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.

Stats

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)

Thoughts

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.

Recognitions

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 GosuGamers.net 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.

Conclusions

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.

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