Sometimes, readers, you have to make calls with little certainty and no proper evidence. It is what makes our society run. It is very easy for people to look in hindsight at the stories that have already been fleshed out and told, and to point at the evidence that has been so helpfully gathered to make this story function properly. We aren’t doing that today. Today, we are working on intuition, precedent and lots of different types of evidence to make the call that competitive DOTA has reached the peak of its glory and will begin going downhill.
Let’s begin with precedent. We all know that TV shows begin and end. Shows like I Love Lucy, Twin Peaks, and Seinfeld are all better than anything on the air today yet they are dead. To begin with, actors, producers, writers, set-designers and the massive cast of people responsible for creating a show lose interest. Quality fades and the show becomes a product rather than an entertaining piece of art. The same thing seems to be happening in DOTA – to an extent. Casters and players both have begun voicing their concerns about the enthusiasm for the game. These have more, however, to do with the informal structure of DOTA competition than with waning love of DOTA itself.
The other reasons TV shows fall out of favor is because they run out of things to say. Every TV show has a “DNA” that delineates exactly what it will and won’t talk about. This provides a convenient guide for writing future episodes but also limits them. Seinfeld, for example, would never have been allowed to talk about something like 9/11. Fortunately the Seinfeld series was discontinued before this conscious shattering event, but if they had hypothetically continued to that era, they would have been culturally irrelevant and lost favor with the public most likely. My point is that forms of entertainment and art become victims of their own success over time in a very specific way – they become unable to remain relevant to changing conditions.
DOTA has to deal with cohorts of gamers who are, quite frankly, worse than previous generations. Games created in the mid 2000’s are definitely the easiest games in the history of the industry. Most young people I know prefer to play easier games like League of Legends or Hearthstone because DOTA is such an extremely complicated game. It reminds me of experiences as a child where kids wanted to change the rules of chess because the game was too difficult for them to play. DOTA’s greatest strength is its strategic depth and the nuances of the game, and yet this is also the single greatest barrier for it becoming relevant.
When this phenomenon happens, its victim typically has 2 responses – adapt or perish. Examples of the former include the NHL’s expansion into unconventional markets in order to increase viewership and gate revenue. Examples of the latter – well, think about that old barber shop that continues to serve the same customers over the years.
DOTA has chosen to do the former. They are starting to dumb down the game and make it easier by removing inconsistent rules and quirks and replacing them with general rules that are easy to remember. Complex interactions are beginning to get removed from the game as a result. An example of this mollifying the vagaries of DOTA is the addition of alt+click mechanics for almost everything in the game. These little things start to add up and remove the strength of experience, in-game knowledge and simple keyboard skill. Gold, the primary currency that defines how well your hero can progress, is increasingly easier to find both in the form of direct increases to passive gold gain, and increasing “rebound” effects that result when a losing team kills members of the opposing team.
Let’s look at the second part in-depth. In Mario Kart 64 there is this very interesting mechanic whereby racers who are losing by a great margin just happen to get more powerful spells that allow them to get back into the lead. AI karts also gain mysterious speed boosts that allow for more interesting races. This mechanic made the game suck because it made skill less important for winning games. The same holds true for DOTA’s rebound mechanics. Even the recent modification to decrease these does not address the overall concern that DOTA’s makers, Valve and a mysterious individual named IceFrog, are intentionally dumbing down the game in order to make it more appealing for a wider audience.
Now I am not a 10-year DOTA man myself. But I remember times even recently where small amounts of available gold and few item choices made strategy a critical part of the game. I remember a time when the fountain-hook mechanic, a straight up glitch that was present in the game as recently as TI3, allowed a struggling Na’Vi team to upset a more technically skilled Chinese team. Strategy, foresight, skill, and knowledge are getting “nerfed” while efficiency, brashness, are getting “buffed”.
See this gameplay video below to see changes from the 6.84 update: