Maybe you were tempted by the Early Access Bundle. Perhaps you were coaxed by our massive Beginner’s Guide. Possible you were lucky enough to get a beta key through due process, and now you’re sitting bewildered at the hero select screen and thinking that maybe you might want to have a bit of a cry. Which are the best heroes to pick as a beginner? Who is going to get you shouted at the least? What does it all even mean? What is a Dota?
Fear not, easily upset new player, for it shall all be explained to you below. Or at least as much as can be explained in a couple of thousand words. Here is some of the least devastatingly complicated heroes, in their respective roles, and how they work, for the most part. Just keep in mind that team composition is a pretty important factor in Dota 2, and you should never instantly lock into who you want to play. You need to work with your team.
Without some way to initiate teamfights, you’re going to be in a tricky situation as a team. This is a hero who can either surge into the midst of the enemy team, or at the very least do something to take out their biggest hitters before they can hit you in large amounts.
The most important factor to bear in mind when you’re in charge of initiating is to know exactly when to do it. Not only do you need to wait for your opponents to bunch together so you can hit as many of them as possible, but also you have to make sure that your team is ready to capitalise on your move. It’s all very well blasting in with an epicentre as Sandking but if your team isn’t there to mop up your shaky victims then you’re going to get swatted like the crusty scorpion that you are.
This slimy leviathan is all about the stuns and slows, with Gush slowing and reducing armour on a single target and Anchor Smash reducing damage in a small radius around you. It means he’s pretty good at taking the edge off the most dangerous enemy heroes, which is pretty great for after you’ve blown your initial abilities and want to help out in the teamfight.
What follows are great tricks. Ravage makes tentacles erupt out of the ground in a frankly ridiculous AoE around you, damaging, stunning and knocking up everyone around you. It ripples out from Tidehunter, meaning that a smart opponent can get away, but if you can use Blink Dagger to pop you into the middle of the enemy team you can get a three second headstart in any teamfight, which is massive.
There’s a danger that Sven, a straight melee two handed sword weilder, can play a little boring, with one of his abilities just being a straight stun and two others just being buffs, but the stun on his Q makes him a really strong initiator, if only because he can shut down a single high priority target every fifteen seconds. Throw that out and hit Warcry, and your team will charge in and (hopefully) mop up all your targets.
With your Ultimate giving you so much bonus damage, it’s worth building for a Black King Bar so you can throw up both at once, preventing any stuns or immobalises from wasting precious buff time. Get all of that up, and have the humility to ask your team who needs stunning first, and you’re going to be a benefit to anyone you play with.
As much as Dota 2 is about winning teamfights and getting kills, map control is far more essential to a successful game. Control the map and you get to dictate exactly when and where the teamfights happen, so that they always occur in your favour. While the more supporty heroes will hopefully take care of warding, it’s the Pusher’s responsibility to make sure you maintain lane dominance and push down towers to give your team more space to manoeuvre.
This means that if you’re not going to make it to a team fight, or if you see one of your lanes pushed up, you need to be there chipping away at that tower. It doesn’t matter if you lose a kill or two to the enemy team if you can wipe out one of their defenses, because your guy is going to respawn, where their tower will not. That means buying lots of Town Portal scrolls, and keeping a good eye on the minimap at all times.
There are a fair few heroes in Dota 2 that require you to micromanage minions. Of all of them, Phantom Lancer, a Na’vi looking spearman who creates copies of himself by stabbing things that then make copies of themselves by stabbing things, is the easiest to learn how to micro effectively with.
So long as you have your hotkeys set up properly, you can switch between your hero and all the units that your hero controls with just two buttons, letting you send forward your phantoms while you head to another lane. Once you hit level six they’ll self perpetuate, meaning that they’ll carry on pushing the lane until they get wiped out. That leaves you a chance to plug a different hole in the map, and become a general nuisance to the enemy team. His Dopplewalk, which creates a phantom in your location while rendering Phantom Lancer invisible, also makes him one of the toughest heroes to properly focus down, which means he’s pretty forgiving for new players.
At home in the mid lane, Venomancer is halfway between a snake and a centipede, and twice as venomous as the first, and a few million times more than the last. Its power comes from being able to lay down little turrets that both do damage to nearby enemy units, but importantly grant you a bit of sight while being magic immune, letting you harrass and scout on the lane that needs those things the most.
More importantly, your Q, Venemous Gale, is a nice way of turning a teamfight sticky, slowing and poisoning anyone caught in the path. And then you’ve got Poison Nova, which is just mean. It poisons everyone in the area, doing huge amounts of damage over time, with the caveat that it can’t kill. Only bring units down to 1HP. Which is only a solace if you’ve managed to run very, very far away by that point. Know when to use your Q and R and you’ll be doing just fine.
Unlike a game like League of Legends or even an MMO like World of Warcraft, Support heroes in Dota 2 aren’t healers, by and large. They might not even have many supporty abilities. What's really going on is that their abilities don’t rely on items to be useful. Without that gold drain, it means they can buy items like Courier, Wards and team utility purchases like Mekanism and Arcane boots.
This means that playing Support is about understand how the map works, and where you need to be to be the most effective for your team, more than most players. A liberal sprinkle of wards across the map can lead to ganks, last minute saves and general map control, while popping a Mekanism in the middle of a tough fight can be the difference between wiping yourselves and wiping the enemy team.
With his Sacrifice that lets him turn a friendly creep into mana, Lich is a giant floating undead dude who has some of the best lane sustainability in the game. His autoattack is pretty long range, too, which lets him hang back while farming, making him great to learn how to last hit on.
The real strength of the hero comes from his ultimate, though, which is a giant ball of ice that bounces from enemy unit to enemy unit, provided there’s one in range. If you wait for the enemy team to be grouped and pop that off, you’re going to turn their healthbars into mush if they’re not quick to put as much distance between themselves as possible. Line them up and knock them down.
Windrunner is showing up in almost every Pro match at the moment, but even so, she's a very friendly hero for people new to the game. She’s a redheaded archer with one of the best escapes in the game. Why is she so popular? She scales incredibly well based on skill. Where an inexperienced player can still be useful with the odd Shackle Shot and Power Shot, in high level play aiming it perfectly leads to a much longer stun. There's Windrun, which gives her a 50% movement increase for five seconds, turning it not only into a great way to get out of a tricky situation, but also giving you great mobility, letting you traverse the map in a matter of seconds. The ability means Windrunner is a bit more forgiving to someone who might not be always in the right place at the right time, and as long as you’re willing to hoof it to where you need to be, the insults directed your way should be kept to a minimum.
Farm is king. Hold that tennet close to your heart and never forget it. Farm farm farm. Learn to last hit, then last hit absolutely everything that comes within half a mile of you. Get as much gold as you can stuff your pockets with, and then turn that cash into the items that will turn you from Squishy Weaknuts into Hard-As-Balls McGee. Playing the Carry, that’s pretty much your only concern.
There’s some guff about helping out in Teamfights and making sure not to get killed too much, but if you’re not farming all of that will be useless. And until you’ve got the items you need to be useful, you’re even going to want to ignore teamfights in other lanes if it means you can get some free farm. Because free farm is the tastiest type of farm, and you, sir, are a agricultural connoisseur.
The advantage of Skeleton King for a new player is that he’s really, really hard to kill. His R, Reincarnation, lets you just get up from death and shrug it off, before running away as fast as your boney legs will carry you. He also has lifesteal and a stun, just in his abilities, which is unpleasant to be on the receiving end of. With three passives and only one active, all you have to worry about is item management. Which is good, as that’s what a Carry is all about.
Black King Bar becomes essential pretty quickly, but you’re going to want to grab some survival items like Vanguard and Soul Ring so that you can cast your Hellfire Blast stun without jeopardising your Reincarnation. The idea is to make it so that you can take the hits and deal the damage without getting shut down with stuns and snares. That’s what the Black King Bar is for. Load up on an Assault Cuirass to help out the rest of your team in the late game, and you’re away.
With a proclivity for passives, Drow Ranger might seem like a bit of a boring hero to play. And if you were to just look at her abilities, maybe she would be. But that’s not all of Dota 2, and that’s not all playing a Carry is. It’s about loading up on active items to give you new abilities, while using those passives to boost your damage output.
With that in mind, heading for a Shadow Blade early on is going to give you the ability to stealth and gank, while going towards a Manta Style in the late game will give you a pair of illusions boosted by Marksmanship, keeping the focus off you and the damage on them. Throw in her only active, Silence, and you can take away the edge from any caster, while constantly slowing and damaging with your right click.
Look, just stop. You’re new to the game, right? You don’t want to go down here. These aren’t words for you. You don’t know enough to attempt this, and trying it is just going to get you shouted at. Stop! You can’t just barge past me like that. This isn’t an area for you!
It’s not that you should never try to be a Ganker, it’s just that they require such map awareness that you’re just not going to be able to figure it out without playing a good few matches. And even when you have played a good few, so much of ganking is dependent on you knowing how the hero you’re ganking works, so you can counter their strengths with positioning and timing.
But if you must, these are the heroes to try. Just be careful, ok?
Pretty much the only thing you need to keep in mind when playing Night Stalker is his name. Night. Stalker. That means don’t do anything during the day but farm and play it cagey. But once it slips into darkness, have at it. Surge out of your lane and look for tasty targets to turn into delicious gold. Because of Hunter of the Night, your movement speed and attack speed get a little crazy at nighttime, making you an ideal Ganker.
But it means that you’re balanced to be weaker during the day, with all your abilities suffering under sunlight. Keep that in mind, and you should be ok. It doesn’t mean don’t do anything during the day, but you have to know your limitations. And Night Stalker’s limitations are that he is slow as all hell during the day.
Lion, weird frog man that he is, is the king of crowd control, at least in the early game. He can Hex, turning the target into a frog for up to four seconds, and stun with Spike for two and a half. That means he gets to pin down any single target, suck away all their mana with Mana Drain, and mop them up with his right click. Or give the kill to whoever is on the lane he’s ganking.
Once you hit level six and get your Finger of Death you become much more able to take out targets all by yourself. Lion is really less of a hard Ganker than Night Stalker, but because of his abilities he really excels at taking out single targets, which lends itself to roaming and ruining people’s days.
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 teammates. 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.