The State of the Game
Aaron: This year we’ve seen a lot of great Dota across the board. VP and Liquid have looked strong all year, and Chinese sensation LGD came on strong at the end. Secret has looked like a top team but other established teams like EG and OG have faltered. We’ve seen South America develop significantly as a region. This is due in part to Valve’s separation of the North and South American qualifiers, guaranteeing a SA team at all major tournaments. Pain Gaming, a Brazilian team, is showing immense promise leading up to this TI. We’ve seen the meta switch from a more balanced meta to an early, lane focused TI meta. Expect to see teams focus on drafting heroes that win their lanes and gain map control early, allowing players to push their advantage and set the pace of the game. Lanes have been dominated by supports that cast a lot of spells, forcing their opponents to spend more resources to stay in lane.
Heroes of the tournament
M: In the safe lane, I think Spectre will have one of the weaker lanes, but the easiest path to victory as games draw out. As one of the few heroes to dodge changes from the recent patch, I think Spectre will continue to frustrate teams with her utter inevitability. Strong against bursty heroes like Zeus and Tiny that the meta is flush with at the moment, it looks like we’ll see Spectre continue to perform well. As for her supports, I can’t see anyone easier to win her lane than Crystal Maiden. Having low cost spells in lane is now a must. This meta needs supports that can win the lane decisively, and there are few better at it than CM. Between disables, mana regeneration and team fight to boot, teams will look to pick her up as early and often as possible.
In the mid lane, I like Zeus. Barring an unprecedented shift in the meta, the God of Thunder can continue to be a staple in the mid lane. His burst and strong laning capabilities combined with Nimbus and scouting prowess will make him a must-pick or must-ban. Even with the small nerf to the nimbus size that came with the latest patch, Zeus will have more than enough charge to get him front and center. Over in the offlane, Axe is my pick to run rampant. The red menace is the perfect option for teams that look to shut down the likes of Phantom Lancer and Anti-Mage. When it comes time to beat those tough late game carries, Axe is the foolproof option for initiating with Berserker’s Call. Axe also does well with pushers like Terrorblade and Tinker, who are showing up more and more. Going out on a limb for a minute, I think we will see a non-zero amount of roaming Riki get played. This one is a bit of a gamble, seeing as the roaming position has been marginalized as of late. That said, the hero has had buffs for 3 straight patches and is showing up more and more to deal with pesky supports that dominate the safe lane. Riki’s most obvious problem is the prevalence of Zeus in the meta, so look for Riki to get picked up after teams ban him out.
A: I think Necrophos will be the nightmare of many teams at this year’s TI. In the words of the immortal BSJ, “Tell me what carry can lane against Necro Tree or even Necro plus one”. Necrophos plays in all three lanes and wins most of them. He’s hard to kill, has great sustain in lane and he’s great bait for teamfights since he usually lives through ganks. Most importantly in this meta he doesn’t need much to come online, and is able to completely occupy a lane with just a bit of farm.
I see Storm Spirit as being one of the premier mids of the tournament. We’ve been seeing a lot of scaling mids and Storm is one of the best late game mids in DotA. He’s hard to shut down in lane and don’t get me started on his cheesy base defenses at level 25. In a meta where many teams will prioritize strong lanes over late game, Storm Spirit will be a great insurance policy if games go late.
Not so hot take but we will continue seeing Winter Wyvern in most games. She has everything you want in a support. She harasses well with Arctic Burn and Splinter Blast, she has a good save in Cold Embrace, and Winter’s Curse can turn a lot of late game teamfights in her favor. Arctic Burn absolutely destroys tanky cores in the mid and late game. As a support, she is able to relieve pressure across the map by safely pushing out lanes with Splinter Blast. Finally, Wyvern received among the lightest nerfs out of all the “broken” supports this patch. So, we may end up seeing even more of her than we already have.
Best Pocket Picks of the Tournament
M: Simply put, the best pocket picks are those that can farm effectively and scale past heroes like Zeus and Spectre. In my mind the pocket pick of this TI is Mid Alchemist. He will struggle in lane without support, but with heroes like Oracle and Lich seeing play, I think we’ll see this greedy pick pan out more than once.
A: I just watched Team Empire last pick an Alchemist mid against Effect Gaming and he absolutely dominated the game. We haven’t seen Alchemist or Naga Siren core much this patch and we could see a resurgence at this TI. I personally think Huskar will be the most successful pocket pick at TI. People are pulling out all kinds of cheese this year, so it was hard to pick between Broodmother, Meepo, Drow Ranger, and any other cheesy last pick. But I think that Brood has been nerfed quite significantly and there aren’t many Meepo players out there. If we see as much Templar Assassin as I think we might, Huskar will be at a premium. In the right draft, Huskar can completely take over games. Look out for your boy RTZ throwing out those flaming spears.
This Year’s Cinderella Story
M: The best of South American Dota is coming to TI, and its Pain Gaming. The SA representative has had a great run this year, with a team whose average age is around 22. Pain’s position 5 support Duster is just 17 years of age and can be praised for some very strong performances on Disruptor in their wins against Liquid at ESL Birmingham. We’ll see if the talent of w33 and the coaching of Misery can bring together this team of youngsters for a strong showing at TI.
A: I was very tempted to pick Pain as my Cinderella Story but their lackluster performance at Summit 9 led me in a different direction. I think Serenity out of China could surprise a lot of people. Serenity is probably the least known team in the tournament which will make scouting them incredibly hard. They qualified through the China Open Qualifiers and then took the top spot in the China Regional Qualifiers playing basically whatever they wanted. This team plays a lot of out of the box drafts (expect a decent amount of QoP safe lane) and is known for diving towers and getting aggressive very early on. They have drawn a lot of comparisons to TI6 winners Wings, another young Chinese team that played pretty much everything and played very aggressively. I can see this team adapting to the TI meta incredibly quickly and surprising some of the established teams.
M: Agreed. Any time a team qualifies out of China without much fanfare, you better watch closely. Teams that sleep on Serenity could find themselves outdrafted in a hurry.