The Dota meta is very volatile. Weeks could go by without any significant patch, and pro teams would still vastly change the way they approach the game. When patches do occur, especially as frequently as they have since 7.00, vastly different trends across the board should show up--and they have.
Earthshaker is such an occurrence. At the recent Epicenter, he was the third most picked hero, with a 59% win rate. This is quite the surprise, considering Earthshaker hasn’t been part of the meta for over a year now. So why has he suddenly appeared out of nowhere? It is always best to look back on why he wasn’t relevant in the first place.
For almost two years now, roamers have become hugely important. Heroes, especially when paired with solo cores, can win every lane with the presence of roamers and their immense killing potential. Bounty Hunter and Riki have proven to be excellent at winning lanes and securing an early advantage. As the 4 position kept evolving, even these heroes faded out of popularity and teamfighting was the name of the game, giving the likes of Monkey King, Slardar or the ever present Earth Spirit time to shine.
Earthshaker is no hardcore roamer. He has a long range disable and initiation, but lacks the damage and continuous control to actually kill the target. Earthshaker is also slow and has a low mana pool, so continuous attempts to gank a target, like Monkey King or Earth Spirit would do, are a no-go for him.
He is also a rather mediocre dual laner or zoning support, with his melee attack range, low movement speed, and skillset. His skills require ideal positioning and timing, and Enchant Totem is virtually useless pre-level 3, as it requires a point in Aftershock to be effective.
So why is Earthshaker back?
In detail, we outlined that the current meta has shifted away from hardcore roamers and more towards dual roaming. Earthshaker is an excellent hero in this scenario. He himself lacks damage, but he has one of the best initiations and disables in the early game to set up for somebody else.
Trilanes have come back into the meta, both aggressive and passive. In a tri vs. tri lane scenario, Earthshaker shines as a king. He can separate a hero from his teammates and secure an easy kill. When singled out, Earthshaker tends to be tanky enough to survive an initial onslaught long enough to use his skills.
The popularity of Crystal Maiden also helps Earth Shaker propel into the scene. His inherent mana issue is easily resolved with Crystal Maiden’s Arcane Aura. At Epicenter, 8/17 Earthshaker games had a Crystal Maiden accompany him. In 2 other games, Earthshaker was paired with a Keeper of the Light. With sufficient mana, Earthshaker can become a hero like Earth Spirit or Monkey King, who can continuously threaten a hero/lane, though unlike either of those two heroes, Earthshaker still relies on a Blink Dagger to be truly mobile. Once he has that mobility item though, he is a dangerous threat in the mid game that the enemy team needs to be wary of.
SumaiL, MidOne, and Miracle have all played Earthshaker in the mid lane at Epicenter. While it is a niche pick/style, all three of them showed that it is very much viable, as all three won their respective matches. The carry shaker provides a lot of physical burst damage. He’s a mid game dominator with high mobility. An early Blink Dagger into another mobility item provides a long range of initiation and also high defensive capabilities. ES, regardless of whether or not he is a core, has a lot of solo kill potential with high levels. Echo Slam is an instant disable and strong burst and enables a strong Enchant Totem hit, a spell that has been continuously buffed for years now.
Earthshaker benefits greatly from the recent buff towards Strength, which now provides on HP more per level and provides double the HP regeneration it used to. His Strength gain was also buffed from 2.9 to 3.2 in 7.06. That is an increase of 7.5 Strength (150 HP) at level 25.
Carry Shaker will likely always be situational, as he has considerable weaknesses in the laning stage. When he has a favorable match-up though--he does well against other melee heroes--then it becomes a consideration. The fact that it is viable, adds to the drafting potential of Earthshaker. He is a flex-pick that can be picked early on and can be considered in any of 3 positions: support, offlane, or mid. And even as a support, Earthshaker can be both the 4 position as well as the 5 position.
Earthshaker is the 7th most picked hero in 5k+ MMR games. Pub players have recognized Earthshaker’s potential for a while now, and the hero maintains a positive win rate across all brackets. In a meta that focuses on both laning and fighting, he seems to be in a good place for now, certainly as long as heroes like Crystal Maiden stick around to help him thrive. But the moment dedicated, single hero roaming returns, Earthshaker may have to sit on the sidelines again. For now though, he’s basking in the limelight of both pub and pro play.