“New meta” is one of the most overused expressions in Dota and other games of the genre. Short for “metagame”, it means any sort of information coming from outside the game’s boundaries (mainly people’s observation) that will affect in-game decisions.
Simply put, we pick Hero ‘X’ all the frickin’ time because we ourselves, as external factors, observe they’re broken, and not because the game itself urges us to do so.
Obviously, the meta is something that changes constantly. That much is for certain, since that’s the very purpose of balance patches. How much it changes every time though is a completely different story.
I’ve been playing nine and a half years and I’ve seen Dota evolve so many times, I could hardly say it’s still the same game. There is however a single element that hasn’t changed one bit. That element is the majority of the players’ perception of the meta. We could argue that this isn’t a part of the game per se, but I really believe the community has affected it nearly as much as the developers.
It’s always been the professional teams that decide and set the meta each time. That by itself makes sense; they’re the ones making a living out of the game, so they got plenty of reasons to investigate more than the average player. Although, it’s not right to even say “teams”, since it’s only a handful of people that discover what works best, and the rest just copy them.
Of course, most people won’t understand what and why exactly they’re copying. That, too, makes sense, since Dota is a very complicated game. It’s extremely difficult to break it all down into numbers and decide why X in case A has a 2.3% chance more to win than Y in the same case.
What I’ve noticed though, and this is the real issue I want to address, is the complete lack of originality for most people. Observing and learning from good players is one thing, but this community takes it a step (or 100) further.
I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve seen it. Every Hero in the game is average, until some Dota celebrity uses them with a bit of success. The first time I noticed was back when Crystal Maiden’s aura became a global effect for the first time. She was still ignored until a pro team (I believe it was Meet Your Makers) started using her.
All of that wouldn’t be such a big deal, but as I said before, I think the community’s reactions really affect the developers’ decisions. Icefrog tends to buff underpicked Heroes and nerf overpicked ones, which at first glance makes sense. However, this whole mentality has a major flaw, and that is the comparison between pub games and pro games.
The in-game experience changes A LOT between these two cases. Things just don’t work the same, which is why we get a 39% win rate Wisp in pubs, while the Hero is one of the most preffered in pro matches.
Naturally, this leaves certain Heroes with good potential in the “underpicked” pool for way too long, which causes Icefrog to keep buffing them, which in turn causes them to be overpowered.
Timbersaw is a good example of this. I don’t want to call him overpowered, not yet at least, but we have to admit he’s been quite scary lately. In 6.87, he received a + 0.2/0.4/0.6 Armor/Regen bonus in his Reactive Armour and the indirect +4 starting Bloodstone charges. They’re decent buffs, but nothing too extraordinary. Why did they affect him so much you ask? Well, they didn’t. Timbersaw still had great potential as a Hero. He could still deal his insane amounts of pure damage while jumping around like a maniac.
The Hero was fine. It’s just that no pro team had paid any attention to him for quite some time. Naturally, we didn’t see him as much in pubs, either.
Another example is Sven. He kept receiving buff after buff, the moment he still had the potential to cleave through an ancient stack, get items quickly and burst people down. Echo Sabre sealed the deal, and now he’s a monster.
I won’t argue that it makes sense for pro teams to only go for what they consider “overpowered”. If victory equals getting paid more, of course they will. For pubbers however, to keep picking Leshrac over and over and over again, it’s a whole different story. There have always been tons of other option, but they were always ignored.
Trying something alternative or half-way innovative will at best earn you some good flames,mainly by great players with very deep knowledge of the game, because “it’s out of meta”. This mentality, the good old Dota mentality, hasn’t changed one bit.