Dota 2: Here’s what every new player needs to know

Fiery Slayer Lina loading screen in Dota 2

Dota 2 isn’t the biggest MOBA in the world, but it has proven to be one of the most enduring titles in all of gaming and esports.

The MOBA genre is a competitive one. There are many titles that are firmly cemented in the space, and even gaming giants like Blizzard have been forced out by those established brands. One of those genre staples is Dota 2, which stands as the main competitor to industry leader League of Legends.

DotA popularized the MOBA genre and established gameplay elements that remain standard to this day. Here’s everything you need to know about its sequel, and where the game is headed.

What is Dota 2?

Dota 2 is a MOBA game published by Valve in conjunction with Abdul “IceFrog” Ismail. The game is a sequel to Defense of the Ancients, a mod for Warcraft 3 released in 2003. The original DotA was extremely popular, boasting its own dedicated player base separate from Warcraft 3’s regular multiplayer ladder.

While there are many MOBA games on the market, Dota 2 separates itself with its true free-to-play status and depth. It also has a robust modding community of its own, with Dota 2 effectively spawning the auto-battler genre with the release of Dota Auto Chess in 2019.

How do you win a game in Dota 2?

A game of Dota 2 is won when one team destroys the opposing team’s Ancient. This is a large building that lies at the core of the enemy base. A team can only attack it after first destroying a number of towers that lie outside the base.

The Ancients in Dota 2

Dota 2 is a five-on-five team game, with each player controlling a single hero. Each hero has their own unique set of abilities, with heroes becoming stronger as the game progresses. Teams need to balance offense and defense in order to make their advance toward the enemy ancient without leaving their own territory vulnerable.

Is Dota 2 hard?

Dota 2 is a notoriously difficult game to start playing due to the sheer number of heroes and items, and the many different interactions that happen when combining them. There are “rules” in Dota 2 when it comes to building up heroes, but there are so many exceptions to each one that even veteran players can have trouble keeping track of them. 

For example, the item Black King Bar made players immune to enemy magic for a long while, but there were many different spells that pierced through it to deal damage or stun players. That’s not a unique case, either. Players need to learn these intricacies, play around them, and figure out how to adjust their own hero’s build based on them.

Dota 2 splash art

There are many tools built into Dota 2 that help with this including the ability to incorporate suggested builds directly into the game’s HUD. It’s still an intensely steep learning curve and players shouldn’t expect much help from teammates.

Is Dota 2 a toxic game?

Dota 2 has been consistently ranked among the most toxic multiplayer games in the world. A number of different organizations have done studies on the matter, with Dota 2 typically ranking at or near the top when it comes to the rate of negative interactions with other players.

Since 2019 The Anti-Defamation League has released studies on toxicity in online multiplayer games. These studies delve into the rate at which players encounter toxic behavior, as well as what kind of behaviors occur. In 2019 and 2020, Dota 2 was rated as the most toxic online multiplayer game. 

The 2022 study shared that Dota 2 has enjoyed a slight decline in toxicity, going from 79% of players saying that they had experienced toxicity to 76%. That’s still an overwhelming majority of players who reported toxicity, but Dota 2 is now tied with Grand Theft Auto 5 as the fifth-most-toxic game in the world. This comes after the release of Valorant and major spikes in toxicity within League of Legends, PUBG: Battlegrounds, and Dota 2’s sister title Counter-Strike.

Is Dota 2 really free-to-play?

Dota 2 is a legitimate free-to-play game. Nothing that impacts gameplay is behind a paywall.

The MOBA genre is rife with games that are “free to play” with some pay-to-win elements. While competitors including League of Legends and Pokemon Unite don’t have any kind of paywall to get started, both of them are structured in a way that encourages players to hand over cash in order to unlock new characters. In Pokemon Unite’s case, players can actually spend money to make their character stronger with items that are powered up by grinding.

Dota 2 is instead monetized by Valve through cosmetic items. Players can reskin almost every facet of the game including the map, characters, buildings, and more. The game’s developers have taken in over $1 billion through these purchases. While many players love this customizability, it ultimately doesn’t impact gameplay or confer any competitive advantage.

Every hero in Dota 2 is available for free. The closest thing that Dota 2 has to a pay-to-win element is the Dota Plus subscription service. This offers help to players in terms of itemization, drafting, and performance statistics, but it doesn’t offer any kind of unfair advantage over opponents.

What is The International in Dota 2?

The International is Dota 2’s annual world championship tournament. The event’s full name is The International Dota 2 Championship.

The tournament has been held annually since 2011, except for the 2020 event being canceled due to travel restrictions. The International was the first esports event to have a prize pool over $1 million and the first event with an individual team’s prize over $1 million.

The International has typically held the record for largest prize pool in esports history, breaking its own record each year until 2021. The International 2021 had a prize pool of $40,018,195, with winners Team Spirit taking home the top prize of $18,208,300. Unfortunately, those days are over as Valve restructured The International Battle Pass schedule so that it doesn’t contribute as much to the event’s prize pool. The International 2022 had a prize pool of $18,930,775, which is still an enormous amount but is less than half of the prize pool from a year prior.

Tundra Esports winning The International

This is set to be changed further in 2023 with Valve no longer running The International Battle Passes. It is unclear whether this marks a sunsetting of Dota 2 esports, but it definitely indicates that it won’t be as lucrative as it previously was.

Why is The International’s prize pool so big?

The International’s prize pool is enormous thanks to Dota 2 having a built-in crowdfunding mechanism in the form of The International Battle Pass.

Ahead of the event, Valve runs a battle pass that boasts limited-edition skins and a number of other prizes. 25% of the revenue generated by the battle pass is put into The International’s prize pool. The battle pass effectively forces players to pay significant amounts of cash in order to unlock everything, and many are willing to do so.

The size of The International Battle Pass grew over time, with Valve growing more creative in its offering to players. Though Dota 2 esports doesn’t have the viewership or player base of other titles, it still manages to attract fans to The International through the size of its prize pool alone.

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Written by Steven Rondina

Steven Rondina has been playing video games since he was a toddler and appreciates every genre out there. He has earned the platinum trophy in every Soulsborne game, is regularly Master Ball-ranked on the competitive Pokemon ladder, and has spent thousands of hours missing shots on Dust 2. His work has previously been featured by Bleacher Report and The Washington Post, and he was an Assistant Editor at You can follow him on Twitter / X at @srondina.

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