Torte de Lini: “I always applaud people who once used my guides but now feel confident to play on their own or make their own guides. But I also thank and appreciate those who continue to enjoy those guides as much as I personally do as well”

1Play DOTA2 News
Aug 12

On February 21, 2013, Valve added in-game guides and Hero builds to Dota 2. It was a revolutionary change, allowing the community to help each other improve and exchange ideas. There have been thousands of guides created in the game over the years but there’s been only a handful of players whose guides have stood out. One of them, and perhaps the most prominent, is Michael “Torte de Lini” Cohen.

Last month, he announced the completion of nine years of his ‘The Standard Dota Hero Builds’ project. The numbers associated with his guides over the years are simple astronomical and it does take a minute to let it seep in. 3+ billion matches played, 500+ million subscriptions and a market share of 86.27%. His influence on Dota 2 pubs is much higher than everyone else combined – but he remains humble about his contribution to the shape of the meta.’s Rohan Samal spoke with Torte de Lini about his guides, his passion and more.

Rohan: Tell me about yourself. Where are you from, what do you do? 

Torte de Lini: My name is Michael Yossef Cohen-Palacios, I’m a 32-year-old Swiss, American, French-Canadian citizen with a Jewish Egyptian refugee father and a Spanish-Ecuadorian mother. I currently reside in The Netherlands and have spent the past 9 years creating and updating popular Dota 2 in-game guides with over 500 million subscriptions, 3 billion total matches played.

In terms of my career, I’ve been around the block having worked on production for AAA games as well as gaming events like StarCraft II, Dota & CS:GO Majors, Minors and a PUBG League. I’ve also launched a dozen of start-ups including a TV studio, magazine, live-streaming platform and joining an investment holding.

I’m especially proud of my work in consultancy and M&A work, raising funds for start-ups and helping sell companies like GosuGamers. My Dota 2 guides continue to be a centerpiece in my life, being one of my earliest and undisputed successes in my life and career. It encapsulates my ambitions in life, passion for gaming and desire to be of utility for the things and communities I love.

Rohan: I think when Valve allowed users to create guides, everyone started doing so. I know I have a couple of guides I have written as well. But the motivation just falls off after some time. What was your motivation to continue writing guides for all the heroes over so many years?

Torte de Lini: Not many players know or remember this, but when the first hero builds released in 2013, they were all done via web browser and uploaded to the cloud to then be implemented in-game. This system was so cumbersome and it would straight-up bug out and cause guides to either be removed, error out or simply become unable to edit or update: 

Most people, including Purge, Greyshark and Explosive, quit because there was no real value in doing something for free with a system that actively fought back with errors and erasing all our work. When I started working on this guides project, I had already several years of experience of working for free, from volunteering at a Jewish retirement home, writing guides on the TeamLiquid forums to running esports events and competitive teams, so taking on a project, for a game I loved, was an easy addition to my routine.

Furthermore, I already had the tolerance of working with buggy products since I had worked in production of pre-alpha version of games like Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars & Mercenaries 2: World in Flames. Given my background, I started reporting those bugs and tracking that information for years: 2013-2014, 2015-2017.

My motivation for continuing to do this project has changed over the years. When I first started, I was at the end of my educational road which only highlighted just how much of a failure I was. I had repeated my sixth and ninth grade, picked a university degree that my parents recommended to ensure I would pass (and I did in three years instead of four). Plus, I had nothing to show in my life except for three years of unpaid labor.

At a certain point in my 20-something year old life, I had realized that I wanted to do more in gaming than just play games. I wanted to do something that was of utility to myself and others, required only my hard-working nature, passion and was related to the game I grew up with back in 2005-2006 (DotA). Over the years, I continued the guides because it helped give a semblance of productivity in-between different start-ups and roles.

When you’re between jobs, the feeling of being unwanted in a market and feeling like a failure is difficult to stave off. The guides gave me a sense of confidence where there was none. For the first two years of my full-time career, nobody really believed in me and my parents did everything they could to prevent me from leaving for Berlin for my first role and failed start-up. I had a hundred Canadian dollars, a pocket watch and nowhere to go. The guides helped give a semblance of routine and productivity during those times where the worry of my future weighed heavy on my mind.

That weight would continue for the next 6-7 years as I moved around the world: Berlin, Copenhagen, Los Angeles, Moscow, Kiev, North Carolina, Leiden, Berlin again, Amsterdam. Nowadays, I do it because I’m proud of what I’m doing and get to give back to a game that has literally saved my life time and time again ever since it distracted me from my parents’ messy divorce and the abuse I faced growing up.

Rohan: You have a great influence on how Dota 2 meta plays out than many others. How does it make you feel when you review every year and see millions of people trust your guides?Torte de Lini: Haha, I guess I’m a literal Dota 2 influencer. On the one hand, I understand that outside the realm of Dota 2, it’s not that big of a deal. On the other, it’s crazy to think that millions of people rely on my guides and that my guides are comparable in numbers to that of The International. At this point almost 86% of all games are influenced by my guides.

Every day, I stream Dota 2 or any other game on my Twitch channel and visiting people always stop by to thank me for the guides. It’s so warming for someone who really isn’t the most socially-able person nor very liked growing up. I’ve met so many new friends, community members and people I’ve admired for years thanks to these guides and they’ve all been invaluable memories for me.

As I’ve said many times before, everyone who trusts my guides before or now, has made this pretty average person feel like they’ve achieved something above-average.

Rohan: Is there any particular fan message that stuck out for you – maybe a message or someone approaching you IRL to thank you?

Torte de Lini: Honestly, when someone spends five minutes to reach out and thank me for the guides, it’s a huge honor for me. Just the fact that they took the time to see who was managing this service, went out to find me and reach out with words of kindness is something I hadn’t experienced before. A lot of moments have been really surreal like when a pro-gamer stopped me at the airport to ask for my signature. Holy hell that was crazy to me and my friend! I think he’s a top 50 player now and we’re still friends to this day. At an after-party, I’ve had a pro-gamer ask me to include more magic wands in my guides. So now I’m doing that all the time which is kind of funny.

One time I got to meet the developers of Team Fortress 2 who had kind words to say about my work. That game defined my passion for gaming, sense of humor and I would consider it my top 3 defining games in my life. That was such a dream come true for me!

I also got to meet the OpenAI team who used my guides to beat pro-gamers and I still think about that time a lot as well. One time I had team members of Riot games asking to pick my brains how to get contributors to their game (League of Legends).

All in all, my favorite part about this project is when I get to meet someone who already has a good impression of who I am. It’s very comforting for someone like me who isn’t the most socially comfortable person.

It’s so easy to be hateful, write a dismissive comment and just move on with your day. But it takes a lot of effort to stop, reach out and express your kind words to someone like myself. It may not seem like a big deal but it’s still you taking your time and expressing your thanks. That’s so much more than one could ask for. It’s all about the action itself than the words that they’ve chosen to reach out.

Rohan: Obviously, you have now completed all hero guides. But I want to go back into the past when you were still undertaking the project. On average, how much time did it take you to research, write and finetune a guide – from scratch?

Torte de Lini: I would say it’s the same except the amount of hours – I’ve been trying to reduce it but it’s pretty much the same.  When a new patch is hit or a new hero is released, I regularly spend about 12 hours across a few days to iron out a version that makes the most sense of the hero as it finds its place in high-level pubs. For something like patch 7.00, which was one of the largest patches in the history of Dota 2 and released the new hero, Monkey King, I spent 70 hours across 8 days to get it out in time to meet vocal demand.

In general, I spend about 3 hours a day, every day researching and reviewing the guides. Another 4 hours if I decide to do some guide-testing and livestreaming on my channel: All that said, what’s most annoying are the times when a patch hits and I’m on vacation or in a time-zone where the patch releases somewhere around 3AM and I can’t fall asleep. One time, Arc Warden was released when I was literally on my way to the Grand Canyon, having woke up around 5AM or something to catch the bus for it. As soon as I got back home, I literally dropped my bags and got to work.

Rohan: What do you make of people that criticize you for your guides and their content? I know you quote Zig Ziglar – ‘your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude’ in your blog?

Torte de Lini: There is the idea of just telling people what to do every game but Dota teaches us early on that we cannot expect others to do as we like, and it’s not fair for us to put that misplaced pressure on them. The goal is NOT about getting people to do what we want, that’s just trying to solve a problem that cannot be solved. By trying to control others, we are essentially admitting that we are uncomfortable with the confrontation that we cannot always control our environment or the people that interact with us in that environment.

Have you ever tried to get 5 strangers to work and play together? The only way that works is if the other four players decide to cooperate and that only occurs if it makes sense to them and aligns with their understanding of the game, their role and their abilities. More importantly, if they trust your vision and views.

The guides were originally with that intent: to give me a sense of pride and achievement during a time when I had very little to show in my life and to be productive when faced with a very natural frustration. The same can be applied regarding criticisms: I can only manage my own well-being and take in feedback that is constructive and helpful. I’ve stopped engaging or reading comments since 3 years ago, however any comments that could improve the guides is forwarded by friends. Furthermore, when I collaborated with Valve to make the in-game hero builds system, that opened up a variety of great hero guide collections for people to use as they prefer.

Rohan: Who would you say your guides are targeted towards? Is it for complete newcomers, those who are stuck in their ranks, or slightly more advanced?

Torte de Lini: The guides cater to those who want to know what the current meta or ‘standard’ way to play a hero is at the highest level. It doesn’t target any specific audience because of how large and wide the skill-gap is between players. There are pro-gamers and immortal players who use my guides and there are complete newbies who also trust my work. Guides are essentially a tool to help break down how you should see a hero, their options in terms of skill and item builds and adding key information to help better understand how to play the hero.

Guides are inflexible but I try to give it as much as bendiness as I can while also providing some policies to ensure that this adjustability leads the player in the right direction. In my latest year-in-review, I provide an outline of the many policies I implement to provide as much support and structure as I can when making these guides.

With all that said, they are just tools and imperfect ones at that. It will always require a certain level of expertise from the player to distinguish when to trust a guide and when to deviate from it and, more importantly, to determine if another tool is best suited for their playstyle and preferences.

All in all, people use guides for different reasons such as just needing a quick reference to buying items or as a jumping point to get introduced to a hero or frankly they just need the confidence of a guide to feel better about exploring new heroes and playstyles. There are even those who tell me that they can only play a game or two and don’t want to think or improve at the game, they just want to jump in and play a match. I try my best to provide a certain level of quality and attempt as summarizing a hero into a functional breakdown form of a guide to accommodate as many types of players as I can.

Rohan: If it were me, I would always think that writing a guide is about enabling people to think for themselves and come up with their individual solutions to item builds and talent choices. Do you agree that your guides should be taken as a stepping stone towards enabling people to make their own choices?

Torte de Lini The thing about tools is that people will choose how to use them and to what degree they will trust them. For pro-players, the guides are a quick reference to a hero they’re familiar with, but not comfortable in playing. For newcomers, the guides helps them focus on how to play the game and in reducing the number of decisions they have to make in a game where they have no basis of understanding to make those decisions.

The beauty about Dota is that it is ever-changing and the learnability ceiling is always moving upward. In that sense, the knowledge we accrue over time, with experience, leads us to feel like we’re improving and thus the goal is to always improve. That said, if someone wants to use my guides and never think for themselves, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. That is how they choose to enjoy the game. I always applaud people who once used my guides but now feel confident to play on their own or make their own guides. But I also thank and appreciate those who continue to enjoy those guides as much as I personally do as well.

The original intent for the guides were personal: 

In terms of guides, I always liked heroes that were fairly straight-forward and simple, just because it makes updating all the simpler for me like Riki, Slardar and Wraith King. Lifestealer was the first guide to hit 1 million subscriptions for me, so he is among my favorites.

In terms of design, I always felt Monkey King, Pangolier & Mars were the most interesting in terms of abilities, animations and design. I personally like to play very fat, annoying unkillable pieces of shit like Ogre Magi, Lifestealer, Tidehunter, Spirit Breaker, Tiny & Underlord.

Rohan: I think every Dota player, over several years often takes a break from the game. I personally took a break from the game to play Overwatch (and how that turned out!) around 2017. But then I watched a few Dota pro matches and came right back. Did you ever take a break from Dota2?

Torte de Lini: I cannot recall a time where I’ve taken a significant break from enjoying Dota 2. If I wasn’t playing, I was watching or working in the scene. I was unable to play Dota 2 once, in 2016, when I had to live in hotels and Airbnbs for nine months straight as my company was undecided on where I needed to reside to install a permanent location for the business.

All I had were my two suitcases and an old Dell XPS laptop as I moved from the west coast of the US to CIS to Western Europe. Sitting in tiny hotel rooms and cheap rented places, it was miserable. One time I spent one month in a hotel room next to the airport and if you’ve ever done that there’s literally nothing next to you except the airport. I couldn’t play Dota but I continued to watch Dota 2 and update the guides to the best of my ability and thanks to the feedback of pro-players and the community. That was the only time I stopped playing but I still kept in touch with the game, the community and the guides of course.

Rohan: You mention you are exploring potential collaborations with pro-teams. Have you attempted to do this before? 

Torte de Lini: I was in discussion of the terms with a one or two teams before they dropped their support for Dota 2. With the sponsorship value of 500 million subscriptions and over 1.7 million daily views of my guides, there is a lot of collaborative value for a team brand to work with me, on top of my experience in content-creation and production with my work in esports media start-ups and my established relationships with most pro-gamers.

Rohan: What are your favorite heroes in Dota 2? And why?

Torte de Lini: I personally like very fat, annoying unkillable heroes in Dota 2. I think that’s for every game I play. In Overwatch I play D’va all the time and to spam her annoying voice line. I like heroes like Ogre Magi, Lifestealer, Tide, Spirit Breaker, Tiny, Underlord. They are just unkillable and are extremely annoying with their spells. 

Rohan: You mentioned exactly those heroes that annoy me as a support main. Do you think Valve should be helping you (and other guide writers) more for your contribution to the game?

Torte de Lini: I try to avoid using the word “should” as it sets a misplaced expectation on others. I’m very appreciate for the help Valve has provided over the years including being invited to The International 7 and giving me the opportunity to work directly with them to make the in-game guide system, which has sourced over 250,000 guides since October 2017.

I’d love it if they fixed my Spirit Breaker guide which can only be found via web and not in-game for the past 3 years. 

Other than that, there are some bugs and QoL changes they could provide. Of course, further in-game or monetizable incentives would be appreciated. For everyone who contributes to Valve games, either through cosmetics, custom maps and more, we’re always hoping that Valve would be a bit more hands-on like during the old Team Fortress 2 days where their community aspect of their company was more about actionable collaborations than just pure communication. We’d all love to help steer that process to bring that aspect into fruition. It’s not something that we expect, it’s just something that we are hoping for.

Rohan: As an analyst that is constantly working on the game and finetuning the various guides across the titles, what would you like to see changed in Dota 2 (something new added, something removed – game mechanic maybe?)

Torte de Lini: For the client, I always like alternative goals set in the match. I like the battle pass in that regard except that in the battlepass in order to progress you have to win. There’s more pressure to win. I feel like additional incentive in playing beyond just winning would help relieve that frustration where you walk away from a match where you feel like you wasted your time if you didn’t win especially for those that play ranked.

In ranked, all that matters is your rank. It’s either going up or going down. It’s so simplistic but at the same time it’s also deeply adds to the pressure to perform well or to the frustration where people don’t perform to your (misplaced) expectation. I always wish there were alternative incentives in a match whether that be in the form of hero levels, relics, things that are account-wide or player-wide. It would feel like they’re progressing even if they’re not outright winning.

I wish we could have more maps and modes in Dota 2. Not just event ones like Diretide or Aghanim’s Labyrinth, I know League of Legends and HoN tried to do it and it was relatively less played than the main game mode, but I’d still like to see more variety in objectives, environment and playstyles. 

If not new modes, then a new map that change up the experience rather than having to re-arrange the current map we’ve been playing on for decades. There are so many elements that drastically changes the overall game experience: different types of lanes, less or more lanes, new juking styles or new objectives outside of Roshan & outposts, etc. 

Lastly, with HoN shutting down, I definitely would like to see some of those heroes transition over like Gauntlet, The Dark Lady, Zephyr and Puppet Master.

Rohan  ESPORTS.GG  2022-08-10 01:50:00
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