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It’s now been 4 years (and a half) since I started the Standard Hero Builds Project. Actually, by the time I get around to finishing this, it’ll be 5 years come February (2013-2018). Last year is considered to be our most prominent year as the project became even more integrated to the client and as it offered me a lot of opportunities and recognition that outshadows everything that happened in 2016.
2017 is another step forward in the project, but in turn, it’s also brought on more publicity and public scrutiny than it’s ever faced before.
For those new to Dota 2, Hero Builds are an in-game guide system for users to learn on how to play a hero. These guides suggest in what order a hero’s ability should be leveled, which items and in what order should be bought and guides can include tool-tips to give contextual value on how best to use a hero’s set of items or abilities throughout the game. This 2013 integrated feature has been useful for many new players along with other Valve-released tools including the ‘coaching’ feature and a robust tutorial system. This project was created to establish and maintain a ‘standard’ way of playing each and every hero in nearly all roles or forms.
Today we celebrate reaching over 275 million (275,124,726) subscriptions across 157 guides. This article will take a look at the relevant statistics of our growth, discuss the project’s accomplishments and thoughts on the future as well as lessons learned.
170 Million to 275 Million – A Year of Statistics
In summary, this project has gained approximately 105 million new subscriptions since last year. Since the release of patch 7.00/7.01 which launched the new hero build UI (and will then expand the Hero Build Creator system to an in-game version). Growth has jumped from 5 million a month to 7 million a month.
In October 2013, we started with less than a total of 5 million. 4 years later, the project has attained 275 million with the likelihood of reaching approx. 370 million very likely by next year (2018). Depending on how the game remains revitalized and innovated, growth can range between 70 to 100 million in the span of a year. 2017 ushered in massive changes that highlighted how outdated some guides were and promoted newer, more accurate, guides.
Last year, we were proud to have hit 2 million unique subscribers for the first time in a specific hero build. This year, growth for individual guides have been remarkably higher than in 2016. What took two years for the Sven hero build to go from one million unique subscribers to two million, it only took that same build one year to reach three million. Furthermore, since Dec. 2016, three more guides hit three million unique subscribers.
Lifestealer (Jungle) was the original guide to first hit one million and two million subscribers. However, its growth rate has slowed in comparison to the new top three guides that currently dominate the chart: Sven, Phantom Assassin and Juggernaut. Typically builds about Core heroes (Carry) have more subscribers than support builds. Currently, the most popular support build is Crystal Maiden (2.39 million subscribers)
Every single Hero in the game (114) has a build with 1 million subscribers (except the newly-released Dark Willow & Pangolier). The average subscribers for a hero build has jumped from 1.16 million to 1.75 million. Competitors also show similar growth from 64,000 to 2.02 million (EDJE), 134,000 to 459,000 (greyshark).
The old pillars of abandoned competitors (Greyshark, Purge, eXplosion) have been overtaken by more prominent and faithfully-consistent guide makers such as EDJE and Ez MMR.
Lastly, with the release of a new statistic by Valve, we can now see how many games a guide is used across 40 days. For example, for Slark hero builds (2):
- 453,246 games are played using a Slark hero guide on a daily basis (top 10 guides used)
- Of that total, 85% (386,000) of those games are played using the Slark builds from this project
In the future, I would like to learn how many Slark games are played daily and compare that to how many of those games use a guide. This would highlight how influential (or not) the guides are to the game.
In my findings, about 73% of all games that use a hero builds, use the project’s Standard version (including Jungle) with heroes like Lone Druid, Tiny, Silencer, Lifestealer and Troll Warlord boasting a claimed percentage of 88%.
However, I am a bit skeptical as I’ve been told that 800k to 2 million games are played daily, yet total # of daily Invoker games using hero builds are 811,848 (32,473,920 total).
Achievements and Challenges
I consider this year to be the most fruitful in terms of progression for the hero builds. From applying talent additions from Patch 7.00, building the new Hero Build Creator system with Valve and retiring some outdated builds that no longer reflect the meta, the expansion and transition of the Hero Builds to three different systems has made this year incredibly challenging.
- Expanded the Hero Builds catalog from 150 to 157 Hero Builds
- Repurposed 11 hero builds (skills and items)
- Begun live-streaming testing and build update sessions to demonstrate process
- Stream-lined or removed outdated tool-tip descriptions
- Items that were no longer part of the guide still retained their description in-game, I’ve hunted and removed them all
- Additionally, I’ve reduced my workload of writing item/ability descriptions by repeating applicable tooltips for items that share similar utility on multiple hero builds
- Worked together with Valve on creating the new Hero Build Creator in-client system
- Opened a public Discord server to further receive feedback and discussion
A lot of the implementations made in 2016 are still maintained today: patch changes are still accounted for, the hero builds title system has kept its new title system (now includes “roamer” as a title class) and /r/HeroBuilds is still a source for archives and serves as a feedback hub.
Working with Valve directly on a new guide system took a few months of discussion, planning, feedback and Q&A testing. It was a wonderful process that reinvigorated my love for the game and hero builds. Visiting their office and meeting some of the team members was a fun and exciting experience.
With the new Hero Builds creator system, we were able to make changes that helped promote new guide creators and up-to-date guides while de-emphasizing the popular but outdated versions. Other features were also implemented to make the build-creating process easier for the end-user versus what the web version previously offered. Thus far, there has been an increase in guides being implemented but the number is still in the lower digits: 3-5 maximum (including my own). Nevertheless, the direct communication with Valve on bug issues and fixes has been stupendous and extremely appreciated.
In terms of challenges, the amount of feedback versus the amount of changes needed to be made is widening. Usually, I will receive feedback about 4-5 suggestions every 15 to 30 days whereas changes being made are about 20 to 100 every two weeks. For 5 years, the project has been open to constructive criticism and feedback but over time it has become mostly reliant on my own (limited) understanding, which needs extra effort and time to form. Not being particularly above-average in playing Dota 2, it can be very difficult for me to grow accustom to playing and learning some heroes, especially when each patch completely changes how a hero is played, built or the meta shifts in a different direction that I need to learn and understand.
In 2016, 4,371 changes were made. 2017 almost doubled with over 8,228 changes – but the amount of support in terms of feedback has steadily declined.
Future and Motivations
As always, I remain motivated by the kind and generous words of the people who reach out to me on a daily basis. Any time I start to feel bitter, skeptical or frustrated at the efforts needed to update the builds, I go back and read the hundreds of comments, posts and messages I’ve received by people who express their thanks. Just to know that I’ve impacted them in a way that they felt compelled to thank me is incredibly flattering. Making a positive contribution to a beloved game of my life is an incredibly rewarding experience.
I spend a lot of time reading comments and opinions about the Hero Builds, it serves a reminder of who are using these guides instead of an arbitrary number. A lot of good feedback discussed among peers, so I often spend time reading or interacting with the community via Twitch chat, Reddit, Discord servers and Steam Community. Even if someone’s suggestion doesn’t make sense, it may spur on an idea that could totally work. With that in mind, I try to gather as much info as I can.
Having said that, finding the time to test hero builds and update them has been increasingly challenging. Mixed with my career, I find myself generally working 11 hours a day, on top of monthly business-travels and weekend work when necessary. In view of these circumstances, starting 2018, I will no longer be testing the hero builds on a regular basis. Unintentionally for 9 months (2016-2017), I was in the middle of relocating and did not have a computer available to me. No guides were tested during that period and the amount of criticism neither rose nor diminished. I found that in general, the player-base mostly accepts what is presented without much vocal criticism (either they adjust it to their liking or simply use a different guide).
- Growing responsibilities in full-time job and desire to have a personal life has lead to less available time to frequently update and test the hero builds.
- Increased # of patches, meta-shifts and # of guides (from 110 to 158) demands more time investment on my side.
- Reduction in recurring public feedback causes me to have to do more research, playing and testing to better understand heroes I am not familiar with.
- Paid incentives to long-time contributors did not keep current contributors nor invite new ones to stay for extended months.
- Previous long-time contributors from LiquidDota mostly refused any amount I wanted to paypal them. They are still free to claim their percentage of the Patron support but as of 2018, the project was terminated due to lack of continued long-time contributors.
- Patron funds are still tracked and not privately used (there is no need to).
- Exit plan of either transferring ownership to another guide creator or a dedicated team shows no optimistic route for long-term longevity in consistent quality, updating and information reporting.
The issues with the Hero Builds is a very recognized thing as even Purge makes comment about the difficulty in monetizing this sort of content versus the amount of time it takes to keep them updated (both the preparation and the practice). For the future, there is no set determined path or roadmap in regards to the project. Its continuance is still determined by my interest in the game and my ability to maintain it. Having more feedback or support reduces the amount of day-to-day focus on it. Many people have asked if I considered bringing on someone to take over the project full-time. Sadly, there have been no outstanding candidates that have come forward as the position would require years of significant dedication and the willingness to do it for free. I considered using the paid incentives system of long-time contributors to find a hopeful candidate, but they’ve mostly stopped from making suggestions on a regular basis.
Recently, we’ve been getting contacted by many organizations seeking to acquire the subscriber-base (without understanding that they’re in-game) or looking to sponsor, brand or advertise their product in-game via the Hero Builds (which can be done via the Overview function which permits HTML/Imaging). I’ve been hesitant on this front because of the reputation of these companies and the amount of impressions/views these brands would get (in-game, if valuable at all).
Recognition and Thank-yous
Last year (2016), I wrote about this newfound recognition and how it has served a lesson to me to be more mindful of my presence:
If I was overly-critical towards someone in-game, it would persist past the game and try to demonize me as some two-faced person (rather than a person who does get mad when we lose and excited when we win). If a new patch hits and I did not update the guides by their expectations, the amount of spam and private messages received would range from begging to rude demands and threats. There is a lot of expectation for me to be a public model citizen and I suppose that comes with this newly-found recognition. I do not make a living off my personality, project or appearances – yet I have this new responsibility I was not prepared for and maybe selfishly felt I do not owe towards others. I don’t think it’s something I can rebel against, but I will be taking active measures to improve my public conduct.
This year, this recognition grew an even larger role in my life. For starters, I got to attend and be a part of The International 7 broadcast team. You can read about my experience here: Working at The Dota 2 International 7 event. Working in the US has also allowed me to make contributions to my retirement (I currently work in Europe), which is a major step towards stability in my life.
Working TI7 has been a dream come true and connected me with people I would have probably never had the chance to meet before or ever. I made so many friends and connections that and really helped built my confidence.
But before that, I had the opportunity to meet SirActionSlacks and appear on a broadcasted segment at the Kiev Major. As you can probably tell, I am more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. But after this segment, I had a lot of inquiries about when was the next time I was going to be on a broadcast. Evidently, I did not appear in any more segments or panels because I am naturally not a personality. I firmly believe that all credit people attribute to me (as someone notable or interesting) should actually be going to Jake (Slacks) who is able to contextualize people (in an entertaining way) even when they’re the least comfortable. On-camera and off, he compensates for your shortcomings and either shares or takes the spotlight depending on the person’s comfort level. I dedicated a guide to Jake because I found his personality, both on-camera and off authentic and memorable. You can test the SirActionSlacks’ Omniknight build here: it will remain updated and in his name until the end of the project
People often say to me “I loved you in that Slacks segment, which was hilarious”. However, I’ve yet to watch any of my few moments on broadcast. I prefer the memory of being in that moment than the end-result, whether better/worse than experienced. I also think that phrase shows just how important Slacks is in making context entertaining, regardless of how integrated the guests are (or not).
Additionally, the amount of press interviews reached an all-time high, ranging from Polygon’s Flying Courier to GosuGamers to Monster Gaming! I’ve never received such awareness of my brand and work in years and it’s been very surreal to be interviewing about myself and the project. I am hoping to do more in the future and appreciate those who took an interest in me.
DopaTwo gave me a small cameo in his Terrorblade video!
As for the result of this recognition, it has not changed much in my work or who I am. I believe people care more about my project than who I am as a person, which is both great and unfortunate. It means that doing more than this project is very difficult to draw exposure/interest through my social media channels but it also means I can still focus on what I want to do and the project can remain a passion project rather than a forced full-time career at the cost of appreciated friends/fans.
This completes the Year-in-Review for this year. One thing I do want to mention is the generous Patrons of 2017. Sometimes I am slow or late with rewards or follow-up on discussion when in my Discord channel and they have never complained or mentioned any doubts in their support to this project.
The amount of people who continue to support me has been amazing. There have been people who have been supporting me since the project’s Patreon launch in December, 2015 and I try to credit them every time I make a post about the Hero Builds, try to show the world how amazing this group of people are. Now with my livestream and Discord server, I can talk to them daily about Dota 2, life, games and more. I always wanted to have a small community of my own and now I have it, surrounded by great and supportive people. It’s been great and there’s nothing I would ever trade this for.
Michael ‘Torte de Lini’ Cohen