need to determine the role that you want to fill. Your team’s success depends on everyone working towards creating a functional team composition, so it is never a good idea to just pick a hero you like and choose your lane at random. 

After you’ve decided on the role, the hero should be next. Ideally you would want to know the hero and their abilities before the match. Especially in those mid- and late-game scenarios, where split-second decisions make all the difference, you don’t want to waste precious time by looking down on your screen to find out what your abilities are. 

Nobody starts off as a master and you will likely receive a few hits before you actually manage to do something useful in the game. Dota 2 is a learning experience and if you pay close attention to what your teammates are doing, you might pick up on some really handy strategies. 

One last tip on how to play Dota 2- it’s always a great idea to watch professional or semi-professional gameplay. With every match you review you will understand more and more of what’s going on. As a result, you will start to apply these tactics to your own gameplay. 

If you find that competitive Dota 2 is right up your alley, you might want to consider heading back to Bitspawn. We offer amateur and semi-professional tournaments. You can measure your strengths against other players and win lots of prizes. Most importantly, you can display your skill to the rest of the world. Who knows… maybe the next Dota 2 pro might be you!

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