Dota 2 combines the real-time strategy element of traditional top-down perspective, while also incorporating the leveling and itemization system of a role-playing game. Players are pitted against each other into two distinct factions called the Radiant and the Dire. The Radiant is a light, nature-oriented faction based at the southwest corner of the map, while the Dire is a dark, volcanic-themed faction based at the northeast corner. Players assume the role of a "hero" - a strategically-powerful unit, who, through combat experience, may progress to a maximum level of 25. Dota 2's heroes are split into three distinct categories centering around strength, agility and intelligence, which heavily influence their methods of combat. The basic setup of Dota 2 places two strongholds defended by towers and waves of units which guard the main paths leading to their base with critical structures called Ancient Fortresses at opposing ends of an evenly-balanced map with multiple connecting regions identified as "lanes", in which enemy units primarily traverse, while also combating powerful defensive towers along the way. Players are split into two teams, ideally in a five-on-five format, to compete as the primary defenders for each Ancient Fortress.
The overall objective of each match is to battle through the opposing force's defenses, in order to arrive at and destroy the opponents' Ancient Fortress. Because Dota 2 is highly team-oriented, players must coordinate with their teams in order to achieve victory. The towers and stronghold defenses are invulnerable to attacks so long as the towers nearest to the enemy side still stand. Periodically, groups of weaker infantry units commonly called "creeps" are spawned, which move along their lane until they reach an enemy unit or structure, which they will then attack.
The currency of the game is gold, which is granted periodically, but accumulates at a practical level by defeating enemy forces. Defeating forces grants a distributed amount of gold to the attacking team, with the greater portion being retained by the player who delivers the killing blow. A common technique utilized to prevent the opposing faction from accumulating gold from a kill is "denying", which constitutes destroying an allied unit or structure, which can be employed when it is close to death. Players also gain experience, which accumulates to gain higher levels. The greatest proportion of gold and experience comes from destroying higher priority forces, such as enemy heroes and towers.