Conscious DOTA: An Introduction To Improving

Conscious DOTA: Series Introduction

Hello guys and welcome to the first article in a series I’ve been working on called ‘Conscious DOTA’.

This series is specific in the sense that I will not be adding ‘tips’ and ‘guides’ and hero related commentary. I hope to use this series to talk about, teach, and uncover the more philosophical and theoretical aspects of DOTA. You may learn from the mechanics and such that I use as examples and anecdotes to create and explain concepts, but the series is not about mechanics, heroes, or the basics of DOTA.

To begin this first rendition of Conscious DOTA, we’re going to talk about The Conscious Competence learning model.

The four stages of Conscious Competence

The Conscious Competence learning model was created in order to illustrate the steps in learning a skill or trade. Simply put, the model is designed to show the four stages from inability to mastery. There are many such similar models that have been conceptualized, such as Drefyus’s skill acquisition model, but the four stages of Conscious Competence are perfect for our skill or trade: DOTA. The model is below.


Interpreting the stages & their relation to DOTA

Unconscious Incompetence: I am a new player and I do not know.

Everything is wrong in the way the new player plays DOTA. They have no game sense because they have no knowledge and they have no intuition because they have no experience. Most people find the sentence ‘I do not know’ incomplete, but it’s the perfect mantra for the new or lower rated player. If you are a new player, it’s not shameful to not know. You simply don’t know. That’s okay.

I like to think of the all-comprehensive information bank that is DOTA as a puzzle, and the unconsciously incompetent simply are just starting to recognize that there are pieces to this puzzle. Maybe they’ve identified one or two (Last hitting! Pulling! This is great!) yet have next to no idea of the greater picture.

There is not a whole lot of explaining on how to move on from Unconscious Incompetence. Simply amass knowledge, gain experience, and develop intuition predicated on the knowledge and experience that you have. Unconscious Incompetence mostly serves as a benchmark for the model, because nearly every player in DOTA and every person developing any skill will surpass this or quit.

Conscious Incompetence: I can recognize what I’m doing right, but not what I’m doing wrong.

Strap in folks. This is the stage that I would estimate 95% of people who play DOTA are at. If you are under 5k MMR, it’s incredibly likely you are here.

Many people are uncomfortable with this stage, and it’s why the notion of an ‘ELO Hell’ exists. Most people in the 2000-4500 mmr area can recognize what they do well, what they domost efficiently, and what they do correctly. This causes them to see themselves in a normal light, whereas if other people don’t do those things how they do them, they are irrationally quick to call others less than them. Many people are aware of this phenomena called The Dunning-Kruger EffectIf you don’t bother to check the wikipedia article, the core explanation is as follows.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect is a bias that states that the unskilled are unable to evaluate their ineptitude, while simultaneously the highly skilled are also unable to evaluate their competence and may assume that tasks they find easy are objectively easy or should be easy for others.

You are the exemplification of the Dunning-Kruger Effect if the following pertains to you:

  • Individual fails to recognize their own lack of skill.
  • Individual fails to recognize the extent of their inadequacy.
  • Individual fails to accurately gauge the skill of others.
  • Individual only recognizes their inadequacy after training.

So on one hand you have people who are considering their skills to be easy and might possibly be mad when other teammates don’t have the same skills or comprehension of the game. On the other hand, you have unskilled player who think they are better than in reality, and cannot look at themselves as players in an objective light.

Now I’m going to drop a bombshell on you guys. In DOTA, these two people are very often the same player. This is why in the 2000-4500 mmr bracket you will find a vast majority of people with The Dunning-Kruger bias, people who believe in ‘the trench’, and people who are consciously incompetent. This is why people are incapable of rationalizing the shortcomings of their teammates and incapable of recognizing their own shortcomings. This is why the most popular advice in DOTA is to simply ‘get good’. Because you aren’t good.

These people are unable to objectively view their own skills while simultaneously the aspects of DOTA that come naturally to them or the things they are best at are used as criteria for judging all other players.


The thing about DOTA is it encompasses many many different types of skills and skill-sets. Someone who is incredibly mechanically talented will question how he is ‘in the same bracket as’ someone who is seemingly so much worse than him, not knowing the other player has incredible hero diversity, is an excellent teammate, or any other example of the litany of skills and disciplines it takes to be a well rounded DOTA player. So you have hundreds of thousands of individuals who all seemingly can interpret the good things they are doing and the bad things that teammates are doing, while unable to interpret the bad things they are doing and the good things their teammates are doing. Let that sink in.

“The incompetent cannot know they are incompetent. The skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.” – David Dunning

Dunning hypothesized that outside training and educating is the only way to ‘break out’ of the cognitive bias that is Dunning-Kruger. The idea is that illusory superiority is a delusion in which one can be broken out of from the prognosis of someone who they ‘think’ is actually superior to them.

The quote above is a simple explanation of why people gravitate so much towards second opinions, coaches, educational articles, mechanical guides. If you knew what was correct, then you wouldn’t have anything to correct. You are simply incapable of objectively recognizing what is the right approach to certain ingame situations, what is the proper item build or progression for certain situations, and even if you can recognize what is most efficient, the implausibility of it could leave you clueless.

Maybe you know the ideal positioning for a teamfight, but the ideal positioning isn’t plausible. Maybe for an example as a Lich your role in the teamfight its to cancel Enigma’s ultimate through BKB in order to rescue your teammates. However, an enemy hero – Let’s say Phantom Assassin – is hellbent on making that implausible by seeking you out in a teamfight. Now in an ideal world you could pause the game, totally assess the situation, objectively view the game in slow motion, and come up with the second, third, fourth alternative to approaching a fight in which Enigma doesn’t lock down your entire team and you fail to do your duty. In reality, you don’t have those privileges. You may know what the ideal scenario is, but have you conceptualized the second to ideal scenario, the third to ideal scenario, the fourth to ideal scenario? Are these things intuitive to you? This is what I’m getting at here.

Your real level & Immunity Bias

People extend so much subjective favorability to themselves. When they have a bad game they have a refutation, excuse, or justification for it. All people have a bias in favor of themselves in nearly every instance. It’s how criminals can rationalize their behavior, how people can make choices in very difficult ethical dilemmas, and how people can ignore their mistakes.

The problem with most people is they estimate their skill by all of the games in which they play “their best” while ignoring all of the other games. Players who regard games in which all conditions were optimal as the only real or legitimate games are delusional.

How many times have you heard an antimage player who had a difficult lane use that an excuse for poor farm 45 minutes later? How many times have you seen people so fixated on the shortcomings of another player that they go so far as to totally blame unrelated misplays from allies as justification for their own failures? This is because people enact a sort of bias blind spot in which they don’t need to objectively view their own mistakes as if they were a third party because they’ve already justified everything they’ve done, and if not justifiable it’s deemed not relevant or not indicative of a pattern.

Everyone understands their own actions and deliberations and shortcomings, yet they refuse to extend that same courtesy to other people. It’s important to include that an inflated self esteem or ego is actually what many psychologists consider to be a psychological defense against regressive or self destructive behavior. Our goal here is not to undo 100,000 years of human psychological evolution but more focus on how we can depart our ego from our game, as there’s no need for anything other than objectiveness.

I want everyone reading to know that any negative occurrence in a match, you are directly responsible for. Now while other people may be partially, equally, or even mostly responsible for these occurences; they will hopefully hold themselves accountable and you must make yourself accountable. Letting yourself off the hook because you can’t force someone else to acknowledge partial accountability is an absolute fools game and will only negatively effect you in the long run.

Using the scientific method to improve

As I’ve said I think a vast majority (up to 95% possibly) of players are in this ‘area’ of the Conscious Competence learning model. A vast majority of those players, will most likely never ever exit this group. They will either quit in this area, not make a large enough effort, be content as they are, or not comprehend how to move forward. This is why we see players with thousand upon thousands of hours who are still 2000-4000. It’s a deadly combination of ignorance and negligence.

In this final section on Conscious Incompetence, I will be talking about solutions for Dunning-Kruger and escaping conscious incompetence. Now I want to specify that simply escaping conscious incompetence will not raise your mmr, but it will almost certainly make you enjoy the game much more and realistically improve at an excelled rate. If you simply do not have the skill – being objective and introspective won’t actually change your skill; it will only give you a window to plan to improve your skill at a reasonable rate.

I have read a hundred articles on this topic, the topic of athletics and gaming and Dunning-Kruger and cognitive biases, and I’ve found next to no actualized ideas on solving the bias outside of someone who the individual sees as a superior giving an objective prognosis and that person internalizing it. But that’s not possible, is it? Not everyone can call up Purge and have him coach you like you’re TI6 legend SirActionSlacks.

I want to talk about the scientific method. The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. Doesn’t that sound like exactly what we need?

 Now we are entering a more abstract area. My theory here is my theory, and it’s not something I got from reading, but something I realized on my own. About 18 months ago while researching the topic, I stumbled upon an astronomer’s blog who was ranting about how people with no PHD or Scientific background assume they understand the principles of Astronomy for literally no reason. He was furious based on some insignificant experiences that were austere in his mind because of how frequent it happened with different interactions.

The delusion of the human being is that we give our own beliefs special credence until they are disproven, even if we are totally uneducated on the topic and have given it literally zero debate or skepticism. Not many people internally debate an idea they don’t understand. Instead they settle on an opinion and wait for someone they deem superior in knowledge of the topic to correct them or confirm their ideas as true.

He said that if anyone even internalized the scientific method, they wouldn’t be this uneducated about science.

Now I didn’t and still don’t give a shit about Astronomy, but I bookmarked the blog because I thought the page was interesting, but I wanted to know more about the scientific method. As a forgetful 20 year old, I didn’t remember my science classes, so I was off to Wikipedia.

So I’ve got a diagram of The Scientific Method below, and I want to relate it DOTA because I think it encapsulates exactly how you are going to be objective and become conscious of both what is the right intuition and the right analysis in DOTA. The scientific method’s diagram looks a little different depending on where you get it from, but today after looking at several of them I’ve decided this one illustrates my perspective on how this model can help us improve at being objective, conscious, and improving at DOTA.


So we have a step by step process to investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. It’s time to tweak this for DOTA.

  1. Ask a question. This can be any DOTA question you want. The goal is above us folks; we want to correct what we knew, integrate what we know, and acquire what we don’t know. For example questions we can go with some of the following: “Did I play my lane correctly?” you could ask. Remember, winning a lane and playing a lane correctly are not the same thing. Winning a lane includes dependency on an enemy playing bad, which we do not want. Winning a lane can include playing a lane decently or well, but not at optimal or ideal levels. Another example question could be: “Did I itemize correctly?” – It’s important to remember that just because something works, does not mean it is good. And just because something is good, doesn’t mean it is best. So we have two example questions, among a possibility of infinity. What do you want to know about your own gameplay? In fact, this can extend to things not related to your gameplay. Things you want to learn but haven’t had the opportunity to fail at yet.
  2. Do background research. This is a two part process. You have to find other examples of the same scenario that you are questioning. If you are questioning laning or itemization decisions of your own like we did together in step one, compile SEVERAL pro matches and high level pubs as research. If you are looking into micro decisions (For example: Pulling the second creep wave, Are there ever benefits?) there will be a lot more abstract thinking and research to be done. It may be trying, difficult, or implausible.
  3. Construct a hypothesis. A hypothesis requires independent variables and dependent variables and must be researchable and testable. Let’s go over some examples of hypothesis’ that are DOTA related. The tricky thing is that things like RNG, Runes, Roshan timings, can all be considered outside factors that can ruin tests. That is something you must consider when testing.If “Does queen of pain lose to (or have less favorability than) puck middle?” is my question, then my hypothesis can be “Queen of pain loses to puck middle because of phase shift rendering dagger useless, better waveclear, and better kill potential” OR my hypothesis can be “Queen of pain wins against puck middle because of better projectile speed, base damage, and rune control”. This is to show that it’s not black and white, and hypothesizing is about posing your thoughts in the form of a researchable and testable theory.
  4. Test with an experiment. This is the easiest part. Play a large amount of games. There’s a reason why pro players spam certain heroes when they’re learning, one game in isolation isn’t enough to internalize what you learn and the mistakes you make. Demo mode, Practice mode against bots, 1v1 mode, and last hitting practice are all serviceable ways to test a few ideas, but playing a large amount of live matches is the best and most reliable way to test an idea.
  5. Is the procedure working? Is QOP winning, or is Puck winning? Is mana boots before radiance the correct item on Naga? Is reserved play in whatever matchup you are learning better than aggressive play? Is your hypothesis answering your question?
  6. Analyze Data and draw conclusions. Why are these things happening? What about QOP makes him win? What about puck makes him win? Does this isolated item progression question depend on the game, and if so – how can I determine which type of game it is?
  7. Use your conclusions to come up with a new hypothesis. Say you find out that puck beats QOP. Your new hypothesis should be about how to maximize efficiency on this losing lane, or how to win the matchup if you have greater knowledge do to these experiments.

This is how I think the scientific method is literally a step by step process to improving at DOTA. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

Psychological training: Objectiveness, Introspection Illusion, Accountability

This is my final section for Conscious Incompetence and it’s a difficult one. You are going to eventually hit a roadblock where either you aren’t improving or you’re improving at such a slow pace that it’s almost irrelevant. Most people have a cognitive bias called Introspection Illusion which essentially means that you think you have a direct understanding of your feelings, mental states, and decisions but you treat other peoples’ introspection’s as unreliable or wrong. Have you ever seen a teammate make a mistake that you wouldn’t make, have them explain or justify the mistake, only to doubt them or consider them a liar or disregard why they thought what they did would work? If you’re being honest, you have – and so have I.

In the end, whether you doubt the justification of someone’s mistake or not, you are not improving that person. It is not your job, and it’s literally impossible for you to make someone else fix a mistake they’ve made already. You can only hold yourself accountable for your mistakes, and fix them for the future. Self justifications are not real. There is only the objective truth and the tangible world, your thought process behind a mistake only matters in the context of preventing the mistake from happening again. The dissonance you create with justifying a mistake only causes a domino effect of failing to grow from the mistake.

Have you ever needed a bottle mid desperately, have someone use the courier, and continue to play mid as if you had the bottle, then die because you didn’t have regen? Then you flame your Legion Commander jungle for buying his 2 minute stout shield + health potion, whereas your play is the only thing that is directly responsible for death. When you act accusatory and create this dissonance you are regressing as a player.

The hardest part of growing as a player and learning from your mistakes is being objective. Seeing mistakes for mistakes, and not for what could have worked or what I felt was right. Some tips for owning up to your mistakes is acknowledging them as soon as they happened. Do it out loud. Start with deaths, as they’re the easiest. As soon as you die, simply state out loud what YOU did wrong to cause that death. Don’t worry about any other factor. Once you can hold yourself objectively accountable for all of your deaths, then you can move into poor microdecisions and small mistakes like missed stacks, bad positioning, etcetera.

Conscious Competence: I know what is right and what is wrong, but it takes deliberation and heavy conscious involvement. This can be a detraction from my game.

If you are having trouble following along, imagine a Yoga class. When you first enter a yoga class, you don’t really understand yoga. You’re new to the concept and don’t know what anything is. Then, you attend a few more classes and you learn some moves. However the yoga class consists of a program of moves, and you can only incorporate some. You also are not perfect with the small quantity you know. As much more time and deliberate learning goes on, you know all of the moves. When the proctor tells you which move, you can incorporate them after thinking and applying what you know. You are now at conscious competence.

Basically in DOTA terms, Conscious Competence is when you have enough knowledge and intuition and experience to properly analyze and act (in a majority of situations), but you have to deliberately focus and think about it. Going into each matchup you are still analyzing what items to buy, what to do in a lane, when to check rune, when to stack, this stuff does not come effortlessly to you. You are at the point where you have worked a ton to amass the skill and knowledge you have, are presumably 5k-7k if not higher, but still nothing seems effortless to you.

To become Unconsciously competent it takes extreme grinding and rigorous training and a ton of time. As conscious incompetence is all about effort in your mastery, the key is to practice with such focus and dedication that the amount of effort required to be excellent in your skill is progressively reduced.

Unconscious Competence: I know what is right, what is wrong, and it is now second nature to me. With mastery of the skill, I can perform extra or additional tasks simultaneously.

Second nature: a characteristic or habit in someone that appears to be instinctive because that person has behaved in a particular way so often.

I think the greatest example of something that is second nature to a player in DOTA is Attacker’s Kunkka. I have not seen someone master a hero to such excellence that not only is he elite on the hero, but he’s wholly understanding of literally every interaction with Kunkka from the opposite end. I notice that he is so experienced and accustomed to playing the hero, that he can focus on mindblowing mechanical feats or inexplicable movement predictions.

People always ask Attacker how could he have possibly known where invisible heroes were, or how he knew the movement of a hero before it happened, and I think whether he consciously recognizes this – It’s because playing standard high level DOTA with Kunkka has come so naturally to him, that he is FOCUSED on what movement invisible heroes could be making, how to approach complex situations, and how to read and even manipulate the movement of enemies. Below I’ve got three videos that I think best prove my point.

Now Attacker isn’t the only player in the world who has reached this point of excellency, he’s just the most obvious choice in my mind due to the absurd dedication he’s had to perfecting this hero. I still think in my opinion he qualifies for Conscious Competence in totality, regardless of hero, but it’s simply non negotiable that his Kunkka is of the highest order and that’s why I selected him as my example.

I would estimate there are probably about a thousand players on the planet who have reached this point, at least at one or two roles. It’s next to zero who have reached this point at every hero and every role and every nuance and even DOTA in totality, which is why the game is so brilliant and exciting and no matter what the best of the best seem to get better every year. I have no idea if my made up estimated numbers are even accurate, but we can obviously assume that this is an extraordinary feat only applicable to the best of the best of the best.

Most people who reach this point suffer delusion themselves, according to David Dunning. As they gain the ability to be excellent with next to no effort, they lose the ability once again to objectively assess how difficult it was to reach this point of mastery and how ahead of the curve they actually are. They misjudge both the extent of their mastery and they misjudge the difficulty it took and takes to get there.

If you’re looking for a moral of the story: We’re all delusional, and it’s time to wake up and get on with some Conscious DOTA. 

photo credits:,,

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