You can now play Dota 2 with a controller, and this is how

By Steven Rondina

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Dec 15, 2021

Reading time: 4 min

The Aghanim’s Labyrinth: The Continuum Conundrum Battle Pass has added controller support to Dota 2, and setting it up can be an absolutely awful experience. But we can help.

While PC gamers of all sorts have scoffed at the idea of playing certain genres on a controller, that may be an outdated notion. The days of unwieldy and poorly optimized ports of games like StarCraft on the Nintendo 64 and Diablo on the PlayStation 1 are over. In 2021, most every genre in gaming has been executed well on consoles.

MOBAs are no different. Mobile platforms have had solid MOBA offerings for years now, including Vainglory and Mobile Legends. More recently, Pokemon Unite has shown that MOBAs can work just fine on a standard two-stick controller.

With the launch of the Steam Deck approaching, Valve is looking to make one of its most successful titles viable in handheld mode. Unfortunately, those who want in on the action early have several hoops to jump through as they try to juggle the new battle pass.

Here’s how to get controller support working in Dota 2.

How to use a controller in Dota 2

These are the steps that will help you with how to use a controller in Dota 2:

  1. Plug in your controller
  2. Open Steam, click the Steam drop-down menu. Go into Settings.
  3. In the Settings menu, click on Controller then select General Controller Settings.
  4. Check the box related to the controller you are using. For example, if you are using an Xbox One controller, click on the box next to “Xbox Configuration Support.”
  5. Exit out of the menus.
  6. Open Big Picture in Steam.
  7. Open Library, select Dota 2, then select “Manage Game.”
  8. Select “Browse Configs.”
  9. Click on Templates, select Gamepad, hit Apply Configuration, then choose “Done.”
  10. Launch Dota 2.
  11. Go to Settings, Options, Advanced Options. At the end of the miscellaneous section, select “Enable experimental controller support.”

The process of setting up a controller to work in Dota 2 is a difficult one. Though there’s an official FAQ, it does a poor job of explaining exactly how to get it to work. And it’s worth noting is that there are some serious sticking points with controller support in Dota 2 at this time.

Not all controllers seem to work in Dota 2, even if they work in other Steam games. In WIN.gg’s own trial runs, a third-party Nintendo Switch controller with PC functionality was met with inexplicable error messages at step nine, while a PlayStation 5 controller worked just fine.

In the past, these issues have been reportedly remedied by restarting Steam, restarting the PC, or dabbling with Xbox-related settings in Windows. Either way, Valve should polish this up in the near future to have more people try it out in anticipation of the Steam Deck’s release.

Is playing Dota 2 with a controller any good?

Dota 2 on a controller isn’t as bad as one might suspect, but it’s still very much a work in progress.

There is a learning curve, but it’s not particularly hard to play a straightforward hero such as Pugna or Wraith King on a controller. With one or two bot games, players should feel comfortable taking on live opponents.

There are some definite issues, but it isn’t hard to gather up enough of a working knowledge to fumble through unranked matches. With time, there’s no reason to think a player couldn’t at least be capable on a controller.

The problems with Dota 2’s controller support

There are an abundance of troubles that will likely scare away players from using a controller in Dota 2. While some will be fixed with time, others are just inherent to Dota 2.

As with most console and mobile MOBAs, Dota 2 on a controller suffers from a variety of different UI issues, most notably when it comes to targeting. The game sometimes struggles to figure out what is meant to be targeted, which is a problem that typically comes up at the worst possible time.

There are also a few key omissions from the UI. There doesn’t seem to be any way to customize the in-game cursor used for movement and spell targeting, which is troublesome as it can blend into the environment. 

Much worse is the fact that the AOE of spells isn’t shown on-screen when targeting. This makes it very difficult to precisely target Leshrac’s Split Earth or Lina’s Light Strike Array. Given how effectively this is handled in other MOBAs, it’s surprising that this isn’t present in Dota 2 when using a controller.

A number of seemingly basic things also end up becoming difficult and unwieldy. Something like moving a new neutral item from the stash into the active slot or teleporting to the fountain is still possible with a controller, but requires a lot more work than it should. Even just juggling a six-slotted inventory with spells and a neutral item can become difficult.

Compounding this is the fact that heroes like Terrorblade or Meepo require a staggering number of extra button presses to function on a controller. All the tools are there for a player to handle a hero like Chen on a controller, but it requires much more work than simply using a mouse and keyboard.

All this said, it’s worth at least trying Dota 2 with a controller. It offers a fresh experience, even if not an efficient one.

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