Three Lane Highway
Every week, Chris documents his complex ongoing relationship with Dota 2, Smite, and wizards in general.
The art above is from the loading screen for EG's Bindings of Deep Magma set for Earthshaker.
Dota 2 matchmaking is a strange place to be in the aftermath of an International. There are a lot of new players, a lot of returning players, and a lot of people trying to imitate what they've just seen play out on the world stage. I'm fascinated by the way these influences interact with the existing habits of the Dota population.
International grand finals have an impact on Dota matchmaking equivalent to the release of a new Arcana or Immortal cosmetic, which is telling because one of those is a million-dollar tournament featuring the best players in the world and the other is a special hat. Regardless, this impact is shaped by the kinds of things the average Dota player is already interested in: i.e, playing core heroes, usually a midlaner or a farming carry. Of the heroes that really shone at the International, supports like Rubick and Bounty Hunter have actually been picked less since the tournament ended; meanwhile, Storm Spirit, Gyrocopter, Leshrac, Phantom Lancer and other cores have all seen growth (massive growth, in Storm's case.) The best place to observe these shifts is on Dotabuff's hero trends page.
Dota was ever thus. That pubstomping heroes are popular is one of the game's fundamental patterns, like blaming other people or spamming '> We need wards' when anything goes even slightly wrong. Your average player just wants to build the big items and make the big plays. Everybody else works around it. That's how things are, and how they'll always be.
There's a single, massive, totem-swinging exception to this rule, and it's Earthshaker. He's the only support in the top 10, and only Storm Spirit has seen a bigger spike in popularity. The inference is clear: the Dota community just watched Universe land a $6,000,000-dollar Echo Slam in the TI5 grand final, and that's been enough to rocket a support hero up the popularity food chain.
To put it another way: Universe slammed CDEC so hard he altered the nature of reality.
I'm really happy about this. I love that this play is being interpreted as the moment the International was won, because it's a moment orchestrated entirely by a gold-starved support and a utility-focused offlaner. In a metagame that often revolves around on aggressive carries and snowballing midlaners, that it was PPD and Universe who pulled off such a massive upset is a timely reminder that Dota is a team game and that every role offers opportunities for glory.
CDEC's Roshan attempt began with a well-coordinated kill on SumaiL's Storm Spirit, and the assumption from both the casters and (presumably) the players is that this opened up Roshan for an uncontested kill. The logic is that without their supremely talented midlaner, EG would have to either concede the Aegis of the Immortal or try to drag the encounter out long enough for SumaiL to respawn.
PPD and Universe proved that assessment disastrously wrong, and didn't need the rest of their team to do it. Fear threw a Call Down into the pit after the fact, but it wasn't necessary: four members of CDEC were dead after Universe cast his follow-up Fissure, with only agressif surviving on half health. It was a perfect play, entirely conducted by the bottom third of the farm priority pyramid (Aui's Naga Siren can be safely considered to have moved up somewhere beyond position 3 by this point, as often happens when EG run the hero.)
They're not the only players to do something like this, of course. Zai was the Dark Seer that Secret needed in their darkest hour; DDC's Winter Wyvern was the hero that sent Secret to the lower bracket. fy's Rubick remains, for many, the single best hero-and-player combo of the entire event. Supports matter. Supports win games. Everybody who takes Dota seriously knows this, in one sense or another, even though it can often be hard to parse from Dotabuff's metrics or from the average pub game.
This truth is rarely expressed visibly enough to influence the people playing Dota 2 every day, but that's what has happened here. That this moment occurred in such an important match in front of so many people is brilliant for the community. If only 3% more players are deciding to play support as a result of it, that's still more than were volunteering for the role before the tournament.
The dream is that the trend sticks: that this dunk-to-end-all-dunks was somehow so impactful that the people you solo queue with will be falling over themselves to play position 4 Earthshaker. Honestly? I'm not hopeful on that front. The sudden rise of Storm Spirit demonstrates that the majority of eyes are still on mid, on SumaiL, on the starpower connotated by a tough 1 vs. 1 and the snowballing power that follows. Pudge will ever be on the rise, seemingly in step with the growing popularity of the game as a whole. But there's no better reminder that skill and playmaking impact is available to everybody on a Dota team. It might have been a disaster (read: 'diiiiisaaaaaaasterrr') for CDEC, but it was a triumph for everybody else.
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