Ryan Jurado, May 15, 2017

How 7.06 Promises a New Golden Age

In December, Valve released the largest patch Dota 2 has ever seen: 7.00. It changed the map. It changed every hero. It changed some of the most basic mechanics of the game and introduced enormous new implications.

It also changed the way Valve has approached patches for the following half a year.

Today’s release of 7.06 appears to indicate that the Dota 2 team feels the many changes from December are finally close to balanced, opening the game up for new improvements. It is arguably the first patch in 2017 to promise widespread metagame changes across all skill brackets.

“There must be a drive towards improving meta diversity for this new age 7.0x Dota by the time TI rolls around,” Jack ‘KBBQ’ Chen, analyst and perhaps the West’s top expert on China’s pro Dota 2 scene, told me just before the Kiev Major. He also noted that recent events had seen increasing draft rigidity moving into events such as the Dota 2 Asia Championships, which saw fifteen unpicked heroes (compared to only five at The International 2016). Part of that discrepancy comes from fewer games and part comes from less diverse hero viability.

Any real stagnation seemed to have two causes: a change in the rate and the focus of patching.

Prior to December, the average notable subpatch lasted about a month and a half. Patches themselves lasted three to five months, and stale metagames were addressed by making generally small scaling changes to popular or unpopular heroes' abilities or attributes.

The former method reliably increased hero diversity nearly every patch, benefitting pub and pro players alike and creating increasingly competitive professional events in which teams with diverse skillsets gained a competitive advantage, culminating in Wings’ victory at The International 2016.

As of this week, we’ve seen six complete patches since December. The average full patch lasted less than a month, with 7.03 barely lasting a week and offering fewer changes than most subpatches.  Ben Noxville Steenhuisen (the statistician behind the recent relaunch of Datdota) told me told me this was largely change in naming conventions.

Most patches between 7.01 - 7.05 were larger than a traditional subpatch and smaller than a real software change. In reality, the bulk of changes for months were attempts to balance talents, shrines and other changes 7.00 introduced into the game. For example, in 7.03, two-thirds of hero changes were talent shifts. The benefit of less fluidity in metagames tends to be more stability in game mechanics, but the recent spree of patches has targeted both simultaneously, creating an uncertain professional meta.

“I imagine post-Kiev we’ll see a medium to major patch, with either new items or significant balancing, with nothing more than minor adjustments until after The International 2017,” Noxville also said.

As usual, he’s been right so far.

Chan "WinteR" Litt Binn called today’s changes “Dota 4.” Fluffnstuff applauded the patch, saying, “Strategic diversity is back,” and, “This patch begs for wings to reform. We need these masterminds to create the sickest strategies known to man, if they haven't already.”

In fairness, Dota’s most recent versions have been good. They’ve been fun, widely enjoyed and have remained competitive. Most heroes were at least situationally viable to varying degree.

However, the fact that the game spent months and six patches largely balancing out changes dropped in December led to draft stagnation — at least in pubs, where the top heroes won nearly over 58% of their games while more than a quarter of heroes had a 45% of lower win rate.

Hero win mobility has been substantially reduced during this period. Across six patches, only three heroes (Techies in 7.01, Earthshaker in 7.02 and Bristleback in 7.04) have crossed from below to above a 50% win rate by moving at least a full percentage point. More heroes dropped across that line, meaning fewer heroes were winning more often as the patches moved forward.

In other words, the game was less balanced. Whether this patch will continue that trend is still undetermined, but with more than 80% of the heroes in the bottom quartile buffed, it looks like 7.06 may be the first patch this year to seriously close the gap between haves and have-nots in Dota’s heroes.

It also continues a trend of strategic broadening set forth. Presumably, this was a goal of adding talents — one the game failed to live up to at first since many talents have not been considered viable.

7.05, which was launched less than a month before the Kiev Major, created the potential for a great deal more diversity in strategy despite having negligible impacts on hero success across the board, at least in pubs.

Nine heroes ignored at the Kiev Major (plus Techies, who is not available in Captains Mode) according to Dotabuff.

However, those strategies did give small boosts to heroes such as Nature’s Prophet and mixed up the professional scene’s tactical execution. It was the sign that Dota was nearly out of its post-birthing phase that was largely spent adjusting the vast additions from 7.00.

Only nine heroes were completely untouched by teams at the Kiev major. Before the event, Austin “Capitalist” Walsh told me, “[7.05] opened up opportunities for split pushing.”

With regards to pubs, he added, “I don't think pub stagnation impacts pro games too tremendously. It may play a factor in that certain surprise pick could have more effect due to the enemy players not having much experience playing against it in a certain patch.”

Recent patching trends have definitely impacted professional players, though. Treant Protector was added into the hero pool only three weeks prior to the Kiev Major and ended as the most contested hero at the event. This patching style created far less prep time for teams in anticipation of major events, including the major, and that creates uncertainty and confusion among players and analysts.

Here’s a perfect example: Ioannis “Fogged” Loucas advised an eliminated Team Secret to “sit back and start watching these other teams [and] learn how 7.05 is going to develop” in anticipation of The International.

It won’t develop. It’s gone.

It’s been replaced by a promising patch featuring serious early-game compression and a longer mid game, which is likely to increase to impact of supports and offlaners in success for pubs and pros alike.

The patching trends over this winter may be a large contributor to China’s continued performance depression. With almost eerie accuracy, Jack told me before Kiev, “Chinese teams play each other incredibly frequently [...] but this fish bowl has both pros and cons, mainly that training methods and habits can make teams more or less resilient[...].“

Sure enough, their training habits seemed to leave the bulk of China less resilient in the face of change. Throughout most of Dota’s history, would likely benefit the region, large patches occurred months before The International on a more-or-less understood pacing.

Capitalist pointed out that some teams are clear winners of the new world order: “I think OG is one of the teams that benefits the most from increased tweaks because they seem to have a knack for figuring out patches faster than other teams. They find a couple notable strats or heroes that become their baseline for important tournaments like the Majors. Despite having a high Dota IQ, EG seems like one of the slower teams so perhaps they'd benefit more from a stable, long-term patch.”

In fact, OG do win more consistently in periods with more patches. If the rate is about to return to normal, will they struggle to hold their spot at number one?

Either way, 7.06 is the first large patch not to be dominated by talent shifts — other than the removal of respawn timer reduction talents — and instead mostly adjust heroes by changes to their base attributes and skills. Additional changes to the game’s mechanics follow suit, helping to open up strategic options.

Presumably, this patch — or a patch very similar to it — will be featured at The International 2017. Noxville predicts we’ll see “one more minor patch” before the event, and looking over trends of the recent and distant patch, it seems likely that he’s right.

Regardless of how long this patch is here to stay, today’s launch is seemingly an indication that we are out of the growing pains of 7.00 and that Dota will continue to evolve. Whether you love or hate the changes in it — which have already widely been seen as positive shifts — it should give you hope for Dota in the days to come.

To learn more about the specifics of 7.06, you can read the full patch notes on the Dota 2 blog. Stats provided by Datdota and DotaBUFF.

Ryan Jurado

Ryan is Unikrn's Editor-in-Chief and senior Dota analyst. He got his esports start as a Dota 2 shoutcaster under the too-long psuedonym "Gorgon the Wonder Cow." You can find him on Twitter or at the local arcade.