- This guide will not teach you to play Earth Spirit but will teach you to think like an Earth Spirit player.
Many of you clicked onto this guide looking for a direct tutorial on how to play Earth Spirit. This hero is capable of producing an infinite combination of spells and items, each having a distinct use and situation. It would take hundreds and hundreds of hours trying to explain each and every combination that this hero can do while forcing you to have a completely incorrect and defeatist mindset. Think back to the days where you were asked to memorize a few words for your spelling test, multiplication tables, or certain elements in the periodic table. Your first impression, when faced with these tasks, would be something along the lines of “Do I really need to memorize all of this garbage?”. And what ended up happening is that you created your own systems and algorithms in your subconscious to help you accomplish those tasks.
A Quick Recap of Evolutionary Biology
Now the main question is; how do we establish these systems and algorithms to Dota 2? The answer lies in 2 certain character traits that not many currently possess, but can be picked up over time. To understand what these character traits are, we need to take a (very) quick lesson in evolutionary biology. Prehistoric animals have a very strong sense of competition, and territorial behavior. Should an intruder trespass on another’s territory, both animals’ first instinct would be to size up their competition. This is done to determine who would win in a fight, and most of the time, one or more of the two parties cut their losses and retreat. However, sometimes both animals are confident that they could defeat each other, and a battle ensues. Generally speaking, an animal with better posture tended to survive longer.
Under all the bravado that each animal possesses is a chemical that lies inside their bodies. That chemical is Serotonin. Studies show that humans with higher Serotonin levels have a variety of different qualities. The quality that we’re gonna focus on is posture, and what it means to a human, and what it means in Dota. For us humans, seeing an individual with good posture imbues a number of impressions. They tend to exude confidence, charisma, and for lack of a better word dominance. The same logic applies to Dota, and the most important thing to keep in mind going forward is not to artificially alter your posture but to naturally play in a way that exudes confidence, charisma, and dominance.
Why Does This Matter To Earth Spirit?
In my opinion, this idea applies tenfold to Earth Spirit for a number of reasons. Off the top of my head, the innate difficulty to execute his abilities, his unique approach to the dynamics of engagements, and his lack of established timings and power spikes are the biggest reasons for this. The biggest barrier stopping a player from succeeding on Earth Spirit, is their posture. Now, what do I mean by posture? Unfortunately, I do not necessarily mean the shape of your back. What I do mean is the way you present yourself in a game, and why that is so important.
The Shadow Shaman vs Tinker Case Study
A few days ago, I played a party game with a relatively newer player. He was learning to play Shadow Shaman, a hero with excellent control abilities. We were having a rough game, playing up against a snowballing Tinker, but there was one eye-opening moment that sparked the idea to this guide. During Tinkers split pushing endeavors, he found himself blinking into the Shadow Shaman. To an advanced player, this is a massive error on Tinkers part, as the Shaman is in the best possible position to control and eventually kill him.
However, my teammate instead cowered and ran to the nearest tower with his tail between his legs. While he was running away, the Tinker rocketed him down from a safe distance and won that particular engagement. This case study tells a lot about how relevant posture is in Dota 2. Think back to our animal counterparts. Where one animal intrudes on the other animals’ territory, they both hold for a moment and size up their opposition. And generally speaking, the more confident animal with higher Serotonin levels came out on top.
This exact same dynamic presents itself in a game of Dota, hundreds of times every second. Every movement, decision, and play is made in relation to what one team perception of another’s is. Let’s quickly and objectively look back at the showdown between Shadow Shaman and Tinker. The moment the Tinker blinks next to the Shaman, both instantly run a series of calculations in their head. From the perspective of an educated outsider, the answer to how that outcome will lead is objectively identified. But to both these players, emotion comes into the way, which further clouds their judgment. What ends up happening, is that the Tinker correctly concludes that he is going to lose that engagement, and Shaman incorrectly does so as well.
But Was The Tinker Right?
The players have both correctly and incorrectly handled the situation in completely different ways. Let’s start with Shadow Shaman. The Shaman player has been conditioned to believe that this Tinker leads to nothing but trouble. The moment he see’s the Tinker, his kneejerk reaction is to run towards the opposite direction. Biologically speaking, this is completely justified. Animals with low Serotonin levels avoid confrontation at all costs; which is what makes these animals survive longer over the millennia. One more time, this newer player, a player starved of Serotonin, when thrown into the world of Dota 2, foolishly and incorrectly followed the instincts of his ancestors, which is what led him to lose that engagement.
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Now, let’s take a look at this engagement from the Tinker’s point of view. Tinker has been dominating the whole game. His posture is an extremely aggressive one, which eventually led him to mistakenly blinking into the range of Shadow Shamans deadly spells. At this point, he is essential, drowning in Serotonin levels. However, the very moment he blinked into Shaman, he understood that this was a mistake, and immediately began planning his exit strategy. In other words, in the heat of the moment, the Tinker players biology motivated him to do something, but his experience in the game; the unbiased part of the brain, is trying to get him to stop.
What Does This Tell Us?
Because of this, I have come to a handful of important conclusions. Firstly, our natural biological tendencies are not a good rubric to use in our Dota 2 games; at least, they rarely are. Dota 2 is to be treated as a Science. There are objectively correct plays for different scenarios. That is why a company like OpenAI finds Dota 2 to be a fitting platform to exercise their AI research. There are decisions that are made purely with the use of objective information, such as damage values, movement speed, and HP. Players with thousands of hours poured into this game, essentially rewired their brains to do things that they don’t naturally do. If Arteezy was playing that Shadow Shaman, he would have immediately made an aggressive play.
My second conclusion is that despite this, Dota players have something within them. Whether that be Serotonin, or not, that holds a massive deathgrip on that player’s playstyle. For simplicity’s sake, we can refer to this ominous force, as Posture. Again, what do I mean by Posture? Posture is the way the players in the game view you. Encountering a confident player, or a timid player presents you with a number of wildly different conclusion on that player. These conclusions translate to the way you play as well.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
A quick thought experiment, let’s assume that in one draft we have a position 4 Earth Spirit and a Mid Shadow Fiend. As for the opposition, we have a Mid Invoker, and a Crystal Maiden. It’s nearing 4 minutes into the game, and the SF notices on the right side of his screen; Earth Spirit has purchased a Dust of Appearance. This subconsciously conditions the SF to employ a more aggressive mindset. His initial calculations to the dynamic of the lane are completely lopsided, and he understands a sudden clear advantage as feasibly getting a kill on Invoker has become more and more realistic. The SF’s next move is to pay more attention to the Earth Spirit, and might even warrant him pressing his “Push to talk” key to ask the ES to come over.
The Earth Spirit is way ahead of him and is already positioning himself to the river runes. As the 4th minute arrives, he finds an Invisibility rune and begins his determined trot to his prey. As the Earth Spirit approaches the lane, the SF prepares for the moment Earth Spirit makes a move. Earth Spirit casts rolling boulder, followed by a right-click, followed by Boulder Smash. All the while, the SF casts a barrage of Razes and Right clicks towards his prey. Invoker smiles to himself and instinctively pushes the figurative “Big Red Button”; QQE. As soon as Invoker breathes a sigh of relief as he is finally safe under the guise of his Ghost Walk, he is shocked and defeated as the particle effect of “Dust of Appearance” explodes before his screen.
A Fitting Conclusion
But, a couple of seconds before he had died, his Crystal Maiden was already anticipating the Earth Spirits rotation and was able to cast Frostbite on Earth Spirit under tower. Still, the Earth Spirit hobbles away victorious, with just 20 HP left in the tank. If the Invoker had just a little bit more killer instinct or better posture, he would have absolutely have gotten the kill on the Earth Spirit. However, the Invoker was not conditioned to be in aggressive mode, as he was so focused on getting last hits that he did not notice the Crystal Maiden was right next to him.
The events listed in this thought experiment can be assumed to be overly specific, but the same dynamic is constantly at play throughout a Dota game. The key difference between both sides is each players conditioning to an outcome that results in aggression. One player is anticipating aggression, while the other wants nothing to do with it. All it took, was the Earth Spirit buying a dust for that kill to turn out to how it did.
First Impressions Last
Let’s pull back a bit, and assume that the engagement leads to a stalemate, with both sides surviving. As defeated as the SF is, he is in nowhere the amount of shock as the Invoker. SF was anticipating a fight, he was ready to go, but Invoker was not. As soon as Earth Spirit cast his first spell, the Invoker received a surge of adrenaline. As the engagement ends, he is in shock, coming down from his “fight or flight” response. He is conditioned to believe that the Earth Spirit is trouble. From this point on, the Invoker’s first response to seeing the Earth Spirit, is to turn around and run in the other direction.
How To Play Earth Spirit
There is a whole other dynamic to your posture that applies outside the actual game. This relates to your outlook to the game, which comes in handy when you are trying to learn to play Earth Spirit. Before getting into a game on Earth Spirit, there are a few things you need to establish to make the game as easy as possible for yourself. The first recommendation I would give is to turn off Auto Attack. The reason for this is that when casting Rolling Boulder, you want to cast your stone in the direction you are facing all the time. If you cast rolling boulder in a certain direction, and your hero begins auto-attacking creeps in the opposite direction, where you double-tap your Stone Remnant ability, you will end up having a slow and anticlimactic roll. Turning off Auto Attack solves this issue.
The second thing you should do is enable Auto Cast on every ability, except for your Stone Remnant ability. To perform a single action on Earth Spirit, you essentially have to do double the normal input. For example, for a Venomancer to slow his enemies, all he has to do is press Q, then select a direction. However, for Earth Spirit to slow his enemy, he needs to press his Stone Remnant hotkey, click a location on the map, press Q, then select a direction. Enabling Quick Cast makes this series of spells become; double tap Stone Remnant and cast Q to where your mouse is.
Make Things Easier On Yourself!
This is where you put yourself in a Lobby or Demo Lobby and get used to using all your spells on their own. Meaning get used to rolling correctly on the correct targets. Understand your Rolls quirks and strange interactions. Get creative with it. Once you familiarize yourself with Earth Spirits spells, determine an item build before you even get into the draft screen. This is one of the most important steps, as according to our Kunkka Guide, figuring out the right item requires too much mental real estate than you can feasibly make while correctly playing your hero. For beginners, that item build starts out with Magic Stick, Brown Boots, and Urn, in that order.
As the game goes on, you can begin thinking about what your next item should be. Sometimes that means upgrading your Urn to a Spirit Vessel, sometimes it means getting a Vladimirs Offering, sometimes it means building a Force Staff. The point is, establish a framework for what the main items you need are, as you will not have the time or the energy to think of them. After you completed all these steps, queue yourself into an Unranked, All Pick game. If this is your first time playing Earth Spirit, you will lose, and you will make 4 more enemies than you are supposed to have. It is imperative that you do not mistake Confidence and Posture with Cockyness and Arrogance.
Introduction Into Chaos
Once you are in a game, the first thing you should do is to first pick Earth Spirit. This in itself does a ton of damage to the enemy’s mental state. Earth Spirit is a very uncommon pub hero. The hero itself forces its opponents to dip their toes into the realm of the chaotic unknown. They will either be terrified if they assume that you are a good Earth Spirit player, or be overconfident if they think that you are just trying the hero out for the first time. Use this to your advantage!
Once you pick your hero, mark your position on the minimap. Tell your teammates that you are playing “pos 4 sup” to minimize confusion. Remember, Earth Spirit is very foreign even to your teammates, so make sure you are all on the same page before the start of the game. Purchase your starting items and an observer ward. This is an incredibly important step. As soon as the draft concludes, identify who the enemy midlaner is, and deduce if they are killable.
A Few Tips To Follow in The Early Game
As soon as the game begins, make your way to your respective Offlane with your Roll. Don’t be afraid of using your remnants in the early game, as they will replenish much faster than you need them in the early seconds of the game. Your first objective is to block the enemy Safelane’s small camp. Be sneaky and clever with your movements, and always keep an eye on your mini-map. If you do not encounter an enemy in your mission, then congratulations, you guaranteed about 2 waves of experience for your offlaner. However, if you do see an enemy, and you have not yet placed your ward, then cut your losses and leave. Do not feed a free observer to your enemy!
At exactly 2 seconds before the rune spawns, roll confidently to the river bounty rune from fog. If timed correctly, you will stun the enemy hero contesting the rune, and the rune will spawn while they are stunned. If you are successful, then understand that you have officially accomplished 2 game-winning plays before the game even began. The act of you confidently rolling to block the enemy’s small camp give a precedent to your Offlaner. It tells them that; “This Earth Spirit is a man with a plan, better stick with him!”.
The second thing is that you shook the enemy to their core with your unexpected roll into stealing their bounty rune. Not only have you shifted the needle of balance of the laning stage to your favor, but you also mentally prepared your and the enemy team for a game that goes on your terms. The moment the creeps spawn, you are in complete dominance of your enemy’s subconscious, while filling your team with confidence. All that’s left is Not Buggering It Up!
The epitome of The Roamer Meta
You want to see heroes like Tinker, Storm Spirit, and Sniper. You do not want to see Queen of Pain, Dragon Knight, or Death Prophet. If you see a killable mid hero, then you should put a lot of attention towards the Middle Lane. You want to react to what happens there, and you want to be proactive should an opportunity arises. If you do not see a hero that you can feasibly takedown in the Mid, then you are only to react to a situation. Situations like your Midlaner getting dove under tower, rune spawns, or an aggressive play by your midlaner. Even then, assuming that there is killable food in the Mid Lane, it’s not as simple as plopping over there and hoping for a kill.
Play Around Your Team
Earth Spirit is unique in the fact that he does not have any particularly strong power spikes or timings. His level 6 is a decent nuke, that may help you net a kill that you normally wouldn’t, but it rarely proves effective enough to consider it as a “power spike”. So what is it that Earth Spirit actually plays around? The answer is, that you play around the timings of your Teammates, and your opponents. Earth Spirit is what I classify as an Enabling Hero. A hero that amplifies the strengths of his teammates, and does little to directly contribute himself.
So, if you are playing Earth Spirit, and you see that the enemy Storm Spirit is level 6; that’s your queue to push the brakes a little, and be more calculated in your attacks. However, if that Storm Spirit is on your team, and he had just hit level 6 with full mana, then pedal to the medal, its go time. Where the Kunkka Guide shows us anything and everything that has to do with our own hero in a game, Earth Spirit forces us to think about literally everything else.
An Accidental Surge of Artificial Certainty
Let’s slow down a bit, and pedal back to a few paragraphs ago. What I did, is I gave you a structured checklist that you should follow before every game. This checklist is not done to improve your Earth Spirit play. In fact, there is nothing you can do that will make you a good Earth Spirit player other than actually playing him. What this checklist does, is act as a replacement to your basic biological instincts. I mentioned earlier that in your first Earth Spirit game, you will suck, and it will be an unenjoyable time for you. What this checklists function is, to artificially induce a winning posture before the game even begins.
Let me give you a quick run down of an unprepared novice trying out Earth Spirit for the first time. In the draft screen, they begin hyper analyzing every pick. They are not totally sure if Earth Spirit is the right pick for the game, but they want to improve, so they pick it anyways. As the game begins, they buy the right items as their guide tells them, but they are unsure of what items to buy next. As they hide in the trees of the Offlane, looking for an opening, they fail to notice that their midlaner was dove under tower.
As they miss their roll, they get flamed by their teammates, and get discouraged for the remainder of the game.
This. Will. Happen. Regardless if you are prepared or not. But preparing, gives you a structure to fall back on. No matter what happens, I am buying Magic Stick, Boots, then Urn. No matter what happens, I can kill the enemy Mid Pugna. No matter what happens, I understand what I’m supposed to do in the game, and I’m confident in the checklist that I established before this game even began. Regardless of the chaos that is thrown at your direction, you will remain true to the hero you are playing, a rock that is able to withstand all the odds and come out a better player.
Credit Where Credit’s Due
Before wrapping up this guide, I’d like to talk a bit about one of the greatest Earth Spirit players in history. Jerax’s history in the professional Dota 2 scene is so intertwined with Earth Spirit that it seems quite ridiculous at times. This whole guide explored the relevance of posture and confidence in Dota 2, and what better example of that is Jerax or OG? OG have time and time defied everything we know and understand about Dota 2, essentially willed the game into something that we don’t fully understand.
Before he was considered the undisputed best, Jerax was a fairly average player. He couldn’t truly express himself or his ideas about the game in a sufficient manner. Then suddenly, Earth Spirit is added to Dota, and his entire view of the game took a 180. Jerax is transformed from an average support player, to one of the most promising, to one of the greatest of all time. On the back of Earth Spirit, Jerax was able to finally express his ideas about the game, by continuously innovating new ways to play the hero.
Betrayal of Our Roots
This is where the second main character trait comes into play. We’ve established posture, but the second one, arguably the more important one, is creativity. In Dota, I’d say posture only applies to a novice learning to play the game. Posture is an excuse that we can use to motivate ourselves to play more proactively. But every single great player innately has this posture. They no longer even need to focus on maintaining it, as it’s already second nature. That’s why high-level Dota is faster and more action-packed. It isn’t that players are more mechanically skilled that they are able to channel all their aggression in such an efficient way, its that their thousands of hours into the game conditioned them to think that aggressive play is what helps them win games. Its how that animal with the highest and mightiest posture was able to withstand thousands and thousands of years of natural selection. It’s just… Biology.
It’s why that, despite being one of the greatest Earth Spirit players of all time, Jerax was able to continue dominating on a massive pool of heroes. As an Earth Spirit player, I understand the mindset needed- no, the mindset that is molded that comes with playing the hero. It’s the moment where you realize, that those thousands of hours of play, thousands of hours of study, leads to a massive and astonishing realization. A realization that Jerax made, and one that OG has made almost 3 years ago. It’s something that I continue to stand by, despite the persistent ridicule from my peers.
It’s that Dota 2 is not a Science, it’s an Art. And I can pinpoint the exact point in history where OG figured this out. When OG was tasked with beating OpenAI, we saw the first true clash of what true “perfect” Dota looks like vs our ultimate yet finite interpretation of it. Surprisingly, OpenAI were able to come out on top winning the series 2-0. But in those 2 games, we witnessed the biggest clash of styles in Dota 2’s history. At that point, we understood that OpenAI determined all of these objectively optimal strategies, where us humans took a completely different approach for years and years. For example, our arbitrary assignment of the 5 roles, holds absolutely no scientific merit to OpenAI.
Where an Earthshaker blocking a Midlaner from the safety of their Tower was never once attempted by the OpenAI bots, the bots used their precious and impressive ultimates efficiently yet unspectacularly on jungle camps. And where OG would cleverly add a well-timed “?” to All Chat after a won Team fight, the OpenAI would remark that “We estimate a 95% probability of winning this game.” This all displayed not only a clear conflict in an understanding of the Game by both parties but a fundamental difference in how certain actions affect various external aspects outside of games. Things like player morale, and attitude.
A Whole New Meaning
An Earthshaker landing a 5 hero Echo Slam holds much more meaning to the amount of damage and disable time to his enemies. The same way a player perfectly utilizing all 7 of Earth Spirits abilities to take down a target does more than just add a death timer to that hero. We understand that this does a whole lot of mental damage to the player on the receiving end. Playing Earth Spirit forces you to think about these things, to try and invoke a series of emotions and reactions out of your opponents.
And that, in a nutshell, is how it feels to play Earth Spirit in Dota 2.
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**Featured Image if by Julian Kok, Freelance Illustrator for Wizards of the Coast / Concept Artist in the game industry. His Artstation can be found here, and his Twitter is here if you’d like to contact him for work.