The dreaded third brother in the Spirit family has been introduced into Captain’s Mode in 6.86. Manyplayers have been vocal about not wanting the hero in the game, as he introduces a very unique skillset. He can initiate early on from longe range and can displace opponents from the safety of their own tower or potentially save teammates from danger. On top of that, despite being an excellent ganker, he is also strong in teamfights.
While the first big tournament on 6.86, the Shanghai Major Qualifiers, did not see too much Earth Spirit play, he played a very important role in the first major LAN, StarLadder i-League. And today during MDL’s first day, he was picked or banned in 29 out of 31 games
Before we can talk about Earth Spirit and his position in the meta though, let’s talk about what he brings to the table.
Skillset & Playstyle
There is a reason why Earth Spirit is not as popular in the public scene, despite being considered one of the stronger heroes in the game. His skill ceiling is quite high, or to put it simply: not everyone is capable yet of using his skillset to its fullest potential. The 6.86 nerf certainly didn’t help the scenario, as it nerfed his early game impact quite significantly.
Enabled in Captain’s Mode.
Reduced intelligence gain from 2.4 to 2.1.
Reduced Boulder Smash damage/stun radius and stone search radius from 200 to 160.
Geomagnetic Grip now requires Aghanim’s Scepter to be able to pull allied heroes.
The Int nerf stings, but it’s nothing to go crazy over. The Boulder Smash nerf is also somewhat negligible; it’s just something to get used to. Geomagnetic Grip now requiring Aghanim’s Scepter in order to pull allied people is the big one. Pulling allied people out of danger was one of the features that made him so strong. It was an in-built and free Force Staff. Earth Spirit is still strong, but this gives him a more balanced scaling. His early to midgame has become weaker, but he scales much stronger into the lategame now.
Earth Spirit’s early game is truly a first world problem. His skills are all good enough that you want them maxed early. It’s one of the reasons why, when he first came out, people tried to play him in core positions. Similar to Tusk, there’s an argument to be made that he could potentially be played in the offlane (if we disregarded the current offlane meta) as a utility core with a lot of setup potential. But he shines brightly in the support position for now.
The broad public seems to think that maxing Geomagnetic Grip first is the way to go, but looking at the professional scene, the pros seem to think otherwise. Boulder Smash is prioritized first, followed by Geomagnetic Grip. In some scenarios, Boulder Smash is not maxed, but after 3 skillpoints in it, some players switch to max Geomagnetic Grip. Overall, it’s a build to maximize damage and Boulder Smash scales better due to the cooldown decrease. One could argue that skilling Rolling Boulder would be good as well, as the cooldown decreases significantly, but there’s only so much utility for the Rolling Boulder without a Boulder Smash and/or a Geomagnetic Grip to follow it up.
As for items, Earth Spirit is rather flexible. You definitely want to go for an Aghanim’s Scepter, as it greatly increases the hero’s utility, but before that there are a variety of standard support items that he benefits from.
Earth Spirit is a ganker, initiator and just overall an active support. He’s not the type to sit back and farm up a bigger item, although he requires both farm and experience. His skillset is perfect to initiate a teamfight, but his range also allows him to disrupt an enemy’s initiation.
Role in the meta
The meta is still in its early stages, where it’s wrapping itself around the strongest heroes. Chen is currently everybody’s darling, but Earth Spirit has shown during StarLadder that he too is a hero that teams are willing to draft for or even around him. Often you see him paired with a Death Prophet. Partly, because she is rather popular and strong by herself right now, but also because she synergizes with ES.
Earth Spirit is almost always played as support in the professional scene right now, but as mentioned before, there are merits to playing him as a core, which Team Secret’s w33 tried earlier today.
As of now, the hero is first pick or ban material. He is a hero that nobody is afraid of picking up, because he can fit in almost any line-up. He is a flexible hero that doesn’t steer your line-up into a specific direction in regards to a game plan or strategy, yet can help you in many scenarios to execute these strategies perfectly. Evil Geniuses utilized the hero to fend of pushes and exploit bad positioning during StarLadder, while LGD’s MMY puts heavy emphasis on applying pressure onto various lanes early on.
Earth Spirit can win you the laning stage, he can salvage the midgame and he can be the difference maker in the lategame. His skillset doesn’t require many items to thrive, but becomes that much stronger when he does pick up items.
He has the potential to, if future balance patches don’t hit him too hard, stay in the top ranks of heroes for several patches. Similar to Batrider or Tusk, Earth Spirit provides a utility that is unique, something that no other hero can replace. It’s not that his damage output is overwhelmingly strong (although that certainly adds to it), but his skills will always be useful and strong. Batrider has been nerfed a lot in the past 2 years, but no matter how low the numbers on his skills dropped, as long as the meta game remotely allowed him to be effective, he would always return.
That said, it’s very likely to see further nerfs and reworks for Earth Spirit, but historically speaking Icefrog doesn’t nerf the core concept of the hero and rather balances out the numbers surrounding it. Earth Spirit is here to stay.