My Steam client says I’ve played Dota 2 for 2,933 hours. Before Dota 2 came along, I never imagined myself as someone who would ever spend that much time with a single videogame. The longest I’d spent with a multiplayer game beforehand was about four months, when I played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare every day after school. But running around Middle Eastern rat mazes looking for kills got boring, so I moved on. The idea of spending that much time with a single game felt foreign to me. What would a game have to be to someone for them to play it for so long?
On September 19th, 2012, the day I played my first match, it was a challenge college wasn’t giving me. After my first semester I switched majors from Creative Writing to English and the classes became much easier. I had to read a lot of books, but I didn’t have to study much to keep up. I could knock out midterm papers in a day. So I learned the underlying framework of Dota 2 and how it worked by looking at my phone when a class got boring. I looked up character guides, item builds, and watched tutorials on what you should do at any given time during a match.
The following year, when I got my brother and couple of friends into it, Dota 2 was an interest to share, something to talk about in lulls of conversation. I remember the first time a few of my friends came over to my house while I watched a professional match between teams iG and DK. We were about forty minutes into the match and decided we’d go out and get food after it was over, since most matches didn’t take longer than fifty minutes. The game ended up lasting another hour. I was riveted to the tension of watching two teams not really know how to finish a match and waiting for the axe to fall, but I was terrified that I was boring my friends out of their minds.
As it turns out, a few of them ended up curious about the game, so we got some computers together and had an honest-to-goodness college LAN party in late 2013. For a long time after, we’d use it to fill conversations. If the person in our group who didn’t know anything about Dota hadn’t met us for dinner yet, we’d talk about highlights from the last tournament, or swap stories about exciting or frustrating moments of our own. We’d waste nights parked outside a restaurant, talking about how a random teammate was altogether too stupid to have bought maelstrom as Timbersaw. We vented and confided in each other about a videogame, which was a strange kind of practice for being empathetic.
At a time when I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, Dota 2 was an anchor. The first outlet I’d ever reviewed games professionally for, GamePro, closed in late 2011. All the articles I’d written until that point were gone (except for a list article with a misleading title), and I dreaded the thought of having to rebuild my portfolio. So, a handful of freelance articles notwithstanding, I dove into Dota 2 (and college) headfirst. It was around this time (mid-2013) that I started joining extended Dota 2 communities on websites like Giant Bomb, Reddit, Gamers With Jobs, and Neogaf. The game client even had built-in chat channels, so I simply had to sign myself up and ask people to group up with me for a match.
When I needed a community to keep myself from becoming an island, Dota 2 gave me a sense of having one. I signed up for amateur tournaments, teaming up with much better players and getting a taste of organized play. Playing as part of a cohesive team made Dota 2 feel like a completely different game, one where numbers, ratings, and ego mattered less than doing everything in your power to help your team win the game. It felt selfless to buy nothing but team-oriented items, and it felt good to have my team compliment me on being a team player.
As I invested more of myself in these communities, I started keeping regular tabs on a few other players. I knew what some of the people I played with did for a living, where they went to school, and what was going on with their lives. I met a farmer, several people in finance, a ton of college kids. I met a couple who broke up and got back together over the course of several years. On a few occasions, I mixed and matched people from one forum with another, and it felt like some sort of weird crossover when I had people from different communities playing with each other. Sometimes it worked out, and I helped people make friends. Sometimes two people I played with couldn’t stand each other and would refuse to party. I suffered too through party invite drama.
That sense of community never went away, but it dwindled. Groups fizzled out; people didn’t like each other, changed schedules, didn’t trust each other to do well enough to make the game fun. I started playing by myself again, so I wouldn’t have to rely on others to take on certain roles or be afraid of failing them. I could put on some music and ignore the outside world. Which, in 2014, I definitely needed. I was a semester away from graduation and still had no solid direction or idea of what would happen after I graduated. When I needed to shut out the world, Dota 2 was something to lose myself in.
As plans started coming together and I began getting more regular freelance work (like here at Paste, where my first article—also about Dota!—ran the month after I graduated), I started tapering off. Things were suddenly in motion, and I couldn’t play as much Dota as I used to. I had to play games to review them. I got a full-time job at a business-to-business marketing firm to augment my freelance work. My friends still played, but we couldn’t find a good time to play together. I didn’t have the time to play in regular leagues or tournaments. At one point, I stopped playing Dota 2 altogether, uninstalling it. I didn’t need it anymore, and other games, work, and friends started taking up more of my time. But when a new patch rolled around, I dove back in for a few days.
That’s what Dota 2 is now, to me: something that’s there when I need it, an evergreen timewaster, making long waits shorter and helping me put off things I dread doing. It can be a curiosity, a time sink, a shared interest, a way to test myself. I don’t play as much as I used to, but I still watch competitive Dota on the regular, as background noise (while I write this very article, in fact). If I ever decide to get serious about getting better one day, there’s more than enough left for me to learn about the game. Like all eventualities, I see myself not playing Dota 2 for good at some point. But then again, I didn’t see myself playing 2,933 hours of it to begin with.
Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer who actually wants to play Roadhog’s Road Rage. He’s written for Paste, ZAM, Glixel, and several others. You can follow him on Twitter.