Opinion: The Aggression Misconception
posted by Sun_Tzu, 170 days agoAs the east and west scenes have come to intermingle ever more in the days of Dota 2, the debate about different styles of play has become ever more heated. Especially the common accusation tossed around is that Chinese teams are too passive and only inclined to farm. Bringing us his perspective on this issue is Kurt 'zMuffinMan' Armstrong.
Aggression: a forceful action or procedure (as an unprovoked attack) especially when intended to dominate or master.
To apply that to Dota is easy. A team that takes an extraordinary initiative to take kills through either ganks or team fights should be considered aggressive. A hero composition that is majorly focused on getting kills early on can be thought of as aggressive.
Teams are often praised for their aggressive play style. It's regarded as a blessing to have a game full of early game action and a high kill count, while games that stretch on with minimal action are considered boring. The Chinese are given the most flak for it. It's all too common to have broad sweeping generalizations such as “European Dota is aggressive and Chinese Dota is a boring farm fest.” It's a misconception and I'm blowing the lid right open on this can of worms.
Firstly, it's important to trace back where this all started. Where did this idea of boring and slow Chinese Dota come from? Previous versions of Dota had a very different metagame. I’m not going to give a history lesson on Dota here, because the different versions and metagames are too numerous and detailed to talk about without turning this into an essay, but I will refer to one particular era to serve as an example. Some people might remember a Chinese player called Gong 'ZSMJ' Jian and a metagame that involved tri-lanes featuring massive hard carries such as Medusa. These games were slow farm fests where the carries would reach max items and have a ridiculous amount of money for buy backs.
Icefrog worked very hard to move Dota away from this kind of metagame and did so with great success. A cooldown on buy backs, the addition of smoke of deceit, changes like these have had a massive impact on the direction Dota has taken in the competitive scene over the years.
So yes, there were times in Dota where watching a competitive game might have been sluggish and boring in comparison to today's games. It's not right to blame the teams for that, since the goal is to find the most effective way to win and the Chinese were the best at this and therefore had the most passive or "boring" style of play. This stigma has stuck with them ever since.
Let's fast forward to the present. There is far more variety in the way teams can play the game now and the potential for heavy early game action is not only present but very viable. However, games can still become slow, drawn out stalemates and despite Icefrog's best efforts this element of the game won't go away any time soon. When two teams clash and a game reaches a certain point there can be long stand-off's; where there is no choice but to group up and play safely until you know for certain where the opposing team is on the map; where getting picked off equates to the loss of your rax; where securing Roshan is paramount to your team's success. It's not because teams WANT it that way, it's because teams do what they must in order to win.
Invictus Gaming proved the critics of Chinese Dota wrong at The International 2012 and they continue to do so with a brand of Dota that must be considered aggressive by the very definition of the word. Templar Assassin, Bounty Hunter, Night Stalker, Sven; these heroes and the way iG plays them is pure aggression. iG refer to this as the 'face rush' strategy. At TI2 iG dispatched of many opponents in 15-30 minute blood baths, including Na`Vi.
On the flip side, LGD.Cn played a 4-protect-1 style with sublime execution where they revolved their play around Liu 'Sylar' Jiajun farming up and then bringing down the hammer once the time was right. 14-0 in the group stages was certainly impressive. When it came time for iG and LGD.Cn to clash in a fight for a place in the grand finals this was when we again saw those stalemates (particularly in game 1) and the stakes don't get much higher than that. iG adapted their play based on the opponents they were up against.
So what does this mean? Are the Chinese passive or aggressive? I'd say neither. It's the teams. Teams such as mTw and Complexity had a more reserved and calculated style of play, but that doesn't mean Europe or North America should be subject to blanket statements about their entire metagame and play style. Team Empire alone is more than enough proof of that. It just means different teams have different ways of playing.
And even having said all that, teams aren't just limited to one way of playing. It's the sign of a great team when they can play multiple ways and adapt their game. Na`Vi is a prime example of that. They have played very aggressive in the past, but they have also shown the ability to switch gears and slow things down; securing farm on Aleksander 'XBOCT' Dashkevich Anti-Mage and winning many games that way, too.
What's more, teams change and evolve. DK had a few roster changes and are now playing far more aggressive than they did at TI2. LGD.cn shifted Zhang 'xiao8' Ning to a solo mid role and have been seen using iG's own strategies against them in the G-1 League LAN finals. These things are also due to the balancing changes implemented after TI2. In fact, the competitive matches in Asia have overall become more action packed ever since the patch updates.
Now don't get me wrong, the Chinese generally have a more measured and patient approach to the game which is often interpreted as overly passive, especially in the closer matches. There is another misconception that I would like to speak out against. Aggressive Dota isn't automatically the best Dota to watch. Just because a game doesn't have a high kill count or slows down at certain points it doesn't mean it's a bad thing; it doesn't have to be boring.
Personally, I get the most enjoyment out of a game when it's the highest level of Dota played. I don't find a game full of kills and action entertaining if the gameplay is careless and sloppy. This is why often in the past, before Valve introduced Dota 2, I found Chinese games the most exciting and interesting. This is because they had full time DotA players that lived in gaming houses and were playing the highest level of DotA there was at the time and a convincing argument can be made that they still do to this day.
I find it unfortunate when people criticise a game for being boring and slow. Sometimes that's just the nature of the game and it doesn't always have to be a bad thing. It can often be a sign of superior play and coordination. Many times a slow build up has lead to the most spectacular late game clashes and moments ever witnessed, like a calm before the storm.
Feel free to draw your own conclusions, just remember to keep an open mind and try your best to enjoy the games you watch!
by Kurt 'zMuffinMan' Armstrong