Why Dota 2′s Immortal Treasures left me disappointed

Dota 2 is my most-played game ever. I have poured more than a thousand hours into it, made some great friends and I like spending snippets of whatever grownups call pocket money on little wizard hats and capes.

When the magical digital wizard booklet known as the Compendium was announced for 2014 I picked one up as soon as possible. A quarter of the proceeds go to The International 4 prize fund with the rest going to Valve. I like the idea of contributing to a tournament I enjoy and to players from whom I have learned a lot. Similarly, Valve’s input is cool. Reaching stretch goals means the team create items, a new game mode, different types of customisation – some of the rewards will benefit all Dota 2 players, even those who didn’t pick up a Compendium.

Today was the day for delivering the Immortal Treasures.

Last year’s Compendium Immortals were problematic because there was a clear disparity in terms of their value. Some were for popular heroes and had supercool animations, some were for less popular heroes and didn’t really deliver on the animations front either. As Chris puts it on Three Lane Highway, it was possible to feel like you’d lost.

This year is far better in that respect – the items are cool, the chest system has been changed so that with multiple chests you’re not risking doubling up on an item you’ve already received and there’s a chance for earning some ace rares. Indeed, I haven’t spoken to anyone who’s been disappointed. Except for me.

“Once the Immortal Treasure stretch goal is reached, you’ll receive an extra Immortal Treasure every 10 levels. Each time you open a treasure, you will find a different item, with a chance to get an exceptionally rare item.”

That’s the way this year’s Immortals work.

I’ve bought my Compendium and been enjoying leveling it up naturally, playing games and completing the tasks the booklet sets in order to gain points. I’m at level 7 at the moment and thus was entitled to one Immortal Treasure box. I opened it while on voice chat with friends as we queued for a game. “What did you get?!” was the question everyone was asking one another. I got a tail for Puck. It’s a lovely item but the character just isn’t one I play. Instantly I started thinking about the people I play with who pick Puck often and who I could gift it to.

I love that aspect of Dota – giving someone an unexpected present just because you know they love playing that hero. It’s a really nice feeling. In fact when I was waiting for the chest to open I was running through which items I’d love and keep and strut up and down the lanes with for months and months and which ones would be heading to other people’s armories for them to do the same.

But everyone else who was excited about the Immortals had received multiple drops. I realised I was the only person there who hadn’t spent extra money leveling up by buying extra points and, as the conversations continue, was acutely aware of how many cool items I was missing out on by not spending money. This is the first time I’ve felt that by not spending money I was having a less enjoyable experience than other people in Dota 2.

By spending the cost of another Compendium you can gain 24 levels on your current Compendium. That does things like affecting the rate at which you earn levels and items for your Dota profile. But what it also does is earn you at least two extra Immortal Treasure drops. Three in my case as I’m already on level 7. I guess looking at it like that made me feel silly for watching my level grow through meeting the booklet’s challenges and things. Like, I was doing it wrong and missing out by not just dropping another six quid into the pot.

I still have the Puck tail too. Like I said before, I was going to give it to someone I know who plays the character a lot. Thing is, he’s spent roughly three times more than I have on the Compendium – nudging towards the £20 mark – and so when I asked what he’d got in his Immortal drops the answer was “everything”.

The Dota 2 treasure system has improved so much since last year, it really has. But the feeling of missing out because I simply hadn’t spent enough money is not one I’ve associated with Dota 2 at all. Having it flash up during a moment I was excited about was unexpected and unpleasant, and then again when I was trying to decide what to do with the item. I want the cool items but they now they feel more like a set of toys you buy outright rather than having an element of reward or socialising to them. I could still spend the extra money – I’d prefer that to using the marketplace, I think – it’s just that I no longer feel good about it.

Why Dota 2 Is Navy Blue

A hallmark of depression is an ongoing attempt to fade out. That’s what it’s like for me anyway. The signal connecting me to the rest of the world sputters and struggles. Conversations turn to static, the future is a station I don’t have the right antenna for, everywhere there are blanks and so I start reciprocating and blanking myself out too.

There used to be a lot of navy blue in my wardrobe at these junctures. Not a rich, dark navy but the powdery one that comes from too many washes and wears. It’s a colour which, already faded, is rendered near-invisible by the ubiquity of denim in our clothes-scape. Wear an oversized navy sweater and jeans and you can slip out of view.

Last year was rough in terms of depression. It’s been part of my life for seventeen years and there’s an ebb and flow to it. That’s not to suggest it has any kind of tidal regularity which would be useful in predicting or dealing with it, though. Sometimes it creeps towards you, giving you time to pack up your things and move elsewhere, mentally. Sometimes it rushes in with alarming speed and threatens to wash you away.

I actually try not to wear that powdery overwashed shade of navy because I know why I do it and I’m trying to reverse cause and effect. It’s bizarrely important to me that my hoodie is now a mossy green, for example. But there are other manifestations of navy blue I hadn’t expected. Last year one of them was a videogame; Dota 2.

Playing as part of a team of five people is a social experience, simply by virtue of other people being there. There’s basic co-operation needed to fight the other team, in-game chat options and, if you play with friends, voices on the end of a Skype call. It’s very easy to sit and listen as you click around the map, to fade out but convince yourself you’ve somehow succeeded in being with other people for a while, that you’re maybe dealing with depression better this time because TEAMWORK!

It took far longer than it should have to realise what was really happening because, if I’m honest, I would still love there to be a way out of this disease. I wanted playing Dota to be the answer because I still want there to be an answer. Any answer. That feeling will probably never go away.

I realised that Dota had become my new navy blue when I realised I was no longer learning anything and hadn’t in months. I have a broad understanding of the game, where to stand, who to aim at, but it ended up stagnating. Each game was another wash and wear. Gradually my Dota playing faded to a powdery navy. Out of date, comfortable, safe, anonymous.

I’ve had to do the same thing as with my actual clothes, attempting to invert cause and effect. It’s harder to do with a mindset, though. Part of dealing with it has been following the professional eSports scene. Paying attention to newness and innovation, keeping up with patches, finding ways to play actively rather than passively.

In games, it’s easier with strangers, like how going to a party where you know no-one and can reinvent yourself is sometimes easier than an evening where you know one or two people and realise you’ve been cycling through the same old topics of conversation while picking at nachos for two hours. With friends the effort has to be redoubled because everyone forms habits, some in response to your own. Shifting all of that by a few degrees of action and aggression will take a while, I think.

There isn’t really an ending to this story because I’m hoping that it actually represents a beginning. After a while keeping particular shades of blue from my wardrobe became something I did automatically. I hope that doing the same for a videogame mindset will see it become second nature too. So far the results, or at least the differences, have been positive and I think I have a lot to gain in pursuing the idea.