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Dota 2 at the Dinner Table: How do you explain Dota to your loved ones?

It’s taken up your whole life, anyway, so why not be prepared for the inevitable?

You’re going to get asked about Dota 2 one day.

It’s a fact of life, like the passing of time. If you have a friend that you see multiple times a week, for at least an hour per day, and you keep in contact with them for much of the day, then somebody is going to notice. If you have a job that requires so much of your time and attention, someone is going to ask about your job.

Likewise, maybe you’ve dumped at least several hundred hours into Dota 2. You probably go on at least one site, if not more, where people convene to discuss it. You’re reading this article, on an entire site dedicated to Dota 2, by someone whose job it is to write about it. (Hello!) There’s a nonzero chance you own overpriced, late-to-arrive merchandise.

But there’s no reason to be scared about this encounter. In fact, I’d argue that you should be excited. This is a new frontier in your interpersonal relationships with your loved ones!

It’s also likely a welcome topic of discussion at the table. Frankly, the year 2017 was defined by many strange things: that “Hollyweed” sign, Kermit The Frog’s actor’s departure, Ryan Reynolds announced as playing a Detective Pikachu, and the Academy Awards’ Best Picture mishap. A TON of celebrities died last year. Politics.

Dota 2 pales in comparison to much of this. Even in the gaming world, while Dota 2 is nuts, it’s nothing compared to that EA loot box drama. Take solace in knowing that you have something relatively consistent grounding your life and existence, and that you have a chance in grounding the discussion. Again, relatively speaking.

So it’s time walk through some very common and possible conversation scenarios that may arise when the subject comes up at a gathering. No need to fear!

“What’s that game you keep playing all the time?”

This one always feels a lot trickier than it actually is, because you’re very likely to go into full defensive mode over it. Maybe you’re being judged, but that shouldn’t affect your approach!

Lay it out in bare terms; go over the basics. It’s like a long game similar to king of the hill. Everyone picks a character that has different magic powers, or is stronger, or can hit harder. (And there are 115 of them.) You have to grow more powerful, then fight your way to the opponents’ team base and destroy it.

If they have simple questions, answer them! People really do want to understand, regardless of how they want to feel about it. (By that I mean, yes, maybe your aunt/uncle does want to hate it, but that opinion won’t change regardless, so what’s the harm?) At the very least, they learned something new.

And you can talk about people dedicate a LOT of time and money on it, because it’s just such an intensive game. But if someone finds that odd:

“You spend so much time and money on it!”

Okay, well, somebody has to point it out. Not that you don’t know it already.

Here’s the thing: Dota 2, like many other things, is a hobby, much like how “gaming,” as a whole, is treated as such. And it’s not a meaningless one either, I promise. (Or at least, that’s what we keep telling ourselves.) For one, it just takes so damn long to learn, that you have to spend a lot of time on it in order to get deeper enjoyment out of it.

That’s fine, because other people are grinding too, and you all learn together! Really, 13 million unique users (probably more like 12 million after smurfs) can’t all be wrong. Beyond the game, there are events and meetups, little chat rooms and whole discussion sites. Other people make it worth your time.

Hey, you know what? It makes you happy. Just as long as you get up and do your work on occasion, and treat others around you with respect and the proper amount of attention, and most importantly, take care of yourself—what’s wrong? Someone’s gonna judge you somehow for almost anything you do that you enjoy. Just don’t get too defensive if someone does get critical. Shrug it off. It’s probably a generational thing.

“Ah, well I used to play [old game] back in my day!”

One of the old’ems is going to mention Pong or something. It’s worth noting, like many things, Pong’s original iteration runs on a giant brick of a computer with less processing power. But, um, PLEASE don’t point that out unless they bring it up as a factor of fascination.

In fact, it’s one thing to be condescending about your relatives’ old experiences with gaming. Don’t initiate a roast on your relatives for being behind on the times; go with the tone of the conversation.

It’s another, much better thing to talk about how goddamn cool video games are nowadays. It’s like going to Disney World in the 1970’s versus now. It’s not better or worse (though probably better), just different. More high-tech, more fascinating, more things to do.

So explain it that way! Dota 2 is free! The new graphics are pretty cool! You have 115 characters, which means 18-freaking-billion (upwards of 19 billion) character/team combinations are possible. You can play ONLINE with STRANGERS, and are expected to, and if you’re good you can be ranked and famous! (Though not mutually inclusive.) People get paid to coach and help other players get good at it!

Imagine playing whatever game they’re talking about, on the Internet, and you can even sign up to win money and fame because you’re so good at it. It’s a skill, like swinging a golf club, bluffing in poker or whatever you want to point out and compare this to. It’s something to be hyped for and proud of.

“Well, [someone at the kids’ table] plays [irrelevant game]!”

...and the kid spins his head around to look at you...


I know you don’t want to hear this kid rant about Minecraft as you’re trying to watch football. But be the better person here: Gaming is actually SUPER cool. You know it. The adults know it. The world knows it. You get to be the cool person here, and it’ll make the parents happy.

And look at the reality of the situation, because honestly, if you try to back out of this one, you’re only making your options worse. Because option one is, you can talk about this kid’s custom server, or how he’s top 50% in the world in Call of Duty, or his favorite Freddy Fazbear fan animation. At least you’ll be learning about what video games the kids are playing these days.

While dealing with someone with parallel but not the same hobbies can be obnoxious, the other option is: You keep the door open to your relatives asking about the reality of your life. Even if your life isn’t sad, your job is great and you have a great relationship, I don’t think anyone likes the conversational intrusion. You just know someone will be judging you.

If the kid does ask what the heck Dota 2 is, just tell them there’s a big competition for it every year. Five players, like king of the hill, and everyone plays different characters. Like a big battle.

But if they’re like, 13 or younger, tell them to avoid it because it’s a big kid game that takes a lot of reading to learn, and they need to focus on their schoolwork. That’s not far from the truth, anyway. (That’s to say, don’t ruin this kid’s life, please. We’re all begging you.)

“Isn’t that the one with the big competition? The one worth millions of dollars?”

Fantastic! Someone may actually remember it! There’s a chance this ends up being the pinnacle of your evening. You get a shot at legitimizing something you enjoy because it’s just so goddamn big!

There’s a very small chance they may be mixing it up with another esport event, but that’s okay! This is a wonderful opportunity to talk about the merits of esports. While Dota 2 has the biggest event, esports events still have millions of dollars at stake. League of Legends and Overwatch players are salaried, and many have benefits. They draw in millions of viewers at best, and thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, on a slow day. It’s gotten the designation as an industry that literally sports team owners are trying to invest into. (The Patriots! The 76’ers! Golden State Warriors! The owners of the Bruins and Celtics!)

Whether or not they recognized the game proper, it’s also a great chance to explain why there’s a tournament. Dota has 14 years with consistent players who have played nearly as long as it’s existed. It takes hundreds of hours—we’ll say a number of hours equivalent to a week—to understand the game well enough to understand it at a basic level. There are the technical aspects of the game: the reflexes, decision-making and awareness. Given the characters, items and map mechanics, it may have a skill requirement comparable to few other hobbies out there. Plus, when you’re in the thick of it, you need four teammates of similar knowledge and skill, and you need to beat five players of similar skill.

It goes beyond gameplay, though; Dota 2 is an international phenomenon. You can tell them how the last match of the biggest tournament of the year was a European team versus a Chinese one, and how it filled and shook the stadium. People come from all over the world to meet others and watch these games for six days. You can tell them to imagine a World Cup for an exhaustively difficult video game, and the analogy will probably stick well.

The long and short of this is, get them as excited for the competitive aspect as you likely are, because seriously, when it boils down, a $24 million international gaming tournament is pretty freaking cool.