Some of the recent patch changes have benefited the economy of the most underrated role in Dota—supports. Lowering the price of most vision and support items, as well as minor tweaks like tango sharing, has increased the disposable income of supports by a decent margin, more often than not allowing them to get to their items faster. The final game-changer was the introduction of AoE kill bounty gold based off the difference in Net Worth. All of this has greatly increased the amount of utility that supports can provide in the mid- and late-game, not only making the role more fun to play, but also allowing it to shine brighter in the hands of expert players.
What do supports do and how can pub players benefit from understanding this position better? It can a remind dedicated core players as to what limits they might impose on their team by occasionally not utilizing the map effectively and leaving their supports heavily underfarmed. Newer players as well as hardcore veterans can benefit from an in-depth understanding of supports—at the very least it can make them appreciate their supports more and tackle some of the long-drawn myths about the role.
Drafting and Laning
The support role has a huge amount of “subtypes”. There are roamers, gankers, disablers, nukers, babysitters, healers, pushers, outpushers, bullies etc. More often than not each support hero is going to have a different degree of proficiency in several of these traits.
It is generally the case in Public matchmaking that the supports are drafted first, or at least one of them. First pick supports should generally be extremely versatile, being able to fit any lineup, or meta-mindful, potentially deterring the enemy from getting the annoying popular core hero. With that in mind, having a support with a diverse skill set, as opposed to the one with a strong focus on a single aspect, is preferable, however, disabling abilities should be generally valued slightly higher.
Second support pick should be generally aimed at plugging the holes in your team’s current draft or, if your team is self-sufficient enough, at countering the enemy cores.
The first priority of plugging the weaknesses in your lineup is rather straightforward. It will generally boil down to how the laning stage is expected to go. For example, If you are expecting a bad mid match-up for your teammate, going for a stats-heavy mid-lane “bully” is an option. Heroes like Bane and even Jakiro are adequate in this scenario, since they are decently tanky and are good at trading early HP. The latter is also an amazing way to deal with a potentially problematic and decently popular Templar Assassin.
If, however, you expect your mid player to be on the winning side, it is generally best to leave them alone to get experience. It is also preferable to leave the mid player alone even if they are losing the lane and your contribution does not change the balance of power in the mid match-up. Simply soaking extra xp without zoning the enemy mid will generally exacerbate the issue even further.
Similar logic can be applied to other potential weaknesses your team might have. If you are lacking outpush, getting a wave-clearing hero might be a necessity. Healing heroes in general offer a lot of value in the early-game teamfights, while dedicated babysitters can help your carry have a good time in the lane.
There is a difference between a babysitter (e.g. Witch Doctor) and a bully (e.g Bane). The former should generally try to secure farm for their carry, and while it often involves zoning out the enemy, having a way to sustain your carry is generally advised. The latter is a more aggressive alternative, which is better suited when supporting a hero who can sustain himself better in the early stages. For example, when you have Juggernaut as your primary core, Bane can be a better option, since once Juggernaut hits level 3, he is really hard to completely harass out of the lane. This opens up the potential for Bane to do work in the other areas. Whereas in the case of Spectre, for example, a constant help from a support is generally required. A tied down support is not always a bad thing, but for some supports, being active early is necessary to achieve their potential while for others it is not.
Countering enemy cores should be the second priority. When having multiple choices, the one better at dealing with what the enemy team has drafted is going to be the better option. The matchups section on Dotabuff can be generally helpful for newer player in giving a general idea of what heroes work better against others.
That said, second support is often non-existent, especially in the lower brackets. Most of the time, the best one can hope for is a non-greedy jungler with at least some impact in the early stages of the game. That puts an immense strain on the solo support as well as weakens the lane, so it is generally ill-advised. Some heroes can make up for it, however— Enigma, Chen and Bounty Hunter all fall into the category of non-greedy support/jungle heroes, which do not necessarily make the lanes weaker, but offer a strong boost in the early-mid game.
The beginning of the game was historically the time when supports were supposed to shine the brightest. This is mostly no longer the case, since the transition of supports into the later stages of the game is much easier and there is less stress on winning in the first 10 minutes. This, however, does not mean that being proactive in this stage of the game is ill-advised for supports.
It generally boils down to maximum efficiency one can get from their hero at this stage. Most options at this time are in one way or another related to either zoning, ganking or jungling/stacking.
Depending on your choice of hero, these choice might be limited even further. Hence the question, “where I can be of the most use right now?”, generally has a rather clear answer.
One of the biggest mistakes many new support players make at this stage is that they turn themselves into self-proclaimed martyrs. In many cases it comes from the way newer players are introduced into this game: “pick Lich and just eat creeps in lane” is usually the starting point for players and this habit of “just eating creeps” is extremely hard to deal with, if it is left unattended for too long.
Supports are the kings of the game in this stage. Frequently, at least one of them has almost complete freedom to roam and make the life miserable for the enemy players. Their abilities generally have the most impact compared to anything else on the map, but this mentality prevents them from exploiting this fact. New players are generally too used to the status quo of staying in lane, so they feel discomfort leaving it. Sometimes it might be the most efficient way to play, but most often it is not, and seeing these moment is a necessary skill to develop to play support properly.
Last piece of advice for the early game is simple: always carry a TP scroll. This item will generally have a priority over early boots, upgraded Magic Wand and even a delay on an upgraded courier. A 75 gold item used at a right time and in a right place has the potential of winning the game or at the very least putting the odds in your favor by a huge margin.
Mid and Late game
Most frequently, the mid game is the time when supports stop being an independent piece on the board, but rather become the backbone of the team, hence there is no simple advice as to what one should be doing as a support at this stage—there are simply too many options and the most efficient ones are going to vary from game to game.
On the micro level in teamfights and ganks, it is generally better for supports to try to stay in the backline once their abilities are used. If possible, you can often initiate with a strong disable and possible nuke follow-up, but once it is used, there is generally very little sense for most support heroes to auto-attack—it will simply get them killed and a marginal increase in DPS on the target is usually going to be miniscule in terms of utility, compared to getting an opportunity to use the nukes/disables a second time. Go in, focus priority target, step back and look for opportunity to engage again, while your tankier teammates are battling it out. Do not sacrifice yourself needlessly.
The macro, as stated previously, is a very complicated matter. At this point it frequently includes the whole team and getting it all coordinated can be a daunting task. Once again, however, it is possible to identify several broad options for supports.
One of the most underlooked options at this stage is, surprisingly, farming. At this point most core heroes are capable of split-pushing or farming the jungle, often leaving at least one relatively free lane. Utilise it in-between teamfights and ganks—getting at least some farm on supports is necessary, since the utility they provide can often outshine the marginal increase in DPS or survivability of a core. Support with a Force Staff, Blink Dagger, Mekansm, Glimmer Cape etc. can often contribute more to the power level of the team, compared to a core with an extra 2k net worth.
The other options often revolve around ganking and taking objectives in preparation for the final stages of the game. It is also possible to try and end the game at this stage and for many lineups it will be the best outcome. Supports should generally be a part of most ganks, since their individual power level at this stage is still relatively high but also because they will usually benefit the most economically. That said, the ganks should generally have an idea behind them, a secondary benefit to getting a kill. Otherwise it might frequently be not worth it, as it prevent your team from collecting map’s resources effectively and the payoff might not be as great.
In general, there are only three types of side-benefits which might deserve the commitment to a gank—disrupting item timings on an enemy core, getting a tower and getting Roshan. Getting multiple side-benefits is also possible, if the team is coordinated well.
As a support attempting to initiate a gank your macro role is generally related to vision. Going in blindly can not only net very little result, but also kill your whole team. Warding is almost mandatory and understanding what wards provide the most benefit to your team at a given time and up to 6 minutes into the future is essential. Most regular warding spots can be found in one of our previous posts. Depending on where your team is attempting to achieve something, some wards will have more value, obviously. Finally, Smoke of Deceit is also a very handy tool to have, but might not always be necessary.
The overall gameplay in the late game should be very similar to the mid game one, but with understanding that the stakes are much higher. If the game goes late, every single player should play extremely safe and supports should double-down on this, since they will usually be the easiest to kill and their death will always mean a huge disadvantage for their team.
The vision is hence of an even greater importance and using smoke just to ward can be a viable option, though getting some side-benefit from it in form of a kill is always welcome.
To this day it is baffling how pieliedie did not get a single MVP at the end of Team Secret’s matches in the Shanghai Major. The amount of correct micro plays required from a support hero is comparable, if not above the same amount for cores, and all of this was without the benefit of having a farming priority. There is definitely potential for highlights coming from supports and understanding the role better might even help people realize the amount of work a good support player can do.
When introducing someone to Dota, please do not keep on brewing the mentality that supports’ impact is limited or at the very least point them in the direction of this overview—in the long run it will benefit our game as a whole.