theWonderCow, January 9, 2017

How Dota's Reinvention Changed the Game at ESL One Genting

As the first major tournament since Dota was reinvented, ESL One Genting is a cornucopia of potential data on how the game will be shaped in the events to come. Let’s consider some of the most important lessons we learned and their implications in the march toward the Kiev Major: how pros approach hero talents, how comebacks were reduced, and how the variety of game changes may impact underdogs.

Hero Talents Create Divisions

More than a third of ESL One’s matches featured Miranathe third-most played hero of the eventmaking her a perfect hero to exemplify talent diversity. Formerly, she was built with fairly low variability in professional matches, yet no two players built her the same way across all of Genting’s matches. Only one player, Execration’s Nando, changed how he scaled his talents in two different Mirana games.

Now, some of these differences between players were borderline cosmetic (leap first instead of arrow first in one game) but the rest stayed mostly the same. However, there was a serious divide between players who preferred to angle all attack damage – those who always go for max agility, attack speed, and damage with their talents – and those who go for survivability and magic damage, including Newbee’s Kaka who scales raw HP for his first talent and magic damage for his second.

Players are still figuring this stuff out, but those talents are also creating different tactical options for differing playstyles. In addition, nearly all players opted to skip her first talent at level 10, but made those decisions on a more situational basis.

That bodes well for the future of Dota featuring greater emphasis on signature builds, styles, and heroes, but it also means that teams will likely have less straightforward advantages over opponents. A team that builds around an extremely team-fight oriented style may fare poorly against a higher-ranked team that prefers split-pushing. That’s always been a possibility in Dota, but as teams become more diverse, talent preferences may become a subtler factor in team-on-team match-ups.

Newbee almost had their hands on the trophy
Newbee almost had their hands on the trophy

Death of the Comeback

On the main stage, only two games featured comebacks (both in Wings vs Newbee, each earning one net worth comeback victory). The four other comeback games were in the group stages, where a much higher-ranked team outplayed a lower-ranked team such as Fnatic, WG.Unity, and Execration.

In fact, only ten of the thirty games saw any sort of significant net worth reversal, and of those the majority were gained during high-ground defense in exchange for barracks and ultimately the game. Two-thirds of games had a one-sided and often nearly linear advantage growth in favor of the winning team.

Although pushing high ground is more difficult (a trend to which we’ll return), mid-game advantage matters a lot more than it has in many past patches. More creep camps means a team can spread across enemy territory in a defensible but efficient formation, and fewer respawn times means they aren’t losing resources on their own side of the map to do so. Extra gold in way of Shrines also makes map control in the mid-game more important.

Perhaps most importantly, a team playing from behind can no longer knock out one tier two tower and regain some map control: as long as their opponents’ Shrines remain, there will be access points to both sides of the map. That nearly always gives whichever team best protects its tier two towers a tremendous positional advantage, and reduces the necessity for a leading team to buy Boots of Travel.

In the past, slowly stripping map advantage from opponents was a viable comeback strategy, but seemingly not anymore. Teams that tend to play for the later game (such as Team Secret or pre-Zai EG) would be likely to suffer on this patch.

High Ground Hardships

Largely due to Shrines, high ground assault seems to be more difficult for professional teams this patch than in the past. The average game length at this event rose above 40:00, with half of the games taking longer than that average (there weren’t many huge outliers). Several games were shorter than thirty minutes, but barring early push drafts featuring Juggernaut or Luna and heavily focusing objectives, games rarely finished before six-slotted carries were stomping around the map.

The following graph comes from one of Virtus.pro's games, but every game they played in which advantage changed hands looked the same. All one sided (in VP's favor), followed by a near-end game dip, and then a return before victory. The reason? Virtus.pro tends to break high ground by throwing heroes on a grinder, and they're not the only ones.

A fairly typical advantage turn
A fairly typical advantage turn

Warriors Gaming Unity frequently demonstrated an inability to turn economic advantage into successful Roshan attemptsthey lost to both Wings and Execration after bad late-game Rosh fights. This could spell disaster for less-experienced teams. Moreover, the Kiev Major will feature a South American qualifier, and that region’s top teams are notorious for shortcomings in two areas: securing Roshan and breaking high ground. Teams like Ad Finem, the underdogs of Boston, and even Wings at this time last year, are likely to need more LAN events before they’re able to gain the experience necessary to rise to the top echelon.

Watching how Dota’s power dynamics shift (or don’t) due to the changes in this patch will be one of the most interesting developments of the game's history, so watch that space.

theWonderCow

With years in esports publishing, broadcasting, and analysis, Gorgon's specialized focus on locking down trends in Dota has landed him as a featured writer for joinDOTA, the Score, Dotabuff, and more. You can reach him on twitter.com/theWonderCow.