The Case For Random Draft
wings.iceice spamming Random Draft before his DPL matches.
There was a time, back in Dota 1, when Random Draft was the premier mode for tryhard players. It was back when -apem—all pick, easy mode—was the rampant game type. It was a mode that encouraged players to instant pick their favorite or meta heroes, and accelerate through the early game because of inflated gold and XP gain from “easy mode.” APEM incentivized picking late-game cores, because they didn’t have to deal with the disadvantages of a poor, early-game. “Easy mode” generated enough gold such that it wasn’t a detriment to have five cores on your team. Everyone would get their items and levels.
It’s a familiar, less extreme story for all-pick in today’s game. Players constantly hover over their carousel of their 2-3 favorite heroes—usually cores, and usually the heroes of the meta. Support players are few and far between, and you’re lucky if you have one of them. One tip to circumvent the all-core syndrome of pubs, recommended by Kawaiisocks, is to declare that you’re playing a jungler, forcing one player to play the 5th support, then turning around and picking a support player yourself so your team would have now have two of them. That’s the kind of trickery that’s often needed to have a Dota game look at all remotely like one that’s played on a serious level.
And yet All-Pick is the mode for tryhard, MMR climbers. Before banning, it wasn’t uncommon to see page after page of the same 2-3 heroes spammed. With the introduction of bans, that selection is a tad wider, but the mindset remains the same. Play the best heroes to win the game.
As players drift towards All Pick for ranked matchmaking, they’re missing out on essential ways they can improve their Dota game through Random Draft. This isn’t the case for regions like EUW and China, where Random Draft queue times aren’t far greater than All Pick.
Improv To Improve
When wings.gaming won TI6, the team was lauded for the breadth of their hero pool, the versatility of their players, and their ability to adapt on the spot. RD is a mode that forces players to think on their feet, to decide with limited options. There were few things you could take away from that wings.gaming team that would have rattled them.
It’s no secret that Random Draft is the premier mode for Chinese players, both pub players and professionals. The entire wings team hammers out pages of RD games between their pro matches. China’s meta used to be the hallmark of stale and trite playstyles, to their own detriment, but for a while now, the region has been the breeding ground for new strategies and picks.
Pub players play All Pick, because by nature of the mode they want the choice of picking their favorite heroes. For ranked matchmaking, that also means the best and strongest heroes. That’s good for practice, but players who aspire to get better at Dota by playing the heroes pros play are often forgetting another side of the game.
Without a draft, All Pick is more or less the same every game, and it’s not just because people pick meta heroes, or what’s left of them after the bans, but it’s about the kind of people who are inclined to do so in the first place. They’re fixed in the heroes they pick, the heroes that others should pick, and overall, how Dota should be played. Conjoin this mindset with the drive to climb MMR and you’re left with a mindset leaves little room for flexibility and an openness to try something new.
Thinking Outside The Box
Wings did not shy away from picking a Techies and Pudge in the upperbracket finals of TI6.
Random Draft limits your toolbox of heroes and forces players to make do with what they have. Instead of starting with picking the best heroes, players have to think holistically and pick in context. A pool may still include some of the best heroes, but it has a limited choice of solid offlaners. Or there could be a few hero synergies that outweigh the benefit of nabbing that meta hero.
Random Draft’s advantage is that it can strike a balance between the amount of choice it gives players. The current pool of 50 may be too large, such that it can cater to even the most limited players. And while All Pick guarantees bans on the most flagrant heroes of the meta, in RD there’s a decent chance you’ll end up with a few of them. There is a delicate balance here, since attempting to reduce the hero pool also risks leaving teams without sufficient counters.
However, compare the mode to either CM (Captain’s Mode) or CD (Captain’s Draft). Random Draft allows heroes that aren't currently in CM, making the mode a quick, experimental playground. But the reality behind both CM and CD is that the average player can't Captain, doesn’t know how to draft, and there isn’t enough time to combine mental resources to prepare. Forcing one player to head the draft ends up being the blind leading the blind.
The commonality between the Captain’s modes and All Pick is that its players aspire to play a game that hews to what a professional game looks like. They’re picking the heroes that they saw their favorite players play, or they’re trying to draft EG’s winning lineups. They’re copying without understanding.
Playing With Humility
One of the largest frustrations with playing Dota, and the root cause of most flame wars, is when play doesn’t meet expectations. It’s always about what should have happened. No one plays perfect Dota, with pub players by far more distant than this ideal, yet a missed spell cast or a lapse in judgment on positioning more often leads to finger pointing than an acceptance that most of us are just average Dota players fumbling in the dark.
It’s that great Dota is so close to us. It’s in replays just one tab away in the client and on Twitch streams everyday. And people play pubs with an expectation that they can approximate that kind of play. At Dotabuff we often see hero popularity spike based off one tournament’s meta.
Random Draft off the bat puts a handicap on all players. They’re required to take a step back, away from the mindset of let’s do exactly what the best players do, and instead try to make the best of what we have in front of us. There’s a shared understanding, and it tends to generate a more cohesive team environment. Losing isn’t the fault of one captain’s draft or one player’s mistakes.
Random Draft’s Current Problems
The issues with Random Draft is that it there aren’t enough people playing it. There aren’t enough players outside of China. The mode might suffer the same fate as Captain’s Draft, when it didn’t have enough players. Games had a large variance in MMR, and the limited player pool opened up doors for others to abuse and exploit MMR.
The bright side is that players don’t have to pick just one mode for ranked matchmaking. They can still select multiple modes and queue for all the lines. If players who aim to climb MMR really want to get better at Dota, each mode has something to offer. Where All Pick is about approximating how good Dota looks, Random Draft is about how good players should think.