Initially this Blog Post was to be dedicated to finding a way for players to train some skills which will directly transition to actual Dota gameplay. This proved to be a rather difficult task - custom games are a lot of fun and can be a decent replacement for the main game for a while, but they do not offer a lot of knowledge and/or transferable skills which can be applied to core Dota.
That said, it is still worth giving them a try - whether you are a Dota veteran or a new player these games definitely have a lot to offer in terms of entertainment.
In my opinion the current state of custom games is far from what it was in the original Warcraft 3 client. These games had years to get polished and Dota 2 is the most obvious example of how polished these games got over time. That said, I feel extremely grateful to the creators for providing good quality products and hope it will keep on developing.
We will discuss several games in this Blog Post focusing on explaining of the core gameplay rather than in-depth tactics. The games will be divided into sections based on their "genre", but I strongly recommend giving every game a try - I, for one, did not expect to have a lot of fun playing Tower Defense games, but ended up spending the most time try to figure out the intricacies of Gem TD.
These games focus on managing resources to kill waves of creature which take lives from your "Base". To do so you have to build towers - however most games either make this idea more complex with added Upgrades/Combinations or require the player to engage in some extra activities.
Probably one of the most complex TD games I have ever played. It is only rivaled by Elemental TD which is not yet ported to Dota 2.
It looks pretty simple: enemy creatures have waypoints which they have to touch before going to the next waypoint and ultimately to your "Crystal". What it would generally mean, is that you have to make a maze out of your towers for them to take longer to get to the next waypoint - a very typical strategy for these type of games.
But then you get to select your worker and realize that there are no simple towers in this game - there are gems, which can then be made into towers. At the beginning of each wave, you place 5 gems on the ground and choose one of them to become a tower, while every other turns into an impassable stone.
Then you realize that these towers do not upgrade in the usual fashion - you have to combine them with your teammates' gem/towers for maximum effect - two of the same small makes a big and three small/big make a bigger one and so on. I strongly suggest getting accustomed to the formula list (available in game) - it is quite expansive and intimidating for the new players but without knowing what exactly you are doing it is impossible to pass the game.
Also it is generally recommended to learn the mazes for these type of games but trial and error is a lot more rewarding in terms of enjoyment hence try to skip this part - following someone else's guide takes away from the overall experience. I have beaten only 19 waves in this game and can be considered a newbee, but it was my 19 levels with the maze I have thought of and created with my friends.
This game has no mazes and is quite simple. There is a square in the center of the map and 4 exits where the monsters come from. They come out, go around the square and then enter your base. At the edge of every side of the square there are "tower bases" for each player which you have to select and build a tower from. These towers differ in cost, damage and abilities they have.
To make the game more random and prevent the "most efficient" build up which would ultimately lead to a game becoming quite repetitive and boring, there is also a hero a player controls. This hero has two abilities - roll for 10 gold and roll for 50. Each of these abilities starts a slot machine at the center which can pay out gold or item prizes (or nothing at all).
Items can be placed inside the towers - it is more or less impossible to win without them. These items are similar to Dota items so players should not have problems with this aspect of the game.
What at a first glance seems uninspired turns into a rather hectic TD game where you are forced to gamble (the only source of items is the slot machine and occasional bosses). Moreover, you will have to share items with your teammates based on what towers you and they have - AS works wonders on Luna tower while Octarine Core is a must on Zeus later on. What it ultimately leads to is an entertaining pastime which offers some depth but is primarily concentrated on fun.
Do not forget that the monsters scale in terms of HP and even the best physical DPS towers become quickly irrelevant in Normal+ and Hard/Hard+.
Also - the slot machine appears to be rigged: if your in-game name is KawaiiSocks it is perfectly normal for you to have 11 rolls with "No Luck" in one game and 9 in the very next one.
These games are quite similar to what you would get out of an MMO. You have a hero, you level him up and you and your friends go and slay some monsters and bosses. There are quite a lot of them currently in-game but I will only cover my two favorite ones.
This game is certainly not unique but it is probably the best at what it is doing. As usual, you select a hero fight a bunch of monsters and earn gold to make your hero stronger.
Once in a while it also pulls all players into an arena where you have to face off against another player, but this mechanic is there purely for fun.
What it has, though, is an upgrade tree where you can permanently boost some of the stats on your hero for lumber - it is essential for your survival. The map also has a lot of nooks to hide in to prevent you from being attacked by all creeps at the same time - these come very handy at every stage of the game, since the creeps scale really fast.
Additionally there are bombs which can be attacked/detonated to deal massive damage to all enemies around it.
While it might seem a bit dull it does have a very varied core gameplay and these small touches on hero progression/map points make for a rather pleasant pastime which will require a lot of cooperation and planning. And then you get to beat your support which is incredibly nice.
This is pretty much the experience you would get from an endgame Diablo. You get into town, spend a bit of gold to gamble for a cool item and go out to an instance to kill creatures.
Personally, I am not a huge Diablo fan - I have completed Diablo II when I was a teen and never bothered with III. This game allows me to get the best of experience from the game without needing to spend countless hours on looting/afk farming. It also has one of the best if not the best hero progression systems in all of Dota 2 custom games - there are items (which go into corresponding Armor/Weapon slot), talents and levels.
If you want to spend an hour or so feeling like a complete badass while still having to use your brain once in a while - this game is an obvious choice.
At the time of writing this game is the most played Custom game in Dota 2. And it is probably the reason why other Custom Games do not get the recognition they deserve - in no way is it a compliment though. This game is amazing at discouraging people from trying anything else - this one is also not a compliment.
There are quite a bit of problems with the game. One of the biggest complaints I have is that it is incredibly linear - there are THE best items in the game and THE best hero leveling. Deviate from that and suddenly you are not a typical min/max character and cannot tackle down some of the bosses.
Bosses are essentially damage sponges which you have to beat for a long time once you have Lifesteal/Enough HP not to get one-shotted. There is very little tactics/choice involved in this sense as well.
What it leads to is a very low replay value and very little "play" per gameplay hour. Me and my friends were enjoying a cup of tea and a nice chat while our in-game avatars were simply standing and auto-attacking. The only thing we had to do was pressing a button corresponding to an infinite magic immunity item (the cooldown on it with an upgraded Octarine Core is the same as the duration). And that was the "impossible" difficulty!
By all means go out and try it - it was a bit of fun for the first twenty minutes of a 2h+ "impossible" play-through. But do not judge other games based on Epic Boss Fight - there are better games lost in a rather poorly designed custom games UI.
Lots of mini-games!
This custom games is essentially Skibi's Castle Tower Defense from the original Warcraft 3 without the Tower Defense part. It is quick, fun and is probably best suited for a LAN-party, but can be enjoyed with your long-distance friends as well.
Personally, I feel like it is not polished enough to be the Top game but the potential is there - sometimes feeling relaxed while maintaining the competition spirit is the best you can ask for.
I've tried this game a long time ago and what they did to it over the last several months deserves the highest amount of praise - the game feels really solid and well-done.
The gameplay is quite simple - you get a ship and by earning gold you have to upgrade it with better stats and/or abilities to defeat the enemy. In a sense, this game is closest to what you would get from Dota 2 without actually playing Dota 2 - the core behind it is more or less the same.
There is not a lot more to say - the game is pretty, decently balanced and has high replayability. The UI has also been overhauled making it easier to understand and navigate in.
A very simple Mario Kart-like racing game which substitutes the requirement to actually drive with tons of mobility items and Dota skills.
Personally, I do not play this game much - it gets boring quite fast if played multiple times. But it is an excellent and quick palette cleanser in-between bigger custom games and can be played while you are waiting for your last party member.
As mentioned previously, the initial idea behind the Blog Post was to find custom games which would help people learn Dota 2 and train some skills. While the games covered today lack this property, there are other custom games which can be quite good if you have training in mind, but would probably make for a rather boring blog post.
Overthrow is an excellent trainer for people constantly losing themselves in the teamfights. With so many spells flying around keeping track of what is happening can get tricky, let alone reacting to it. The gamemode is also a lot of fun and doesn't take as much time.
Pudge/Mirana/Tiny/SF Wars are kind of ok in teaching players how to land the skillshots of the corresponding heroes but certainly do not offer insights on how to play them in an actual game - landing an arrow is one thing, finding out how to be useful and efficient as Mirana in an actual Dota game is the other.
Finally, there are multiple Last Hit trainers available - they are probably the best thing to play when you are trying to master a certain hero's early-game farm.