Min's Discourse Community

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Posted on 12 Apr 2013 00:30

Game: Defense of the Ancients. Community: Discourse of the Affiliates.
Minchang Kang


Close analysis of the DotA community portrays how DotA is not merely a game and rather functions as a discourse community. The analysis was conducted primarily in order to justify it as a discourse community and secondly in order to clear the misconceptions some of my peers held that a gaming community is unfit for a discourse community. I utilized Swales and Johns to bolster my claim and to introduce a discourse community. Then I delved into my methodology and results where I interviewed two insiders, analyzed a forum post and captured screenshots of in-game chats. Moreover, I feel that this study could lead into further studies to show how each game or gaming community in general could develop or classified as a discourse community.


Discourse communities, as we know, are groups of members who achieve unified goals through intercommunication using various genres and lexis. When looked at merely as a game, DotA is nothing but a medium of stress-reliever. However, I delved deeper into the game and looked at the community it is composed of and was surprised at how organized it was.

Background Information

DotA-stands for 'Defense of the Ancients'- falls under the MOBA, multiplayer online battle arena, category of games. It has been out since 2005, and it was starting from 2010 that it became a standalone game, straying away from the Warcraft as a sequel named DotA 2 on the Steam platform. It is a 5v5 game where players must work together as a team to gain advantage over the other by working on ‘farming,’ ‘ganking,’ ‘warding,’ etc. DotA’s lexis will be explained later on.

Why DotA?

What made DotA as a topic of research was the skeptical response from my peers when I first proposed the topic. They seemed to have some doubts as to classifying a game as a discourse community. After having been exposed to such skepticism, I saw the need to convince my peers that they were merely stereotyping the game, and they needed to objectively look at DotA and understand the vast community organized behind it. The authenticity of a discourse community should be determined by the process of the discourse rather than the topic of the discourse, and therefore, DotA is no different from any other “professional” discourse communities.

Initial Findings

Swale's professional statements best collaborate with my viewpoint of DotA as a discourse community. So in order to check DotA’s qualifications as a discourse community, I utilized John Swales’ six characteristics of the discourse communities.

The six characteristics are as follows:

1. A discourse community has a broad set of common public goals.
2. A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.
3. A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.
4. A discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.
5. In addition to owning genres, a discourse community has acquired some specific lexis or terminology.
6. A discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discourse expertise.

With merely my prior knowledge of the community, I was initially able to relate three of these characteristics to DotA's community. Players play DotA to strive to be one of the best and most renowned players out there, so they have a set of common public goals. Players MUST communicate amongst each other in-game or outside the game if they were to even get close to being a good player so players are inevitably using mechanisms of intercommunication to reach the goals. Lastly, the forums provide players a medium where sharing and requesting information is freely and voluntarily practiced, and therefore, the players are ultimately using participatory mechanisms.


Interviewing Insiders

It is essential to acknowledge some players' opinions on DotA as a discourse community, so I requested two players, Andy Choe and Royce Park, who are my fellow teammates, to be interviewed. Andy Choe, whom I consider an insider for his knowledge of the game and his time, 22-24 hours a week, spent on game and forums. Royce is an insider as well, but compared to Andy, I personally consider him in the lower tier of the insiders because he doesn’t necessarily play as competitively as Andy. Therefore, I felt that they were best fit for my interviews because they would be easily able to incorporate the concept of discourse communities with the specific aspects of DotA. I first provided them the definition of a discourse community according to Swales, and then e-mailed them the same interview questions.

The questions and the interview responses themselves are listed under the ‘Appendix’ section.

A Forum Post that Called for Discussion

Intercommunication not only in-game, but within the forum is the best example of intercommunication amongst this discourse community's members that occurs inevitably. Forum communication is purely voluntary and is not necessarily needed for the gameplay. Therefore, the forum is not only acting as one of the genre of DotA’s communication, but it is also involving the participatory mechanism. There are many forums regarding DotA, so I picked one I frequent to which is teamliquid.net. It holds not only DotA information but also many other strategic games such as Starcraft, Warcraft, etc. So, I looked for a forum post that best describes the community’s intentions in terms of sharing and requesting information. I came across a forum post called “Farming Properly.” Farming is an important part of DotA, but that is beside the point. The crucial thing to pay attention to was the barrage of comments that were posted under this topic. The comments varied from advices to arguments amongst each other, but in the end, they all are constructive criticisms that will help players who look at the post.

In-game Chats Between Players

A more direct and concise level of discourse can be seen during an actual match of DotA. When not using voice chat, DotA players resort to using DotA’s lexis which shortens the time spent on typing the necessary dialogues. In-game chat is considered a main method of discourse in DotA and without it the game can’t progress at all. It is a great example of how players intercommunicate in order to prevail over the other teams. With much having been said about the in-game chat system of DotA, I took screenshots of dialogues that I deemed important in terms of the lexis it contained and how crucial the dialogues were to the players at the moment. The variety of lexis and the types of dialogues that are exchanged between the players display the importance of discourse in the community and their method of achieving their prime goals of skill improvement.


The Interview with Andy

First interview involved Andy Choe. He strongly supports the idea that DotA is a discourse community and justifies it by mentioning two main goals and the crucial importance of communication. He claims that “the two goals are: to get better to play with higher level competitions and to ease the stress of the “real world”” (Interview 1). According to Andy, these goals are reachable only with the existence of discourse in DotA. He stated that “The whole concept within DotA that differentiates itself from other games is the necessity for communication.” (Interview 1) Moreover, he takes into account the clear intentions of Valve, the main company that owns DotA, in which they implemented in-game voice chat. Voice chat is a whole different method of communicating from text chat. It allows the competition and the communication to resemble those of an actual sport and ultimately eases the difficulty of discourse in DotA. Andy also brings up a good point in his subsequent answer when he mentions the huge distance between insiders and outsiders in the DotA community. He tagged the DotA community as an unfriendly one with their “‘flaming,’ which is mockery and intentional harassment of an individual.” (Interview 1) I was surprised to find out that, according to Andy, these actions are often encouraged in the forums and in-game to deride the novice players. This only deepens the gap between the two groups of this community, and it alerted me because this distinction clearly indicated conflicts and difficulties in the community which I will refer to Johns to expound upon later on. The interview with Andy resulted in a clearly indication that DotA is a discourse community and his insider knowledge of the game justified his claims. (C. Andy, Personal Communication, April 3, 2013)

The Interview with Royce

At last but not least, the interview with Royce helped further bolster Andy’s and my claim that DotA is a discourse
community. Though he didn’t provide lengthy responses as Andy had, he mentioned good points about DotA that supports one of Andy’s points. His response to question #3 is most prominent out of all the responses because he identifies the developers of the game to be a part of the game as well. “With updates rolling out every week, it is clear to the developers how important feedback from the community is. It’s clear that they listen to each and every gamer despite the anonymity of the internet.” (Interview 2) It was clear that Royce, as an insider, pays attention to the relationship between developers and players and their incessant communication. His later claim that the “20-year veteran in game design” unknowingly works together with perhaps a “14-year old high school freshman” (Interview 2), showed how the insiders and outsiders are distinguishable by participation in communication. Moreover, he stated that the game developers, who would be comparable with high authorities in other discourse communities, allow direct discourse between them and the players. Thus, Royce was able to add to Andy’s two main goals by implying that the DotA community discourses amongst each other not only to get better but to create a better gaming environment. Ultimately, Royce sees DotA as a discourse community mainly for the “mutualistic symbiotic relationship” (Interview 2) between players and the developers, which further leads to even more discourse amongst players themselves. (P. Royce, Personal Communication, April 6, 2013)

Analysis of "Farming Properly"

Looking closely at these comments, I first noticed the ‘Posts #’ next to each commenter’s name. This alone can help readers tell whether the commenter is an insider or an outsider. Some may think, however, that anyone with a simple knowledge of internet can go around the forum just posting random comments in order to increase their post count. It is indeed possible but that is when we only look at the post count. When other readers look at the actual content of the comments, they are able to tell whether they are legitimate or not. For example, a member named ‘MrTortoise’ commented, “I see way too many nubs spamming mana on getting CS and then being unable to kill in lane though. Farming through mana spam is the exception” (Forum post) however, his claim is immediately shot down by a knowledgeable member, ‘Xxazn4lyfe51xX’ who comments “Farming through mana spam is not good. Using mana to farm however, is perfectly fine if done correctly.” (Forum post) This is a great example of information and feedback bouncing around in a single forum post.

Lastly, the forum’s title itself serves to prove Swale’s 5th characteristic: lexis. “Farming” is the term coined by DotA players and it means to acquire as much money in the game. There are many other examples of DotA lexis in this single forum post such as “flash farm,” “nuke,” “AoE,” “CS,” “carries,” and etc. Some of these terms can be somewhat easily acknowledged even by insiders but most would be oblivious to most of the lexis used in DotA. That is what makes DotA an exceptional discourse community, because it utilizes words used in reality and then apply it to DotA concepts in order to form DotA-specific lexis.
Isn’t it amazing how from a single post, I was able to pull up a plethora of information to bolster the claim that DotA indeed is a discourse community? However, it is too early to be amazed just yet, because analysis of in-game communications provide even more fruitful outcomes which can’t be pulled out from just the forum posts.

Snippets of Lexis Used In-game

Chat 1


The first set of dialogues (Chat 1) show discourse occurring at the very beginning of the game when players assign each other which lane, out of three: top, middle, and bottom, to take care of. This is considered crucial to the players because without such discourse, they would be going into each other’s lanes and could possibly result to the team’s loss. Not much exchange of lexis can be seen here but enough can be said about discourse between teammates.

Chat 2 & Chat 3


I combined these together not only because Chat 2 only has one sentence, but also because they both are examples of common lexis used in DotA. Like in Chat 1, the word “solo” also appears in Chat 3, which means that the player wishes to have the lane on its own. Usually insiders pronounce “solo” because they are considered capable unlike outsiders who would rather give an advantage to the other team. Moreover, the word “freefarms” and “farm” are related in that they both mean to acquire money, and it is also related to the forum post I looked into. The word “freefarm”, however means to acquire money without any obstructions such as the enemy trying to prevent you from doing so. Lastly, the word “trilane” is another selection of DotA’s lexis. It is used to indicate three players heading into a lane in order to suppress the other team. This lexis is most commonly used amongst insiders because “trilane” requires much skill and is very difficult to execute for outsiders.

Chat 4


Chat 4 doesn’t present much dialogue, but it delivers important messages to other players in the team. “ss” and “mia” are most commonly used lexis in the game because they indicate if the enemy player has gone missing from the lane and if there was no indication made by the respective player, the teammates could suffer disadvantages as enemies can easily execute surprise attacks. “ss” are the last two letters taken from the word “miss” which is an even shorter version of “missing”. Likewise, “mia” means “missing in action”. These words, though same in meaning, are used variably amongst different players. Some players use “ss” and other players use “mia”. Nevertheless, the lexis was formed by players who wish to communicate in a facilitated manner while still conveying all of their ideas.


From the interviews, dialogues and the forum post, I was able to draw out two central observations: the community exists to not only play, but to ameliorate and the community’s distinction between insiders and outsiders is tremendous.

The most important is the unified goal of improving the game within the community. It is important to recognize that the community doesn’t exist to merely play a game, but also to exchange feedbacks, and therefore improve the game. As we can see from the forum post “Farming Properly”, a player requests help and then indeed given help from anonymous players on the internet with the unified goal of improving. Feedbacks occur also in-game, as seen in the chats, and they involve lexis that aid in conveying the feedbacks. Thus, players incessantly portray the importance of lexis in DotA’s communication. When players exchange constructive feedbacks, they are indirectly encouraging each other to play the game more and ultimately improve the game. They improve the game because it shows developers that players really care about the game enough to provide help to others. Honestly, what would each player get from helping a random player just because he or she posted on the forums? Moreover, the feedbacks are not merely exchanged amongst the players. Royce as mentioned that developers directly receive feedbacks from players which they utilize to improve the gameplay. This indicates a serious exchange of feedbacks that can’t simply be ignored just because it has to do with games. It’s an exemplary discourse with in the community because it involves intercommunication amongst players of all levels, insider or outsider.

Another is how distant the insiders really are from the outsiders in this community. Some insiders are helpful towards the novices, but if we take a look at the lexis it is not hard to tell that a novice will first have trouble with all these words. Even though the words such as “farm” and “solo” are words almost anyone know the meanings of, novices of DotA community won’t know the meaning of them in DotA until they become an insider. It is also essential to note that in DotA it is not hard to become an insider, but it is hard to become a recognizable insider. As Andy has mentioned, novices are derailed and bickered by insiders. Then, how can we not assume that an insider will derail another insider because one knows more than the other. Even though the distinction between insider and outsider is clear-cut, the boundaries amongst the various types of insiders are rather blurred. Because they are already insiders, other insiders would assume them to know certain details about DotA, but when it turns out that they do not know, they are immediately put down. This relates to Johns’ ‘community conflicts and diversity’ (Johns . Although it may not fully relate to Johns since it is not difficult to join the community, the community has conflicts because of diversity. The conflicts occur because of the players and as Andy stated, it is like culture of the DotA community to constantly “flame” each other. It is easy to assume why such conflicts occur. These players are connected through an online system where their anonymity is practiced freely. They won’t see the players they belittle tomorrow at school or at work. Therefore, they are more encouraged to make unnecessary comments. Moreover, even though the community has a unified goal of improving the game, they still have personal endeavors of getting ahead of other players. So it is reasonable to see such conflicts arise as anonymity is prevalent and competition drives each player’s ego when they face someone of lesser skill.


The DotA community is a discourse community. The community functions like any other discourse communities with its unified goals, lexis, genres of communication, and diversity of expertise. It is a gaming community but the players’ unspoken intentions of improving gameplay are a perfect example of how a discourse community functions. Unfortunately, the community is mainly composed of players who are so eager to deride lesser players but such distinction of expertise and difficulty of recognition ultimately brand DotA as a discourse community. The community exists not only to play and have fun, but also to discuss matters of the game and thereby improving the gameplay.

Furthermore, DotA is possibly only one of many games that possess a discourse community. So it seems important to seek out other games that hold communities of discourse and also find the boundary that categorizes a gaming community as one of discourse rather than just a group of gamers. I also find that further study could be useful in helping free games from the stereotype that games are just games and not of serious matter.

Works Cited

Big Beezy. (April 2nd, 2013). Farming Properly. Retrieved from http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=405913

Johns, A. (1997). Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice: Membership, Conflict, and Diversity. Text, Role, and Context Developing Academic Literacies (pp. 51-69). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Swales, John. , (1990). The Concept of Discourse Community. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings. (21-32) Boston: Cambridge UP. Print.


DotA's Dictionary of Lexis

AoE : Area of Effect
Carries : Category of characters that are chosen to lead the stride of a team.
CS : Creep Stats. Stats accumulated according to each players' performance on "farming" or units killed so far.
Ganking : The strategic act of roaming as a team in order to eliminate enemies that are off-guard or that can be easily picked off.
Mana : Refers to a pool which is used to cast skills or spells.
Nuke : Term used to describe skills or spells that are often used to quickly eliminate enemies.
Warding : The strategic act of placing "wards" which are objects used to provide the team with a radius of vision in the specific area they are placed in.

Interview Questions

1. Do you utilize the forums in any ways? If so, do you find them helpful? If not, why don't you use them?
2. Swales, in his six characteristics of a discourse community, mentions that the discourse community members have a common set of goals that they wish to achieve. Do you think that such is true for the game and the forums themselves? Provide examples.
3. Discourse communities are best defined by their intercommunication and methods of communication. If DotA were to not have in-game voice/text chat and the forums were to be a merely inactive community, how different would the game be? Now that I've mentioned the specific mechanisms in playing DotA, does discourse seem crucial to the game? Explain some instances.
4. In-game and in forums there are over millions of players worldwide. How would you define an insider and an outsider? Are they differently defined in-game from in forums?
5. With that having been said, are you an insider or an outsider? Why or why not?

Interview 1: Andy Choe

Interview 2: Royce Park

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