7.07 brought in a small burst of players, but the situation is still dire. Compared to two years ago, the EU West server has 50% less games played daily.
In September, I published an article on the shrinking Dota 2 playerbase. Despite all the renovations that took place in the past two years, the game continued losing players.
There are four main issues that in my opinion caused this negative trend:
Dota isn’t friendly to newcomers and requires lots of efforts to master it.
Matches are too long - not everyone has 40 or more minutes free for a game.
The gameplay is essentially balanced for a competitive environment. Stress is a constant concern when queuing for a pub game.
The majority of players are waiting for the new patch.
In particular, I believed that the fourth point was the main obstacle, and that many veterans would be back with the release of 7.07.
Two weeks ago the Dueling Fate update made it to the live client. Actually, the figures briefly bumped up, but as you can see from the data below, the situation remained pretty much the same.
The main themes of 7.07
I can confirm that IceFrog has done his job. Overall, the patch has two significant themes:
Mechanics are reworked and often simplified to help newcomers. For example, every player now gets a free teleport scroll at the start of the match - with this simple addition new players will soon find out how useful they are.
Cool and fresh talents. Even if the new talents revolutionized the perfect balance of 7.06, they also introduced a renewed gameplay with many amazing effects in the late game. Gamers love them almost as much as hats!
Turbo Mode is another important step that shows how Valve is trying to appeal to casual players as well. They realized that not everyone has the time for an entire Dota 2 game, so now are offering the whole fighting experience while reducing the chores.
Still, the playerbase only marginally increased in the past weeks. I hope the situation will improve further in the next months, but the first results aren’t promising.
Source 2 has not affected the game population
Players complain that the Source 2 engine ruined the performance on many old PCs, which led to a decrease of the playerbase. This is a myth that we will now collapse with some data.
In the next table are highlighted the number of matches (all game modes) played daily in Europe, US, Russia, and SEA from January 2014 to now.
You can find all the data on dota.rgp.io - thank you for the wonderful statistics! - but let’s have a quick look at the trends. I have manually checked multiple intervals of time for each region and calculated a very rough average, which will give us an idea of the differences.
EU West - About a 50% loss. During 2014-2015 there were around 200k games played every day. The decline in this region hit the game from the end of 2015, and now we have an average of 80-100k.
EU East - No sensible changes. Pretty much always around 40-50k games.
Russia - No noticeable changes. About 250k daily in 2014-2015, below 200k in 2016, but in 2017 the number of games increased again. Prior the new patch there was a small decline, but now the server averages at 240-260k games daily.
US - 30-40% loss. Around 100k in 2014-2015, 60k prior the new patch. They have increased by 10k in the past two weeks. 30-40% loss.
SEA - even more games! 230k to 280k in 2014, more than 300k in 2015, 350k+ in 2016. The situation didn’t fluctuate with the release of Dota 2 Reborn, and the server continued having 350k and even 400k matches daily. The numbers went down to 300k before the new patch, but now are back to 330-370k.
The data proves that SEA, Russia, and EU East maintained a stable number of games since 2014 - SEA even improved over time. Instead, EU West and US greatly declined.
Those who say that the new graphic engine - Source 2 - killed the game are wrong, as the wealthier countries are those that lost players. Indeed, the richest regions have the money to buy and try more graphic demanding games.
The potential audience of Dota
On a side note, I don’t think Dota will die anytime soon, and I firmly believe that our competitive scene will keep attracting new players.
The pure truth is that Dota is an old game with a pretty steep difficulty curve. We can transform the mechanics and make them more friendly, or revamp all the skills and talents, but we can't alter either the age or the potential audience of the game.
Another Valve’s title, Counter-Strike, is aging better and even scoring new viewership records at each Major. The genre is different: we are talking about an FPS. Honestly, many players don't know how that tactical game should really be played, but you can just load the map, choose your weapon, and have fun.
Changes can push away old players
I will share my personal experience with you all. I have different friends that stopped playing when the talents were introduced. They confirmed that Dota was more enjoyable than ever, but they simply didn’t have the time or the will to learn all the modifications and adapt their gameplay.
Indeed, the adjustments implemented in the past years are crucial for the future of the game. But, the old playerbase is aging. The young boys that played Dota are now finishing their studies or working full-time, and some of them preferred "easier" games for their weekends.
Most of them are now playing Overwatch and PUBG. Yep, the genre is completely different, but those games don't require many efforts to learn the basics.
Lack of objectives and quests
Almost all games nowadays have some sort of grinding mechanic. Many players want quests or objectives to accomplish in order to earn levels and points, usually traded for a reward (skins).
I play Overwatch, and for those that don’t know how the game works, you get a free treasure chest every time you level up. In the past, also Dota had a similar feature, but now one can just randomly - and rarely - find pieces of gear at the end of a match.
We need the same incentives and features brought in by the Battle Pass, but they must be active all year long and free to all players.
Everyone will agree that you feel compelled to play when there is a quest or a daily mission to fill in which can unlock new skins and sets.
Dota must not only attract new players, but also retain them.
The video below explains how levels can be used as a trap by game designers to increase our playtime.
The seasonal ranked system is introducing the objectives we needed
In a few days Valve will release the new ranked system. We will have a seasonal MMR that resets every six months, and everyone will earn badges and medals during each season. This is a great incentive as many will play more just to obtain a determinate rank and their status prize.
For more info, read my opinion piece on the pro of the new seasonal ranked system.
Lack of advertising isn’t an issue
Once again I am referring to the opinions on the usual social media and forums. Many think that new players will never get to know the game because Valve isn’t properly advertising it.
IMO, nowadays practically anyone knows what is a MOBA and what is Dota 2. We have prize pools that beat any record every year, and the game already receives lots of advertising thanks to its outstanding esports qualities.
Valve could exploit their own platform, Steam, to advertise it even more, but this isn’t the deal breaker that will revert the actual trend.
No active social system
Reddit user RightWatchThis shared an interesting opinion about the lack of a social system in Dota.
Automatic region lock feature
Team Secret's Director of Operations, Matthew "Cyborgmatt" Bailey, pointed out that in February 2017 Valve introduced an automatic region lock feature to arrange the traffic among the servers.
In the table below, you can have a look at the matches played daily in EU West, EU East, and Russia from October 2016 to now. As you can see, there are no noticeable variations prior and before the region lock.
There is a weird fluctuation in February and March, but probably the system was still being refined.