Thanks to my introduction to it through Steam, my love for Dota 2 knows no bounds.

I’ve been playing the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) for almost five years and, looking at my in-game time, I seem to have spent a total of three months straight playing the game. For anybody wondering, that amounts to 1 468 and something hours.

Is it unhealthy? Probably. Was it fun? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Yes, but not for the reasons you might think. You see Dota has become much more than a game to me. More than an escape from the everyday humdrum, Dota 2 has become my trading post.

As you may well know, Dota 2 is free to play and you could play the game for a lifetime without having to spend a cent on it All the characters are unlocked and ready to play from the moment the game loads in.

That said you can buy cosmetic skins for couriers, wards, heroes and tickets to watch tournaments in-game.

None of these impact how you play the game but I would be lying if I said the temptation to drop R500 on an Arcana set (the highest value, and rarity tier in the game) hasn’t crossed my mind a few times.

Once again though, my real reason for purchasing this stuff is more complex than “it looks pretty”.

The Secret Shop

Dota 2, Counter Strike Global Offensive and Team Fortress 2 players will know there is a Market through which you can sell trading cards and, more importantly, in-game items.

This folks, is the secret to how I’ve not had to key in credit card details to Steam for nearly a year.

Two years ago I bought a ticket for the ESL One Frankfurt tournament which included a loading screen and an item set for the Lifestealer hero as well as a ticket for the tournament. The set was okay and I used it with many comments like, “nice set” and “why are you the worst Lifestealer ever, quit dota”.

Last year in January I sold that item for about R250 with an initial investment of $19.99 back when the dollar was closer to R10 than it is currently. Even by today’s standards that is not a bad deal considering that I made that profit on a few pixels. That was when the bug bit me and I started looking at the market as a way to make money.

For anybody that thinks I’m spewing drivel, take a look at Dazzle’s Pipe of Dezun. At present the Pipe retails for R3 209.73.

That price will fluctuate but since the Pipe of Dezun is a rare item that was found in a treasure that is no longer available, this item may not lose too much value. Unless something drastic happens, like either Dazzle, or the item (or both) gets removed from the game.

The arrow is pointing to the only item that the R3 000 price tag gets you.
The arrow is pointing to the only item that the R3 000 price tag gets you.

My best sale so far has been the Witch Doctor deathward, the Padda’pon of Ribbi’tar which I received upon opening a treasure.

That treasure cost me R40 and I sold the ward for R430.56. Today that ward is worth R904 and some shrapnel, but you never really know when an item’s value is going to drop. There have been many times where I’ve compared the Dota 2 item market to a stock exchange because it really is that volatile.

This is a cosmetic item that is only seen when Witch Doctor casts his Ultimate ability, even then you'll be lucky to see it on screen during a team fight.
This is a cosmetic item that is only seen when Witch Doctor casts his Ultimate ability, even then you’ll be lucky to see it on screen during a team fight.

My copy of Lina’s Infused Dress of the Bewitching Flare sold for R138.56, and more recently my Andestian Sentinel set for Slardar sold for R52.33. I also sold a few older items that dropped in-game for a lot less, but I never had to make a purchase to get these items.

My process involves holding on to bundled sets until Steam sales before selling them off. This is to make sure I have enough cash for whatever AAA titles I have my eye on. So far its worked out pretty well.

The point of all of this is that during the Steam Winter sale in December 2015 I was able to buy Elite: Dangerous, The Witcher 3, Hitman: Absolution and the Stanley Parable without reaching for my credit card once.

The Hand of Midas

As great as this all sounds this whole process has taken me a while to game and I’m not even perfect at it, but I do make money so let me share some of the things I do that net me profits.

Firstly, wait before you unbundle any set. There are exceptions to this rule but for the most part I keep sets bundled together. The result of this is that when it comes time to sell I can sell a bundle which fetches more than individual items.

Had I listened to my own advice a few years ago, I would now be sitting on a set worth nearly R2 000.
Had I listened to my own advice a few years ago, I would now be sitting on a set worth nearly R2 000.

Secondly I spend a lot of time in Dota not actually playing the game. I spend time watching tournaments, browsing through my armoury, browsing through the store as well as the market and just acquainting myself with the lay of the land.

This helps me understand what hero sets and items are currently popular. Often, all it takes for a ‘Heroes Set Items’ to climb in value is a professional playing the hero and all his or her fans, wanting to emulate them.

As an example, Invoker has just received a nerf and set items are sure to come down in value, but, Invoker is a really great hero that the crowd loves seeing the pros play. In my mind then, he is sure to make a come back so I’m inclined to hold on to Invoker items until they gain value.

Invoker items are as beautiful as they are expensive.
Invoker items are as beautiful as they are expensive.

Couriers and wards are your best friends. They may seem cheap and innocent but one of the most valuable items ever sold in Dota 2 was a courier. Hold thumbs for those ultra rare drops and remember to keep the courier or ward bundled if it comes in a bundle.

The last thing I want to add is that if you are looking to buy a game by selling an item don’t wait until you get the exact amount.

Hold on until you get as close to the highest price you think you can get and then sell. Items can drop in value and an item that you could have received R300 suddenly only fetching R3 is just going to ruin your day.

The first, and only Nightstalker cosmetic set used to fetch below R100, now its worth about R600.
The first, and only Nightstalker cosmetic set used to fetch below R100, now its worth about R600. This item was dropped in a treasure from The International.

Over and above that, remember that you are going to still need to buy some treasures because if I’m absolutely honest, most of the in-game drops are terrible, though sometimes you do get a great drop.

I find that during the newer Majors as well as the International you can pick up lots of treasures that might contain a few rares that will help you out during the next sale.

I’m already lining up my next bundles for sale, and something tells me I’ll be adding a few more games to my ever increasing backlog when Steam’s next sale rolls around.

Brendyn Lotz writes news, reviews, and opinion pieces for Hypertext. His interests include SMEs, innovation on the African continent, cybersecurity, blockchain, games, geek culture and YouTube.