There has been a revolution in the world of Dota 2, one of the world's most popular competitive computer games. Last week, with little warning, the game's creators replaced many of the internal mechanics with new rules that nobody has quite made sense of yet.
The update threw a wrench into the game's "meta," the term gamers use to describe the zeitgeist of conventions and strategies understood to be most effective at a particular moment.
"I went from decent to noob in one update," lamented a player by the name of SLeEp521 in an in-game chatroom. “Someone please hold me," wrote a redditor named zackinblack.
Now millions of people are trying to rebuild their conception of how to play the game, said Kevin Godec, a well-known Dota strategist who posts online under the name "Purge."
"A lot of people do get upset because the thing they like is being drastically changed," Godec said. “Everything's going to be fine. I think.”
To the casual observer, Dota hasn’t changed much since its humble roots as a Warcraft III mod. In the gameplay, a pair of five-person teams of monsters, wizards, and warriors face off on a spacious wooded battlefield, each with the goal of destroying the opposing team’s base. Since its early days, it’s inexorably grown into one of the most competitive e-sports titles — and it’s now a stadium-packing international phenomenon, broadcast on ESPN2 and furnished with a tournament circuit, multi-million-dollar prize pools, and an entire ecosystem of professional players and commentators.
“Everything's going to be fine. I think.”
But seasoned players know that the game's developers have never stopped tinkering with the code with the goal of keeping things fresh. As a result, any in-game detail is liable to change at any time, and skilled players watch those changes with a hawkish dedication. Over the years, adjustments have been as obvious as introducing new playable characters and as obscure as tweaking the properties of individual magical items — or, in one notable case, adding a single tree to the arena.
Generally, such adjustments have been incremental. Last week, though, publisher Valve Corporation released a patch that made sweeping changes to the basic structure of the game. There’s a new user interface, for starters, and a divisive new talent tree. Dozens of alterations to particular characters and items rerouted the fault lines of strategy, and the geography of the arena itself changed substantially.
Many professional players are confident that they can evolve with the meta. Jacky Mao, a professional Dota player in Canada who founded the successful Team NP and has won nearly a million dollars in prizes over his four-year career, is as sanguine about the new patch as Godec — "Why pro players are good at Dota is that they’ve learned how to learn," he told The Outline.
Valve’s decision to overhaul one of its most popular games has had a disorienting effect not unlike the unexpected outcome of this year's election — coincidentally, the second-most popular topic of griping within the Dota 2 community. There is the sense that the entire world’s political meta has been torn up, and that nobody understands what has replaced it. Of course, unlike in geopolitics, the worst thing that can happen in a game is that you’ll lose.