A Sociocultural Analysis of Gaming and eSports
<span class="vcard">Michael Cohen</span>
Michael Cohen

10 Years, 525 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 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. As always, my personal thoughts, ambitions and feelings are at the end of this piece for those curious.

Honored to have the highest MMR player in the world, 23savage, trust and recommend my guides to all players. Note that images may appear smaller than legible – click on them to get a closer look.

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

    Global Influence – 90.68%

There’s a 76% chance that in your match now, that 1 to 3 players are using my guide in your game.

Approximately 90.68% of all daily Dota matches use one or more of my guides according to our simulations. 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 2021. In terms of alternative guide brands, the second most popular guide creator is around 720 million total games played.

  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 including people like PandaFailed, Dev/Grohl, Lucifron, Ottercute, Helmut, Appa, Jordan, James Hu, Bob, Loch, ShakerGER, Nessaj, Beth, Volodya, Sam_disconnected, Van3to, Rorman, waser, sirbearby, pattytheburgerronin, theyflower, hempmind, gautham, HKN, joolz, rafu and more (if you want your name added, lemme know).

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 the 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, enjoy 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.
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 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. A second revision is published across two weeks.
  • 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 my life.

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 predicted would happen if I continued my life as it was. The guides started out as something to prove but it became something that remains regardless what my future holds. The following ten years 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 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 Iraq.

    Before Guides

Growing up, I upheld two identities that I would try to reverse for the next 13 years:

  1. 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.
  2. A reclusive and lonely son, awaiting until school started again to get away from a physically and verbally abusive and exhausted 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 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 being a QA tester for some popular AAA games like Mercenaries II, Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars and Batman: Arkham Asylum.

    My Work During Guides

When the guides system came out in 2013, I was about to graduate 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.

     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, MLG 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, 200 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 long 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 even get paid those last months.

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.

     2014: Copenhagen

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 this 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 and nowhere to go, I accepted the role despite knowing little about how to make a magazine. That said, we published some great issues and I got to meet Dendi. This was my first foray into finally working in Dota 2 and I wouldn’t get another chance until 2016.

     2015: Los Angeles

Still with my two suitcases and no permanent home, 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 esports would make finding future roles much easier. I took a job as business development director at 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 12 years since I’ve lived or visited the United States, let alone it being my first on the West coast. My luggage — basically the total sum of my private possessions — were in an office that was closed for the weekend. So I sat in the empty office building lobby for the next nine hours, jetlagged and hoping to find some employee who could help me retrieve my belongings.

I thought being among people of the same nationality for the first time meant a world of change and friendships. In reality, I just got fatter from all the American foods and still feeling different from the population. I furnished my apartment with things I didn’t need just in case people did visit.

In 2016, I joined my father to learn about his former Egyptian life. We experienced all the beauty and heat of Egypt including Cairo and the Nile River.

     2016: Moscow

I considered Azubu to be the lowest point of my career and now ESforce would 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 a 60-million dollar investment fund needing help 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. Within a few months, I flew another 16 hours to Russia (with much hesitation and personal concern) and met the CEO. In the hallway were about two bodyguards whose fists were the size of my head. After a discussion about my perspective in esports, I met the rest of the team and had landed the role there and then. My role, initially, was to launch their international news company called Cybersport.com which was the summation of my previous experience in business and content publishing strategy. The company treated me very well and I got to be involved in a lot of different projects: international communication strategy, international strategy linked with six subsidiary companies like VP & Na’Vi as well as direct input with the CEO of 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 finally they settled on Berlin being the location for our company. I paused my life, getting settled or living in my own place for a company. I told myself I’ll never go to those lengths for another business again. I was no longer as desperate to prove myself as I once was.

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.

The company would go on to sell for 100+ million to Mail.ru Group. I would say this is the period where the vocal community started noticing my Dota guides, though in-game I already had something like 200 million subscribers, 700 million games played. This was also the period I was invited as talent to The International 2017 and where I would get the opportunity to work with Valve on the new in-game guides creation system! We would later be acquired by the Mail.ru Group.

     2019 to Present: Kiev & Amsterdam

The following years would be a sense of stability in my home-life despite a tumultuous career ahead. From 2019, I moved and settled in Amsterdam where I reside today with my significant other. My first role in Amsterdam was working with StarLadder to do marketing for their Dota Minors, PUBG Europe League and the CS:GO Berlin Major.

This was also around the period where 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 (Valve has since patched this error).

The Netherlands reminds me a lot of Quebec. The farms, the morning smell of manure and the chilly winters where the wind can nearly cut your nose off. While I do experience some casual racist tendencies outside of Amsterdam, I am enjoying my life here.


In 2020, my good friend Oleg had passed away after a long battle with testicular cancer. Last time I had saw him, he was still able to have a slice of cake as I flew out to Vienna to see him and his project: Birdsy. He was instrumental in my navigation within the esports space and we had met purely because I was streaming on his platform: Own3D.tv.

During COVID, I would spend most of my life dealing with mental challenges that I had long ignored and figuring a path for my next career. But in reality, what I needed to learn was how to create a balanced life. With no job on the horizon, the Dota guides kept me sane and having 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 feeling like I’ve professional succeeded.

I started live-streaming to pass the time, talk with anyone who wanted to hang out and use it as an outlet for anyone to give me feedback. I also started exploring elements of my life I previously neglected: enrolling in an Executive MBA, taking up piano and eventually going to the gym. Having a balanced 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 even 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.

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 with the financial security to start the next chapter in my life. The past ten years have been a transformative period of being nothing to doing more to change that.

    My Future and Guides

For now, my future is determined by the abstract though 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, keep looking for places where I fit in and hope to find my place in the world where I can be productive. 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 doing things we dislike and to keep trying. 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 ever again. That said, it was worth experiencing and acknowledging those times just to say I have found a place, created for my own sole purpose 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 (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.” – June, 2022


For years, I hid my history in shame, 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. I am part of the Dota and gaming community, for better or for worse. It only took me 13 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 2, here’s to another decade together

Dedicated to my significant other of ten years, Karin