This game has become too binary.

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I only played Dota during the days of Battlenet up until maybe early 2014 and never took it very seriously. I came back a month ago to see how the game is doing and I'm disappointed with what I found.

Ranks on absolutely everything! Ranked ladder (with random matchmaking no less; RIP community servers) that you're told "put people into similar brackets based on skill" yet simultaneously fail to stop the perpetual phenomenon of smurfing. You're ranked on how well you "behave" (also totally dependent on who you meet in random matchmaking, it's a tattletale system by a different name. RIP community servers yet again.) Ranks for Fortnite-esque battle pass crap that impart ugly server-side cosmetics and encourage dropping real world cash on microtransactions. Ranks for heroes (that I'm pretty sure don't do anything except let you spam obnoxious voice lines in-game.) Ranks for the mentioned ugly cosmetics. There's all this ranked garbage to simultaneously try and distract you from the state of the game and make you play in the "most efficient way," which stomps all over the roots of Dota. Valve can only seem to entice players with these carrots on a string. It's indicative of a group of people who are insecure about their ability to design a simple, enjoyable game you'd play for the fun of it.

Despite the emphasis on being as efficient as possible during every second of the match (for fear of "losing rank" or "dropping your behavior score") the actual available options for each hero has shrank drastically. You don't really see anything like this anymore, and if you do it's at such a low "behavior score" or rank that you just know the guy got punished & sent there (by his randomized teammates and Valve's unmanned moderation system) for disobeying established meta. I don't see any weird experimentation like bloodstone Medusa anymore because everyone is aware disobeying the rules will simply never, ever work. Heroes are too centralized around particular builds, items or other binary visions for the character. A lot of heroes are also overly-efficient (which doesn't mean overpowered, it means they can accomplish a lot with very little and then accomplish even more when itemized or snowballing. Meepo, PL and Clinkz come to mind.) It's so contrary to the original Dota that I'm not even confident Icefrog still designs this game anymore. A lot of the current state of the game feels as though it's been ripping pages out of League of Legends' playbook, presumably because Valve noticed that game never stops making money.

Introducing new heroes or items only to then nerf them over and over. I have less to say about this (obviously I didn't play a lot of these heroes during their heyday) but it's indicative of the above design philosophies that make Dota look less like Dota. A part of me is surprised that unique heroes like Invoker or Pudge still sort of resemble their original designs, since all these new characters, items and map mechanics that Valve tries to introduce to shake things up are summarily cut back down. I don't totally understand why this is so maybe someone can explain it to me. Do people simply complain about new stuff and Valve nerfs them? Or do they follow ratios (like win/loss rate) and use that to determine what needs drastic nerfs (which is "almost everything")?

I don't like being totally negative so I'll at least try to offer solutions. These will seem basic, but that's because Dota was a pretty basic game outside of the limitations of Warcraft 3's engine.

  • Step away from the focus on ranks & climbing/falling numbers. These things shouldn't carry any sort of prestige in the first place, that's what LAN tournaments are for. People ignore the game itself and hone in on these ranks; if you make a game that's enjoyable in its own right, you won't need this stuff.
  • If you aren't confident you (Valve, Icefrog) alone can carry the burden of Dota, elevate and simplify the in-client creator tools and promote community servers. This game has an official workshop but a lion's share of it is used for items, which are then converted into microtransactions. Dota itself is the result of modifying Warcraft 3.
  • When you release a new hero, map change, item, etc. design a little ingame event around it. This is easier said than done but Team Fortress 2 (another Valve game) did this perfectly whenever the in-game characters received a new set of sidegrade weaponry. Give people new, strange fun stuff to do so the only options aren't sweating over imaginary ranks. Diretide is a great example of this.
  • Perhaps the main point of this post: make items and heroes less streamlined. Why do totally binary heroes like Crystal Maiden still exist in 2021? I noticed there is a talent system and various Aghanim upgrades already in the game. Adding more of these that drastically pivot each hero's utility and capabilities would create more options, make games feel less binary and simply be more fun.


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