Follow the Leader: Taking charge in Dota 2


It’s a moment I can almost see, softly glimmering in the mire of disarray and confusion that perpetuates, a negative feedback loop that can turn a team that had a little confidence, was doing a little well, into a disorganised mess of failed initiates, bad pushes, and overextension. It’s your morale, tightly balled and tinkering on the edge. The moment sits around the twenty minute mark, hanging in the balance along with the game.

It’s a moment that’s asking for something, and there’s a part of me that thinks that it’s not such a big request. That anyone could do it, step up to the plate, and seize it. But I’ve seen too many games go too far south to consider it anything beyond a call for… what? Leadership? Courage? Confidence? Power?
Most of those. Decisiveness lurches out among them as the true requirement, though. You have to make a decision, and you have to stick by it. That’s all the rest of your team wants. They need purpose.
I’ve played enough pubbie games now to know that sometimes you’re just not going to get through to people. They’re stubborn, egotistical, arrogant. They think that what they know is best, and maybe it is, but they’re not communicating their plan, and no matter how many of them there are, if you don’t have the whole team acting in concert, you’re going to lose.
But sometimes your words trickle through, your confident breaking down of what we’re doing wrong, and what we can do to make it right, is enough of a glue to pull everyone together. You’re getting dominated, your lanes are pushed, the score is close, but not as close as you’d like it.
It’s the bottom of the ninth. That’s an American Football term, I think. Something about darkest before the dawn. Either way, you can turn it around. If you can inspire. You can be the coach that gives his team just enough of a push that they can pull victory from the gnashing jaws of Roshan.
The funny thing is that it really doesn’t take an awful lot to inspire public players. They’re noncommittal at best, playing the game to pass the time, advance their skills, maybe even for the cosmetic items that drop at the end. This is a game that matters to them only insofar as they’d like to come away after forty minutes a victor rather than a loser. But that’s enough, a kernel of desire that you coax into a flame.
No one wants to lose, and losing in Dota 2 is worse than most games, the culmination of the better part of an hour being defeat never feels good. It’s the kind of hollow despondency that either gets you angry, throwing yourself into another game where you just make mistakes and bad decisions, or puts you off playing for the rest of the day, needing a good eight hours of sleep before you’re refreshed enough to face it again.
I’ve started to lead public players. Thumbing down on my push to talk key and telling them what to do. You’d think in a game whose community is notoriously acerbic, you’d just received a torrent of abuse when you try and give anything resembling an order. Hell, you’ll often get your head bitten off if you try and tell someone not to do something.
But that’s just it; if you focus on the micro, things like item builds, ability levelling, how exactly they should play their hero, you’re going to be met with aggression. That’s not what they want, even if you areright. Instead, if you look at the macro, talk about which lane you need to push, when you want to teamfight, whereyou want to teamfight, people tend to listen.
They listen because there’s no better option. You’re shutting out all others by verbalising the one, and even though they could go to other lanes, they have no reason to, so long as you’re not being a raving lunatic. Just removing a choice is enough to coax them down the right path, get them in the right place. The rest they can manage themselves. They know how to play their hero, so let them.
For the most part, they’ll listen. There are enough that ignore you that it can be thankless, and there are enough that hurl abuse in your direction that it can be frustrating. But when it works, it eclipses all of those negatives into one giant ball of burning victory.
This is why Valve have commendations. It’s why there’s a commendation for leadership, and one for being friendly. It’s why players will actually go out of their way to give you these if you do exactly that, and give them a victory when they are acutely aware that it could have just as easily been a loss. Wouldhave been a loss, had you not stepped in.
And that knowledge, that you are all but solely responsible for turning five solo players on a public server into a team, for no matter how brief a time, is just about the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experienced in a game of Dota 2.