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How Games of DOTA are Won

February 14, 2013 by Sando
Comments: 2    |    Views: 19717    |   


You've probably read the title and are thinking "what the hell?" - tl:dr - kill their ancient! What we're actually going to look at in this guide is what are the important events, plays and strategies that actually win and lose games. Many players pass up opportunities through ignorance or complacency - teams frequently lose games they should have won...why?

The Absolute Basics

Although this is incredibly obvious stuff, I think it still bears repeating as people are often distracted by other things in the course of the game.

The game is won by destroying the enemy team's ancient. In order to do this, you need to destroy at least one lane's worth of towers, both barracks, and then the two towers guarding the ancient.

The game is NOT won directly by any of the following things:

- Having more kills than the opposition
- Having more farm than the opposition
- Having more experience/levels than the opposition
- Having lots of good items
- Having the best K/D ratio

Of course, all of these things help your team on the path to victory, but they guarantee nothing. Many players approach the game with a mindset that these goals are their ultimate aim, rather than simply knocking down the enemy ancient.

Critical Timeframes for Heroes

This is basically the period in a match when a team, hero or strategy is at it's peak effectiveness.

Early Game Hero:

We'll take Crystal Maiden as our first example here. Her combination of abilities make her extremely dangerous (with appropriate follow up) in the early laning phase, and her global aura has it's greatest effect. (+0.5 mana regen matters a lot when it doubles your regen!).

However, past this early window of opportunity, her power declines markedly. As heroes gain additional items and levels that mana aura becomes less and less important. Although her powers can still help get kills, relatively speaking they do less and less damage as the game progresses, and her poor stat growth and lack of farm leave her vulnerable to enemy heroes.

Late Game Hero:

For our second example, we'll look at Faceless Void. He is almost the polar opposite of CM - a fairly weak early-mid game, with an incredibly powerful late game - provided he gets the necessary farm.

His lack of active skills and emphasis on agility means he's vulnerable until he can get the items he needs to make them effective. Even Chronosphere is only really useful early on if you have allies who can make them most of it - Void himself struggles to inflict enough damage. As the game progresses, he gains farm, items and levels. Those passive skills combine with deadly effect, and he can be almost instoppable.

Most heroes have a particular timeframe when they can potentially be most effective, or they are relatively strong throughout the game without particularly excelling at any particular time.


- Nukers are most effective in the early-mid game (limited scaling)

- Disablers are pretty effective throughout the game, but lose some potency later on when more heroes have Black King Bar

- Carries (especially hard carries) are better later in the game (good scaling)

- Team fight powers peak in the mid-game, unless they go through BKB, and/or are mass disables

Critical Timeframes for Teams

Hopefully you've got the idea critical timeframes from the last chapter. So how does this apply to teams?

Essentially it's about your "combined" critical timeframes, and also when individual heroes peak. A balanced team will have heroes who peak at a variety of different times - making them strong throughout the match. This is a relatively safe strategy.

A stacked team will have a number of heroes who all peak about the same time - for example, a team with a lot of early gankers or pushers. This is powerful, but risky.

The secret here is to work out how your team and the enemy team compare in terms of these timeframes - who has the likely advantage early, mid and late game?

You then need to match your strategy to use the time when you have the biggest advantage:

- If you have an early game advantage, push or gank hard as appropriate to your heroes.

- If you have a mid game advantage, try to force team fights during this time.

- If you have a late game advantage, try to slow the game down and farm up.

Accumulation versus Big Plays

This is more to do with tactics than strategy - how do you go about trying to win the game - by accumulating an advantage over time, or by making big, risky plays?

Both of these have their place, and the art of good strategy is knowing when to use each.

Accumulating an advantage is doing the easy things well, punishing enemy mistakes and generally "playing the percentages". You don't take big risks, pick off the low hanging fruit and build a lead steadily. Maybe you pick off more towers instead of going straight for barracks. This kind of play has the benefit of being fairly low risk, and works well if you're even or have an advantage in the late game.

The best pro-team example I can think of for this is Absolute Legends - they don't make many mistakes and are difficult to beat.

Big risky plays are all about having the cojones to go balls to the wall and make things happen - either you'll win big or you'll go home. This kind of play is necessary if you're likely to be at a disadvantage in the late game, have a big advantage in another phase of play, or are falling behind and need to do something dramatic to turn things around. The secret is to try and stack that big play in your favour as much as possible.

The best example I can think of is a team like Na'Vi - they throw in some seriously risky plays, but are usually good enough to make them pay off.

Early Game

In some ways this is the most important phase of the game - unlike the late game there is no way of avoiding it if your team is weak here. Small advantages gained in the early game inform the way the rest of the game resolves, big advantages can be very difficult to turn around.

However, DOTA is designed to allow comebacks from difficult situations, so not all hope is lost if the early game goes badly. Usually the early game is most defined by ganks, and small scale 1v1, 2v2 fights and lane battles.

If you're losing, your team needs to start grouping up more and running as 4 or 5 to change the way the game is being played out - bringing in team fights and tower pushes where they could do better - ushering in the midgame.


Depending on each team's strategy the midgame can start quite early, late and could be action packed or uneventful.

I define the midgame as starting when heroes can no longer lane directly against each other, towers start falling, and heroes start moving freely between the lanes.

The biggest events of the midgame are team fights and tower pushes - often the two are combined. However, ganks and AFK farming still have a place and may well be going on.

The secret of a successful midgame is to try to make it suit your team and it's strategy. If you have a better lategame, try to be reactive and defensive, concentrate on getting your carries farmed and not losing towers or team fights badly.

If you have a midgame advantage, and especially if you have a potentially weaker late game, then you need to be more forceful and take the initiative. Go on smoke ganks, push towers, force fights and pressure them into mistakes.


By now the die is often cast - one team or the other will likely have an advantage in terms of farm or carry potential. Maybe one team has a big team fight advantage.

Again, lategame is about trying to play to your team's strengths. Ganks and split pushes can work well when you have inferior team fight, while if you have the advantage here, you can try to force situations where the enemy has to fight as a group.

Every event in the lategame has it's importance magnified. Heroes now have so much damage that creeps and towers can be taken down quickly, and respawn times are greatly increased. Ganks really matter again as you either force an expensive buy-back, or get to force a fight 4v5 or better.

Putting it all together

If you didn't already, hopefully this will give you some more clarity when looking at the heroes both teams have picked. What is their strategy likely to be? Do they even have one? How do the two teams compare in each phase of the game? When should you try and win?


Common Mistakes

Not winning when you've got the chance

This is possibly the most frustrating mistake of all. When you have a decisive advantage people sometimes start getting cocky or complacent - fighting 1v5, going passive with a midgame team, feeding creeps to a team under siege, or otherwise blowing your advantage.

Nothing is won until their ancient goes down (although barracks are a major step), so especially early/mid game, don't just assume you've got this one in the bag and start messing about.

Being passive when you need to be aggressive

If your team is stacked for early-mid game power, or you're massively outcarried later on, you really need to take the initiative and not just let the game slip away from you. Maybe things haven't been going well so far - but it's still better to have a go and give yourselves a chance, rather than just let them accumulate a decisive advantage.

Letting hard carries get farmed

Similar to above - people often complain that some hard carries are overpowered...but they're only overpowered if you let them be. If they have a hard carry and you don't, you're almost certain to lose the game unless you deal with them before they get strong. Push, gank - ward their jungle, don't just let them do what they want.

This doesn't mean your own carries can't get farmed, but you need to ensure that their hard carry is gimped.


Getting more farmed is always a good thing, right? Well, usually yes. However, I think it's better to think of farm in terms of the DIFFERENCE between what you have and the enemy has.

I remember one game however where the enemy team of mostly supports managed to get their Anti-Mage well farmed up and level 25 before our 3 (!) carries could compete. They won fight after fight but the AM was so focused on getting the most possible farm that he missed the chance to actually finish us. Our 3 carries had the chance to catch him up, and soon after we won the game pretty comfortably.

Lesson: even hard carries have a window where they hit maximum effectiveness, and can be outcarried by a number of "lesser" carries in the late game.


Currently draft version, needs additions, perhaps more pictures and examples to illustrate.

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