How Pro Dota Players Think

I started from being an ultra noob player and stayed the same for almost 2 years.  It changed after I started watching Pro DotA players play.  The first pro team I watched was our local ph team, Flow.  I questioned a lot!  Why chen?  Why test of faith? How do the carries farm around 1400 in 5 minutes?  What time did they start pushing?  I was so curious on everything!  It was after watching pro dota player's game when I, with my own team, started dominating in DotA scene.  Then, I started watching international replays.  MYM and Virtus.Pro made me realize that there are other strategies than Chen Sven QOP Lich Bristleback and other team flow heroes.  I tried to dig into each player's minds.  I was so curious what they are thinking about before and during the game.  I know the only way to improve my skills dramatically is to change my understanding of Dota and have a Pro-like mindset.  I studied every game I watched analyzing how they think.  Here I am to make you skip that hard work I've done and unleash the mindset they have that I discovered.

Here are the things I discovered that the pro players ask in their minds

Before the Game:

Which team are we going to fight with?

This is a very basic question but I realized that pro players take advantage of knowing their opponents.  They analyze opponent's previous strategies and predict what would their their heroes be in their encounter.  Lately, Kuroky said in his interview: "Well, Puppey and I try to create new strats to surprise our opponents for a match. Mostly we think about different styles, patches and heroes etc. For example, against LGD, I watched their last 20 replays to predict their picks and style, and I actually had a 100% accurate prediction on their bans, and 80% on their picks, and I guessed their lanes again 100% right."

What strategy are we going to use?

I've mentioned 4 types of hero picking in my Captains Mode: Hero Picking Guide article.  Pro players can either rely on a strong strategy they have or counter pick their opponents.  In most cases, it is a combination of having their own strategy and countering opponent's pick but they are mostly different.  They don't want to be predictable.

Do we have enough strategies?

In tournaments, pro players are always prepared with at least 3 strategies.  The first one should be enough to pawn everyone, the second would be an alternative in cases the first strategy is countered or the opponents simply ban the key heroes of that line up.  The 3rd one would be for finals.  It would often be best of 3 or something making you need another strategy.  Having more teams in a tournament requires you to be equipped with more strategies.

Early Game:

What are my Advantages/Disadvantages?

This is the first question pro players ask themselves in games.  This is why they buy items like more branches if they are low hp, they buy more clarity for mana dependent hero, buy more flask if his hero is prone to harassment.  This is also why they change play styles in different types of hero.  If they are using early painful heroes, they tend to play aggressive and ensure that opponents wont be farming more gold.  When they are using heroes like spectre, their focus would be on how to get more creeps but they still mind supports when they initiate.

What are my opponent's strengths and weaknesses?

The best Dota players in the world detect opponents strengths and weaknesses quickly that they control most of their games they play.  May it be individual hero, team combo or player's gaming nature, pro players are aware of them.

How to win my lane?

These pro players have great desire to win their lanes that's why they would usually counter opponents hero from the hero picking phase.  Once they're on their lanes, they wont allow opponents to have a free lane.  They would usually disturb opponents with their goals which for now is also to win their lanes and to farm.

Should I stay or should I roam?

Choosing when to gank and when to stick to lane is very crucial for serious games.  From my observations experienced players tend to dominate their own lanes first before roaming to dominate other lanes.  Sometimes, when it is impossible to dominate a lane because of poor pick, they tend to roam early to make sure they win other lanes.  Sometimes, players focus on one lane, making it impossible for the opponent's hardcore carry to farm.  Other questions that come up after this are these:  Do other lanes need help?  Do they have wards?  Do we have the potential to destroy opponent's trilane combo?  Who should initiate?  Who goes next?  These are questions you should consider too to take your game to higher level.

Mid Game:

Where are my opponents?

Pro players ask this question to be able to know where they should go.  If they think that the opponents might be hiding nearby for ganks, they would either play passively or ask for assistance to take advantage of the opponents wanting to gank by killing them instead.  They also want to know where are their opponents to be able to gank them at this stage.  Pro players never want to give any gold to their opponents.  They try to limit their free farm place as few as possible.  They also ask this question to answer the following question: to push or not to push?

Push or Not?

Pro teams want to destroy opponent's tower as fast as possible to gain gold and map advantage but they still ask this question to make sure they wont get in trouble.  If their opponents have early advantage, more likely they wont push and fight 5v6.. yup.  5 enemy heroes + 1 enemy tower. If they happen to take down a key hero for the opponent, they would often decide to push.

What's his next move?

In a fight, great players would often predict opponent's next move and act according to their judgments.  You saw how pro players dodge skills perfectly in their dota videos.  Their goal is not to make a dota video.  Their goal is to evade most of the opponent's skills as much as possible to make them harder to be killed.

How should I react?

They think of situations right before it happens.  They judge the heroes combo.  What if they are caught, what would be their means of survival?  What would they do if a team mate is disabled and focused fire at?  What would they do if a shadow fiend with haste suddenly appear behind them?  What would they do if they are silenced?  Preparation is always better than impromptu.

Is it a bait?

They would always think whether to attack a lone hero or not.  They know that they can be wiped out in no time if that hero happened to be a bait.  Sometimes, I saw them attack a bait if they have a follow up plan to attack the entire team, like when they are having a hungry Earthshaker waiting for them to pile up.

Which hero should we take down first?

Plans before clash always have this question present.  Who to kill first?  They would normally go for the key heroes that are easy to take down.  They never plan on taking down a Bristleback first.  They may attack a high hp hero if he is offering a free hit or to deceive the opponents making them think that they are going for that hero but when they finally showed up, a change target will happen.

Where should I position?

I believe that success in Dota is all about positioning.  Pro players would always want to be in places they should be.  It's like a chess game.  Your key hero is your Queen.  You shouldn't trade that for any lower rank army.  Your tanks are your pawns.  They should serve the defense and they should make it easy for the team to attack.  Supports are your bishops and horse.  They should be able to attack as well as to trap opponents.  Other carries are your rooks.  They should be in perfect place to aid the key hero in getting kills or have the kill by themselves.

Late Game:

Do we have the upper hand?

Late game is decided by early game.  If your early game is not that good most probably you are in a level and item gap against your opponents.  They ask this question to know if they can play offensive or should they play defensive game.

Can I pressure lanes?

There are heroes that have escape mechanisms that can pressure lanes making it harder for opponents to push but they still consider if they can survive if opponents start to attack.  What if opponents have Kunkka?  It would be one X-mark away to win the game, specially if that hero cannot buy back.

How can we end the game?

Ending the game is easy if you defeat your opponents badly in items and level.  You can just go directly to their frozen throne after stepping on them.  But, if the game is a close match, it's not that easy.  Sometimes pro players tend to push all lanes to avoid AOE nukes and to pressure the opponent.  Sometimes, they hunt first.  There are tons of different endings in a Dota game and mostly it is dramatic that's why Dota is such a fun game.

Play Dota for fun...  and part of the fun is using your brains.  You may not be pro players but you can also ask these questions while playing.  You'd see big changes in your games if you won't be lazy to analyze things and the only way is to ask.  I'll leave you with this simple message for you to internalize.  "Live Curious."
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