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: YouTube.com

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.

Stats

Achievements

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.

Conclusion

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.

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