I don’t play MOBAs, ever. Or, rather, I didn’t before but I wouldn’t be writing a Dota 2 guide now if I really meant “ever” whenever I said it, would I? Exactly. Let it never be said that I don’t take my job seriously enough to try new things, although I’d probably draw the line at eating cold cat vomit off the pavement.

Better than eating cold sick off the pavement.

Dota 2: “Better than eating cold cat vomit off the pavement.” They should print that on the box.

So after several years of slagging off MOBAs, I was recently persuaded with a free copy of Dota 2 and a 1-litre can of extra-strength beer to actually play one. To be completely honest, I was just about ready to grab the beer, hurl myself out the window, and lock myself in the garage when I discovered that I could choose to play as a sort of goblin thing riding a gigantic bat. It’s basically the rules that anything with goblins riding bats deserves at least one chance, and who I am to break the rules? Except for all those other times, obviously, but that thing I did with that other thing that one time isn’t relevant now and besides, it’s not on my permanent record (anymore).

Anyway.

Being the kind of gamer who is used to rushing into the middle of the map and killing things for points, I wasted no time rushing into the middle of the map to kill things for points. As things turned out, this is not a tactic that works very well in Dota 2. Or a tactic that works at all, for that matter. In fact, to describe my first few minutes (hours, days, weeks, whatever) of Dota 2 as an “unmitigated catastrophe” would be the understatement of my career, up to and including my 10/100 review of The Silver Lining (which probably could have been an 11/100, extra point for effort).

In the interests of saving others from future indignities and to make up for my own tragically devastated confidence, I’ve compiled this useful Dota 2 primer to help you get started. It’s the Dota 2 primer I wish I’d had, sniff.

CHOOSING A HERO

Remember, goblins on bats might not be exactly what you think you're looking for.

Remember, goblins on bats might not be exactly what you think you’re looking for.

Tl; dr: There are approximately two million different heroes to choose from. Take the Drow Ranger.

Heroes are classed according to a bingo system that includes mêlée or ranged engagement type and primary attributes, as well as the hero’s role in a team context. This part is even more complicated and at times somewhat counter-intuitive, because a so-called “support” hero can be hard to play properly, while a superstar “carry” hero might be much simpler, and these roles can change during the course of a match. The Drow Ranger, for example, is a ranged, carry hero who starts out quite squishy but with the right build and items can become a total juggernaut in the late game. This is why winners choose the Drow Ranger, and because two of her four abilities are passive so you don’t have to concentrate on pressing lots of buttons.

Remember, you’ll be told by the helpful Dota 2 community that whatever hero you choose will be the wrong hero for one reason or another, but you can still choose the hero that’s the least wrong.

BORN TO SHOP

You know that old aphorism about bad workmen blaming their tools? It’s not like that in Dota 2, and not just because of the awkward manual labour metaphor. In this game, the items you buy can be all the difference between being awesome and being very not awesome. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of items to choose from, but fortunately, the game designers realised this might unnecessarily intimidate players, so there’s a recommended list of items for each hero. You’ll still feel sure that everybody else somehow has better items than you do, but at least you know you didn’t waste your cash on an item that your hero can’t even use. Not again, anyway.

Some of the more expensive ultra-items can be put together using smaller, cheaper items, and because enormous quantities of cash are not available early on (or ever, because you lose cash every time you die) and because you’re going to die a whole lot while you’re still learning not to rush into the middle of the map to kill things for points (see previous point), this is the clever thing to do. Also, it’s a good idea to buy something as soon as you have the cash to buy it – the item will remain in your stash until you return to base to pick it up, or in the considerably more likely event that you die (see previous sentence).

For the Drow Ranger, you’ll want the Shadow Blade and Power Treads. Yes, you’ll be criticised for using the Shadow Blade. No, you don’t care.

PICK YOUR FIGHTS

During the opening – or “laning” – phase of a match, you’ll mostly be butting into AI creep engagements and blagging the last hit on an enemy unit. Although hanging out in the general vicinity of AI combat will earn you XP, getting that last hit means also getting the kill-cash, and getting cash means getting items, and getting items means getting more last hits, XP, and cash. It’s that simple. If you want to impress everybody else on your team with your brilliant grasp of strategy that nobody has to know you read about here, try also taking out your own allied creeps when they’re low on hit points. This denies the enemy team both the XP and cash, and you know what that means, don’t you? Yes, you do. You’ve learned so much already, gold star!

From time to time, you can also take a break from the frontlines and go “jungling” for neutral creeps, marked on the mini-map with white tribal symbols. To be completely honest, I’m still not sure why this is something people do when there are already loads of creeps in the lanes, but apparently it is and looking like you know what you’re doing is usually more important than actually knowing if it comes to arguments. Usually.

EVERYTHING CAN KILL YOU

And then the game ends while you're waiting to respawn, which is really sad.

And then the game ends while you’re waiting to respawn, which is really sad.

If an enemy hero turns up, nine times out of ten, you should probably turn around and flee. And don’t go near the enemy’s towers until they’re almost dead or totally dead or somewhere in between. Oh, you did it anyway? Now you know why you shouldn’t do that.

As the Drow Ranger, of course, you can use distance to your advantage as the enemy AI (including heroes and towers) will pick on your allied AI before you, and you’ve got plenty of time to vanish into the bushes if things don’t work out in your favour. If you’ve got yourself the Shadow Blade, don’t forget to use the item’s invisibility.

DO IT BETTER NEXT TIME

Even if you follow my instructions exactly, you’re going to mess everything up. This is normal. Take a deep breath, count to ten, and restart from the top.