There is a common misconception in the Dota community that certain roles are more important. The truth is each and every hero on the battlefield has a lot to prove, and each of them has to have an impact on the outcome of the game, if your team wants to win. The timings when certain heroes are going to have the most impact definitely differ, however, and thinking that a certain role has to actually start playing the game at certain time is a huge mistake.
The position one carry is a very broad definition. Even within this role of a safelane farmer the playstyle should be very flexible, depending on the compositions of the teams and the outcome of the early game and the laning stage. There are certain heroes who can be absolutely dominant, if given enough time, but even they will have a hard time winning on a team with low morale and half of the base gone—there has to be a strategy behind every action and losing objectives severely restricts the amount of viable options.
To prevent certain persistent mistakes, an understanding of the role is necessary, but definitely not sufficient. Actually playing the game or watching high level streams will allow for faster progression, but having a framework to put the new information in is a good first step for the majority of players.
Picking the correct position one carry based on the available information is no easy task. Preferably, it should be done after at least half of the enemy team is already picked. Even more important is the understanding of what roles the enemy is yet to fill and whether there are still hard-counters to your carry who can potentially be a good fit for the opponent.
Your team’s own timings are equally important. While carry players can generally allow themselves to be slightly more flexible, compared to supports, going completely against what your team has already drafted is ill-advised. Think of the spell interactions between the heroes on your team and whether the hero you want to pick will fit in the overall system and will not be too much of a burden in the early game, while having an upper hand or at least break even with the enemy in the later stages.
Damage output, while important, is not the cornerstone of an effective carry. Give some thought to the mobility and global presence of the hero, his ability to deal with potential split-push and even his matchup against the enemy team, when going high-ground.
The typical goal of a carry during the laning stage is to accumulate enough farm to either become effective at split-pushing and farming or be able to come online and start applying pressure with their team. Side goals can include a very early aggression on the enemy tower and harassment of the enemy offlaner. Think, whether it is worth it to lose one or two last hits to ensure that the enemy offlaner does not get experience. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not and frequently, against heroes like Timbersaw, it is simply impossible.
Keep constant attention on what is happening on the map. While it is generally the support’s job to rotate and counter-gank or save the teammate, the concept is not exclusive to them. Looking back at the TI5 CDEC, it is clear that a huge part of their success was the early-game rotations of Agressif. In the patch TI5 was played on, it was definitely more worth it to kill the enemy, compared to static farming and it might not always be the case in 6.88, so, once again, keep this as a potential option and not the only viable course of action.
Regardless, past the 5 minute mark most carry players should carry a teleport scroll. You might not need it straight away or even for the next several minutes, but 50 gold is a relatively small investment for the amount of extra options the item provides your hero with.
There are countless tricks on improving your laning stage as the carry, but at the end of the day most of them boil down to farming efficiency. If you can not last hit the creeps on an uncontested lane, starting up a private lobby and training this skill should be the first priority.
For those who are looking to improve on the mechanics, there are streams and tournament replays. Here are some of the most common things good carry players do, to get an advantageous position:
You do not always need both the Quelling Blade and Stout Shield at the start of the game. Both items are available in the side shop and, depending on the circumstances and enemy laning, you might not need them at all. Having extra regen items to ensure lasting presence in the lane is usually more efficient. Going for some extra stats can also be a good idea, if you are expecting low lane pressure.
If you are going for an early Helm of the Dominator, start with the Helm of Iron Will. Five extra armor and three extra health regeneration far outweigh the 15% lifesteal of a Morbid Mask in almost any possible scenario. Also, the complete item itself is not the most efficient option, unless you actually utilise the creep domination.
Consider an early Magic Stick if laning against a hero with spell harass (e.g. Batrider, Bristleback).
Poor Man’s Shield is an unexpectedly massive boost to the survivability. Not only does it give almost one extra armor, but it also makes enemy auto-attacks significantly less effective. If purchased early, it can have a significant impact on the lane and will also make you regen items a lot more potent.
Creep equilibrium is very important. To get the enemy wave closer to your tower, you can draw aggro of the enemy creeps and pull them closer to your ranged creep. This will re-focus the enemy lane on a squishier target with higher DPS and will eventually switch the lane momentum in your favor. To draw aggro you can issue an attack command on ANY enemy hero, while you are within 600 range of the enemy creep wave. If your opponent offlaner is missing or went jungling, you can still A-click on enemy heroes on other lanes.
While generally done by supports, knowing how to pull efficiently is equally important for the carry. Pulling creep waves into neutral camps is a good way to deny experience from the enemy and earn extra last hits. Do not idle after pulling—utilise as much of the map as you can. Many professional players often reach higher CS numbers than it is possible in lane by also getting last hits from the neutrals.
When last-hitting under your tower, for a quick change in you attack damage, you can drop and pick up stat/damage items or quelling blade. It is often necessary early in the game to ensure that the creep you are attacking will have just enough HP after the tower hit to survive.
There is a countless amount of these small tidbits that can help players improve their laning, so feel free to share yours in the comment section.
Mid and Late Game
The sheer variety of viable heroes makes generalisation impossible—the game gives a lot of options and not all of them are going to be optimal, depending on the situation. Instead, it might be better to concentrate on mistakes many carry players make when the game transitions from the laning stage.
The most common mistake made is probably the over-prioritisation of static farming. As a carry player, you should almost always try to find ways of increasing your net worth, but quite frequently newer players either do it suboptimally or optimise it too much to a point where they have almost no impact on the map.
The first aspect of the mistake is easily fixed by learning from the farming patterns of the professionals. The rotation between jungle and lane remains an effective starting point and certain shortcuts are rather well-known. Cutting several trees can win your hero several crucial seconds which will not only add up to a significant amount of time as the game progresses, but will also allow some heroes to make a full jungle rotation within one minute.
The second aspect requires better understanding of the game and good map awareness. It often has to do with lane pressure and when to apply it. While certain “farming loops” will frequently yield better absolute net worth results, applying pressure will make the relative net worths of the teams change in your favor.
Try to safely force the enemy rotations to their objectives, while farming. This will either allow you to take a freebie tower, if the enemy is non-responsive, or will open up the other areas of the map, which can be utilised by your teammates. There is a reason split-pushing as a concept has been getting more attention since TI3—it is a very effective strategy, even with lineups not fully dedicated to it.
And once again—always carry a TP. You never know when you might be required on the other side of the map and your team is very reliant on you.
Second biggest mistake is once again associated with farming. More specifically, it is an unexplainable stubbornness of the players to return back to farming after successful teamfights. Not fully exploiting an advantage you might have gained is a mistake. It might not have an absolute cost associated with it, but from the point of opportunity, it leaves your team worse off. Always have objectives in mind and press your advantage, when possible.
Finally—cherish your life or at least have one to spare. Chances are, your team has heavily invested in you and throwing away your life for no reason is deserving of all the negativity that will follow from your investors. Think of yourself as the tip of the spear—the structural integrity of the shaft is important, but without you the team will turn into a simple stick.
In teamfights, do not overcommit to a target, if it will put you out of position. Be mindful of potential buybacks, which might turn the fight around. Also, leaving your team unprotected can be a crucial mistake—in many cases getting a lower priority target but saving your teammates is a better deal than getting a high priority one at the cost of lives of your comrades.
When taking objectives be even more cautious, since the rotations to them are much faster and the landscape of the battlefield can change very quickly. Make coordinated decisions with your team. Them running away after an enemy buyback might be an overall strategic mistake, but you staying behind and getting killed without noticing the lack of support from the team is on you.
And try to always have a buyback at the ready. Net worth has a diminishing return on investment both in terms of DPS and survivability. Quite frequently an extra life will worth a lot more, compared to better stats, and it is especially true against lineups, which rely on long cooldowns.
At this point in the game the carry should also try to make strategic calls—he should know best, whether his team is capable of fighting at a given moment and will generally have a better idea about his and opponents power level. Constantly check the enemy inventories, knowing what you are up against will help you make better decisions.
The role of a carry becomes significantly more important, as the game progresses. Learning to be responsible is mandatory, above all other aspects. When playing ranked games, chances are the enemy carry will be at roughly your skill level when it comes to game mechanics. Improving mechanical skill, however, is bound to hit a wall, especially if you are already playing in an above average skill rating. Better understanding of the underlying strategies at this point becomes more and more important.
Not everyone can be Miracle-, who seemingly issues 99/100 absolutely best commands to his hero in his micro play and not everyone can be Arteezy, with godly map awareness and decision making. But we can certainly try.