The last tournaments before TI are usually filled with amazing games, high levels of tension, and new strategies. They are the testing grounds for teams with a guaranteed a slot and the last chances for strong teams to prove themselves for those remaining invites. They are usually played in a patch, which is not going to change much at TI, and as such can give a general idea on how the meta is going to develop for the next several months.
Epicenter: Moscow was not an exception: most games were beautiful back and forths. To a large extent, high levels of uncertainty can be attributed to how many changes seemingly minor 7.06 brought to the game. Many weaker teams failed to adjust, while stronger ones didn’t seem as dominant and surgically precise in their executions. It equalized the chances for all competitors, while rewarding innovation in strategies, creating a rather diverse meta which seemed all over the place.
The most contested heroes weren’t as dominant, as they usually are during the big tournaments. The most contested hero, Io, was present as either pick or ban only in 75% of the matches.
Three heroes stood out during the tournament. They were featured in at least 60% of games as either pick or ban: Io, Treant Protector and Dark Seer were the most contested picks, with the next contested hero dropping off by 8%.
We’ve discussed Treant Protector before in a previous article. He remains one of the strongest supports in the meta for lane dominance and the midgame. He is definitely less of a roamer and more of a static support, but his presence is well-deserved on the merits of Living Armor alone. As such, even the massive MS nerf for the second patch in a row is unlikely to make the hero completely irrelevant.
Io is simply Io—the hero has to be banned against any adequate competition when the stakes start to get higher.
Finally, there is Dark Seer. Another “strong by design” hero remains popular regardless of nerfs, patches. or meta changes. In the right hands and a well-coordinated team, the hero is simply too capable: he offlanes well, can reliably jungle, applies pressure early on, saves teammates, makes great setups for AoE disables of his teammates, and remains relevant throughout the whole game in terms of DPS, especially against stats-based right-clicking cores. The loss of two Intelligence and 0.1/0.05/0 seconds of slow should be largely inconsequential.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the meta staples are also some of the strongest heroes in the patch, with first two featuring a 55%+ winrate when picked. Dark Seer is slightly less impressive, sitting at 47.06% winrate, but his popularity largely comes from bans of the hero, and on the rare occasion he is actually let through, the enemy team will generally have means to deal with the hero directly, or avoid him and teamfights completely.
Some other consistently picked and successful heroes include Crystal Maiden, Bristleback, Earthshaker and Sand King. The first two were featured in our blog previously: Bristleback has been the dominant hero in pubs for a while now and deserved a full “dealing with…” post.
Crystal Maiden, the Queen of Pubs received a significant nerf in the aftermath of Epicenter. The increase to Frostbite’s mana cost is massive, and it significantly slows down her early game jungling, decreases her harass potential, and consequently makes the usual “hit-and-run” tactic of the hero a lot harder to execute. While the mana cost increase can be compensated with an early extra clarity at the start, it doesn’t solve the problem the hero had even before the nerf: Crystal Maiden lacks mana and using all her spells quickly during a teamfight will leave her with close to no mana at all. And if previously you only needed a few seconds for a second, follow-up Frostbite, currently the wait time is long enough to either dissuade her from using her ultimate completely, relying on tactical use of other spells, or force her to build mana items.
Sand King and Earthshaker are very flexible heroes who can be played in both offlane and support roles. Professionals favored the latter option for Sand King, and it was also a more successful one, with teams playing offlane Sand King generally leaving the tournament earlier.
Earthshaker, on the other hand, appeared in the support role only 4 times out of 17 games he was picked in. On several occasions he was even played mid, possibly making him the most flexible hero in the current patch. He is definitely worth looking at in the future.
There are also three heroes definitely worth talking about, which haven’t been picked as often, but have an incredibly high success rate. Sven, Faceless Void, and Dragon Knight were played in slightly more than 10 games and all feature a 75%+ win rate.
The return of Sven was more or less evident once 7.06 hit—return of the jungle coupled with some direct buffs made the hero truly scary in theory, and the theory has been proven right on practice. Faceless Void and Dragon Knight, on the other hand, came as a complete surprise. And if the latter is more or less a product of the meta, with his ability to fight well and push fast at all stages of the game, the former was definitely unexpected up until the start of the tournament. Given how he was played by several various teams, it doesn’t seem to be a pocket strategy developed by one particular captain either, and his comeback as a niche meta pick is still a mystery.
Rubick, Troll Warlordand Kunkka were the most overvalued heroes of the tournament, with more than 10 picks each and 27.27%, 35.29% and 38.46% win rates respectively. Rubick is completely out of place right now: the hero is incredibly weak on his own, without the appropriate opponents. There isn’t much he does what can’t be done better by other supports, with the exception of his ultimate, which comes later in the game and is extremely situational. Seeing him being so popular is definitely unexpected, and it is unlikely this trend will continue until after the last stages of TI, where teams will start brushing off dust from the typical reliable Enigma, Tidehunter and Magnus picks.
With the other two the situation is less deterministic. Troll Warlord remains a very strong midgame carry and split-pusher, while Kunkka is still a very reliable and powerful catch-support for elusive heroes. Given how neither received nerfs or buffs in 7.06d, they might remain a part of the meta and get a chance to redeem themselves.