- This report on the WePlay! ToW Mad Moon tournament aims to critique teams’ knowledge of the meta from a retrospective and statistical point of view. Along with my research, I have found some interesting key statistics that might just blow your mind.
Before we get into some niche outlier data, it’s important to set a precedent of a reliable and wide swept analysis of the tournament. By having a clear understanding of straightforward statistics, it will create a decent baseline to which we can eventually make assumptions. A disclaimer that this report acts as a retrospective analysis. I am in no way hindering or taking away from any of these professional teams’ strategic ability.
With that being said, analyzing some of the relevant statistics can bring a whole new perspective to how the metagame develops. For a moment, put yourselves in the shoes of a professional Dota 2 coach, and try to form some rational conclusions as to why certain esports teams picked what.
Where do we even start?
When trying to analyze the metagame, arguably the most useful data point(s) pertains to the most picked heroes. Obviously, this stat comes with its flaws, but it provides a pretty solid picture of the meta from a gameplay perspective. If you’re not really sure what that means, then that’s fine!
What makes a hero good?
The titleholder for the most picked hero in this tournament was surprisingly Timbersaw! I say surprisingly because this hero was considered a very situational pick in previous metas. Furthermore, despite him being fairly powerful in certain circumstances, he was still outshined by a handful of heroes that do similar things to him. So what’s different?
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Interestingly, not a whole lot! As of 7.24, he’s received very minor stat buffs and some talent tweaks. However, the hero is essentially the same from previous metas. So what is it exactly that is different about this patch and previous ones? The answer, circumstance.
The interesting thing about strategy forming in Dota 2, is that it’s less of a 10 piece puzzle that needs to fit, but more of a delicate and towering house of cards. Every card needs to hold a specific purpose, otherwise, the whole thing comes crashing down. With this piece of information, it should shed some light on how strategies are formed. Every hero relies on every hero, and the same is said for heroes on the opposite team.
The reason for explaining Dota 2 meta is very tricky, is that there are too many moving parts to feasibly cover in a realistic manner. Due to this, I will resort to using sweeping statements. Statements that might rub off on you the wrong way, but I assure you that I’ve given my statements a fair bit of thought and care before blurting them.
“Twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts”
The first statement is; that Timbersaw is popular as a consequence of the metagame, which is an incredibly rare phenomenon. The main driving force to a hero becoming popular is what the patch notes look like. If the numbers are getting bigger, then that means the hero is stronger, right? Yes, but that doesn’t explain Timbersaws rise to the meta.
In order to fully understand why exactly Timbersaw is prevalent, is to fundamentally understand what this hero is good at, and what he’s bad at. This starts with an analysis of his kit. The overall consensus of what this hero likes is early to midgame fighting in jungle areas against enemies comprising of physical damage and the strength attribute. The hero severely dislikes magical burst damage and hard lockdown. Lets put a pin on that and move on.
Shaking things up, but not hard enough
Second sweeping statement; the following 4 most picked heroes are at a disadvantage against Timbersaw-esque heroes. Leading the runners up, is Earthshaker. Earthshaker is a largely immobile strength hero with very little sustained magical burst, but a proficiency for high damage and control in a very short time. If a hypothetical hero could survive his first rounds of disable, then Earthshakers impact plummets.
Snapfire, another moderately immobile strength hero, that is capable of sustained burst throughout a teamfight. However, the biggest source of her damage, is her ultimate ability, Mortimer’s Kisses. This spell is heavily reliant on heroes holding still, be that due to lockdown or a lack of ability to getaway. However, the double-edged sword characteristic of this ability is that the hero is completely defenseless once an enemy is in melee range of her. Perhaps a hypothetical hero that can close in and burst her through her strength attribute?
Lifestealer, a strength right clicker, with built-in magical immunity. Without a massive networth difference, Timbersaw comes out on top of this matchup. There is no feasible way where Lifestealer can kill Timber, however, Timbersaw can kite Lifestealer for days and days. If Lifestealer isn’t regularly getting hits off on you, his impact in a teamfight progressively decreases. (Not to mention his dislike of attacking high armor heroes)
Finally, Rubick; a hero that doesn’t really fit the bill as having any direct impact from or by Timbersaw. These 2 heroes are fundamentally on a stalemate from a balanced perspective.
The definition of insanity
Out of these 4 most picked heroes, there are 2 that sport mediocre winrates, which highlight errors in judgments by drafters. Firstly, Lifestealer sports a 40% winrate across 15 games, making him the biggest trap of the tournament. Trap in a sense that, drafters had an idea about the hero, which turned up wrong.
Analyzing a costly error in judgment
Figuring out what the driving force behind this consistent picking of Lifestealer, I’ve come to an interesting conclusion. Many teams had a completely incorrect view of what he is meant to contribute to a draft. The only time Lifestealer has had some semblance of success was when he was picked alongside an enabling combo friendly counterpart. In other more rudimentary words, a vehicle to perform an Infest Bomb, like Slardar.
Executing such a strategy should have the Lifestealer be the focal point of your draft. A very large part of your Net Worth and gameplan relies on this particular combo to work. And to be honest, it just works really damn well when it does. However, my theory is that many teams misjudged Lifestealers success as an enabler to a strategy rather than an instigator. Thus, a rational conclusion could be made that this hero was misunderstood throughout the majority of the tournament.
The center of it all
The second hero whos winrate was subpar, is a much more peculiar case. Previously, we mentioned that Snapfire is able to dish out incredible magic burst, especially if targets are immobile. Taking a quick glance at some of the lowest winrate heroes reflects this; Beastmaster, Troll, and Shadow Fiend (heroes were only picked if they had substantial sample sizes).
So, lets backpedal a bit. You are the drafter, and Snapfire is becoming the hero of the tournament. You need to figure out why it is that way, and how to beat it. Let’s take each category step by step.
Firstly, we’ll try and answer what it is that makes her so strong. Her main utility is the ability to provide incredible magical damage, on immobile targets. The problem is, that we’ve seen that the most popular heroes are very mobile (as most heroes in Dota 2 are right now). From a drafter’s perspective, the best way to take advantage of Snapfire’s strengths is with top tier crowd control and a large emphasis on ease of execution.
The painting is starting to clear up, as Earthshaker fits that bill quite elegantly. Before you disregard my statement as “coincidence”, keep in mind that Earthshaker was picked 3 times in conjunction with Snapfire, sporting a 100% winrate. Furthermore, Faceless Void who also fits the bill as an excellent combo sports a 69% overall winrate, and although it was relatively popular as a combo pick alongside Snapfire, he’s had minimal success with her. My reasoning behind this defaults to the “ease of execution” aspect of it.
If you’d like a higher degree of justification as to why Faceless Void was a bad contender, it is in his case being the complete opposite of Lifestealers. Where Lifestealers ultimate should be the focal point of the draft, in other words, a very active and aggressive Lifestealer, Faceless Void was picked into the same logical boat as the former. The issue that rises with that, is that Faceless Void is a very greedy hero, and should that hero not be able to accrue the necessary resources, he will be a burden in the late game.
These Snapfire combos seem to be great on paper with some sort of large AoE setup, which explains abnormally high winrates despite minimal balance changes being made to these respective heroes. Their popularity and success is dictated by their ability to contribute to the real star of the show, Mortimer’s Kisses. This also explains why heroes like Dark Seer and Nyx have seen some extra playtime. Possibly a reminder to teams to bring up previously forgotten combos?
That sounds great and all, but how do you beat it? The very foundation of how metas develop is a sort of cat and mouse dynamic; where teams will try and beat another team’s strongest strategy, and if they are successful, they would have birthed a brand new meta. This cycle repeats over and over until the patch is rendered “stale”.
In this tournament, Snapfire is our hypothetical mouse, and our cat is supposed to represent a strategy or pick that trumps this powerful hero. From a coach’s perspective, that’s their queue to go back to the drawing board, get rid of all statistics, and try something new.
Back to the drawing board
We’ve already been through what makes Snapfire so good, and what theoretically counters that hero. And the solution or angle that a few teams have taken were quite shocking to me! Initially, we expressed why Timbersaw was a decent counterpick to Snapfire, but it is for lack of a better word, clunky.
In theory, the best way to get Snapfire to stop winning a teamfight, is to get in melee range and stun her. To execute this in a teamfight, the team opposing Snapfire would need a few key points of information, namely, where the Snapfire is?
Dota 2 has an elegant yet unspecified category of heroes. It’s a category that everyone has a sort of silent agreement about, but is rarely talked about due to its tendency to be considered arbitrary. This category is known as the “vision hero”, aka any hero that is able to provide you an edge of information through vision.
The arbitrariness of this category stems from the means to which heroes obtain this information. Some heroes provide a debuff that is able to give precise information on where a hero is, like Slardar. Some are able to abuse invisibility spells to scout enemies from the shadows, like Nyx. And some are able to just have an edge when it comes to vision, be that in the form of a flying vision (unobstructed vision around a hero), like Batrider, or increased vision range.
The Big 3
The 3 heroes mentioned earlier, are textbook counters to Snapfire. If a team is able to maintain a vision advantage in a teamfight, then they have a very good edge. If a Snapfire, a hero incredibly reliant on positioning, gets seen before the start of a team fight, she has effectively lost the teamfight.
The cool thing about this back and forth is that coaches are aware of this. A team with a Snapfire would hate to play against Slardar, Nyx, or Batrider, which explains them being the most banned heroes of the tournament.
And sometimes, these heroes slip between the cracks. And unsurprisingly, Batrider sports the highest winrate of the whole tournament (with over 10 games played), while being one of the most contested heroes in terms of bans. However, a disclaimer; Batrider has not played a single game against Snapfire in this tournament, no doubt due to the rather small sample size. However, the other 2 have had moderate to high success against Snapfire.
A couple of noteworthy takeaways
Before wrapping up, there are a few interesting data points that shed some light on how the metagame will possibly develop in the future. Firstly, Ancient Apparition shares some similarities with Snapfire; in that, they are both long-range artillery supports capable of single-handedly turning a teamfight with their burst. In essence, a poor man’s Snapfire.
Previously, I mentioned teams possibly reexploring the “combo” dynamic that surfaces in a meta every once in a while. The data shows that if your combo is potent enough, you will win games. This is my explanation to why a hero like Dark Seer is suddenly a popular pick with a decent winrate after being largely ignored for many years. Think back to this recent iconic play:
A few interesting outliers
Lastly, a couple of heroes that share no direct relationship with Snapfire, and have had no alarming recent balance changes. Firstly is Medusa, who has somewhat revitalized the 4 protect 1 strategy that used to dominate the competitive Chinese meta for many years. Medusa has had a fascinating playstyle shift, where players would try an unorthodox build of purchasing a Divine Rapier as soon as possible and using that to deathball down a lane as fast as possible.
With that, we’ve been able to deconstruct the metagame, how it developed, and to some extent, how it will turn out to be in the next tournament. The recent balance changes since this tournament have supported some of the sweeping statements I’ve made. In other words, if Snapfire is strong due to hero ultimate being very strong, then the most important spell to nerf is her ultimate, so on and so forth. The coming ESL One tournament ought to refine some of the already understood baselines discussed today. Despite the nerfs, the tournament will act as a spiritual successor to this tournament, offering a more mature outlook on the precedent that WePlay! ToW Mad Moon has set.