About a year ago, 6.86 introduced Iron Talon and changes to the offlane’s lane structure, as an additional neutral camp was added to the Secret Shop. Players reacted to these changes and realized that the offlane, as it was at the time, wasn’t a sufficient lane anymore. Jungling with Iron Talon proved to be much more efficient. It led to a somewhat stale meta, where the early game would see a lot of safe farming with roamers focusing on the midlane. It allowed for more carry oriented offlaners, as a source of farm was always secured.
Fast forward to today: offlaners have changed not only in how they shape the game, but also in how they approach the laning stage. Not only do offlaners mostly stay in lane, dual offlanes become more and more popular. Contesting the farm of the enemy safelaner is a common trend and often quite successful. How did the offlane change so vastly within a year?
Experience Gain Reworked
Several xp gain reworks have allowed the offlane to become what it is today. Ever since 6.87, ranged lane creeps make up for 40% of a creep wave’s xp and a reduced gold bounty on melee creeps meant that the ranged creep provides relatively more gold as well.
This change allows offlaners to be more sustainable, as a single lasthit on a ranged creep is that much more valuable. In that same vein, 6.87b introduced a change that still provides 20% of a creep’s experience, if that creep has been killed by a neutral creep. This change rewards contesting pulls much more and helps sustain dual lanes in their xp gain.
As a result, it’s not uncommon to have a support babysit the offlaner for the first 3-4 levels, after which the offlaner can be self-sufficient. It allows for good levels on both the support and the offlaner and with popular picks these days, there is a lot of kill potential as well.
Sand King, Batrider, Axe, Timbersaw–these are just some of the currently most popular offlaners in the pro scene. All heroes benefit from the available farm, are difficult to kill or have high kill potential themselves. Most of them in fact don’t even need much farm to be effective in the first place. Experience alone can do wonders for many of them.
The question remains though, why are play- and spacemakers now predominantly played in the offlane?
Midlaner’s evolution to carries
Over the years, farming patterns have been refined and players have found ways to farm as efficiently as possible from the first minute onwards. In pro games, supports naturally will stack camps during rotiations and carries will farm even between creepwaves. For the longest time now, Dota has moved on from the traditional single hardcarry, to a setup that allows multiple cores to be active within a team.
Changes in 6.84 added to this trend by balancing out AoE kill bounties and distributing it more evenly for the ganking heroes. These changes would spark the teamfight meta that was established at the Frankfurt Major and is still prevalent today.
The availability of farm in itself did however not drive out classic gankers and nukers. Heroes like Storm Spirit are still very much popular and successful as midlaners, though his former rivals, such as Queen of Pain, are nowhere to be seen right now.
Physical Damage > Magic Damage
Following the conclusion of TI5, Icefrog has introduced several ways to deal with pesky midlaners that could burst down anybody. The likes of Leshrac and Lina were popular despite the introduction of items such as Glimmer Cape, so several nerfs to them and buffs to physical DPS cores were imminent.
Physical damage has always scaled better than magic damage, mostly because it is not reliant on a finite resource such as mana. It also isn’t particularly reliant on hitting or chaining your abilities properly and as neutral creeps have received an increase in their magic resistance, it is also more efficient to farm with physical damage.
Physical damage remains the primary tool to take objectives with and in return map control, which is why heroes that rely on magic burst have fallen off the radar. As a result, midlaners are now often traditional carries, rather than heavy gankers, like Alchemist, Medusa or Juggernaut.
The final nail in the coffin for such gankers was the trend towards tanky cores. The aforementioned heroes are all difficult to kill due to their abilities and stats. Teamfights are more drawn out and surviving an engagement long enough to get abilities and attacks out is crucial. The likes of Queen of Pain and Lina are easily locked down and killed.
Pub meta only partially fazed
Pubs have adopted some of the trends, most certainly when it comes to picks. Heroes like Phantom Assassin or Juggernaut are popular picks in the midlane after all. Still, the offlane doesn’t always see the same treatment in pubs as it does in pro games. The midlane still suffers from active roamers early on and the offlane often is alone against up to three heroes.
Regardless, be it pub or pro, picking up an Iron Talon to jungle with is only an alternative these days, not the go to strategy.