Last week when discussing how powerful BKB is in the current patch a lot of comments concentrated on how it is a necessity: with an increased power of hero spells having stronger magic immunity item is a must. As such, spell damage and strong crowd control spells are considered to be the main drivers behind earlier and earlier BKBs and the item’s impact is so pronounced because of the ability Power Creep. Is Power Creep in Dota actually real, though, or did players simply get better over the years is a question we will try to answer today.
One thing about the whole discussion is rather trivial to refute: at their base level spells in Dota didn’t get stronger. One needs only to look at changelogs to see how most abilities now deal roughly the same amount of damage they dealt almost twenty years ago. Most iconic stuns have also stayed the same duration.
In fact, in the last ten or so major patches, ever since the experimental Attribute system was scrapped, most heroes are slightly better off at dealing with magic damage. There is no cheap early spell amplification and Strength as a stat gives slightly more HP than it used to. The introduction of Infused Raindrops also solves a lot of problems with heavy early game nukers.
With BKB having an average timing of 23 minutes in the professional scene, which is pre level 20 for cores and pre level 15 for supports, there aren’t even many crucial talents in play at this stage of the game, while the impact of neutral items on spell damage is limited to, at most, six percent from either Vambrace or Nether Shawl, or 10% Magic Damage Amp from Grove Bow.
There are also no Debuff Duration Amps at this stage of the game, unless you are playing Rubick. Arcane Blink is a possibility, but it is strictly theoretical, as it costs way too much to be an efficient purchase.
What it means is that at the time when BKB is built on average in the current patch, the game isn’t significantly different from the game we played many years ago. The reason why it might feel like the ability damage and crowd control is stronger early on is because players are just naturally better at the game. They are better at layering their disables and better at maximising their early game damage output.
The early levels of Dota are not power-crept and we believe the reason why BKB is built so early is because the item is simply way too good for the price. If anything, it is BKB that was power-crept in the early game, as an early BKB is no longer punished by very low duration in the later stages of the game. That doesn’t mean that there is no power creep in Dota, though.
the inventory economy
Several years ago an excellent post was published, discussing some of the more subtle ways in how the game is changing. Very ironically, it was also one of the last posts before the introduction of Neutral Items in patch 7.23.
The general idea behind the original post was simple: heroes themselves didn’t get much stronger. Talents provide extra options in the later portions of the game and result in significant power spikes at certain timings, but at their baseline the heroes are more or less as powerful as they used to be, up until late game. This point, as discussed previously, still stands.
There was a discussion of a different problem, however, that became even more pronounced: how there was more economy on the map and how it is easier to tap into that economy.
Our initial impression of the patch was that the economy in it will be toned down: the jungle became harder to farm, so no more flash-farming heroes, meaning less GPM on average. This impression was wrong. Heroes farm just as fast as they used to, sometimes even faster. They also have more ways to utilize their farm and it was true for a while.
Between the free Neutral Item slot, free Town Scroll slot, potential Aghanim’s Shard upgrade, consumable Moon Shard and Aghanim’s Blessing heroes can now get stronger and stronger for much longer. The value of an individual inventory slot is lessened, because a lot of power can come from consumed or free slot items.
The interesting question arises, though: who benefits from it the most and even if Power Creep is real, is it actually bad for the game?
One big, somewhat recent paradigm shift in Dota was that “mages” are weak late game. This is simply no longer true and with the introduction of talents, shards and spell amp effects “mage”-type heroes can scale very well into the late game with their unique skill sets.
In fact, as discussed in one of our previous posts a lot of high level pub players and professional teams regularly experiment with non-right clicking carries and for a good reason: they might be harder and less straightforward to execute, but they have a number of advantages in the later portions of the game, usually associated with crowd control or utility.
Returning to the previous section on how there are now more “effective item slots” for heroes in the late-game, there is an interesting question to answer: do they benefit auto-attacking or spell-casting heroes more?
We believe that the answer is obvious: one type of heroes can build, for example, a Butterfly getting more attack damage and attack speed, increasing their consistent damage output drastically. Or Satanic and have the ability to heal from literally one HP to full HP over four or five auto-attacks which will typically take one second in the late game. Or consume a Moon Shard for extra attack speed that doesn’t take a lot.
The most the other can get is +12% spell damage and a dispellable effect that amplifies magic damage by ~40%. Or a 50% cooldown-reliant lifesteal for 10% of your current HP. The aforementioned item that allows one type of hero to go from no to full HP in under one second with ~0.25 cooldown auto-attacks also dispels the magic damage amplification effect of another aforementioned item.
What we are trying to say is that, yes, there is power creep, but it is not Ability Damage power creep, but rather economy power creep. Heroes are significantly more powerful in the late game right now than they were before, and there is still a difference in power levels between conventional right-clicking cores and casters in the late game.
However, with the help of talents and Shards, there is now a wider variety of options available to casters and supports, something that might seem unfair or problematic to old school carry players who are used to the idea of being able to 1v5 in the late game without relying on their team in a team game.
We believe this is where most of Power Creep complaints come from: players who failed to adjust to the new realities of a much more complex and deeper game where the difference between impact of different roles is less pronounced.
Supports specifically are also in a much better spot than even three years ago: they’ve been “power crept” to a point where their impact in the late game can realistically compete with the impact of a right-clicking carry and it doesn’t require exceptional skill, talent and tons of luck to consistently pull off plays. Because of it, Supports also typically have more money and items in the later stages of the game, once again reinforcing their ability to actually stay relevant.
The blog post from three years ago we mentioned previously ended on a slightly pessimistic note: it was wary of the potential impact of an ever-expanding economy. For a good reason as well: the average GPM keeps increasing every year and there are more and more ways to use the money. There is no denying the game’s been power crept.
That said, currently overpowered BKB aside, we believe the game is in a very good state despite and maybe even because of the aforementioned power creep. Supports can be incredibly impactful until the very end of the match. Spell casting cores can go toe-to-toe with right-clicking cores at every point in the game. Mobility and Cast Range have been toned down to make effective positioning an actual art form.
There is nothing wrong with allowing heroes to scale indefinitely. There is also nothing wrong with making some roles and some playstyles relatively more powerful. It is a natural evolution of the game.
As long as the game remains tightly balanced and fun to play, Power Creep is less of a problem and more of a tool. In our opinion Valve have been doing a great job in this regard, but what are your thoughts on the matter? Do you think Dota was better back in the day, before Talents, Spell Amplification, Cooldown Reduction, Shards and Backpacks, or do you like all the new mechanics and can’t wait to see what more is in store?