Beyond The Stats is a segment that aims to break down and analyze decisions and playstyles used by pro teams. Today, we will be looking at the OGA Dota Pit EU/CIS Grand Finals, and try to figure out why Team Secret were able to outclass Team Liquid so convincingly.
- Radiant: Liquid
- Dire: Secret
The draft done by both teams is one that will be replicated throughout the series. We will be breaking down exactly what elements of the draft are so important as the analysis continues. For now, what you should keep in mind is that both teams have applied some element of “cheese” to their strategies. “Cheese”, meaning unorthodox or unusual picks that refocus a strategy’s goals into 1 specific goal. In the first game, this hero was Broodmother chosen by Team Liquid.
For the sidelanes, we begin to see some interesting strategies from both teams which give us an insight into their knowledge about the current meta. They had decided to draft extremely tanky and independent sidelane cores (Dragon Knight, and Abaddon) in order to let their supports make plays around the map. From a drafting perspective, it looked like a stalemate. But Secret’s approach to setting up their lanes is what gave them an edge.
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The Laning Stage
For the top lane, Zai’s Abaddon was a hard counter to Boxi’s Queen of Pain (QoP). QoP’s laning dominance relies on the constant harass shes able to dish out with her Shadow Strike ability. This is completely nullified against Abaddon, as he is able to purge the effect with his Aphotic Shield.
The Midlane was a stalemate. Nisha’s Templar Assassin (TA) was able to clear Qojqva’s Broodmother Spiderlings, giving him a slight edge in terms of farm. However, Brood was able to offset that advantage due to her innate kill potential against Nisha. Because of this, Nisha was forced to pedal down and play more passively so as not to die.
The Bottom Lane was a decisive win for Secret. Secret drafted Ember Spirit as their core, played by Matumbaman, with the help of YapzOr on Sniper. They would face off against a solo Dragon Knight, a hero that rarely ever loses due to his innate tankiness and survival ability. The problem that Liquid would face, is that Sniper and Ember are able to constantly poke and wither down DK’s HP from a safe distance, eventually leading to an opening for a kill.
The Early Game
This is where we begin to truly see the dynamics of both teams strategies at work here. Team Liquid have very much dictated the pace of the game with their Broodmother pick. In this case however, “dictating the pace” isn’t necessarily a good thing. Liquid picking Broodmother gave them a specific timing to play around, which occurs somewhere between 20-30 minutes. It is that timing where Liquid’s strategy is extremely potent. Puppey, being an extremely seasoned and experienced drafter, saw this coming from miles away. Now we’ll analyze what Secrets response was to Liquids approach.
Between the end of the Laning Stage, and the beginning of the Mid Game, both teams were essentially stalling. If Team Liquid had won their lanes, this wouldn’t have happened, as they would be primed to begin their Deathball. Instead, they were forced to catch-up for a few minutes. Interestingly, despite Secret winning the laning stage, they did not force their advantage or make any aggressive plays. We’ll see why in a bit. Some noteworthy items by Team Secret was a queued up Midas by Puppey’s Enchantress, and a Radiance by Matumba’s Ember.
The Mid Game
As soon as the 20-minute mark arrived, Team Liquid have just reached critical mass. It’s at this point where they need to win, or risk losing their advantage. At this point, Broodmother is equipped with an Aghanim’s Scepter and Diffusal Blade, which gives her a massive map presence and kill potential. Secret on the other hand, do not have much to show in terms of Mid-game items.
Secret’s response, was to dodge, dodge, dodge. As stated earlier, Enchantress went for a Midas, and Ember went for a Radiance, which indicates that they are going for a more greedy, late-game approach. Ember Spirit, on his own, has the ability to split push around the map, and extend games for as long as he likes. Radiance in hand, creepwaves melted rapidly.
Now here’s why Liquid screwed up the Mid Game. The Ember Spirit would constantly shove waves, and Liquid’s heroes would chase him for about 10 minutes to try and force a high ground siege. It’s 10 minutes where Liquid needs to be ending the game. Matumbaman’s constant split push rendered Liquids Deatball countered, and this is an extremely important point to keep in mind.
The Late Game
30 minutes into the game, Liquid’s timings have essentially ended, and Secrets greedy style is finally going to pay off. From the start, Secret used their understanding of Liquid’s timings to dismantle their playstyle through strategy. It’s why the Enchantress and Ember went for greedy items. Instead of fighting Liquid during their spike, they avoided them, while disrupting their strategy, while getting a net worth advantage. And this is where we begin to see what the meta of this Grand Final is.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
It’s possible to break downdrafts into 3 main playstyles or strategies. They are: Deathball, Pickoff, or Split Push. Deathball beats Pickoff, Pickoff beats Split Push, and Split Push beats Deathball (each of them holds their own connotations and pros and cons). Whatever meta, or patch, or tournament, this dynamic continues to persist throughout the game’s history. The interesting thing about this dynamic in this particular series, is that we can see teams employ them at different times of the game depending on the conditions that the game presents at different stages, which to my knowledge, is a first for Dota. Let me explain.
In the Early Game, both teams are “stalling”. They have their own timings and strategies, and it is pointless to try and force it this early. Instead, they will set up for their timing while also accounting for the enemy teams timing. In the Mid Game, we begin to see each teams strategy at work. Liquid employs a Deathball strategy, which is beaten by Secrets Split Push. And as the Late Game approaches, Secret employs a Deathball strategy for no other reason than to end the game.
- Radiant: Liquid
- Dire: Secret
The Draft gives us a slew of heroes that hint at a possible repeat of the dynamics shown in the first game. We see Death Prophet, Dragon Knight, and Chen which tell us that Secret are planning on grouping up and pushing; Deathball. Liquid, on the other hand goes for a pokey, lane dominating draft, with their Drow Ranger, Timbersaw, and Venge; Deathball, again.
The team that “won” the draft depended on how the lanes were set up. If Drow was to have a bad laning stage, then Liquids whole strategy falls apart. However, Secret have heroes that are able to function regardless of how the lanes play out, even though they are primed to having a relatively successful one.
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The Laning Stage
Instead of looking at all 3 lanes, there is one lane in particular that I think is a lot more interesting to break down. The bottom lane was an absolute massacre by Secret. They had YapzOr on Lion and Zai on DK facing off against Drow and Venge (played by miCKe and iNSaNiA respectively). On paper, as far as Drow lanes go, this one was pretty strong. You have a strong slow via Ice Arrows, and the damage steroid via Venges Wave of Terror and passive. So how did Secret beat it?
Both DK and Lion have massive control potential. DK has access to a powerful single target stun, and Lion has both an AoE stun as well as a single target Hex ability. Normally though, DK players would still focus on maxing their Fire Breath to secure lane farm. But that is not what Zai did. He went for a level 1 Dragon Tail (stun), which when combined with Lion’s CC abilities gave them massive kill potential on their opponents, which is what they did. Moreover, Lion went for an early (4 minute) Tranquil Boots, which when paired with his Mana Drain, and DK’s Dragon Blood passive (grants HP regen and Armor), meant that they were able to significantly out sustain their opponents.
This absolute domination on the Drow, which is very much the focal point of Liquids strategy, forced every other lane to collapse. The Drow would TP to other (winning) lanes, to try and salvage what was left of the laning stage. But then YapzOr, with the advantage he’s built in his beatdown on Drow, mirrored the Drow’s movements and bullied him for the remainder of the Laning Stage.
The Early Game
Similar to Game 1, it’s at this stage where both teams are preparing on executing their strategies. There’s nothing really noteworthy that happened during this stage, but what you should know going forward, is that Secret had dictated the pace of the game. They had the heroes on a timer, and they won the laning stage. They are on track to dominating the Mid Game, and Liquid had their own unique method of addressing it.
Normally, a team that has a strong pushing lineup is prone to getting dominated in the early stages of the game. The problem, is that Liquid themselves drafted a strong pushing lineup. So at this point of the game, both teams are dodging and waiting for their timings; the opposite of what happened in Game 1 (more on that later).
The Mid Game
Both teams had Mid Game power spikes. The difference is that Secret’s power spike is pretty independent of Net Worth compared to Liquid. All it took was for Nisha to press Exorcism on Death Prophet, and Puppey to press Hand of God when things got a little heated. Liquid on the other hand, had Drow Ranger, who needs many items to come online. The same could be said (but not to the same degree) about Timbersaw. Add the fact that the Drow was still in recovery mode, even though she had decent Net Worth at this point, which was all focused on a Hurricane Pike, Secret have a completely dominating stance at this stage of the game. But the really interesting thing about this game, is seeing how the dynamic evolved in the “Late Game”
The *Late* Game
The asterisk on “Late” was put there because the game ended pretty quickly. As Secret had come off on top in every stage of the game up to this point, they are poised and ready to execute their Deathball. Pop-quiz: If you are playing against a Deathball, what do you do to beat it? The correct answer is Split-Push, which is not what Liquid did. What they did do was try and fight secret head on. They stuck true to the pushy and group-up-y nature of their lineup, and tried to outplay Secret at their own game. And it didn’t go that bad for Liquid all things considered.
At this point in the game, Secret are just itching to take absolutely any teamfight they can get their hands on. Liquid abuses this fact, and tries to take teamfights in advantageous positions; highgrounds, near wards, etc… The problem was that Secret’s draft also had innately powerful teamfight abilities, a trademark of successful Deathball lineups. They had Exorcism, Wukong’s Command, and Hand of God. On the other hand, Liquid had Gust and Chakram? There is no realistic way that Liquid could have won a fight at this stage of the game with the gold they had, regardless of the location and circumstance of the fight. So Secret proceeded to brute force their way into a GG call by Liquid.
A Heated Debate
The main takeaway of this game, is that both teams had opposing approaches to the exact same thing in both games, which alternated the timings of the game. In Game 1, Liquid’s Brood was on track to destroying the Mid-game, whereas in Game 2, Secret‘s draft spiked on the Mid-game. Game 1, Late game was for Secret, Game 2, for Liquid. Two teams that came into the series adamant that their rendition of this brand new meta was the best one.
Let me elaborate on this a bit. The narrative of the first game was Secret’s counterplay to Liquid’s early timing. They decided to avoid fights and split push during this time. The second game was Liquid’s counterplay to Secret’s early timing. They decided to try and match Secret and fight them head-on during this time. Both teams had the awareness and understanding of what the other was doing, but Secret reigned supreme as their general approach to these kinds of strategies was objectively stronger. What is that approach? The approach of Conditional Strategy. A strategy that transcends the draft, and is dictated exclusively by playstyle.
- Radiant: Liquid
- Dire: Secret
On paper, a repeat of Game 1. In practice, a repeat of Game 2, until it became a repeat of Game 1. Liquid took a page out of Secrets book and drafted a Death Prophet for themselves. They also drafted a Mars and Keeper of The Light (KOTL) to improve their teamfight. In response, Secret went for a similar “push” strategy, but with room for Conditional Strategy, with the added benefit of having a more traditional composition to execute. Also, Liquid picked Windranger in an elimination game. :thinking: (Couldn’t have said it better myself, Slacks)
The Early Game
Here is where we begin to see Secret’s draft come to fruition. It’s not quite primed and ready, but we do get a glimpse of what’s to come in the later stages. Liquid, in a feat of desperation try and push the advantage and begin taking the fight to Secret early on. They are actively trying to set the pace of the game through playstyle. They finally employ the concept of Conditional Strategy and use this time to try and pick off Secret’s heroes. Secret’s response? Run the other way.
This cat and mouse dynamic happened so many times throughout this series, and the titleholder of “cat” changed depending on what time the clock had written on it. The thing is, the moment that the “cat” wins in any of these situations, it tends to be over, and the cat wins. It’s pretty strange, that in this series, or meta, that setting the precedent or dictating the pace put’s you at a disadvantage, moreso than in the past. In every game, the team that had the threatening timing, was on the backfoot; at the grace of how their opponents responded to their timing. And so far, Secret have gone 3 for 3 in that regard.
The Mid Game
Secret have tried their best to dodge Liquid’s aggression in the Early Game, but Liquid finally put a dent on their strategy. It’s my opinion that if Liquid had the chance to play a 4th game, they would have taken a game of Secret. Up until 20 minutes, Secret were building up to classic Deathball items, while Liquid was too focused on fighting them.
This was Liquid’s first critical error in this game, and further showcases just how strong Secret is. We’ve talked about Conditional Strategy, and how useful it was for Secret. But we never went over when to apply it. Secret have masterfully manipulated their strategy in the most opportune times. Usually, an item choice or a key level on either team dictated that. However, Liquid struggled to identify when was the point to switch away from their Conditional “Pick-off” Strategy, and move into their core “pushing” strategy that they’ve drafted. This is where Secret got the upper hand, as they were able to quickly and neatly transition from their “dodging” playstyle to their “pushing”/Deathball one, through their item choices
The Late Game
It’s at this stage where Secret finally initiate their core strategy. Items like Lone Druid with Desolator on his Bear, Solar Crest on Enchantress, Guardian Greaves on Necrophos and Vladimir’s Offering and Necronomicon on Beastmaster are what exponentially strengthened their Deathball. Liquid at this point continued to go for a Split-Push strategy with their Ember, similar to Secret in Game 1. The difference is, that Secret’s response to the split push was a ruthless controlling of the lanes.
Between 20 and 25 minutes, every hero on Secret was on lane duty. Their only objective was to push everyone on Liquid back to their base so that they may finally make their uninterrupted highground siege. Let me rephrase that so that the significance of this move makes more sense. Team Liquid tried to counter Secret’s Deathball with Split-Push. So Secret, in response, decided to Split-Push themselves to counter Liquid’s Split-Push. The question that arises is, why did Secret’s Split Push beat Liquids?
Team Secret is just a fundamentally stronger team. Team Liquid showed that they were able to adapt, in a sense of employing the strategies that Secret have abused in the series. With that come 2 problems, with the first being the skill disparity between both teams. At the moment, Team Secret have the best players in the world in each respective position. They have an underlying edge when it comes to the game, that should be factored in when analyzing their games. If Liquid matched Secret in skill, then I can safely state that Game 3 would not have turned out the way it did (from a purely strategic perspective).
The second problem, as Admiral Bulldog said, there is no point in trying to beat Secret at their own game. In hindsight, it’s easy to say such a statement. But the games themselves showed us that Secret has an extremely versatile approach to what the game presents. In a sense that whatever style your team seems to excel at, Secret have naturally mastered a way of beating it. This is not because Secret have a massive “play-book” that tells them when to do what. But because their very play style is, by design, constructed to be able to adapt to multiple situations. Every other team is banking on “sticking with what works”, but Secret have employed a multi-dimensional aspect to their gameplay that we simply have not seen before. For the next team that beats Secret in a Grand Finals, it will be an incredible feat.
**Featured Image from Liquipedia.net