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This is the Advanced section of the guide. You can read about the Basics HERE. This section aims to give you a much more extensive and detailed in-depth look at captaining, how to improve your captaining skills and how to be successful in both the player draft and in making a team out of the players you picked.
As previously mentioned in the Basics section, this section will consist of a long list of tips, created from the captaining experiences of myself and veterans I’ve spent time discussing the role with.
As a final note before we move into the guide itself, I’d like to remind readers that this isn’t a to-do list of any kind. The way I envision the guide being used, at least the Advanced section, is captains reading it and making note of ideas and tips that they personally like and want to apply. Part of the fun is the fact that every captain is a different personality, and that is reflected in how they run the team. Adapt things as you see fit, feel free to implement things that are not listed. You’re the captain, after all. You might like all of the tips, you might not like any of them — they’re here as a resource for those who want to do better. Additionally, a lot of this guide will be adapted from the previous iteration of the captaining guide, So You Want to Captain.
The structure of this guide aims to be roughly based on some of the different phases of the captaining experience, so I’ll start with things that you’re likely to encounter early on and end with the things that might be useful towards the end of the season. With that being said, I’ll finally move onto the guide itself. The guide will be loosely divided into Preseason Preparation, Player Drafting, Post Draft Prep and Tips During the Season.
- Plan what you want to achieve with your team. Consider what role you want to play, what kind of atmosphere you want to achieve in your team and how seriously you want your team to take the season. Take these considerations into account when planning your draft as well; the S18 Player Sheet will show a players’ comfort at drafting, shotcalling, using a microphone, and perhaps most importantly, their availability or willingness to scrim, so try to line this info up with your vision for your team. Your team is your project, you are realizing your vision.
- Make a personal copy of the draft sheet. You could also use the cheat sheet as a base to work on, but I’d recommend just reading that, since the actual draft sheet will include more info. If you want to start your preparations early, be mindful of any possible changes made to the actual draft sheet — you don’t want to end up in a situation where a good player who just made the cutoff isn’t on your list, or a player you wanted got unvouched.
- Format your personal draft sheet to meet your needs. You don’t have to make it very fancy — the important thing is that you can get all the info you need onto it and, eventually, from it. Some things I tend to do often with my personal draft sheets is making the names more readable, making the role preference columns thinner, reordering the columns so important things like roles, rank and Dotabuff links are easily available, and applying conditional formatting to the role preference column (1 being red, 5 being green, etc — this allows me to just glance at a player’s role comfort to get needed information. This is the reason you format your sheet — make your priorities clearly visible and reviewable at any point. There’s an infinite number of options to play around with as far as formatting goes.
- Study the draft sheet. Read the player statements, review their role preferences, their shotcalling and drafting comfort, their availability to practice, look over their Dotabuffs, maybe even check for low priority history or if they have an esports profile on Dotabuff and how they’ve done in competitive ticketed events. Try to make note of how many players there are for each role, and keep an eye out for roles that have a lack or a surplus of good players — scarcity determines value, so adjust your priorities accordingly.
- Study the cheat sheet. A lot of the cheat sheet consists of jokes or memes, but it can often give you some context or info about a player. Pay special attention to more serious columnists who provide significant insight into playstyle, activity, communication, attitudes, etc.
- Start working on developing a rough draft plan. Go through the player list and make note of players you want to play with. This is a great time to think back to your thoughts on what you want to achieve with this team and put it to use. The way I like to plan is to color code players on the sheet in different tiers. For example, I might mark my tier 1 priorities, players I really want to pick, with a bright green; a slightly lower priority would be a muted green, which shows me I’d still be really happy with the player. After that, you might consider a tier for players you’re not 100% sure about but still think would be a good fit, then another for players you’d be completely okay with getting, followed by players you’d rather avoid, and finish up with the dodge list. The way you do this is absolutely up to you, and there’s many ways to do it — that’s just how I do it.
- Make sure to have a lot of options. You want to plan for every turn of events in the draft — it’s fast-paced and chaotic, so you want to be ready for anything. This means that you really should look at every skill bracket and every role; you have to pick someone for each role, and you’re going to have to pick a lower MMR player towards the end of your draft as well, so you might as well guarantee that you pick someone you’ve looked at and think might be a good pick. Color coding these is also useful!
- Have backups! Each and every draft you ever do, some player you want will get snatched right under your nose. Don’t be the captain who takes a minute because they didn’t prepare for that situation — have plenty of backups for each plan.
- Check the player reviews for players you’re interested in. You can do this by either searching their name in the season reviews channel on Discord, or, if they’re a longstanding veteran, by searching their name on r/redditdota2league. If you can’t find a review for someone when searching by name, try searching for mentions of that player in the review channel on Discord.
- Consider the likelihood of getting a player. Think about which players might get valued more by other captains, take into account personal relationships, MMR and budget (if you’re captaining an auction draft, likely in a side cup). Adjust your expectations accordingly when planning for ideal and realistic scenarios. It’s pretty hard to predict these things, but you can also take into account the fact that higher average MMR drafts will go later in the following rounds of the draft, which is a consideration some captains make as well.
- Think about what your final team might look like. Consider playstyle — it’s quite tough to judge this, especially if you’re new, but you should try to play with some of the players in the list and get a feel for their playstyle. In order to match up similar playstyles and have one common overarching style in your entire team, you first have to sit down and define your own playstyle. Consider what your strengths and weaknesses are, as well as who you could pick to supplement your strengths and cover your weaknesses. Maybe you don’t want to use yourself as the foundation for your team's development, in which case you should consider building around your first pick (at which point the above tip of looking at realistic options helps a lot). For example, if you plan on your team’s win condition being your first pick mid player, you would want to avoid a carry who is also farm heavy and whose hero pool demands last picking their hero. On the flip side, if you have a team whose real stars are in the offlane or on support roles, consider picking flexible core players who wouldn’t mind having their heroes picked earlier. There’s an almost infinite number of considerations to make here, so don’t waste too much time on it pre-draft and instead spend that energy discussing and developing your playstyle after you’ve drafted your team.
- Create a pick priority list for each draft phase. Compile all of the players you’d like for your first phase, and order them by priority. When your turn comes, this makes it very easy for you to just look at the top name on your list that’s still left in the pool. You can then do this for all the other rounds — just take all of the 2nd picks you’d be okay with, and create a priority list, then do so with 3rd picks, etc. This adds some extra work during the draft, because for this to work well, you’ll have to cross out the players that are picked, but it can be very worth it. The time you spend updating this list is the time you’d spend scrambling for alternative picks once your pick gets taken, and it’s definitely better to be spending this time while waiting for your turn, rather than when people are waiting for you.
- If you’re a new captain, feel free to reach out to the admins. We’ll create a team of veterans who volunteer to help out new or inexperienced captains with preparing their draft.
- Focus on realizing your draft plan. You’ve put in the prep, now it’s time to put it to use. Don’t lose this focus, and don’t panic if something doesn’t work out.
- This might seem to contradict the previous point, but don’t tunnel vision during the draft! If you’ve already got a player for a role, don’t pick another one, even if they’re higher MMR than someone else you want to pick in another role. Additionally, you should keep in mind the potential impact of picking a higher MMR player on your pick order in the next round. This point is especially important for auction drafts — it’s fine to steer away from your original plan a bit, especially if players are going significantly under their value. Don’t overbid for a player you really want, since that will usually make it harder to get the players you want later. Like Booty Lizard said, if 5 people save up for one player, 4 will leave unhappy. Focus on value!
- Adapt to the draft. Go with the flow. If your draft plan gets messed up, it’s not the end of the world (especially if you’ve got your backups like we talked about earlier!). Think about it like Underlords or Poker; you have a limited number of outs, and forcing a plan that isn’t likely to work out will mess up your entire draft in a second. Additionally, think about the implications made by the players you’ve picked — if you wanted to do one thing with your team, but picking this player changes that, it might be time to reconsider that plan.
- Constantly update, and refer to, your personalized draft sheet. This is where it’s important that your sheet is up-to-date right before the draft happens; this allows you to follow the draft on your own sheet by marking the picked players with a red background, leaving you with a clear and concise overview of who’s left and if you want to pick them.
- Pay attention to the rumors. This isn’t super necessary, but if you’re active in the community, you can often see captains praising certain players or accidentally hinting at picking them. This is more of a fun point, since it’s interesting to keep track of what people say. I wrote about how ruskomsnusk is a great player often in the lead-up to season 16, so you could probably tell I’d pick him. Also, avoid picking players with, uh, history, so you don’t end up picking Denden with Linail, or Cvaekt with Barg, or, uh, Lokie with Zharp. Whoops.
- Talk to people before and during the draft! Check with some of your realistic first options how they feel, and once you pick your first player, try to talk with them about the rest of the draft plan and what you’re trying to do. They’ll appreciate you being a captain right from the start, and talking to the people you pick can help you make the correct decisions after.
Post Draft Preparation
- Create a Discord server and invite all of your players. Send everyone an invite; if you can’t find them, ask around or check with the admins to get some help with finding your players’ Discord IDs. You can also try to contact them by adding them on Steam. Speaking of which…
- Add your players on Steam. It gives you another way to contact your players outside of Discord, it lets you play pubs together, and it’s generally just common practice.
- Join the RD2L EU Scrim Server. The invite for this will be sent to all of the captains, pinned to the captain channels in Discord and made available to all players in the Welcome and Season Info channels. Read the welcome message and instructions and scrim some RD2L teams! The welcome channel also includes an invite to a much larger Dota 2 Scrim server which you might be interested in.
- Set up your team’s Discord server! Make it nice and cozy — you’ll be spending up to two and a half months together as a team, and your main interactions will come in your team’s Discord. The way you do this is up to personal preference. What I personally like to do is have an announcement channel that only the captain can post in to notify the team of officials, scrims or any other important info. After that, a general discussion channel is also a staple. I like to then add a channel for scouting opposing teams, as well as some channels to plan drafts, share hero pools, and post screenshots of finished games we played as a team so we can look back at them. Be creative — this is yours to play with and add anything you and your team might like or need.
- Personalize your Discord. Give players colored roles, add a server icon, fiddle with permissions if you want to invite some team friends over. Again, you’ll be spending time in this Discord — might as well make it nice.
- Use additional tools. You can create collaborative Google Sheets or Docs to work on figuring out your hero pools or enemy team drafts together. I know some captains like to use Doodle or similar tools to make scheduling easier. I mentioned it a bit ago, but the Scrim Server is also pretty useful.
- Discuss your team setup. This is possibly less important if you’ve drafted your team with the role setup in mind, but you should still talk to your team about the role setup. This is also a good time to discuss who will draft for the team, as well as if anyone wants to be the designated shotcaller. I also talked about delegating your captaining responsibilities in the Basics section, but this is likely the best time to figure out these things as well, if needed. Examples of delegating duties include having someone on the team handle scheduling of scrims and practice, scouting of enemy teams, etc. For WED captains, you might also want to talk with the 5th and 6th players and figure out who is going to swap in and out when. The best case scenario in my experience is when you get two players who figure these things out on their own and compromise on it. It’s very important to note that if you want to do something like this, you need to check if these players are okay with doing these things — you cannot and should not force them to do so. Similarly, if your team disagrees with your planned role setup, or has something else in mind that they want to try, don’t be too stubborn. Try out alternative setups and see what works for the team. Sometimes just assigning farming priority by MMR isn’t the best option for your team.
- Come up with a unique team name and logo. I’ve touched on this in the Basics, but figure these things out with your team. Some people don’t really care too much, and in that case you can just suggest something and check if they’re fine with it. The important thing is to make sure the team name is unique, inoffensive, and to create the team in-game as well so that you can set it in the lobby. While not necessary, you can also invite your teammates so that everyone has the team tag, but, more importantly, having at least one other player on the team be on the in-game team means that if you as the captain ever miss a game, your team can still set the team in-game and avoid being yelled at by admins for not using your team. And trust me, I’ll yell.
- Talk to everyone individually. Speak to your players, pick their brains, get their thoughts. Use this as a basic debrief. It can help you develop a better connection with your teammates and learn things about their vision for the team, their level of motivation, any issues they might have, etc. At the very least, you’ll be closer to your players as the captain, and as someone who considers many of his past players good friends now, the effort is well worth it.
During the Season
- Make sure everyone can play at the standard time and have them let you know well ahead of time if they can’t make it. Your life as a captain will be a lot easier and a lot less stressful if your teammates are ready at the specified time for both officials and scrims. Other teams (and the admins) will appreciate you being on time. Announce the time and date of games as soon as possible, make sure everyone has read it, then follow that up with reminders and have your players notify you the second they think they might not be able to play. Many people also appreciate these announcements and reminders stating how much time is left until the game from the time you send the message. A cool tip I picked up from my Franchise manager Neox (whose Discord setup I included earlier) is to have a separate Discord channel where the time, date, opponent and type of match are listed, and players react with a check mark to confirm they’ve read the message and are able to attend the game.
- Look for Standins as soon as possible. The second you find out a player won’t be able to make it, post a message in the Standins channel on the main Discord, ask around if you have friends who fit the bill, and if you have issues, feel free to reach out to the admin team — specifically myself, since I’ll be putting in some time to help out captains with finding standins for season 18. You can also agree with your players that they try to find standins for themselves if they’re missing — especially with veterans. I know some players who do this and I can only imagine how much the captains appreciate this.
- Confirm things with the opposing captains and division admins. Confirm that you’ll play your official at the standard time, make sure to confirm and check any needed standins, feel free to ask if you don’t understand something, etc.
- Check if and when your players are available for additional games. Be it pubs or scrims, it’s always useful to play more with your teammates, even if the team isn’t complete. Ask them what days work for them, find a common time that is okay for everyone and move into the scrim server to find a partner to scrim.
- Try to discuss games with your team, before and after. Talk about your plan going into a game and what you want to try to do and how you’ll adjust based on your scouting of the enemy team. If you lost, talk about what went wrong and how you can work on that and improve it as a team. Some players are very dedicated and will be interested in rewatching replays, analyzing games, running lane drills, etc.
- Analyze opponents. I’ve touched on this a bit already, but some of the most successful teams always go into games with knowledge about their opponents. Scout their best picks, their warding — especially early, their side and pick preferences, drafting patterns, etc. These are all things you can pull from Dotabuff or OpenDota with a bit of patience. I tend to focus on information that’s useful for the draft and for the early game.
- Keep the atmosphere in check. If someone is being disruptive or harming the team atmosphere, talk to them in private and try to figure out what’s happening. Generally, everyone wants to do well and have fun, so reminding people that you have these common goals goes a long way. Keep in mind also that some people won’t respond to this; it’s a pretty nuanced thing to do and it depends on a lot of information that you might not have. Try not to be harsh, and instead be understanding and approachable. If you feel that your team’s perception of you isn’t conducive to you being an effective leader, you can try to work on that, and let everyone know that anyone can speak their mind, both within the team and privately to you, and give you and anyone else feedback, as long as it’s constructive and not harmful.
- Be a responsible figure in the team. Be in the voice channel before the game, don’t rage quit games, keep your cool. Check on everything, share your own gameplan and ideas. Keep your teammates healthy! Ask for a break between games and remind everyone to stretch, go to the bathroom, drink some water. After the games, stay around and try to chat a bit, regardless of result. Not everyone will respond amazingly well to some of these things, but it’ll garner you some respect and admiration, which is nice for the team environment. I used to even do short monologues cleverly disguised as captain speeches, which I’m sure people didn’t specifically enjoy, but just staying around and listening meant that there was some mutual respect there.
- Write a season review. After you spend upwards of a month on a team with someone, you’re bound to have some thoughts to share. In my experience, everyone likes to read about themselves, and it’s nice to have a review and a look back at your season. You can also encourage your players to write their own reviews. As a captain, try to include comments on things like scheduling or attitudes — this will be very useful for future captains considering your teammates. Additionally, try to offer advice to your players, and touch on their qualities and weaknesses. A couple of sentences should be enough, but if you want to share, the sky’s the limit, and you’d be surprised how many people will read your thoughts.
This concludes my guide to Captaining in RD2L. Thank you for reading! I sincerely hope that it was an interesting read and, more importantly, some of the tips here help future captains to have a better time in the role, as well as to provide a better experience to their teammates. If you have any additional tips that you’d like to see included here for future captains, feel free to reach out!
Good luck to all future captains and players — have lots of fun in your teams!