It generally takes a bit of time for heroes to make it into Captains Mode after release. Looking at the history of new heroes in Dota 2, it is evident how almost all of them have received some nerfs after entering the competitive domain and it is still a question how will Pangolier and Dark Willow fare in the professional environment.
The infamous Earth Spirit is still being nerfed patch after patch and the hero was enabled in Captains Mode in 6.86, released in December 2015. No one but the absolute best play the hero and he barely even reaches 50% in 5k+ games, albeit with a respectable pick rate of 12%.
The first iteration of Monkey King was quite overpowered on CM release, but no in the core role, but as a roaming support. Underlord has also been a priority pick for a couple of weeks after release, until he was nerfed enough to make him niche. Arc Warden had a very similar history, while Winter Wyvern was essentially a completely different hero and an extremely strong pick in pretty much any situation.
The fact is — no one will know how good or bad a hero is until someone plays it in a highly competitive environment and balancing a hero so that it is viable at the highest levels of pro-play while remaining playable in pubs might become problematic.
That makes the new additions especially interesting — for the most part they are not “numbers” heroes. Dark Willow creates an impassable maze that has high degree of potential counterplay and a ridiculous total amount of theoretical crowd control. Pangolier can essentially prevent the enemy from playing Dota by stunlocking them for prolonged periods of time. Things like this define these heroes, but they also make them quite problematic in theory.
When it comes to high level 5k+ pubs both heroes are quite impressive. Pangolier can currently boast a 48.31% win rate with a 12% pick rate, while Dark Willow is at 54.11% win rate and 6.7% pick rate.
Comparing these stats to what Earth Spirit or even Monkey King had at this point in their Dota 2 career shows that the newest two additions have a very clear advantage. They win more games, especially apparent when compared to Dark Willow, while being picked very frequently.
It raises an interesting question — what would happen if they were introduced to the professional scene in their current state? Are they simply more straightforward and pub players are more likely to win with them or are they quite strong on their own and would completely spiral out of control in a competitive environment?
It is impossible to give an objective answer to this question at this point. Given how successful the heroes are in pubs, there is a high chance they will be nerfed once professionals will have an incentive to play and explore them, since this trend has been persistent through the years. But the degree to which the heroes will need a nerf will remain a mystery until they are actually released.
With all the information above in mind, there are still things worth mentioning. The Captains Draft 4.0 Minor allowed us to see a glimpse of what these heroes have in store.
Dark Willow was picked a total of three times. She was picked by Mineski twice, once as an offlane hero for iceiceice and once as a support for ninjaboogie. Mineski won both of these games with iceiceice showing stellar 12-0-14 performance in a match against Pain Gaming.
The interesting part is that the damage output for the hero was quite impressive both times. As a core, Dark Willow overtook supports by a huge margin, directly competing and winning against teammate Spectre, while still substantially losing to QoP. As a support, she directly competed with her offlane and second support in terms of damage output and was still responsible for almost 10% of the team damage.
Her crowd control values were also comparable to the allied Earthshaker in both games, with almost two minutes of total lockdown for both heroes in each game.
The sample size is incredibly small and it would be improper to make any kind of generalizations, however it is almost safe to say that the hero is on the stronger side of the Dota 2 spectrum. From her abilities alone, she has access to more crowd control and damage than most supports and while none of them are spell immunity-piercing or straightforward to use, in a coordinated team they will definitely have a very high impact.
Unfortunately, there is only a single professional game on Pangolier in the current pro circuit in a Complexity vs. OG series. Offlane Pangolier by Moo did not live up to the expectations, with very low amounts of damage and crowd control.
Pangolier and Dark Willow are very interesting new additions to the world of Dota. They came with their own new mechanics and introduced a lot of variety to the regular Dota gameplay. Their balance, however, still remains questionable.
There were heroes who won more than 55% of their games and there still are, but it is a rare occasion for a newly introduced hero to be that successful this early in its lifecycle. As such, especially given the performance of Dark Willow during the Captains Draft Minor, it is almost safe to conclude that she is still some nerfs away from entering the professional play.
The case of Pangolier is not as clear, but there is no denying that he has an incredibly high skill ceiling and needs to be trained regularly to remain effective. There is a high chance that in this duo Pangolier is going to be the one making all the highlights if introduced to CM. He has a definite Earth Spirit vibe and there is a high chance there are going to be two players in the entire world who will single handedly force the nerf after nerf for the hero.