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Pictures of  Michael "TorteDeLini" Cohen with release form signed for interview at The International 2017 held in Seattle, Washington
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1v1 with TorteDeLini at The International 2017

Aug 182017

Have you ever sat down to learn a new hero for Dota 2? You open up the client, hop into a game, and select them, but what next? Chances are, you immediately went into Valve’s guides and picked the first one on the list. Michael “TorteDeLini” creates and maintains those guides and he chatted with us about what this sort of undertaking requires and where he wants to go with it next.

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How long have you been producing your guides and how much work is involved in keeping them up-to-date? 

I have been handling the Standard Hero Builds Collection for more than four and a half years. Since February 2013, I have reached 155 dedicated hero builds and 250 million subscriptions.   In terms of workload, it takes about 3 to 4 hours of my day, every day, to keep the guides up-to-date. When a patch is released, it can take 24 to 72 hours of elapsed work-time to review and update the guides to the new patch and another two weeks of reviewing and testing.

Before you began the project, what spurred you to create your own? 

There are a number of motivating factors that led me to create my own standard hero builds. My own reliance on the old PlayDota forum guides, the frustration of teammates not knowing the basics of their own heroes as well as my own ignorance of how to play certain heroes. 

Were the other guides not as good? Did you think you could do it better or did you just have ambition for the project? 

I started the hero builds the same day that the system launched. In terms of my competition, I did not think I was better or worse than them but rather was unable to determine if they would be as disciplined to keep their builds as up-to-date as I would be. Eventually this proved true — slowly but surely, my 'competitors' died out, either by giving up because the system itself was flat-out broken or simply because there was no value in keeping the guides updated. Additionally, new guides could never float their way to the top of the list, so nobody could ever challenge older guides.

I did not have any ambitions or goals with this project. It was purely out of love and passion for the game. I dropped my expectations years ago when I saw no response or help from Valve — that's changed now, but for the first three years it was radio silence on their side and pure hell managing the guides within their neglected system. It was understandable that everyone had quit, but it also highlighted my own important to persevere through the thick of it all.

After so many years, I feel I've gained the trust of millions of players. It's worth it and their kind words and appreciation remain the strongest motivator for me to keep going. Knowing that I am a part of someone's day, for just a small moment as they start a match of their favorite game, is something I wouldn't ever trade for anything in the world. It's nothing short of an honor to be able to make a contribution to a game that's been part of my life for the past 12 years with DotA and Dota 2 combined. 

How do you have time to maintain every single hero’s guide as well as alternative play styles? 

Discipline. Long ago, I stopped playing Dota 2 for 'fun' and mostly dedicated my time to playing games, testing guides and improving the builds. It helps that my job is in esports since it gives me an excuse to read patches during my day, work on some guides during lunch, and then go home to wrap up any finishing touches I've started at work. There have been many sacrifices for the hero builds including many sleepless nights since I live in Europe and the patches are released in the late evening for me.

For alternative styles, this is a result of managing the guides for so many patches. After a while, heroes begin to play in roles they previously couldn't, so I do my best to be consistent in providing every build possible. There are numerous ways of achieving that. Either by infusing two item builds into the same build or simply creating two guides and maintaining them both simultaneously. Regardless, I think 155 builds is my absolute limit without needing to dedicate any more time. Even then though, with the release of the talents from 7.00, it's getting increasingly demanding to work on these guides.

Updating the text is also a time-consuming task. It's over 130,000 words across all guides that I need to review annually and update if they are out-of-date. I haven't done it this year and I dread eventually doing it. 

Why do you think your hero guides are the preferred choice when new players are trying to learn the game? 

Consistency. With each new patch, I saw less and less people follow-through on updating their guides. It is to the point where no one does it anymore and that is saddening to see. I've also tailored my guides to be more encompassing and informative by providing different item builds per hero and describing how a certain item or build synergizes with the hero. On top of that, I also provide a "cheat-sheet" for abilities that teaches players how to play the hero and be most effective with it. Examples include using Leshrac's lightning slow in order to follow-up with his stun or the situational value of Oracle's different abilities.    

Moreover, before 7.00, there was also no way for a player to know when a guide was last updated in-game, so I provided a small empty tab to informed the users when I last updated the guides. It's small but many people appreciated the information.

Lastly, when a new hero is released, I am among the first release a guide for them and keep the build(s) updated as players figure out what works best for the hero. When Monkey King was released, I maintained two guides as it shifted from being a Core to a Roaming Support and then back to a Core. 

How do you think you will continue to move forward with the project? 

It's difficult for me to determine how I will move forward with the project. I still have a full-time job and although there is a growing population of guide-users, my Patreon is still not to a point where I can bring on new people to help me expand and alleviate some of the work-load.

Some of my Patreon goals include creating monthly videos, a custom map tutorial series, and more, but I would like to fairly compensate people to help me build this. However, at the moment that's not possible. I could do more to better advertise my Patreon but I never set myself out to make money from this project and everything I receive is put back into a savings account for the project. I don't keep anything for myself and I still maintain a full-time job to be able to live comfortably.  
In the end, I can do a lot but also hold no expectations in moving forward with this project. The hero builds will always remain free and updated for as long as I can manage it. I might consider streaming but fear that many will be disappointed by my mediocre play style and mechanics. 

Have you received any assistance from Valve? 

In recent years, yes. It's only at The International 7 did I learn that so many Valve employees have been using my guides for some time now and I could not be more honored. Since last year, Valve has been attentive to helping improve the hero builds and as recent as a few months ago, have been putting in serious work into improving the system. I'm very anxious for them to release what they've been working on and I could not be more thrilled and appreciative for their involvement. 

What is one thing you wish you could add to the guide system? 

Improved incentives. Unlike workshop artists, there is no value in making guides in-game, especially at the rate of which the game is updated. I hope Valve considers providing incentives, similar to what Team Fortress 2 did for their many map-creators, tournament organizers and wiki-editors. Even if it was in-game incentives, this kind of acknowledgement and reward goes a long way towards reconnecting with their community directly and provides a sense of pride for many contributors. 

If you could impart one piece of advice to any new player, what would that be? 

Enjoy the game. Learn through discovery and curiosity. This game has been around for years before and will be around for years to come. So long as you enjoy the game and treat it for what it is, everything else will come naturally on its own in time. 

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