Improve my DotA game - fundamentals
Maybe you already learned the basics of DotA, started with DotA some while ago. But, do you understand the DotA fundamentals? Regardless, you can find it all here. Get better playing DotA, and perfect your skills with the knowledge every starting player needs. A step by step guide that explains how to improve at DotA. From newb to pro? Okay hold your horses. Pro is far fetched, but if you mean I don't wanna be a DotA Noob no more. That should be totally possible. DotA version: 6.68b.
This guide is written to help anyone who wants to get better at DotA, especially with those in mind who are just starting out in DotA or those players who just want to step back and get a better understanding of the basics in DotA. It offers some general info about game modes, picking a hero and improving your survivability. Following the guidelines in this guide, it is possible to see your hero move from the worst statistics (K: 0 /D: 10 /A: 2) to one of the best (K: 10 /D: 4 /A: 8) or at least in a short while much better (K: 1 /D: 2 /A: 10). Don't go blind on statistics in the end it's about winning and learning to get better. This guide is aimed at those people looking to make a change and start adding to your team. This guide will go through a number of methods in which players can improve and which things one should always consider.
This guide is interactive, feel free to post comments below, I'll try to implement them to the best of my ability and as time allows.
Picking the right game modes
In DotA there are many game modes, most of the time you can see these in the name of the hosted game. The easiest mode to start with is -ap or -allpick which allows you to pick exactly the hero that you like. Don't make the mistake that -em or -easymode is actually easier. It just makes the game go faster (more money, faster leveling and weaker towers), but that just means every mistake will be felt even harder! Fast game? Yes. Easy? No. It's possible to combine certain modes like this: -apem (all pick easy mode) which is both aforementioned modes combined. So after all pick, you could advance towards -rd or -randomdraft which makes the hero pool to choose from a lot smaller and is different every time. Next comes -sd or -singledraft that reduced your hero pool towards only 3 heroes. You can swap heroes with team members so make good use of this (-swap 1, -swap 2, -swap 3, -swap 4, -swap 5 or -swapall). When feeling extra confident there is -ar or -allrandom which gives you a random hero. You might want to use -repick which is another gamble by itself and removes some of your money. Once you advance -lm, -cm, -xl or -cd should all help you gain more knowledge, but relax all in due time. For now -ap and a little -rd to test around is fine.
Picking the right Heroes
There are around 100 heroes in DotA and they are still being added on a regular basis, so how to pick a hero that fits you as a starting player, or one who seeks to expand his basic knowledge? Quite simple you can't say this or that hero is good for you without knowing everything about you and even then it will still be hard to pick the very best one. However some heroes have abilities that help them get out of a sticky situation rather easily, some heroes can handle a lot of damage (tank type heroes) and as a general rule ranged heroes are easier to play with without getting a lot of damage right from the start, and lastly some heroes can easily heal sustained damage, making it easier to keep your lane.
Try out a few heroes so that you get a global sense of what is possible. Then pick one of two and really get to know that hero. It's a good plan to read a hero guide, so that you have a general sense of how this hero is normally played, but feel free to decide for yourself if you will follow the rules of that guide or break them. The idea is that you learn something from them, not blindly follow them. Check out some of our picks as beginner friendly heroes, grouped by type:
Some ranged heroes that for example are easy to learn basic play with are Kardel Sharpeye - Dwarven Sniper, Traxex - The Drow Ranger and Windrunner - Alleria. If you buy Lothar's Edge (see later on how building recipe items works) on those heroes later in the game they will be able to escape most attacks or ganks.
Some tank heroes that for example are easy to play with on a basic level are Bradwarden - Centaur Warchief (for max effect buy some items that add extra strength like Power Tread (PT) and Hearth of Terrasque (HoT)) and King Leoric - Skeleton King (his Vampiric Aura and ulti help a lot, but if you add a Heart of Terrasque late game you are a tank that has to be killed twice in a row to do you in).
Some escape artist heroes for example are Bone Clinkz (Wind Walk and ulti) and Stealth Assassin (ulti; stop attacking and soon you become invisible). Beware of gem, dust and tracking heroes.
Check here for some heroes with healing abilities. Feel free to try other heroes, nothing is perfect, your own choice is often better for you, because you will understand why you made that choice. Here is a sortable list of all the heroes showing the type of activities they excell in.
Improving your Survivability
Why is it so important that you do not die a lot during the game? When your hero dies in DotA, several things happen: You have to wait a designated time (your level x 4 seconds) until you revive at your base fountain, okay so first of all that is boring. The opponents gain experience and reliable gold from killing you or assisting in it, which is called feeding or making the enemy even stronger. You are losing your unreliable gold, and your allies temporarily lose a valuable asset to your team. If you die a lot your team will sometimes get angry and the enemy will laugh at you. Dying in DotA can be an unpleasant experience, even more when it happens to less experienced players. These are a few fundamentals that you can learn will help you to stay alive when facing better opponents. So besides the mode of play and the hero you picked here is what you can do to improve.
Starter Items / Helper Items:
A lot of newer players seek for items that improve a basic thing on their hero, such as their speed, attack speed or damage. So they tend to go right for items like Boots of Speed or Gloves of Haste in the beginning of the game, which is only rarely the best tactic. At the same time they tend to ignore cheap ways of increasing your survivability dramatically.
Regeneration - The higher your hp the more of a threat you remain to the enemy, if you can refill out of sight or during a battle you become unpredictable, and much harder to play against.
- Ancient Tango of Essifation: Tangoes provide uninterrupted healing so you can get right back to the middle of the action, you can also use them to escape or attack through the trees if you know what you are doing.
- Healing Salve: Interrupted upon receiving damage, stay back after using. Salves heal about 1/2 to 3/4 of your life early on.
- Clarity Potion: Interrupted upon receiving damage, stay back after using. Allows you to cast more spells.
- Bottle: Heals HP and mana. Empty bottles automatically refill when you return to your fountain, making them useful all game. They can also store runes (the powerups in the river).
- Magic Stick: Accumulates heal/mana on standby, this item is great against opponents who use spells frequently.
- Ring of Regeneration: +2 HP regeneration every second.
Statistic-Increasing, when yours stats grow it could improve multiple things at the same time, when picked smartly it can give your hero exactly what it needs early on.
- Gauntlets of Giant Strength / Slippers of Agility / Mantle of Intelligence: These items give you very minor +3 bonuses to a specific attribute
- Circlet of Nobility: +2 Rounded attribute bonuses usually if you intend to make Bracers, Wraith Bands and Null Talismans
- Ironwood Branch: +1 to stats, cheap and effective, these fill out slot spaces nicely
- Belt of Giant Strength: +6 Strength. (Can be used in Power Treads).
Advanced Items / Core Items:
Some items can be combined into new items, sometimes this requires a recipe sometimes it doesn't. The advanced items that are build from other items will tell about the items needed in their description.
There are a lot of shops in your base, but there are a few shops hidden over the map as well.
Some recipe items help in survivability. We won't list them all but we will list six of them just for your understanding:
- Power Treads: Buy Belt of Giant Strength, Boots of Speed and Gloves of Haste and you got yourself one item that combines them all. More speed, more attack speed and +10 strength, +10 agility or +10 intelligence. The first is advised early on for most heroes; simply because of the extra hp it gives.
- Hearth of Tarrasque: Buy Messerschmidt's Reaver (save 3200 gold), Vitality Booster (save 1100 gold) and Heart of Tarrasque recipe (1200 gold). You now have a massive max hp growth and will refill extremely fast once you are out of enemy heroes' harm for eight seconds.
- Vanguard: Buy Vitality Booster (1100), Ring of Health (875) and Stout Shield (250) and you will own a shield that blocks and refills hp at the same time.
- Hood of Defiance: Buy Helm of Iron Will (950), Planewalker's Cloak (500) and (2 * Ring of Regeneration (350) or 1 * Ring of Health (875)). Now you will refill hp and will receive a lot less damage from spells from the 30% extra magic resistance it gives.
- Boots of Travel: Buy Boots of Speed and the recipe scroll of Boots of Travel. Not only are you a lot faster, you can click the item and then a location where you want to warp to. Click twice quickly and you warp towards the fountain.
- Lothar's Edge: Buy Claymore (1400), Quarterstaff (900) and Lothar's Edge recipe (1100) and now you can become invisible, walk faster and do more damage. This is an excellent item on many heroes. It can be used both offensively and defensively, as you can get in or out unseen.
General Tips on Buying Items:
Above we discussed mainly items that improve survivability. In general there are some things that will help you buy the right items for other aspects as well. While it can be tempting to go for huge damage items like Buriza-do Kyanon and Radiance, it helps to know that buying items in a certain order can really help a lot for improving your effectiveness and yet again survivability. Here are some tips:
Almost all heroes do well in buying these items:
Bracers/Wraith Bands/Null Talismans
Sometimes it can be useful to make 2-3 of these before going for more expensive items. They provide useful bonuses that help you survive and use more spells or deal more damage. A great way to fix a hero's early game problems.
Power Treads/ Phase Boots / Boots of Travel
Upgrading your footwear will also give you both a movement speed boost and may come with useful abilities. Power Treads are good if you want the attack speed, Phase Boots give you a little more damage and armor, and Boots of Travel while harder to build gives you a teleportation ability that will take you towards any allied unit.
Sometimes players tend to purchase items in the wrong order, so in order to explain this more thoroughly, let us look at the components of an item, the Linken's Sphere, which is comprised of:
Perseverance (Ring of Health  + Void Stone ) + Ultimate Orb  + Recipe 
It is a good idea to start with the ring of health or void stone to help provide regeneration in the lane. This will help you survive and save up the 2100 for your Ultimate Orb. Of course, if you were fortunate enough to get that much gold early then feel free to buy the more expensive component first. But as a general rule... NEVER BUY RECIPES FIRST. They only cost money and won't do anything until the item is complete.
Scroll of Town Portal
The reason this item deserves special mention and its own category is because it is one of the most important items that EVERY hero gets when needed and it is needed in many situations. While you do not have to buy one at the beginning of the game, this item is extremely useful and provides you with the ability to escape from enemies or to defend your buildings. Be wary of its channeling time, because it can be interrupted by some spells and items. As a general rule, you definitely want to be carrying at least one of these at all times, especially later in the game.
Buy items that have synergy with your hero:
Instead of trying to fix your weak points, it is often better to improve your strong points. However fixing your weak points is perfectly viable as well just don't waste all your money and slots to do it. If you buy items that give stat bonusses that match your hero's core attribute (strength, agility or intelligence) it will not only give the stat bonus but also add extra damage to his or her attacks.
Be careful when buying items with orb effects or buff placers:
Some heroes have orb effects or buff placers on their abilities, these heroes should normally not buy any items with orb effects or buff placers at all or it will be wasted on them. All other heroes should pick only one item with a orb effect or buff placer, because two orb effects or two buff placers will not work together, only one will work. This should be avoided at all times. Try to decide at the start of the match, what orb effect you will buy later in the game.
Do not buy critical or basher items on heroes that have such a skill as a native ability, either only one will work or most of the effect gets wasted.
Laning - Know when to Stay with the Creeps and when to Scramble
After you pick your hero and quickly but thoughtfully buy your starter items, it's time to take a lane. Keep an eye on the timer at the top-right corner of your screen. When it counts down and reaches 0 that is when the first wave of creeps will spawn from your base and at your three towers and walk outwards. Make sure you are in one of those lanes by then, traditionally the mid lane has one hero and top and bottom lanes have two heroes. The creeps will continue walking along the lanes until they reach the enemy creeps or tower. It is a good idea to stay near and behind these creeps because they can provide you with safety from enemy attack. You get experience for every enemy creep that is killed in the area around you and gold for the enemy creeps that you last hit. If you last hit your own creeps also known as denying the enemy won't get any gold from them and will only get a little of the experience from that creep dying. You can force an attack with the attack button or by typing "A" on your keyboard and selecting the desired target. Try to say (for example with Ventrilo or Skype) or type ss or miss, to let your allies know you are missing an enemy hero in your lane, you can always type re when he returns. Do not wander too far even when you are with creeps, the further the more dangerous your position, especially if enemy heroes are missing (check the map to see if they are still in the other lanes for example, once you get the hang of this you will improve vastly).
Sure you can easily kill one creep on its own, but their strength lies in their numbers. A common mistake many players make is to engage multiple creeps by themselves. Try to avoid being hit by the creeps, keep your hp high. Stay behind the safety of your own creeps so that you can fight them at your leisure, without being hit back. The creeps come in waves and spawn every 30 seconds. Once the enemy buildings behind the third tower are destroyed your creeps in that lane will become super creeps (the same just stronger), accomplishing this in one or more lanes is a viable tactic to make it easier to push the enemy into a weaker position and finally to finish the game in a win.
The towers are the primary defensive structure for both teams. Standing in range of your tower's projectiles is a convincing reason for lower level enemies to back off. Take care when creeps and heroes group together though because this allows them to move in without being shot at. Towers deal a sizable portion of your hit points in damage, making them powerful at the start of the game. They will fire at creeps or enemy heroes and the like, so when there are enough attackers, some of those attackers can move around safely, at least while the creeps are around. Try to figure out how far their hit distance is so that you do not take unnecessary damage. If the enemy gets close to your tower it is often a good idea to stun or slow them there (if you have such a skill on your hero), so they get more hits from the tower.
Auto Hero Defense
Both creeps and towers will try to defend their heroes. They will try to change their targets to attack enemy heroes if they choose to attack you in their vicinity. Normally the creeps are content to attack each other until one hero attacks another, at which point they switch to attacking the hero. Note that the creeps do not go after heroes that are further away. This also applies to the towers, they stops attacking the creeps in order to attack the enemy hero when he attacks a friendly hero. You can make use of this process and target an enemy hero only to pull the nearby creeps towards you, for example to a place where the enemy hero can't easily follow, like behind your tower.
In DotA there are allied creeps, enemy creeps and neutral creeps. Neutral creeps will only attack you if you get very close and often only when you attack first. These creeps can be found in the jungle and killing them for experience and gold is called jungling. One reason why jungling is done is because it allows heroes in the lane to get all the experience while you get experience from the jungle creeps this means you can out-level your enemy as long as you survive, if they kill the laning hero, thereby getting extra gold and experience and he gets none for a while it won't be a good thing obviously. Jungling is also used as a safer alternative to laning, when a lot of the enemy heroes are missing or picking it over the danger of crossing the river. Some creeps are stronger than others and as such often also deliver more money. A special neutral creep or more like giant champion is Roshan, who can be reached by walking upwards slightly on the right side of the river, when he is killed he gives very nice experience points, also the entire team gets gold and he leaves items such as a shield that allows its owner to die once for free and respawn on the spot after a few seconds. Obviously the enemy won't want you to achieve this so they will try to take counter measures, so be smart about it and try to let them do the hard work if possible. Also do not think jungling is safe, players will sometimes jungle on the other side of the river, or when they are trying to gank (see below) the laning heroes they might run into jungling heroes etc. so keep your guard up and don't jungle with to few hp. A hero called Bloodseeker can spot heroes with little hp, so even when you are jungling take extra care when the enemy team has that hero.
Fighting heroes 1 vs 1 or 2 vs 2 in a lane is fun and can be very challenging but also rewarding. There is also a darker path to victory, you can attack the enemy when he isn't expecting it, with low hp or from his backside so he has trouble getting away, this is called ganking. Since you don't want to just play games, you want good results, ganking is often done with a group versus 1 or 2 heroes. No casualties on your side, while the enemy is obliterated, with no chance of retreat. That is the battle plan of ganking. It often takes some teamwork, this can be best achieved with practise and experience but make sure to either type some of your plans or instructions or use a headset and Ventrilo or Skype to tell what is about to be done. It's in and out, timing is at the essence. When you gank you must be sure the enemy doesn't see you coming, so standing behind the trees is a good idea. Often it is important that your team hits at the right moment, when the enemy is out of mana, or has little hp. Hit at the right location, make sure the enemy can't easily get away. For example a weak enemy is attacking your tower, and you attack him from the back, now he has around two options. Pass the tower, or pass you, both will give him a lot of damage, and hopefully lands you a kill. Don't be discouraged if you fail, this tactic requires a lot of practice. Even pros make mistakes. At this moment you just lack the experience or ganking sense that you will gain later on, with enough practice. While you are standing in the jungle waiting for the right time to attack your enemy, you are losing valuable experience, because you are often not close enough to get the experience from the dying creeps and won't land last hits or denies. This means time is a wasting, don't start ganking too early, don't take too long. You can kill some neutral creeps in the jungle if you are strong enough to do it without losing your valuable hp or mana before you gank.
Learn the Map by Hearth
The DotA map has different terrain and features, those are not only for decorative purposes. This is sometimes picked up automatically by new players as the realise higher grounds give a better view, or better hit ratio. What is important is that newer players will understand that picking the right location and route when facing opponents will play a key role. Remember this is DotA; everything matters, make use of it or your enemy will. Here is the basic knowledge to make use of the environment and playing field, the static features of the DotA map:
Players in lower grounds, the low areas cannot easily see enemies located above them. They also suffer a 25% miss chance when fighting higher targets. Players often get surprised when they seemingly get attacked without warning near a ramp. In short, the higher you are, the better. When you are fleeing upwards the enemy has a harder time following you because they will more easily lose sight of you. When ganking from higher grounds you will spot the enemy before they spot you, also the first hits especially if your hero has ranged attacks will hit before the enemy can do a good counter attack, without missing you a lot.
Make use of the Terrain
There are three routes into the enemy base, but many different pathways through the trees. There are many little areas at the side of the map that could provide a good hiding place or escape route. But be careful, the trees obscure vision and provide perfect hiding spots for your enemies. Sometimes it can be a good idea to run into the trees if you are trying to escape from enemies, because they will have the same trouble figuring out where you went, or will go, well at least if you do not take the obvious path. The better you learn the different routes the easier you will be able to chase or flee.
Runes in the River
On two places on the river runes appear, these runes give a benefit to the hero that takes them or stores them in his bottle (a buyable item). Runes can give regeneration, haste, images or invisibility. Often wards (next topic) are plces at high spots around the river to spot the enemy and check on the runes.
Wards and Warding
You can buy wards at the base, these items can be used to set a tiny pillar, that gives a view of its surroundings. There are two types, true sight that also shows invisible units and normal wards. If you place wards on key positions it can really make a big difference. It can primarily help you and your team to avoid being ganked, or to spot and kill invisible heroes. You can also use them to check if the enemy is going to Roshan or to see if the runes in the river have returned. Wards in general give a better view of the map and are often worth the effort and gold they cost. Make sure to make use of the terrain and elevation as discussed above when you place your wards.
Time Things Well
You will have less vision at night, so it will be harder to spot your enemy. Making it easier for opponents to close in and surprise you, for example if you are in a lane close to enemy creeps. Some heroes like Drow Ranger, Luna Moonfang and Nightstalker have higher than normal vision at night, so they actually can take more risk at night or even better surprise their enemies.
Crossing the River
The River divides up the territory between Sentinel and Scourge. The idea is that once you cross the river you are getting closer to the other enemy lanes as well as their jungle. This means they could get close to you in a shorter time, since you are getting close to their base they will be very alert of your actions. You should be extremely cautious when you decide to travel across to the other half of the map. One of the most common mistakes that less experienced players make, is to keep fighting the enemy creeps too far into the other side and eventually get surrounded behind the trees or from the river. One hero versus a group or even one well prepared hero that attacks from behind won't work nicely, you will often die. This process is called ganking and is a good tactic, try to make use of it against your enemy, avoid becoming the victim. Let's say you are alone fighting creeps in the mid lane, the first tower is destroyed so you keep going after the river. At one side there is a path leading to higher grounds between the trees, at the other side there are various paths leading into the jungle, if the enemy hides anywhere among those trees while you fight the creeps, there is a good chance you will only spot the enemy when it's far too late.
Unless you are extremely confident in your abilities to escape, or are bringing your allies with you, entering enemy territory alone will always result in becoming an easy target for the opposing team to kill. There are exceptions to this rule. There will be points where you will cross the river for example to push an enemy tower or even his base, but be smart about it and waste no time, it may seem safe but it is often not. When you want to pull the enemy towards you and have allies hidden very closely you can act as if you are too brave and actually fool the enemy in attacking you at which point your allies actually gank them. Also of course you can cross the river to gank your enemy on their side, often with a team, this side of the river is more of a risk, but often very rewarding.
How to Use and Deal with Spells
Dying because of spells is very common for new players, partly because they do not understand all the individual effects or mechanics of the many heroes in DotA. Spells always are dangerous, but if you know what to expect you can handle them much better. You can combo some skills with others and usually this is where they become really deadly. There are hundreds of unique abilities or skills in DotA, so it would appear to be very time consuming to have to learn and read about every single hero (here is a sortable list that shows those abilities by type). It is much easier at the start to place the spells that you have seen your opponents use into major categories so you know how to react to them in the future:
These spells often deal lots of damage to an opponent, quickly hitting them and are great for harassing and/or finishing them off. Try to be careful of these spells, and deal with them by keeping your current HP relatively high. It is better to visit the fountain than die.
Examples: Laser (Tinker) and Culling Blade (Axe)
Area of Effect
These spells only affect the specified area. They can sometimes be avoided, by simply walking away from the area you expect them to mark before it hits. This means sometimes you have to try and see it coming, and more often you have to move unpredictable, avoid standing still and try to confuse your opponents. Fake attacks can help. Sometimes simply keeping a good distance is enough to avoid the spells from reaching you. It's a good idea to avoid standing too closely next to a team mate if it can hit multiple nearby targets.
Examples: Sonic Wave (Queen of Pain) and Macropyre (Twin-Headed Dragon)
Damage Over Time
Rather than instant damage, these abilities depend on time to do their damage in segments but can come with extra effects, such as slow. Do not use Healing Salve or Bottle to heal you, because their effect will be minimal, other regeneration items and specific abilities or items such as Mekansm can still be used. Increasing your total hp maximum or lifesteal items will often work best.
Examples: Venomous Gale (Venomancer) and Ignite (Ogre Magi)
Stun or Disable
These spells stun you or prevent you from responding in some way, such as: movement, attacking, casting spells, or sometimes in combination. Generally you have to watch your distance or have an ally to assist you in case this happens.
Examples: Shackle (Shadow Shaman) and Fiend's Grip (Bane Elemental)
Buff or Debuff
These spells can either make you or your allies stronger or opponents weaker in some way, such as increasing damage, armor, prevention of status effects.
Examples: Repel (Omniknight) and Frost Armor (Lich)
Just be careful because sometimes certain spells fall under more than one category: the best way of dealing with these spells would be from gaining experience, learning from your mistakes, and good teamwork. Another more advanced thing of note, is that some damage is pure and can't normally be avoided, some damage is physical based and can be reduced by increasing your armor or evasion, some damage is magic based and can be reduced by increasing magic resistance (Hood of Defiance) or activating magic protection (Black King Bar).
Hopefully, after reading this guide and learning more about some of DotA's fundamentals, you were able to pinpoint some of your mistakes as a newer player to DotA. Learning how creeps and towers function, dealing with spells, which items are useful, and understanding the map itself will allow you to survive more easily against players who have already learned this through their experiences. Remember everybody dies, use the knowledge gained by those deaths to improve as a player and you will be a great asset to your team in the near future. Allow yourself some time, DotA isn't like some easy games that can be conquered by anyone who tries it a few times, for a few days, DotA requires an active mind and well planned tactics and a constant use of strategy during most of the fights to be successful. With a little patience everyone will get a feel for it, and begin to find your way and think of new playstyles and combinations.
I would like to remind everyone that DotA, while full of individual play and customization, is is at its core a team game. Individuals will boast about their stats and skills, but teamplay decides which team wins. Nothing gives you more survivability than the 4 allies fighting alongside you, so having coordination and teamwork can often be the difference between surviving together, or dying alone.
This guide is interactive, feel free to post comments below, I'll try to implement them to the best of my ability and as time allows.
Okay so now you know how to imrpove your DotA game. Click here to read why DotA can be so much fun or even is such a great game.