I’ve played 2,864 matches. Spent 3,903 hours. Accrued endless frustration. You can’t say that I haven’t given Dota 2 absolutely every opportunity. But after years of solo queue, I’m out. I’ve enjoyed the updates and tweaks, even though they’re often full of immediate exploits and temporarily unbalanced heroes. But the surge of Dota 2’s popularity as an eSport has, as far as I’m concerned, doomed the game itself for average players.
The problems with Dota 2, as with most competitive multiplayer games, begin and end with its matchmaking system. With a few rare exceptions, this is not a game that can be won solo, which means that your ability to win is based, to a large degree, on the coordination of your team (or the lack thereof on the other team). Whereas professional-level players can punish a team for leaving gaps in their line-up (a reliance on magical damage, or a slow, farm-heavy team), that’s much harder to do with a random team of five strangers, especially if those strangers are intent on playing their own game, and refuse to communicate (or are unable to, because of a language barrier) exactly what their strategy is. If someone plans to be farming in the jungle for forty minutes, the rest of the team needs to make sure they can defend their lanes/towers and use defensive wards to give that player space to grow big; they also need to make sure that the other team doesn’t have heroes who are going to be even more effective if the game goes late. If one team chooses characters who are efficient at ganking, the other team needs to be ready to teleport at a moment’s notice–and to largely stick together, denying the other team those snowballing pick-offs.
Unfortunately, Dota 2 doesn’t care about any of that. It looks at one value, and one value only: your matchmaking rating (MMR), which is based largely on wins and losses in ranked play. As the theory goes, the game will eventually put you at the right level–a point at which you are roughly winning and losing 50% of the time–because all other players will be of the same skill level. The problem, however, is that MMR isn’t purely an indicator of skill. It’s also an indicator of luck, especially in solo queues. Every player on the winning or losing team gains and loses the same amount, so it’s very possible to ride the coattails of another player, just as it’s simple to be dragged down by a terrible player.
Again, in theory, the bad players will continue to lose matches while the good players will eventually climb out of the hole–and that’s probably true to some extent. The problem, however, is that the bad players can be lifted out of their hole by good or improving players, inflicting the same grief upon better players, as well as the fact that the truly abysmal or intentionally trolling players can simply start new accounts. This is time-consuming, but worth it to those who refuse to continue playing at the nadir of their self-worth. The other problem is that there’s a constant influx of new players, especially as the game grows more popular among viewers who think that, because this is just an eSport, it’s easier to pick up than any other professional sport. When these players begin their ranked matches, they’re not paired up with other first-timers, but plopped directly beside other people (generally in the 2.5-3.5K MMR range) who might watch their rank plummet as they contend with people who simply want to mimic the tactics they’ve seen on TV, no matter how outdated or situational those might be.
Now, some of this probably just sounds like whinging, as if I think I’m better than I am. I really don’t. I acknowledge that I’m nowhere near as good as a professional. But I am *communicative* and open to working with the team as needed. That sometimes means picking a hero or running a lane that I don’t particularly want to do. And nothing turns me toxic faster than when the other four people on the team refuse to speak, or offer nothing other than criticism, despite their own constant mistakes. You all know of what I speak: the guy who sits at mid forever, ignoring the pings and pleas of his teammates who are warning him of an incoming ambush, and then complains “need wards plz.” What he actually needs are eyes, or ears, so that he can look at the clearly warded map or listen to a strategy other than his own solo farming. And while stats aren’t everything–a great way to ensure that your kill-death ratio remains positive is to stay out of fights, even the ones that you could have actually turned around–if you browse through the records on Dotabuff, you can usually tell which players on a team were dragging down the others. In short: with a few exploitable situations aside, it is almost impossible to win against semi-competent players (even just a few of the five) on your own.
The key to better matchmaking, then, is to factor in other qualities beyond wins/losses alone. As a start, allow people to pre-select roles and/or lanes, so that two people don’t fight over who gets to play the mid lane, and to ensure that someone picks a support role. Perhaps add a detection for microphones, so that you can ensure that you only play with people who have the ability to speak, even if they never do (or if they use another language. Ideally, check the various pings of the people on your team; while this may not help to limit the number of non-English speakers who insist on playing on the US servers, it might at least prevent your team from being a man or two down midway through the match. (Losing such a match, incidentally, still causes you to lose the same amount of MMR.) My favorite suggestion is to offset the MMR against a person’s cumulative experience: i.e., to acknowledge than my MMR of 2700 and 3,000 matches is not the same as the that of a player with 2700 MMR but only 30 matches. At the very least, I’m less likely to be a smurf (i.e., a higher-rated player playing on a lower-ranked account), and more likely to be dedicated enough to want to work together, given the amount of time (and frustration) that I’ve sunk into the game.
Until issues like these are addressed in multiplayer-reliant games, I’m done with the lot. Perhaps I’ll make an exception for first-person shooters, whose matches are generally over within fifteen minutes, and keep reshuffling teams, but for the most part, I don’t like the toxic person that these games turn me into, as I grow ever more frustrated with a wall of silence, or Cyrillic, or intentional griefing. After thousands of hours, I’m worried that I’m not only being dragged down in MMR by the random strangers that I haven’t yet muted, but that I’m being pulled down to their level of pettiness and petulance, the sort of attitude that resignedly announces “GG” (good game) after a single mistake or first blood.
One giant caveat: I could totally have used all this time and energy to scour the Reddit boards for like-minded players, putting together a stable of people with whom I could then play online with. This is, fundamentally, why guilds exist in MMOs, so as to allow for high-level end-game play. Perhaps at some point I’ll come back to the game when I’ve got a solid team that can grow (and fail) together, without animosity. But until then, the solo queues are killing this, and most, multiplayer games, and I’m finally ready, willing, and able to steer clear of them.