3 years, 170 million: Dota Builds Project Year in Review

This is a continuation of last year’s article, “2 years, 100 million: Dota Builds Project Overview” and 2014’s article: “1 Year, 40 million: Dota Builds Project Overview

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It’s now been three and a half year since this project started in February, 2013. I do this ‘year in review’ article once a year in October as that is when I started collecting statistics for these hero builds. In 2015, we achieved a remarkable feat: 100 million total subscriptions. I persevered in updating the hero builds despite the system being completely system. Begun implementing a better hero builds tooltip system and established a proper policy in what direction and emphasis I want the hero builds to go towards.

2016 was challenging in and outside the project and the public recognition for it has been the highest it’s ever been – with all of its appreciation and harsh criticism of character.



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 tooltips to give contextual value on how best to use a hero’s set of items or abilities throughout the game. This 2013 integral feature has been useful for many new players along with other Valve-released tools including the ‘coaching’ feature and 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 170 million subscriptions across 150 guides (177,425,506 as of November 17, 2016). This article will take a look at the relevant statistics of our growth, discuss the continuing motivation to maintain these guides and the future goals and challenges for 2017.


100 Million to 170 Million – A Year of Statistics

In summary, this project has gained 70 million new subscriptions since last year. In fact, approximately 5 million a month since late-May 2014 (30 months consecutively). Hero builds have risen from 145 builds to 150 hero builds thanks to the release of the final DotA-Allstars hero: Arc Warden & Underlord.


In October 2013, we started with less than 5 million. Since 2014, our growth has been consistent of 4 to 6 million a month. In 2015, 37 guides have reached 1 million unique subscribers individually. That number has almost tripled with now 100 guides with their own 1 million unique subs.


Forecasts project that the project will achieve 200 million by February, 2017 and 234 million by October, 2017. Last year, we missed our prediction by a good margin and it might be safe to assume the same here. That said, we’ve achieved new milestones today with individual guides now breaking into the 2 million unique subscribers mark. Lifestealer, Sven, Juggernaut, Phantom Assassin, Phantom Lancer and Faceless Void have all recently hit their two million milestones and there are many other guides nearing it.


Observed is the incredible growth the Sven Hero Build achieved to reach and surpass Lifestealer Build’s subscribers. Lifestealer achieved 1 million by August 2014 whereas Sven achieved similar by April 2015. By June 2016, both guides achieved two million simultaneously.

Though it isn’t definitive, I firmly believe that because Sven has been more relevant in more patches and professional competitions than Lifestealer, its growth rate followed suit. This growth is not unique to a couple of builds. The average has grown from 716,000 to 1.16 million. The majority of hero builds have 1 million or more in unique subscribers. The distribution of subscribers is also much more ranged than before where guides can have as little as 150,000 subs. to as much as 2.4 million.



Achievements and Challenges

 This year was the most revolutionary year for this project yet. Not only did the project see a complete overhaul in title classification, but it was also the first time the Valve Dota 2 Development team acknowledged, communicated and fixed some of the longest standing issues that plagued the system and caused many users to outright quit making builds. Here is the list of achievements this year:

  • Expanding the Hero Builds Catalog from 145 to 150 hero builds
  • Streamlined Patch Changes Accountability and Changelog for future reference
  • Finished overhauling the entire hero builds item and ability texts to better denote contextual value for each.
  • Released a Patreon campaign after years of users asking for a way to support the project
  • Transitioned the hero builds title system (Lane/Middle/Jungle) to less antiquated system (Core/Offlane/Jungle/Support) with sub-title specifications (Roaming, Safe Lane, Middle, etc.).
  • Released /r/HeroBuilds & PlayDota.com to better curate user feedback from more community hubs.
  • Released an All-Subscribe Tool, a long-awaited feature asked by users (thanks LemonWarlord)
  • Established a direct line of communication with the Valve Dota 2 Team
    • After years of problems, Valve took the initiative to fix some of the most glaring issues that outright halted the ability to make and publish hero builds. Even more so, they have been very responsive in any new critical bugs reported to them.


Before Valve, a user named Parnakra literally saved this project. I was on the brink of giving up before he helped not only fix the Dota 2 Hero Builds Cloud Server, but improve it in many ways.
Thank you Parnakra.


Now with a direct line of communication with Valve and their promptness in fixing any new critical bugs, I hope to see more hero builds created and updated regularly without anything preventing users in doing so.

In terms of challenges, there are very few from the outside. There is still no real competition in terms of valuable hero builds currently in the database as the ones that are newly-created and maintained cannot break past some of the outdated versions from 2013 who continue to be rated up, regardless of accuracy or attention to relevance of the current patch (e.g.: heroes that get completely remade). Heroes such as Faceless Void don’t have any updated hero builds in the year 2016 except for my own. In terms of competition, the top guide creators are still the same as last year with some emerging players such as EDJE and EZ MMR.


Across the board, we can see growth in all hero build collections from the most popular catalogs of hero builds. This can be indicative that there are just more or rotating new users subscribing to hero builds as a whole.

Future Goals and Motivations

In December 2015, after much hesitation, I released a Patreon campaign for users who asked how else they can support the project. Generally, feedback was always preferred, but with the support of these great people, I can start to think about expansion into other medias to help players of all kind.


Alfred Vogl, Pearson Mewbourne, Leonardo Lambertini, Scott MacDonald, Sutas, Nicholas Chlumecky, Dice, Bartlomiej Jan Pasek, Graham Bullard, Daxdiv, Mikey Kaminski, Ryan Goss, Startracker, Freeze ray, Nate Hubbard, The WLD Crew, Benjamin Miller, Kistaro Windrider, Elliot Cuite, Daniel Thackray, Jose Cacho, Matthew Nami, tale, Joel Absolom, Tyler Reid, Hursha, Aaron Bell, Jason Davis, Cooper Johnson, Samuel Enocsson, JimmaDaRustla, slashershot, Igor Dolgiy, Ramona Brown, Duncan, Alishams Hassam, Leon Traill, Josh Laseter, Genc Musliu, Joshua Rodman, Moe Foster, Steve, Oliver, Vinzent Steinberg, Cabanur

Thank you so much to the many people here for their generosity, support and care. They saw something that was made entirely for free and still wanted to provide support with the money they’ve earned. It’s a great honor to receive this kind of support.

With the amount earned, I will be giving a portion to long-time feedbackers (though many have opted out or did not respond to request for their owed amount) and the rest will be going towards hiring a proper website designed to brand a website for the Hero Build Project and all the tools available. It will serve as a valuable hub to redirect users in being aware of all the hero builds available, tools, and statistics relevant to its growth and achievement. As always, no amount will be used for purposes other than to continue building this project.

In terms of future goals, the website hub is the first immediate one. Other cloud-level dreams would be expanding to content creation, meeting with the Valve Dota 2 team to suggest a variety of quality-of-life expansion to new player initiatives and/or newbie casting (this one’s iffy – haven’t casted since 2011 in StarCraft II).

In terms of motivations, 2016 turned out to be the year I receive the most recognition, appreciation, condescension and character criticism. Most of all, this year has been the most emotionally taxing where the hours of work remained consistently the same as last year’s: 2-3 hours a day, 28 to 35 hours a week and 9 to 24 hours within two days when a new patch releases. This is nothing new and I’ve made my concerns about it in the past as I juggle work, a personal life and this project. Somewhere along the way, I’ve also noticed my anonymity was lost, where I would be recognized in-game and my words, actions (or inaction) would paint how people speak to me or about me.


My favourite flattery/criticism in recent times. Some others have been less than comedic and more personal.


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 (non-lethal versions). 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 feel 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 either not talk in-game or start using an alternate account for all my day-to-day test games. Come December, I may also slow down the amount of updates and testing, as I’ve recently found myself prioritizing the project over, say, enjoying an overdue vacation with significant partners (at one point, I was updating guides while on the bus to The Grand Canyon due to increased public pressure) or ruining my sleep schedule to keep up with the latest patch. In 2017, I will also be starting something very new in my career, which may cause an impasse on continuing the project at its current level of dedication or something less attentive.

Depsite this rant, I always go back and read previous topics, smile at the appreciation I receive and know there are people thankful. The numbers say it all and the words of the many drown out the negative few.

Thank Yous

Without the help from the community at PlayDota.com, LiquidDota.com and /r/HeroBuilds, this project would not be able to be even remotely as close to its goal as it is now. I would never have the knowledge, expertise or understanding of the game that some of these people have provided throughout the years and for that, I thank them for completing this project in so many ways and keeping me on top of the most glaring inconsistencies with this collection of hero builds.


Recently, I’ve noticed more and more iconic people using my guides. People I’ve admired or see as incredibly talented. Moonmeander, Arteezy, Totalbiscuit, Day [9], Dimitri (GodBlessMali – MarsTV) and Hector Rosario (HelixFrosT – Founder of Flipside Tactics)


This project has been my pride and passion for the many years I’ve changed jobs, countries and lives. It kept me feeling personally successful no matter what low point I’ve hit. That kind of support is immeasurable and I sincerely thank you.
See you next year,

Michael ‘Torte de Lini’ Cohen

Twitter: @TorteDeLini



Dota 2 Hero Builds Hub


PS: thank you James Hu, Tam Vu and Foad Ghafor for the help with the website, graphs and this article.

Competition Shift: The Live-Streaming War

In 2010, the emerging of the esports market lead to an interesting power struggle of branding in terms of player and team representation. Comparison of a player’s value was upon who would bid the highest and which teams had the most authentic sponsors; legitimizing their brand. As new games emerged such as League of Legends, Counter-Strike and Dota 2, it became clear which team brands withstood the test of time. Similarly, tournament brands also competed throughout the years for top-tier player attendance, sometimes overlapping with one another in scheduling and fighting for the best reputation in terms of prize-pool, accommodations and consistent quality production.

Now it is the turn of live-streaming companies to compete. With the international circuit becoming consistent in scheduling and player and team brands establishing presence, content-value is improving. As Twitch starts to wrap up their exclusive contract with ESL in 2016; new live-streaming platforms such as YouTube Gaming, Azubu and Hitbox will be looking to bolster their audience numbers through these competitions. An open war is starting – to win an ever-growing audience in gaming and esports – but only the service that incentivizes both the viewer and empowers the broadcaster can outclass their adversaries.

Winning an audience and broadcasters is beholden to one key area: features/exclusive incentives. This is what sets traditional television, and its divide between content and passive viewers, different from live-streaming – which has a more active audience who can become your content (broadcasters). Incentives not only create reasons for communities to visit a platform, but a justification to return, despite alternatives readily available. With Twitch being the early bird into this market, their ‘incentives’ has become their core service: a unique community culture (Twitch chat/TwitchCon) and broadcasters (LIRIK, summit1g); distinctive brands that bring in tens of thousands of viewers monthly. Since then, they’ve continue to build features and opportunities that achieve two areas: to create a viewer’s customized experience and enable their broadcasters to a personalized production.


On top of homegrown popular broadcasters on their platform, Twitch also hires many front-facing talent from games like Hearthstone (Dan “Frodan” Chou), StarCraft (Sue “Smix” Lee) and Street Fighter (Mike “Honda4Life” Ross) to serve as relation pillars for their largest esports titles and for events or in-house segments with key partners (from launch events to weekly discussions)

(see the article: Community Engagement: Identify Yourself for further detail on Twitch’s ability to rapidly establish a trusting identity per a game’s community base)

Platforms purchasing exclusive streaming rights of teams are creating initial reasons to visit a platform but not the necessary tools to retain their audience. In essence, they create a passive, divested audience that are not a part of a platform’s community, but a following borrowed from the signed professional team. A live-streaming company can continue purchasing exclusive rights to bolster their initial numbers, creating a forced viewership, but that cost will rise each year with marginal results and few converting into organic broadcasters. As the event calendar for 2016 starts filling up, the gaming and esports scene will start to see those same initial reasons to visit live-streaming websites, as events, ranging from all ESL esports events to traditional gaming conventions, start to become simulcasted. It will be up to those companies to find innovative ways to retain that audience. For example, in June 2015, Twitch allowed all broadcasters and users to ‘co-stream’ the event; bringing more eyes to the event, but customized for the viewer (meshing the E3 brand with their favourite personality) and the broadcaster who could supply their own graphics and commentary to it. Alternatively, Hitbox had an exclusive AMA with their sponsored team, OG, who had just recently won a Valve-sponsored Dota 2 Major in Frankfurt, Germany. Although the Frankfurt major was not live-streamed on Hitbox, they meshed their brand with a sponsored team, bridging a borrowed following of a professional team to their site.


Another example is where Azubu tapped into those with limited internet connections by providing audio-only broadcasts to reduce bandwidth usage. This allowed users to still enjoy some of their favourite content without necessarily depleting their data plan.

The importance of being able to grow and engage your audience is crucial for companies, especially when talking to advertisers. Having returning individual broadcasters and levels of viewership means winning your third party: advertisers. With large corporations jumping into esports, from FanDuel to Turner Broadcasting to ESPN, advertisers are cluing in on this new, soon-not niche market. As the big names clue in, everyone holds out; hoping for their big break, akin to Twitch TV, or to maintain territory, notably YouTube Gaming (and YouTube Music). Despite the amount of money raised from these companies, including Hitbox’s new funding round from Wargaming or Azubu’s new debt-financing of 59 million from Sapinda, competitors need to consider how best to distinguish themselves from each other. Hitbox, for example, expanded their revenue share program to all live-streamers whereas Azubu opted for customizable modules to better personalize a user’s channel with key information – both companies empower or incentivize the broadcaster, but don’t do enough for the viewer. This is where they consider exclusive programming as a bid to attract viewers. But exclusive programming should be considered a compliment (not a complement) to your product. That is to say, it is better to use exclusive programming, whether it is an event or individual talent, to showcase what your product has to offer. For example, Azubu used a featured called “Live Overlay Statistics” during their LCS World’s broadcast, an event that was on both Twitch, Youtube Gaming and Azubu. The response about it were positive, highlighting Azubu’s uniqueness and even spurring discovery of its other great feature: “Live Rewind”. This kind of momentum can lead a platform to stride past its competitors, so long as they keep the momentum up. That momentum can be in the form of any opportunity: showmatches, Q&A with a developer for a game launched (either indie or AAA), exclusive surrounding content of an event or receiving item drops from watching an epic play if you join your game account with your broadcasting account. It’s a question of leveraging your relationships with other company entities and providing something unique for a curious audience. These incentive-based invitations need to be unique, but also consistent to remind an audience. What can a platform do to better fulfill a viewer’s desire to be there, whether playing a game or attending an event? What can a live-streaming service facilitate to broadcasters so they can be a part of this moment?

Taking advantage of what makes live-streaming unique: being immediate and thus enabling engagement between broadcaster and viewer – empowering both – will lead a platform above others and ultimately win the streaming war. As esports and gaming moulds itself as content to play and watch, the platforms to establish themselves as networks will become the default places for gaming entertainment.