Valve released a matchmaking update for DOTA 2 yesterday, and as part of it, some players breaking the rules have begun receiving comically long bans.
Valve’s notice for the update says it’s targeting “bad actors”, aka those with “exceptionally low behavior scores”, anyone buying or selling Steam accounts to get a higher rank, players “using exploits to gain an advantage over other players” and smurf accounts.
That’s how online ban waves always work, but some of the bans being handed out in this case are huge. Like our guy YeezyReseller, who woke up to find his account banned for 19 years, orzatlant here who asked the community why he was also banned for the same amount of time and quickly received a response (he had quit over 60% of his games).
The idea of a 19-year ban for a video game is absolutely hilarious to me, but doubly so when you see the end date is 2038. That’s the future.
Like, these guys will be living in a climate-ravaged hellhole, sweating in their 100-to-a-room underground living pods, working their 40s away in an AmazonDisney Corp bitcoin mine, and in January 2038 they’ll get a calendar reminder that they can now play DOTA 2 again. For a second their hearts will race, until they remember DOTA 2 was kicked through the Moon Door by Chancellor Barron Trump in 2037, and they’ll trudge back into the mines, remembering the good old days, when their racist jokes over video game chat were just that, jokes man, lighten up.
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At this point, I have spent nearly 50 hours with Dota Underlords. I still do not know what an Underlord is. This is because Valve’s early-access auto battler still does not contain its shadowy namesakes. In a matter of weeks, however, that’s going to change.
Today, Valve outlined its plans for the future of Dota Underlords in the runup to its full-release, non-early-access version. Within the next few weeks, the company said in a Steam post, Underlords will be getting many major new changes: a duos mode that allows two players to team up and battle three other teams, big UI tweaks, new heroes and alliances, and, yes, some gosh dang Underlords.
Presumably, Underlords will act as stand-ins for the player, not unlike Teamfight Tactics’ Little Legends, which players can move around arenas and who take HP damage when players’ armies lose rounds. Valve, however, is still being cagey about how exactly Underlords will function, saying only that the development team is “really excited about this feature” because “these Underlords are a core part of the game, and we think they will add a layer of fun and strategy to every match.”
Valve also noted that the order and content of upcoming updates is subject to change, but that hopefully, these things will put the game on track to becoming a complete experience—as opposed to the somewhat barebones proof-of-concept it is right now. The goal, ultimately, is for new features to culminate in Dota Underlords season one, with a fully functional battle pass and other fancy fixings.
“This is normally where we’d say ‘that’s about it’—but knowing us and our community, we can pretty honestly say that things will change,” Valve wrote. “Season 1 is the update where our Beta turns into a fully released game, so expect features like the new and improved Battle Pass and others like City Crawl to make their first appearance there. Stay tuned.”
We’re just days away from the biggest Dota 2 event of the year, the annual International tournament with its $33 million prize pool. Normally, this would be a time of celebration, but throughout the group stages leading into the August 20 main event, hardly anybody in Twitch chat has been talking about the games. Instead, fans have been in an uproar over Valve’s decision to host the International in Shanghai while protests rage in Hong Kong.
Right now, the International’s Twitch chat is overflowing with messages, memes, and spam in opposition to China. Some of the messages are as straightforward as “FREE HONG KONG,” while others mention Winnie The Pooh—who is often used to mock Chinese president Xi Jinping—or make reference to previous Chinese governmental actions against protesters, like the 1989 Tienanmen Square massacre. There are also memes, like one that reads “Spam this King Kong to free Hong Kong,” interspersed with gorilla emotes. These sorts of messages were a regular occurrence during yesterday evening’s initial group stage broadcast, which was viewed by hundreds of thousands of people, but there was at least some discussion of matches, too. Today, during a rerun, chat has been almost entirely focused on Hong Kong. This, in turn, has also spawned multiplehighly upvoted threads on Reddit about this topic, which have fed back into Twitch chat.
The Hong Kong protests began in June with a one-million-person march over a proposed extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong’s government to deport both residents and foreigners to other places, including mainland China. Protesters feared that the Chinese government, which backs Hong Kong’s government but allows it to create its own legal and economic systems, could use this law to snatch people up and have them tried in mainland China. Suddenly, Hong Kong residents would be subject to different and, at times, more draconian rules that sometimes do not include due process. This infuriated many citizens of Hong Kong, who took to the streets en masse to speak out in favor of democracy.
In response to the protestors, police in Hong Kong have used increasingly aggressive tactics, from tear gas to violent physical force involving non-lethal ammunition. These efforts have not quelled the activists and seem instead to have galvanized them, culminating in protesters occupying the Hong Kong International Airport this past Monday, shutting down one of the world’s largest airports for the better part of the day. According to the Washington Post, the Chinese government retaliated by claiming that protesters are using “extremely dangerous tools” and are “descending into terrorism.” This is the first time the government has used the word “terrorism” in relation to these protests. The Post reports that Hong Kong locals now fear that military intervention is not far off.
Valve announced that it would be hosting the International in Shanghai in August of last year, long before these protests erupted. At the time, the Shanghai city government said that it was “honored to be selected by Valve as the host city of next year’s Dota 2 championships” and would “provide its full support for the event.” Over the past couple years, Valve has been making an increasingly large push into China, partnering with Chinese developer and publisher Perfect World to create a Chinese version of Steam. Even in the absence of Steam China, the regular version of Steam still has more than 30 million Chinese users. China is also one of Dota 2‘s biggest markets, with many top pro teams hailing from the country.
That, however, has also led to tension in the game’s player base. Dota 2 has had multiple controversies over racism, much of it anti-Chinese in nature. Some players in other countries have accused Chinese players of cheating and conspiratorial behavior and have called for region-locked servers. Meanwhile, on the pro side of things, two players, Andrei “Skem” Ong and Carlo “Kuku” Palad, used racist language in reference to Chinese players late last year, prompting a statement from Valve and a ban from the $1 million Chongqing Major tournament for the latter player.
“The language used by multiple players over the last week has caused many of our fans a lot of pain and is not behavior that we condone,” Valve wrote at the time. “We want to be very clear that Valve will not tolerate racist language between pro players in any form. We think it is really damaging to the entire Dota community whenever even a single professional player uses discriminatory language. It pits fans against each other, belittles and demeans entire groups and makes them feel like they are not as important. Going forward, we expect all teams who participate in our tournaments to hold its players accountable, and be prepared to follow up with strong punishments when players represent Dota and its community poorly.”
However, this strain of the community is also present in the International’s Twitch chat, with some using racist phrases like “Ching Chong government” and calling Chinese people “a plague on the earth.”
Moderators have been active on the International’s Twitch channel, removing many instances of political messaging and spam and, according to fans on social media, reportedly timing out and banning some viewers. This, taken alongside city government support of the event, has led some to fear that the reason Valve appears to be banning viewers for using certain phrases in Twitch chat is because the company is appeasing the Chinese government. Others worry that the Chinese version of Steam will be heavily censored when it launches. Kotaku reached out to Valve for more information about moderation of the International and Steam China but did not hear back as of publishing.
All that said, a fair amount of Hong-Kong-related messages and spam have also gotten through in the International’s fast-moving chat. It seems likely that moderators just want to keep discussion focused on the game, to at least some degree. “I don’t think China has any association with Twitch [chat],” said one user on the Dota 2 subreddit. “I think mods just decided that it was really unfunny.”
That, however, hasn’t stopped people from wading into Twitch chat to say (or spam) their piece. Right now, this topic is completely overwhelming chat. Some are annoyed by this. Others, less so.
“Honestly, this is a step up in quality vs normal Twitch chat,” said one viewer.
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Are you someone who still battles in video games by using your fingers to directly input commands, like some kind of barbarian? That’s old hat. Today, auto-battlers are all the rage. Simply buy some guys, arrange said guys, and they (the guys) will do the battling for you. With Dota Underlords, Valve rushed to capitalize on the trend that began with a user-created mod of its own game Dota 2. So far, Underlords’ speedy turnaround seems to have paid off.
Underlords, currently in early access, is heavily based on Dota Auto Chess, a mod in which eight players purchase automated units and try to outdo each other in a mini-tournament of 1v1 duels. It may not sound like much, but it’s easy to learn, and once you’ve let your brain marinate in the intricacies for a bit, it’s addictive as heck. Steam users are pleased with Valve’s faithfulness to the original mod, as well as the subtle quality-of-life improvements and item changes that streamline some of the mod’s sloppier elements. Some people, however, are wary of hero and synergy changes Valve has made, while others just don’t dig how RNG-based the game (and genre) is. For most, though, Underlords is hitting the spot.
The International 2019, the biggest Dota 2 tournament of the year, will take place in August. Already, its prize pool looks set to break last year’s record, and possibly even outpace Fortnite’s. In addition to the $1.6 million invested by Valve, a quarter of all the money spent by players on the game’s battle pass also gets added to the tournament’s prize pool. Last year that amount capped out at $25,532,17. This year, more than a month out from the event, the prize pool has already broken $23 million.
While those impressive numbers are the result of players spending money on battle pass levels and associated treasures (that’s Dota 2’s version of loot boxes), it doesn’t mean that Valve plays a completely passive role. On June 26, Valve announced the Battle Level Bundle sale, offering $120 worth of treasures and battle pass levels for $30. Not surprisingly, the prize pool exploded following the announcement, growing by almost $4 million in the days since. It’s the largest prize pool in esports for so many years running, and the creator of Dota 2 and its fan base seem intent on retaining that title for their preferred esport.
As of today, 12 teams have locked in their spots for The International. Many still have work to do ahead of that event, including those competing in this weekend’s $1 million Epicenter Major in Moscow, Russia. There are several matches still to go in the tournament’s lower bracket, starting on Saturday at 5:00 a.m. ET with TNC Predator vs. PSG.LGD. On Sunday, Vici Gaming, currently ranked third in the world on points, will be awaiting whoever makes it through in the grand finals at 9:00 a.m. All of the matches will be streamed live on the Epicenter Twitch channel.
Back on this continent, some of the best fighting game players from around the world will be throwing down in Daytona Beach, Florida at CEO 2019. Featuring all of the big games, including Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the event is also famous for featuring tournaments in lots of other competitive series, including BlazBlue, Guilty Gear, and Dance Dance Revolution. You can find a full list of match times and streams on CEO Gaming’s website, with most of the action streaming on CEO’s Twitch channel.
Finally, Friday Fortnite has its third official tournament of the season going on right now. Featuring Ninja, Myth, and others, play began in the bracket at 4:00 p.m. ET with matches expected to continue well into the evening. You can watch the $20,000 tournament in its entirety on the UMG Events Twitch channel.
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The failure of Dota-themed trading card game Artifact might have left Valve with egg on its face, but the company has now scraped off that egg and made an omelette with Dota Underlords. Valve’s take on the obscenely popular Auto Chessgenre hit a peak of nearly 180,000 concurrent players today, almost tripling Artifact’s all-time peak and planting a flag firmly near the top of Steam’s most-played games list.
Underlords, which went into open beta yesterday, has already hit a peak of 179,019 concurrent players. It’s not hard to see why: It’s a polished take on Auto Chess with more effects and personality than the original, as well as some smart streamlining of integral mechanics, like items. Its interface still needs some work, but it’s already a heck of a good time. Unlike Artifact, which launched to immediate criticism, Underlords has largely positive Steam reviews. One of the most upvoted reads “What Artifact should have been.”
According to Steam Charts, a third-party database of Valve-provided Steam data, Artifact’s all-time high is 60,740 concurrent players—a number that precipitously dropped off not long after the game’s launch toward the end of 2018. The card game faced widespread complaints about its cards-for-money-based system. Unlike its competitors (notably, Hearthstone), Artifact forces you to spend money to get the best cards—you can’t just earn them through play. Players also didn’t love what they perceived to be RNG mechanics, nor were they fans of other ways the game encouraged them to spend money. At the end of March, after a period of prolonged silence, Valve announced long-term plans to overhaul Artifact, but it has no timeframe for when that process will be complete.
While Artifact was cratering, Auto Chess’ star was on the rise. At the start of the year, the Dota 2 mod—which has been likened to deck-building card games despite focusing on pieces instead of cards—became one of the most-played anythings on Steam. Its mixture of casual-friendly design, mid-match progression, ocean-deep strategic variety, and just the right amount of randomness becomes immediately (some would say horrifyingly) apparent.
Despite mechanical differences, some fans likened Auto Chess to Artifact, saying that modders made a better Dota card game than Valve. Unsurprisingly, Valve has now emulated it, and the digital storefront-operator-turned-game-developer is already reaping the rewards.
League of Legends developer Riot’s version of Auto Chess, Teamfight Tactics, has been a huge success, taking over Twitch after its open beta launch earlier this week and causing test servers to buckle under constant strain. Underlords seems to be headed down a similar path, though the servers seem to be doing much better.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
I’m playing Dota 2 again following the release of the game’s 2019 battle pass. There are new treasures to collect. Big tournaments are just around the corner. And I’ve spent another $10 on that battle pass. I can’t tell if this game is actually exciting again or if I just feel compelled to play because there’s a fresh batch of brass rings to grind for.
In my first match after coming back, I played as Zeus. He’s been a favorite hero of mine since the game’s beta, mostly because of how straightforward and instantly gratifying he can be. Zeus is a nuker, which is the genre’s parlance for someone with a few attacks that deal lots of damage. His ultimate, God’s Wrath, doesn’t even require you to be near your opponents; it automatically hits everyone on the map, no matter where they are, dealing a hefty amount of damage in the process.
Whether you’re a newcomer to the game, an experienced verteran, or somewhere in between (like I am), killing some unsuspecting player with a move like God’s Wrath is incredibly satisfying. I keep coming back to Dota 2 because it’s a deep and complex competitive multiplayer game, but these simple pleasures are what really make it fun.
This year, it’s less clear to me how the battle pass factors into that. I still want to collect all the goodies, and I don’t mind throwing some extra bucks Valve’s way after spending over 1,000 hours with its game, but the grind has become more of a time suck than ever. Also, some of the new ways that statistical analysis have begun creeping into the game have made it feel like a chore.
The battle pass was once little more than a glorified guide to Dota 2’s annual world championship tournament, The International. In recent years, the battle pass has become much, much more. It allows players to bet special in-game currency on their matches, which can then be spent on increasing their battle pass level. It also opens up entire new modes. The pass itself can be leveled up, and as players hit certain tiers on the path to ranking up their battle pass, they can unlock things like new special sound effects, map skins, and character cosmetics. It’s sort of like a giant, communal scavenger hunt, and some of the proceeds from that go to help fund the prize pool for the tournament while the rest flow into Valve’s coffers.
This year’s version has included some strange and unwelcome choices. You used to be able to earn extra levels by trading in Immortal Treasures, the loot boxes that gift you anywhere from one to several unique and intricate skins. Now you can only recycle the contents inside of the Immortal Treasures to get new unopened ones. And even to do that, you need to collect four or more. It’s always been hard to level up the battle pass beyond 100 just by playing, but now it’s that much harder.
But a lot of the best rewards require you to do just that. Custom lane creeps that change the game’s main computer-controlled enemies into lizards require reaching level 182 in the battle pass. Axe Unleashed, a special skin completely changes the look of one of the game’s most iconic characters (and one of my personal favorites), requires reaching level 425. A custom visual overhaul of the game’s map that makes it into a series of ancient, jungle-engulfed ruins, requires reaching level 160. I could pay for additional levels at $10 per 25, but that feels like it would defeat the purpose of earning cool new Dota 2 stuff by doing cool stuff within the game.
Then there are the ways that the battle pass is optimizing play in conjunction with the Dota Plus AI coaching service. The tool now shows you win rates in-game depending on which hero you pick at the start of the match and also depending on who else has already been chosen. A special meter in the top left corner lets you know exactly how much of the damage you’re taking is physical as opposed to magical, which can guide you in your decisions about gear to purchase during a match. There’s even a timer now to help automate the stacking of creep camps, one of Dota 2’s more esoteric skills that can help teams gain material advantages over one another by farming the enemies on their side of the map in the most effective way possible. All of that is very helpful. But it’s not available to anybody who didn’t bother to buy the battle pass, creating an uneven playing field that encourages everyone else to join the arms race.
Even if I chose to opt out of these tools, they’re now embedded in the rest of the Dota 2 landscape. It’s not quite a pay-to-win situation, and not quite pay-to-grind either, but for all of the delightful things attached to this year’s battle pass, so few of them feel geared toward helping refresh my relationship to a game whose fundamentals I already love.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
When you care for someone, I think one of the most important things you can do is move out of your comfort zone and participate in their hobbies and interests. My girlfriend is an avid Heroes of the Storm player, often squirreling away time with friends to play matches and participate in aod-hoc tournaments. I knew nothing about Heroes of the Storm outside of some of the cast and my basic knowledge of the rules of MOBA (multiplayer online battle arenas) games. But HOTS is important to her, which means that it’s important to me. So it was that the two of us set aside time for me to learn how to play Heroes of the Storm.
I play a lot of games here at Kotaku but I’ve never really touched something like League of Legends or Heroes of the Storm. MOBAs can be intimidating to new players thanks to a staggering number of characters to learn and notoriously hostile player bases.
I consider myself to be pretty good at games and I think I’ve proven that to be the case over my years livestreaming or dropping footage on Kotaku. Notoriously difficult games like Cuphead never really fazed me. Getting a code literally a day before embargo meant marathoning through it in short order. I’m someone who ignores recommended level requirements in games, using tricks or min-maxing to overcome odds and reap early benefits. Recently, I played through Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen’s difficult DLC area Bitterblack Isle well below the recommendation. I hold my own in shooters even when I stumble as metas change. MOBAs (aka multiplayer online battle arenas) were a genre I’d left untouched, as they seemed particularly resistant to new players. Sure, I’d watched The International and seen high level Dota 2 matches. Sure, I’d played games adjacent to that genre like Battlerite. But play a MOBA? Me? I just hadn’t done it.
From what I can gather, HOTS is more accessible than something like League of Legends or Dota 2, with some useful tutorials at the start to teach you basic movement and a few key tidbits of information. That doesn’t mean it’s free from the data-overloading that makes MOBAs feel hostile to new players. There are dozens upon dozens of characters to choose from (although only a few are unlocked at the start), multiple maps with different objectives, and the fact that you can’t really understand the cadence of a match without biting the bullet and playing matches. For us, that meant playing against some mid-level AI as I was taught the differences in each map.
Of course, I didn’t make it too easy on myself. HOTS characters have an assigned difficulty rating meant to tell players if they are easy or complicated to use. I’m a big fan of Tracer from Overwatch, even if my love for that game has waned. She’s listed as a higher difficulty character and is easy to kill if a player makes a mistake. She has all of her skills from Overwatch, which I was pretty damn familiar with. I died a fair amount of times, moving too far forward and “feeding” myself to the AI, but I was learning and working with a toolset that I knew. After a while, Tracer started to make sense. Nevertheless, my girlfriend suggested looking into a healing character instead. In FFXIV, she plays Dark Knight while I play White Mage and heal her. It seemed a good suggestion.
I chose Li Li. She’s some type of Panda gal from World of Warcraft, able to follow teammates and toss out tea that heals the lowest HP teammate around her. She also has a spin attack for blinding enemies that get in close. This was a much more beginner-friendly character, and I felt able to contribute to my team more than before. I could help defend choke points or protect my girlfriend when we went to fight some bosses—defeating them recruits them to your side, you see. We didn’t play too many more matches but I walked away interested in playing more and learning different healing characters.
I haven’t leapt into matches against other players for now. In spite of my confidence in other genres, I admit to being nervous here. MOBAs don’t have a particularly good reputation when it comes to online conduct and while I’m more than used to strangers yelling random shit to me on the internet, the idea of having some asshole bitch me out in Quickplay while I’m still learning is daunting. We’ll deal with that when that time comes. I don’t think I’m gonna become a MOBA-fiend—I’d rather stick with shooters, RPGs, and online games like Final Fantasy XIV— but I do think I’ll play from time to time. I’ll do it not just to be close with someone I care about, but because in spite of my misgivings, I had fun. Testing new characters, tipping toes into a fresh genre? It was refreshing, and I can’t wait to learn more.
Back in 2017, some of the most dedicated Dota 2 players spent hundreds of dollars on microtransactions to win a special collectible statue. The versions that Valve shipped out were so ugly, and so poorly received, that Valve said it would make replacements. Yesterday, it said that it was finally ready to ship them out.
“Today, we are pleased to announce that the Collector’s Baby Roshan statue redesign is complete and the shipping phase has begun,” read an email Valve sent to recipients on Thursday. “Baby Roshan is now physically larger, heavier, and has improved detail.” Everyone who’s owed one should receive it within the next three months, Valve said.
The Collector’s Baby Roshan was first announced in a blog post during the leadup to the 2017 Dota 2 world championship. It would be nickel-silver finished, approximately three inches tall, and be available to any player who managed to hit level 2,000 on their battle pass that season.
The battle pass itself cost $10, with players able to level it up slowly by playing matches or by spending more money. For every additional $10 spent, they could raise their rank 25 more levels. Buying your way to level 2,000 would cost just north of $800. It’s also possible to grind for levels, but only if you decide to treat it like a full-time job, and even then it wouldn’t have been enough to get all the way to 2,000. The Collector’s Baby Roshan was, in effect, meant to be a special bonus to the most dedicated (and deep pocketed) Dota 2 fans.
But the statues that eventually arrived in early 2018 ended up being nothing of the sort. Players began posting pictures of them on Reddit. Far from the antiqued metallic look in the original blog post, the statues lacked detail and had lots of visible seams and imperfections. In May 2018 Valve announced that the quality of the statues was indeed “poor,” and that it would be working on producing a new run more in line with the original prototype.
“We deeply apologize for the significant delays on these statues, as we had to overcome substantial production challenges to get a reliable process in place,” Valve said in this week’s update, though it did not go into detail about the cause of the problems. Valve declined to comment.
The email also contains several photos comparing the new versions of the statues to the original, to prove to any fans who might have lost faith that the long wait hasn’t completely been in vain. Valve is also giving each person a special custom in-game Baby Roshan cosmetic as well, to try and make amends.
Valve said it will ship out the replacements for the 2017 statues first, and then send the 2018 statues.
This weekend (and this weekend only), Dota 2 players can witness first-hand the wold-champ-defeating skill of OpenAI’s competitive Dota 2 AI, OpenAI Five. The AI has been trained using a technique called “deep reinforced learning” which has seen the AI play over 45,000 years-worth of Dota 2 in just 10 months. This training seems to have paid off, as the AI “team” just recently defeated the reigning professional Dota 2 e-sports team, OG, in a best-of-three tournament. You can read the entire saga here.
With such a milestone victory under its belt, OpenAI plans to test OpenAI Five outside the tournament structure by pitting the AI against the Dota 2 player base at large with a three-day public event known as “OpenAI Five Arena.”
Through Arena, Dota 2 players will be able to play both individually and in teams with fellow human players and/or OpenAI Five bots in competitive and cooperative configurations. The goal of the experiment is to gauge how OpenAI Five fares against a wider player base utilizing wildly different strategies (and itself), and will then take the data collected to further refine the AI’s performance.
If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand against a highly sophisticated AI, then be sure to sign up for the limited-run Arena event. OpenAI Five Arena starts Thursday, April 18 at 9 p.m. EST, and runs for three days through Sunday, April 21 at 9 p.m EST.