Improving With Sandbox Mode

One of the most overlooked ways to improve quickly at Dota 2

Dota 2 has not only a steep learning curve, but a seemingly endless one. There are so many things to learn, and it might seem like it takes an endless amount of games to master them.

Luckily for us, Dota 2 has a sandbox mode which allows us to accelerate this learning.

Sandbox Mode

Sandbox mode is a way for players to play a game without its usual constraints. In Dota, this means playing a practice game with no other human players.

Although it might sound silly to practice Dota 2 without other players, sandbox mode is actually one of the best, easiest, and fastest ways to improve at the game. That’s because sandbox mode allows you to practice and master mechanics.

I know — to some, that sounds tedious or boring. Or it might sound like a waste of time. But, in actuality, it’s one of the best uses of your time if you want to quickly get better. That’s because practicing in sandbox mode allows you to:

  • Practice and focus on exactly what you want to get better at.
  • Practice and learn without having to worry about messing up or what your teammates will say.
  • Practice as little or as long as you want, unlike actual games where you’re stuck until the end.

In a nutshell, sandbox mode gives you more confidence and experience to execute things in real games. Sandbox mode also takes less time than real games — you could spend 5 minutes before your first game just doing last hit practice.

Setting Up A Game

Setting up a sandbox game is really easy.

After clicking “Play Dota”, select “Create Lobby”. This drops you into your own game.

Inside a lobby.

From here you can pick which team you want to be on. More importantly, you can set your lobby settings by clicking on the gear icon.

Lobby settings.

I recommend enabling cheats. If you want to other heroes to practice spells and items on, I recommend filling empty slots with passive bots (or using cheats to create heroes in game).

Cheats

You can use cheats to help configure the game in a way that makes it easier to practice. To use a cheat, simply type the cheat into chat. I’ve included some cheats that I use frequently, but you can find other cheats here.

  • -gold X
    Gives you X gold.
  • -lvlup X
    Gives you X levels.
  • -wtf
    Allows you to cast spells and use items repeatedly, without cooldown or mana costs.
  • -unwtf
    Turns off wtf mode
  • -startgame
    Starts the game (moves the clock forward to 0:00).

How To Practice

To get the most out of your practice, you need to identify what it is that you actually want to learn. Be as specific as possible.

For example, wanting to carry better is a very vague goal. A better-defined goal would be to learn to last hit, or to focus on getting the most last hits within a certain period of time. It helps if you use a metric that is either a pass/fail metric or a quantitative metric, since they give you a better idea of how you’re doing.

As you practice, look for cues that you can use to be more effective. You have plenty of time to observe how other elements in the game relate to your goal.

When I was learning to last hit, I had trouble timing my last hit by only looking at health bars. I eventually made the observation that a creep’s health bar drops based on how many other creeps are attacking it. Seems obvious, but this gave me two more things to help improve my last hitting: (1) the more creeps, the faster the health bar will drop and (2) I can tell exactly when the bar will drop by watching my creeps’ attack animations.

Similarly, when learning to block pull camps, it seemed really hard to remember exact camp boundaries. By observing, I realized that I could use geographic landmarks (bushes, trees, flowers, etc.) to remember where a camp’s spawn box is.

Practice Ideas

There are many things you can practice in sandbox mode. If you’re looking for ideas, here are some of the things I’ve practiced.

  • Last hitting.
  • Stacking.
  • Pulling.
  • Warding and camp blocking.
  • Blink dagger usage, in conjunction with spells (such as blink into Slithereen Crush on Slardar).
  • Becoming familiar with heroes.
  • Farming practice.
  • Body blocking creeps.

What Not To Use Sandbox Mode For

Although sandbox mode is very useful, there’s one obvious place where it isn’t useful: sandbox mode doesn’t help you improve in situations that involve another player’s decision making.

For example, sandbox mode is fine for practicing perma-hexing as Tinker. After the initial hex, it doesn’t really matter what your target does, both in a sandbox game and in a real game.

Sandbox mode would be poor for trying out an item build. That’s because your item build depends on what your opponents and your teammates are doing. Sandbox mode is fine for practicing item combos, but that’s different from an item build.

Most notably, bot games are not useful ways to practice. If you have a goal within the bot game (such as checking runes every 2 minutes) that’s fine. But aiming to win isn’t useful because your allies and opponents in a real game won’t play like bots!


I have a website now! You can find this article and other articles at Dota 2 Notes.

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