eSports 101 – The Absolute Beginners Guide to DOTA 2

So you want to start watching eSports since you’re starting to feel old watching a game where someone hits a ball with a wooden stick? You’re not alone and as you have probably noticed if you’re a regular reader of mine, I have started to cover eSports a lot more on my blog. There’s two reasons for this, one – I now watch eSports more than I do regular sports like baseball and basketball, and two – eSports is growing faster than traditional sports, TV, or music – it is the next big thing. The main eSport that I follow right now is DOTA 2, a game created by Valve Software who became famous back in 1998 when they created the game Half-Life.


Since their first hit game in 1998 Valve has become a major player in the eSports world thanks to DOTA 2 which is incredibly similar to the game that is probably the OG of all eSports – League of Legends. Now that I’ve been both playing and watching DOTA 2 I have come to appreciate it as a real sport. There are team members, coaches, leagues, and the game itself puts players in specific positions, each with its own role and way of playing that changes throughout the game.

Just like Baseball, Football, Soccer and other games have a field that is organized in a certain way, so does DOTA 2, and the field looks like this:


As you can see the playing field has three lanes – top, mid, and bot (short for bottom). There are two sides, one is called Radiant, the other is called Dire, just think Home and Away in baseball. Two teams of five players face off against each other and, like most sports, put their players on the field in different places best on the player’s abilities. As the game progresses, the strategy and use of lanes changes.

In baseball third base might not be an area of focus for the home team until the away team has a player on third, then their playing style will change since the player on third could score. The same is true in DOTA 2, if Dire has an advantage in the bottom lane, the Radiant team might have their players play that lane differently.

The goal of DOTA 2 is to destroy the opponent’s “Ancient” a structure that sits on opposite corners of the field. To get to the ancient you have to usually spend around 45 minutes chipping away at their Towers (the green squares on the map above). There are non-player characters in the game called creep that come out at regular intervals, it is these creeps and each team killing them and hiding behind them that forms a core part of the game.

Okay, I know that sounds confusing so let me explain. First, here’s what a line of creeps looks like:

Line of creeps

If the creeps are green they belong to the Radiant team, if they’re brown they belong to the Dire. Essentially a line of creeps heads down each lane, top, middle and bottom and the Radiant and Dire creeps end up meeting each other somewhere towards the middle of the map. Throughout the entire game in DOTA 2, the players are trying to kill things to earn experience and gold which they use to make their characters more powerful and buy items that give them all kinds of advantages.

At this point I should also tell you that each player isn’t playing themselves like an athlete would in a typical sporting event, since it’s a video game you can imagine it’s more fun to play some cool mythical character – in DOTA 2 these are called Heros, and there are a lot of them. At the beginning of the game each team picks certain Heros that their opponent can’t play (called banning) and then each player picks a Hero. The Heros are divided into a number of different categories but at a high level they are divided into three categories – Strength, Agility, and Intelligence.


You’ll also notice things at the bottom like Carry, Support, Melee, Ranged, etc. suffice it to say that there are a lot of different mechanics at play when building a solid team and picking which heroes everyone should play. Since this is an article for absolute beginners I’m not going to dive into the details here, that being said if you want to learn more read this.

So let’s review. DOTA 2 is played on a field that has a top, middle, and bottom lane. There are two teams, each has five players and each player picks a Hero that they play for the entire game. Little dudes called creeps come out at regular intervals and run down the lanes, Heros use these little guys both as defense and as things to kill to gain experience and gold. A team wins DOTA 2 if they destroy the opponent’s Ancient, a big structure at the corner of the field that looks like this (the one on the left is Dire’s ancient, the one on the right is Radiant’s):


While I could probably go on for another twenty minutes talking about the intricacies of the game and still only cover the basics, I think this is a good place to stop to avoid information overload. At this point you might be saying? Okay, but who the heck plays and watching this strange and insanely complex game?

A lot of people all over the world do, in fact, in the last major DOTA 2 tournament (called The International) the winning team won over $10M. If you want to get a feel for what all the hype is about, take a look at the video below, it will show you huge fan-base that DOTA 2 has and even if you don’t understand everything I think you’ll still find yourself getting into the action, think of this as the Super Bowl of eSports – enjoy!

Morgan Linton

Morgan Linton