“And when we move in together we can start playing Dota.”
With that simple, single sentence I had set my housemate on a path I can no longer follow. Like Anakin in Revenge of the Sith. The first year of uni had ended. We had formed a merry band of gamers and we had found a house to live in. And I was really into Dota 2.
Blame the International. I’d just watched Valve’s excellent documentary Free to Play all about the biggest game tournament in the world and was excited. I learned and practiced and watched videos about different heroes. I needed people to play with. After the summer when we moved in together we all had our computers and we thought we’d have a round, me and him. I would be the don, the leader, my knowledge was concrete and I was the best player in the house. Then a young upstart came to claim my throne.
Turns out he’d started playing Dota over the holidays. But, however, I could not: my graphics card had decided to commit suicide and stopped working just as I got home. So he had three months practice on me. He had friends who had been playing the game for ages. A sinking feeling suffused my gut. Oh god. I worked for this and now I’m a noob again. Oh balls. Few genres – except MOBA’s and competitive FPS’ – can generate the feeling in your heart that you a complete and utter idiot. Your teammates want you to know it. Valve wants you to know it. A very angry Russian man on the opposite team wants you to know it too.
My housemate now plays constantly. He seems to absorb power from playing Dota somehow. He’s invigorated in victory and slow in defeat. He’s become one with the game. I have to carefully knock on the door and await his permission to enter, lest I interrupt a game at a crucial moment. When I play with him I am a peasant, approaching the kings throne to grovel for item builds and healing handouts. He knows about items I can only dream of.
Then came along our other housemate. He saw me standing at the feet of a god and he wanted a piece of that action too. We all started to play together. We started to work together. I embarked on the All Hero Challenge where you have to win a game with every hero in a specific order. The hero I’m currently on? Clockwerk. My god of a housemates favourite. He gave me advice like Gandalf to Frodo and I won a game and oh my god I’m getting dragged back in!
I do want to complain to the government at some point that MOBA’s and MMO’s should be in the same category as Class-A drugs. They’re just completely evil. They waste your time and money and I keep playing until I win a game. I keep getting sucked in. I relapsed into EVE Online recently. I still have the World of Warcraft icon on my desktop like a recovering alcoholic keeping an unopened bottle of whiskey in his room as a kind of permanent test. I find myself even now, craving another game of Dota. I’m following the Requiem for a Dream diet: black coffee to keep me awake, fruit to keep me alive and Dota instead of heroin, because I need something to fill the time.
They even operate like drug dealers! It can’t be legal! They get you with the free game, the big green install button on Steam reading ‘Free to play.’ You play a few games and then get into it. Then before you know it you’re spending a £5 on a Rick and Morty announcer pack and a shiny staff for my favourite demonic feline warlock. I don’t need this! But I can’t stop myself. I know people who have spent more money on Dota than actually buying other games. Valve have managed to get people to buy a bloody sticker book for gods sake! Every year!
Do I regret this? No of course not. It’s a game I can jump in and play an hour. Or I can play it for nine hours. I can play it on my own or with friends. I can accidentally turn my friend into a god and then learn to drag myself slowly up to his level. It’s for everyone to learn. The community is much friendlier than people would have you believe. But my god: it’s difficult. And fun. Just play with some friends and you’ll have a bloody great time.