I think it’s fair to say that Valve’s Dota 2 is an intimidating game for new players. There are a lot of choices to be made at every turn - over 100 heroes to pick from, each with their own set of abilities, and lots of different items to purchase to fit a variety of strategies. Plus, it’s a team-based player-vs-player game, so you need to have a good deal of teamwork to be successful.

Thankfully, Dota 2 has gained a number of features that are designed help new users get their feet wet in this deep pool of gaming goodness. I’d like to take a minute here to point out one of my favorite features, Hero Builds. A Hero Build is an in-game, user-contributed strategy of how to build out your hero. And they are awesome.

What is a Hero Build?

So many heroes

A Hero Build is a walkthrough on how to play a particular hero. It doesn’t teach you the basics of the game, but it does suggest what order to level up that particular hero’s abilities in, what items to purchase, and when. Of course, there are lots of different opinions on what strategy to take for a given hero, so there are a ton of different builds out there created by different users.

The best part, is that all of the information is presented in-game. There is a Guide page that you can view outside the game for research, but the important stuff is built right into the UI and presented when you need it.

How does it work?

In-game, there’s a menu option that will list popular Hero Builds for the character that you’re using. Just clicking the build’s checkbox will activate it.

While you don't need to read the build's text, the ability to filter builds by language is a handy option.

While you don’t need to read the build’s text, the ability to filter builds by language is a handy option

Help with abilities

Once activated, the build’s suggestion for what ability to upgrade next will be highlighted in orange, and might even add a little text strategy tip as shown in the “Ability Guide” section below:

I appreciate the advice, even without proper punctuation.

I appreciate the advice, even without proper punctuation

Help in the shop

The other important part of the Hero Build is suggesting items to buy in the shop. The shop in Dota 2 has a lot of tiny icons with no text descriptions. This means it is real easy to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what to spend your hard earned money on. And even if you know what you’re looking for, in the heat of battle it can be difficult to locate in the sea of colorful images.

The Hero Build gives a variety of suggestions for what items would be good to purchase for the hero, and usually, some general idea of what order too. The groups as shown below are customizable, though many do follow a similar format.

shop crop

Not shown: you can also on the fly add your own items to the build, in case you disagree an item or two

Why this is awesome

Getting started with a new hero in Dota 2 is difficult. The game is so deep, it really takes a few plays to get the hang of how a given hero plays. Using a Hero Build is one way to shorten that learning curve. It lets the player focus a little bit more on using their abilities effectively (and by extension, encourages not dying).

Hero Builds are a great example of Help Where You Need It. The game only brings up the build when the player needs to make a decision about what to buy, or there’s an ability to upgrade. The rest of the time, there’s no other detail to distract the player.

It’s the old Don Norman “knowledge in the world vs knowledge in the head” discussion. If you’re reading a paper strategy guide, you’ll need to learn the information, and it will be stored in your head. That’s way harder than interpreting the information that’s displayed in the world (in this case, on the screen).


Dota 2 still is a deep, deep game, with a lot of complex and difficult-to-master strategies. I mean, it’s on the Major League Gaming circuit. So having a Hero Build on-screen isn’t going to vault you to the top of the rankings. But for players new to the sport, being able to have a little “guide to this hero” available at just the right time makes the game a lot more accessible, and I’d argue a lot more fun.

What other games out there have this kind of in-game training? The messages in Dark Souls is one that comes immediately to mind - not exactly the same type of help as Dota 2, but still user-provided. What else is there? Let’s discuss in the comments!