The decline of Spectre’s pick rate since patch 6.87
Every LAN tournament seems to bring with it its own meta, as professional teams clash and push each other to the highest levels of Dota. In pubs, however, the meta often lags behind, without the benefit of coordinated play and strategy. Pub players trend after professional players, adopting the newest, successful strategies, like fast fashion outlets.
The natural conclusion of the pub meta is that it tends to get stale, reaching the expiration date of the patch before the professional scene does. The grind for ranked MMR leans towards stable, tried and true builds, and not towards creativity and invention that we see throughout LAN tournaments. We see OD, Invoker (55.04% pick rate in the 5K bracket), and Spectre in our ranked games because not only have they’ve proven themselves to be strong heroes, there’s also no incentive to pick anything else. Hero spamming for +25 MMR at a time is also a tried and true strategy for climbing ranked ladder.
The consequence is a stale meta at the highest MMR bracket due to capitalizing on the few, strongest heroes, imbalanced or not. With patch 6.87, in response to longtime requests from the community, Valve has introduced a new ban phase in All Pick mode in ranked matchmaking. In short, before the pick phase, every player has 15 seconds to vote on a hero to get banned. A hero can only be voted on once, and at the end of the ban phase, half of the voted heroes are banned for the game. This process isn’t close to Captain’s Mode, but it’s close enough to offer a mechanic for the community to balance itself. At most, five heroes will be banned before any picking, close to the four heroes banned in the first phase of Captain’s Mode.
The ban phase sets a higher standard for the most played mode in ranked matchmaking. When Valve temporarily removed All Pick, the community welcomed the respite from game after game of the same, meta heroes. Captains Mode and Random Draft added a new, competitive layer to the game by funneling players to pick heroes that out of their comfort zones and out of the meta. The ban phase in All Pick is a tone simpler than the strategizing in the pick/ban phases of CM. It pushes players to think a little outside of the box, outside the usual, cookie cutter heroes of the meta.
This is a different standard now for what it means to be a high, ranked MMR player, who are often boxed in with the pejoratives of hero spammer or abuser. The ban phase rewards players who are a tad more flexible, perhaps not just by picking the next, strong hero down the line, but picking the one that works best in the new, limited pool of heroes. Versatility becomes more valuable than specialization. For the very highest of brackets, the ban phase now also handicaps popular players, streamers, and professionals, who may be infamous for their proficiency with certain heroes. Much like how captains may target bans specifically for an opposing player, the democratic ban may have the same effect on a popular streamer.
The ban phase in All Pick is just a nudge to try something new. Since Dota is so complex, having a meta is a useful mental shortcut to figuring out what is good and what is bad. It’s an easier path to have some certainty you can rely on when picking a hero, but an unfortunate consequence here is complacency. Climbing MMR can be more of a grind than it is enjoyable, and the comfort of picking the same heroes makes the experience more palatable. Again, only half the heroes voted will get banned, so strong heroes will still be seen even if they’re consistently banned—just not as frequent as before.
What might happen instead is that the ranked community will be pushed into finding alternatives to established heroes or uncovering new strategies with underrated ones. New strategies and picks can bubble up through pubs and extend to the professional scene. The recent tournaments in the waning days of 6.86—ESL One Manila, Starladder i-League Invitational, Dotapit—showed that the patch still had room for creativity, even as the community clamored for the next patch. Now, across thousands of pub, ranked games, the ban phase can be that spark that invigorates the meta over and over, extending the shelf life of the next patch.