DPC tournaments keep on delivering intense action, and the DAC 2018 is no exception. This tournament resulted in some of the biggest changes in the Pro Circuit standings, highlighted that Virtus.Pro is in fact, beatable, and has shown some definite signs of improvement in the meta department. This last point is of a particular interest and will be the main focus of today’s discussion.
Any celebration would be premature at this point: meta is in a much better place than it was during the Katowice, Bucharest or Swedish tournaments, but it is certainly not perfect. 19 heroes have been completely ignored, while 22 never saw the big stage. At the same time, even the most contested heroes were picked or banned only in 83% of the games and while the figure is far from ideal, with the greatest Dota tournaments sometimes achieving sub-70% popularity even for the most contested heroes, it is definitely an improvement on 95%+ popularities of the previous tournaments this season.
Gyrocopter and Sand King remain the most consistently picked heroes in the current meta. After receiving nerfs in 7.12, the win rate for both heroes started to decline, so there is a chance we will see less of them in the upcoming GESC: Thailand. Both heroes are only slightly below 50%, meaning that they are perfectly playable and viable picks, but there are definitely some alternatives in the pool.
Slardar, who fills a very similar niche to Sand King, has been picked in only 12 games, but managed to win 8 of them for a 66.6% win rate. Tempo cores, who can substitute Gyrocopter in terms of early space creation and tower pressure, are also doing better than the Gyro himself, with Troll Warlord, Lifestealer and even Luna having 50%+ win rate in this tournament.
What it shows us is that while some of the most popular picks of the previous patch remain viable, there is now a much bigger variety of alternatives and substitutes that can and were situationally better. We shall see how the professional players will adjust their strategies for the upcoming tournaments as well as how Valve balancing team will try to solve the problems of tempo cores being too dominant.
There is a misconception among the community that the current meta is too dependant on the laning stage. While the laning stage in 7.12 is extremely important, there were comebacks from slower drafts and there were games where a team would lose the laning stage only to come out on top in the mid game and ultimately win the game.
The ignored heroes of the tournament have a variety of problems and can’t be easily summarized as having “low lane presence” or “taking too long to come online”. Spectre and Medusa are not in the meta and they certainly fit these descriptions, but when it comes to heroes like Sven, Spirit Breaker, Wraith King, Zeus and many others, the problem lies somewhere else.
Some of these heroes are simply outclassed by the alternatives, with Spirit Breaker having no place in meta where Sand King, Slardar and Tusk have such a rich presence. Similarly, why pick Sven, when you can have a hero who is as good at flashfarming as Sven, but has less trouble dealing with Force Staffs and other saves (Gyrocopter and Luna), or has a higher burst damage in the mid game (Tiny).
Battlefury being so efficient is another part of the problem: this item is built on pretty much every single melee carry, since not going for it and getting a tempo or teamfight item instead results in you getting outfarmed by the late-mid game. In a sense, neither of the cores really wants this item, but if they deviate from it in their build and don’t win in 35 minutes or less, they will be facing an opponent with an extra item or two. The only melee hero who can consistently afford skipping Battlefury in the current meta is Lifestealer, but he does rely heavily on successful ganks and early towers to prevent himself from becoming a non-factor.
When it comes to patches, it is reasonable to expect some nerfs to either Battlefury itself, or the stacking and neutrals mechanic in general. Alternatively, cores without flash-farming capabilities might be getting buffs to either their laning stage or mid game power level.
When it comes to what adjustments professional players might come up with for the next tournaments, we might see an increase in picks of heavy teamfight heroes, which aren’t necessarily good at pushing, to create space and retain some map control for a late-game carry to farm and scale better.
Several previously popular heroes are starting to phase out of the meta as a result of the latest patch or a change in overall playstyle. Shadow Fiend, Elder Titan and Enchantress are still seeing some play, but they are certainly not as ubiquitous as they were.
Both Shadow Fiend and Enchantress currently sit at <40% win rate, making them some of the least successful heroes of the tournament who were picked consistently during the group stage. Of all teams, only LGD and Newbee managed to make the Shadow Fiend pick work in their favor, while Enchantress won only in the hands of Virtus.Pro and Liquid. Turns out, these heroes now only work in specific situations and in the hands of players who can push them to their absolute maximum, be it Maybe or Sccc with their mid lane dominance, or 9pasha and Mind_Control with their greedy offlane playstyles.
This trend is a rather welcome change and hopefully more professional teams will adhere to the “your best heroes vs. our best heroes” approach, rather than “split the best heroes in the meta and see who does better with what we got” one. Mineski certainly adhered to the first approach on their way to championship and hopefully more teams will follow the lead.
Part of the reason TI6 was so amazing was the fact that teams all came to the tournament with their own ideas and stuck to them, resulting in a clash of playstyles and strategies. Current Dota is slowly approaching the similar level of strategic and hero variety, but it is still lacking in certain regards.
In broad terms, a good draft is either a little bit slower or much faster than that of the opponent, allowing you to either out-pressure them and win the game or survive the early aggression and then take over. Power levels in Dota aren’t quite as straightforward and with the introduction of talents there are some very critical power spikes, but when most teams default to an extremely fast-paced game, there is little room for late-game picks regardless.
Hopefully these issues will be solved in the upcoming patch and we will see an even higher hero variety. So far the game progression towards a better meta was not without hiccups, but it is definitely moving in the right direction. Does it have enough time to approach the legendary TI6 state? Will we have the next Wings.gaming team emerge? Time will tell.