Dust is slowly settling after what many consider to be the best esports event in the history of esports. The International 2018 delivered in all aspects: wide meta, great storylines and, most importantly, some of the most intense and close games we’ve ever seen.
There is no denying that the tournament was excellent, regardless of the team you were rooting for. However, with joy and heartbreak slowly fading and emotions slowly being replaced by reason, it is time to talk about how our incredible game could be even better, even more balanced and even more diverse.
We can’t talk about nerfs without talking about Enchantress—the most banned hero of the tournament with the second highest winrate across heroes picked more than 30 times. This hero single handedly flipped the meta in most games she was present in, by being capable of standing solo in the offlane.
The natural advantage you get over an opponent when he is forced to play the game by the current rules, while you are free to do as you please is massive. You don’t have to dual lane in the offlane, meaning that you can get active around the map with your position four support, meaning that you have a higher kill threat in every single lane and have better control of the map.
We also think that Enchantress is the only hero in the game right now who can’t be fixed with indirect nerfs. While power levels of many heroes will vary depending on what the meta is, Enchantress is capable of defining the meta of the game she is in and that is a massive problem. She might have not been the most successful hero of the tournament in terms of stats, but she certainly feels like one.
The hero might have been forgotten in the later stages of the tournament, but she was game-defining during the group stage and a good ban against certain teams in the main event. Whereas Enchantress defies the meta, Drow Ranger in the right hands and with the right draft embraces and ascends it to unbelievable heights.
She is a lot more susceptible to indirect nerfs and can become a lot less potent with the global economy and laning changes, but there are certain aspects of hers that can be universally too strong. The hero doesn’t necessarily win her own lane, but in a good draft she can easily win her team the other two.
Moreover, she has a global pushing presence, even while safely farming in her own jungle. Pushing lanes will always be beneficial in Dota, since it provides your team with more map control, more vision and more space. Drow Ranger might not be as powerful in a meta where laning stage is less important, but the way she was used during TI8 clearly shows how game-defining her abilities can be.
Earthshaker is our last hero pick for the “necessary nerfs” category: the hero won 60.42% of his games during the event and was picked 48 times. That is despite being universally acknowledged as a mediocre fit for the current support meta.
The hero firmly belong to the “strong by design” category of heroes: no matter the number changes and no matter the meta, creating extra terrain features is always going to be strong, trapping enemies with no chance of escape or providing teammates with a safe retreat.
What allowed the hero to truly shine, however, was the change to his Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade, which now gives a 1100-range escape, reposition or even initiation tool on a 5-second cooldown. It might not be instant or disjoint any projectiles, but it provides the hero with an unparalleled amount of mobility for a support. It makes him a hard target to catch and kill, while making it much easier for him to catch and kill his targets. If the game ever goes at least semi-late, Earthshaker can easily become the most dominant support in the game, rivaling the impact of many core heroes.
The last thing we want to bring up is the Buyback mechanic, which in its current state doesn’t feel punishing enough. Buybacks became incredibly affordable in the earlier stages of the game, making them a worthy investment even for core heroes. Lack of income penalty also meant that players who bought back and at least traded their life in the fight they are returning to would almost always break even or even get an economic advantage.
This means that heroes with low mobility or high cooldowns are at a huge disadvantage in the early teamfights. It also means that high-impact buybacks are now the norm, rather than an exception, devaluing their importance and associated excitement as a comeback mechanic.
We’ve only seen glimpses of how precise and well-timed buybacks can salvage poor laning stage and macro mistakes. Going forward, given no changes, we will probably see more and more teams learning how to use buybacks to their advantage and it can severely restrict the pool of viable heroes: your typical “bad” buyback heroes, such as Shadow Fiend, Enigma or Tidehunter will be phased out of meta even more. It might be exciting for a while, since it will result in more action and riskier plays, but sooner or later the lack of strategic diversity will make games of Dota too similar to each other, robbing us of what makes our game so diverse, unique and intense.