How do we address low priority and player retention in Dota?

In the break between the DAC group stage and playoff bracket, the vacuum of pro games has generated the usual Reddit stir over some aspect of the game. We had about a month of freedom from the “low prio is broken” cries, until now.

A recent post on r/Dota bemoaned the state of the game. The writer was upset that every game was centered around babysitting your teams’ emotions. The post described that wins and losses were determined by who tilted first, rather than having any understanding of how to play. Since this initial post, there have been several “copycat” submissions with other people showing solidarity in their dislike of the current state of the game. So how does Valve address this?

These are all just anecdotes, and plenty of people have chimed in that their experiences have been perfectly fine. Dota is a team game — of course you need to work with your team and keep everyone focused and positive. Unfortunately, telling your player base to “suck it up” isn’t the best strategy for player retention. This is where the low priority system could present a solution.

If we take a step back, we can look at how the system has changed over time. Once upon a time, you received six reports a week, so you had to use them all before they reset! Receiving low priority landed you with a playing timeout. Your account was unable to queue for 24–48 hours. This system was fairly ineffective one. Smurf accounts dodged the queue time outs and guaranteed report refreshing led to irresponsible use. There was no system that gave you reports proportional to how many you needed.

Eventually, the system changed. Weekly reports were reduced from six to three. Instead of waiting to play for 24 hours, you have to play a certain number of low priority games. Then you had to actually win those games and you had to do it while playing single draft mode. These changes were welcomed and appeared to be effective for some time.

As with any system, it gets adjusted. For some time, reports were too frequent. Professional players and popular streamers were reported just for being well known, and normal players landed in low priority for poor playing rather than bad attitudes. In the resulting changes to alleviate this, reports have become a scarce commodity. They’re earned back for successful reports and otherwise regenerate slowly. Conduct summaries congratulate or shame us for our behavior but there is little else to punish poor behavior.

As with smurfing in the initial low priority system, the current system has also become easily avoidable. Partying with friends makes the games enjoyable. Paying a small fee will set you up with a bot system that makes for an expedient escape back to your toxic daily ranked queues.

After reading several threads, I have a few thoughts on changes that could be made.

The first (and potentially already exists) would be to scale the reports you have available to how many games you play. Someone who plays once a month shouldn’t have the ability to report three of their teammates for not carrying them to victory. Someone who plays ten games a day is much more likely to run into people that deserve reporting.

Another option is to limit reporting to above a certain behavior score. Reporting can easily be abused for personal dislike rather than actual griefing. The lower your behavior score, the more “likely” you are to abuse your reports. If you have a low enough score to get regular low priority, why should you be trusted to recognize bad behavior in others? Similar to this — if you have played in low priority within the past 10 games, remove the ability to report.

We also need to address the punishment aspect of low priority matchmaking. Why are players who have been deemed toxic allowed to communicate? Why can they queue up in a five man party and essentially play a normal game? Communication bans for the duration of low prio along with removing parties would be steps to incentivize better behavior from the frequent visitors.

The last suggestion is to combine the initial low priority system with our current one. Adding a wait time before you can queue for low prio games guarantees that you can’t use bots and be back to normal games within the hour. I would also recommend a wait time for after completion of low prio games to prevent instant queuing into the normal pool after the frustration of low priority games.

Every system has flaws, but hopefully with some adjustments the low priority system can help “rehabilitate” unpleasant players without punishing the larger pool of people who just want to play some Dota.

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