State of Mind
I did, and I am a big fan of this kind of pastime. The trick I've learned over the course of beating harder difficulties in these game is to "turn off" your mind. Stop thinking about everything else, and let the muscles of your fingers get direct commands from the brain - unhampered by reasoning or questioning.
This state of mind is really hard to keep - you will get distracted by something in the outer world or will suddenly remember your ex-girlfriend that has left you heartbroken (It is not as sad as it sounds... but pretty freaking close to it).
And never in the long history of my playing Dota, HoN and Dota 2 have I thought that this state can be achieved in MOBAs. Until...
Forever a Scrub
About 5 months ago began my short history of playing competitively - in the beginning it was very easy. Most of the players in my team were really good. Two of them are 4.9k+ and rising, the rest are in the 4.6k range... and then there is me - a 4.1k. Forever a Scrub.
Soon we started getting some results - we managed to break the hell out of Amateur league very fast - luckily there were qualifiers into the Semi-Pro. Tougher opponents meant we needed to get better ourselves. I was training day and night on relatively easy supports like Crystal Maiden and Vengeful Spirit, while leaving some time for R&D in multi-unit control heroes.
The Visage Era
We loved aggressiveness. We could put a Tri-lane by the enemy tower and still farm, while finalizing on any opening our opponent gave us. That is when I decided to ask picking me Visage. The team was very reluctant - they never saw me playing multi-units. But since we've already won two out of three opponents of our group stage, they let me give it a try.
And did it pay off!
While Crystal Maiden and Vengeful Spirit are both very aggressive supports, nothing compares to a Visage in a Tri-Lane vs Tri-Lane situation. A 215 damage nuke at level 1 is a force to be reckoned with.
Soon after Visage was the only hero I've ever played. He was picked first, if not banned, and we rapidly climbed to the top of Semi-Pro. And that is when this happened.
At first I did not even realize what had happened. Our team shattered, leaving me the only remaining hero on the battlefield from our side. I was facing an almost-full Earthshaker and heavily damaged Gyrocopter and Crystal Maiden. My ultimate just went off cooldown, and I still had two previous familiars alive (had an Aghanim's Scepter already).
We were in the Dire jungle, by the CrossRoads stone (a plateau slightly to the top of Dire T1). I squeezed into the tree pathway by the large camp, with the enemy heroes chasing me. With one of the familiars I pulled the Centaur from the large camp, consequently stunning the three heroes I was facing, while attacking Crystal Maiden with the second familiar. One Soul Assumption and she was gone- right before she could cast Frostbite, which would kill me. I just never gave her the chance.
At this point I was very close to death - Earthshaker had stunned me with the Fissure and Gyrocopter was already dealing damage with Rocket Barrage, melting the layers of my protection. Summoning three new familiars spread the damage, and let me survive on 120 HP. I closed the exit from the trees with one of the familiars, so they had to go all the way around, sending the other one to block it from the other side, while they were stunned.
Trapping them in-between two Familiars in the stone form is what let me kill Gyrocopter - being out of reach of his attack, I right-clicked two attacks, giving the vision with the last Familiar, to once again, finish him off with a Soul Assumption.
The rest was textbook - kiting Earthshaker so that he would always feel like he can kill me, while poking his health away:
All of the above, except for killing the Earthsaker, happened in less than 10 seconds. For me it felt like an eternity. Everything was in slow-motion - the same kind of state, as in the games I have mentioned in the beginning.
I am not claiming that I am a good player - if anything I am probably somewhere in the top 25% (we all know MMR distribution does not tell the whole story, so me being in a 4.1k+ does not mean I am in the 1% of top players, as Valve's post suggests). The fact that I did this was something extraordinary to me - both because it required a much higher amount of multi-unit control than I posses, as well as some extra thinking in terms of trapping enemy heroes in-between the trees or pulling the Centaur.
So where did this effect come from?
It is said that people can do unbelievable things when in danger. And I believe this to be true - it has been proven countless time both in real life and scientifically.
In fact, there was an article a couple of years ago, regarding the performance of prominent F1 Drivers in virtual F1 simulators. Initially, they were expecting the results to be better - after all, without the danger of getting physically harmed, the driver could try higher speeds and riskier moves.
The actual outcome was exactly the opposite - drivers under no stress underperformed.
Of course, there are limitations to the technology used - the physics in the real world remains understudied, let alone programmed "models" of it. But the point can still be made: that being fueled by your hormones, one can achieve more.
What about Dota 2?
There is a definite distinction between a simulator of the real world and a completely made-up world of Dota 2. Moreover, if professional drivers did not feel the same way with the simulation of what they are used to, how can we reasonably expect gamers to have a hormonal response to a virtual event?
In fact we can - there is known concept of the "Flow". It is the state, which I have described above - a singular focus without regard for anything that is happening in the outer world. I strongly suggest reading through the Wiki article if you are interested, since it is too spacious to put into the blog post.
So I now know for sure that there is a way to play better. I have experienced it. I have lived through it as my Visage to tell the tale. And I think many of you also know the feeling.
Why did it happen to me?
Knowledge is Power
Well, I believe there is a definite advantage in knowing the game. It is not necessarily the case that the most knowledgeable people are the best ones, but it certainly helps. Have I not known that the Familiars in the stone form can actually block the unit's passing, or that Gyrocopter has a lower attack range than Visage, even pumped with adrenaline I would not be able to pull it off.
So my first advice would be studying the game. Trying yourself out in different roles and positions can greatly increase your awareness in many given situations. Pretty basic, right? You could also watch VOD's and streams to see how professional players deal with certain aspects of the game.
Another thing that I personally do a lot is counting. Once you see an important spell used by your opponent, start mentally counting the cooldown for it, so that you would know when it will be used again. Try it out with big ultimates first - making a time stamp is always welcome. Then go on to smaller things. Gradually, it will be very natural to you - it will be done in the background of your mind and you will "feel" most of the things.
This skill will also help coordinate better with your team - if you see an enemy team using most of their abilities on one or two targets, you know for sure there is an opening in their defenses you can act on. Hence, there is no point to run in a situation that seems really bad - if your team has managed to survive the enemy initiation, you have an upper hand, and can make a turnaround.
And of course there is the second aspect - I would name it "immersion". For a period, Dota 2 was all that I did - it was my whole life. I would wake up, take a shower and trained. I identified myself with the hero I was playing and the same survival instinct, we all have in real life, transitioned to my virtual self. The compassion I had for my friends in a team has also found a way into the reality of Dota 2 - something that cannot be underestimated for a support player.
I do not suggest you do the same thing yourself - after all not everyone has as much free time on their hands, as I currently do. But when in game try to concentrate fully on the game. I turned off all the announcers and unit speech so I would not get distracted. The only thing you need to hear are your teammates and spells.
I also did not listen to music or eat while playing - something that annoyed me a lot when I played with some casual friends.
Immersion requires visualization of the events in-game. Playing at lower settings is not a problem - I personally keep everything at low settings since my computer is very old. But there is one option that should be set to "on" no matter what - "Additive Light Pass". A lot of effects are simply not visible on the units without it! So you brain has to go through extra trouble of reverse engineering the situation to understand why one of your team-mates is slowed, while the other one is taking damage-over-time.
This kind of attitude towards the game - regarding it as something serious and important helps a lot.
If you don't believe my word - here is the trend for my win rate during the period (since I had more than 1.3k games at the time, the changes do not look that significant).
As you can see, about roughly 5 months ago, the graph went up. And it went up big time - I was playing with a completely different mindset. It was rising for three months in a row - I was truly playing to win!
Return to Reality
I understand that most of you have little concern to what happens in a different part of the world and I am in no place to object. Just know that two months ago things have started moving in Ukraine, where most of my team comes and I currently live. Things happening meant that we could no longer keep up with the training schedule and participate in as many tournaments as we want to. Most of the people I play with, as well as our manager are patriots and they believe that Ukraine can do better than under the current government. And I feel extremely proud to have friends like this.
Ultimately it led to us putting the whole e-sports things on hold. We still play, and we keep playing together most of the time. But the results are depicted in the graph above - the same composition of players are achieving less results not because they suddenly forgot how to play Dota, but because there was no longer a mindset for it.
Back to the Point
So it ultimately leads to the point I have made in the beginning. To play better you do not necessarily need to increase your dexterity or to read through all of the Dota 2 wiki to know each hero to its core. These things certainly help, but in a longer term, what you need is a different mindset, a tranquil mind that concentrates on the game to achieve the "Flow".
It can be as short as a split-second - seeing an opening for a fight-turning 2-3 man stun, or "very" long, like in the case I have presented you with. And I think that each player in each fight in the TI3 grand-finals was in that state. That is what separates good players from the best.
I hope this post did not bore you down. I also hope you found it somewhat entertaining - I've certainly tried to make it such.
Here, at DotaBuff we really care about the community - that is why we want you to learn and see your progress. That is why we provide as much statistics as we can - we are passionate about the game and about the players. And if this has been at least somewhat useful to you, then I guess, we are on the right track.
Thank you for reading, and please do not hesitate to leave feedback and share your stories in the comment section below!