Dota demands much from its players, more than the usual game. It has a high barrier of entry, punishes you when you make mistakes, and pools you together in a team with 4 other strangers, who more often than not believe that they’re better than everyone else.
This kind of tense setting is also what makes Dota exciting to watch at the highest levels. But for most of the community, we’re dwindling in mediocrity. People won’t play perfectly in a game that can take hundreds of hours just to be adequate at.
This frustration has prompted countless gamers to embrace combative personalities in the game, or what the community calls toxic. They will intentionally sacrifice heroes, items, and couriers. Trolling your teammates, it seems, is an easier path than embracing the bumps towards winning a game of Dota.
Valve’s initial approach to solving the toxicity problem was to boot them into low priority purgatory, a segmented population with other toxic players who could come back into the fold after a number of games. The policy was a deterrent, like trying to slow people down on the freeway with the threat of a speeding ticket.
One of the issues with low priority was that it punished behavior at the extremes. There was a line that games would just become untenable if one of its 10 players had destructive behavior. But people behaved on a spectrum. Games aren’t ruined just because people are destructive, but because they can be rude, offensive, or passive aggressive with pinging on the minimap. It seemed that players also needed a common sense guide on what to do, in addition to what not to do.
That’s where commends and behavior score came in. It offered a framework for players to offer positive feedback: Friendly, Forgiving, Teaching, and Leadership. Commends don’t have any value except prestige, but they may have an influence on Valve’s recent behavior score system.
Your behavior score can be from Normal to F. Valve has not disclosed how these behavior scores are determined, but anecdotally it seems that reports, abandons, and commends can influence your score. And for a brief period of time, players with high behavior scores were matched with teammates who were new to the game. Valve’s assumption, it seems, was that nicer players, by their metric, would be willing participants to nurse new players into the community.
All of these efforts come as a response to how people act when they play Dota. When your match quality, your gaming experience, is highly dependent on how everyone else acts, can you blame the players or the game? In Fortnite, it seems possible to enjoy sucking at the game, with little investment. After all you’re most likely losing with 99 out of 100 people.
Dota contains 10 people into a universe where small mistakes compound, and the resulting friction between players can create destructive behavior that ruins the experience for everyone else. These issues aren’t unique. In fact they’re quite endemic in multiplayer games.
Dota isn’t going to change. It’s not going to get easier. So, Valve has worked around its game design to improve the experience in a more sustainable way. On one end, they’ve banned toxic players from the community, and on the other end they’ve introduced more tools to help usher in new players.
Because match quality is so dependent on player quality, the hope is that good behavior will beget good behavior. Who knows, it may actually be fun to play Dota, win or lose, if you like the people you’re with.