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 year since I started the Dota 2 Hero Builds Project! Within this review, I will outline the latest statistical achievements of these guides as well as the major policies and processes I’ve implemented in 2022 to 2023. For 10 years, I have been writing Year-in-Reviews for this project with little to no readership. With each iteration, I treat it more as a personal outlet than a public outing about guides.
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 in the scene. To summarize:
- 3.4 billion matches have been played using my guides, averaging 2 million daily
- Over 525 million total subscriptions – 42 million annual new subscriptions
- #1 subscribed guide on Steam: Phantom Assassin reaches 6.32 Million unique subscribers
- Pudge is the most played guide across all of Dota 2: 80 Million matches played
- 7,200 changes applied across all guides, 250,000 tooltips revised and rewritten
- Reviewing & revising guides every day for three hours – additional hours if testing guides
- Every single change catalogued and announced via YouTube, Forum & Twitter posts for 10 years
Global Influence – 90.68% of all daily matches
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 guide brands, the second most popular guide creator is around 720 million total games played (20% to 3.4 billion)
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 first. 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.
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.
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 receive three hours of dedicated time a day for reviews, updates and feedback. Testing requires additional time.
- 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 & Tiny, 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. For example, I’m happy I got to grow up playing video games… but my first console was the CD-i. 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 for other nationalities. I feel fortunate to have two parents… but they were the victims of their own stories and the villains in mine.
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 guides started out as something to prove but it became something that remains regardless what my future holds. 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.______
Growing up, I upheld two identities that I would try to reverse for the next 13 years:
- 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.
- 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 we were going through, the trivial bickering in the game was heavenly. What’s more, people actually spoke English, a rarity to where we lived at the time. Video games were a distraction for us: a shower of dissociation washing away the pain of the puberty years, 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 reach the average and nobody likes me by default; I need to be something to offer.
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 just for the sake of feeling useful – to prove I could do something, anything.
By university, I took things one step further. I:
- started my own esports university club and jump-started two more in neighboring institutions.
- helped with tournament organizations at our local LAN events: LAN ETS and contributed to WCS Canada for Blizzard Entertainment.
- organized major viewing parties with hundreds in attendance.
- managed over five esports teams and 50+ players.
- written articles for four established esports publications.
- created my first “guide”: Team Liquid forums Rules & FAQ
- finished my university degree in three years instead of four.
BarCraft Montreal event we made at the now-defunct Club 1234. In coordination with the venue manager, we secured sponsorship, equipment, cooperation with Evil Geniuses & MLG to be featured on the broadcast.
I was making up for lost time and figuring out what I could. All I knew was that my degree in Sociology was a consequence of my parents setting the bar as low as “pick a degree you know you can pass” and that there was no future if I couldn’t figure out one fast. 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. Through this process of overhauling (and overworking) myself, I lost my only high-school friend and missed his funeral. I would go on to see his face for the next few years, no matter the country I was in.
My Work During Guides
When the guides system came out in February 2013, I was graduating and ready to start my own adventure. 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. Because I traveled and experienced so much in Dota 2, living in new countries, new companies and people and for the sake of conciseness, I will not be able to fully outline my entire experiences for each year. I hope to talk about it in full one day but don’t think this is the right time and place.
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 parents 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 from my grandmother. A few months after I left, my bank account was emptied – the cost for 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. I didn’t get paid those last months. My resume at least gets to read that I worked with Capcom, Riot Games, Valve, 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.
My next start-up was a digital magazine at Aller Media, one of the largest publishing houses in the Nordic region. I was fortunate that my 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. We published some great issues and I got to meet Dendi and attend my first Dota event: ESL One Frankfurt. 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 having to leave another great country with the few friends I just made. My resume got a bit fatter: publishing a digital magazine and managing over 30 team members. 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-swipe at doctor appointments, relatively good public transportation and the dark, cold nights similar to those in Quebec. The Danish people also taught me how to dress much better and what a balanced work-life was. In another life, I could definitely see myself living in Copenhagen and not just because their sarcastic humour and funny language are so appealing to me.
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 quickly, 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. I had sent my belongings earlier than my arrival to help the company save on costs but now found myself in a situation where I was locked out of my things. I sat in the empty office building lobby for the next nine hours, jetlagged and 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 costs, let alone find new funding with a product still behind competitors.
I thought being among people of the same nationality meant a world of friendships for me. Or that I would be able to relate and connect with this group as opposed to my European travels. In reality, I just got fatter from all the American foods and still felt different from the population despite speaking the same language. I furnished my apartment with things I didn’t need just in case people did visit and upon moving out, I sold them unused. 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 work and where there was a constant insecurity about our future and professional network. This insecurity was usually projected by unprofessional behavior towards others.
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, 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. 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. In the center was this incredibly modern and light-filled metropolis whereas on the outer rim was this cold and barren architecture.
My role, initially, was to launch their international media company called Cybersport. The company treated me well and I moved up in business to be Head of International Strategy & Operations which involved 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 lease ran out, moved into hotels and AirBnBs for nine months 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 as I was no longer as desperate to prove myself as I once was. 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 but learning the different intonations you could bylat was a nice feather in my cap.
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.
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 contacted 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 more monetarily more sustainable for creators to continue making guides.
Over 300 emails were exchanged between us as we designed 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 3-year QA 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 including my own collection. 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.
As for my full-time role at the Moscow-based investment holding: ESForce would go on to sell for over 100 million to the Mail.ru Group and focus exclusively on the CIS region.
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 out 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 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.
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 gaming corporation. Sometime 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
In 2020, my good friend Oleg had passed away after a long battle with testicular cancer. He was instrumental in my navigation within the esports space and we had met purely because I was streaming on his platform: Own3D.tv many years ago. 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 gave me a feeling of personal success versus the lack of professional success I was reminded of every day.
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 comparison of personal success to other’s public achievements. 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 in comparison to others. 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 – don’t like it). I now work in the mainstream gaming sector revolving around partnerships with game developers and operational strategy. The past ten years have been a transformative period of being nothing to doing as much as I can to change that.
My Future and Guides
For now, my future is determined by the abstract thought of what I want to do and what I think I can do. More concretely, work with people and (game) companies that maximize my value and give me the fluidity to do as much as I can on the creative side and business-wise. I previously lead my life determining if I really could do anything whatsoever. Followed by finding anyone who needs me to do something. Now, it’s dictated by own interests and to keep trying new things, looking for places where I fit in and hope to find my place in the world where I can be productive. I’ve found that with guides, but now I want to continue to do that (with financial stability) and do more in games (especially regarding new player on-boarding and systems design) and as a business.
Some of us fall into the cracks of society, few of us figure out a value within that split and some of us won’t. The only way to figure out what we can and love to do is to continue trying things we may dislike and to keep going. I can name hundreds of experiences I would never do again, feelings I never want to encounter nor types of people I wouldn’t want to cross paths with. That said, it was worth experiencing and acknowledging those times just to say I have found a place, created for my own sole point of feeling purposeful.
“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 about it if it would be of use to others (or at least my intent of feeling 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 construed.
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 my best to do things right. I am part of the Dota and gaming community, for better or for worse. It only took me enduring 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 succeeded, 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 in the future. I consider myself lucky.
Thank you for saving my life, Dota.