I have been playing DotA recreationally for almost 10 years at this point, and recently I grinded my solo MMR from 3.5k to 4k and I wanted to share some of my thoughts for others who want to do the same.
The MMR curve
I believe MMR follows a logistic function; picture an S-curve. From 0-1k, people for the most part are just generally bad, obviously don’t read reddit/guides and most aren’t actively trying to get better. From 1k to 2k MMR, people are rapidly improving and the difference between a 2k player and 1k player is pretty noticeable, from 2 to 3k, this rate of improvement is relatively steady and starts to taper off come 3k to 4k. From 4k and on, the difference in skill is even less noticeable again, like from 0-1k. Skill definitely increases as your approach 5/6/7k, but diminishingly, especially when averaged across all heroes, not just TA/Storm.
Useful numbers about MMR
Percentage of games played 75% – 15% – 10% for Normal – High – Very High
Initial calibration of percentiles released by Valve 5% 1100 10% 1500 25% 2000 50% 2250 75% 2731 90% 3200 95% 3900 99% 4100
~10million players worldwide total ~50 7k ~500 6k ~10000-50000 5k players
There always threads on reddit talking about the calibration process, how to game it, recalibration, etc. If you have already calibrated your MMR, and you think it is too low, it is up to you to grind it up. Increasing your MMR methodically is possible and the trench is just an illusion. Don’t dwell on where your MMR is, instead think about where you want it to be. There is no indication that there will be a recalibration process.
The wave nature of MMR
Many people complain about increasing their MMR and then a big losing streak dives them below where they started. Then, because they are at a lower MMR, they come back a few days later and win a few more games and after a few more cycles, end up pretty much going nowhere. Dota is a game of balance; after maybe 30-40 games of ranked it’s just a rollercoaster of wins and losses but your MMR didn’t go anywhere.
This is the wave nature of MMR; the perceived trench that everyone feels. It doesn’t exist in brackets of MMR, but instead around your actual MMR. Imagine a bowl where your actual MMR is the lowest part, and your daily MMR is a marble that is placed in the bowl. As you increase your MMR, the marble moves up the side of the bowl and gains potential energy. It gets harder and harder to win and the game pushes you back to the bottom of the bowl. Same goes as you lose more and more, the marble goes up to opposite side of the bowl, and then you rush back to your actual MMR. Imagine if you dropped that marble in your MMR bowl, in a lossless system, your daily MMR would just oscillate around that bowl, centered around your true MMR.
What you have to do to increase your MMR is just like if you were to prepare a climb a mountain in real life. You need to make a push/sprint to get yourself out of that bowl. You prepare/plan, make pushes to milestones/bootcamps and then rinse and repeat. You can’t just queue solo ranked everytime you’re in the mood to play Dota and then play whatever hero you want and expect to increase your MMR.
Let’s take an example. My overall winrate on Dotabuff is ~53%. So if I wanted to go from 3.5k to 4k, it would be an increase of 500 points, assuming 25 points per game won or lost. It’d take me approximately 332 games, with 176 wins and 156 losses. Then, let’s assume I can only play maybe 5-10 ranked solo games a week, in addition to the normal games I play with friends and practice. This climb would take about 44 weeks, or almost an entire year. Just to increase 500 MMR playing the way I normally do. (Ranked play is 100% focused on the end result, but your team lost, there’s your -25. MMR point changes are little less uniform as you go past 4k MMR, where you can find +20 or +15 or + 5, but let’s assume the majority of people who want to climb are below 4k. If you’re over 4k, you don’t need my advice)
I’ve played ranked with people that who maintain just barely a 50% winrate and only queue solo ranked. As you approach closer and closer to 50%, the amount of games it would take to increase their MMR even 200-300 points is astronomically large, on the order of thousands of games needed. Who has time for that? One more thing to take into account is patches, especially ones with large balance changes. These patches happen every 3-4 months so you can assume the game will change dramatically within the year that you’re taking to grind out 500 MMR. Obviously this method won’t work, which brings us back to our mountain metaphor. If your goal is to increase your MMR, you can’t play the game like you normally do. Get out of your MMR bowl.
So you want to climb
First, timing. Reserve set periods in your day that you can use to play when you are optimal mental capacity, and you need to carve out a month’s worth of time to focus on grinding solo games. (or at least 2 weeks) Dota is a draining game, and if you want to win games, you need to give yourself the best conditions. I see people play 12 games in a row of solo ranked and go an even 6-6. You only need to play 2-3 games and go 2-0 or 2-1, and you have done better already. Additionally, with each patch, there comes a period of time where the patch is being experimented with, when the patch is understood, and when the patch gets old and counters are in place. These timings are usually about a month each, assuming new balance patches come out every 3 months. You need to block out your month/2 weeks during when the patch is understood. There are usually a few OP heroes in each patch that people use to climb MMR and you need to be on the train as it’s happening, as soon as it’s figured out, before people have developed counters. This means Jugg/Axe/Troll/Lion/Silencer etc for 6.83, Krob/Faceless/Orge/Slark before that, and Lycan/TB/Invoker when ranked just came out, etc. These heroes maintain high winrates and you need to abuse these heroes shamelessly, or at least know how to deal with them.
Take breaks in between ranked games and if you lose two games in a row, put down ranked play and go back to the normal queue and practice. One slip when climbing will put you down a long way. Only play 2-3 games in your sprint, even if you are on a winning streak. Remember the bowl, the game will be pushing you back, and mentally you are going to be exhausted even if you are telling yourself different.
Second point, lineups. About 25% of ranked games are already decided during the picking stage. In those 5 minutes before the game starts, your fates are pretty much already sealed. Everyone knows about the 4 core last pick furion, or the AM dusa lane top or the 3 hero portraits one after the next sitting on the mid lane. These are just the games that are largely already ruined, but additionally, people will last pick random, or pick heroes that have already clearly been countered and it’s just a slow death towards -25. About 15% of those games will be unloseable from your side, because it happened to the other team or because your mid storm was in a party and his party MMR is about 1500 points less than his solo, so if you just maintain your farm/do your job and not die, the game will end up a win. The other 10% are unwinnable and you should just keep your cool, not tilt for the next game, and try and learn something while your team argues and feeds. Remember, about 1 in 4 games you play is outside of your control. However, these games will cancel out and don’t have an effect on your MMR.
The remaining 75% games are swung during the game. In these games you need to play individually well and do your best to not be the reason that your team loses. These close games are the ones that actually affect your MMR; whether you win or lose is firmly in your grasp. A good way to keep this in mind is: Don’t lose the game for your team when you are winning, and find ways to win games that you are losing. What this means is if your team has the advantage, either though hero picks or in-game play, you need to take less risks, get safer items and ride your advantage to win. When you are behind, you need to play riskier, pick higher impact heroes and make plays that you can ride to victory. Anytime you lose a game you are winning, or win a game where you are losing, you essentially swinging 50 MMR. Over time, these games will add up and actually affect your MMR.
Third, hero choice. You need to have a pool of heroes that you play well and you only pick them for solo ranked. You should only have about 2-3 heroes in your pool and they should all be over 55%, with your top hero at or around 66%. (In the last patch I maintained a 72% winrate on jugg in very high ranked to climb) People have different playstyles and this carries over to hero selection. Pick and play heroes that you play well and understand their tempo. You need to be able to identify what kind of playstyle suits you best, and which heroes you excel at, or practice the most OP heroes until you can achieve 66%+ on them. Why 66% winrate? Because how the MMR system is set up. For every game you lose on your climb, you need to win that one back, and then one more, in order to increase your MMR. Thus you need to be able to go at least 2-1 overall in your daily sprints just to get 25 points. It sounds hard, but 66% winrate is achievable as long as the hero suits your playstyle and is sufficiently good in the patch. Even with the worst of players, when I checked their dotabuff profile after the game, they had at least a few heroes that were 60% winrate with at least 10-15 games played that they could have picked. At 66%, it takes about 3 games for each step in the MMR ladder, and thus to gain 500 points it will take 60 games. At 2-3 game sprints a day, it will take you about 3-4 weeks. Anything lower and you will take too long to grind games and the next patch will be released and you have to start over.
Lastly, keep a journal of the games you play on your climb. Writing down notes about your games, and keeping track of your MMR in a journal will make the climb more real and you can learn much more rapidly. We Dota players tend to forget games as soon as you’re done playing the next, and especially bad games we tend to just forget about. If you’re trying to climb, after each game, take down a few notes about it, record the win/loss, and the MMR change. Before each MMR sprint, look back and see what you did to win/lose and what about your game has changed. Some games I just wrote “newb clock fed top, couldn’t do anything (L, 3825-3800)” and that’s enough sometimes. Although we are trying to game MMR, it is still always beneficial to get better, and especially during the climb, it’s about the details.