2080 hours. Doing 40 hours in each of the 52 weeks a year, it is roughly the amount of time someone will devote to a full-time job. A job that will at worst hopefully provide enough money to see them through the year, at best provide that but also be on a project they really care about that will hopefully pay off. Maybe they spent a year perfecting a wine bottle with a built in vibrator, who knows. 2080 hours is a lot of time to devote to something is what I’m getting at.
I have put 2274 hours into DOTA 2 in 4 years.
There’s a British comedy radio series called “That Mitchell & Webb Sound” which features a sketch where a 29 year old man dies and goes to heaven. Meeting St Peter at the pearly gates, he is told that in achieving his life’s work, the final result is 7,345 out of a possible 128,312. Confused, he asks for clarification to be told that this is the amount of times he “beat his computer at solitaire”. Miffed at this being seen as his life’s work, the man exasperatedly blurts out that it was just meant to be something to pass the time. St Peter responds with “Well, look on the bright side. It worked!”.
I’m not sure how I came to play so much to be faced with such a stark number, but thanks to the magic of video game stat tracking I can see exactly when I put those hours in.
The bigger the blob, the more games played on that day. If it’s green, it means I won more than I lost, and vice versa for red. Some of those big blobs represent anywhere between 4 to 8 games played. Did I mention, a game of DOTA 2 is most often around 30 minutes to an hour, if not sometimes longer?
I can look at that graph, and though the games are mostly forgotten, by the concentration of blobs I can roughly put together the bad events in my life I was trying to numb myself to at the time. A death here, a girlfriend splitting up with me there, moving back in with my parents as I wasn’t paid for work at that bit.
In December 2015, my then girlfriend’s dad was very suddenly diagnosed with cancer. The bubbles get bigger as I don’t know how to help. The biggest red blob in January 2016, where I played 10 games in one day, is the day he died in the morning. I don’t remember doing that. Maybe it helped me cope with being powerless and seeing a person I loved in so much distress after such a life-shattering event.
My times in DOTA weren’t always lonely. Having moved to a town by myself whilst young, then moving back to my parents in the isolated countryside, I made all sorts of good friends whilst playing. Some who I’d never even get to meet in real life, were relaxing evening companions after a day working and saving my money rather than going out. These were odd-working, busy but isolated men and women from all around Europe. I could ask all the questions I wanted about Norwegian and Danish culture one evening, then another be taken through life as an atheist in Egypt. All whilst clicking little magic spells at icons and watching colourful explosions.
In the world of online gaming, the day someone stops showing up you don’t quite notice it at first, then a month down the line you might wonder what happened to that person. You could miss talking, but if they don’t come online again all you often have to go by is a first name and a gamer tag. Suddenly this year, all those fun friends I played with just stopped showing up online. Or they’d be playing new games, that weren’t really my jam.
It’s strange online when this happens. You don’t stop becoming friends with that person, yet it’s sort of like going to a pub when The Football is on and you don’t watch The Football, but all your friends there really want to watch The Football. There’s some conversation, sure, mostly though it’s hard to engage with people when the rest of them are talking and focusing on an experience you can’t see. When this happens during all the time you’d normally be hanging out together, you find that instead you’re the one who stops turning up.
I never stopped liking DOTA, weirdly. I’ve had friends before who’ve found that it was a very toxic influence on their life, it made them destabilisingly angry or upset when they shouldn’t be and had to kick it. This year I started playing solo, and the weird zen-like concentration of focusing on the game not as a social tool but as a mechanically rewarding one helped me keep calm. Yet, though seeing my win percentage for the month rocket up to 70%, I felt there was some key part of me that had outgrown it.
DOTA 2 is a game, but it feels like a separate hobby. I could have described my interests as “I game, and also play DOTA 2”. There are over a hundred mechanically diverse and challenging heroes to master, that all combo in unique ways with the others on your team. It could be over a hundred hours till you’ve even played one game as each of them. The meta-game psychology and efficiency can change from patch to patch, keeping up with such things rewards you with hard-fought victory. I’ve studied and honed my mind, instincts and knowledge down to be able to recognise situations and react as best I can within a second whilst playing.
Yet, none of this knowledge is transferable. Like any good hobby I suppose. But when I could’ve learnt to program, found out and really taught myself how to be a better video editor, I instead invested enough time for a second job into a game that by its nature will probably render my knowledge of it obsolete in 6 months or less. It’s a bit painful to think of that wasted time, but as I’ve come to write this post I don’t think it was truly wasted. The experiences might not be universally understood when I come to talk to others, but the calmness, fun memories and people I met during my time with DOTA 2 are worth something to who I am as a person going forth.
This month, November 5th 2016, I decided to stop playing. No big ceremony, no bad rage inducing game, just a calm decision made in strength even though I liked it still.
Three days later my girlfriend left me. That’s not really related, I just thought it was an good red herring to grab your attention and lead you into the conclusion.
I don’t think I’ll ever boot up DOTA 2 now, apart from maybe a one-off nostalgia with old gaming friends. But you don’t tend to take up fly fishing at a time when you need to be working on yourself, your career and socialising in a city. I feel pretty decent at DOTA 2 now, and know I could even master it to a degree, but that’s a crazy time investment that only a teenager/student can afford to do really and expect to see a career in esports as the payoff. It’s best for me to walk away now, with my happiness in the game high, and take that confidence of knowing the steps to mastery into the more positive things demanded of me in life. GG Dota, you were well played.