theWonderCow, July 21, 2016

Understanding The Summit's Radiant Advantage

Leading into The International, The Summit was the final notable tournament to feature OG, Liquid, and Wings, three teams projected at high odds of at least a top six placement. Events like this matter; there won’t be a patch change before The International, and those three teams are all trendsetters in their regions. The metagame of The Summit will likely reflect heavily in The International group stages and beyond.

Radiant is OP

“As a pro player, you just don’t see Dire win. It’s very, very hard to win against Radiant for a variety of reasons,” mused Kuroky (Liquid’s captain) while casting the Grand Finals. While that may be an overstatement, it isn;t by much: 59% of games were won by Radiant. If you only include games won by the underdog (e.g. the team that ended the tournament in a lower position) Radiant won 71% of its games. These are huge advantages from numbers and a complete turn-around from last Spring, when Dire had an unprecedented spree of advantage in competitive Dota.

No top team was boosting the Radiant play rate (Wings and Liquid were within one game of even for both sides and OG seriously boosted the Dire winrate). In fact, if you control for team skill, Radiant’s advantage is slightly greater. Na’Vi was the only team in the top four with a serious Radiant slant, and they performed worse-than-average with the faction.

This might mean Na’Vi’s success was overstated, as they will likely be (statistically) playing with worse conditions at The International. Without improvements, it may be a struggle for them to reach top eight at The International (it’s too early to speculate with any level of confidence, given there are no brackets or groups yet) .

Pros Are Pushing with Dire

For the first time in a long while, Radiant has an advantage in the late game while Dire has an advantage in the early game. Traditionally, Dire is seen as the stronger late game faction due in part to their easier access to the Roshan pit, but that advantage has been wavering ever since Rosh moved in 6.82. This tournament, Radiant’s victories came in an average of two minutes later than Dire’s.

This is in part because of how teams are approaching Dire. Drow Ranger had a 100% Dire pick rate, and Keeper of the Light, Oracle, and Vengeful Spirit were all picked on Dire for at least two-thirds of their games (all of those heroes are frequently paired with Drow). Beastmaster, Juggernaut, and Elder Titan all also had significantly more Dire games.

The trend here is push and early game. Drow strategies have a best-buy date in most cases, forcing teams to play and execute early, then get enough momentum to hold opponents back while an opportunity to take high ground is manufactured. Elder Titan is a hero hugely dependent on his skillset but with hardly any itemization requirements at all.

Compare that to the four popular heroes played heavily for Radiant: Terrorblade, Invoker, Batrider, and Shadow Demon. Shadow Demon piggybacks in due to this synergy with the other three, (especially with Terrorblade) but all of the rest are strong mid-to-late game heroes with scaling potential. Batrider is an initiator, implying pick and push strategies which often take longer to actualize fruitful objectives than heroes like Juggernaut and Drow Ranger.

Teams realize that one of Dire’s disadvantages is map control : Radiant naturally maintain vision near the Rosh pit as jungle defense, they naturally maintain vision of top lane rotations while stacking ancients, and have an easier path from offlane to Jungle. The access to Dire jungle vision provided a few patches ago has also given Radiant a much better avenue to collect intelligence and force defensive fights from Dire. Radiant is typically better able to maximize returns and defend the offlaner, then take steady control throughout the game just based on geography alone.

Professional teams have tried to find a way to strategize around this, and by in large they’ve decided the best way to do so is to force early objectives as Dire and thereby remove that control element from Radiant’s advantages. While this seems to be working fairly well, it’s far from a fix-all. The problem is also that the best teams in the world are the fastest teams in the world, barring Newbee. Wings, OG, and Liquid all take advantages well before the twenty-minute mark (closer to ten minutes for Wings), meaning playing rush strategies into them can be very difficult. This compounds the difficulty of playing Dire, as top teams’ playstyles naturally give them a counter to lesser-ranked teams’ attempts to subvert Radiant.

I expect The International will have several “underdog” narratives made or broken by one game’s Dire or Radiant advantages, meaning we’re potentially looking at an International where a few brackets are determined by coin flip.

OG is Still The Best

Disclaimer: I like OG. They’re my favorite team and have been since their inception. That is irrelevant to the claim I’m about to make, which is that compared to all the teams at The Summit, OG is still the strongest team heading into The International. I am not saying OG will win The International, just saying that they shouldn’t be considered underdogs to Wings based on this event alone.

The Radiant advantage has a lot to do with this: tleams should be able to expect a close to 50:50 play rate for Radiant and Dire. Some teams might get lucky on coin flips, which are usually used to decide who gets their choice of side in the third game of any series, but (statistically) you wouldn’t expect more than a few points of advantage either way. That worked out for Wings (6:6), Liquid (7:6), and Fnatic (4:4), but OG didn’t break down in the way statistically expected. They ended with a 3:11 Radiant to Dire play rate.

Remember that huge 71% win rate advantage? OG were fighting that the entire event and still came in second. Add that to the fact that OG were likely using the event as a primer for The International, which would mean that they (and Liquid) were probably playing with much less pressure to perform than Wings, NaVi, Fnatic, and Digital Chaos. If you run The Summit 5 a hundred more times and the faction distribution comes out more even, more than likely OG wins.

It seems likely OG was intentionally picking Dire (that information isn’t usually disclosed outside of the lobbies, and since I wasn’t casting The Summit’s LAN, it’s hard to say for sure). OG only lost one game against a Dire opponent, but played nearly 80% of their games from the Dire side. They likely actively picked Dire side at The Summit, and the most obvious explanation for this is to train on the Dire side in anticipation for The International.

If that was the case, it was very intelligent. OG not only proved their mettle, even on Dire side, but are coming into The International with better LAN training than either Wings or Liquid. That’s worth quite a lot more than the $20,000 difference between first and second place.

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.