Last week, Dota 2 received a patch that made three significant changes to the in-game user interface. The first was the addition of numbers to indicate damage dealt by each player. The second was the addition of a “stun bar” above the heads of any hero affected by a stun, slow, silence, or similar effect. The third change was the removal of a “current hp” number that used to display above each player’s health bar (presumably removed to make room for the new stun indicator). Professional players and r/dota2 alike initially reacted with displeasure. (My personal favorite: “Did Valve hire someone new that doesn’t understand the game or something?”) Part of this was the kneejerk rejection that tends to accompany any unsolicited change to a game as well-established as Dota 2. But there also seemed to be a sentiment, at least within several high-profile Reddit threads, that the changes lowered Dota 2’s “skill ceiling,” a murkily-defined term used by Dota 2 fans primarily to justify their game’s putative superiority over League of Legends. By Sunday (October 23), though, a few competing viewpoints had begun to emerge.
Arteezy’s initial response to the changes resembled his on-stream response to an early game gone horribly wrong. He promptly demanded a way to turn the new UI settings off:
He even went so far as to pointedly tweet a screen cap of League of Legends, since as Dota 2 fans know (sigh) there is no greater insult to be hurled at Valve than accusations of copying Riot:
— Artour Babaev (@Arteezy) October 23, 2016
But on stream, he seemed to get used to the new numbers and stun bars fairly quickly, at one point even musing that “these numbers make me want to memorize the health of each creep.” It’s an interesting point: knowing exactly how much damage you’re doing with each attack could enable a new level of mathematical calculation when last-hitting. Skill ceiling is a complex topic, and if the damage numbers make certain challenges easier, they may also create entirely new challenges. Game design is not as simple as “because we didn’t have this information before, the game is now easier and less complex.” The full implications have yet to be discovered, but the changes to how damage is displayed might even increase the skill cap—we just don’t know yet.
TI5 champion and Team NP carry player Aui_2000 posted a lengthy defense of the changes on Twitter.
“I want to first talk about the ‘muh skill cap’ comments that have been popping up everywhere and to talk about how this should not affect high level dota in a meaningful negative way. I don’t know if this is the correct definition, but I’ve always defined the concept of skill cap in dota as ‘how good can someone can get at the game.’ I guarantee you that if you think stacking stuns is the pinnacle of dota skill, you’re not only wrong, but you’ve also got a world of hurt coming to you funky weird ass dota mechanics style.”
“I think the stun bar retains the skill ceiling of dota and it does this while greatly lowering the burden of knowledge on not only new players, but any player who doesn’t have the time to remember the 300 various slows, disables, roots, and stuns as well as how long each one lasts. Don’t you dare tell me you’ve never looked at venge stun and said to yourself “wtf why does this last 1.2 seconds at level 1 when did they change this (also that stun has been like 1 billion different values).” Dota gets number patched a LOT and people shouldn’t have to feel like dota is their job as they study patch notes and changes and different heroes in order to get the most mundane of advantages.”
Essentially, the point Aui is making is that the changes will have little effect on the professional scene, while making the game much more accessible for lower-level players. Dota 2 fans tend to pride themselves on their game’s high barrier to entry, but Valve has an understandable interest in expanding the player base, and these changes are intended to be a step along that path.
Noted commentator and TI6 weatherman Purge also defended the merits of the new system. “Per usual, people are completely overreacting … I think people are being little babies about this.”
Like Aui, Purge seems primarily concerned with the benefits of the updated system for new players. He points out that the new stun bars make teamfights significantly more legible, which is important because teamfights can be the most incomprehensible part of the game for newcomers.
In reality, changes like these are probably inevitable. As Dota 2 approaches its seventh season, it finds itself competing for players with countless newer titles. Making the game more accessible is one of the most obvious tools at Valve’s disposal to lure newcomers; it wouldn’t be surprising to see the game head even further in this direction over the months and years to come.