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280 Votes

Learning the Ropes - A Beginner's Guide to DotA

June 27, 2013 by Atlas
Comments: 85    |    Views: 657648    |   

Introduction to DotA

DotA, as you may well know, was first created as a custom map for Warcraft III. From there, DotA spawned the genre of Action RTS, and many games followed, such as League of Legends, Realm of the Titans and Heroes of Newerth. More than likely, you have played one of these games, and I welcome you to Dota 2.

I will go over the very basics here, move along to the next section if you are a veteran to Dota-style games.

In DotA, the goal of the game is to destroy the enemy's base. The map is made of three lanes, and jungle in between those lanes. Creeps move down these lanes and attack each other. As a hero, you choose a lane to go to, and in this lane there are basic things you can do to win your lane and get a better late-game advantage. Typically, two heroes go top, one hero in the center, and two bottom. Though, there are several different ways to play. Eventually, through killing creeps, getting kills, and taking the enemie's towers, you will push a creep wave to the enemies base and take their creep spawning buildings, causing you to spawn super creeps. However, in DotA, there is a denying system. This allows you to kill friendly minions and towers, and under certain circumstances allied heroes, to deny your enemy the gold benefit of killing that unit/structure. Both farming and denying are very crucial to the game. Once one or more of the enemies creep spawning buildings (further known as raxes) are destroyed, you may destroy the enemies throne, resulting in a victory for your team.

The Basics

As mentioned earlier, there are multiple things, that added together, help you win the game. These things are: Farming creeps, denying creeps, destroying enemy towers and killing enemy heroes.

Farming and Denying Creeps

Farming creeps in DotA is most important during the laning phase. Farming them is the act of getting the final blow on an enemy creep, resulting in more gold for you to spend. One thing that should always be avoided is pushing a lane. Basically, do not sit there auto-attacking an enemy creep! Most of the time if will only be denied, and then your lane is pushed to the enemy tower, making you very susceptible to a gank from a member of the enemy team. Later in the game, having good farm will pay off in a gold advantage. A gold advantage is an item advantage, and an item advantage almost always wins the game.

While in lane, you should be trying to last-hit your enemies creeps for their gold, yes, however you should also keep an eye out for allied creeps that are low on HP and attack them. This is denying, and can also be done to a tower. It keeps an enemies gold down, which is enough to win a lane. It is just as important as farming the enemy minions. It does take practice, but with enough concentration you can pull it off.

During this time you should also be weary of harassing. It is simply the enemy landing a few hits on you to dwindle you HP down and try to make you leave lane. Try to harass in return or avoid oncoming harass. Primary focus is still farming and denying.

Destoying the Enemy Tower

Destroying the enemy tower will usually be the cause of winning you lane. If the enemies in your lane are both dead or missing, then now it is the time to push and finish off the tower. If the enemies are simply missing, be courteous to your team and call MIA (Missing In Action), as well keep the river warded so if they are missing while you push their tower you can avoid them ganking you.

Killing Enemy Heroes

Killing heroes in not your primary goal early game. As stated before, your goal is farming. Farming is a safer and more sure way to gain gold, without leaving it to a 50/50 chance that you kill the enemy or they kill you. Note that in DotA, while you gain gold for a kill, the enemy you killed loses gold also. It also applies to you, of course.
However, while farming you can harass the enemy, and if they get low on health, you can coordinate with an ally to take them down or burst them down yourself if you are confident enough. Mid to late game, however, ganks become more prevalent and team-fights start to occur. Around this time, you should still be cautious of your lanes and farm whenever the team is idle, but getting kills really will bring the enemy team down and rise yours up. The team will ever gradually be more revolved around the jungle and middle lane. Winning these team-fights is a direct result of winning lanes and the farm your team has accumulated.

The Basics II - Items

Items... where to begin? One problem in the original DotA was the item system. You had multiple shops with an assortment of items, and a new player doesn't know what the heck to buy or where to buy that item he saw in the guide!

Have no worries, though! Dota 2 has made the shop a much easier place to navigate. It is split into two major categories, each with various self-explanatory mini-categories. The two major categories are;


I. Consumables - The consumables section contains all your items that offer a bit of utility, and help you or your team with various tasks. It contains Tangos, which allow you to consume a tree for some helpful HP regeneration. You can get Observer Wards to help you see where the enemy team is, see runes when they spawn, and prevent ganks on your lane. An item that is one of the most important is the Town Portal Scroll, which allows you to return to base almost instantly, and you can quickly return to one of your towers as well. Animal Courier is another item that is, in my opinion, the most important in the game. You won't have to leave lane, so you can continue farming and receive items regularly with your donkey. A Dust of Appearance is always more than helpful against an enemy stealth hero. There are more items in consumables that all have specific uses and effects.

II. Attributes - Any item that can improve your strength, intelligence or agility can be found here. These items will commonly build into another item, further increasing your stats and attributes. Iron Branches are one of the most powerful items early game (hence their nickname "gg branch") for their low price and effectiveness.

III. Armaments - All items here in armaments will increase your stats, which is your armor, attack, attack speed, and some have other effects such as Stout Shield, which has a chance to block 20 damage. Armaments, like your attribute items, will build into something else more powerful.

IV. Arcane - Items in the arcane all give you a variety of effects, such as added movement speed, from your Boots of Speed, and the ability to see all stealth heroes with gem of truesight, or even a chance to dodge attacks with Talisman of Evasion. Basically, this shop is filled with an assortment of odds and ends that all are helpful for specific roles and situations.


I. Common - The 'common' shop is for all your small scale upgrades from the basic items you got. They are oh-so effective early game. Items like Wraith Band give you +3 to all stats and an additional +3 to agility. There is also Bracer that has the same the same effect as wraith band but for strength, and Null Talisman for intelligence. Common also gives you all your boot upgrades, besides Arcane Boots, which all increase your speed furthermore along with added damage ( Phase Boots), or a increase [stat] and attack speed ( Power Treads), or allow you to teleport to any friendly non=hero unit ( Boots of Travel).

II. Support
- Support and support accessories, right here. This shop allows you to greatly benefit your team with auras and activation items that help others. Remember that Animal Courier I mentioned earlier that is so vital to the team effort? Well now you can make it fly, which will make it a not so easy target since it gains speed and can fly over terrain. Also, if you are really in a bad spot with it, you can use its speed boost and shield to keep it alive. Some other notable support items include Mekansm, which provides an instant heal and armor bonus, as well as an HP regen aura. Urn of Shadows is another great item, even if you are not support, but a strength ganking hero. It allows you to give yourself a very strong heal and holds a charge every time a nearby enemy hero dies. Can be used to heal others too! The last item I'm going to mention is Pipe of Insight. It gives yourself a great amount of HP regen and magic resistance. However, if activated, all allies have a shield from an amount of magic damage for a short time. A great item to use against an ability heavy team.

III. Caster
- Intelligence heroes will mainly benefit from this shop. Each item here will give you a nice boost to intelligence, as well as an added effect. Refresher Orb gives you mana, mana regen and damage, and as well, you can activate it at any time to refresh the cooldown of all your abilities! Force Staff gives you intelligence, attack, and attack speed, and you can activate it on an enemy to send them flying in a direction through trees and over most cliffs. dagon will provide you a bit of intelligence, and +3 to all stats, as well as some damage. However, it can be activated on an enemy to be used as a nuke dealing great damage.


IV. Weapons
- The Weapons shop has various items to increase your right clicking powers. All of which do their jobs nicely, which is carrying your team. Manta Style is one of the best carry items, as it gives you all sorts of helpful stats for ambitious little carries, but its active effect creates 2 illusions of you, which can confuse enemies, but also increase your damage output with these illusions by a TON. Daedalus gives you critical strike, which can be particularly deadly in a good skirmish. Divine Rapier is what you call your roflstomper. It gives you an insane +250 damage, however should only be bought if you are very confident you will not die and you want to finish your target fast. Basically, only buy this if you are fed like a god, because it drops on death, and an enemy with this weapon is less than ideal.

V. Armor - The stuff you need to stay alive long enough to do anything! Black King Bar gives you some strength and damage, as well, when activated, you become completely immune to abilities! Vanguard is a common mid-game item that gives you block, health, and HP regen. Very helpful. Blade Mail, when activated, returns all damage done to you back at your enemies. Really, if a carry gets fed, blade mail is what ends that carry.

VI. Artifacts - Pretty much all items here are orb effects, and these are pretty expensive as well. They are as various as heroes that pick them. Helm of the Dominator gives a good amount of armor, lifesteal, and the ability to convert a creep. Great mid-game item. Desolator gives you a great amount of damage and shreds enemy armor, making your attacks hurt them even more. Also decreases structure armor. Satanic is one of the best items in the game for a strength semi-carry. It gives you a godly amount of lifesteal, and when activated you get 175% lifesteal for an amount of time.

The Not-So-Secret

Secret Shop!

The Secret Shop is a shop found on each side of the map. One on the Dire side to the right of Roshan, the other on the Radiant side above their ancient camp. At this shop you can find unique items that aren't sold at your base. Often they are key to completing big items, like Bloodstone or Heart of Tarrasque. Here is a map that will show where the shops are located, as well as the Side Shop, and we'll get into the Side Shop in a second.

The Secret Shops are circled twice, the Side Shops are circled once.

The Side Shop

The items that can be bought here can be bought at the base as well (with the exception of Orb of Venom, Energy Booster, and Ring of Health), however this shop provides ease of access. Many of the components here build into small things that are useful in the early game. Instead of having the courier ship a small item to you, it's useful to know what you can buy just by walking over to the Side Shop, this doesn't help you much if you're in the mid-lane, though!

Heroes for Begginers

When it comes to Dota, you should definitely try out new heroes! However, for starting, it is best to get 2-3 heroes you can be relied on to play well, then start expanding your horizons.

Supports are generally what you should play if you are new, as carrying a game requires a knowledge of what to buy in what situations which has many factors put into it.

Some heroes you to play in your first 30 games or so:

Crystal Maiden is a designated support. She brings a lot of lane control to the game when paired with a carry. She is not item reliant so you can buy courier and wards for your team throughout the game. All her skills are very straight forward, too. Play safe, though! She is squishy and will be targeted in teamfights.

Lich is another support that really benefits a carry he is laned with. He keeps the creeps from pushing and at the same time denies enemies of exp/gold with his sacrifice. With that, he has a virtually unlimited mana pool while in lane, so you can harass a lot with your nuke. If all this isn't enough, his teamfight potential is through the roof with his ultimate. Very handy to have on a team!

Lina is an offensive nuker most known for her high-damage ultimate. She has straight-forward skills, and can tear enemies apart with her spammy nukes, and with her ultimate, she can destroy some squishy heroes in a single combo.

Tidehunter is a tanky support/initiator. He is mostly known for his astounding ultimate, Ravage, which can potentially stun the entire enemy team. On top of this, he is a ranged threat in lane with his gush that also slows. He is hard to kill, so this offers some forgiveness to new players that get caught out of position as you are less likely to die.

Sven is a straight forward disabler, support, carry. He is capable of some serious damage off his auto-attack, so he can sometimes make for a good carry! Aside from that, he has an AoE nuke/stun that can setup kills very easily for your team. On top of that, he can give off an aura that increases speed and armor.
Skeleton King

Skeleton King is commonly referred to as the most simplistic hero in the game. He is a carry, so you do need basic knowledge of the game to actually carry, but he has very few complications. He has a stun that does damage and damage over time. He has a Crit. He has a lifesteal aura that can also be activated to sap 20% of the enemy's HP. And finally, he has a free Aegis. That's it.

Venomancer is a support/semi-carry hero that remains relevant throughout the game. He has a lot of lane control with his damage over time harass, which can be a huge pain for the enemy. Also, he has a nuke that applies a 15 second slow, and give more damage over time. Then he has plague wards that give vision, are spammable, and attack. He is a decent pusher/anti-pusher, he just needs time to set up his wards. Finally, his ultimate applies damage over time in a HUGE AOE.

Dragon Knight is a very tanky strength semi-carry/carry that has no complications. You have a VERY powerful stun, a nuke, natural tankiness and an ultimate that simply makes you ranged and gives a few small buffs. Very easy to comprehend. Just make sure you are up to the task of carrying!

Heroes to Avoid!

While tempting and usually fun to play, you can be a hindrance to your team if you play the following heroes without much game experience. These heroes usually take some time to master, so without much game knowledge you're at even more of a disadvantage.

- Pudge is a skill shot ganker that relies on his hook to get kills. You often roam as him, and while he can be effective at what he does, you can really mess up your team if you don't know what you're doing.

- Invoker is probably the hardest hero in the game to play correctly. He has a myriad of abilities that require quick fingers and a knowledge of 3 spell combinations to pull your invocations off correctly. He a very tricky to use, so I highly recommend you not play him until you have a good 50 wins under your belt, and even then it'll take some practice to use him to decently.

Note: If you are wanting to learn Invoker, please don't ruin pub games! Learn his spell combinations without wasting anyone's time with the Invoker Trainer!

- Tinker is a very tedious hero with a lot of confound complications. His ulti removes the cooldown from all his abilities and items, which may sound simple enough but it gets much deeper, and when you have an inventory full of active items it gets very difficult to use everything you have correctly.

- Now Earthshaker isn't a complicated hero at all. It's simply the fact that his abilities, if used wrong, can hurt your team a lot more than hurt your enemy. The placement of his Fissure is the difference between a successful teamfight or gank. You can trap your allies off or seclude your enemies. He is a great hero, just not fit for newcomers to Dota because he can be a double-edged sword.

- Wisp is a very fragile hero with a lot of potential for a team. He can transport an ally across the map, saving them or perhaps killing an enemy. After a delay, you are teleported back to your original location from which you departed. You are a squishy hero, and you drain your own health and mana to buff an ally. He requires a tremendous amount of teamwork and communication to work right, and if you're just starting out you will be left in the dust.

- Chen is a highly effective support/pusher. He has a team-wide heal and commands creeps to do his bidding. He is a great hero for any team to have... IF you can play him correctly. He is very micro-intensive and is squishy, so new players tend to be overwhelmed by him.

- Seriously, if you're new, just avoid this guy. He is the most micro-intensive hero in the game, and even played well he isn't a high tier hero. I love Meepo, he is fun to play and I've stomped games with him before, but he is very weak if you don't know what you're doing, and you'll often feed hard with him if you aren't on your guard.

Hero Classifications


Carries are your heroes that output the most damage from auto attacks. Typically they are more farm reliant and last hitting is far more crucial for them. It is not uncommon to see them in the middle lane for solo farm or in a side-lane with a babysitter. A fed or farmed carry is hard to deal with, so ganking a carry and keeping pressure on them is common.


Your initiators are the heroes that are usually tanky and lead off most teamfights. They either have an incredible amount of AOE damage or an AOE stun. This isn't entirely true though, some initiators like Pudge simple start off the fight by making it an uneven 4v5.


Supports are responsible for making everyone else's job easier. By means of warding, providing sustain in the lane, buying team items like courier, or getting a carry fed, they improve their team's chances of winning.


Pushers are early game heroes that can kill a wave of creeps fast and/or deal high amounts of damage to a tower in a short amount of time. They are early game heroes (usually) that get a quick gold advantage for their team by destroying towers early.

There are many sub-roles, like Ganker, Roamer, Tank, Jungler, etc., but they will all fit into the above mentioned roles primarily.

For more on roles, check out Dresmasher's blog on hero roles.


Runes are items found in the top and bottom portion of the river, and once activated they give you an effect for a limited time. Also, a rune can be stored in an empty bottle.

The Five Runes

Double Damage

When acquired, the Double Damage rune gives your hero and any illusions of it that you control within 500 AoE +100% damage for 45 seconds. Note that this damage is only based on base attack damage, base stats, and bonus stats, if you have an item or buff giving a direct bonus to your damage (such as Divine Rapier, or Alacrity), Double Damage will not increase that damage.


The Invisibility rune gives your hero invisibility for 45 seconds, taking actions such as using abilities, using items or attacking breaks this invisibility. There is a fadetime of 2 seconds when you first pick up the Invisibility rune before you become invisible. During this time, you can still act normally (attacking, using items, abilities, etc).

The Haste rune increases your movement speed by 100%, which effectively means you will move at the maximum movement speed of 522. Haste rune lasts for 30 seconds.


When acquired, this rune will create 2 illusions of your hero nearby, these illusions deal 35% the damage of your hero, take 300% normal damage, and last for 75 seconds.

When acquired, the Regeneration rune gives you a buff which restores your health by 3000 and mana by 2000 over 30 seconds. If you take any damage during this time or if your mana and hp reach their maximum, the buff will be removed, and the regeneration will end.

Major Differences from League of Legends

Realizing many players are coming from the League, I will try to point out the big differences between the two games. A few have already been mentioned but will be repeated.

When you die, not only do you have to wait to respawn, but you lose gold. A good bit of it. DotA really punishes you for making stupid mistakes.

None of that stealth brush.

You can deny creeps, towers and in some cases allied heroes from giving your enemy gold/exp.

More extreme abilities. (Long CC, higher damage, fights are much faster paced)

A bit slower paced due to high emphasis on farm. Mid game kicks in much later than in LoL.

No summoner spells, masteries or runes, aaaah!

I lied, there are runes. But not even close to the same rune as in LoL.

No tanks, Axe being the single exception.

LoL has a learning curve, DotA has a learning cliff.

No Ability Power. That's right. Almost all intelligence heroes will end up becoming initiators or supports of sort, and in some cases will even build attack damage to remain useful in the late-game. Many heroes don't end up being only useful for their spells, you are expected to do something while your spells are on cooldown. There are plenty of items that offer an ability, mana cost an all. Dagon can be bought if you need an extra nuke. Scythe of Vyse can add additional crowd control.

Instead of the worm-thing Baron Nashor, you have Roshan (Notice that Nashor is Roshan spelled backwards). Roshan gives your entire team 200 gold and drops Aegis of the Immortal, which grants the bearer a second life. Also, he drops Cheese after he dies 2 times, which can be used to instantly heal you.


When it comes to Dota, there are many ways to win. What I mean, is that there are multiple ways a team can be build to win a game. The basic ones are Pushing, Ganking and Turtling.


The biggest pushing heroes, off the top of my head, would include: Broodmother, Shadow Shaman, Leshrac and Nature's Prophet. Some of these heroes can fill other roles, but they can basically take down a tower fast. Nature's Prophet and Broodmother aren't early game pushers but rather they are split pushers, which emphasizes on taking towers/raxes while the enemy team is diverted. They both require some farm to be effective. Shadow Shaman and Leshrac, on the other hand, do not require farm so much as they do levels to take a tower down fast. Having heroes that can clear a creep wave fast, like Sand King or Keeper of the Light can contribute to pushes or stop pushes.

This strategy is mainly about taking the enemy raxes out before their carries can be a huge threat.

Ganking is all about shutting the enemy heroes down early-mid game while building a gold advantage for your team. Top ganking heroes, which are usually played in the mid lane, (again off the top of my head) are Night Stalker, Lion, Queen of Pain and Templar Assassin, though anyone with a good stun/slow or burst damage can gank effectively.

This strategy focuses on having one carry on a team while the 4 other members do their best to hold towers and protect your carry until he becomes a huge threat. Some of the best carries that do great later in the game once they have their farm are: Faceless Void, Anti-Mage, Spectre, Phantom Assassin and Dragon Knight. If the game is allowed to progress to this stage of the game, these carries gain a huge advantage. These are the long tedious games, but they are generally safer and don't call for risky plays.

Most games will have a team composing of many heroes that work well in all these strategies. A team fully devoted to turtling could still have some push heroes in it's lineup to get a few towers early on, and a pushing lineup can still have a carry to farm while the rest of the team pushes. Most pubs won't have one particular lineup, but hopefully this explains some different strategies.


Quick list of terms used in DotA:

Player Abbreviations
OJ - Orange
LB - Light Blue
DG - Dark Green

Areas On The Map

Mid - Middle lane. The line traveled by the creeps through the center of the map.
Top - Top lane. The line traveled by the creeps through the west and top portions of the map
Bot - Bot lane. The line traveled by the creeps through the bottom and east portions of the map.
Woods - The areas in between lanes where neutral creeps are found.
Jungle - Same as woods.

Item Abbreviations

AC - Assault Cuirass
Aghs or Agha - Aghanim's Scepter
BKB - Black King Bar
Blink - Blink Dagger
BoT - Boots of Travel
Crow - Flying Courier
Deso - Desolator
DR - Divine Rapier
Hex - Scythe of Vyse
HotD - Helm of the Dominator
HoT - Heart of Tarrasque
Mek - Mekansm
MoM - Mask of Madness
Phase - Phase Boots
PT - Power Treads
RoB - Ring of Basilius
RoR - Ring of Regen
RoH - Ring of Health

Sheep or Sheepstick - Scythe of Vyse

SnY - Sange and Yasha

Vlads - Vladmir's Offering

Basic Need To Know Terms

Farm - Farming up gold. Refers to the act of systematically killing creeps in order to earn gold. Even when you are virtually killing creeps all game long, you say that someone is "farming" when they are completely dedicated and concentrated on that.

Focus - Means to concentrate all attacks on a specific target (I.E "Focus Lina" means that Lina should be the primary objective and that all the team should have attacking her as a priority in team fights)

Harass - Relative to the act of putting pressure in your enemy by attacking him during the laning period. Basically, harassing is attacking the enemy in front of you in the lane, so as to make him an easy target for a gank or to prevent him from farming freely. Therefore, "harass Ezalor" means that you should try to damage Ezalor with your skills/attacks.

Juke - Juking, means to make deceptive maneuvers with your hero while moving, so as to delude your opponent and make it harder for him to predict where you will be heading. This is used mainly to escape while you are being chased, or to make your enemy miss/misuse a spell (for example Avalanche, which has to be targeted to the ground).

Pull - Creep Pulling. Getting creeps from a neutral camp to follow you into the path of your lane creeps.

Spam - Spamming your spells, refers to the act of repeatedly using a certain spell, a lot. "spam carrion swarm" means casting Carrion Swarm a lot, most generally as soon as the cool down is up.

Rosh - Roshan. Refers to Roshan, the big neutral creep next to the river just below the middle lane. Usually indicates the player's belief that either the enemy team is killing Roshan right now or that the player's team should kill Roshan now.

Gank - Bringing several heroes to gang up on a target to kill them. "Gank lina," is a request for you to come help kill her.

b - Back. If your allies start calling "b," get out immediately, it usually means that you're getting ganked. This is a more urgent warning than a miss or mia call.

TP - Teleport. A request for you to use a Scroll of Town Portal or Boots of Travel to come assist in a fight. "tp mid now"

Def - Defend. Self-explanitory, "tp to def mid"

Push - Traveling down a lane as a team in order to work together to fight and kill enemy buildings.

DD - The Double Damage rune.

Hero Missing/ Returning Calls

miss - Missing. A warning that enemy heroes have gone out of view and might be ganking, so be careful. Usually said with a hero name, such as, "Lina miss."

mia - Missing in action. Same thing as miss, such as, "Lina mia."

re - Returned. The opposite of a miss/mia call, "Lina re" means that she's back in the lane she came from and you don't have to worry about her.

Hero Descriptions

nuke - A generic term for any spell that does damage. "Nuke him" just means throw your damage spell, pretty much no matter what hero you have.

ult - Ultimate. Any hero's level 6 ability is refered to as their ultimate

oom - Out of mana. Don't expect any more spells from this player during the fight.

mana - Just saying "mana" usually means the same thing as oom

cd - Cooldown.Should usually be interpreted as, "Hold on, the spell I need isn't up yet." Also, you might see something like, "ult cd 30" which means, "My ultimate is still cooling for about 30 more seconds."

stacked - Stacked of items, means that a hero has gotten many and powerful items, therefore making him really hard to take down. "Nevermore is stacked" means that Nevermore has many and good items.

farmed - Same as stacked.

(Note: was used for this section)


Well, this is the start of my guide. I'm tired right now, and am sure I left out some things. I hope it proved helpful to anyone new to the DotA genre. More will be added, I promise!

Many thanks, be sure to comment and vote.

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