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Is South Africa's Dota 2's "Only Search Ranked" movement capping our skill?

This morning a Facebook post caught my attention about the new “Only Search Ranked” movement which encourages South African Dota 2 players to search for Ranked games on the South African servers. The discussion was whether this new movement could lower the skill level in South Africa if people play Ranked mode. Will it? Probably, but let me try and explain why.

Back in the day (yes I’m that old now), most South African Dota players got their start on either Rogue, Reason or Twilight Dota servers in South Africa. There was quite a large player base, but it was only South Africans who played on these servers. What this created was a bubble of skill which saw little to no growth when compared to our international counterparts.

There were those who played against international teams through third party software such as Hamachi and the likes, but it was nowhere near as accessible as it is today. Much like Dota 2 today, a few teams outshone the rest and this became the only place where these few teams could practice .

Dota did have the In-House League, a league which only allowed some of the better players to compete in, and despite the arrogance of some of the members, it was a major step in starting to improve the skill level in South Africa. Then Dota died and some of the players moved to Heroes of Newerth or League of Legends, awaiting the arrival of Dota 2.

In the early months of Dota 2, only a lucky few were given access to probably one of the most sought after Beta test phases of any game. As more invites became available, South Africans began entering a new age of Dota. Here we had access to European servers where most of us had roughly 180-220 ms ping to the European servers. This was playable, and now we were constantly exposed to a much higher skill group playing in one of the largest gaming communities in the world. Believe it or not, this improved our Dota 2 tenfold and ushered in a new meta of mixed Euro-Afro play style. For a long time, the competition between the top teams was tight, and there was a clear rise in popularity of competitive Dota 2 in South Africa.

Many of these competitive teams in South Africa played primarily on European servers, playing in Amateur leagues, tournaments, and organized scrims against European teams. Again, teams grew as we were now exposed to a competitive meta accompanied by the archives of content we could watch and read regarding Dota 2. Most of this content was available in Dota 1, but now with constant tournaments and live streams our teams had a platform to grow on.

Being forced to initially play solely on European servers was probably the best thing to ever happen to Dota in South Africa.

Eventually, Valve heard our cries and servers were deployed in South Africa. This was great as players could now search locally and match up against each other in public games. Local teams could scrim against each other at lower pings, and online competitions became a lot easier to manage as they were no longer played on European servers. This did wonders for the local competitive scene, but the higher tier of teams and players till preferred to play on European servers.

Public South African games, while still slightly better than Dota 1, were just not the same. Many players brought what they had learned from their tenure in Europe, but as more and more of the general community chose to remain on South African servers, it became clear that we would see this bubble arise once more.

Next came ranked play where players and teams could play in ranked games, being placed in an MMR skill bracket. This, of course, upped the level on play all over the world, but again South Africans chose to play and rank up on Europe as it was perhaps a better show of skill compared to South Africa.

South African ranked was nowhere near as competitive as Europe, and this made the queue times longer, which made South Africans not want to play South African ranked games.

Now that I’ve explained why Europe played a crucial role in our development, allow me to explain why this movement could be damaging – but essentially is irrelevant.

Most players in South Africa struggle to play in Europe. Our ISPs don’t really like it, and thus, we get horrible latency to Europe. This, unfortunately, does leave them searching for South African games, and some even searching Ranked. This is perhaps one of the reasons why this movement could work; forcing a larger portion of the player base to search for more competitive matches, as opposed to mindless pubs. But allow me to elaborate on my two reasons why it won’t really achieve its goals (as stated on the website).

Is it damaging? Not as detrimental as you’d think, but it will create the skill bubble we saw in Dota 1. Pledging to play only ranked with 1600 other people is great, but of these 1600+ people, how many do you think currently play at the highest level in South Africa? How many members of Bravado Gaming, White Rabbit, CarboN or Energy are interested in playing public games when they have teams to practice with and against? Sure, out of the 1600+ players who have pledged to play Ranked in SA, maybe a few hundred are competent players, but again, why are they wasting their time playing ranked when they could be making a team and competing?

Which brings me to my next point. It’s irrelevant. Tournaments are getting bigger, prizes are growing and the competitive community is becoming more saturated with talented individuals. The bad news is we cannot improve the level of Dota 2 in South Africa by pledging to play ranked. We up the skill level by competing. 1647 people pledged to play ranked. Let’s say 500 of those people aren’t currently in a team. That’s an extra 100 teams taking part in our comps. Gamer’s Fest had six teams take part for R67 500. If we’re pledging 1600+ people to play ranked online, and fielding six teams to an event with a large prize pool, what’s the point really?

I’m glad more people are taking Dota 2 seriously but channel your attention correctly instead of trying to be part of some movement.

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