So you’ve finally gained access to that 'Dota 2' game everyone on your Steam friends is playing all the damn time. You boot it up, hit the 'find match' button, and after a short waiting period you’re in your first game. “All pick” the announcer bellows, as you’re presented with a dazzling selection of heroes to choose from. Going by the infallible logic of “pick the best looking”, you pick Invoker.
That was my thought process when I got my hands on Dota 2 back in 2011; you can see the results of my first game here, but you can already guess the outcome. I did not perform well.
Luckily I found some patient souls from Sweden who taught me everything I know today, and now I want to try and pay it forward. Here’s the best heroes for you beginners out there.
Over one hundred heroes lie within Dota 2, which can be quite effective at intimidating newcomers. Coupled with the notorious reputation that most MOBA communities carry on their shoulders, It’s not uncommon for new players to give up altogether after a few painful games.
But first, lets take a look at the basics.
What are heroes?
In essence, heroes are a character with their own combination of unique skills and attributes, each of which can be moulded and shaped by items and the roles you play. Over the course of the game, a hero will gain experience which can then be used to level up, increasing their effectiveness. Depending on how a hero performs, their item builds and team composition, a hero can fulfil a specific role.
What are Roles?
Roles help define a specific method of playing any given hero. Every hero has at least one identifiable prominent role, which helps a player achieve the maximum potential with that hero. It’s not uncommon however for heroes to be able to fulfil multiple roles, and even change their roles throughout the course of the game.
The goal of Dota 2 is to eventually defeat the enemy by destroying towers and killing enemy heroes and creeps. As you play, you will earn gold and experience, and become more powerful. Your team will need a mixture of these roles to complete the task:
Supports: These heroes don’t need gold to be effective, letting their carries maximise their gold income. They are also responsible to buying utility items such as courier or wards.
Nukers: Capable of dealing high burst damage, these heroes are deadly on the battlefield from very early levels. They excel at killing the enemy carry in the early game repeatedly to disrupt their farm.
Pushers: Heroes that can kill creeps quickly, or have abilities to damage buildings make great pushers. Their job is to knock down all the buildings in quick succession to attain a early gold lead for the team, and pressure the enemy back into their own base.
Junglers: Favouring the jungle as opposed to the more traditional lanes, these heroes can go toe to toe with the neutral creeps to earn gold and experience, while freeing up the other lanes for the rest of their team.
Initiators: The dictators of team fights, initiators can make or break a team fight with their huge area if effect abilities. They’re also good at catching and containing enemy stragglers, so their carry can close in and get the kill.
Solo: Heroes with great survivability are the best option for soloing a lane. Their primary job is to stay alive while getting lots of experience. Gold is only a secondary priority, as they’ll usually be up against more than one hero in their lane, making it risky to farm safely.
Carry: The heavyweights of Dota 2, the carry heroes spend the majority of the game farming to obtain key items which boosts their power. Relatively weak in the early game, they become the most powerful heroes if the game lasts for long enough.
It’s a truth that some heroes are easier than others, while some should be avoided completely until you’re more familiar with the game. However depending on your competitive gaming history you might be more comfortable with some of the more advanced heroes: a Starcraft 2 player might be more adept at controlling heroes that require a lot of multi-unit micro e.g. Chen, Meepo and Visage.
Every team needs a good support, a sacrificial lamb to protect the more important heroes and their wallets. Their abilities don’t necessarily have to be supportive in nature, but need to be effective without the need for powerful items. This leaves heroes playing support role in a position to buy important items that benefit the whole team e.g. courier, wards, dust and smoke.
Crystal Maiden is a frosty sorceress who can command the elements of ice to damage and slow her foes. Beloved for her ability to root her enemies and give continuous mana regeneration to her team, Crystal Maiden is a welcome addition to any team.
Crystal Nova is a relatively big area of effect that damages and slows any enemy unlucky enough to be caught within it. It has has the added effect of slowing their attack speed, making the enemies scary right-clickers a little less, well, scary. Frostbite on the other hand is a single target root. It freezes the target in place, preventing them from moving or attacking, while also dealing damage over time. Not even blink abilities will save heroes from its icy grasp.
Her aura gives your team increased mana regeneration, which can give them an early advantage at the beginning of the game. She can also slow and root her enemies, allowing your carries and gankers to close the ground and seize kills. Her ultimate is also incredibly underrated, causing massive damage to any unlucky heroes unwilling to interrupt her.
Omniknight is a holy human paladin, sworn to protect the weak and smite evil. He’s hard to kill, and can extend that strength to his entire team. Omniknight is what you would call a traditional support, in the sense that he has healing and protection abilities. He can heal his allies quite regularly, which can also damage his enemies if they’re nearby the target. Because enemy melee heroes will be surrounding your allies, this makes it easy to get both the healing and the damage in one cast.
His Repel ability is the most interesting one in his repertoire, making either yourself, an ally or even an enemy magic immune. Casting this with precise timing can save your allies life in situations where you can anticipate huge damage. If that wasn’t enough, his ultimate makes all your allies immune to physical damage for a short period of time, with a passive health regeneration to boot.
Some heroes don’t like to lane during the early game, instead taking to the jungle where the neutral creeps dwell. Junglers can take advantage of the jungle as long as they can fight the creeps there effectively and efficiently. Some heroes have natural life steal to offset the damage they will take, other heroes spawn minions to tank the damage and some just take control of the neutral creeps all together.
You might hear his legacy name, Furion, get thrown around when referring to Natures Prophet. He’s a leafy druid who turns the forest into his own personal army, making the jungle a great place to set up camp. Using Nature’s Call, you can keep your tree friends in between you and the bad guys, leaving your health intact. Sprout synergises well to spawn tree minions from just about anywhere, and can also trap fleeing heroes.
Teleport allows you to do exactly that, teleport anywhere on the map. It will be key in setting up early ganks, or helping out your allies in a moments notice. His ultimate, Wrath of Nature, can be a difficult ability to understand at first. It bounces around the map, with each enemy hit adding 7% damage to the next bounce, resulting in the last enemy getting hit for maximum damage. Don’t spam this: instead cast it when your going for a gank, or you need to push out your lanes in a hurry.
If fancy magic isn’t your style, then maybe our good friend Axe might be more suitable. An orc who likes his trusty weapon so much, he named himself after it. Using him to jungle, Counter Helix is key to your success. It causes you to spin around, flailing your big axe whenever you’re attacked. It only has a 17% chance to activate, but because jungle creeps are usually many in number, it procs often enough to mow them down.
Whenever you have some excess mana, go to your nearest lane and cast Battle Hunger on an enemy. It’s a fire and forget ability which can do immense damage to an enemy, unless they kill a unit with a last hit - tricky when under pressure. His ultimate, Culling Blade, will instantly kill an enemy unit if their health is below a certain threshold. Once you cast it successfully, you will be treated to one of the most satisfying animations Dota 2 has to offer, as you split your enemy right down the middle.
The assassins of Dota 2, these guys can burn through an enemies health in a few horrific, short seconds. If you like big numbers and are obsessed with your kill/death ratio, these are the heroes for you. Remember that nukers are fantastic early and mid game, but bow down to their farmed carry brethren when the late game arrives. The best thing you can do is repeatedly kill or disrupt an enemy carry, or failing that, vapourise those squishy supports.
A floating pyromaniac who decided to light her own hair on fire. She can shoot fire from her hands, so naturally, it doesn’t take long to melt through her enemies. Lina is a great nuker, being able to deal huge damage with her fiery combo, and instantly kill heroes with her ultimate.
Learning to combo your Light Strike Array and Dragon Slave can easily half an enemies health pool. The tricky part is the 0.5 casting delay on the Light Strike Array, meaning you need to predict the enemy heroes movement. Her ultimate, Laguna Blade, deals immense damage over a long range, usually killing squishy heroes instantly, or put them out of the fight for good. Just click on things and make them explode - just watch your mana in the early game though.
An aptly named hero for his role, Bounty Hunter excels at dispatching his enemies while also making a nice tidy profit from doing so. Invisibility is a huge advantage when it comes to ganking successfully, and Shadow Walk does just that. Paired up with Jinada, your first attack on an unsuspecting enemy hero is quite the painful one. Follow it up with a Shuriken Toss and they’re as good as dead in the early and mid game.
His ultimate, Track, is crucial to getting the most out of this hero. Not only does it give you vision of the enemy hero, regardless of invisibility, it also increases movement speed of both yourself and your allies. The icing on the cake however is the bonus gold you and your team receive for killing enemies affected by Track. Get a few early kills, and the extra gold can set you and your team onto a swift victory.
Remember: Track first, stab second.
The kings and queens of team fights, these heroes dictate when and where teams clash; usually with a repertoire of huge area of effect abilities. These abilities can range from dealing massive damage, long stun durations or position manipulation. It can be quite intimidating to be an initiator, because it can sometimes leave your teams success resting on you, and your ability to react in those hectic team fights. When everything goes right however, nothing else will give you the satisfactory grin, when you see five enemy heroes fall dead under your superb execution.
A huge fish beast from the depths of the sea, Tidehunter is one of the most effective initiators due to his signature ultimate. He’s also tough, so you’ll be hard to kill all game long with the right items. Gush is a fantastic skill to slow fleeing prey while also dealing decent damage, and applying an armour reduction. Anchor Smash is cheap and spammable, which also reduces enemy damage. Kraken Shell is powerful, but often misunderstood: it gives you a flat damage reduction, similar to the item, Stout Shield. It’s unique because of it’s debuff removal, which occurs when you take 600 damage in a short period of time. Avoid picking up any levels in Kraken Shell in the early game until you have over 1000 health.
Ravage is his ultimate, which causes tentacles to erupt from the ground to damage and stun your foes in a large area of effect. Catch multiple heroes in this and your team will be sitting in a very advantageous position to win the fight. Blink Dagger is a must have item when playing a Tidehunter.
Warlock uses demonic forces to do his bidding: punishing his enemies, or helping his allies. If you prefer to not be in the thick of things - unlike our fishy friend Tidehunter - Warlock is your demon-worshiping man. Most of his abilities have a huge area of effect range, which makes him ideal for team fights. Fatal Bonds causes 20% of all damage to be shared to other units under its effects. Upheaval is risky due to it being a channeled ability, but if ignored slows enemies in a huge area, increasing over time.
Chaotic Offering is his big team fight ultimate, also known as “Rocks” within the community. It applies a one second stun and summons a fiery clade golem to do your bidding, who can put out an impressive amount of damage with its flaming fists. Even if Warlock is killed after casting his ultimate, he can still control his golem to continue contribute from the grave. It’s popular to get an Aghanim Scepter, which gives you two golems for double the trouble.
The main objective of Dota 2 isn’t to score an impressive number of kills, but to instead destroy your enemies base. To get there you will need to destroy a multitude of towers, which are tough adversaries in the early game. Pushers rise to this challenge, which abilities that deal extensive damage to towers, or summon minions to soak up the incoming damage. Some team compositions feature many pusher heroes, designed to destroy the enemy base before the enemy team can farm up their carry.
Leshrac is a blue glowing centaur, who has an affinity for constant pulsating damage. His tower demolishing ability comes in the form of Diabolic Edict which when maxed out can very nearly destroy a tower in a single cast. The important thing to note is that Diabolic Edict is spread randomly to nearby foes, so you want to make sure the tower is the only enemy in your vicinity to inflict maximum damage.
Lightning Storm and his ultimate Pulse Nova are great at eradicating creep waves, while also applying continuous damage to enemy heroes in team fights. Split Earth is a small area of effect stun which also causes moderate damage. Like Lina’s Light Strike Array, it has a short casting delay, so anticipating enemy positions is key to landing it successfully.
Keeper of the Light
No, it’s not Gandalf - but he’s still an adorable old man riding a horse. Keeper of the Light is fantastic at wiping out creep waves without mercy, thanks to Illuminate. The longer you channel the spell, determines how much damage it does once it’s unleashed. At level four, it can be channeled for five seconds, dealing 500 damage to anything in its huge range. This is enough damage to wipe out creep waves in one blast, and it also is unique in that it damages mechanical units as well e.g. catapults.
Combined with Chakra Magic, Keeper of the Light can keep casting Illuminate all match long without having to conserve his mana. With good ward vision, you can also deal a lot of damage to unsuspecting enemy heroes.
An intimidating role for beginners, but nevertheless a useful role to master. The art of soloing is simple: don’t die. You’re not in it for the farm or kills, unless you can guarantee your safety. Because you’re alone, you will benefit from getting solo experience, instead of sharing it with a laning partner. Denying can be a useful tactic to slow the experience game of your enemies, and further increase your level advantage. Heroes who can get out of sticky situations, or farm and harass from a distance, are perfect for this role. I recommend picking up a pair of wards when soloing a lane to watch out for enemy ganks.
My favourite hero - Windranger is a mischievous archer who can manipulate the wind. She’s a popular pick for solo play, thanks to her Windrun ability to get her out of “oh shit” moments. Not only does it give you a 50% increase in movement speed, but it slows nearby enemies and also gives you 100% physical damage evasion. Pick this ability first.
Powershot will let you harass your enemy heroes and kill creeps from a distance. If you can do both in one shot, you’re awesome. Shackle Shot is a difficult ability to master, but one of the best disables in the game. The trick is to make sure there is either an enemy unit or tree behind your target, so that the shackle will latch. If you’re good, you can shackle two enemy heroes together for up to 3.75 seconds. Her ultimate, Focus Fire, can be ignored until most her other abilities are maxed, as it’s only really useful for burning down towers.
Dark Seer is a small purple being, versatile in empowering his allies and mess up enemy positioning. His Surge ability is akin to Windranger’s Windrun, in that it gives him maximum movement speed for a brief amount of time. This makes him a slippery hero to catch when your enemies try to gank you. Ion Shell enables him to harass his enemies and also farm safely, placing a bristling shell on a enemy or allied unit that damages other enemy units around it. It lasts for a respectable twenty seconds, and you can have two up at the same time thanks to its nine second cooldown. The damage isn’t something that can be ignored either, destroying heroes who get into melee range.
Get a Soul Ring, and you can sit well out of range of your enemies while still obtaining farm to advance your hero. Vacuum and his ultimate, Wall of Replica, are a monstrous combo in a team fight. Vacuum pulls enemies together in an large area, whereas Wall of Replica creates an illusionary wall that creates copies of any enemy hero that passes through it. These illusions do incredible damage, especially to the enemies carry hero.
Carries are the spectacle of every team. Weak heroes in the early game, they rely on the perfect execution of last hitting, and building powerful items, to become a force to be reckoned with. The longer the game lasts, the more dependent your team will become of your farm and abilities to win the game. It’s a role best left to the more advanced players; but there is only one way to learn. I recommend playing all the roles above before you take on the role of a carry; when you have a basic knowledge about all the other heroes in the game.
Juggernaut is a katana wielding warrior who has a varied and versatile ability set, making him interesting to play as a carry. Blade Fury makes him magic immune, which adds survivability to some of the most damaging spells that will try and end your life prematurely. It also does a respectable amount of damage to anything near you for the duration. You can extend the use of this further, by using Blade Fury in conjunction with a Teleport Scroll to get the hell out of dodge when things go bad. Healing Ward is game breaking if it gets ignored by the enemy team. Healing up to 5% of you and your nearby allies health every second, and it’s effective all the way into the late game.
His ultimate, Omnislash, can be equally deadly or underwhelming, depending on how it’s used. Once used on an enemy, Juggernaut will leap at his target, slashing violently at super speed. He’ll be completely immune during the animation, and will also bounce to nearby random targets if able to. If used on an enemy hero while they’re alone, it will deal tremendous damage: up to a whopping 2025 at max level. It’s effectiveness decreases when there are more units to hit, because of its random nature.
A rule of thumb is to only cast this ability when there are no nearby creeps for you to waste its precious attacks on.
An infamous dark-elf archer, Drow Ranger is a powerful ranged carry that packs a punch all game long. Her first skill, Frost Arrows, imbue her normal attacks with ice, slowing down your opponents movement speed. This allows you to keep your targets in range when they attempt to flee, or slow their enemy carry down as they try to get in your face. It’s good idea to get the hang of a technique called “orbwalking”, where instead of leaving the ability on autocast, you manually cast Frost Arrows. This enables you to hit your targets without drawing creep aggro, which can take a good chunk of your health away in the early laning stage. It also lets you choose which attack modifier you want to use, as casting Frost Arrows will take over any that are present due to items e.g. lifestealing.
Gust is a powerful silence ability that also pushes enemy heroes away from you; something which is important for her ultimate ability. The silence lasts up to six seconds, and can win you a team fight if you catch enough enemies inside of it. It also lets Drow decimate anyone in a 1v1 situation; especially those who rely on their abilities to be effective.
Precision Aura gives any allied hero and creeps bonus damage to ranged attacks, based off your agility. It will affect heroes at a global range, while creeps will only be affected if Drow activates the ability herself, which only lasts for 30 seconds. A measly bonus in the early game, but when you get a ton of agility from items, levels and your ultimate, the boost becomes pretty hefty.
Her ultimate is a passive effect called Marksmanship. It’s a straight up bonus to her agility, as long as she is not near any enemy heroes; if she is, the effect will be muted until she regains some distance, which is why Gust is a good combo. Every level will empower her damage, attack speed and armour, making her an even more powerful team carry.
And that’s your lot. If you really are new, and haven’t played all that many games, it’s probably best that, even after you figure out which hero you want to try your hand at, you play a few bot games. The Dota 2 bots are actually better than a lot of pub players, but because it’s a bot game your team is less likely to get annoyed at you for not doing so hot. That means you get the best of both worlds; a challenge without the risk of annoying your team mates. Then, once you feel comfortable with whoever you’ve picked, head into a game, bearing in mind that even if you go for ‘All Pick’, it might not be the best idea to just make a bee-line for whoever your favoured hero is. Your pick needs to match your team, otherwise you’re going to ruin whatever synergy is being built.