Dota 2 — valid career path or just extraordinary form of entertainment

Concise game presentation with an emphasis on the eSport scene.


This project was created as a part of Data Scientist Nanodegree at Udacity, for the first project “Write A Data Science Blog Post”. Goal of this project is to present my ability of getting access to data, analyzing it, understanding and visualizing. Code used to gather used data and generate charts is available at my GitHub profile.

Dota 2 — chess of the future

Dota is a game of momentum. In each game, two teams of 5 players try and battle against each other to gain control over the game. Every player controls one unit, and the main objective of the game is to destroy the final enemy building called the “Ancient”. Everything that happens before is an unpredictable duel of will, creativity, strategy, and perseverance.

Dota offers a limitless amount of possibilities. Every time players clash on the same battleground. Each player can pick one of 117 unique heroes in conjunction to 116 others.

Screenshot of in-game hero pick panel.

Heroes wield from 4 to 11 spells, with different refresh times and mana pool costs. They can gain up to 25 levels and each time it happens players can distribute one ability point to unlock or increase the power of a specific spell.. Apart from that, every hero has a backpack which can accommodate up to 6 items that players buy for gold gained during the game. There are 152 various items in Dota. Some of them provide heroes with additional abilities, modify their parameters or change the effects of their spells. It’s up to players how they wish to develop their characters across the game. It also requires constant reading and adjusting to opponent intentions by understanding synergies between their heroes, power spikes, item builds and positioning.

Source:, Dota 2 map with main lanes where players of two separate team — Radiant and Dire clash together with creeps. Dots represent defensive towers.

Dota map has three main routes, called lanes, where players clash. Every 30 seconds, barracks in each base release a small group of CPU controlled units, named creeps, which march towards enemy ancient. Creeps meet in the middle of the lanes and fight. Players need to kill enemy creeps and push their own towards enemy base. Killing creeps allows to obtain gold and experience which is necessary for heroes development. Consequently, players are forced to leave the range of their towers which ensure additional protection.

When the hero dies, it respawns again in team base after penalty time. Heroes can return to base at any time to heal up their health points and mana. Players try to force each other out of the lanes to destroy enemy towers and get as close as possible to the Ancient. Ancient is immortal until at least one lane of towers was cleared.

Inspiration for many

Dota is not only a game where players compete. It’s also playground for companies developing high-end technologies such as AR or AI.


On the 5th of November 2016, OpenAI team decided to select Dota 2 as their project of teaching AI agents how to collaborate as a team and compete against real players. The system was named OpenAI Five.

Almost three years later AI managed to gain another mentionable achievement to its collection:

“OpenAI Five is the first AI to beat the world champions in
an esports game after defeating the reigning Dota 2 world
champions, OG, at the OpenAI Five Finals on April 13, 2019.” — OpenAI Five Official Website

Isn’t it only a fad?

The origins of Dota date back to the year 2003. It was a custom map made with Warcraft 3 map editor, started by Eul, Steve Feak and IceFrog. It was officially released as a standalone game in 2013 by Valve. Despite being old, it is well known as a precursor of MOBA genre and still holding the 1st place as a most played game on Steam and 7th place in the ranking of most played games in the world.

Screenshot of Dota 2 lobby.

Valve is displaying statistics about player activity in game. It is possible to observe that in July 2019, 11,353,861 unique players has logged into the game.

Historical data about currently playing players is also publicly accessible.

Source:, Chart displaying average and peak amount of players which has been logged in game at the same time over past 7 years.

The chart is showing that interest in Dota has reached its peak in the year 2016. Since that moment, regardless of slight activity fluctuations, the game is still alive and in great shape, keeping around 500 thousands of players online at every hour.

Competitive Scene

Dota is a PvP (Player versus Player) type of game. Because of that it’s quite interesting to watch. It’s very similar experience to watching football or basketball.

“During the season I play a decent amount because usually after games on the road, I’m in the hotel, so I get to play every night…I’ll play maybe three times a week…People always ask me why I’m so into Dota and I always say it’s just like basketball. It’s 5-on-5, you have three types of positions … it’s the same thing here. You can tell the higher level you go, it’s all about teamwork, it’s all about guys doing their role.” — Jeremy Lin, Professional NBA Player

Where is a lot of people, there is also a lot of money. Game so extremely popular has a capability of gathering large audience that would gladly see the performance of the best players live. Because of that the professional scene of Dota 2 has been rapidly growing over past years. Amount of leagues where players can sign in as a team and win money has greatly increased and is available to everyone interested via Dota 2 client. The drastic increase in the amount of tournament prizes tempts more and more players to treat Dota as a real career path.

One of the most memorable moments in professional scene of Dota 2 that occurred during world championship — The International 2015 tournament.

Dota 2 was created with eSport in mind. The largest tournament is called “The International” — a world championship that has been organized every year since game release. It is a spectacular show gathering Dota fans from all over the world locally as well as on livestream. It has the highest prize pool of all available tournaments, which is growing every year:

Prize pool of The International tournament across the past 9 years. Bar for year 2019 is still growing.

There are 18 teams participating in the tournament. Places from 1 to 9 receive the monetary prize. First place receives half of the yearly gathered prize pool.

Real time in-game prize pool counter.

Part of the money is sponsored (1,600,000$), yet great majority is funded by players by buying in-game features such as hero skins, skill effects, terrain skins, access to advanced in-game statistics and charts, tickets for watching professional league matches live with chance to receive rewards while doing so and much more.

In 2019, the gathering of money takes 110 days. Current year goal is 30,000,000$ and is almost reached. According to online statistics, average daily prize pool growth equals to 407,013$ per day. As the tournament group stage starts on the 15th of August there are still 23 days left. It means that the final prize can be estimated for 44,771,430$ which would be 19,239,430$ more than in the previous year. This is a tremendous growth.

Professional Player

There is no single proper definition of professional player. The one would say that professional players are those who get contracts to play on teams and are guaranteed an annual salary and benefits, as well as sharing of the team’s revenue and prize winnings. The OpenDota database, provides list of 1,078 professional players.

Dota 2 player distribution according to OpenDota database.

This number is for sure incorrect and can be treated as an approximation. This is due to lack of proper definition and each service might label the data in the different way. Within a group of listed professional players only 415 of them are assigned to complete 5 man team. That would mean that there are only about 83 professional teams. But Liquipedia provides a wider list of teams. It could be explained by the fact that some players are active yet they are still looking for stable roster. Therefore their teams are incomplete and they are unable to tackle larger events that requires top performance. To summarize, professional players are very small group which is approximately 0.00009% of all Dota players.

Is that it?

In real life, a professional might be someone who make for a living by providing some services. As gaming community grows and people’s attitude towards the game is changing, the new forms of activity can be constantly observed:

  • commentary — as an example one professional player, Troels “syndereN” Nielsen, became professional caster on largest Dota 2 events. He is a part of one of most known casting combo in the industry along with TobiWan. Good players are sometimes invited as casters because they have much larger in-depth game knowledge and understanding.
syndereN and TobiWan casting the LGD versus Team Empire series, during The International 5. Source:
  • streaming - nowadays services like provide players with option to live stream their performance. While doing so, they might get paid for amount of subscribers as well as directly from the audience which donates their efforts to teach them the game. Even now, on Twitch, it is possible to spot large amount of Immortal players streaming.
  • coaching sessions - some players, like Henry (highest MMR 6700), provide 1:1 coaching sessions where they look at player replays in real time, do remarks about they play, think together about growth strategy and more.
  • tutorial materials - there are some Dota 2 channels on YouTube where people analyze the replays, comment on recent changes, do interviews with good players or just create study materials e.g. Dota 2 Alchemy Channel or GameLeap Dota 2 Pro Guides.

A Place for the Chosen Ones

By analyzing the difference between the average player and professional player, one could tell why Dota 2 professional scene is such a small group. Players who wish to have their abilities measured and compete on a higher level can choose to play so-called Ranked Mode. By winning matches they can increase their MMR (Match Making Ranking) and consequently be matched with better players in the future.

MMR of Average Player

The distribution of player MMR seems to be symmetric at first glance. It shows that the average player has MMR of value 2930. But it is important to point out that this data comes only from players that allowed their profile to be tracked on steam.

Players that have MMR measured and publicly shared, grouped by bins of size 100. Source: OpenDota database.

Players in the community believe that weaker players tend to hide their MMR score, therefore it is expected for the distribution to be skewed more to the left and therefore average MMR should be a little bit smaller. From the other hand, it is commonly known that high MMR players tend to have few accounts to try out new ideas or relax and do not waste their top score while doing so. Same goes for players who stream — they tend to have accounts dedicated for streaming series on Twitch or YouTube, where they try to show how to climb the ladder to weaker players.

Players that has MMR measured and publicly shared, grouped by skill divisions. Source: OpenDota database.

Apart from just raw numbers, the game assigns players to one of 8 divisions. All divisions can be divided into 7 advance levels. The immortal division is an exception. It is a division for players that reached very high MMR and moved away from the distribution. It is possible to observe that Ancient VII bin has accumulated an inordinately large amount of players in comparison to others.

This is because there are two types of MMR measured:

  • Solo MMR - gained or lost after playing the game in Ranked Solo Match,
  • Team MMR - gained or lost after playing the game, in a group of 2 or higher, in Ranked Team Match.

Player division is based on their highest MMR number. But Valve made a special rule to prevent players from getting boosted into the highest ranks and cripple the game experience. It is impossible to enter Divine division with Team MMR alone and Ancient VII is the limit. Therefore to get to the top, the player has to do it with their skill alone.

MMR of Professional Player

This is how MMR looks like for a group of professional players listed by OpenDota database:

MMR distribution across professional players. Players are divided into two groups.

It is possible to note that the lowest MMR observed starts at value 2500. Values lower than 3800 than could be treated as outliers. It is also important to point that not everyone keeps their profile visible to the public. Some players do not focus on ranked matches as there are other ways to compete even at a higher level. Public games are a different experience than 5-on-5 team matches. To experience those, the team might queue to Captains Mode and lower-income leagues. Also while the highest observed MMR equals to 8300, the highest number appearing on all players MMR distribution chart reaches even value of 10,000. No metric is perfect and solid team is more than a group of skilled individuals. There has to be synergy and coordination. Finally, professional players can be divided into two groups:

  • Those who look for stable roster — their average MMR equals to 6027.
  • Those who currently have a team — their average MMR reaches a value of 6777.

In both cases, the average MMR of professional players is almost double the amount of common Dota 2 player.


Dota 2 is a valid career path only for a small group of specialists with extraordinary skills. As eSport popularity will grow in the future, more space and resources will be created for other people, not necessarily just players but also managers, artists and more.

I hope you liked my article. Note that Dota 2 is much more than that. If I managed to catch your attention and you would like to learn more, I recommend to you this free Dota 2 documentary — “Free To Play” which tells the story how all of this have started



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kamil Krzyk

Kamil Krzyk

📊 🤖 4 years of cumulative ML Engineer experience, programming background ( 💻📱Full Stack Engineer for 4+ years at #Android #iOS teams), 🎓#lifelonglearning