eSports has been gaining a lot of attention in the sports world in recent years due to its popularity and the similarities it has to sports. With gaming competitions garnering millions of viewers and offering tens of millions of dollars in prize money, it’s no surprise why companies are paying more attention to the gaming community. An online game that has millions of viewers and is in the forefront of prize money offerings is DotA 2 (Defense of the Ancients 2).
If you aren’t familiar with DotA 2, here is a short overview of the game (from Wikipedia):
“DotA 2 is played in matches between two teams of five players, with each team occupying and defending their own separate base on the map. Each of the ten players independently controls a powerful character, known as a “hero”, who all have unique abilities and differing styles of play. During a match, the player collects experience points and items for their heroes in order to successfully fight the opposing team’s heroes, who are doing the same. A team wins by being the first to destroy a large structure located in the opposing team’s base, called the “Ancient”, which is guarded by defensive towers.”
Many aspects of DotA 2 remind me of basketball. As a casual player of both games, I can recognize areas of both games that would translate well between one another:
In basketball, each player on the team has a role or position they would play on the court. There are 5 basic positions and each position has specific responsibilities:
- Center – Usually the tallest player on the court. Shoots close to the basket and gets rebounds.
- Power Forward – Plays similar to a Center, but with more speed.
- Small Forward – Shorter of the two Forwards. Can shoot from long range, but should be able to play in the paint as well.
- Shooting Guard – Usually one of the shortest players on the team and would shoot the most shots. Can also help facilitate the offense.
- Point Guard – Main responsibility is to help facilitate the offense. Can shoot from long distance, but mostly acts as the “floor general” to set up teammates for shots.
Like basketball, each player on a DotA 2 team has a role or position they would play in a match. And just like basketball, there are 5 basic positions with its own unique responsibilities:
- Hard Carry – Requires items to be effective, and is usually relied upon to kill enemies and dominate in the “late game.”
- Soft Carry/Mid – Doesn’t require as many items as the Hard Carry to be effective. They tend to be the most dominant in the “mid game” until the Hard Carry gets enough items.
- Off Laner – Middle of the priority list when trying to get gold for items. Does not require as many items as Carries, but needs more items than Supports to be effective.
- Soft Support – Main responsibility is to keep their allies alive and put them in a position to earn gold and items faster. Does not require many items to be effective.
- Hard Support – Like the Soft Support, the Hard Support’s main responsibility is to keep allies alive and help them earn gold and items faster. As a Hard Support, they would spend most of their gold on items that benefit the team (eg., vision wards) rather than buying items for themselves.
As you can see, both games have unique positions and roles that are important in their own way. It’s critical for each player to recognize their strengths and weaknesses so they can play the position they are best suited for.
How many times have you seen All-Star level basketball players join together on the same team, but not accomplishing as much as they expected because the team chemistry just wasn’t there? This is because teamwork is a very important part of basketball, and that’s no different in DotA 2.
In basketball, the team with the ball would run certain plays or “sets” to score points. The point guard would call out a play so others on the team would know where to go and what to do in order to execute the play. If executed correctly, the offensive team would have a higher chance of scoring points.
In DotA 2, play-calling and coordination also happens, but it works a bit differently since the objectives are killing heroes and buildings, not scoring points. There isn’t a specific position or role that is the designated play-caller. Rather, it’s up to each player to understand what is happening in the game and recognize a potential play that could be made. If a play is called, a number of heroes would work together and get into position to fight the other heroes or destroy buildings.
At a high-level, both games seem pretty simple: Basketball is about putting the ball in a basket and DotA 2 is about destroying the opposing team’s Ancient. However, there are the smaller details of each individual’s skills that we often overlook.
Other than putting the ball in a basket, there are many parts of the game of basketball that a player can master to become a better basketball player. A player can work on different dribbling moves, footwork, passes, and the list goes on. Developing on each facet of the game will help the individual improve as an overall basketball player. That’s why NBA players spend multiple hours a day everyday practicing different parts of their game.
In the same way, DotA 2 has many technical aspects that make up a player’s overall skill. These skills include, but are not limited to, last-hitting creeps, pulling and stacking jungle camps, ability usage, and item interactions. Keep in mind that these skills are different with every hero. And there are 100+ heroes! So in order to become a master at one specific hero, professional players spend hundreds of hours practicing and learning about the hero until it becomes an extension of themselves.
These two sports are different in that one is mainly physical and the other is mainly mental, but there are many overlapping aspects. Both games command a combination of flawless teamwork and strong individual skills to become a good team. This requires thousands of hours of intense practice as an individual to even have a chance to make it to the professional scene.
I admire the effort and time these professionals put into their craft. When I spend hours on an empty basketball court working on my game or an entire night playing and learning about a DotA 2 hero, I can’t imagine myself pursuing a career in these sports because you have to have an obsession for the game and an insane level of perfectionism (which I obviously lack).
Basketball has always been a popular sport to watch on television. DotA 2, along with other eSports, is slowly solidifying its presence in sports television. If everyone could view DotA 2 the same way I view basketball, I’m sure eSports will one day have the same popularity as traditional sports.