When you get into the more advanced aspects of Dota, it starts to become a game that only the incredibly gifted can teach to themselves. The greats, as they might be considered: Puppey, Kuroky, PPD, Bulba, xiao8, Mikasa. All are widely regarded as being incredibly smart at Dota, and all have been involved in a TI win in some capacity. But not everyone can be those players. In order to learn something new for the majority of players, they have to be exposed to ideas from someone who is more experienced than they are. As ideas are shared and discussions happen, new thoughts emerge, changing how that player thinks about the game.
There are a lot of examples of “previously thought of as t2” players that suddenly began to shine once they were exposed to the greater knowledge of the game. Resolut1on, a player who used to exclusively play in CIS, came to NA with some of the smartest minds in the game and placed 2nd at TI. Sumail got picked up by EG and won TI not long after. Yawar, his older brother, sat in inexperienced t2 teams for several years before he was picked up by VGJ.Storm-and now he too has become a great player.
What the t2 dota scene consistently lacks is knowledge of the game. Without the experience of someone who has been involved at the top level of dota, two fates can befall these t2 teams: lack of experience, and lack of motivation.
Lack of Experience
All professional dota players have talent. If they didn’t have talent, they wouldn’t be playing video games for money in the first place. They are in the highest level of skill, just like any professional sports player. Some are more talented than others, but talent isn’t everything. It doesn’t just transform a player into a professional, they need more.
Professional sports players go through years of practice and intensive training to get to where they are. They start incredibly early, playing in youth leagues. They spend hours upon hours practicing and spending time in the gym. Over these years of training, they’re being groomed, taught, and coached how to play the game. Someone is always there watching and guiding them towards success. They have talent, and that talent is honed constantly because of the established path to become a pro.
Dota has no such system. There is no guiding hand to tell players what to do, what to pay attention to, or how to learn. They play pubs, and maybe they become good at playing pubs. Your average aspiring pro player may find a team looking for tryout players going through forums. So now they’re on a team, and nobody knows what they’re doing. So they do the only thing they know how to do-they play Dota, perhaps without any sense of greater understanding of the game, or knowledge of what’s really important. All it takes to join a dota team is raw talent-there is no grooming and teaching like there is in professional sports.
This problem with a lack of experience manifests in the underdeveloped and newer regions of Dota. Think about CIS, SEA, and (in the past) NA. It has been commonly said of these regions that they don’t have enough good captains. When you don’t have a good captain, you don’t progress as a team. A good captain tells you what you should do, what’s important, what you should be learning, and gives clear orders in-game to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Since there is no learning system in place for Dota players, aspiring captains have to learn this all from scratch. Some don’t try to learn at all, and as a result they become static tier 2 dota players. The result is that most regions will be weak outside of the top tier teams, without any way to progress or improve.
In an interview at TI7, Resolut1on reflected that he learned a tremendous amount while on Digital Chaos, things he was not exposed to while playing in CIS. He went on to say that the most important things he learned was to "Hit barracks instead of diving Tier 4s. Objective based gaming. That’s the most important thing.” He started to see the game differently. Experienced players like Misery, Bulba, Aui, and 1437 influenced him into being a better player. Resolut1on finished the interview with one final insight. He looks for a team with a strong captain, because that is the most important thing for placing in the top of any tournament.
Lack of Motivation
Lack of experience can sometimes manifest and transform into a lack of motivation. With nobody to guide them, teams begin to suffer. As they play more and more tier 2 dota, they get stuck in a rut, and become hostile towards other ways of playing the game. A player or coach needs to draw inspiration and ideas from multiple sources. No one person is smart enough to understand everything about Dota, and everyone has diverse ideas on how to play the game.
The regions have shown they all have very different ways to play Dota. Chinese dota often looks different than EU dota, which looks different than NA dota. Many players, like Resolut1on, learn new things after playing in a different region. Dota is a game of sharing ideas, and the more ideas that are shared with players, the more well-rounded they become. Many t2 players never leave their region, and certain teams (Kinguin or the old Ad Finem) have a core group of players that stay together for an extended period of time. As they become more comfortable playing with each other, they become less comfortable with the road less travelled - the road that leads to new ideas on how to play the game. A comfortable team begins to care less about grinding dota. A comfortable team creates a weak captain that loses that fire and drive to improve. Teams need constant pressure to push them to new heights, without being afraid of the new and unexplored. Teams do not need comfort.
Many top teams shuffle players because they get comfortable. EG knew they had stagnated. They released Universe and moved Sumail to offlane in an attempt to revitalize themselves. It forced them to think about the game again, how they could adjust to a new teammate’s playstyle, and how they could deal with Sumail’s transition to offlane. Another example of a team that felt too comfortable is ex-Kinguin. El Lisash in his blog talks about how he didn’t want to be the only person on the team who wanted to talk about drafts. The same 4 players of Kinguin have played with each other for over 2 years, with only Patos being a (relatively) recent addition. These players were incredibly comfortable with each other, and as a result performances were often lackluster.
It is said that to progress, you have to go beyond your current limits. You have to push yourself to do something new, something you’re not comfortable with. This is where Tier 2 teams often fall short. They only do what they’re comfortable doing, and as such they never progress. They’re only 5 talented players that want to play Dota the only way they know how.