Games

It's Not You, 'Dota,' It’s Me: Why I've Finally Quit My MOBA Habit

We had our good times, Troll Warlords and all, but you were turning me into a toxic monster.

by Jake Tucker
Oct 4 2016, 5:45pm

All screenshots captured by the author. 'Dota' is the copyright of Valve Corporation.

1,149 hours.

That's how long I've played Dota 2 for. It adds up to nearly 48 days. I'm not sure why I didn't make it to 1,150 to round out the count. Presumably I slunk off after a tight game in disgust, fuming at either my own performance, or at the player on my team (there's always one) who suggested I'm an idiot, or that I should have been aborted. That guy.

So I think I should play other games. We should see other people.

I'm giving up on you, in part, for the games I've never played. Resident Evil's HD remaster, Valkyria Chronicles, Virginia. There's a digitized mountain of games I've bought and dutifully installed on launch day, only to never play. Instead, I spent another night chasing the dragon—otherwise known as Roshan—with another round of wizard fight club.

We had our good times. Those old Troll Warlord games, back when he was good, that often saw me murder the entire enemy team within 15 minutes. The five-man black hole that had us storming the high ground and taking a tense game. In those early days, I made a lot of friends, and there would be screams of elation as my rookie fingers managed to pull off something that felt genuinely magical.

But there's a problem. There are problems. As I've progressed in skill, you haven't been treating me well. While playing Dota 2 today, I become the worst version of myself. I'm paranoid, twitchy, and too fast to call out the mistakes of others—and too happy to dwell on those of my own. I get sullen and frustrated. I think that, toward the end, 75 percent of the time I spent playing, I did so while miserable. I've been finding myself frustrated, bent out of shape by teammates or my own declining ability, stuck with the realization I'm doomed to a bad game 20 minutes in. Sometimes I'll be locked into this cycle of death and rebirth against nigh-impossible odds until the bitter end, often 30 minutes later.

That's the thing about Dota 2. Leaving games while they're in progress is heavily penalized, so if you're having a bad time, you've just got to stick it out. Leave early, and you go into "low priority," a punishment pool that bundles all of the quitters, griefers, and abusive players together, and that seems like a really good idea until you're stuck there. Games in low priority were miserable affairs, where I'd try to serve out my time while a friendly Pudge attempted to trap me on scenery, and people would shout abuse at one another other over voice and text chat, in a variety of languages.

I've actually worked out three reasons we're not a good fit anymore.

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Firstly, I'm just not a very good Dota player. Many of the friends I made in the early days slowly became annoyed at my lack of skill. As they got better and better, I remained at the same level (2000 MMR, for those of you clamoring to ask in the comments) and couldn't seem to improve. They started to attribute my inadequacy to malice or idiocy, and I found the atmosphere while I played could get decidedly chilly. After a bit, I wasn't invited to play Dota anymore.

The second reason is that I don't have that much time to put into the game. Dota 2 requires your patience and commitment. It isn't like loading up Call of Duty or fitting in a few matches of FIFA. Dota games run for anywhere between 20 and 90 minutes, averaging out around 45. You'll need to play five or six games a week to maintain any level of skill. I found that when I slipped away to play something else for review, or perhaps even for fun, I'd come back and be markedly worse at the game.

Thirdly, and this is perhaps the most important thing: I'm a delicate snowflake. I don't want an angry man with a thick accent loudly screaming in my ear because I accidentally used my Blink Dagger—a short-range teleportation item—at the wrong time.

Of course, I try to say what I mean, and these aren't the real reasons it's over between us, Dota. You deserve better than a whimsical dismissal. It's actually because I recognized, too late, that you turn me into a toxic monster.

A couple of years ago, worn down by my mid-20s neurosis and trying to work out what sort of person I'd like to be, I adopted a mantra: "Try to write good words for the internet and be nice to everyone." Unfortunately, Dota 2 makes this impossible, because in play I become a shithead. My first warning came late last year, when I got a ban from chat because my behavior had received a certain number of complaints. I served the punishment and made a conscious effort to try and be more constructive in my criticism. Instead of an angry, "Why do this?," I tried to go for a polite, "Have you tried doing this?"

But whenever I started to lose, I found that I was filled with resentment again. Beyond that indignation at myself for failing, I was annoyed that I was spending my leisure time getting angry at a bunch of video game characters smashing one another around in some virtual woods. Why was I trying to psych myself up for my fourth successive loss of the day when I could have been playing Mad Max instead? These hour-long wars of attrition could have been used to prevent a nuclear apocalypse, or execute a nigh-perfect (but never quite there) heist. In another video game, you understand.

Playing Dota 2 had become as compulsive for me as breathing, but I'd grown to hate what it did to me as a person, and I despised the amount of my time the game was taking up.

So, now I've uninstalled you, Dota 2. I told myself it was a trial and started the long process of selling off all of my cosmetic items (I could write an entire follow-up piece about how pointlessly arduous that was). I'll come back eventually, I said, secretly hoping that'll never be the case.

It's been a couple of months since my last game of Dota 2, and I feel much better. I've finished Wolfenstein: The New Order, and I'm nearly there with Mad Max. I'll always have fond memories of our time together, Dota, but if you've brought me anything, it's the lesson that sometimes I care about games too much. And when that happens, I can turn into a bit of a dick.

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