Dota 2 is a complex game, but a lot of people play it on autopilot, retain old habits and never ask, “Why am I doing this?” Matchmaking allows gaining MMR even this way because players, on average, fight opponents of their level and get better with experience. But if you want to grow faster and get a deeper understanding of the game, you need to play it more consciously. It takes asking several questions during each match.
What is our goal and what am I going to do for now?
Heroes have strengths and weaknesses, as well as goals. They change depending on opponents, allies, the outcome of the early game and the situation on the map.
This means you need to remember the team’s goal and how exactly can you contribute to it. This information makes you choose where to farm, which lane to push, where to put wards and whether you should get involved in a random fight. If your team wants to push top, you first need to kill creeps in other lanes to retain the two towers while you are destroying one. And if you want to do Roshan, you first have to set up wards or bait enemies by attacking on the other side of the map.
One also has to think about goals because most heroes do not have a universal build path. It has to fit your actions for the time being. If you want to fight a lot and pressure the enemy, you're unlikely to build Battle Fury. Other items fit this aggressive style much better.
What is the enemy’s goal?
This requires as much thinking as your goal. Enemies also want to destroy a tower, gank the carry and get Roshan. If you understand their current goal, you may figure out where they will place wards, which lanes they will push and just where they will go. We can just interfere with their plans or punish for them: kill supports with wards, pick pushing enemies off and bait the opposition into attacking your carry.
There are two question to determine goals: who is stronger now and who profits more from farm.
The enemy’s goals are extremely important at the beginning, when your carry chooses a place to farm. It is for this reason that the safe lane and team’s jungle are considered to be the most dangerous places for your carry — opponents will be trying to gank him and spoil the game. Besides, destroying the safelane tower opens up your jungle. It is a considerable advantage when it comes to map control. In pro play, carries often join their team in the offlane to gank the opposition.
There are two question to determine goals: who is stronger now and who profits more from farm. Early game means a lot. If you don’t use advantage and let enemies do what they want, you may lose.
In order to avoid such loss, you need to understand matchups. Let’s imagine you are Phantom Lancer who has had a great early game. Why would you stay in the safe lane, which soon will be crowded with opponents, when you can just go to the offlane, kick Lifestealer from there and break his tower?
How can they kill me?
You have to ask this question all the time and remember that the answer changes with the situation. It makes you understand what to do on the map and think how the situation shifts with changes in the enemy lineup.
Let’s imagine your team won a fight by an enemy tower and have less than 1/3rd on your HP bars. You do not have to rush to your fountain: health does not matter now that the enemies are dead. You need to assess the situation and see if you can destroy a tower or at least deal a significant amount of damage, whether opponents can chase us when they are back and if there’s a lane pushing towards our base. It’s only then that you decide whether you hit buildings or retreat.
Another example: You're playing Juggernaut, and only Pudge’s ultimate can interrupt your teleport during Blade Fury. You are safe before enemies get a lot of physical damage. As long as Pudge is in other lane or visible around wards, you may farm the most dangerous spots and push any lane without him — within reasonable limits, of course. Not just “may”, actually: you must play this way, otherwise you're wasting your hero’s potential.
Where is the most dangerous farm? Can I afford it?
As a core, especially with high mobility, it’s important to choose the most dangerous places to earn gold — the scarier, the better. There’s a limited amount of creeps on the map, and allies often cannot afford to take the risk. But if you do, you increase your team’s total gold and even decrease the enemy’s stock when it comes to jungle. You need to be efficient with available resources.
Farming creeps in your jungle is safe but also useless to your team. Killing enemy neutrals is dangerous and useful. If carry or mid players are clearing enemy camps, the opposition is losing farm and remaining allies can get gold for key items in less dangerous places. Putting a ward significantly reduces the threat of a gank.
The thing I would say to you all to improve the most is play Dota without hitting a single neutral. Never, never ever hit a single neutral camp. And it’s not correct, but it’s more correct than playing Dota and hitting as many neutrals as everyone does. And playing Dota with no neutrals will force to think about making moves, and where do I wanna be on the map, and what do we need to do, because you just gonna have all this downtime to think while you are not brainlessly hitting neutrals next to your own tier3 when you are ahead. You have to think about playing, you know, playing up, and thinking about moves, and playing aggressively, and killing waves aggressively, and posturing yourself, you know. You take their mid tower, and you don’t go and you hit this camp, you go and you push this wave in here, and you hit this camp, you hit this camp, or you hit this camp with your team, with your four. And then you run here, and you run here. These kind of things, they will force you to think.
It is dangerous to farm by an enemy tower when there are only two enemies on the map, but this position gives you the biggest amount of information and makes opponents react. Danger level is based on heroes and their farm, and sometimes you can escape even a situation like this.
It goes without saying that a carry sometimes has no choice but to farm his jungle. For example, he had a bad start or enemy heroes are extremely good against him. And it’s why you need to think how opponents can kill me: in cases like this it is on other players to create space.
What is going on in lane?
Creep balance in the safe lane is a delicate matter. It affects a lot of things and it is easy to screw up. Firstly, it dictates your team's level of aggression. It’s worth to be aggressive only if the lane is going towards your base. Otherwise, attacking the offlaner will make things worse. Even if he dies, the creep wave will still go under his tower. You can spoil everything by just harassing the opponent if the ranged creep switches to your support. This is why you need to pick reasonable moments for an aggressive play and not just think that you need to kick opponent from the lane.
Pulls are a good tool to fix creep balance and make the enemy offlaner starve. However, if your carry struggles to last hit under the tower and cannot tank the wave outside tower range, then your pull may screw up the lane. It’s also a bad idea to pull a wave with a siege creep: sometimes it is the only tool to damage enemy tower.
Is it worth to use TP scroll?
Players often do not think much about Town Portal scrolls. They learned how to use them in the tutorial: die, respawn and teleport back to lane. But it is a very valuable resource.
In the early game, the way supports react to ganks means a lot. One TP may turn a gank upside down, especially if opponents are diving. It means that it’s not always worth it to teleport after dying in lane. Yes, you lose 30 seconds by walking back, but you’re also ready to respond to other threats.
The decision depends on how much your carry needs help. It’s pretty clear that if a support died to a couple of strong enemies pressuring the safe lane, it’s not worth for him to keep the scroll. If it was a one-for-one trade and creeps are in a favorable position, then it’s better to return on foot.
Teleporting becomes more important to carry after the early game, if he’s better at pushing than other allies. Don’t teleport from base just to reach farm sooner, because it ties you to a certain zone. Enemies often receive enough information to be proactive: you cannot join a team fight, protect a tower, contest Roshan and fight in the base, because you have used TP to farm. It’s better to walk on foot and lose gold than miss out on an opportunity to respond.
It is the same even for heroes who are good at splitting. Their TP is going to be on cooldown which makes it harder to survive a gank: for example, Blade Fury into Town Portal Scroll is not an option anymore.
What is going to happen in a team fight?
Team fights in Dota may get very chaotic, and you need to have some idea about the scenario to understand them. How is it going to start? Who has the better initiation tools? Is there any counter-initiation? Who is the key hero on the enemy team? Who are opponents going to kill first? Answers help you choose the correct items.
Imagine you're playing a ranged carry like Luna and there’s Clockwerk on the enemy team. Team fighting without Force Staff or at least Black King Bar may be extremely dangerous, especially if opponents do not have other heroes to focus. As long as Clockwerk is alive or has his spells available, it’s a bad idea to use Force Staff offensively: you become much more likely to die.
Dota is a complex game, and one can’t think about everything at once. It’s better to break down the elements by one: focus on goals for 10 matches, have another set of 10 matches with TPs in mind and so on. The questions are difficult, and it’s hard to answer them during the game. That’s why one has to make assumptions based on available information. Mistakes will happen because players do not have all the necessary data available; it’s easy to lose the game after one miscalculation. But you should pay attention to the whole picture and not just one result: there’s no other way to prove a hypothesis without further attempts. If you don’t take risks, nothing is going to work.