The Frog works in mysterious ways, and Dota 2 is in dire need of a shakeup. Although this patch isn’t nearly as stagnant as previous patches, there are still serious balance issues that need to addressed before the upcoming TI tournament.
Disclaimer: All stats were obtained from datdota.com
Dota 2 is a game that was always coveted to being the pinnacle of balance. Although its easy to provide an argument that Dota 2 is a balanced game relative to others in a similar genre, Dota 2 is still considered to be an isolated case. In a sense that there is no other game that compares to the way Dota is balanced, either by virtue of the sheer complexity of the game, or how balance is set to such high regard. Icefrog and Valve do consider the average player stats behind determining balance changes, but they almost exclusively look at the professional scene.
How This Meta Developed
Dota has a trickle-down effect, where the highest level of players would abuse a strong mechanic, and over time, the lower levels will catch on to them. This starts at the Pro scene, where most metas are defined & abused, and are much later used by the average player base. Fortunately, 7.21 had many shifts in meta, with every month having a flavor of the month (fotm) hero. With its culmination at the MDL Paris Major, every series presented a throwback to the previous month’s fotm hero. It’s almost to say that this patch has a handful of smaller metas, rather than one large encompassing one. With games calling back to the Magnus and Phantom Assassin combination, all the way to the modern “Drow Strat”, it feels like Dota has never been in this state before.
The reasoning behind why this happened, is the fact that 7.21 has been around for an extremely long time (since January of 2019). With only minor changes made, bringing us to the (hopefully) final iteration of the 7.21 era, 7.21d. The combination of its long life and the multitude of smaller changes, made each and every small update bring in a new “strongest” strategy. Even if the next update brings in a new strong style of play, the previous one never really falls out of favor. This is maybe an explanation as to why we’re still seeing strategies that have been used, countered, and nerfed back in January, all the way until now in May.
A Healthy Story of Balance
One of the games most decorated and established captains gave a statement during the MDL Major. Kuroky pointed out that Team Liquid is “an old team and everyone just counters everything we (Team Liquid) do. We became obvious for them, we are not new players with a new playstyle“. It’s clear that Liquids results have been lackluster before the major, especially since they were regarded to be the most dominant team in Dota 2 between 2017, and mid-2018. Team Liquid has been very traditional in everything they do, from their style of play to their style of draft. Matumbaman would crush any opposition with his signature “green” hero, and make space for his win condition player to get farm. In the dawn of 7.21, that “green” hero was Viper, and even after the heroes strength has been addressed by Icefrog, and countered by players, Liquid still use it at 7.21’s twilight, with success.
This isn’t an error in Icefrogs behalf, or the players lack of respect to the pick, but no matter how many nerfs Viper is given, he has a set and defined playstyle that compliments the current pace of Liquids game. The hero itself is not strong, but the combination of Liquids style, and how it interacts with their timings and strategy, makes a lot of sense for the pick. Is Viper a broken hero? Absolutely not. There is no professional team other than Liquid that values Viper as highly as they do. During TI7, Liquid would value Necrophos very highly. It ticked all the boxes of what Liquid wanted in a hero, and it was also extremely broken. Viper is not broken, but it ticks all the aforementioned boxes in what Liquid values for what hero Matumbaman should play. Viper is, for lack of a better word, balanced.
An Incredibly Unhealthy Story of Balance
Drow is the complete counterpart of what Viper is, and what he represents in the 7.21 meta. To give a brief summary of Drow rangers state, a complete disaster in balance and an unbelievable case of power creep that hasn’t been seen in years. Drow has excellent ways to farm items very quickly, she is able to keep all 3 lanes pushed on a reasonably low cooldown, she is able to do absurd amounts of damage even when not investing totally on DPS items, she buffs all ranged heroes on her team, and can permanently silence an enemy indefinitely. All these changes in tandem make Drow a Jack of All Trades, Master of All. And it was all an accident.
The peculiar thing to keep in mind is that Drow was, for the most part, ignored for the majority of 7.21. Of course, some professionals experimented with her, and she did seem fairly powerful, but in reality, her potential was on a completely different level. The current state of Drow was a product of the rework to Marksmanship, making her less “gimmicky” and more of a proper late game carry. However, before her rework, Icefrog was pushing her away from being the “gimmicky” hero that she was, without committing to the rework. Introducing various damage, and attack point buffs, and finishing it off with the said rework. Drow is now not only a top tier carry but also has the same benefits she did since before 7.20. This combination was not intentional, but a product of many smaller buffs throughout the years, that became much more valuable after her rework.
Tusk and Sniper
Drow evolved from her previous one-dimensional self and branched out in terms of not only her playstyle, her item pickups, or her farm priority. The reintroduction of Drow into the meta brings out other heroes into the spotlight. Looking back at the winners and losers of the 7.21 patch, one particular hero was mentioned to having an extremely low win rate in the current patch; and that hero is tusk. Now tusk still sports a similar 39% win rate, but the hero was experiencing a minor resurgence in response to Drows rise in popularity. Drow hates heroes with gap close, and since tusks replacement; earth spirit, is banned in almost every series, teams have started to experiment with him. At the other end of the spectrum, a success story for Sniper who had his rise in popularity thanks to his ability to outrange a Drow Ranger. He sports a 57% win rate in the MDL Major, something no one would have ever expected.
Arc Warden is another hero that was very popular during Terror Blades reign a couple of months ago. On paper, Drow seems like a strong arc warden counter at first, since Drows marksmanship is able to pierce Arc Wardens magnetic field. However, Dota is a lot more complicated, and it doesn’t take one ability to counter another to be considered a counter. In this case, the main reason why Arc Warden has the upper hand against Drow, is in his play style and timings. If Arc Warden is able to get a decent start, he has the ability to push out lanes much more frequently than Drow is able to. And since Drow prefers to stay hidden in the jungle, Arc Warden does an excellent job of punishing that passive play style by shoving in all 3 waves, essentially choking the Drow to her base. He also has the ability to safely invade jungles, making Drow have absolutely nowhere on the map to farm. He won 2 out of 4 games against Drow this major.
Drows allies are also a strong focal point of the hero. Drows passive allows ranged heroes on her team to have buffed up attack speed, which significantly improves those heroes scaling and early game fighting potential. The most valuable ally to Drow is Medusa, since her physical damage output in team fights is absurd with Drow Aura. Although the Medusa Drow combo was only played 3 times in the tournament, it sported a 100% win rate. The reason the combo isn’t as prevalent is that Drow Medusa is an exploitable opener, and if any 1 of these heroes is revealed later in the draft, then the other is a high priority ban. Since the Drows popularity got players to experiment with Medusa, she’s since had a 68% win rate across 47 matches!
One of Drows weaknesses is her laning, so teams have decided to match her up with a support Abaddon. Even though Abaddon struggled to find his place in the meta, he’s been a hotly contested pick in MDL Paris. His ability to out sustain almost every single lane matchup makes him a top tier hero to have on almost any lineup. A hero that was explored to buff up Drows weaknesses, has become widely popular and used with other hero combos. Namely, Morphling, who benefits from Abadons mist coil even greater because of his naturally low hp pool.
A Ripple Causing A Tidal Wave
It’s interesting to visualize the domino effect created by Drows dominance in the meta. The effect she has on the entire dynamic of the game is both refreshing, and a problem. The various interactions buried in Dota 2’s code is being abused with this hero, and at the same time, it’s very clear that she is far too strong to continue being how she is. Its extremely likely that she will receive another rework or massive nerfs to her abilities.
Lanes, Lanes, Lanes!
It’s easy to just say that this is a very “Laning Focused Meta”, but in reality, the meta has been laning focused for the past couple years. 7.21 started with Icefrog flat out stating that lanes must be done in a 2-1-2 formation. Offlaners have become greedy cores that require some babysitting in lane, and mid laners prefer solo laning. The middle towers are just too close together to justify the risk of support investing time into the mid lane. Thus 2-1-2 was regarded as the most optimal strategy to win games. But over the months, players began to find appropriate situations to stray away from 2-1-2. Sometimes, teams decide to trilane, other times, a jungler is necessary.
When Do You Jungle?
China takes credit for inventing this lucrative and ingenious strategy, and VP take credit for popularizing and perfecting it. The strategy is fairly simple, have an Enigma jungle at the respective sides offlane, while constantly converting friendly ranged creeps. At first, this seems straight forward and basic, but the reason its ingenious and lucrative is because its incredibly efficient. Since jungling with Enigma doesn’t require HP regeneration items, a couple of clarities and a Ring of Regeneration is purchased instead. That ring of Regeneration is shared with the solo laner, giving them a slight advantage in the lane by virtue of the small hp regeneration buff they receive. During this time, Enigma will constantly deny ranged creeps, and that skews the exp in the lane to favor his teammate, and since hes receiving solo experience, the experience skews a lot steeper than normal.
This results in the Enigmas team having 4 cores, with Net Worth being more evenly spread amongst 4 heroes in this strategy. For the most part, jungling in this patch is almost exclusively done by Enigma, since overall, jungling cost to benefit ratio is extremely small. But Enigmas ability to jungle is efficient enough to warrant its popularity. Enigma is also a natural mechanism carrier, as well as other team fight items, turning him to the king of team fights in the late game. All of these small and seemingly insignificant factors put together create an extremely potent tactic, that sets your team to a flying start.
How Do You Counter A Jungler?
Remember Tusk? True to his lore, his fighting spirit shows even when he seems to have nothing left to offer. Tusk has a 60% win rate against Enigma, and Tusks abilities don’t stand out as having anything BKB piercing, not to a Black Hole anyway. So why does tusk have a positive win rate against jungle Enigma? The answer is in his play style. The bane of any jungler, is a roamer, and Tusk is the most valuable roamer, in a meta that doesn’t forgive the roamer play style. Enigma is an easy target for Tusk to bully in the jungle, because of his low HP pool, armor, and lack of mobility. Rather than letting the Enigma farm up impactful items and reach key levels, roamers like Tusk and Earthshaker will cripple him before he reaches that point.
Similar to jungling, having a single hero be a “true roamer” is a very isolated case. The only other significant example is when your team has a Dark Seer-esque hero that can cut waves and be completely self-sufficient. There is a strong correlation of teams with a Dark Seer, also having an active hero like Earth Spirit, Sand King, and even Spirit Breaker to be viable picks in the “roam” role.
This concludes Part 1 of the 7.21 Meta-Analysis and Review, Part 2 will cover the map, heroes, and items in Patch 7.21.