The MOBA genre is not one that welcomes new players with open arms. It is renowned for its hostile playerbase, arcane mechanics and utter refusal to make things clear to newcomers. Many aspiring players have tried the stormy waters of the genre, hopeful to find whatever it is that makes these games the most popular PC games in the world. Most find themselves daunted by the murky depths of unintuitive gameplay and turbulent metagame, left shipwrecked on the cold, uncaring shores of verbal abuse and hostile attitudes. The cold hard truth is that playing MOBA games, and especially when starting out, is not always very fun. However, I am going to claim that you should still play them. Why? Keep reading.
When it comes to MOBA games, you cannot ignore the fact that there are in fact three very similar games with extremely vocal and trenched-in supporters behind each one. You have the smooth, (relatively) newbie-friendly and straightforward League of Legends, the almost-but-not-quite-DotA-Allstars Heroes of Newreth with it’s legendarily pissy players, and the latest challenger, Valve’s massive remake of the original, Dota 2. In truth, it doesn’t even matter which one you play, since they all share the same features that make these games great. My personal preference is Dota 2, and as the culture surrounding the game dictates, I will defend my choice against those fucking carebear casual LoL-fanboys and dimwitted copycat HoN-idiots till my last breath. MOBA games, as you can see, are serious business.
So, what it is that makes Dota 2 so damn good that you should waste your time listening to loudmouthed teenagers cursing and criticizing every single aspect of your being? Why would you play a game that might offer you nothing more than the most aggravating 45 minutes you have ever spent in front of a computer monitor?
You should do it because Dota 2 offers the most insightful, poignant and beautifully complex-yet-elegant competitive space I have ever experienced. Dota 2 is not a silly video game, it’s an incredibly deep team sport that combines the speed of ice hockey with the brutality of rugby and cognitive challenge of chess. It’s ridiculously smart, endlessly clever and always surprising. You can never learn everything it has to offer, it defies complete mastery. There is always something new, something you haven’t considered, some neat play that leaves you flabbergasted when it’s used to wipe the floor with you. Its design is an enigma, shaped by the limitations and quirks of its Warcraft 3 roots and honed to perfection with years of dedicated work and playtesting. It feels evolved and strangely organic, like a pebble on a beach, smoothed by the water. It offers such wide range of emotions during play; any game can be fun, but only very few can take a player from being so terribly infuriated into triumphantly joyous and right back within only a few minutes of play.
You should do it because Dota 2 is a social game unlike anything else. You should never play it with strangers, but with four of your friends, if only to know them better. You might be good pals and you might’ve known for years, but nothing brings a person’s true colors to light better than facing adversity, and Dota 2 is all about adversity. You will get beaten up and you will get humiliated and when you are going through this as a group, you will learn things about your friends that you might’ve wished you didn’t. Dota 2 is a game that tests friendships, and might break those too weak to withstand its assault. The clever thing is that it does this not by pulling you apart, but instead by pushing you together, by forcing you to plan and act together. There is no distance between you and your teammates, you are living and breathing dependent on each others’ actions and choices. One player’s mistake might cause all five of you to fail. This sort of closeness is intimate, it invades your comfort zone and challenges your notions of social interaction. It supercharges all emotions, good and bad. Nothing causes quite as much cheer as a perfectly coordinated five-man masterstroke that leaves the opposing team baffled while you and your friends stride together into victory. It feels glorious to share that triumph, knowing you did it together.
Ultimately, you should play Dota 2 because it’s a game that challenges you. It challenges you to learn its mystical ways. It challenges you to hone your skills and knowledge against other players. It even challenges you to become a better person, by requiring you to work with extremely unfriendly people. It challenges even your friendships and questions your connections to the people you play it with. Dota 2 throws all this in your face, and the clever thing is, it doesn’t teach you the right answers or show you the way. Dota 2 demands you to improve yourself, by yourself. It baits you forward with with that intoxicating rush you feel when everything falls into place, you wipe the opposing team, and you know it wasn’t by an accident. It taunts you with that crushing feeling when you have to endure 20 minutes of trash talk from the opposing team as they slowly insert their metal-toed boot up your ass. Dota 2 never apologizes and Dota 2 never makes it easy for you. In a way, it’s a lot like growing up.
You shouldn’t play Dota 2 because it might be fun. You should play Dota 2 because it might make you feel bad. Not too many games can manage that.