The International 6 was full of great games—courtesy of an excellent patch and seemingly equal power levels of the participating teams. Analyzing the tournament meta is close to impossible with a relatively even spread across hero contest rates, even throughout the main event. If previously, when pressed against a wall, teams would resort to the comfort picks, this time the exact opposite was true—on the brink of elimination experiments had to be made and one-dimensional teams were among the first to leave.
The hero pool diversity was the key to success in this tournament. While execution undoubtedly matters, the teams were frequently so close to each other in terms of their skill that the drafting stage became incredibly important. Smart targeted picks and bans made for very intense moments even before the games have even started.
That said, there were still several distinct trends in the picking phase. Some heroes were a better fit in more situations, allowing for better reaction picks in the consequent phases of the draft. Some heroes have been very successful as follow-ups and some were highly valued but ultimately didn’t work that well. As previously, the most interesting representatives of these distinct pools will be selected and analyzed.
Note that some of the heroes have already been discussed in the Group Stage Stats Recap and the opinion on them has remained unchanged.
Tier 1—The Big Winners (High contest and win rate)
Drow Ranger strategies are generally associated with heavy early-game aggression and high-risk, high-reward lineups. After this tournament it should no longer be the case though, since the hero has proven to be an effective tool in all stages of the game and, unless countered with strong initiation heroes, can be an extremely tricky core to deal with.
One of the big reasons for her popularity is the [missing skill: drow-ranger-precision-aura-5021]—a strong global buff to the ranged teammates with an outpushing tool built into it. This skill allows originally unfavorable match-ups in the other lanes to be won and scales almost indefinitely to a point where even Puck can become a strong right-click hero.
The way the hero was generally played was based around her level 6 timings—once Drow got to this massive power spike the lane stage was generally over and the team would gather to start applying pressure around the map. Precision Aura ensures great damage to objectives as well as potential switch in lane momentum—ranged creeps with bonus damage are unlikely to deter a dedicated split-pusher, but will definitely protect your towers on an uncontested lane.
Later on, the Aghanim’s Scepter+ Mjollnir build is one of the most effective tools at dealing with illusion heroes—most of them have high level of armor, but relatively low HP, making magical effects of Mjolnir have a very strong impact. Moreover, with high AS and split-arrows, Drow can wipe entire creep waves in a matter of seconds.
Finally, the hero is also great at solving some issues tankier cores tend to have—a severe lack of damage. Late-game Medusa is extremely scary, yet her damage output on a single target is very lacking even when she is 6-slotted. Precision Aura allows her and several other similar heroes to come online and farm faster.
Shadow Demon is probably the poster boy of this tournament. 70.83% win rate on the main stage across 24 games speaks for itself. The hero is an extremely versatile support who pairs well with any core in the game, but even more so with the stats-based ones. He can provide 150% damage of the hero in the illusion form for his team (given all of the hero’s damage is stats-based) and ensure that no direct confrontation is needed.
For a hero with such strong late-game presence, Shadow Demon is surprisingly effective in the early game. His Disruption is a great setup for otherwise hard-to-land skillshots, while Shadow Poison can become an unexpectedly strong nuke.
Overall, the hero offers low-risk, high-reward skills which are extremely versatile. He can facilitate his teams damage when ahead and stall the enemy, while his team is behind. He can steal strong auras for a respectable period of time while dominating the early game. And he also scales exceptionally well, since his ultimate upgrade can deal with strong passive abilities and allow his team to kite most enemy melee cores.
Tier 2—Niche Kings (low contest rate, high win rate)
Slowly but surely the buffs to Sand King have made him a very viable and extremely scary pick. If previously played as a roaming and/or jungling support, he is now usually a core hero and has made appearances in almost all lanes and roles, barring position 1 carry.
What made the hero so popular are the changes to Caustic Finale—the skill was buffed several patches ago, making for a very strong harassing and farming tool in the lane. The added slow has provided some extra utility, while an Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade made Sand King invaluable at dealing with illusion and split-pushing heroes.
When played as a core, Sand Kings can quickly spiral out of control with great damage and massive initiation ranges. He is also a strong deterrent to pushing lineups and excels at fighting in choke points. Most importantly, he leaves little room to counterplay—the travel speed and cast point on Burrowstrike make for an initiation which is almost impossible to react to, while the diameter and range of the skill frequently results in multiple targets disabled. Top it with the general elusiveness of the hero and it becomes clear why the hero was so successful in the tournament.
Huskar is in a slightly different boat—he originally started as a part of a rather cheesy strategy which could punish an unsuspecting draft of the enemy. Over the course of the tournament, however, the hero has evolved to become a decent pick on his own, even without the usual Dazzle or Oracle pairing.
The hero offers high damage and decent survivability against magic damage, making him a very strong tempo play for early game domination. He can come online faster than most other cores and, despite the general beliefs, does not fall off as hard as other strong tempo cores. AS buff remains invaluable throughout the game while scaling heal and nuke make the hero relatively scary at all stages of the game.
The hero remains highly susceptible to physical and pure damage, however, and is unlikely to go toe-to-toe with more conventional carries in the late game, yet his tempo control is high enough to never allow the enemy to get to this stage. Played aggressively but smartly he can be an absolute beast even against unfavorable matchups.
Tier 3—Overvalued heroes (high contest rate, low win rate)
All three heroes in this group have been heavily contested throughout the tournament, yet their results were not too impressive. While not particularly abysmal, the 44-46% win rate on these heroes raises a question, whether the high contest rate for them was justified.
In a case of Io, it probably is. The hero opens up so many ways to win the game and creates unexpected win conditions for the team. Understanding this, teams rarely allowed the hero to go through the first two stages of bans, especially against teams which are known to play the hero effectively. When allowed to be picked, the hero was generally countered with at least one dedicated Relocate shutdown.
Given his position in the meta, his rather low win rate is understandable—teams have learned to play against the hero or were confident enough that they will be able to beat the Io of the enemy—not all players have fully mastered the hero and his has a great deal of nuances which require years of practice.
Ogre Magi, on the other hand, is pretty straightforward. Mainly used for his buff, the hero enabled his core to come online faster and with greater force. The trade off was frequently the damage output of Ogre Magi himself—he is capable of strong burst damage, but not when his primary focus is Bloodlust.
As a core enabler Ogre Magi did not particularly shine. The effects of Bloodlust are somewhat comparable to the Inner Beast Aura, but Beastmaster offers a lot more in direct confrontations, be it damage, utility or even vision. In his current state and with the most popular build, Ogre Magi is a rather weak substitute to Beastmaster who, however, can be a strong lane dominator against squishier enemies and does not take the core position.
Finally, Batrider just seems slightly out of place with the focus on saving abilities in the current support meta. There is just so many saves available and without the ability to get a hero bursted down fast, Batrider becomes less relevant—he does not guarantee a 4v5 engagement.
The hero remains weak in lane with a decent catch-up mechanism, but it also requires some support stacking—something a lot less frequent this TI, with a strong focus on tempo game. Without the ability to safely offlane, the hero got outclassed by higher burst damage or better scaling cores and only a few teams have stuck with him by the end of the tournament.
Unfortunately, the best tournament of the recent few years has come to an end. The announcements made during the tournament, however, paint a very pretty picture for the future of the game with two more heroes soon added. One of those heroes was already discussed previously in our Blog and if you would like to come prepared we strongly suggest you read it (the numbers might have changed in the transition from Dota 1, though). The second is yet to be fully revealed, but seems to be a highly elusive ability-based core.
With 6.88 being as great as it is, it seems Valve have figured out some magical formula for making an even better and more diverse game. Lets hope the trend will continue with the next updates—Dota has never been that good.