Battle Passes

Are we past Battle Passes?

Few DotA players would argue that Battle Passes are bad. Though they generally cost real money, they give way more than they take. From unique cosmetics to in-game quests, Battle Passes augmented the game of DotA more than it actually changed it. Players were incentivized with rewards outside of an MMR boost or the simple joy of winning to try things that they might not otherwise try. But where did Battle Passes go? There has not been one since the last International, and it doesn’t seem like another will come until the next TI.

The good ol’ days

Battle Passes

Other tournaments besides Majors used to have compendiums as well. Image courtesy of the Dota 2 wiki.

Back when I began playing DotA in 2013, Battle Passes didn’t exist. Instead, players would purchase individual tickets to view tournaments from within the DotA 2 client. For smaller tournaments, the benefits of purchasing these tickets stopped there. However, larger tournaments began offering incentives to players in the form of cosmetics in order to promote sales. These sales were then eventually used to supplement the tournament’s prize pool, increasing hype for the tournament. See where this is going?

Naturally there was a good side and a bad side to this system. The good side of course was that players were actively investing in the DotA 2 esports scene. The bad side was that in its infancy, there were far too many tournaments to keep up with. Though smaller tournaments might only ask $0.99 for a ticket, larger tournaments would range anywhere from $2.99 – $9.99. When there were a dozen or more of these kind of tournaments a year, it became hard to justify purchasing a ticket for every tournament for all but the most hardcore of DotA fans. Despite this, the cosmetics and rewards gave each tournament their own personal flair and identity. They gave even players that weren’t already invested in the competitive scene a reason to participate.

The way it is

Battle Passes

Valve upped the ante on rewards with their battle passes, going so far as to offer full map conversions like this. Image extracted from DotA 2.

As the DotA 2 scene grew, Valve more or less consolidated the Battle Pass market with the creation of the first Majors system. Nearly each of these majors sold a TI like Compendium that allowed players to track games, complete challenges and quest, make bracket predictions and more. These Battle Passes were sold for $9.99 and remained open for two to three months at a time, nearly covering the whole year. For me at least, these seasonal challenges reignited my enthusiasm for the game time and time again. I was excited to try challenges with heroes I had never played before, and even more excited about getting loot along the journey.

But 2017 saw a massive decline in the number of Battle Passes offered compared to the previous two years. Only two Battle Passes were offered: one for the Kiev Major in January and one for TI7. For contrast, 2016 had twice as many. Unfortunately, I don’t see anything that leads me to believe this number is going to go anywhere but down. The prize pools for all DotA Pro Circuit events with the exception of TI itself appear fixed. Furthermore, the removal of the Valve sponsored Majors that often heralded the coming of a Battle Pass mean there are fewer (read “zero”) tournaments outside of TI where players can expect such a treat.

Did we lose something in Battle Passes?

Personally I would lament the loss of multiple annual Battle Passes. As I’ve already mentioned, they succeed at keeping me and my play group engaged with the game, sometimes just as our interest starts to wane. That said, I see the negatives too. Incentivizing players to play in a specific way for a reward fundamentally changes the game of DotA. Players might not play optimally or take unnecessary risks all in the name of getting one step closer to that “sick set” at the end of a lengthy quest line. As someone who loves watching high level DotA, but has neither the desire nor the capacity to play at that level himself, I play the game for fun. These Battle Passes generally amplify that feeling for me.

Also, has the DotA community lost a bit of its heart with the disappearances of smaller tournament treasures and incentives? I still think that the UI skin and courier I got from watching The Summit 3 back in 2015 is super awesome! It felt great to contribute to something that gave me so many hours of entertainment. Do you feel like we’ve lost something with Battle Passes on the decline, or would you rather they stay as far away from your game of DotA as possible?


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Captain's Draft

Captain’s Draft 4.0: The competition

What better way to start off a new year then with a DotA Pro Circuit minor? Even as far as DotA tournament’s go, Captain’s Draft is unique. The tournament gets its name from the game mode of the same moniker. In Captain’s Draft, the hero pool is randomly narrowed down to 27 heroes before picks and bans begin. This randomization forces teams and captains to improvise strategies, as optimal team compositions are not likely available. As usual, let’s take a look at the teams that will be participating in the first Pro Circuit Tournament of 2018.

OG

Captain's Draft

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Johan “N0tail” Sundstein

Position 2 – Roman “Resolut1on” Fominok

Position 3 – Gustav “s4” Magnusson

Position 4 – Jesse “JerAx” Vainikka

Position 5 – Tal “Fly” Aizik

 

 

 

OG won their first big tournament of the season at MDL Macau following a string of disappointing performances. The four time Major winners have been struggling despite their star studded roster remaining mostly unchanged. Their performance at MDL Macau was like a flashback to their glory days. After ending the group stage at the top of the leaderboard, they proceeded to win the playoffs without dropping a single game. Perhaps their luck is finally turning around.

Vici Gaming

Captain's Draft

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Zhang “Paparazi” Chengjun

Position 2 – Zeng “Ori” Jiaoyang

Position 3 – Ren “eLeVenN” Yangwei

Position 4 – Zhang “LaNm” Zhicheng

Position 5 – Lu “Fenrir” Chao

 

 

2017 was the year of “almosts” for Chinese DotA team Vici Gaming. Despite performing well in qualifiers, they never seemed to be able to claim first place. Their 3-2 loss against Liquid at the AMD SAPPHIRE Dota PIT League was the closest they came so far this year. Their 0-3 loss to Newbee in the grand finals of the Perfect World Masters tournament was probably even more painful. Nevertheless, these second place victories have put them on the board. As it stands now they still have a guaranteed invite to TI8. We’ll see shortly if they have the versatility to strengthen their position on the leaderboard.

Team Secret

secret, dota 2, international, i-League, ESL One, DreamLeague, Captain's Draft

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Marcus “Ace” Hoelgaard

Position 2 – Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng

Position 3 – Adrian “Fata” Trinks

Position 4 – Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat

Position 5 – Clement “Puppey” Ivanov

Secret are now the team to beat. If you can beat Secret convincingly, no other team in a tournament should be as scary (except maybe Liquid). Liquid may have won more tournaments, but Secret has placed well at both Majors so far, giving them a clear point lead. At the most recent of said Majors, Dreamleague 8, Secret even proved that they could topple the TI winners not once, but twice. Two of the three Grand Final games were 60+ minute slug fests, but Secret came out on top in the end. This is the team to look out for this tournament.

Evil Geniuses

PGL Open, ESL One, DreamLeague. Captain's Draft

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Artour “Arteezy” Babaev

Position 2 – Clinton “Fear” Loomis

Position 3 – Sumail “Suma1l” Hassan

Position 4 – Andreas “Cr1t-” Nielsen

Position 5 – Rasmus “MISERY” Filipsen

 

Removing UNiVeRsE’s name from EG’s roster for this article proved painful for me. It is hard to believe that such a talented player was performing poorly enough to be removed from the organization. More importantly, removing UNiVeRsE caused massive structural changes to Evil Geniuses as a whole. Fear has taken the mid role from Suma1l, who will be filling in UNiVeRsE’s old offlane position. MISERY will play hard support while also relieving Fear of his captaining duties. I’m not convinced that these moves are the correct ones, but seeing how they play out at Captain’s Draft will prove interesting to say the least.

Minesky

Captain's Draft

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Kam “NaNa” Boon Seng

Position 2 – Chai “Mushi” Yee Fung

Position 3 – Daryl “iceiceice” Koh Pei Xiang

Position 4 – Anucha “Jabz” Jirawong

Position 5 – Michael “ninjaboogie” Ross Jr.

 

 

 

After a fantastic start to the season, Minesky has all but fallen off the map. After winning PGL Open Bucharest, the team has hardly been seen outside of qualifiers. The last time we saw them was during their disappointing 7th-8th place finish at Perfect World Masters where they failed to take a single game in the playoffs. If they can’t make a comeback here, it may be time to think about roster changes. The team is full of talented players, but something is clearly not working.

Pain Gaming

Captain's Draft

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – William “hFn” Medeiros

Position 2 – Danylo “KINGRD” Nascimento

Position 3 – Otavio “tavo” Gabriel

Position 4 – Heitor “Duster” Pereira

Position 5 – Aurthur “PAADA” Zarzur

Pain Gaming is a new face from the South American scene. If they don’t seem familiar, it’s because they have not participated in any Pro Circuit tournaments yet this year. It is also nearly impossible to analyze this team because they’re brand new overall. This roster was thrown together in early November, and has only played in qualifiers. As pessimistic as it might sound, I would expect Pain to perform similarly to the other South American teams. Historically speaking, South American teams have struggled on the international stage this year. This team’s inexperience together only compounds my reservations.

Team Empire

DAC Empire. Captain's Draft

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Airat “Silent” Gaziev

Position 2 – Rostislav “fn” Lozovoi

Position 3 – Andrey “Ghostik” Kadyk

Position 4 – Maxim “yoky-” Kim

Position 5 – Yaroslav “Miposhka” Naidenov

 

 

Team Empire’s frequent roster changes make it difficult to follow their progress as a team. The team’s history on Liquipedia shows players leaving, going inactive, returning and getting signed by other teams all just weeks apart. Former team captain Ivan “VANSKOR” Skorokhod’s departure just a week ago must’ve hit the team hard. Miposhka is picking up the reins, but will the team be able to rally around him? The unpredictability of Captain’s Draft naturally strips away some of the more tenured team’s advantage. They certainly have an uphill battle if they want to secure an invite to TI8 at this point.

CompLexity Gaming

Captain's Draft

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Rasmus “Chessie” Blomdin

Position 2 – Linus “Limmp” Blomdin

Position 3 – David “Moo” Hull

Position 4 – Zakari “Zfreek” Freedman

Position 5 – Kyle “melonzz” Freedman

 

 

I love rooting for CompLexity. It’s cool to see not just one, but two sets of brothers playing at such a high level together. I always enjoy watching Moo play the offlane, especially on heroes like Timbersaw. What I don’t love is the disappointment I feel when they fall short of top 3. After a third place finish at the first tournament of the season, they have not made it to the winners podium. I do believe however that Kyle is a competent drafter. He seems to have the kind of personality that could benefit from the chaotic nature of Captain’s Draft. We will certainly see soon enough.

Captain’s Draft 4.0 will take place in Washington, DC from Jan 4th – Jan 7th.


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Silver Edge

Silver Edge: An argument to Break DotA 2

At its core, playing DotA is a sea of numbers and statistics that wail against each other until a winner is decided. Teams of players try to steer these numbers in their favor through the choices they make. Most players see mixed results, but that is expected. There is so much to keep track of in a single game of DotA that professional players are still learning optimal strategies. Infrequent major patches to the game don’t help that either. But this is not a discussion about all of the mechanics in DotA. Instead, I wanted to focus on a single, relatively new mechanic that, though it has its place, feels underutilized within the game. I’m talking about Silver Edge, and the “Break” mechanic.

An introduction

Valve introduced the Break mechanic in patch 6.84. Before then, there were inconsistencies with how passives were impacted by disables like Hex or Doom. Break became the mechanic that was responsible for disabling passive ability, and greatly expanded the number of passives impacted. It is important to note of course that only hero passives are affected by Break. Item passives like Butterfly evasion can only be disabled by a different debuff, and are unaffected by Break.

The number of abilities affected by break is impressive, and very damaging. Heroes like Slardar and Spirit Breaker lose their ability to bash. Phantom Assassin loses her ability to evade attacks and hide on the mini-map. Bristleback loses his eponymous skill “Bristleback” thus losing his damage reduction and automatic Quill Spray trigger. For these heroes, losing these abilities is a blow to their usefulness in combat, and can easily flip a fight on its head. If the ability is so unique and powerful, why then is it also so exceedingly rare?

Give me a break!

Though Break was introduced in 6.84, no hero was immediately able to apply the debuff until 7.00 when Valve re-worked Viper’s “Nethertoxin” ability. Even then, the small AoE skill only applies Break as long as enemies remain within its radius. You can argue that both Doom’s “Doom” and Shadow Demon’s “Demonic Purge” also apply Break, but only after purchasing an Aghanim’s Scepter, a 4200 gold item that is never seen until the late game.

As I mentioned earlier, the only item in the game that can apply this effect is the Silver Edge. However, at 5500 gold, the item is a massive investment for line-ups that require it. Despite granting +15 to all stats, it’s also not an item many heroes want to naturally build. Shadow Blade, Silver Edge’s precursor, is a sneaky engagement tool, or for squishy characters to escape from ganks. At 2700 gold though, it’s still not a casual pickup. It is also only a stepping stone on the way to Silver Edge.

Under-represented

Silver Edge

Courtesy of Youtube.com, from the Dueling Fates Trailer. See why people thought Pangolier would have Break?

It seems odd that an ability so recently re-defined would have such a minimal presence within the game. While its strength cannot be underestimated, Valve has shown us they know how to balance it with proper drawbacks. Viper is actually the poster child for how more heroes could incorporate Break into their abilities without bringing imbalance to the game. Many people even speculated that Pangolier would be the hero with a built in Break given his trailer. You’ll remember that the trailer showed him cutting the quills off of Bristleback’s bristleback, which seemed as clear a sign as any. His Heartpiercer ability by comparison has been disappointing to say the least.

I really do not believe it would take much to bring more Break into action. Plenty of heroes are primed with abilities that could add a Break effect in exchange for efficiency elsewhere. So far Viper possesses the only non-targeted Break in the game. Perhaps other AoE abilities could incorporate this? It would be great to see a targeted Break added to a non-ultimate ability as well. Maybe the Break wouldn’t take effect until the skill is level 4, effectively helping to balance it.

I do not claim to be a game designer, but I strongly believe that granting more heroes Break-like abilities would increase draft diversity and increase utility in certain compositions. Though it might sound like I’m advocating for adding more noise to the cacophony that is the DotA we all know and occasionally love, more options doubtless make drafting decisions more varied and interesting. If they took the time to create a new special mechanic, it should be more prevalent than it currently is.


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DreamLeague

DreamLeague 8: The competition

The second Major of the competitive season is upon us. Since the last major, the point totals have seen some shuffling, and the game itself has been patched. While Virtus.Pro has been sitting pretty at the top, the 1500 points that are on the line could change that quickly. Of course if Virtus.Pro wins DreamLeague as well, they will further cement their spot in TI8. They’re not the only ones with their eye on the prize though, so let’s take a look at their competition.

Team Liquid

Dota 2 Power Rankings Team Liquid, ESL One, Dreamleague

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen

Position 2 – Amer “Miracle-” Al-Barqawi

Position 3 – Ivan “MinD-ContRoL” Ivanov

Position 4 – Maroun “GH” Merhej

Position 5 – Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi

 

 

 

Liquid has shown no signs of slowing down after a dominant start to the season. Currently they are the only team to have won more than one tournament this season. Liquid continue to prove that they are a team to be reckoned with, and I doubt anyone would be surprised if they were the team to take the lead in the rankings after DreamLeague.

Newbee

Dota 2 Power rankings Newbee, i-league, ESL One, Dreamleague

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Xu “Moogy” Han

Position 2 – Song “Sccc” Chun

Position 3 – Damien “kpii” Chok

Position 4 – Hu “Kaka” Liangzhi

Position 5 – Zheng “Faith” Hongda

 

 

Newbee is fresh off the heels of a victory at the Perfect World Masters tournament. It is clear they are not going to let their TI runner-up stigma effect their performance moving forward. Though soul-crushing at the time, they have bounced back well. During the Chinese Qualifiers for DreamLeague, they only dropped a single game. Newbee is clearly the pinnacle of Chinese DotA right now, and we can expect good games from them at DreamLeague.

Team Secret

secret, dota 2, international, i-League, ESL One, DreamLeague

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Marcus “Ace” Hoelgaard

Position 2 – Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng

Position 3 – Adrian “Fata” Trinks

Position 4 – Yazied “YapzOr” Jaradat

Position 5 – Clement “Puppey” Ivanov

Team Secret is looking for redemption after falling just short of first place at the last Major. Fortunately for them, their second place finish at ESL One also puts them at second place on the current rankings leaderboard. Their chances at the Perfect World Masters Tournament was hamstrung by a personal emergency that left them without MidOne, but the gang is back together now and ready to give it their all.

Evil Geniuses

PGL Open, ESL One, DreamLeague

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Artour “Arteezy” Babaev

Position 2 – Sumail “Suma1l” Hassan

Position 3 – Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Aurora

Position 4 – Andreas “Cr1t-” Nielsen

Position 5 – Clinton “Fear” Loomis

 

It has not been the best year for Evil Geniuses so far. As it stands, the team has only managed to secure a single third place victory this season. That being said, they pulled it together for the DreamLeague NA Qualifiers, and only dropped a single game. This could be a sign that they are trying something new, or getting more familiar with the patch. The team will definitely have to step up their game if they hope to perform on the main stage. So far though, their chances do not look the greatest.

Fnatic

ESL One, DreamLeague

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao

Position 2 – Steve “Xcalibur” Ye

Position 3 – Khoo “Ohaiyo” Chong Xin

Position 4 – Djardel “DJ” Mampusti

Position 5 – Johan “pieliedie” Åström

 

 

Fnatic is the first team on the list without a single Qualifying Point to their name. Though their 7-8th place finishes at ESL One and Dota PIT earned them some prize money, that money will not help them secure a spot at TI. That being said, Fnatic have been looking better and better over just the last two weeks. They achieved first place in both the DotA Summit SEA Qualifiers and the DreamLeague SEA Qualifiers. I don’t know what possibly could have happened to warrant this 180 turn, but Fnatic may just be a real contender in this tournament if they can hold on to this momentum.

Infamous

PGL Open, DreamLeague

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Alonso “Kotaro Hayama” León

Position 2 – Mariano “Papita” Caneda

Position 3 – Steven “StingeR” Vargas

Position 4 – Elvis “Scofield” De la Cruz Peña

Position 5 – Christian “Accel” Cruz

 

 

 

Not much has been heard from Infamous since their disappointing finish at PGL Open Bucharest. They succeeded in taking first place at the World Cyber Arena tournament in South America last month, but since then they have only been playing in qualifiers. This tells me that my previous evaluation of them may have been true. In the confines of the small South American scene, Infamous are kings on the playground. Unfortunately this does not translate well to success on the world stage. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to see a team from an underrepresented DotA scene succeed. Everyone can remember how hype Ad Finem’s run through the Boston Major was last year right? It makes me sad to say that I’m unsure if Infamous is the team to bring that hype back given their poor performance recently.

Virtus.Pro

Virtus Pro VP The Kiev Major, ESL One

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Roman “RAMZES666” Kuchnarev

Position 2 – Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko

Position 3 – Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov

Position 4 – Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk

Position 5 – Alexei “Solo” Berezin

 

 

The champions of the last Major are back to prove they can do it again. However, their DreamLeague qualifier performance does not exactly inspire the utmost confidence from their fans. They were only one loss away from being tied with OG at 7-7 and forcing a tie breaker. At the same time they recently crushed the DotA Summit CIS Qualifier by beating Na’Vi 3-1 when Na’Vi is looking strong. I have no doubt Virtus.Pro will make the top 4 at DreamLeague, but they need to bring their A game if they hope to win another Major.

Na’Vi

Na'Vi, i-League, DreamLeague

Image courtesy of teamliquid.net

Roster:

Position 1 – Vladislav “Crystallize” Krystanek

Position 2 – Danil “Dendi” Ishutin

Position 3 – Victor “GeneRaL” Nigrini

Position 4 – Vladimir “RodjER” Nikogosyan

Position 5 – Akbar “SoNNeikO” Butaev

 

 

I could gush about Na’Vi’s return to relevance in the DotA 2 scene for hours. This team has had a rough few years, but things finally seem to be turning around. Fellow Game Haus writer Eli Sherman already wrote a great article on the topic, which echoes many of my sentiments as well. You can find that article here.

DreamLeague Season 8 will take place in Jönköping, Sweeden from Dec 1st – Dec 3rd.


Featured image courtesy of dreamleague.dreamhack.com

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Skywrath Mage

Skywrath Mage returns

Dragonus, the Skywrath Mage has been through a turbulent couple of years in DotA 2. Though a favored support pick in TI4, he as since fallen out of favor due to some glaring weaknesses. However, the sweeping changes in 7.07 brought some needed buffs to the hero. These buffs increase his viability in a multitude of ways, and I believe he’ll see increased play in pubs and tournaments because of them.

Skywrath’s problems

Where can I even begin here. For starters, though a powerful nuker, all of his damage is magic based. As soon as teams buy BKB, most of his potential effectively disappears. Once the game hit this point, there wasn’t a whole lot a Skywrath Mage could do. His skill set is centered around picking off heroes, and he does this very well in the early game. Unfortunately this leaves him incapable of pushing lanes or taking objectives. The hero’s inflexible nature made him unappealing to teams who might need to pivot strategies mid match.

Until recently, Skywrath also had trouble getting solo pick offs without outside help. For a hero who was supposed to excel at this, this was a major problem. While concussive shot slowed enemies in order to set up his Mystic Flare ultimate, it was not often enough to keep the enemy within the spell’s effective radius on it’s own. In order to ensure full damage, an ally would need to open the engagement with a stun for Skywrath to achieve his full potential.

It’s all a thing of the past

Skywrath Mage

Image courtesy of Dotabuff.com

Skywrath Mage

Image courtesy of Dotabuff.com

IceFrog has graced the Skywrath Mage with a few choice buffs in the last few patches. These buffs both increase his kill potential and his late game options, effectively addressing both of his previous weaknesses.

We’ll start with the buff before 7.07, with the buff to Rod of Atos. Atos was already a fantastic item on Skywrath thanks to the slow stacking with Concussive Shot. While the stacking slow was akin to a full stun, there was still some wiggle room that allowed enemies to escape the Mystic Flare radius. In patch 7.00, Atos’ Cripple ability changed from a four second slow to a two second root. This change makes Skywrath mage a mid-game ganking fiend. Unless an enemy has an escape mechanism or a ton of health, they will find themselves dead if they get caught by this combo.

A talented bird-man

Skywrath Mage

Image courtesy of Dotabuff.com

With the old news out of the way lets move forward to the present. Skywrath received and entirely new series of talents. A couple of these are more noteworthy than others. For starters, the Ancient Seal cooldown talent changed from a level 25 talent to a level 15 talent. Not only that, but the cooldown reduction was increased from four seconds to six seconds. With the ability at level four, Ancient Seal becomes a six second targeted silence with an eight second cooldown. This amount of uptime for a disable is phenomenal, especially as early in the game as level 15. This dramatically improves Skywrath’s ability to participate in fights early by potentially silencing two heroes per fight.

More important is probably the talent sitting on the other side of the level 15 branch: +1 Arcane Bolt. What used to be an Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade in the late game is available for free at level 15. Better yet, the talent stacks with Aghanims, meaning Skywrath can cast 3 Arcane Bolt mini-nukes for just 70 mana. The ability to cast two arcane bolts give’s Skywrath an ability to push lanes that he didn’t have before. Of course other heroes still clear waves better, but now Skywrath has a way to help his team once the BKBs roll out. Naturally, they also drastically increase his damage in team fights.

A pub pick up

Skywrath is a versatile nuker that can disable key carries in team fights and melt supports with his early game pick off potential. While I believe he will remain a situational pick for professional DotA, he can really be an all-star in pub matches. Arcane Seal is a massive disruption for teams with poor communication, and Arcane Bolt remains a relevant low cost nuke late in the game thanks to his new talents. Most importantly though, hitting the Rod of Atos/Mystic Flare combo never gets old. In a matchmaking world where people seem hesitant to pick supports, it is hard to go wrong with a Skywrath Mage pick.


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Tournaments

DotA needs more non-traditional tournaments

I was incredibly surprised when I discovered that Captain’s Draft was an official DotA 2 Minor with qualifying points on the line. For ages, Captain’s mode has been not just the preferred tournament game mode, but the only one. To be fair, Captain’s Draft and Captain’s mode are very similar. The only major difference is the fact that Captain’s Draft has a significantly smaller hero pool. For those that don’t know, Captain’s draft reduces the hero pool down to nine each of strength, agility and intelligence heroes. For a brief stint this game mode was actually available for Ranked play. Due to the increased segmentation of the ranked player user base, Valve permanently relocated it to the unranked playlist.

But then we have the Midas Mode tournament that is currently going on. While it is not a Minor itself, it is considerably more unique than Captain’s Draft. In the tournament, each hero costs a certain number of currency to draft, and teams start with a certain amount of this currency. A hero’s cost correlates with their current popularity and win rate. Teams can earn currency back by choosing to random or by completing a set of community created challenges. Teams can even bet their currency on games that they are not participating in. While this is more than unorthodox, there are merits to tournaments like these granting Qualifying Points. I hope to explain why through this article.

It challenges teams

Captain’s Draft challenges teams to make the best out of what is likely a poor situation. Of course if top tier heroes happen to be in the pool, teams will immediately pick or ban them. Other than that, the mode generally pushes both captains and players outside of their comfort zones. Teams can actually use this opportunity to try off-the-wall strategies, or sub-optimal synergies. Maybe a player is trying to add a hero to their hero pool but their not comfortable with it in a tournament setting. Well, in Captains Draft, the enemy team might be at the same disadvantage. This makes it the perfect time to try a new hero in a more high pressure situation outside of pub games or scrims.

I know that teams play their fair share of pubs to test new strategies. I also know that they occasionally have practice matches against each other. Unfortunately neither of these really reflect the atmosphere of a major tournament. In pubs, a professional team may very well find themselves against a team that has not played together as often, ensuring an easier victory. In scrimmages against other teams, players may not wish to reveal pocket strategies that they hope to use in future tournaments.

Midas Mode further challenges teams by giving teams a limited amount of currency to deal with throughout the whole tournament. Each decision the team makes is determined by the amount of currency the team has at their disposal. While the economical balance of the mode can be called into question, it IS the first tournament of it’s kind. It will undoubtedly be improved in the future as they work out the kinks.

They are viewer friendly

Say what you want about the staged performances between matches, but the actual games and drafts themselves are a blast to watch for viewers. One of the major reasons that fans become tired or professional matches is that everyone fights for the same heroes in every draft. New draft? Well we can expect that W/X/Y/Z heroes are going to be picked or banned in the first phase. With much of the variety taken out, matches become much less interesting. These non-traditional formats take care of that.  In Captain’s Draft, a limited hero pool means that viewers will almost always see meta-unfriendly strategies and drafts. This prevents the games viewer from getting bored, and keeps the games much more exciting.

Tournaments

Image from twitch.tv/moonducktv

Midas Mode takes it to the next level by introducing a popularity based cost system to drafting as well as a community driven challenge system for players to participate in. The cost system requires players to carefully choose whether they pick the expensive meta-popular hero or a less expensive underdog during the draft. The mode even rewards teams for randoming or skipping a ban. All of these mechanics result in some of the most exciting drafts I’ve seen in recent memory.

But the fun extends to the main game as well. Tournament organizers collect challenge suggestions from fans on a daily basis, and use those suggestions to inform their decisions for the tournament. Challenges can be simple and predictable, such as “Kill Roshan at level 1”. They can also be completely absurd and specific, such as “Announce that you are doing a “360 NO SCOPE” in all chat. Within 10 seconds that player must perform a 360 spin and then kill an enemy player. Can only be attempted once per game by each team”. If that last challenges sounds too far fetched to actually work, OG claimed that bounty during one of their games. These challenges ensure that the viewer base is always entertained in new and exciting ways.

Why we need more tournaments like these

While these are just two examples of the possibilities afforded by new game modes, I do not thing the creativity should stop there. I have no suggestions for my own, but these kind of tournaments tick all of the boxes. Players are challenged in new and interesting ways, while viewers have something new and different to watch. These types of tournaments could break up the monotony of professional DotA that had fans crying out for a patch mere weeks ago. Though Midas Mode is in it’s testing phase now, it could be become a Minor in time. My argument is that it should be so. These kind of tournaments add a much needed layer of unpredictability to the DotA 2 competitive scene. We should be welcoming them with open arms into the DotA Pro Circuit.


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Pro Circuit

DotA Pro Circuit: Balanced or broken?

By now the new DotA 2 Pro Circuit system probably feels familiar, as if it has always been there. Finally though, we have a system that transparently dictates which teams receive invites to The International. Invites in previous years have been met with a wide range of criticism from fans who follow the scene closely. “But what about X team?” they ask. “They’ve won two of the past three tournaments they’ve participated in! Surely they are worthy of an invite.” Conversely, fans have questioned the inclusion of teams they considered unworthy of skipping the highly competitive qualifiers. The question now becomes, is this new Pro Circuit system the final solution? Perhaps it is just a step in the right direction.

Transparency is good

Pro Circuit

Image courtesy of dota2.com

Fans like to be kept in the loop. It is plain and simple. The lack of visibility into Valve’s previous selection criteria was problematic. It put some fans in a sour mood before the opening ceremonies even began. Though they undoubtedly enjoyed some high quality DotA in the end, Valve never wants their 20+ million dollar tournament to start off on the wrong foot. The new system definitely addresses these concerns. By the end of the final tournament before TI8, or maybe even before that for a few teams, the masses will know exactly who has earned those coveted invites to the biggest tournament of the year.

There are other benefits to this new system as well. Because the Qualifying Points are awarded to players and not to organizations, rosters are incentivized to stay together if they are performing well. Too many times in the past have we seen a team win a tournament only to immediately drop players for unknown reasons. Team Secret dropped Aliwi “w33” Omar and Rasmus “MiSeRy” Filipsen after winning the Shanghai Major in 2016. Perhaps the most memorable instance of this behavior is when Evil Geniuses dropped Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling shortly after taking the Aegis at TI5. When points are attached to these winning players, these kinds of changes are far less likely. Hopefully this change will make the competitive scene less volatile, and thus easier to follow.

But there are always problems

Of course there are two sides to every argument. One could easily argue that despite good performance, any player creating friction in a team game can be mentally exhausting for all involved. This will undoubtedly hurt a team in the long run. Peter “PPD” Dager eventually went on to explain that no amount of winning was worth the stress he was going through working with Aui. Now I know that after TI, the point values will reset, but let’s play pretend for a second. If Evil Geniuses had just won a Major with Aui instead, would they have let him go? A DotA 2 Major is worth a whopping 750 points per player on the winning team. A loss of that many points could take a series of wins to make up for. This brings me nicely into my next point.

A victory at a Major is worth a full five times the amount of Qualifying Points as a Minor. This disparity seems incredible, especially considering that points are never awarded below fourth place no matter the event. Any team would have to win five Minor tournaments to even catch up to a team that has won a single Major. This disparity seems a little extreme, especially considering that many of these competitions see the same competitors.

Pro Circuit

Current Qualifying Points standings courtesy of wiki.teamliquid.net

Say that Team Liquid, who has two first place Minor finishes and one third place Major finish, never win a Major this season. They need to win at least two more Minors to even tie Virtus.Pro, who won that first and only Major so far this season. Virtus.Pro is bound to continue participating in tournaments for the rest of the year, and their lead seems difficult to surmount. While a team of Liquid’s caliber might be up to the task, plenty of other great teams may fall short.

A great start

I am certainly not trying to say that this new Pro Circuit system is bad. Far from it! The Qualifying Points system makes seasons easy to follow, and informs viewers of tournament stakes outside of prize pools. However, the point disparity between Majors and Minors is alarming to me. Granted, the season is still young. We still have no idea how the greater part of the season is going to turn out. Everything could turn out fair and balanced, but I worry talented teams that succeed in Minors will find it hard to qualify without a Major win.

At the end of the day though, teams failing to earn Qualifying Points are not completely lost. Even if they do not manage to secure direct invites, they will still be able to work their way up through the Regional Qualifiers, or even the Open Qualifiers. Maybe that will be enough to balance the Pro Circuit. Only time will tell.


Featured Image from blog.dota2.com

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7.07b

Hot fix: Bringing balance back in 7.07b

When there is a patch as big as 7.07 was, imbalances in the game show up sooner or later. Sooner seems to be the answer in this case, as 7.07b arrived a mere week after 7.07 launched. Even in this short amount of time, the community lamented these imbalances and cried out to dear IceFrog for a remedy. It seems their voices reached the enigmatic DotA developer, as the most common complaints were addressed.

Anti-Mage

7.07b

(dota2.gamepedia.com)

Anti-Mage gets his own section in this article because he was an absolute terror in 7.07. His stat gain coupled with his new talents negated his old weakness of having to wait until the late game to come online. Developers reduced his strength gain to give him less health, and spell shield was also weakened to make him more vulnerable early. The biggest change though is that Blink Illusion moved up to a level 20 talent from level 15. Trying to chase a mid level Anti-Mage with this ability was incredibly difficult. Though the illusion took increased damage, the mana it drained would quickly make chasing impossible. This fix should return Anti-Mage to his former glory, without getting a free power spike in the mid game.

The new heroes

Pangolier fans rejoice! Your hero received some much needed buffs. Shield Crash grants increased damage reduction at all levels. Rolling Thunder turn rate is universally improved, so hopefully we’ll see fewer players getting stuck in corners. On top of that, it also does more damage than before. The most important of these buffs though is how Swashbuckle’s damage is now calculated. While previously it was treated as physical ability damage, Swashbuckle damage instances are now treated the same as normal right clicks. This means that on hit effects previously unavailable to him like lifesteal and crit are now completely viable. This is huge news for Pango players, and we’re bound to see his build diversity go up as a result.

I’m more of a Dark Willow person myself, and I’m not even upset about the nerfs she received in 7.07b. Bedlam was absurd on a 20 second cooldown and everyone knew it. By level three the ultimate is still about as strong as it previously was, so no harm was done to her late-game potential. Bramble Maze now also deals its damage over time instead of all in one instance. This brings the spell more in line with similar roots such as Crystal Maiden’s Frostbite, and gives players a chance to save themselves with healing items or spells. To be fair, it was pretty absurd for a low health hero to walk into a bramble patch and just explode to a 250 damage nuke.

Tiny is a big boy again…

7.07b

(dota2.gamepedia.com)

I played one game of Tiny after being intrigued by the massive changes made to the hero in vanilla 7.07. I never felt like I was able to contribute anything meaningful at any point in the game. Valve gave Tiny so much love in this patch that I’m cautiously optimistic about trying him again. Most of his buffs were to his Tree Grab ability, which previously had a long cooldown at lower levels. The cooldown was so long in fact that I never felt like I had it up when I needed it to push.

The ability’s cooldown has since been lowered from 40/32/24/16 seconds to just 15 seconds at all levels. Splash damage done by the tree now deals full attack damage. Tiny even gets an additional swing with the tree once he hits level four with the ability. These 7.07b changes help to turn Tiny into the split pushing tower crusher he was meant to be, and hopefully make him relevant in the meta again.

Meteor Hammer

Most of the other item changes are minor, but Meteor Hammer’s function changed in a pretty meaningful way. It now deals less damage over time, but has a small burst of damage on impact. Players questioned why it was not this way to start with. It made little sense that being hit with a meteor dealt no damage initially. While the weapon’s function now makes more sense, I’m still not sure it is exactly what the item needs to be relevant. The biggest drawback is the three second channel time, which makes it very easy to interrupt or dodge. Most of the time I would probably rather use those three seconds to cast any of my other abilities. Chances are they would probably be more productive.

More changes coming?

Undoubtedly. After all, patch 7.06 went all the way up to 7.06f before the developers finally decided to increment the patch number. It has still been less than two weeks since Valve introduced us to 7.07, so we’re bound to see more in the future. Watching the pros experiment with the patch has been exciting, but it’s clear that they are still learning too. I guess it’s time for us all to get back into it and play more 7.07b DotA 2.

Bummer…


Featured Image: Screenshot grabbed from Dota2.com

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Willow

The many talents of Dark Willow

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Dueling Fates made massive changes to how the game is played, but it will take much more time for players to fully understand the information released in the patch notes. What will not take more time is for players to experience the true headliners of this patch: the new heroes. Dark Willow and Pangolier have invaded pubs the same way every new hero does shortly after launch. I admit partial fault for this, as I’ve been playing the hero extensively in an attempt to understand what makes her click. I will always have more to learn, but I wanted to share what knowledge I’ve gained so far in the hopes that it helps you either play a better Willow, or counter one on the enemy team.

Who likes crowd control?

Willow

Dotabuff.com

I sure love crowd control. It is one of the reasons I was so attracted to this hero in the first place. Let’s start by breaking down some of these crowd control abilities and their uses.

Bramble Patch creates a large maze of thorns that roots enemies that touch the brambles. This skill has many qualities that set it apart from other similar abilities in positive ways. Even at level one, the brambles created by the skill last for a full 15 seconds. If Willow places a Bramble patch behind her team to help them escape, the enemy can’t wait out the duration. They either need a method of ignoring the root, or they have to give up on the chase.

Cursed Crown is a delayed area of effect stun that targets an individual hero. If it hits, this disable will stun all heroes within range of the targeted hero for a full 3.5 seconds at level four. I do use the word “if” for a reason though. Cursed Crown is probably the easiest stun in the game to dodge or disjoint with its 4 second delay. Activating BKB, Aeon Disk, Guardian Greaves or Manta style any time before the stun hits completely removes the effect. When the ability does hit though, it removes at least one hero from the fight for a substantial amount of time. To me, it seems worth casting even if it only baits out a premature item use due to its low cast time.

Terrorize, one of Willow’s two ultimates, forces enemies in a moderate area to flee toward their fountain after a short channeling time. This is a great disengagement tool on its own, but coupled with Bramble Patch it can flip a team fight on its head. If placed correctly, enemies will be unable to dodge the brambles, forcing them to both take damage and be rooted in place for upward of 2.5 seconds. This is definitely a large enough window for the cavalry to arrive and clean up.

But how does she do damage?

I’m glad you asked! Dark Willow’s damage lies primarily in her Shadow Realm nuke and Bedlam, her second ultimate. After taking her +300 Shadow Realm damage at level 20, Shadow Realm becomes a devastating 660 magical nuke. That’s not even the best part. The best part is that Willow becomes untargetable by spells or auto attacks while the nuke is charging. The 600 bonus range granted by the ability ensures that she’ll be able to hit her target, even if the target has turned around and given up chase.

 

Willow

Dotabuff.com

 

Willow

Dotabuff.com

Bedlam, on the other hand, requires Willow to be close to her targets. Once activated, Willow’s faerie companion will circle her while firing magic projectiles at the nearest enemy unit similar to Witch Doctor’s Death Ward. As Willow is not a durable hero, charging in with no plan is ill-advised. When used in tandem with Shadow Realm, Willow can keep herself safe while melting a single hero fairly quickly with Bedlam. It is important to note though that Willow is not completely immune while in the Shadow Realm. Any untargeted AoE abilities will still hurt her, so Willow players should be mindful of their positioning at all times.

So she’s a support, right?

Willow’s strength lies in her ability to disrupt the enemy, making her ideal for a support position. Cursed Crown and Bramble Patch make her incredibly useful for setting up kills and escapes in the laning phase. As Shadow Realm levels up, her increased burst damage and range can help secure kills on more elusive heroes as well. Add that to the fact that her abilities scale well with levels and not items, and you’ve got a solid support on your hands.

One of Willow’s biggest problems in the laning stage comes with her mana pool. Her abilities generally require tons of mana and have long cooldowns to start, making mana boots a must buy. A Kaya purchase in the mid game basically solves her mana problems for the rest of the game. The additional spell amplification also helps her nuke, making it a great item for support Willow. Unfortunately, Willow’s other weakness is that she is still incredibly squishy, even in the late game.

Initially, I thought that Meteor Hammer might be the item to solve this, but I was disappointed with the results. Though the strength gain and regen provided by the hammer seemed great, the active ability left me wanting. Even under the protection of Shadow Realm I frequently found myself unable to channel the hammer for the full duration. If for some reason you’re getting tons of gold as Willow, feel free to give it a try yourself. For those less adventurous, a Glimmer Cape will increase your survivability just fine.

Dark Willow has a lot of freedom in the late game when it comes to items. Rod of Atos can help lock a hero in place while you Bedlam them to death. Shiva’s Guard increases Willow’s tankiness and inhibits right click heavy line-ups well. Purchase a Scythe of Vyse if you absolutely need to lock down that one problem hero. Feel free to go more aggressive with an Orchid into Bloodthorn to increase damage as well. As long as you’re picking intelligence items that are appropriate to your individual game, it’s difficult to make a wrong choice.

But in a game I played…

Yes, I am fully aware of the number of carry Willow builds out in the wild. While I don’t think this is the optimal way to play the character, the concept is not without merit. In fact, Willow’s +200 attack speed perk at level 25 almost single-handedly enables this kind of build. First of all, the character’s attack animation is already solid even at level one, tacking almost two full moonshards for free at level 25 transforms her into a machine gun.

If you’re keen to try this playstyle, I would highly recommend the mid lane for a couple of reasons. First of all, you won’t have to be fighting for farm in another lane where your teammate thinks they’re a better carry than you. Secondly, Willow’s abilities benefit greatly from fast levels, which are inevitable in the mid-lane. Willow’s great attack animation should help secure the CS, and an early bottle will sustain her mana in the early game.

As a carry, the enemy team might try to focus you more than as a support. For this reason, a glimmer cape probably is not going to cut it as a defensive item. I have had some success purchasing a Linken’s Sphere as an alternative. Linken’s coupled with Shadow Realm invulnerability makes Willow maddeningly difficult to lock down, and the extra stats and regen help solve her mana problems further. On the way to level 25, additional intelligence items like Scythe or Atos still help with both her lockdown and attack damage. The magic burst from Mjolnir coupled with even more attack speed makes it a solid pick as well.

If you still have money after all of those purchases, Nullifier is a great addition to a carry Willow’s arsenal. By the time you get a nullifier, machine gun mode should be online. Willow will attack so fast that she’ll be able to keep a Nullified enemy slowed all by herself. Bloodthorn will keep enemies from fighting back while giving her machine gun attacks chances to crit.

What are your closing thoughts then?

I still don’t fully agree with carry Willow, but sometimes it is necessary to adapt to the needs of the team. There are worse heroes than Willow to answer the call for an impromptu mid player. Her world-class crowd control abilities make her relevant in every stage in the game, and her talent choices make her versatile enough to shift roles should the need arise. Though I’m sure we’ll all still be learning where she fits into the competitive scene over the next few months, putting in time on her now is definitely a worthwhile investment.


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7.07b

Meta adjustments in 7.07

The game of DotA 2 has changed dramatically in the wake of patch 7.07. When pasted into a word document the collective patch notes total over 70 pages. Seventy full pages of changes to heroes, items, talents and core mechanics can be difficult to absorb quickly.  Taking time to analyze every change line by line would generate an article longer than the patch notes themselves. Instead, we are going to evaluate the high level changes that Valve has made to see if we can discern how they want the game to be played in 7.07.

Before the horn

Hopping into a match in 7.07 feels familiar, yet still different. While nothing compared to previous map changes, there are a few specific ones worth talking about. Arguably the most notable change is the relocation of the bounty runes and shrines. Offlane bounty runes and shrines have practically swapped positions, and safe lane shrines have been moved closer to their respective team’s tier two towers.  Safelane bounty runes have also been moved closer to the river.

7.07

Teams can practically stare each other down from the rune spots now. Screenshot taken from the Dota 2 client

These changes have many implications across all phases of the game. For starters, teams may be more eager to fight over bounty runes at the start of the game now that they’re so much closer to each other. During the laning phase, an enemy support can also easily sneak into your jungle and steal your rune thanks to its new position. With easier escape options, the rewards quickly begin to outweigh the risks of attempting such maneuvers.

On the other hand, the new shrine positions serve to strengthen a teams position in the mid-game. After tier one towers have been taken, the previous shrines offered a great forward position, but at a cost. The problem was that they could not help teams defend their tier two towers thanks to the distance between them. Players trying to teleport to the shrine to defend a tier two either wouldn’t make it in time, or find a nasty ambush waiting. The new shrine positions give players a place they can retreat to should a tower fight go sour. It also gives allies a safer place to teleport should they wish to assist in such a fight.

The laning phase

The big ticket item in the laning phase is the adjustment to the XP reward gained from killing lane creeps. Melee creeps XP increased from 40 to 57, while range creeps XP decreased from 90 to 69. The large previous discrepancy between the values rewarded players much more for killing or denying the range creep in each wave. While the ranged creep is still more valuable, players may no longer weigh it so heavily when fighting for those initial last hits.

This experience change is also a nerf to any hero that likes to purchase a Hand of Midas, albeit a small one. Range creeps were prime Midas targets in 7.06 thanks to their ultra high XP reward. Now that range and melee creeps are closer in value, it becomes more efficient to Midas a siege creep, but those do not spawn every wave. If there is no siege creep, Midas carriers are likely to leave the lane for a large jungle camp creep in order to maximize the return on their investment. Midas characters will have more to consider when moving around the map, which isn’t a bad thing.

This change is also the nerf to Lich that some players had been hoping for. While he can still sacrifice the ranged creep in one lane at the start of the game, it no longer grants him as much experience, nor does it deny a full 90 experience from enemy heroes in that lane. This change won’t stop this behavior, but it reduces the impact substantially.

Denying the ranged creep might be less important than in 7.06, but denying as a mechanic has become more crucial to success in lanes. This is due to the reduction of experience received by the denied team from 75% to 25%.  Denying lane creeps is now quite literally three times as effective as it was in the previous patch. This change is going to put more pressure on players in the laning stage to perform well. Before, losing a lane would leave you with a little bit of catch up to do in the mid-game. Now, a losing player might find themselves hopelessly under-leveled if their lane goes poorly enough.

The mid/late game

Games need to end sometime. So many games in 7.06 would stalemate for too long as teams were afraid to take high ground. This was not a fun way to play, nor was it fun to watch. Valve has looked to remedy this by bring quicker ends to games in a couple of ways.

7.07

It may look like a shrine, but now its just a useless “filler building”. Screenshot taken from DotA 2.

The first of these is the removal of the shrines in each base. Shrines in each lane gave high ground defenders multiple chances to heal up and push back their attacker.  This was a nightmare to fight into, especially when a single bad teamfight could flip the game on its head. Removing these shrines removes unnecessary second chances for the defending team, and should also serve to shorten games overall in 7.07.

Almost every hero talent adjustment also contributes to this in some way. Many generic stat-boosting talents have been removed in favor of more hero specific talents, many of which are incredibly powerful. Taking Enigma’s new +70 Eidolon damage talent in addition to +8 Eidolons at level 25 grants unrivaled pushing power. Gyrocopter’s new Global Call Down talent allows the hero to clear any lane from the safety of his base. He can even participate in fights he’s nowhere near.

Moving forward with 7.07

As we expected, some heroes were nerfed, some heroes were buffed, the map changed and nothing will ever be the same. 7.07 definitely hid a few surprises for DotA fans, and I’m sure there are possibilities we’ve only begun to discover. It will take a few weeks and some tinkering for the new meta to reveal itself, but that’s most of the fun.

DotA Esports seems to benefit from this patch more than even the players. The changes I mentioned lead me to believe we will start seeing more early game skirmishes and shorter games overall. Shorter games will allow tournaments to stay on schedule more easily, and should prevent viewers from getting bored of watching drawn out games. If those aren’t victories for 7.07, then I don’t know what are.


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