For a brief period, All Pick mode was removed from Ranked Matchmaking, funneling every MMR climber and competitive player into Random Draft and Captain’s Mode. The temporary change was a welcome respite from the usual routine of ranked DoTA—game after game facing Invoker, Spectre, or Outworld Devourer—and a way to try new modes that would for a moment have less than 10 minute wait times. One of the highlights of these modes is that by nature they encouraged more teamwork, more planning, and more incentive to win, especially when you can no longer spam pick your favorite hero.
Picking in Dota presented every player with a social dilemma, where a decision that best benefits the individual can harm the group. Yes, our team really might need a support Lion, but what if you really, really want to just play your favorite hero, Elder Titan? There’s always that familiar situation where a team beckons the last player to pick a support, as he’s hovering over the two or three heroes he really wants to play. If you’re the captain, you’re tasked with balancing the best picks against what your teammates want or can actually play. Without a captain in RD, the responsibility of picks is shared across the team. RD and CM pressure that decision towards one that will benefit the group. It also helps that we’re playing “ranked matchmaking”, where ideas like “having fun” are thrown out the window in the name of competition and +25 MMR.
We’ve written plenty of posts about strategy, roles, and picks. But ultimately, how much is it possible to employ these tactics in your standard pub game? The highest level of competition is played in Captain’s Mode, where the outcome of nearly every game can be traced back to decisions and errors made during the drafting phase. It helps for professional captains to have a keen sense of the game and the meta. What about the average 3-4k pub player, who has only an approximate knowledge of the complexities of Dota?
The issue in your typical All Pick, ranked game, is that everyone has a say in the matter, or at least feels like they should. Everyone is approximately the same skill level, so who is better fit to make decisions as each person clamors to dictate the best course of action? Fractured groups lead to fractured decision making.
And on the opposite spectrum, group cohesiveness can also lean towards groupthink, where unanimity prevents an objective evaluation of the situation. This is where the role of captains and leaders come into play. It’s no coincidence that many successful captains are support players, as is the case for Puppey for Team Secret, PPD for Evil Geniuses, or xiao8 for LGD-Gaming. Their roles require them to constantly evaluate the game’s situation, dictating where they and their teammates should be. They direct action, but they also delegate and seek outside opinion. Drafting can be a group process, but there’s still an organizational structure on who has the last say. And in late game situations, sometimes the carry should be the one making the calls. The process is fluid and collaborative, and it’s something that pub players can seek to learn from.
Spamming a strong meta hero, learning its intricacies and timings, is one way to climb MMR. But for a moment, players couldn't always play their comfort heroes. All Pick has been Dota’s version of a pick-up game of basketball. Everyone plays with their own agenda, while winning almost becomes secondary. Random Draft and Captain’s Mode raises the bar of competition, by introducing a drafting phase and compelling players to function more like a team. Even in RD, which is still very close to All Pick, the limitations push players to deliberate more on their picks, organizing them into the best possible strategies and lane combinations. Each game of CD presents unfamiliar situations, forcing players to collaborate to survive. It’s a high order to ask a group of five strangers to be a well oiled machine, but why not try? We pick our favorite heroes to try to mimic pros. The next step would be to play like them as well. These modes push us to elevate our game, only if there were more people to play with.