The definitive beginner's guide to playing Dota 2

Dota 2 can be a very difficult game to get into for new players. With one of the steepest learning curves in all of video games and a community not necessarily known for welcoming beginners with open arms, getting started can be hard. Making progress in improving one's skills can feel even harder.

But a little bit of help can go a long way, and that’s what is here to provide. This is a quick guide to Dota 2 and how to play this beautifully complicated game. 

What is Dota 2 and how do you win?

Dota 2 is part of the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena genre, and is more commonly called a MOBA. Like its chief rival League of Legends, Dota 2 is functionally a team-based tower defense game. MOBAs see two teams of players control different characters and try to destroy the enemy team’s base. 

These characters all have different abilities, as well as specific strengths and weaknesses. Different characters have different roles on a team, with some excelling at killing enemies and others specializing in helping allies. 

Almost all MOBAs are won by destroying the core of the enemy base, which in Dota 2 is called the Ancient. 

How did Dota 2 start, and what is Defense of the Ancients?

MOBAs have a unique history. While most notable video game series are developed by big-name publishers and launched to great fanfare, this genre’s history lies with mods to classic strategy games.

Blizzard’s StarCraft had the first true MOBA in Aeon of Strife, a custom map where players sent a stream of units at an enemy player on the other side of the map in order to destroy their base. This inspired a similar custom map for WarCraft 3 called Defense of the Ancients.

DotA laid the foundations for most future MOBA titles with five versus five gameplay and a square, three-laned map. The game had a number of different permutations over the years, including a major overhaul after the launch of WarCraft 3 expansion pack The Frozen Throne. This also included a number of different individuals taking the lead on updating and developing the game as their predecessors stepped back. 

In 2005, an individual using the handle of IceFrog took control of the game and continued its development through 2009. From there, Half-Life and Counter-Strike publisher Valve Software acquired the rights to DotA and brought in IceFrog to helm the development of a standalone sequel exclusively for Steam. This project would become Dota 2.

While Valve has made a number of moves to distance Dota 2 from its roots in WarCraft 3, an effort that is still ongoing, its ties to the fantasy real-time strategy game can still be seen to this day.

Dota 2 isn't quite as popular as its cousin League of Legends, but the game is still one of the most popular titles in the world.

How to play Dota 2

Dota 2 controls similar to most real-time strategy games. 

The game has a top-down view of the action and players control their character with their mouse. Right clicking is used to move the character and to initiate a basic attack on an enemy unit. Heroes’ spells are typically mapped to the Q, W, E, and R keys.

Players control a single hero for the duration of a game and can strengthen that hero in two ways. 

Standing in the proximity of an enemy unit being killed grants nearby heroes XP. Gaining enough XP will level them up, granting them greater stats and the option of strengthening a specific spell or ability.

Delivering the killing blow to an enemy unit will grant a hero gold. Gold can be used to purchase items that grant heroes greater stats or new abilities. Heroes that have more levels and better items than opponents have a significantly better chance of winning battles than their foes, which opens up avenues towards eventually winning the game.

What are the best heroes for new Dota 2 players?

Dota 2 heroes range from having very low execution requirements to hearkening back to demanding a lot of learning and concenrtation. For the most part, heroes are accessible to players at all levels, but there are still some that are better for new players than others. A short list of heroes that are ideal for new players includes:

  • Dragon Knight
  • Wraith King
  • Vengeful Spirit
  • Omniknight
  • Crystal Maiden
  • Juggernaut
  • Jakiro
  • Ogre Magi
  • Dazzle
  • Shadow Shaman
  • Lion

Generally speaking, players that are completely new to MOBA titles ought to play support heroes such as Omniknight, Ogre Magi, or Jakiro. These heroes are high impact without requiring much in the way of gold or experience. They are also much tankier than other support options, which should help players avoid some unnecessary early deaths.

Players that have dabbled in games such as League of Legends can alternatively try playing carries. The best options for new players are Dragon Knight, Wraith King, and Juggernaut. All three have strong spells that are valuable at each stage of the game, an intuitive attack animation, and strong options for sustaining their early lane presence without falling behind.

What heroes should new Dota 2 players avoid?

Though there are Dota 2 heroes friendly to new players, there are some that just shouldn’t be touched if you're new to the game.

  • Invoker
  • Meepo
  • Visage
  • Lone Druid
  • Chen
  • Morphling
  • Earth Spirit
  • Io
  • Arc Warden
  • Broodmother

In most cases, the reason for avoiding these heroes is their high execution requirements. Dota 2 has many different heroes that are built around controlling multiple units at once and that’s a daunting task for inexperienced players.

Other heroes on this list are just very tricky to deal with, requiring intense knowledge of the game that new players just won’t have. Some are also built around skill shots that may be tough for new players to reliably hit.

What are the differences between League of Legends and Dota 2?

There are many differences between Dota 2 and its longtime rival MOBA, League of Legends. There are so many, in fact, that we've made a guide to the differences between the two games.

There are a few key differences to note.

The biggest feature exclusive to League of Legends is Runes. Runes give players a bit of flexibility in terms of how they build up their champion prior to a game beginning, and certain runes can help them fit into different roles while using the same character. In Dota 2, that flexibility comes through buying items that are generally more powerful and versatile during the game.

Another key difference between Dota 2 and League of Legends is the ability to deny units. In Dota 2, players can kill their own creeps once they drop below a certain health threshold to rob enemies of the gold and some of the experience they’d get from killing them. Some heroes can even be denied under the right circumstances.

The last key difference between the two is the role of the jungle. In League of Legends, jungling is a standard role where a player goes around killing neutral enemies in order to free up more gold and experience in the lanes, all while looking to dive into a lane and help their teammates to get an advantage. In Dota 2, the gold and XP rewards aren’t great enough to make this possible. Instead, the jungle is used as a supplemental source for both XP and other special items that can only be found by killing jungle creeps over the course of the game. So while League of Legends' jungle is generally meant to be used by a specific player on the team, Dota 2's jungle servers a broader purpose over the course of a game.