Torte De Lini

A Sociocultural Analysis of Gaming and eSports
Torte De Lini

Torte De Lini

10 Years, 541 Million: Dota Guides & My Life in Review

This is the 10th annual Year-in-Review for my  project: The Standard Dota Hero Guides.
If you want to skip to my personal message, scroll down to “My Life & 10 Years of Dota Guides”

This year is the 10th anniversary since I started the Dota 2 Hero Builds Project! For 10 years, I have been writing Year-in-Reviews for this project and with each iteration, I treat it more as a personal outlet than a public display about the guides.

The more you get your name out there, the luckier you are to meet people you like. I’m thankful for the community of friends I’ve learned and grown with over the years. 

If you don’t know what Hero Builds are, they’re guides integrated into the game which help provide the optimal way to play a character/hero based on high tier data and pro-level and community feedback. Suggestions for which spells to level, items to purchase and descriptions for their application can all be found within these Hero Builds. For a competitive game like Dota 2, having this resource helps players of any skill level play to the current “meta” with confidence and strong team cohesion.



After 10 years, the guides’ growth is unmatched by anyone else. To summarize:

  • 3.76 billion matches have been played using my guides, averaging 1 million daily
  • Over 555 million total subscriptions – 55 million new subscriptions annually
  • #1 subscribed guide on Steam: Phantom Assassin reaches 6.6 Million unique subscribers
  • Pudge is the most played guide across all of Dota 2: 86 Million matches played
  • 72,000 changes applied across all guides, 250,000 tooltips revised and rewritten annually
    • Reviewing & revising guides every day for three hours – additional 5 hours if testing guides
    • Every single change catalogued and announced via YouTube, Twitter or community posts for 10 years

    Global Influence – 90.68% of all daily matches

My friend, a data scientist for the Golden State Warriors, performed and verified these statistics. It says, essentially, that 90% of all matches are likely to be influenced by my guides.

Approximately 90.68% of all daily Dota matches use one or more of my guides according to our data. The percentages represented show the likelihood of 0 to 9 guides simultaneously being used during any match. In 2021, it was 86.27% so there’s a growth assumed to be associated with the increased returning player-base when the battle pass and Arcana cosmetics were given away in December 2022. In terms of alternative guides, the second most popular guide creators are around 720 million total games played. In all literal forms of the word, I can safely say I am a Dota 2 influencer and that’s kinda neat to think about taking that word back. That said, there is a certain pride in ensuring that I continue to earn the responsibility of determining how players will enter each game, millions of times a day, every day.

  10 Years of Dota Achievements

The more you get your name out there, the luckier you are to meet people you like. I’m thankful for the community of friends I’ve learned and grown with over the years. 

For the guides, while the quantitative is impressive. I am always taken aback by who is supporting, endorsing or using the guides, especially from people and organization I’m fans of. From pro-players to OpenAI, I tried to capture and collect every moment where my heart skipped a beat with elation. No matter the reason my guides were selected, I try my best to make that choice the right one for those who trust me.

The distance we go to be somebody among our family, friends, school/workplace or even the world, always starts with mattering to ourselves. That internal motivation lasts for as long as when we see a path to reach tap our pride among that fog of insecurity and self-doubt. Looking back, the attention I received for my guides is incredible but I also know that the day-to-day pursuit to make the best guides comes from my passion, enjoyment and that motivated pride. I’m lucky I have the time and availability to do something I love and enjoy and get to be part of a game that’s been close to me for nearly 20 years.


Processes & Policies Updates

    2022 Policy Updates & Additions

These policies re-iterate upon the areas mentioned in 2021, specifically improving the extension & luxury items tab categorization so it is more seamless for players:

  • Extension Items has been refined based on the 2021 applications where recommended extension items are now upgrades or replaceable items from your core items. It can also be items that you would buy almost always after your core Items.
  • Luxury item recommendations have also had their definition refined to being late-game situational defensive or consumable items like Moon Shard or Aghanim’s Scepter recipe. Luxury should be viewed as your final sixth item, a niche counter to specific heroes (like MKB for evasion-based heroes) or upgrades to extension items that take a secondary priority versus the essential purchases.
  • Some ability tooltips now reflect if it should be used to secure ranged creeps when laning.
Juggernaut guide highlights how important segmenting your late-game items are. For many years, the meta has been shifting to a more diverse and wide-ranging list of item choices and costs. As you can see, we’ve prioritized Basher & Blink Dagger over their upgraded versions: Swift Blink & Abyssal Blade because they differ in tiers of importance and cost commitment – you can see this statistically at high-level games as well.

    Continued 2020 & 2015 Processes & Policies

These policies have been in place since 2013 or later, but were only written for posterity in 2015 and added upon in 2020:_

  • Guides are based on data, pros’ feedback, user discussions and observed matches.
  • Hero builds are constructed under the assumption that the player is performing well. There’s a Situational Items tab to alleviate challenges if the player is underperforming or playing versus specific counters.
  • Six items maximum per slot to reduce burdening players with too much choice and to emphasize the most popularly-used items.
  • Dual Core Builds are for heroes like Wraith King & Monkey King, who have multiple playstyles.
  • Guides try to be updated within the first 48 hours after a large patch release.
  • Instructions on each guide category tab states how to use the guides for players.
  • Annual tooltip text rewrites are made to keep the guides helpful and updated for players.

My Life & 10 Years of Dota Guides

Looking back on my life, I would summarize it as being slightly off-center. It’s not exactly how I would’ve wanted to live but it’s in the ballpark of what I could hope for. A simple example would be that I’m happy I got to grow up playing video games… but my first console was the CD-i. Or for example, I love how ethnically diverse I am as the son of a Swiss-Jewish-Egyptian refugee and a Ecuadorian-Spanish New Yorker… but I’m regularly confused (or discriminated) for other nationalities. Lastly, I feel fortunate to have two parents… but they were the victims of their own stories and the villains in mine.

Growing up in Quebec during the Bush-era was a unique triple-decker of racist remarks. I was a terrorist who should go make bombs, a negro for being slightly darker and a warmongerer for invading the Middle-East. Their teasing never made sense except to serve as a reminder I was different.

So when people ask me why I make guides, my initial response is simple: I was frustrated by how my teammates were building their items and I channeled that sentiment into doing something productive about it. But the off-center answer is that my motivation comes from an attempt to reject a childhood history of institutional failure and feelings of ineptitude. Simply put, I was trying to dismiss my becoming of the bare minimum of a living person – something that everyone was predicting at that time. The ten years that followed had a lot of ups and downs for me but thankfully the guides stayed a fixed point of definition as to who I am and wanted to be._

    Before Guides

Growing up, I was labeled two identities that I would try to reverse for the next 13 years. I was a:

  • a socially misfit kid trying to fit in a society where he wasn’t the same ethnicity, didn’t speak the same language or celebrate the same culture. He was two years older than his classmates, having repeated his sixth & ninth grade, and an annoyance to teachers across multiple high-schools. For the next nine years, he would consecutively attend summer school to achieve a passing grade.

and I was also a:

  • A reclusive and lonely son, waiting until school started again to get away from a physically and verbally abusive single parent. During the summertime, I would visit my depressed, yet disconnected father, where we experienced, for a time, homelessness.

DotA — and other games like it — carry the infamy of being toxic and hostile environments, but compared to what I was going through, the trivial bickering in the game meant that we were at least trying to cooperate, something I yearned for in my actual life. What’s more, people actually spoke English, a rarity to where I lived at the time. Video games were a distraction for me: a shower of dissociation washing away the pain of my adolscence, and at the same time a tool to stay connected with at least one parent, who at the time was struggling to stay afloat financially or even relate to his children. The combined adversities I faced growing up lead me to three institutions of thoughts that I retain to this day: I hate weekends, I need to work twice as hard to be average and nobody likes me by default; I need to be something of value.

One of my events was BarCraft Montreal at the now-defunct Club 1234. In coordination with the venue manager, we secured sponsorship, equipment, cooperation with Evil Geniuses & MLG and got to be featured on the official tournament broadcast.

Taking what I learned, I entered CEGEP (college) with a desire to do more. Part of the reason was because I was sleeping on a couch without my own room for the first year, which meant finding any justification to get out of the apartment. My first attempt: volunteering at a retirement home – to prove I could do something, anything. In that regard, the volunteering was a success and I would go on to take things a step further in university. I volunteered to:

  • start my own esports university club and jump-started two more in neighboring institutions.
  • help with tournament organizations at our local LAN events: LAN ETS and contributed to WCS Canada for Blizzard Entertainment.
  • organize major viewing parties with hundreds in attendance.
  • manage over five esports teams and 50+ players.
  • write articles for four established esports publications.
  • created my first “guide”: Team Liquid forums Rules & FAQ
  • finish my university degree in three years instead of four.

Throughout these experiences, I was making up for lost time as I knew that once I graduated, I would have to find a job. Having a degree in Sociology was a relic of my past than a potential future in terms of employment. Especially true when the degree chosen was on the basis of my family’s instruction to “pick something you can get a passing grade in”. All I had on my resume was a tenth grade level of Mathematics and working in QA for some popular AAA games like Mercenaries II, Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, The Simpsons and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

Working double-time on projects, summer school and trying to graduate as fast as possible lead to 14-hour workdays and weekends but also came with sacrifices like missing out my only high-school friend’s funeral. I was so caught up in trying to get clarity on my future that I did not get to say good-bye to my past and the few gems that remained.

    My Work During Guides

When the guides system came out in February 2013, I was graduating and ready to start my own life. The cost to do that would be everything I previously owned but in turn, I would go on to be a part of many different start-ups including a TV studio, a digital magazine, a live-streaming platform, an investment holding, a CS:GO Major, Dota Minors and Majors, three esports teams, three company acquisitions and more. For each new chapter in my life, it meant I had to start all over: move to a new country, buy all new furniture, make new friends and build a new company. But it also meant another try at reinventing myself and exploring what I can do.

Before the guides were created in-game, they were on a cloud server which regularly destroyed your guides. This kept up for about four years and the reason why most creators quit. Except me.

   2013: Berlin

My first job was at a company called ESGN: a 20-million dollar attempt to be an esports federation (in partnership with ESL, Gamefy and GOMTV) and a TV studio for everything esports. Coincidentally, I had gotten the role of business development and operations manager because I emailed the company blindly and one of my future colleagues read the very website you are reading now. Lead by non-English speaking Koreans, I was asked to move from Montreal to Berlin with my Swiss passport. A passport my family withheld with disapproval of my going. The company was rife with community rumours and they deemed it would not be prudent for me to leave. For a decade, I had been lead to believe that I was incapable of handling my own money, personal documents, family heirlooms or even permitted to purchase my own things. Thus, to get “permission” to leave for this job, I had to sign over my bank account to my family under the guise that they’ll manage it for me. With no choice, I signed and left for Berlin with whatever I could fit in my two suitcases, couple hundred Canadian dollars and a pocketwatch. A few months after I left, my bank account was emptied and I chalked it up as a cost for my freedom.

As with most start-ups, the company didn’t last and many community members were vocal about how much of a fool I was. That said, knowing what I was running away from, I was thankful for this company and continued working for them during their last months for free. My CV at least gets to read that I worked with Capcom, Riot Games, Valve (with Mike Dunkle, died in 2018), Blizzard and launching a TV studio. Contrasting Berlin and German culture with a Korean-lead workplace was an interesting mix of European standards of living versus Korean (sometimes unhealthily) work ethic. I also saw how being a foreigner gave you a lot of leniency for mistakes you made and I would see this repeated again when working in Russia. Though the studio and our launch were extravagant, it was misaligned with the, at its time, scrappy nature of the esports industry and was frankly not pragmatic. That said, my first foray in the real world, in another country, was a great lesson in my life. More importantly, it confronted me with a reality that I was on my own to find my next opportunity and to manage my finances in view of that. For the next 10 years, that financial insecurity persisted, with my personal effects staying relatively the same throughout. It was necessary to make relocation easier for each and every new role.

One of the big lessons I learned when starting at this studio was how to speak to superiors, especially those who don’t speak English – but also that large ideas with large funds doesn’t always mean success. I realized many years later that trying to jump the gun with an idea by starting out big rather than building up to your ideal project is a sure-fire way to fail.

     2014: Copenhagen

My next start-up was a digital magazine at Aller Media, one of the largest publishing houses in the Nordic region since 1875 (yes, the 19th century). I was fortunate that this personal website had once again garnered interest from another employer. They had asked me to be the managing editor for an esports magazine. With only a small sum of money left and nowhere to go, I accepted the role, excited to be going from TV to magazines though I think for some – that’s a step back in terms of media consumer direction. The greatest challenge of this role was trying to steer an old publishing house into going digital, let alone towards an international audience whilst they were earning millions with an aging population. With this venture ending as quickly as it went, I was still living in my suitcase and obligated to leave another great country and the few friends I just made in Copenhagen. My professional CV got a bit fatter: publishing a digital magazine and managing over 30 members. It definitely made me doubt if I was on the right path or one that was just going to be filled with failures. My Dota guides kept me sane for the months I was, again, unemployed. For the first and only time, I tried playing ranked and reached 5,000 MMR though I didn’t feel any more accomplished and decided that I just didn’t enjoy ranked whatsoever as the incentives to be a high rank were small in comparison to my ambition to do more in my career.

Being in a startup within a corporation was the worst of both worlds: you had very little funding, no job security and you had to justify your spending at every turn to a corporate machine that only made decisions through numbers with minimal risk. Learning the Danish culture, life and how hard taxes hit (55%) was all part of the experience living there. Though I personally felt the city was too small for my tastes, I do love how convenient and straight-forward everything is in Denmark: automated taxes, card-swiping my information at doctor appointments, relatively good public transportation and the dark, cold nights similar to those in Quebec during winter. The Danish people also taught me how to dress much better and what a balanced work-life looked like. In another life, I could definitely see myself living in Copenhagen and not just because their sarcastic humour and funny-sounding language are so appealing to me. An interesting social dynamic trait I was noticing was that if you’re a foreigner in a country where they don’t speak English, they will try to speak English in front of you. However, if you stop engaging or talking, they will eventually shift back to their native language. Even for a country as comfortable with English as Denmark, this would occur.

After 5 years in esports, I had finally got to attend my first Dota event. By this point, I had already been to so many League finals and was glad I was now among “my people” so to speak.

This meant that any social gathering I was in, I was reminded that everyone was speaking English for my sake, and thus out of respect, I would have to burn myself out ensuring that my involvement continued to justify their courteous language switch. This butted heads a lot with my self-perception that the more I routinely exposed myself to people, the more annoying and eventually disliked I would become. Putting more effort into avoiding that sometimes incurs that negative consequence even more. For sure, my social skills were undeveloped when I first started experiencing the world and they have yet to catch up in comparison to those I admire or wish I was more personally like (at least in the personality department).


     2015: Los Angeles

Still with my two suitcases, I took another role all the way in Los Angeles. My thinking was that as esports and gaming investment interests were ramping up, being around one of the central locations of those sectors would make finding future roles easier. I took a job as business development director at a live-streaming company called Azubu (with immediate skepticism that it would last). With two start-ups on my belt, I could immediately identify problems with this one. For starters, compared to Copenhagen who helped get me situated in a country that I was not familiar with, Azubu accommodated only the necessary. It had been 14 years since I’ve lived in the United States and I did not feel very welcomed upon arrival. My luggage — the total sum of my private possessions — were in an office that was closed for the weekend and I was jetlagged from my flight and needed new clothes to wear. To help the company save on costs for my relocation, I had sent my belongings weeks earlier. This now put myself in a situation where I was locked out of my things and could not go to my temporary living quarters until I could retrieve my things. I sat in that empty office building lobby for the next nine hours, hoping to cross someone who would be working on the weekend just so I could have a spare set of clothes. From the business side, the company would spend excessive amounts on content contracts but simply could not make any deals that would recuperate those commitments, let alone find new funding with a product still trailing behind competitors. It did not help that the CEO didn’t even live in the same country as the company, let alone do anything more than make press appearances. Seeing such a distinctive difference between the true drivers of a company and leadership who remained out-of-touch was an eye-opening experience for me when it came to future opportunities in my life.

On our way to the Grand Canyon, a new patch released with Arc Warden. With nothing for the entire drive from Las Vegas, I sat with my small work laptop and reviewed the patch. From the amount of messages I was receiving to update my guides and the challenges of working while on vacation, I knew for my health that I could not keep this up for much longer.

My time at Azubu taught me that I would not fit in the United States nor the work culture that often dangled opportunity as a motivation to get you to do more. More stupidly, I naively thought I could live in Los Angeles without a car or a driver’s license and wish I did more research about the city as I had never been to the West coast let alone knew where Los Angeles was on a map. One thing I do miss about America is how indulgent they were and unapologetic for creating food monstrosities that were more focused on reaching triple-word Scrabble scores in their name than finding a balance in their ingredients. I also miss how in the USA, stores are open past 6PM unlike here in Europe. That said, it also means that someone is sacrificing their nights just to serve the few night owls for the rare times we leave our apartment.

As for the guides, I was starting to notice an uptick in recognition and reception to my work. As the builds cloud system continued to fail and delete guides for others, I remain resilient and dedicated to a project that once again served well in making me feel productive as I went on to look for another job. Though most people I met for work were into League of Legends, I didn’t relent in my dedication to Dota and how thankful I was that I could be a part of it even when my work had me focused elsewhere.

In 2016, I joined my father to learn about his Egyptian life before becoming refugees in New York. We experienced all the beauty and heat of Egypt including Cairo and the Nile River. It was eye-opening to learn about one of my family’s history and also to see how much people look similar to me for once.

     2016: Moscow

I considered Azubu to be the lowest point of my career and now ESforce would be one that accelerated my experience exponentially. After Azubu, I leaned heavily into how different I was to everyone I had ever met. My good friend and colleague, Oleg Kogut (died in 2020), reached out about an investment fund needing help in understanding the international audience and that I might be a good fit. By this point, I had learned two key lessons when it comes to taking on new roles: 1. the riskier the project, the more money I should ask and 2. always say “yes” and “I can do that!” and then figure out how to do it. After a phonecall with leadership, I flew 16 hours to Russia and met their CEO (died in 2023). In the hallway were two bodyguards whose fists were the size of my head and the country did not resemble anything like in the movies. The city-center was this incredibly modern and light-filled metropolis whereas on the outer rim was this cold and barren architecture where yellow streetlamps barely pierced through the darkness. I continue to say that the city still has the best burgers I’ve ever eaten thus far (FARSH).

My role, initially, was to launch their international media company called Cybersport. The investment holding treated me well and I moved up to be Head of International Strategy & Operations which involved having a hand in international communication, business strategy linked with six subsidiary companies like VP & Na’Vi as well as direct involvement on Dota Majors: Epicenter. My only complaint was, once again, I had to relocate from Los Angeles to an undetermined location in Europe. So I sold all my belongings, slept on the floor until my rental period ran out, moved into hotels and AirBnBs for nine months straight until ESForce settled on a location for our offices. I paused my life, getting settled or living in my own apartment for a company’s slow decision-making. I told myself I’ll never go to those lengths for another business again as the sacrifice took a toll on my health, happiness, ability to work and quality of life. All that said, working with Russians was much more straight-forward than America where the hierarchal lines of an organization meant that you were the person who made the decision and people below you would execute with few opinions being exchanged. I also found them extremely hard-working, to the point of exhaustion and felt their work ethic was increasingly unhealthy as an environment. In terms of culture, yes there was some drinking but not as much as I stereotypically assumed. I did find out that there are different intonations you could say bylat which is a nice feather in my cap.

Epicenter remains, to me, still one of the best produced events both in its trailer and marketing, in budget and earnings and spectator experience.

With each period of unemployment came a thankfulness and appreciation that I had the Dota guides. They were an exercise to stay pro-active and proof that regardless how the job market rejected or accepted my candidacy, I had a modicum of personal success stemming directly from my hard work and dedication. It didn’t pay the bills but certainly kept me sane for years when I felt isolated from the world. My experience at ESforce was an embracing of everything I had learned from the past and it gave me confidence that I had moved on from being a newbie to esports to a veteran who had plenty of a variety of experiences to call upon in future projects and consulting.

     2017-2018: Berlin

In 2017, I was contacted by Valve Software regarding the hero builds cloud-based web system’s current situation. It was in bad shape that had driven most creators away from wanting to make guides. Though I was in contact with one of its developers, I believe he had retired some time last year (2016) and the system had fallen into a state of disrepair. For most of 2017, I was reached out by several staff at Valve about fixing the current version of the system and then providing expertise on what the new, in-game, system would look like, what features build creators would need and how we could make it monetarily more sustainable for creators to continue making guides.

In 2017, I received a call from Valve asking if I wanted to work The International. It was both an honour to be part of the event and visit their offices soon after. I don’t know how they feel about me but I’m glad to have met all of them.

Over 300 emails were exchanged between us as we worked on a more integral, easy-to-use and fair system that made it both convenient for players to create and get visibility on their guides. Not only did this experience take advantage of my work in AAA game production but also gave me a taste of system/feature design where a flow of ideas, opinions and suggestions would come to be implemented directly in the game. It was a step beyond designing builds for players and it was exhilarating to see the fruits of our labour being directly used by the player-base. Since then, over 250,000+ new guides have been created. In parallel, this year is where the vocal community started noticing my Dota guides after I had accumulated over 200 million subscribers, 700 million games played. That popularity lead to my invite as talent for The International 2017 and I got to meet a lot of the faces I worked or spoken to at Valve. On the flipside, with a more robust in-game system, it gave new guide creators more visibility, which in turn, shifted a lot of frustrated followers of my stuff to use alternative creators that more accommodated their needs. It’s thrilling to see more choices and diversity in guide formats and approaches than ever before. I’m thankful that some people at Valve trusted my first-hand experience with what Dota, new players and creators needed and to be a direct part of the game in a way I could ever dream of.

The International

As for my full-time role at the Moscow-based investment holding, ESForce would go on to sell for over 100 million to the Group and focus exclusively on the CIS region.

     2018-2019: Kyiv

Towards the end of 2018, I took a break from doing Dota guides. As I wrote back in 2019, I had achieved everything I wanted with the guides and the motivation was no longer there in continuing for the time being. I set the guides to private and wiped them clean so players would not continue to use them and ultimately move on to other guides as I always hated when people stuck with outdated guides. However, I was not aware that re-publishing the guides to a private setting would set them back to public viewing and leave players confused as to why there were blank guides (this error has been patched by Valve). An attempt to end things the right way had backfired and I continue to feel those consequences today. I’ve unfortunately had to pull back from interacting with certain communities due to death threats and recommendations to commit suicide. I feel that if you try to directly correct a wrong in people’s eyes, whether fairly or unfairly determined, it will only hardened their stance. The goal should be to remain consistent in your doings and to continue what you love to do. Nonetheless, throughout the next few years, those old childhood feelings resurged and made me feel helpless for so long, unsure of what the right approach was that didn’t indulge the hate and anger I was regularly on the receiving end of. I spent the next few years focused on myself and what made me feel the most proud of and just discarding the rest. The only flaw in that approach is that it stifled my desire to try and do anything else and made me feel paralyzed in taking any risks in fear of retaliation and harsh judgement. By exposing myself more, I gave more ammunition to those who thrived on anyone or anything being different. If you took their criticisms seriously and try to improve yourself, they would find a new reason to dislike or dismiss you. There was no winning but worse, it made you feel leashed to a hatred that sometimes had no basis.

The PUBG Invitational in Berlin was an amazing spectacle but with so little spectators. While I enjoyed my exposure to working with another developer/publisher, I was also growing apprehensive about each other’s approach and how it further aligned with my previous experience in esports: trying to be big from the get-go rather than building towards it.

I trudged onward with my professional work and my next role was working with StarLadder in Ukraine to do marketing for their Dota Minors, PUBG Europe League and the CS:GO Berlin Major. The company itself was nearing its end as senior talent exited for greener pastures and even the person who had hired me, left within a few months of my start. I was brought on to smooth things over with the PUBG Corporation as there was a very clear difference in communication, work culture and functionality between a veteran start-up and a game developement corporation. While I did fine in reassuring them that things could change now with someone who they could more align with culturally, I ultimately ended up being a symptom of a larger issue that plagued the organization before it would eventually wither into oblivion. After this role, I received a diagnosis that required me to re-assess my past, determine how I would function for the future and to live with a shame of these new challenges when rationally, there was nothing to be shameful of. I finally settled in the country of The Netherlands where I still live today and moved on from StarLadder as it continued to crumble.

     2020 to Present: Amsterdam

During COVID, I would continue to spend most of my life dealing with health and mental challenges that I had long ignored, some large and some small such as fixing my speech impediment, learning I have flat feet (turns out I was not as lazy as I thought, just bad feet) and getting into shape. With no job on the horizon, I had a lot of time to learn about what I wanted in life such as balance and stability, things I had given up for a tumultuous career. On top of that, the Dota guides gave me a sense of purpose when the market made me feel inadequate, undesired and unqualified. When I see how many new games were played with my guides, it gives me a feeling of personal success versus the lack of professional achievement I was reminded of every day. More importantly, being here in The Netherlands for longer than a year was its own success. It meant that I have built myself up, gradually, to a point where I could be stable between work and, thus, be more selective of roles outside of salary or stability.

While I do experience some casual racist tendencies outside of Amsterdam, I enjoy the stability the country offers. I don’t always understand the culture of The Netherlands but I do appreciate the values, traditions and care its country has for its residents.

I started live-streaming to pass the time, talk with those who wanted to hang out and use it as an outlet for people to give me feedback. Previously, I tested guides privately but found a lot more enjoyment ensuring the builds’ quality publicly, though a lot of people chose those live-streams as a way to determine my skill-level and thus interpret it as a level of my guides’ quality when the two were seldom related. I also started exploring healthy projects that were outside career growth: enrolling in an Executive MBA, taking up piano, learning video-editing and trying to work out at a gym. Having a lifestyle where I worked for others but also focused on myself meant a better self-esteem, without a constant feeling of comparison. I was doing something, even if it lead to nothing, didn’t pan out, or could not hold my interest. My view was: if I just stayed busy then I wouldn’t have the time to dwell on what was wrong or missing in my life. The guides taught me to appreciate my slice of value but more importantly to focus on myself rather always in reflection of others.

For the years after, I went on to help complete the sale of two additional companies. I continued to work on Dota 2 guides and sought to learn other industries (tried web3 – not recommended). I am now finishing my work in the mainstream gaming sector revolving around partnerships with game developers and operational strategy for a large search engine technology company. The past ten years have been a transformative period of being nothing to doing as much as I can to change that. Just as my life started before the guides, my life over the years were not perfect, but had an off-centered goodness that I appreciate more and more in retrospect. A lot of bad moments were glossed over, the times I’d get scammed, mistreated or taken advantage of. But also a lot of incredible moments in my travels, both for work and for leisure, go uncredited. Every company I invested my time and life into, helped me get my legs in settling in, making friends and understanding how their country and lives worked. I learned how to ask for help, to try and always give help and, most importantly, to invest my time with the people who I truly believed in. I’ve matured, quite simply. I’ve grown not just in terms of verticality but in a horizonal dimension that gave me depth in how people live, learn and function.

    My Future and Guides

I consider myself fortunate. Lucky that my past didn’t dictate my future (as much). Blessed I have the ability to explore ideas and grateful that for all my mis-steps, the consequences are some shut doors of opportunity and not the complete end of all things. Ultimately, I am thankful I can still be a part of a game I have cherished for nearly 20 years and that my involvement is appreciated by millions of players.

My past life was juggled by two identities: professional and personal. I am known here for my guides whereas in business, I am a veteran of ambitious start-ups (with its successes and failures). I have had an upbringing of insecurity that has created this maturity to aspire. While in the past, I have transformed myself to what was asked of me, I no longer change myself to become what others expect of me. Instead, I now have the self-esteem to be comfortable adjusting who I am to what works best for every situation. I am a foreigner in every sense of the word and I can live with that. Actually, I thrive to be that now.

I do not know how long I will continue to make guides and I will likely need to reinvent myself once more for my future. In an ideal world, it would be lovely to have Valve support me to continue making guides (and maybe help with other parts of Dota). But that is more of a hope than an expectation and for now, I’ll focus on living by the day’s step rather than where my stairway could lead to.


“My father used to quote Zig Ziglar, saying: your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude. And while I’m sure there’s a bit of blissful optimism sprinkled in that cheesy line, it has helped this relatively average person accomplish something above-average. If my father’s message is, in reality, untrue, then I am at least appreciative of how far my overcompensating efforts has reached.” – June, 2022


For years, I hid my history in concern that I would be perceived more differently than I already am. I only wanted to talk if it would be useful (or at least it made me feel useful). More importantly, I wanted to write about it when I could finally walk out of that tunnel of past challenges with my head held high from my own merit. That is my function, that is how my positive emotions are constructed. Though, I can name many experiences I would never do again, emotions I never want to feel nor types of people I wouldn’t want to cross paths with – I would do it all again if it means being where I am now and with this comfort of belonging.

Dota is challenging in so many ways for all of us. It’s given us a yearning to learn when school has wringed our curiosity dry. It’s taught us to deal with some of the most incomprehensible people. It’s helped us mature and take control of our emotions for the greater good of the team and our collective desire to win. Better yet, the game confronted us on the idea of letting go of frustrating moments and outcomes that are beyond our control. Every day, I can feel those parallels I’ve learned from Dota applied to my adventures around the world. I’m thankful I could extract so much guidance from the game to help overcome my life.

Me at 34 embracing my unique multi-ethnic look and jewfro-latino-egyptian hair. For the longest time, I kept my hair fairly short and firmly cut as I just hated having curly hair growing up. I’m looking to change that.

Looking back on my life, I’ve found there were so many pitfalls that would forever label me a victim. Traps where I would end up emotionally clinging to a pathetic dimension of myself as the only way I know how to live and frame my life. I stand tall, in defiance of what was predicted from the faces that once knew me most: educators, family, past employers. There is nothing remarkable about me except a discipline to persevere and a stubbornness on giving up, to give into every naysaying comment that seeks to dismiss my presence as more than a nuissance.

I will always try to fit in, to the best of my ability, and I will always look for new places where I will try to matter and do things right. I am part of the Dota and gaming community, for better or for worse. It only took me many difficult years, that asked a lot from me and my happiness, but I’ve achieved my hill to lie down on and stare into the clouds for more hopefulness. I’ve been fortunate enough in my life that the foundations of my failures, from childhood to career, has granted me an ability to savour the times where I have finally accomplished something, regardless how personally small or publicly grand. The guides came at the perfect time, a cross-section of my failure in the past and the ambition to do something to change that for the future.

Guiding Dota players has been one of the highest honors of my life, thank you.

Dedicated to my significant other of ten years, Karin

9 Years, 500 Million: Dota Builds Project Year-in-Review

This is the 9th annual Year-in-Review for my personal project: The Standard Dota Hero Builds. You can review the archives of the previous years here. For an audio version (with additional unscripted commentary), click here:

Honored to be featured in the Dota 2 Tutorial. Note that images may appear smaller than legible – click on them to get a closer look.

Happy to announce nine consecutive and successful years of the Dota 2 Hero Builds! Within this review, I outline some of the latest statistical achievements these guides have reached but also reflect back on some major policies and processes I’ve implemented in 2021.

As always, my personal thoughts, ambitions and feelings are at the end of this piece for those curious.



In summary, 2021 has been another monumental level of achievement that confirms what has been the norm for over nine years. In short:

  • 3+ Billion Total Matches Played
  • Over 500+ million total subscriptions across 165 guides
  • 86.27% of all daily games are influenced by my guides
  • Phantom Assassin guide is one of the most subscribed resource across all of Dota 2 and the most subscribed guide on the Steam platform
Over 6 Million Subscribers and 69.4 Million matches played with this one guide. Surprisingly, Pudge is the most played guide despite lower subscriber total: 71 Million games played, 4.6 Million Subscribers.

Market Share – 86.27%

From what we were able to simulate, approximately 86.27% of all daily Dota matches use one or more of my guides. The percentages represented show the likelihood of 1 to 9 guides simultaneously being used during any match. For reference, 2018 was 82.67%, 2019 grew to 82.96% and 2020 was 89.64%. While a 3.37% reduction isn’t much, it can be an indicator that players are now choosing alternative guides that may suit their needs, alleviating previous frustrations when my guides were the only choice (at the time). In terms of alternative guides, the second most popular guide creator (a toss-up between Greyshark and others) is around 505 million total games played.

Total Games Played – 3+ Billion

Every day, about 1.6 million total games are played using my guides. Furthermore, the guides receive 20,600 new subscribers every day. The growth is staggering and continues to surprise every year that not only am I acquiring new players but that there is still a lot of active subscribers actively using my guides. If curious, these are the heroes that are the most popularly played:

  • Invoker: 77.9 Million total games played (combined from both guides)
  • Pudge: 71.3 Million total games played
  • Phantom Assassin: 69 Million total games played
  • Juggernaut: 68.5 Million total games played
  • Sniper: 64.3 Million total games played

Personal Perspective

My guides are trusted by millions of players for billions of matches. I am both proud and intimidated of this reality. To be honest though, I seldom think about this quantity because the truth is that my unique position is both a duality of great importance and insignificance. Meaning that the choosing of my guides is a simple three-second decision for players in a match that can last over 45 minutes of even greater choices, strategy and challenges.

These guides are a tool, similar to a bucket or a shovel. They will help a player dig efficiently, but the effort, planning and knowledge comes from the player themselves on how to aptly use these tools (and in understanding their limitations). For a more concrete example, I always say that if OpenAI can win against professional teams using my guides, either my work is the greatest gift in Dota, or more obviously, there is more to a win or loss than if someone is using my guides. Regardless, the trust I’ve earned among my subscribers is something I cherish deeply and continues to push me in improving.

Year in Review, 2020

Regarding this year’s statistics, some results were tracked up to June 2022 despite this being a review of 2020 to 2021. Sincere thanks leamare and James Hu for their help in collecting key data and information.

Processes & Policies Update Information

2021 Policy Updates & Additions

A few additions have been made to improve the guides’ quality and assistance in new and returning players.

  • Luxury Items Tab added: over the course of the past two years, we’ve seen an uptick of new late-game items implemented with each major balance patch. In view of that, I’ve added a Luxury Items tab to help differentiate what are staple pick-ups for a hero’s late-game and which are more like late-game considerations (both ultra-late and situational late-game). This should help alleviate the “six-items-per-category” policy I have currently in place while offering more segmented choice for players.
  • Infused Raindrop: as mentioned in my update videos, you’ll now be seeing an uptick of forced early-game recommended Infused Raindrops. Though you won’t see this on Dota2ProTracker, but if you review match details on OpenDota, you’ll see a lot of pro-gamers buying Infused Raindrop to alleviate mana issues for a lot of heroes. Typical players are still not knowing to ferry over clarities during their games to help farm or as a support, so this Infused Raindrop insert should make it more blatantly obvious that a player needs mana regeneration.
  • Last Updated tab Added to Guides: in-client and on the web, players can see when a guide has been recently updated. However, most players are seeing guides only when in a match so they’ll never been informed when a guide has been revised. I’ve changed my Tome of Knowledge promotional tab to an informational one that shows when I last updated my guides to help give subscribers more trust of when a guide has been reviewed (and revised).

Continued Policies from 2020 & 2015

This Monkey King guide is a perfect example of the different policies currently in place. Dual core builds for different playstyles, Instruction Category tabs, Earlier Extension items like Skadi in the Core section to make room for other Extension Items, Luxury Items tab, etc.
  • Guides receive about 3 hours of dedicated time a day, every day, for review, update and feedback. Guide-testing (livestreaming) is an additional 4 hours minimum.
  • Guides continue to be updated based on data, pro-player feedback, user discussions and observed matches (competitive or pubs on Twitch).
  • Guides (are expected to be) updated within the first 48 hours after a large patch release.
    • A second, more thorough, revision is applied across two weeks.
  • Hero Builds are constructed under the assumption that the player is performing well.
    • Situational Tab alleviates potential challenges if the player is underperforming or facing specific counters.
  • Six items maximum per slot to reduce burdening the player with too much choice and to emphasize the more popularly-used items.
  • Dual Core Builds continue to be relevant where applied for heroes with multiple playstyle like Monkey King, Wraith King and more.
  • Instructional tabs on the different guide category tabs help orient interpretation on how to read and use the guides for new players.
  • Some typically suggested extension items are now listed in the Core section to make room for more suggested Extension items. Usually these late-game core items are natural follow-throughs of a typical core item already suggested (e.g: Aether Lens into Octarine Core is very, very common next item for Earthshaker)
    • This practice is lessened now that I am implementing a Luxury Items tab in 2021.
  • Annual tooltip text revisions to keep the guides helpful and updated for new players.

Over 50,000 guide updates have been provided and available for review. For every update I’ve pushed out, I have provided a changelog of what guides have been revised. From forum posts to Twitter lists to now YouTube videos, these changes help outline the time and effort that goes into the guides, as well as giving an open door to any critical feedback players may have.

Thoughts & Future

Professional Achievements

Last blog post, I outlined a lot of my thoughts when it comes to Dota. Regarding my life outside of Dota, I have achieved a lot and sought for more, I:

  • completed marketing for PUBG Europe League, Dota Minor & CS:GO Berlin Major
  • completed sale for GosuGamers & Media
  • started (and dropped out of) an Executive MBA degree
  • completed and renewed 14 certifications in digital marketing & SEO
  • learned to video-edit & piano (on-going)
  • outlined why I play Dota unranked, with anonymous mode activated and random’ing my hero every game

For 2021-22, I raised several million dollars for new start-ups, completed another company acquisition (Thousands Lives Advertising Agency) and I’m featured in publications including InvenGlobal, NASDAQ and EsportsInsider. For Dota, I’ve been providing some analysis and coaching for pro-players which revolves around discussing builds, item & skill build trends and overall game meta. It’s been a lot of fun and amazing insight into how pros have been playing the game compared to the general population’s opinion. I’d love to do more of that.

Over the years, many professional players have trusted my guides incl. Yatoro, Resolution, Mind_Control, MoonMoon, Arteezy, AdmiralBulldog, Gorgc, n0tail and more. In turn, I’ve received a lot of feedback from pros and popular streamers over the years to help refine and improve them.

Future Goals

For the coming year, I’d like to make a shift into game studio business and development. In regards to Dota, I’ve begun exploring potential collaborations with pro-teams: merging my guides, assisting in analysis for their players and expanding their sponsorship advertising opportunities to my audience. I also seek to expand this cooperation into engaging content (interviews, being coached and more).

Personal Thoughts

I continue to do the guides because it’s a reminder of the merits of dedication and hard work. While failing at different start-ups, this project was (and still is) the only thing I was confident of and gaining confidence from. It remained a positive consistency in an adult life full of failures, which served as a reminder of my problematic childhood filled with its own mistreatment. The silver lining is that I feel fortunate to know what failure looks like so I can savour the times I’ve even remotely succeeded. Even if this project’s success is small, in the grand scheme of things, it is for me to behold and be grateful for.

As I grow older, what’s changed is that I now draw motivation from my own sense of worth rather than seeking validation in people (2019). People I’ll never meet and whose opinions I’ll likely never get to hear (and vice-versa, they’ll never read this blog or even get to know me). By that logic, I am just as unimportant to the majority as they are to me. When I was younger, that search to actually matter in the eyes of strangers would instill an insecurity that I would obsess on resolving. Now I grasp at a liberating feeling that regardless what I do, it won’t even register to the majority and through that, there are no restrictions in what I can do.

As seen here, I was much a darker-skinned kid at 12 years old. Growing up came with years of abuse, racism and failures (that Dota has yet to even close to rival). From this upbringing created a lost, but ambitious, boy only wanting to prove himself. In many ways today, he did, and in other ways, he never had to.


Next year will be the 10th anniversary of this incredible project. I am now at a place where I have nothing left to prove except that I enjoy what I’m doing and I take pride in focusing on just that. My father used to quote Zig Ziglar, saying: your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude. And while I’m sure there’s a bit of blissful optimism sprinkled in that cheesy line, it has helped this relatively (previously below-)average person accomplish something above-average. If my father’s message is, in reality, untrue, then I am at least appreciative in terms of how far my overcompensating efforts has reached.

Dedicated to my good friends Alfonso Cubias & Sean Plott, giving perspective in the discovery of the new.

8 Years, 450 Million (2020): Dota Builds Project Year-in-Review

This is the 8th annual Year-in-Review for my personal project: The Standard Dota Hero Builds. You can review the archives of the previous years here. Note that images may appear smaller than legible – click on them to get a closer look.

The Standard Hero Builds Project is a personal product of in-game Dota 2 guides that helps new players learn how to play their characters. Over 163 guides are created and routinely maintained with helpful tips and roadmap on itemization and skill recommendations.

It’s been long overdue for me to post an annual update about my hero builds project and this year has been a massive leap forward in terms of growth, achievements and discovery. 2020-2021 has also been the most mentally challenging and exploratory year (thanks to COVID) in understanding what I want to do, can do and what makes me happy both with Dota and in general.

Within this review, I will outline some key statistics, iterate on some established guide-making policies I outlined in 2014-2015, my new sponsor and talk about myself.


Regarding this year’s statistics, results were tracked up until 2021 despite this being a review of 2019 to 2020. Sincere thanks to my friend, James Hu, for helping me with managing the data and its results.

Year-over-Year Growth

Between February 2013 to May 2021, the guides have reached over 450 million subscriptions. Approximately 25 to 35 million new subscribers come in annually with individual guides like Phantom Assassin hitting 5.5 Million unique subscribers and the average across all 163 guides is 2.8 Million per. It gives me great pride to think that my guides are among the most subscribed resources on the Steam platform.

Market Share

From what we were able to simulate, approximately 89.64% of all daily Dota matches use one or more of my guides. The percentages represented show the likelihood of 1 to 9 guides simultaneously being used during any match. For reference, 2018 was 82.67% and 2019 grew to 82.96%. Key difference from last year’s findings is that we used global population data from Stratz to determine our findings. Previously, we relied on Dotabuff but they do not track all modes per hero-usage percentages (e.g. not counting Turbo or bot games), thus leading to a lower and inaccurate results.

Total Games Played

For every new subscription, we can assume a player at least viewed and subscribed to a guide once. However, subscriptions do not necessarily mean my guides are being played with regularly. This is where the ‘Games Played‘ statistic comes in as that would indicate active continuous usage of a guide (i.e: “impressions”). Since 2013, over 2.5 billion matches have been played using my guides. If you’re curious which heroes have the most played games using my guides: Invoker (69 million combined), Pudge (59 million), Phantom Assassin (58 million), Juggernaut (57 million), Sniper (54 million combined)


My guides are trusted by millions of people for billions of matches. I am both proud and intimidated of this reality. That said, I rarely think about it because the truth is that my unique position is a duality of both importance and insignificance in the grand scheme of a whole match. In other words, the choosing of my guides is a simple three-second decision for players, in a match that can last over 45 minutes of choices, strategy and challenges. However, my guides are the choice people go within that three second time-frame. This whole thought-process detracts from the bottom-line that this passion project can only continue if it comes from my own self-interest and not the interpretative importance for a video game.

These guides are a tool, similar to a bucket or a shovel. They will help a player dig efficiently, but the effort, planning and knowledge comes from the person themselves. For a more concrete example, I always say that if OpenAI can win against professional teams using my guides, either my guides are the greatest gift in Dota, or evidently, there is more to a win or loss than if someone is using my guides (or any guides for that matter). Regardless, the trust I’ve earned among my subscribers is something I cherish deeply and continues to motivate me into improving my work and service. Thank you for your trust and continued support.


From the Newcomer Stream to OpenAI to part of the Dota 2 Tutorial!

Thanks to Tora and the rest of the modding team, I am now part of the official Dota 2 Tutorial resources! In case you were wondering, that photo of me is over 7 years old. Lastly, my publishings regarding the Dota Esports scene received positive comments and appreciation from key industry groups. Also, my 2019 piece on New Player Experience Suggestions was also well-received.

I don’t know how many of my ideas were implemented in Valve’s “New Player Experience” update but I was so happy to see the game finally improved for new-coming players.

Welcome SteelSeries!

I am excited to announce my partnership with SteelSeries! I’ve known of and been a fan of SteelSeries for most of my esports career and gaming life: of the past decade:

  • My first gaming headset was a (red) Siberia V2.
  • Sponsored my favourite players and teams back in Warcraft III and StarCraft II (Grubby & Evil Geniuses).
  • I got to meet and interview Dendi in their offices in Denmark many years ago.

Many parts of my career have been connected with SteelSeries and now, my passion project inks a new chapter with them. SteelSeries has been an active supporter of Dota 2 events, pro-teams and players for years and I’m honored to have my passion and work for Dota 2 directly trusted and supported by SteelSeries.

Process & Policies

Every year I publish approximately 40,000 changes to the guides. That does not include the hundreds of thousands of changes revolving around tooltip texts nor the work in re-checking guides that remain updated (and need no further modifications). Lastly, since January 2020 (approximately 75 weeks straight), I have been providing weekly announced updates and changes to my hero builds to ensure consistency and pro-activity in keeping them updated. You can view them on my twitter:

Evidently, these announced changes don’t make note of the hero builds I’ve reviewed and found no changes to be made. These are only the ones I’ve found changes needing to be made.

Guide-Updating Process

I have assumed for too long that people knew how these guides were created and maintained. Though I announce weekly changes, the work is constant and daily. To summarize, these guides should be viewed as a product/service and I am the manager and researcher of them. I get feedback from pro-players and active guide-users, watch replays and pro-matches, play-test the guides, review builds based on statistical patterns from databases and then implement key changes routinely. It’s a system that strives to reach a standard of acceptance while fitting the high-level expectations of a large and varied audience. Like the manager of a restaurant, I actively eat and try my own food (recommended builds) and let the chefs (high-level matches and meta) determine what should be on the menu (guides). In terms of feedback, it’s been sparse for many years now and so I have to actively search on message boards for contributory criticisms and suggestions.

One thing I will note is that sometimes stats websites can be inaccurate or slow in their summaries compared to the meta. Even on Dota2ProTracker, Dotabuff or Stratz; what’s recommended is not always reflective of the ideal way to play the hero in that it lacks context of the match(es) it is drawing conclusions from, or worse, it is not noticing a new trend of talent choices, synergy or itemization until more data comes in. There is a manual process I spend significant time to, ideally, avoid the pitfalls of over-relying on statistics without proper meaning behind the results. This is why feedback and outreaching communication is key. Lastly, play-testing guides myself helps tailor them more comfortably for the average player (myself being one of them) in areas like mana management and sufficient regen. during the laning stage.

Reviewing 2015 Guide-Making Policies

I realize that the policies I wrote in 2015 are probably not known to today’s audience. For the most part, most of these rules set in place for the guides still remain since:

  • All guides aim to be updated within the first 48 hours if a large patch is released. After that, a second, more thorough, update is passed across two weeks. This original schedule was due to public pressure but now its become an obsessive habit.
  • Hero Builds are constructed under the assumption that the player is performing well.
    • Situational Tab alleviates potential challenges and adversities if the player is underperforming.
  • Maximum of six items per slot (Extension, Situational, Core, Early Game) to reduce burdening the player with too much choice and to emphasize the more popularly strategic items.
  • Tooltips avoid repetition from the main descriptor and contextualize the item’s goals or its synergies with the hero.

New Policies

For the most part, these policies aren’t new – I just never explicitly mentioned them in my annual reviews:

Dual Core Builds
Monkey’s Core Build includes both BFury and Maelstrom setups.

Dual Core Builds in one guide are still relatively popular to maximize the offerings for players in one guide. When a standard playstyle is diverging into two styles, I split a guide into two Core builds to provide structure to the player whether they’re having a ‘good’ game or need something specific.

For some heroes, their Core Items are always the same but their late-game choices are split into two camps for players to consider.
Instructional Tabs

In my 2015 post, I outlined that the Core section of a guide typically consists of mandatory purchases while the Extension section consists of situation-dependent items in the late-game. It only took me six years to realize that this is not immediately clear for new players. The tab titles now reflect how each tab should be read and considered. It’s small, but the effect is massive and instructional.

Furthermore, I’ve included more information in a guide’s titles like “Pos 4” or “Middle” to help orient players to the correct role or lane.

Starting, Early and Core are all sequentially recommended while Situational Items are to per-scenario substitutitions, including or after a player’s Core Items purchasing. Extension is per every player’s choice with no priority ordering.
More Core Items for More Extension Items, but Less Overall

I have started moving key late-game items into the ‘Core‘ tab of the guides. Not only were these late-game items purchased more than any other item but usually they are purchased after the previously recommended Core Items. I’ve also reduced Situational Items for most guides as they obfuscated key items that players would be usually considering. However, with more room on each tab, I’ve added alternative boots choices (previously I did not do this).

Overall, this transitioned the guides to being less of a menu of choices and more instructional for a larger part of a player’s match. This also opened up more room for Extension Items recommendations like Aghanim’s Shard without breaking my ‘max 6 items per tab‘ policy. I am unsure if players have noticed this shift but it may feel limiting until I re-populate some guides appropriately.

Annual Text Revisions

As announced across community channels, I do an annual text revision to re-align any missing information (or misinformation) of the guides’ items and ability tool-tips. That’s about 4,700 items, 650 abilities and 260,000 words written. With each iteration, I re-check for inaccuracies, tighten language and add more context to an item relative to the hero’s function.

I am not sure if I announce the changes every year, but the work is definitely done on an annual basis and takes me about 3-4 months of daily work.

Future Considerations

There are two more areas I am considering of adding to the guides for more value:

  1. Luxury Tab: With the introduction of the Aghanim’s Shard and my hard-cap of 6 items per slot, I am thinking of bringing back the ‘Luxury‘ tab to further segment late-game items and even more situational late-game alternatives.
  2. Hero Play-style Instructions: The one thing the guide cannot do is tell players how to play their hero. But what if I included a snippet of information in a tooltip as a reference guide? This could prove useful for players in fully grasping the full-range of a hero’s abilities and what to do for each aspect of the hero’s role and capabilities.

If you’re reading this and actively use my guides, let me know this would be of interest to you.

Could even include a YouTube link here for further elaboration.

Personal Thoughts & Future

Over the years, I’ve come to be more selective with who and how I communicate. More importantly though, I’ve come to the conclusion that, like everything else in life, what I do and say should be for my own (mental) benefit rather than in convincing others’ minds/opinions. When providing a service to others, it can be conflicting to prioritize yourself while also being accommodating.

Playing Dota with a Purpose

Although I’ve played over 8,300 matches and given over 10,000 hours to Dota 2, I have long stopped playing to exclusively win. That’s not to say I don’t play every match with that same determination but rather there are alternative goals such as testing guides, learning a new hero, meta, etc. that are my focus. Long ago, I’ve realized that putting too much emotional stock in winning leads to more frustration than satisfaction. Given I grew up playing DotA as a custom game in Warcraft III, with no ladder in-place at the time, I continued that mindset by just not getting involved with ranked, Dota+, event modes or the annual TI battle passes. My stance is that by avoiding long-term progression systems, my feelings stemming from a match ends with its result. Any feeling to play more is not tied to an obsession to unlock an item or reach a higher rank. Instead, it’s based purely on the idea of my enjoyment of the game and the matches. I cannot change how I am affected by these systems so my only option is to self-preserve. To add, by including other goals like testing guides or learning heroes, I de-emphasize the importance of winning with other takeaways. In a sense, I am enjoying Dota only for Dota.

I’ve found that anonymous mode protects me (and others from me). I noticed a lot of interactions tend to be a mixed bag of positive and negative emotions (both initial and subsequent). By completely removing all receiving communication, my emotional investment in each match is reduced and I opt out of the psychology of Dota where enemies and allies goad one another. I still communicate what I can on my end, but I put the onus of being muted on others.

This opting out has helped limit my day-to-day consequential moods. When I lose, I can just stop playing rather than feeling obligated to grind when unhappy or dissatisfied (which, in turn, affects others by my own frustration). Personally, I do not possess much curiosity about my personal skill-level, and exploring new hobbies instead increases that disinterest to know. All this said, testing guides still leads to a lot of losses and I still lose my head in certain moments. Learning to deal with that and recognizing problematic behavior takes time even with the ideal environment. No matter how much I grow, it will always take a conscious effort and maturity to step back from a heated moment and let go for the benefit of your well-being and of others.

Live-Streaming & Content-Creation

Whenever I do anything in my free time, I do it with a purpose to achieve multiple goals at once. In 2020, I started streaming my Dota matches more frequently. With streaming, I achieve multiple goals:

  • Meet like-minded Dota players and get community feedback.
    • Embrace a more socially-forward and less anxiously awkward personality to larger groups.
  • Openly test hero builds and display the process to update them (and its challenges).
  • Fill a lot of free time during COVID, especially when I live in a foreign country, where I don’t know too many people.
  • Use it as an outlet to express frustration when a match goes poorly (and/or I play especially bad).
    • especially useful as those who complain and flame in-game tend to worsen their teammates’ experiences.
  • Grow marketable content-platforms for further sponsorship interest/expansion.
  • Personal development, research, and exploration in light of new health situations
Since I started streaming in Feb. 2020, my channel’s followers and total views have jumped 52% and 40% respectively. Streaming still remains a part of my free-time (like Dota and the guides) and not a priority in view of my other projects. Because of this, CCV remains low and requires more effort on my part.

Lastly, in the past year, I’ve finished over 50 different single-player games, learning a lot about different genres, gameplay types, game design and writing narratives. It’s been fun to explore and experience this with a tight-knit group of friends, viewers and community. I really enjoy the aspect of player behavior and how games orient, model or improve behavior in the game. This enjoyment lines up with the hero builds, where finding the optimal approach to teach and help players learn how to play Dota, within a limited scope of inflexible guides, is both a challenge and passion.

Life & Future

Professional Work

In terms of professional work, it has been an investigative year of determining what I want to do and what industry I want to continue to work in. After 2019, my affairs were wrapped up with StarLadder and marketing for the PUBG Europe League and CS:GO Major: Berlin. In 2020, I completed my consultancy of the sale – the second acquisition in my career. For 2021, I’m continuing to provide strategic leadership consultation in gaming and esports for new brands, investors, companies and executive headhunting firms. The biggest challenge has been understanding what role I want to be in long-term, as my ambitions have always been in the goals of a product or service, and not in specific responsibilities or job titles. My current conflict is that I want to be integral to both the creative process in shaping something (a game, platform or other) and I want to give my expertise to a sound business/marketing strategy for the organization. From my initial findings, only start-ups offer this much job-role fluidity. For 2021, I’ve been asked to help fund-raise for a start-up outside gaming and esports as well.

PUBG Europe League schedule and standings explained
A Return to Education

On top of the sponsored guides work, live-streaming, guide play-testing, fund-raising start-ups and my consultancies, I started re-examining my education and interest in new learning skills. Below is an outline of what I’ve explored or am currently learning since 2020.

  • Video Editing: I’ve been using my Twitter & YouTube to test some basic editing and understanding Adobe Premiere. The announcement video is one such example.
  • Completed 14 certificates and certifications in digital marketing and SEO to round out my professional knowledge.
  • Piano: I have always loved but was intimidated by this instrument. I had learned Clarinet, Trumpet and Saxophone as a child but they were of little help when getting accustomed to piano.
  • Currently completing my Executive MBA: A two-year diploma for working professionals to certify what my professional experience aligns with the traditional education of the business world. By 2023, I hope to have completed this fourth (and final) diploma.
  • C# & Unity Engine: I spent a few months understanding these areas before losing interest.
25 years later, I am still that multi-ethnic kid of a refugee restarting his life and future one last time.


My Hero Builds project remains a star in my sky that I look up with pride. However, I am no astronomer and I cannot spend the rest of my life looking at that gaseous glimmer, hoping my world sticks around to admire it. This past year, I’ve tried to paint some new lights to look up in wonder and soon explore. This is my launchpad to a balanced and satisfied life, staying occupied and in search of the new. Sincere thanks to the friends, fans and supporters that continue to guide me through thick and thin.

Dedicated to my friend and mentor, Oleg Kogut. You are missed and thought of everyday.

Omega League paid up to $500,000 to teams for exclusive participation

WePlay! and Epic Esports Events present: OMEGA League!

*This article is a follow-up of the previous article: “Omega League: revenue share between teams & tournaments”

A few weeks ago, I released insights outlining that teams were sending revenue share RFPs to various tournament organizations from the start of the COVID-19 season (after WePlay expressed interest in revenue share with teams after Mad Moon). While most tournament organizations agreed, including OGA, WePlay and ESL, the new Omega League is different. Usually, tournaments are proposed and organized by a tournament company, Omega League is organized and pitched by a collective of EU teams.

How Omega League came about

Back in early Summer, teams set out to look for a partner to start a league. The proposal asked for a minimum of 1 million prize-pool and inclusion of a minimum of 10 team organizations: Na’Vi, EG, Alliance, Nigma, Liquid, NiP, OG, Secret and later on, FlyToMoon. The goal was to have a league during the prime days of where The International was intended to be. This league would also serve as a case-study for more sustainable Dota business esports ecosystem as mentioned in my previous article.

While this proposal was sent to a number of organizations, WePlay and Epic Esports Events [EEE] (the makers of Epicenter and part of ESforce Holding) were keen to execute this league and sought to share costs. The Omega League agreement for this league event expects a 10% revenue share where all generated revenue from the tournament (sponsors, media rights deals, betting and more) is split: 90% to the tournament and 10% among the founding teams. Additionally, the proposal seeks a $500,000 as minimum guarantee payment to the founding teams. In other words, to execute this league, a $500,000 payment is expected to be made to the teams organizations (50,000 each).

To note, it is confirmed that Omega League paid an amount to teams to exclusively participate in the Omega League. Though the final agreed amount is not publicly confirmed, it leans towards approximately $500,000. Additionally, EEE, specifically, is expected to directly pay the teams but it is not confirmed if WePlay is making contributions to this payment fee.

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On Gorgc’s stream, it was noted that OG were now co-organizing the tournament. It was never clarified publicly how the teams involved were co-organizing. The reality is that they (with other major EU teams) are the ones proposing the tournament structure, prize-pool and invited teams while WePlay and EEE (Epic Esports Events) execute and seek sponsors.

The Terms

Though the finalized agreed terms are subject to the change, what was proposed by teams are these main points:

  1. 10 teams agree to exclusively play in this tournament for a duration of 1-2 months
  2. A minimum 1 million dollar prize-pool (Omega League is $650,000)
  3. A minimum guarantee payment of $500,000
  4. If tournament/league hit their KPIs, teams will endorse the tournament organizer for DPC events to Valve
    1. teams will also prioritize the organizer over others during non-DPC events
  5. Possibility of a second season if DPC does not kick off

In my original article, I discussed the strategic goals & outcomes for each party to create the Omega League. Now with new information coming to light, it is increasingly clear what each party seeks out of this partnership.

  • For WePlay, it is a shot at larger events, leagues and potential revenue/sponsorship they are currently not reaching.
  • For Epicenter & ESforce, it is a stronger likelihood they may receive a Major event, guaranteeing a profit to help them survive another year. Additionally, it gives RuHub much needed viewership since the Maincast take-over of ESL/DH events.
  • For teams, it goes without saying that it off-sets some of the costs they don’t earn back in Dota while also leveraging their influence to seek a more equalized esports industry.
OMEGA League Europe Immortal Division - the main course is served
The initial list of invited teams are evidently the founding partners for this event, each receiving approximately $50,000 each in a minimum guarantee.

To re-iterate the current situation for team organizations involved in Dota:

For teams, this is the first step towards a sustainable future for Dota. At the moment, teams are nearly powerless compared to the stronger influence and involvement they have with League of Legends, Counter-Strike and other games (not saying it’s perfect over there either). Teams earn about 10-20% of all prize-revenue but can pay up to 400,000+ (or more – pre-COVID) in player salaries on top of lodging, food, visas, services and more. To add, Dota players are less willing to do sponsor-related activities compared to players in other games, causing sponsors to look elsewhere for cooperative opportunities (e.g: League of Legends, streaming, etc.). This causes an uncomfortable position for teams where they cannot capitalize on the success of their Dota squad for future sponsorship. Teams earn nearly nothing from that success and depending on the level of success (or lack of) of their roster, a team can lose their entire brand power in Dota if the roster dissolves or moves on.

August 10, 2020

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With the DPC system now officially undecided, season 2 Omega League is very likely to happen. Competing tournament organizers now seeking to fill the rest of the calendar year will now be considered second to the Omega League. If the priority system was tiered into two between DPC and non-DPC events, it has now split again with the inclusion of the Omega League as a priority for teams.

WePlay Operating at a Loss

WePlay has been one of the best Dota event organizers in recent years. Their spending on cutting-edge technology, set designs, and providing top-of-the-line accommodation has made everyone happy with their involvement. That said, their profitability metrics have been at a loss each quarter. Operation and production costs per WePlay event is an estimated ~$1-1.5 Million and their revenue for Omega League is below 500,000. For Omega League, the cost could be more, accounting for human resources & studio rental (to note that some production costs are split between ESForce & WePlay). Their streaming rights deal with Chinese platforms is about $200,000 and sponsors have outright said that the sponsorship costs are too high (their current sponsor pays between 15 to $20,000). In terms of betting, they’ve accepted a $100,000 offer.

For WePlay, this is a necessary loss to demonstrate how their product stands out from the rest (not just in Dota) but also to garner favour among casters, players, teams and ultimately developers (Valve). In short, it’s theorized that it’s a territory move to outlast competing TOs.

For teams, the minimum guarantee is to compensate for the obvious lack of actual revenue generated from the rev. share agreement (approximately $30,000 or <10%).


The exclusive information provided here and from the previous article are still with the same goal.

This article purely aims to inform audiences about the current business inner-workings within the Dota 2 scene. If Valve draws decisions based on what fans and players call for, then the only solution to a better Dota scene is to inform that public of the struggles, growth, success and challenges esports faces.

The Omega League is a step for teams to generate revenue for a game that faces a systemic challenge of finding a reliable ecosystem. It is also a demonstration of trying for consistency in quality, production, story-telling and business collaboration. If you compare Dota to the games that teams are moving towards: PUBG Mobile, League of Legends and Rocket League, you see a consistency of exposure, potential and results (whether lost or not).

August 10, 2020

If you are having trouble how to interpret this information as good or bad, it is purely a systemic effect of COVID and the DPC system. There is no clear solution to the DPC circuit’s current situation and writing the possibilities would require a whole ‘nother article. Having worked and spoken with broadcasting studios, media, commentators, sponsors, teams, players and tournament organizers, there are a wide-range of issues that continue to plague this esports scene. With other publishers showing more willingness to cooperate with esports businesses and people, there is hope for Valve to be more committed to the esports scene. However, my personal point-of-view for a publisher is, once you’re involved in any way to esports, you cannot step back without a causing repercussions. For Dota, it’s not a question of money to improve the scene, it’s a difference of perspective and infrastructure. If Dota esports is marketing, it still works. If Dota esports is a business eco-system, it’s suffering.

As of right now, teams and TOs are working similar to Valve: year-to-year, short-term. If we hope for long-term sustainability, we must start thinking, planning and cooperating on real goals – whichever those may be.

additional reading

Omega League: revenue share between teams & tournaments
Corrections on article: “Dota 2 Majors are not guaranteed profitable events”
Dota 2 Majors are not guaranteed profitable events
Dota 2 New Player Experience Suggestions

VENN – Review: More TV on Livestream

Recently this week, VENN launched with a host of content and programs revolving around gaming, popular streamers, talent and entertainment. From news segments to Let’s Plays, deep-dive discussions on fitness training, sexuality and cosplaying, VENN hits as many fanbases as it can.

I’ve taken the liberty to watch every single show on VENN to learn more about its content, style, appeal and challenges it faces. My main interest was to see how VENN differentiated itself from previous iterations of gaming channels/platforms such as GINX, G4 and my own project, ESGNTV. Secondly, I wanted to provide feedback of its content experience both as a consumer as well as a producer stemming from my media background working on streaming platforms, esports TV studios, digital esports magazines and press publishing companies.

ESGN: Neuer eSport TV-Sender startet global von Berlin aus |
Despite its controversies, my time at ESGN & ESGN TV brought a lot of experience and understanding in how much work and collaboration is required to host, shoot and produce a live-streamed professional show. If only I was paid for the last few months of it…

Announcement & Launch

When VENN made headlines across a variety of major news outlets, the goals of its content was three parts:

  • Founders Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin created VENN to fill in the gaps in esports and gaming content that they believe came about as publishers focused on keeping up with industry demands” – CNBC, 2019
  • Unlike with traditional TV networks, Kusin said he and Horn know how to make gaming content that younger audiences will enjoy.” – LATimes, 2019
  • The first and biggest goal is to create content that you love. Our focus is entirely on supporting and lifting up creators. We hope to do this by giving them the tools to buff what they already do and take it to new heights. We’ll be asking y’all how we’re doing so never hesitate from giving me feedback at arielhorn on twitter.” – AMA, 2020

*additional reading: USA Today, PRNewsWire, Variety

At launch, the network launched seven shows (eight if you count Sushi Dragon’s segments separately) ranging from daily news (The Download), Game Shows with Contestants (Dare Package) and Talk Shows (Guest House, VENN Arcade Live, Grey Area, The Sushi Dragon Show). Shows range between 45 minutes to almost 2 hours and host a variety of guests ranging from streamers, musical talent, celebrities and more. At launch, the platform boasted over 30 hours streamed, 24,000 hours watched, 245,000 unique viewers and a 7K+ peak concurrent viewership (though this peak has long been surpassed by now)


Overall, VENN has a strong established repertoire of content, varied hosts, tapped markets and interests, and broadcasting overall has been smooth. The set designs are immensely different from one another and set the tone of what to expect from each show in terms of energy, vibe and atmosphere.

Having watched each show, I have found most of them to be entertaining. Personally, my favourite shows are the following:

1. VENN Arcade Live: Lively stage design, nice variety of hosts and good rotation of content keeps the show fresh and lively. The stage design feels much tighter, close-knit and comfortable as opposed to other shows where it struggles to fill some empty gaps of spacing. The hosts are professional, amicable and play off one another for the most part. The rhythm of the show maintains a consistency in content, conversation, pacing that is close to traditional television live shows. As one form of feedback, I’d recommend creating pre-recorded scripted game introductions for the games they’re about to play to guide the user into better understanding what is going on when they play.

2. Grey Area: If it were not for COVID-19 separating the guests and hosts from being near each other, Grey Area would be at the top of my list for its overall relaxing vibe, comfortable hosts and laid-back topics. Since corona is still on-going, the stage feels a bit empty and heavily spaced apart. That said, compared to the other shows that can occasionally feel similar in their tone and conversation, Grey Area comes across mature, or rather, the hosts speak with an experience that they’ve been around the block socially and professionally. One point of criticism is to perhaps start pre-recording the calls to ensure no technical difficulties (which has occurred numerous times on the show already).

3. Looking for Gains: This is the only show that creates pre-recorded content outside the studio and it really helps set it apart. Its interaction with audience members adds an element that justifies it being live. What really carries the show is Cash, the host, who has a relatable story, good charisma and can easily play the personality for two people. Where other show-hosts feel a bit stiff, Cash, alone, keeps the vibe of the show uplifting and energetic. For feedback, if the show was more hands-on beyond exercises, ranging from cooking or healthy lifestyle choices, it’d help expand the variety of each episode rather than nearly 30 minutes of work-out routines. Additionally, it would help the stage design feel more involved rather than just a backdrop.

Honorable Mention: The Download: Overall, The Download is a relatively safe ‘news cycle’ show that promises consistent content and discussion regardless of the day. Some episodes, the show feels stretched as news is definitely on the low side. The hosts are good presenters, keep the flow going and offer all sides of a discussion. There’s no real complaints about the content but I also feel it doesn’t innovate itself differently from other news shows in the gaming media sphere so it becomes: why watch VENN’s The Download over someone else?

All the rest of the shows have merits and bring something appealing to the table. Not all of them have found their moment or direction yet, but in time, they can really distinguish themselves from the rest. One caveat I have to mention is that I have watched “The Sushi Dragon Show” twice and though I don’t completely understand it, I do see the appeal of it for an audience.


Of course with any newly-launched product, VENN has some key points it needs to address to not only set it apart from its predecessors, but also to maximize the platform it’s trying to be on. From a product standpoint, I see VENN as everything but more polished. It’s a content-creator show-platform network being produced and broadcasted on… a content-creator show platform (Twitch, Facebook, YouTube). Some of their shows are similar to what we see on Twitch, YouTube, from media giants like IGN and more. The concern becomes, what will they do to distinguish themselves from what’s already established and secondly, what will they create to set themselves apart and round out their planned 24/7 content line-up.

More Live to feel LIVE

The most glaring part of VENN is that it is truly live and you know this by some of the rough edges each program sometimes faces: quiet moments that break the momentum, hosts a bit lost organizing a game as it isn’t already set up, guests unfamiliar with the game they’re playing and, of course, technical difficulties. Most of this can be fixed with editing and with time as for some, it’s only their second episode. The real underlying issue is the fact that each segment feels live for its fault and not because they take advantage of the live aspect. Questions or on-camera invited audience members are all things that can be done recorded live. Sometimes, polls, chat or even questions can be asked live on air but it is definitely not a focal part of the show nor is it really leaned except for a portion if not small mention between portions of a show. VENN feels live for the sake of being live.

One Bag of Content

VENN heavily relies on its hosts and guests to invite an audience to watch. The content itself is not new, it’s only the hosts and guests that give it a newness. That is an additional pressure for the on-camera leads who may not be used to a ‘tv-esque’ setting. To add, VENN has 4 talk-oriented shows leaning in a variety of directions but again, relying on the hosts to distinguish themselves from one another.

I assume with time, more varied content will be released but with that said, I already feel like gaming is secondary to the gaming people involved with each show. This may come down to preference but even if gaming is secondary, to watch two different shows play Fall Guys three times feels repetitive.

For so many genres of games, types of news and releases, I am hoping that VENN diversifies their content and games to capture everything in the future. Singleplayer games are great medium to generate discussion (as one talks and the other plays). Esports of course has a lot of buzz, talk and an overabundance of experts who can speak regularly or appear as guests. Console games also offer a different feeling when playing alongside one another than two people talking but staring at their computer screens. To see the same game three times in a row (twice on Guest House and once on VENN Arcade Live) signals to me, as an audience member, that games are a secondary thought to a network that centers its identity on gaming. Whether true or not, an expansion of ideas and content formats needs to be explored further.

Another Round of Polish

A small area I’d like to mention is that each show could use more graphics throughout the show. Either to better introduce guests, organize key information or simply to help provide additional content and trivia that guests or hosts did not get around to talking about.

On occasion, shows can feel a bit flat/stale when the same three camera angles are routinely gone through per segment. Especially true when COVID-19 prevents people from being more lively and personal with another due to distancing obligations.

Thirdly, I am unsure how much of each show is scripted, especially when it comes to topics or point of discussions on The Download or Grey Area, but from an outsider’s point-of-view, interactions and conversations could be stronger if arguments for/against, or answers to a question were articulated and formulated better before-hand (and subsequent responses can be ad-libbed for a more natural engagement).

Lastly, the website can be better utilized to highlight your hosts as well as your shows. As of right now, the homepage feels very large and redundant when it can be more jointly used as a community hub and promote its hosts more outside of the shows content.



To conclude, I think VENN has a lot going for it. I also thought that GINX had a lot going for it as well as well as ESPN’s original plans and G4Tech when I was a teenager growing up. With VENN currently in beta, another studio launching in New York and very likely more content ideas being produced, I hope to see VENN thrived in areas that I, with ESGN and other previous networks like MLG, ESL and more, didn’t succeed in. I agree with Ariel Horn’s claim that there is plenty of room for VENN with today’s gaming-viewing audience. However, I also feel that creating high-quality shows are not enough to distinguish itself from a competition that multiplies with new stars and creators on a daily basis. VENN is a host of content that is hosted by a platform that hosts more content.

Since its launch, the channel network has earned 3+ million views. VENN is also on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and soon Vizo, Stirr and Xumo (according to their site).

For my colleagues in Europe, no one has heard of or even looked into VENN. The content production cycle for VENN will be key in that not everything needs to be a massive hit but as a network, you need to hit every idea and fill your slots with respectable audience sizes. Focusing purely on the NA region when gaming, esports and the culture itself is global feels like a missed opportunity but for businesses and advertisers, North America has always been the focus and I respect that business decision. I will personally keep watching VENN but look forward to when it brings more to the table.

I do not know what success looks like for VENN but I am aware of the challenges once VENN succeeds at a certain level. I’ll probably save that for my next piece as first, we need to see VENN grow.