Dota 2’s Diretide event: a tale of $1000 golden couriers, exploits, and Halloween drama


I’ve had a ton of fun in Diretide since it was released. Valve quite clearly put a lot of work into a holiday event for a game that is still technically unreleased.

If you are unfamiliar with how Diretide works then I highly suggest popping over to my Diretide guide to find out the basics. However this tale is about one addition in particular, the “Sugar Rush Hall of Fame”. This leaderboard shows the fastest ten players that slayed Roshan at the end of each Diretide game. If they’re the fastest for that cycle, they win a Golden Baby Roshan. This isn’t just any courier or item, it’s about the rarest and most valuable thing in the game right now: with one of the couriers selling for over $1000 on the grey market. But how teams are earning their couriers is proving controversial: with suggestions that their methods are simply exploits.

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First, some background. The Diretide event sees players battling to fill cauldrons full of candy. When one team wins the candy phase, it’s eaten by Roshan, Dota 2’s vast boss monster. If you then kill him, in his post candy state, he’ll drop a prize. The fastest teams in a roughly two day cycle to kill Roshan earn the golden couriers.

When the event started, the fastest teams were taking Roshan down in just over two minutes.It seemed harmless fun. But the competition changed.

This is the current hall of fame leader. Just to be clear: that’s not 9 seconds for the Roshan kill. It’s .09 seconds.

So what’s going on? Thanks to Dota 2’s excellent replay editor, we can watch exactly the strategy used. And it’s clear that this wasn’t two teams of five playing against eachother. It’s one team of ten, working together.

Here’s what they did: one player from each team would stand by their respective cauldrons. The rest of the team goes to the enemies and start making them drop candy. When one of the designated players returns the candy, BOTH teams receive money and experience. After only a few minutes all ten players are at their maximum level, while also having any and all items they desire. There’s no effort made to compete: they’re just farming the game until they have everything they need. Roshan goes down near instantly.

But there’s a wrinkle to this: how did these teams find each-other amongst the 150,000 people playing Dota 2?

Well. The matchmaking is split into skill brackets, with higher skill players placed in a far smaller pool. And to boost the chance they’ll play together, they queue for matches on dormant servers, where the normal population would be asleep. And they’re disconnecting at the ready stage of a match; avoiding the abandonment penalty.

What it means is that players of higher skill have a huge advantage in earning Valve’s Diretide prizes: and not just because they’re more highly skilled. And that advantage is making those who don’t exploit the event, pretty grumpy.

There’s even more to the exploit. The .09 second kill shows that the team discovered you could damage Roshan before the timer began. Using Dagons (an item that causes magic damage), the fountain and some heroes that amplify magic damage, the enemy team could continuously keep Roshans health so low that when phase three started, he died almost instantly

This was clearly an unintended mistake on Valves part and would be remedied with a quick hotfix, the current record being removed as a result. Right?
Well not exactly. A patch was released which rendered Roshan invulnerable until phase three began. But the mentioned record still remained, now being impossible to beat. In another patch the day after things changed undoubtedly for the worse. Valve added cycles to the hall of fame, where roughly every two days it resets and the current record holder is awarded a “Golden Baby Roshan trophy courier”. As you can see from the above image, the players with the .09 second record were rewarded with the courier.

The community was naturally upset but with new super rare couriers to be won, most spent their time trying to get into the hall of fame for cycle two. The eventual winners are probably the most legitimate so far, discounting of course taking advantage of the matchmaking system to get all ten players. Watching the replay reveals using a team composition based similar to the first cycle winners, based on amplifying magic damage. They got Roshan down in 30.19 seconds, a bit more believable to the previous winners.

One of the players named “Hailo” went to reddit with his newly acquired prize and asked for cash offers. After an expected amount of fake offers, another reddit user “jgros” closed a deal of $1000. He even provided proof of the purchase, while also using the famous UTCAdmins as a middleman. Upon checking his inventory, it’s clear that he does in-fact have the courier.
Suddenly everything changed. Big money was involved.

Cycle two ended and the next began, now with another method of abusing unintended mechanics. It was discovered that if both teams are at an even score, phase three does not begin until one team has the advantage. This as well as being able to get Roshan stuck while chasing a player results in being able to delay the game indefinitely. One hero in particular, Pudge, can use this to grow incredibly strong. Strong enough to kill Roshan instantly.

However to get this strong requires lots of kills, so many in fact that the games bugs out, unable to display the true number of kills. Pudge steals strength from each hero he kills thanks to Flesh Heap, a passive skill that is retroactive. Once he gets enough he can effectively sit in the enemies fountain and kill the entire team of five instantaneously with a few items. This goes on for a whole seven hours, until he has roughly 60,000 strength. Using an item called Ethereal Blade he can convert his strength into damage, dealing 180,000 damage to Roshan and killing him.

Now the only way to have a chance in beating that time was to find each other by gaming the matchmaking system, and then devote seven hours of ten peoples time. The final time was down to 0.36 seconds. Valve had to step in right?

A patch hit the client late last night, adding a new cycle and now making phase three start at the end of phase two regardless of the score. Again the method was fixed, but the players responsible were still awarded their golden courier. It seemed that Valve were almost rewarding players for finding exploits before patching them. A lengthy thread on the developer forums is a perfect example on the anger, confusion and frustration this has caused.

The current strategy for defeating Roshan, at the time of writing, is still based around amplifying magic damage. But it’s just a matter of time before theorycrafters find another loophole to beat the record. Diretide keys earned for playing Dota during the event expire on the 12th, and it’s assumed that’s when the celebration will end. The next six days are going to very, very interesting.