There are countless ways to win a game of Dota, yet there are even more ways to lose it. Even when economically ahead and with a firm grasp on the map, it can be sometimes tricky to destroy the enemy ancient. It gets even harder if the enemy team has a dedicated split-pushing hero, who constantly forces you to go back or take unfavorable trades. This process is excruciatingly frustrating and frequently results in game-losing mistakes, even by experienced players. Understanding and avoiding these mistakes is necessary in order to claim deserved victory.
What is Split-Pushing?
Split-Push or “Rat” Dota is a macro strategy which involves safely pushing out the lanes to force a reaction from the enemy. Most commonly it is associated with mobile or elusive heroes who excel at clearing creep wavesand are strong in 1v1 situations. These heroes may also be good at pushing towers, though this is optional.
For example, Tinker is notoriously known for being elusive and constantly forcing the enemy team back, however he does not take towers on his own very well. In comparison, a late-game Anti-Mage is not only exceptionally good at clearing waves, but can also pose a significant threat to structures. Depending on how threatening the enemy split-pusher is, it is possible to calculate the outcome of most trades.
Split-Pushing can be a stalling mechanism or it can be a win condition on its own. These options are not mutually exclusive and understanding the level of threat coming from the enemy split-pushing hero is crucial.
Early Game Strategy
Split-push rarely manifests itself until the later stages of the game, but depending on the draft it might be a good idea to commit extra resources to shutting down the potentially annoying hero. This will provide your team with some breathing room in the mid-game, decreasing the threat level to your towers and potentially allowing you to avoid dealing with split-push altogether.
If the circumstances do not allow for early-game roaming or an aggressive laning, it is a good idea to be over-protective with allied structures. Compared to situations when facing a strong pushing lineup, the outer towers in all lanes are considerably more important.
Not only do split-pushing lineups typically fight worse in the early-game, making defending towers a possibility, but these extra layers of protection can come in handy when the later-game trades occur. For similar reasons, taking enemy towers early can also be beneficial.
Being too passive in the early game is probably the most common mistake—if there is a way for your team to apply pressure and gain economic advantage and map control in the process, it should be exploited.
Understanding Strengths and Weaknesses of the Match-up
Every Dota hero is unique and in this patch most of them are viable. As such, it is impossible to come up with a catch-all way of dealing with split-pushing heroes, since they will have their own strengths and weaknesses. There are a couple of key similarities, however, which apply to most split-pushers.
The typical “carry” split-pushers are usually susceptible to early aggression and do not like being pressured. Their skillset does not allow them to come online early, which frequently forces their team to dedicate several heroes for their protection. Heroes like Naga Siren and Anti-Mage might be late-game powerhouses, but they are very reliant on a good early-game.
More proactive split-pushers might not be as reliant on their early game, but they are similarly greedy in the later stages. Having a natural way of taking out creeps makes all split-pushing heroes excellent farmers, but it often leaves their teammates underfarmed and underleveled. The gold and experience inequality makes the enemy team extremely reliant on this single hero, making teamfights in their absence very easy.
In the mid-game, split-pushing heroes tend to be alone. It makes smoke-ganking them a good option if and only if your team can predict where this hero is going to appear.
Relatively static farmers, such as Anti-Mage and Broodmother, generally enter a “farming loop”, where they appear in the lane, take a creepwave or two and retreat to the jungle to take out the neutral creeps. It makes them predictable and unless your team telegraphs their intention too obviously, smoke-ganking should be possible.
Try to gank these heroes with as little heroes as possible required to net a kill—if your whole team suddenly disappears from the map most enemy players will retreat to complete safety. Using the offensive “Scan” when nearing the potential enemy location is also advised.
Heroes like Tinker and Nature’s Prophet are much harder to deal with. They will usually switch the lanes, potentially wasting a lot of time for your team when trying to gank them. They also tend to itemise in a way that makes them extremely elusive, so even if your team can predict where they are going to appear, they have high chances of escaping.
Instead of trying to catch them proactively, it is better to set up a trap with ample vision. This method requires a great deal of patience and generally only works once in a given location, but it is often the only way to catch the enemy.
Ganking and killing these heroes provides a window of opportunity for your team to take advantage of. It will also net a lot of gold, especially to your supports, since the Net Worth difference is going to be massive, even given equal Net Worth of the teams.
Mid Game Options
The strategy in the mid-game is very dependent on the match-up, farm levels and variety of other factors. Options include passive farming, ganking, dedicated pushing and split-pushing yourselves.
Passive farming is usually the worst option. To be efficient it usually requires your team to split, which makes defending objectives much harder and riskier. It is generally only worth it if you have high mobility heroes which can scale exceptionally well (e.g. Spectre).
If your team is split, at the very least ensure that there is a hero close to each lane. When the enemy push is approaching it is advised to react to it preemptively, with at least one rotation coming not to the objective itself, but the next closest one. This will increase the chance of successful defense by a lot, since the heroes teleporting to the objective itself will not take as long and will have some initial backup. Teleporting the whole team to a single tower will more than likely result in a feed conveyor.
Dedicated pushing in the mid-game against a split-pusher can be a decent or a very bad idea depending on the match-up. It very much depends on how fast your team can push as five vs. four compared to zero vs. one of the enemy.
It is worth noting that some split-pushing heroes can transition between split-push and defense very fast, hence caution is advised. In most cases you will trade evenly, which might not be favorable to your team in the long run. Worst case scenario—the enemy will deal structural damage and will be back to defend and zone you out, effectively wasting your time.
If your team is attempting to dedicate themselves to pushing, it is advised to at least outpush the lanes and ensure that the creep momentum is going your way. It will give your team some breathing room when pushing and provides some time to react if the enemy is threatening to split-push.
For reasons discussed previously, ganking is usually the best course of action. If it is successful it is best to capitalise on the provided opening and try to take an objective or force a buyback.
Often, even if your team does not manage to find the primary target of the gank, it can still translate into taking the objectives, but once again, it will depend on your own and the enemy’s lineups. If the enemy still has some form of outpush and you are being splitted by Lycan with Necronomicon III, it might be better to regroup and attempt the gank again.
It is also easy to get baited into thinking that the enemy primary target is alone. Not seeing any other enemy heroes farming on the map is usually a good indicator of whether or not they are setting up a trap. This is why pushing out the lanes is very important. If nobody responds to creep waves hitting structures, odds are they are waiting for your team to overcommit and make a mistake.
It is best to not let the enemy get to this stage. At this point the big con of split-pushers—underfarmed teammates, becomes less of a factor. They might still be behind compared to your team, but the effect is much smaller percentage-wise.
Moreover, the efficiency with which the enemy will push lanes will be at an all-time high, potentially preventing you from ever leaving your base.
It can also get hard to defend several lanes at the same time. Since most split-pushers are extremely good in 1v1 fights (e.g. Blink+Hex on TInker/Furion or an Abyssal Blade on Anti-Mage), even your base is no longer safe. Some heroes can obliterate even the tankiest of cores in a matter of seconds leaving very little time to react.
In this scenario the best course of action generally is playing extremely safe. Have your cores backed up with supports, who can save them and try to stay close to each other. Wait for the enemy to make a mistake or overcommit and punish it. Losing a lane of barracks in the late-game is better than losing a fight.
If you manage to win a fight, try to push several lanes at the same time, but make sure that none of your heroes can be picked off. Only attempt to push the enemy objectives when other lanes are outpushed enough, otherwise you can unnecessarily lose your objectives to a buyback.
If the enemy bought back, depending on the power level it might or might not be a good idea to take a fight. If it is not, retreating and repeating the previous steps is a better option.
Finally, taking the barracks is completely optional. If your team has managed to win two fights in a row and the enemy buybacks are on cooldown it might be better to push for the ancient directly. Wasting time and taking all sets of barracks in an attempt to equalise against split-pushing heroes can give the enemy team enough time to respawn and fight you. If you can win the game right there and now, do it.
And as a visual guide on the aforementioned mistakes even an experienced team can make against a strong split-push it is almost mandatory to link what is widely considered to be the best game of Dota to date: