Where to Start with DOTA 2 – A Beginner’s Guide

A simple but in-depth primer.

Dota 2
Dota 2

DOTA 2 is a game that’s notorious for its extreme learning curve and a community that’s cold and unforgiving toward new players. But don’t let that stop you from getting into one of the most rewarding gaming experiences around. Also, we’ve totally got your back. Here’s a comprehensive guide for getting into Valve’s insanely complex MOBA and where to start with DOTA 2 with a beginner’s guide.


DOTA 2 – A Beginner’s Guide

How DOTA 2 Works

In DOTA 2, two teams of five players must defend their “Ancient” — a massive structure that sits smack dab in the middle of their base — while attempting to destroy the opposing team’s Ancient. The two teams’ bases are located on opposite ends of the map and connected by three lanes, each guarded by four tiers of towers. Teams must destroy their enemy’s towers in order to advance in a lane far enough to deal direct damage to their Ancient.

A team loses when their Ancient is destroyed, granting the opposing team the victory.

If you’ve played a MOBA like Arena of Valor or League of Legends before, then you’ll already have a grasp of how the basics work. The key differences between those games and DOTA 2 lie in the various mechanics and general “feel” of DOTA 2.

DOTA is the grandfather of all MOBAs, and so it’s full of peculiarities that you won’t find in other MOBAs. Some of these, like the camera that doesn’t auto-center on your hero, are a result of the limitations of the Warcraft 3 engine that the original DOTA was built in; a quirk that carried over to its standalone sequel.

Then, there are other minute mechanics that add depth and complexity to the gameplay, but can feel uncomfortable to those coming in from other MOBAs. For example, heroes in DOTA 2 have what’s called a “turn rate” — a sort of simulated inertia that affects how quickly a hero can turn their bodies. Most hero abilities can only be cast in the direction your hero is facing, so depending on your positioning, your hero may cast their ability instantly, or they may have to turn first before casting it, resulting in a slight delay.

There are far too many of these little mechanics to get into in a beginner’s guide, and you shouldn’t expect to understand (or even notice) a lot of them as a person just getting into the game. Just know that DOTA 2 is a complex game that rewards you for the hours you put into it.

Dota 2 Lanes (Midlane, Offlane, Safelane)

The two teams’ bases are connected by three lanes. These lanes are often referred to by their positions on the map — middle lane, top lane, bottom lane.

Sometimes you’ll hear people refer to a “safe” lane and a “hard” lane (also frequently referred to as the “off” lane). These are all different terms used to describe the top and bottom lanes. So, why have so many different names if you can just call them “top” and “bottom” and be understood just fine?

Well, unlike most newer MOBAs, DOTA 2 doesn’t always place you on the bottom-left team (Radiant) attacking to the top-right (Dire). Simply referring to lanes by their positions on the map doesn’t sufficiently convey the differences between the lanes and how they work for each team.

The “safe” lane is the bottom lane for the Radiant and the top lane for the Dire. It’s called the safelane because the way the trees, neutral camps, and towers are positioned makes it a difficult lane to attempt kills on. This is where the position one carry and position five support usually start every game.

The “hard” lane (or “off” lane) is the top lane for the Radiant and the bottom lane for the Dire. This is where the offlaner and roaming support usually start their games. It’s called the hardlane because the way the towers and neutral camps are positioned make it so the offlaner has to juggle getting last hits while preventing camp pulls and avoiding poking attacks from the enemy hard support.

Understanding Player Roles in Dota 2

Dota 2
Dota 2

Each player takes on one of two roles: core or support. A core player’s job is to gather resources across the map, help in teamfights, and eventually win the game for their team. A support player’s job is to help their team’s cores secure resources by harassing enemy heroes, planting wards to keep their cores safe, and stacking and pulling neutral camps (two things we’ll get into a bit more below).

You might hear players and casters talking about “positions.” There are five positions in a team, simply numbered one through five based on their “farming priority” on the team, or how much of the map’s resources should go to that player. Position one gets the highest priority and position five gets the lowest priority.

Logically, the core roles are positions one through three: safelane carry, midlaner, and offlaner, respectively (more on those terms below). You want as much of the gold and experience from hero and creep kills to go to these players in order to accelerate their growth and hopefully outpace the growth of the enemy’s cores.

Typically, the safelane carry (or hard carry) is expected to spend much of a match just killing creeps and farming neutral camps, only taking part in teamfights when a kill is guaranteed. The offlaner wants to apply pressure on the enemy tower in his lane while usually working toward purchasing one key item that will allow them to move around the map looking for kills. The midlaner wants to destroy the first tier enemy tower in the midlane, occasionally moving to the sidelanes for kills and farming nearby neutral camps for their mid- and late-game items.

Position four is the “soft support,” or “roaming support,” and position five is the “hard support.” The hard support typically babysits the position one hero in lane, protecting them from ambushes and helping them secure last hits by poking at the enemy heroes in their lane, denying last hits, or executing creep pulls. The roaming support, as the name implies, usually sits in their lane soaking experience and gold for only a few minutes before leaving it to make moves elsewhere. Usually, that means attempting a kill on the enemy midlaner, though it could also mean stacking camps or planting wards to set up for a future kill attempt. Position four and five players won’t get many creep kills and will usually leave hero kills to their cores.

These position numbers aren’t set in stone, and you’ll find farming priorities will change as the situation on the battlefield evolves. Maybe you’re crushing the other team so hard your roaming support can transition into a core role. Perhaps your midlaner has a power spike that will turn a losing game around, and you want your safelane carry to stop farming and start drawing attention elsewhere on the map to make space for the midlaner to farm.

It’s important to note that while every DOTA 2 is favored in either a “core” or “support” role — Wraith King is typically a “core” hero, while Shadow Shaman usually plays a “support” role — the vast majority of heroes in DOTA 2 can be built to play as either support or core. In fact, some of the biggest moments in professional DOTA 2 happen when players play a support hero in a core role or vice versa.

The New Player Experience in Dota 2

Dota 2
Dota 2

For years, DOTA 2 lacked any sort of guide or tutorial for newcomers. It was sink or swim — the game either pulled you in from the jump and you powered through the painful first hundred hours of learning just to get the fundamentals down, or the sharp learning curve and toxic community wore you down and turned you away from the game forever.

Over the past several years, DOTA 2 has received a number of patches that have sped up the gameplay and made it more accessible to new players. But only recently has the game been given an actual tutorial.

This comprehensive guide can be found in the “Learn” tab in the game’s home page. It’s filled with explainer videos and practice maps that will slowly ease you into the basics of DOTA 2. If you’ve never played DOTA 2 before, you should definitely spend some time flipping through the Learn tab before jumping into your first game.

Once you think you’ve got a gist of how the game works, skip straight to the last page on the Learn tab and play the community-made tutorial map. This tutorial map, helmed by DOTA 2’s idiot-savant SirActionSlacks and created in collaboration with dozens of major figures in the DOTA 2 scene, will get you up to speed with all the DOTA 2 basics in less than an hour.

Jumping Into a Match of Dota 2

Dota 2
Dota 2

Now, it’s time for you to play. After all, you came here to kick ass and defend some Ancients, not study. You can either play against bots or jump right into the deep end and play against other players.

If you went through the guides in the Learn tab, you’ll have already played a round with other players against bots. Playing against bots is one of the safest ways to learn the ins and outs of DOTA 2 without having to deal with the social aspect of the game. In a real game, your teammates might expect more from you than you’re able to give them, which can be frustrating when you’re struggling to understand how the game even works. It’s recommended that you play at least 4 or 5 matches against bots before matching up against real players.

But while bots are the best way to learn DOTA 2 on your own, if you have friends that play DOTA 2, there’s no problem with jumping straight into party queuing. Having a buddy along as you learn means you’ll have someone more experienced to share their knowledge and experience. It also means someone has your back when your teammates inevitably start flaming you for not knowing how to play the game.

Picking a Hero In Dota 2

Dota 2
Dota 2

Since the New Player Experience update dropped, new players can only pick from a pool of 20 heroes for their first 25 matches. The limited pool is there to make sure you aren’t overwhelmed by a screen of heroes (114 and counting) before you even get the basics down.

In the beginning, most players will experiment with heroes until they’ve found one they like. You should do the same. Play a few matches with different heroes to get a feel for them.

It’s important to not concern yourself too much with winning or losing. Focus on getting used to how the camera works, what the different abilities do, and where major landmarks around the map are located.

What Items Do I Buy?

There are more than 200 items you can buy in a DOTA 2 match, some of which can be combined to make other items. It can be daunting to open up the shop and see that wall of items staring back at you. How do you even know what to get?

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry yourself with item builds, because DOTA 2 comes with a built-in system for you to view item guides containing builds recommended by the community. When you open the shop, there’s a list of items that are recommended to you during a match. These won’t win you every game, but they’re excellent general purpose builds that will help you get started.

Most item guides are designed so early game items are at the top and the late game items are at the bottom, so you can simply work your way down the guide as you play.

Finding a Coach In Dota 2

Dota 2
Dota 2

This nifty new feature is an invaluable tool for new players who don’t have a buddy to teach them the ropes. Click the “Find a Coach” button on the bottom left of your screen before you queue for an online match. The game will search for any available high-ranked coaches and automatically add them to your party.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even the ones you think are dumb. DOTA 2 is known for its toxic community, but coaches are the exception. The vast majority of coaches are patient and willing to answer any questions you may have about DOTA 2.

Basic DOTA 2 Terminology and Concepts

In your matches, you’ll probably come across several DOTA-specific terms that you’ve never heard of before. Some of the terms refer to concepts and mechanics that are too advanced for someone just learning how to play, but they’re common enough that you should at least know what they mean.


Radiant and Dire

DOTA 2 is played between two teams of five players. The team that starts on the bottom-left of the map is called the Radiant. The team that starts on the top-right of the map is called the Dire.


Lane Creeps

Lane creeps are the NPC fighters that spawn every 30 seconds at the barracks in your base. They walk down the three lanes attacking any enemy unit they come across, including towers, heroes, and other creeps.

Each lane has two barracks that produce lane creeps: the ranged barracks and the melee barracks. Destroying an enemy barracks will upgrade your lane creeps into super creeps, which are stronger and more resilient than regular lane creeps. The type of creep that is upgraded depends on the type of barracks you destroy (i.e. destroying the enemy’s ranged barracks will upgrade your ranged lane creeps to super creeps).

Destroying all the barracks in the enemy’s base will upgrade your super creeps to mega creeps, which are much stronger than super creeps.


CS (or Last Hits)

You gain some experience every time a creep dies within 1500 units (DOTA 2’s unit of length) of your hero. But if you’re the one to actually kill that creep and get the last hit on it before it dies, you get a slight experience bonus and some gold to boot.

The ability to secure last hits (simply referred to as last hitting) is key in the first 10 minutes of any DOTA 2 match. The more last hits you get, the faster you gain levels and the quicker your money pool grows, which means being able to use more powerful skills and purchase key items earlier.

CS is short for “creep score” and is simply a count of how many creeps you successfully got the last hit on.



Denying is a unique feature in DOTA 2 that adds a lot of depth to the first 10 minutes of the game (sometimes referred to as the “laning phase”). As explained above, if you get the last hit on an enemy creep, you get extra experience points and some gold. In DOTA 2, you can attack one of your own creeps if its hit points are below 50%, and if you get the last hit on one of your own creeps, it reduces the amount of experience points they get from the creep’s death. That means you can slow down your lane opponent’s experience and gold gain by getting the last hits on your own creeps.

Additionally, certain skills can be denied as well. For example, Doom’s ultimate ability (which is, awkwardly, also called “Doom”) is usually a death sentence for whomever it hits, but you can deny your opponents the gold bounty and some of the experience gained from the kill by getting the last hit on a Doomed ally.


Invisibility and True Sight

Some heroes and units can become invisible. Invisible units can’t be targeted with physical attacks or targeted skills (though they will still be hit by skills with an Area of Effect), making them difficult to kill.

You can reveal invisible units in an area with an item that provides True Sight, like sentry wards, Dust of Appearance, or a Gem of True Sight.



You can teleport to any of your team’s buildings with a special item called the teleport scroll. You start every game with one free scroll and can purchase more from the shop. You also get a free teleport scroll every time you’re killed by the opposing team.



In DOTA 2, items you purchase don’t instantly appear in your inventory. When you buy an item, it goes into your stash in your base by default. You can go home and grab them yourself, or you can use your courier.

Every player gets their own courier at the start of a match. You can order your courier to deliver any items in your stash to your hero by pressing the F3 key, or you can press F2 to take manual control of your courier.

The courier will be upgraded to a flying courier once you hit level 4. Flying couriers are not impeded by cliffs and trees the way walking couriers are.

Couriers can be killed. A dead courier will take several minutes to respond, so you should try to keep your courier from getting killed. Killing an enemy courier will give you a bit of gold.



Wards are items that you can plant that also provide shared vision to allies. Planting them in the enemy jungle or in their lane provides vision in that area for six minutes, providing your team with valuable information about the enemy heroes’ locations and activities. Wards are invisible and only your team can see them.

There are two types of wards: observer wards and sentry wards. Observer wards are yellow and provide shared vision to your team. Sentry wards are blue and provide “true sight” in a large radius, revealing invisible units and enemy wards.

You can remove enemy wards by revealing them with an item that grants True Sight and attacking them. You can also remove your own team’s wards by attacking them.


The Jungle

Although much of the action in a DOTA 2 match takes place in the three lanes, there’s more to the DOTA 2 map than just the lanes. There are small wooded paths that connect both lanes to the middle lane. These forest areas are known collectively as “the jungle.”


Neutral Creep Camps

There are numerous camps of NPCs that spawn in the jungle. You can accelerate your own hero’s growth by killing these camps in between killing lane creeps. They’re called neutral camps because they are neither part of the Dire or Radiant and will attack units from either team.



As mentioned previously, lane creeps will attack any unit that isn’t of its own team, which includes the neutral creeps that spawn in the neutral creep camps. Pulling is the act of drawing neutral creeps to your lane to disrupt the marching of your own lane creeps. When your lane creeps fight with neutral creeps, the neutral creeps will draw them back to their camp in the jungle.

Crucially, by pulling your lane with neutral creeps, you delay (or prevent) your lane creeps from appearing in lane. This has two possible effects, both beneficial to you: 1) you prevent your lane opponent from potentially getting last hits and experience from your lane creeps; and 2) the enemy lane creeps, having no opposing lane creeps to stop them in their tracks, will push into your tower, allowing you or your lane partner to safely secure experience points and last hits under the safety of your tower.



Neutral camps spawn every minute but will only spawn new creeps if the camp area is empty. Usually, this means you have to kill the creeps in a camp before it will spawn new neutral creeps. However, you can “stack” a neutral camp by attacking and drawing the neutral creeps outside of the camp area right as the next minute strikes. Since there are technically no units in the camp area, the camp will spawn new creeps without you having to clear out the previous creeps.

This technique is often performed by a support player that wants to accelerate their cores’ growth. Additionally, any “stacked” creeps will give the player that stacked them additional gold when they die, regardless of where they are on the map.


The Secret Shop

You may come across some items in your guide that for some reason you can’t purchase. These items are only available in the Secret Shop. There are two Secret Shops, one on the Radiant offlane and one on the Dire offlane. You can purchase Secret Shop items from either Secret Shop.



Roshan lives in a cave in the river just north of where the midlane towers meet. He’s big, strong, and hard to take down, but if you do, he drops some valuable items that can turn a losing game around (or secure the win).

Every time Roshan dies, he drops the Aegis of the Immortal. A hero who has the Aegis in their inventory when they die will respawn at the location of their death after a four second delay.

After he is killed for the third time, he will drop a Cheese along with the Aegis. Cheese is an item that restores 2500 HP and 1500 mana when used; it can only be used once.

On his third death, Roshan has a chance to drop a Refresher Shard or an Aghanim’s Blessing. The Refresher Shard refreshes all the cooldowns of your items and skills, allowing you to immediately use them again. Aghanim’s Blessing is a special item that upgrades one of your hero’s skills. The Aghanim’s Blessing’s effect is different for each hero.

On his fourth death and every subsequent death, Roshan drops all of the aforementioned items.

DOTA 2 is available now on PC.

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