Turn rate is often a controversial topic, especially among the players who came to Dota from a different game. It is described as “clunky”, taking away from the enjoyment of the game for a relatively numerous group of people. What is often overlooked is how turn rate mechanics serve as a foundation for many other game concept and intricate interactions. This blog post aims at highlighting the importance of turn rate for Dota balance and explaining why Dota simply wouldn’t work without it.
Regardless of what some Youtubers might think, Dota is a beautiful game. Unlike many of its competitors, it is also the least confusing when it comes to cosmetic items, with general shapes and sizes of the heroes remaining the same, even with the craziest sets.
Turn rate further facilitates the look and feel of the game — characters in Dota move quite realistically, with some time spent when making 180° turns. In the Dota 1 to Dota 2 transition, the animations of said turns have also been greatly improved, making for a very visually appealing game, especially when in motion.
Gameplay-wise, having characters take time to turn also telegraphs their intentions, albeit briefly. While it might be irrelevant for the majority of players, professional Dota athletes and high-MMR hardcore gamers often derive a great deal of information from the way their opponent moves and can react accordingly much earlier. Dota is a fast-paced game, but it is fair and in most situations it allows the players to counter-play, courtesy of turn rates.
Importance of positioning
Turning is a time investment and as such, it can be exploited to get an edge over the opponent. When looking at professional matches or even high-level pubs, it often seems that the players are moving chaotically for the sake of moving, but it is not the case. The way you are positioned, not only in terms of the actual place you occupy, but also where you are looking at, can have a massive impact on your performance in lane, hence better players try to continuously adjust their position.
When harassing an enemy, you want to get more auto-attacks connect with the opponent, than his connect with your hero. It is a general rule and there are certainly specific heroes and match-ups which do not adhere to it, but playing like this is the most optimal scenario in most cases.
As such, you want to be able to start dealing damage as soon as the enemy is in range. Facing the correct direction, therefore, can save you precious time and either dissuade the enemy from moving towards you or allow you to trade HP more effectively. Moreover, pushing forward into enemy range becomes a bigger commitment, since if you then would want to disengage, turning around would gift the enemy a free hit or even two on your hero.
These interactions might seem too specific, but they are what separate bad players from mediocre ones. There are countless more things to learn and train to execute consistently, but without the understanding of how important turn rates are for early game trading, progress will certainly be very slow. These rules apply in equal measure to supports who zone out the offlaner, mid players, offlaners and even carries — effective HP trading during the early laning stage can grant your team a massive advantage.
Positioning during initiations
Apart from turn rates, there are also cast points in Dota and these two concepts interact admirably when it comes to giving the players a way to outplay the opponent.
Perhaps the best way to explain the importance of this interaction is by showing this gif from almost four years ago:
By blinking right in front of Lion, Magnus has robbed himself of 0.188s of time to complete casting Reverse Polarity and as such was punished by not being able to finish the cast before being hexed. Blinking even slightly behind the enemy hero with an ability, that can interrupt yours with lower cast point, can give you the necessary time to connect with your enemies, especially considering humans do not react instantly.
The same applies to a variety of different situations, but become increasingly important when playing squishy heroes who rely on their mobility to survive. If you are initiating on an enemy disabler as a Storm Spirit, make sure to get yourself as much time as possible to burst the target down. By fully utilizing the advantages enemy turn rates can give you, you can go for riskier plays earlier, potentially salvaging the bad start of the game.
There are far less skillshots in a game of Dota, than there are in the games of similar genre. Abilities in Dota already have a much bigger impact, compared to competitors, and skillshots in Dota 2 turn it up to eleven. A five-second stun with a good deal of magic damage, an infamous repositioning tool, that can initiate a fight with an almost instant pick-off — these are the examples of what skillshots are in Dota.
To compensate for it, these skillshots are often tied to a relatively slow projectile and/or telegraphed well. Without setups and against decent enemies it is almost impossible to land a 5-second Sacred Arrow or a high-impact Hook. The defenders’ side holds most of the cards when it comes to skillshot connection, but not all of them.
Turn rate plays a big role in allowing better players to fully utilize their skillshots. The telegraphed movement direction and the time it takes to change it should be taken into account when trying to pin down the enemy with a high-impact skillshot. It is especially important when the target is close to impassable terrain and has one of the directions blocked.
Maintaining the balance between melee and ranged
Having higher range than the enemy is an objective advantage in all scenarios. In a battle between two identical heroes, save for the attack range, the one with the higher range will always win. It is only natural, therefore, that some items and abilities work differently for melee and ranged characters, to make up for these differences. Moreover, melee characters often have either higher damage output or survivability, compared to ranged ones.
That said, if a melee character could never close the gap between himself and his target, no amount of these advantages would help him. With instant turn rates, therefore, kiting enemies with a ranged hero would become trivial and would require little to no thought, but rather muscle memory and some degree of training. Luckily, it is not the case with Dota, with only a single hero having no turn rate.
Turn rate is the reason why Drow Ranger is not an insta-pick in every single game and why not every single core melee character has a mobility spell. By ensuring that repositioning for ranged heroes has an opportunity cost of lost DPS, Dota maintains a fine balance and gives players real, meaningful choices — a hero can’t both reposition freely in-between attack cooldowns and deal full damage.
Either safety or damage must be sacrificed and depending on the situation, the optimal solutions will vastly differ. And figuring out solutions generally equates to a more engaging gameplay, compared to simply going through the memorized routine of clicks.
Larger design space
Turn rate is another attribute that can be tweaked to make heros slightly stronger or slightly weaker. It allows the game designers to fine-tune heroes, without stripping their identity or making them weaker number-wise. Moreover, turn rate is highly exploitable, but only by capable players, hence it is a way to leave the casual scene static, while giving better players more tools to shine.
In the last three years a total of nine heroes have received turn rate buffs, with the biggest one being Earthshaker. While for many of these heroes the change was barely consequential, heroes with directional skill shots like Earthshaker, Tusk and Pudge became objectively stronger.
Without turn rate mechanics balance of the game would be very different to what it is now. Very good Bristleback players wouldn’t be able to get a bigger edge over an opponent through their almost instant ability to mitigate a sizeable amount of damage, while maintaining their chase potential. Magnus and Earthshaker would find it harder to properly aim their abilities, with the enemy targets capable of moving erratically and there are many more examples.
Every single hero in Dota is unique with abilities that reflect their role in the game, as well as their personality. Turn rate is a powerful tool to enhance the feel of each hero, while giving the game more depth in small, but important interactions.
Turn rates do come at a cost of movement feeling crisp and the criticism regarding it is not only understandable, but also valid. However, Dota is first and foremost a strategy game with layer after layer of intricate mechanics working together to give players deep gameplay experience. As such, sacrificing some immediate feedback on movement is a worthwhile trade for more pronounced character differentiation, larger design space and greater amount of possibilities for players to outplay their opponent.