I Can’t Escape Anti-Mage

Six hours is enough time for me to complete entire games in my backlog. I need to start a second playthrough as a different character in Dragon Age: Inquisition- I need to see how much your choice of race and gender affects how you are treated for an article. I’m curious about the Guilty Gear Xrd demo, and there’s a copy of Disgaea 4: A Promise Revisited sitting next to me as I write this, still wrapped in plastic. And yet I’ve spent six hours trying and failing to get a win with the hero Anti-Mage in Dota 2.

As my friends and acquaintances know, that number is really a drop in the bucket compared to my overall Dota playtime. I am currently up to 356 hours, though I’m sure by the time I publish this that number will have risen even higher. I could grieve over all the missed opportunities, but I don’t regret that number. The more I play Dota, the more it gives to me- there is so much to learn, to do and see and try, and every time I play, little by little, I improve. That feeling is unbelievably compelling, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

But Anti-Mage… in the time we’ve spent together, my emotions have been a rollercoaster. I’ve gone from annoyed, to resolved, to miserable, to intrigued, back to annoyed again. Anti-Mage is all about the fundamentals- his abilities, while useful, are all very straightforward and no-frills. Essentially, his game plan is to spend the first half hour of every match getting enough gold and experience to buy powerful items. At this point, he changes from a non-factor to an extremely powerful fighter, and he simply starts brawl after brawl until you’ve rolled over the enemy base and your team has won.

Screenshot 2014-11-25 01.52.25

It’s tricky, because for that first half hour, your team is essentially short a player. Before Anti-Mage has the gear and levels he needs, he simply isn’t much of a threat- and if he tries to get in fights, he will at best waste time he could be spending getting stronger, and at worst get killed because he’s not very effective early on. Anti-Mage’s team needs airtight coordination to hold off the enemy until the sorceror slayer becomes a threat. Pro teams buy as much time as possible so that AM can get decked out in deadly gear, and then win the game for them.

As you might imagine, in a matchmade game with random players- some of whom don’t even speak your language- the kind of coordination necessary to survive while Anti-Mage gears up is pretty hard to come by. Some players don’t know how Anti-Mage works, and get upset when you aren’t helping in fights. Others know too well how he works. In one game, I was the only member of our team with more kills than deaths. As the enemy was pounding away at the walls of our base we were huddled at our spawn wondering what to do. “It’s okay,” said a Slark (an infamously hard-to-pin-down assassin character) with two kills and ten deaths. “We just need to get Anti-Mage a little farm and he’ll win this for us.” It was nice that he thought I was good, but the game was  over.

I’ve been doing the All Hero Challenge, which requires that you win one matchmade game with each hero in a randomized order. Out of 109 heroes in the game, I’ve completed 24, and it’s been an extremely rewarding experience. I’ve tried characters I maybe never would have otherwise, learned a ton, and had a great deal of fun. My average number of games before I get a win with a specific character is 1.5- that is, it often only takes me one try. With Anti-Mage, I’m at ten attempts and counting. I can’t continue in the challenge until I win with him, and it is starting to feel like that will never happen.

Is it me? Am I the problem? I don’t think I am, because the score from each game suggests that I’m more than pulling my weight, even without considering my early game limitations. Can people at my skill level simply not work with an Anti-Mage? That seems absurd, but the situation I find myself in makes me ask questions that I cannot find any answers to. I suppose I’ll just have to search for the truth… with Anti-Mage at my side. I love him, I hate him, and I cannot escape him.