Dota 2 is an incomprehensible beast for many new players.

It’s nice then that Valve allows the community to create guides for each and every hero in Dota 2 so that learning how to play the game is a bit easier. The trouble is that these guides have become something of a lost cause especially since Valve turned the game on its head.

Many guides are outdated and haven’t been adapted for new patches, new hero roles or new metas.

Many guides, not all mind you.

One individual has taken it upon himself to create guides for Dota that are not only frequently updated, but actually rather good for beginners who are simply trying to figure out which items their hero needs. This individual is Michael “TorteDeLini” Cohen.

Day[9] shouts out TorteDeLini from DotA2

Cohen has been playing Dota since 2005 when the game was but a Warcraft 3 mod called Dota Allstars. He then started playing Heroes of Newerth and League of Legends before returning to Dota 2 in 2011.

Today Cohen’s guides are the go-to resource for many new players and those few that want to climb the Ranked ladder with a bit of assistance.

We had a chance to chat to Cohen about this passion project of his and what inspires him to put so much effort into his build guides.

htxt.africa Hi Michael thanks for taking the time to chat to us, our first question is where did the name Torte De Lini come from?

Torte De Lini: It came from a game called KingdomOfLoathing.com. I was a Pastamancer named Torte de Lini. My mother also served it to me a lot. I absolutely despise it now because of the amount of times I would eat it with Ragu (brand of tomato sauce in North America) sauce.

htxt.africa Do you have a preferred hero or lane in Dota 2?

TDL: It’s been a while since I had preferred lanes or heroes. I usually go into a game with a goal in mind of what’s needed either in terms of needing to win the match or test a hero build. I no longer have a favourite lane any more (I think mid is my least favourite), but for heroes, I always identified a lot with Doom, Ogre Magi and Lifestealer, but I do not play those heroes all that often.

Out of 4 919 matches, I only have 203 as Lifestealer, 126 as Doom, 56 as Ogre Magi. Their play styles are what I enjoy: self-sustaining rounded heroes that can deal damage and provide a lot for the team.

Which item do you buy first? What should you building into? Does Battlefury work with ranged heroes? All these questions answered.

htxt.africa How long does it take you to create a hero guide and how do you prepare for new heroes being added to the game?

TDL: Creating hero builds is one of the least time-consuming parts of the project. In February 2014 I had 112 builds. By December, I had 143 and by 2017 I had 155 hero builds.

Before Monkey King, we had an inkling of what the hero was going to be like since they all came from DotA. So creating an initial framework of the itemization and skill build for a hero is mostly guesswork of what I recall from back then.

Here’s an example of a draft guide made for Pit Lord [sic] back in August 2015 – I mostly guessed that his Firestorm will be maxed first with his Pit of Malice maxed second. That remains true, even at his release in August 2016 and subsequently now, in 2017.

Throughout the years, I kept adjusting his build to better suit what the meta was in terms of itemization.

htxt.africa So if creating the base guide is not as time consuming as we thought where is the majority of your time spent?

TDL: The actual heavy lifting is updating the builds which can take 3-4 hours every day.

After Underlord was released, it’s a two-week period to determine the ideal hero build or what is commonly played and then it gets updated again when the hero hits captain’s mode and competitive play. Sometimes though, a hero gets nerfed so poorly that this delays things until he’s balanced again. An example of this is Arc Warden which is finally seeing some competitive play .

Creating a new hero build can be arduous, but its keeping them up-to-date that takes a lot of my time and effort.

Cohen’s Legion guide might be second on this list but don’t be fooled, it’s up to date.

htxt.africa One of the most impressive things about your guides is how quickly you manage to get the updated once a new patch has been implemented. How do you do it?

TDL: Discipline and sacrifice. In 2013/2014, there were a lot of guide-makers, some never updated their hero builds but always made new builds when a new patch hit. If I didn’t release multiple guides for the same hero at the time of its release (even if it was optimally less relevant), then others would and users would flock to their guides.

I did not know how dedicated these other guide-makers were, but I told myself from the get-go that I would update all my guides until I physically can no longer do it and I’ve been doing it ever since.

In 2014, I had over 40 million subscriptions compared to greyshark’s 13 million and Purge at 8.9 million.

Unfortunately, most of the popular guide makers from 2013 and 2014 have left or long abandoned the system due to the system being heavily neglected or abandoned.

But since I’ve maintained the routine of updating hero builds 48 hours after a patch hits for over 3 years (2016), there is now an audience that persistently messages me to ask when I’ll be updating the hero builds, why aren’t the builds updated or can I update XYZ build.

htxt.africa Why did you start this clearly arduous task?

TDL: I used to play DotA and I always used those guides on PlayDotA back in the day. I was that one guy who lagged because he was alt-tabbing to see the guide.

Then when Dota 2 came out, there was this great site called: Dota AltTab or something. He was the hero builds site before the function was released in-game. The only annoying part was that you never knew how recently updated the build was as the meta shifted a lot.

Lastly, I used to always get frustrated that my teammates didn’t follow any sort of ‘traditional’ build when playing their heroes. It angered me that they would build anything they wanted without regard to the context of the match or what is typically popular for that hero.

That frustration lead me to create hero builds, which would subsequently also keep me informed on how to build the heroes I enjoyed and also learn how to play heroes I typically never played Kunkka, Silencer, Invoker, Meepo, etc.

It was a win-win situation for me and it gave me an outlet to be constructive with my frustration while also paying homage to the many great community members throughout the years who provided great guides for idiots like myself.

htxt.africa Do your supporters realise how much work you put into these guides?

TDL: I think a lot of people now realize the work and effort that goes into the guides. The hours it demands and appreciate all that I do. In the end, it’s the result that they appreciate most and the effort is something they’ll always acknowledge. When I first started this project, I wanted every one to know the day-to-day work I was dedicating as well as the growth I was achieving. Now, it doesn’t matter as much any more because the work I’m dedicating is actual years and the result are self-evident.

There was a turning-point in this project when I was vacationing in Las Vegas – my first holiday in years – and the Arc Warden patch came out.

For the entire bus ride to the Grand Canyon, I stared at a tiny laptop’s screen trying to draft all the changes I was going to make when I returned from my trip. In my hotel room, I powered through the awful Wi-Fi to publish Arc Warden and on my flight and when I got home I didn’t unpack – I just worked 12 hours straight to update the hero builds as messages and demands piled up. I updated everything: 350 changes across 74 guides.

I think that was it for me where I considered quitting if I didn’t learn to relax. At least while I was living in Los Angeles. When I was updating the hero builds in Europe, most of the time – the patch would hit around 9PM to midnight, which meant I was up ’til 5AM or later updating the hero builds. Then I went to work to slip in some more hero builds when no one was looking.

htxt.africa Let’s talk build guides for a second. When Monkey King was released last year the hero was positioned as a hard carry. Since then however we’ve seen a number of professionals such as iG.Boboka using the hero as a roaming support, did you foresee the Monkey King support pocket strat?

TDL: No, it was very surprising to me how he became a roaming hero. It makes so much sense now but when he first released and even when people played him – it didn’t occur to me that he did so well as a roamer. Jingu Mastery and his attack range make it seem like he’s such a safe hero to lane with, but seeing him roam, even after so many nerfs is amazing and just goes to show how flexible the competitive scene can make a hero with the right line-up.

htxt.africa How much time do you spend after a patch tweaking your build guides?

TDL: It’s a two-week follow-through process after the initial release of patches to heavily observe changes of heroes I’m unsure what their intended updates were meant to be for. This is also the period where I receive feedback and I try to weigh that feedback with my own experience and observations.

htxt.africa How many people use your guides?

TDL: I can confirm that I have at least ~3 million unique subscribers as our highest subscribed guide is about hit 3 million as we speak. 220 million [total subscribers] is also nearing the corner.

Torte De Lini’s success in 2014 compared to other guide makers.

Since 7.00 hit, a lot of outdated guides have really begun to appear outdated as the new UI reveals the last time they were updated and now their skill build no longer aligns with the new leveling system (Ultimates at 6-12-18). This has changed our usual growth of 2-3 million to now 4-4.5 million every 15 days.

What is the 'meta-game'
While Dota 2 is a game itself there exists a game within the game that dictates certain things including which heroes are played. For instance, in the Kiev Major which is currently on the go there is a focus on teams picking heroes that can bring down towers as well as roaming supports with escape abilities. This meta-game as it’s known can help determine the best way for pros (and us noobs at home) to play the game and while Valve doesn’t directly influence these factors, patches and changes to Dota 2 can shift the meta-game.

htxt.africa When you are drafting a guide do you take the hero builds pros use into account?

TDL: Professional games are helpful and detrimental to the builds. They itemize depending on their match that a guide cannot suggest because it doesn’t make sense without necessary context (which not everyone will read).

Additionally, a lot of feedback comes from what they saw in a match without understanding the build-up towards X build or itemization.

This is especially true for some Radiance or Midas builds where pros like to go Midas because they know they can get it at a decent time but for newer players – their mechanics and efficiency are slower where focusing on a Radiance as a first item or a Hand of Midas might be less useful than a more conservative build.

It’s the Nyx Assassin/Dagon build issue. Users want to be able to one-hit kill enemies but don’t realize that you have to get your Dagon relatively quickly and succeed with it which you can’t with some enemy heroes with larger health pools.

They see pros go Dagon on Bounty Hunter or Necrophos and want it in their favourite guides without realizing that their personal playstyle may not be suited for that build that they just saw their favourite team do.

On the other hand, pros help set a ‘standard’ of expectation for a hero – what it can do, the lanes and typical starting items and that trickles down to high-MMR public matches and soon to lower-matches which gives me a lot of data and matches to look over and adjust my build accordingly.