One of the greatest fears of any multiplayer game is death by irrelevance. Dota 2 probably isn’t going to achieve that anytime in the foreseeable future, given its international popularity (and ability to run on low-spec computers), but fans have certainly panicked over a declining player base. Further and more importantly, many have cried out over the years for a proper new player experience.
Right now, the new player program begins with a simple mid-lane Luna tutorial, followed by a few Turbo matches, leading into a full multiplayer Turbo. To Valve’s credit, the “half-speed” game mode has been suggested for new players since its release several months ago. However, the game doesn’t fully get into many of the nuances of the game, including item builds, in-game scenarios and drafting.
The Plus Assistant, released last month, was proposed as a fix for players who have no idea what they’re doing, but unfortunately it costs about $4 USD per month. Of course, with the release of the Plus Assistant, people have suggested that a free month of this become part of the newcomer experience, as it may give some experience in itemization and hero selection.
Until we get some type of actual new tutorial program, I’ve got a few legitimate ideas for programs that Valve can implement to make the entry a little smoother.
Opt-in new player pool
Most games dump all the new accounts together with little to no option to actually point out that you’d rather not be put with someone who’s been playing 1500 hours and thinks Battle Fury on Sniper is a good idea and will insist because hours are a good indicator of skill, right? (Not that you’d know the difference at 10 hours.) While it’s fine for weeding out the smurfs, it hasn’t done wonders for making newbs and veterans get along.
Instead of making old players opt out, new players should be allowed to be opt into a newcomer-only pool instead until they hit a game threshold. After all, it’s a few wholesome hours of innocence and cheesy, naive plays that these players will spend together before they get spat back out into a dump of elitism.
Gank simulator (or any scenario simulator)
One of the most frustrating parts of learning Dota 2 is trying to explain the definition of “gank” — a coordinated kill, the Dota 2 equivalent of a play in sports — which is much easier said than done. It’s often more smooth to just get right into it, but if it’s within a player’s first dozen or so times doing it, it’s still a tricky concept. And the same goes for warding, stacking or creep blocking.
Just like for last-hitting, there can be a “ganking simulator,” or one for any type of basic gameplay concept, really. The game would explain in prompts that kills can give you gold and experience and, with multiple players at the ready, a gank can turn the tides. You’re instructed to either stun as a roamer or follow up as a core, and the kill plays out from there.
These can probably be programmed as Arcade custom games, so if you’re reading this, that would be a rad idea. But it’d be even cooler if Valve created this simulator for new players to try. After all, when all is said and done, it’s easier to learn through experience than explanation.
Pre-picked Limited Hero queue
The “beginner-friendly” hero limitation is great, except that nobody knows how to synergize these heroes at low levels. (Not that a four-core, three-DPS strategy at 5k MMR is any better.) Worse, you may have three players that got comfortable with Sniper or Dragon King in the tutorials and are raring to play them, only to have it sniped by someone else in the hero pick stage.
To resolve this, Valve can implement a pre-picked Limited Hero queue. What this means is, before you queue up, you’re given the “beginner-friendly” hero pool and need to choose two or three heroes you want to play. Valve then puts you against players who want to play other heroes. This means you’re put in matches with players that actually want to play different heroes against each other, instead of bickering over sniped picks, while keeping the “beginner-friendly” pool open.
The hero queue is also a staple of Heroes of the Storm’s queue system, meaning it can even be a viable method across the skill spectrum — even if most pub-match players think that all of us need to be flexible in roles.
The Coaching feature is often used a way for a sixth party member to have fun with their friends, but many players have actually made good use, including newcomer stacks and actual team coaches. It’s not too well-loved by Valve, as every time a bug gets squashed, one more occasionally pops up, and it takes a while to get resolved.
If they really wanted to, Valve could opt to make a “coaching queue” by matching a player with more matches and higher MMR with a low-tier stack. There’d probably need to be some etiquette explained, such as “a coach isn’t going to win you the game” and “every coach has their opinion on skill builds.” But every new player can benefit from being reminded to check the map or build a situational item, or knowing when to gank versus focus on last hits.
On the other end of it, every complex skill is built on fundamentals, and coaches can refresh their knowledge from lower tiers. So instead of hoping new players have a close friend willing to help, or paying a coach to teach them intimate details, this strategy allows mutual growth. Or mutual yelling, probably, but if every pork chop were perfect, we wouldn’t have hot dogs.