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Valve is about to make Dota fun again
05.20.14

Valve is about to make Dota fun again

Deathmatch is coming to Dota 2. You can find it down in Valve’s money shaft on the Compendium page, buried at the #6 hash mark. It’s been buried a long time, forgotten by an entire generation of weed-wreathed Dota heads, left out of every major successor to the original game. But it’s among the best ideas the genre ever had.

Back when it lived in the Custom Games tab of Warcraft 3, “Dota” could mean a lot of different things. You had to learn battle.net shorthand before you even knew what arcane variant of the game you were trying to join. A game tagged -id meant Item Drop, where you lost equipment on death; -em meant Easy Mode, where you leveled faster and the towers were weaker; and so on.

Quickly filling games with names like “DOTA 6.49 -APEMIDSC” would rush down the page like sushi on a vile greased conveyor belt, and you’d hustle to grab anything that wasn’t pure mayo and rice. You wound up in wild gene-spliced modes where kaiju-sized creeps pushed lanes all by themselves and endgame bosses bellowed from distant corners of the map.

But one of Dota’s mutated heirs sometimes outshined its parent. It was Deathmatch, or -dm, a vital remix that turned a game of accumulating advantage into a roller coaster of crisis management. Every time you die in -dm, you come back as a different random hero. Death becomes a devastating event, not just a dip on a gold graph. It forces teams to improvise around a constantly shifting roster, playing heroes outside their normal roles, trying goofy shit that would make teammates in ranked games go blind with rage.

You go after the other side’s heavy hitters relentlessly, because when you get them in -dm, they’re really gone. You remove options from the field, rather than just impeding their development. Once a side has run through the pool of available heroes, their players simply can’t respawn. My best memories of Dota are from that twilight knockout stage of close-fought DM games, when heroes with awful builds slugged it out and fallen comrades spectated, hanging on the result.

There was always a whiff of snobbery in Valve’s long neglect of DM. They brought in a few of battle.net’s novelty acts and party games, like “Pudge Wars,” but left Deathmatch out in the cold for years. They may have been wary of dividing their audience. Once you acclimate to it, DM starts to look less like a diversion and more like the game you should have always been playing; ranked Dota matches feel like stilted imitations of the pro game.

DM is the cure to the crushing orthodoxy of ranked Dota. It sows chaos and demands fluency in every playstyle. It lacks the famous snottiness and hostility of the original game, which comes from players enforcing the prescribed roles and taboos of the community: those shoes on him?! DM makes optimal hero development impossible, and conformity absurd.  

You exult in the eternal triumph of slobs over snobs. 

You win games of DM alongside a gang of clowns that would make a DotaFire editor puke into his cravat. Your friends’ inventories look like a garage sale you would keep driving past. Radiance on Sniper, Black King Bar on Weaver, some guy juggling 5 Ultimate Orbs. And you survey this ragged crew of survivors and think only "We fucking did it!!" You exult in the eternal triumph of slobs over snobs, although you have in fact beaten another team of slobs, and all the snobs are still playing classic Dota in a different queue, which you see no reason to ever return to.

Everything will always go to shit in -dm, the game is always a mess, and recrimination is always pointless. It is the noble grubby soul that standard Dota was born without. It should have been in Dota 2 from the start, but at least it’s finally getting here. Whenever it comes out, give it a shot.

Head Image via Dota 2 The International