The Offlaner is the role that changed the most throughout the history of the game. It seems like every patch tweaks the position just enough for a slew of new heroes to be attempted in it, with varying degrees of success. Today we would like to have a look through how the role developed over time and where it currently stands.
Back in the day, a 3-1-1 lane setup was the norm. You had your carry babysat by two supports, a true 1v1 mid and an offlaner who was trying to survive against all odds. It is at this time the Offlane was most often called the “Hard Lane” or even the “Suicide Lane”.
It was generally occupied by heroes who could either farm remotely, had some sort of mobility or were just really, really tanky. Given the nature of the lane, several of these traits were often required of the hero, as well as the ability to farm up in the jungle.
At the time, it definitely was the hardest role to play effectively: an offlaner had a lot of responsibilities and not too many opportunities. It also made several players absolute legends: players like iceiceice, Universe and Alliance.AdmiralBulldog came to prominence at this time.
However, over the years, the role started to change. We still occasionally see a return to classics in the professional scene, but it is more often used as a curveball, rather than a go-to strategy.
We can’t say when exactly the dual lanes became the norm, but it was around the International 2017 season. Many teams have figured out that by spreading their resources more evenly between their cores, they could typically achieve more and to do that, they needed more stability in their offlane.
This is when the concept of the pressure lane fully emerged and when the idea of a position four support was solidified. By placing two relatively early-game heroes against a trilane with a greedy carry, most teams could get a pretty significant XP and gold advantage.
At the time only a handful of carry heroes could stand their ground under pressure and even then, their position was a far cry from what it was—they had to risk their neck and fight tooth and nail of every single creep.
Pretty soon most teams adapted to the new meta: trilanes were a thing of the past and teams were trying to solidify their midgame positions as the best as they could. Offlaners played a major role throughout the game: their job was to both shut down the enemy carry, who they typically matched up well against in the laning stage, while also getting enough farm to become a threat.
It also allowed heroes, who were previously deemed too unreliable or inconsistent to be picked in this position. Slowly, but surely, the level of greed of the offlane heroes started to rise, culminating in patch 7.07 slightly over two years ago.
This single line of patch note text fundamentally changed how players approached the game. Its impact was not simply comparable, but probably exceeded the addition of talents, shrines, outposts and neutral items combined. Denies were already quite important before the patch, but now they allowed Offlaners to become the most dominant force in the game come midgame.
Their job remained the same: pressure the enemy carry with the help of your support, get as much farm as you can get, while denying XP to the enemy. Only now it was almost three times as effective.
Naturally, adjustments from professional teams followed, with less and less greedy cores who could stand their ground, but the end result was that the game effectively had two carries: one in each of the side lanes, and whoever managed to get ahead in their lane was, ultimately, a position one for their team.
This is the patch where Wraith King suddenly became the go-to offlaner for many teams and where heroes like Ember Spirit and Faceless Void were picked frequently with position three in mind from the get go, not as a forced adjustment.
The most interesting part was that this period lasted for a whole year, until Valve finally started getting the game back on track with patch 7.20. However, while the numbers were not as in favor of this playstyle as they were before, the mindset remained.
Offlane players really got used to being rich and powerful and didn’t want to give up their privileged position just yet, despite numbers no longer supporting it to the same degree. Now, however, instead of building expensive damage and trying to become an extra core, or rushing initiation tools to jump in, cast their spells and die with dignity, they all started building survivability items.
For the last year or even slightly longer, tanky offlane was the most repeated phrase in our blog posts. They were, for the most part, the driving force behind most professional drafts. Teams needed a hero to be able to play around and the offlaner could provide this at all stages of the game.
This indirectly also led to an increased importance of position four supports, since they were now frequently responsible for catch and initiation. Since offlaners no longer built early mobility items, someone had to start fights and the popularity of heroes with long-range initiation tools or ways to get an early and effective Blink Dagger skyrocketed.
Another reason for these tanky builds was slightly overtuned ability damage in the previous patches. The balance between physical and magical damage started skewing towards the latter over the course of several years and it allowed tanky spellcasting cores to be considerably more effective. It was toned down slightly since and is now in a good place where each approach is viable.
Finally, we get to the current state of affairs and the offlane nowadays is a combination of all ideas throughout the years. Most offlane heroes are still building survivability, but with the increase in teamfight importance, their item builds changed slightly. Right now most offlane heroes try to build auras for their team and extra utility if needed. Typically, defensive auras with strong actives are prioritized.
Given the importance of position four farm and the feasible benefits of early game roaming, most currently popular offlaners are fine staying solo. Maybe not necessarily from the very start of the game, but once they hit level three. The invention of “creep steal”, where you pull the enemy creep wave before they reach the lane equilibrium point to allow for a better farming position also made a lot more heroes viable in the offlane.
When it comes to damage output, offlaners vary highly and drafts should generally accommodate for whichever hero is going to be played in the offlane. Most plays in the early and early-mid game are going to be performed around the offlaner or the position four support, so a good balance between control and damage is necessary.
The offlane in the current patch is an extremely interesting role. With some degree of farm priority, offlaners have a lot of opportunities when it comes to itemization. They also have a lot of responsibilities and their game is never a farm-fest. In a sense, this role has little bit of everything the game has to offer and it makes it one of the best roles to learn for a beginner player, preferably with a group of friends in unranked matchmaking.