Valve’s Changes to Dota Keybinds and Autoexecs Divide Community After Swindle Scandal
A recent update from Valve has nuked the ability to bind multiple commands to a single key, erasing many users’ Dota keybinds. The update, released on May 24th, has become a contentious point in a community divided by commitments to “fairness” and the ability to customize one’s own playing experience.
The update appears to be a response to growing concerns about “scripting” in competitive and ranked matchmaking games. Scripting has been an issue in competitive computer games since, well, they got competitive. The word refers to the practice of writing a programmatic “script” that can be triggered by a press of a key or an in-game event to perform a series of actions, often faster than human reflexes would allow.
The fervor over scripting became a focal point of Dota community discussion when Complexity’s Kyle “Swindlemelonzz” Freedman questioned the competitive legality of Team Secret’s Jacky “EternalEnvy” Mao’s supposed use of an “Armlet script” at the Epicenter tournament.
The script in question is a set of commands that allows a user to toggle Armlet of Mordiggian on and off instantly with a single keypress, to achieve more efficient Armlet toggling. EternalEnvy denied using such a script via Twitter, and replay analysis of his competitive games appears to back him up on this.
Beyond any individual player’s use, however, the competitive legality or ethical concern over using something like the “Armlet script” Swindlemelonzz referred to is not a straightforward question. Prior to Tuesday’s changes, a series of commands like activating an item multiple times with a single keypress was easily achievable by editing the game’s autoexec file. The autoexec is a “.cfg” text file that allows a user to customize the way the game operates in numerous ways, from keybinds to exacting graphics settings.
The autoexec is available to all Dota players, and doesn’t require any third-party software. Theoretically, this put everyone on an even playing field. In practice though, autoexec power users were able to reconfigure the way their entire keyboard controlled the game or, more nefariously, enact complicated commands (like instantly prepping and casting Invoker spells) with single key presses.
Many fans have reacted positively to the changes. Simplifying the capabilities of autoexec keybinds removes contentious cases that threaten fairness and competitive integrity. But I think that Valve has gone too far with the way this change was implemented. The keybind update has wrecked configurations that some players have used for years at this point. Furthermore, while these changes will make scripting less accessible, those dedicated to gaining an advantage through scripting will still be able to use third party programs or programmable keys on gaming hardware to operate more than one key at a time. I am sure that we’ll be hearing more about this as Valve works to accommodate dedicated players in a fair and accessible way, so for now we will just have to wait and see what they have in store.