Higher ranked Matchmaking Games tend to heavily rely on the current professional meta when it comes to drafting a team. There are many things to keep in mind, when thinking of a well-rounded draft, which include pushing power, ganking potential, lane presence etc.
Today I would like to discuss the role of a Support, which, in my opinion, is heavily under-looked. I will not go into much detail on how to actually support in a given game, not only because it is extremely situational, but also because there are a lot of well written guides on general supporting all over the web.
Instead, I would like to look at the most popular Support picks in the current professional meta and analyse the reasons behind their popularity.
The reason why I would like to write this Blog Post is the fact that I myself frequently end up being the last-pick support, after my team has drafted three or even four core heroes. Understanding which support would be suitable and provide the most utility in a given game might turn the table in your favour.
This hero has consistently deserved the first pick/ban from pro players. It lead to a belief that Vengeful Spirit is overpowered which resulted in popularity spike in public matchmaking. It might not necessarily be the case that the hero is extremely good or suits the meta, however.
Her skillset for the most part looks rather impressive. Her stun does not scale really well, but all of her other abilities produce an effect which will be relevant throughout the game. At the same time, there are many heroes which possess similarly useful abilities which stay relevant, so why is Vengeful Spirit a top tier pick?
We believe that the main reason behind her popularity among professionals is the ability to counter game-breaking ultimates, such as Black Hole or Flaming Lasso. For that reason, her frequent picks in the first stage of the draft serve not only the purpose of drafting a jack-of-all-trades support, but also as a "ban" on heroes, which would be potentially useless against a lineup with Vengeful Spirit.
With that in mind, I believe that in the Public/Ranked Matchmaking, this hero should not be over-prioritized. There are supports which can provide more utility in a game where you do not necessarily need a bkb-piercing interrupt. Furthermore, if your team has not drafted a single late-game core lineup with, for example, Medusa, where her being caught out would mean a loss of a teamfight, the presence of Vengeful Spirit will be even less noticeable, since there would be less of an urgency to save a caught-out hero.
The hero has been picked frequently in the illusion-based pushing era and has now resurfaced as a general-purpose support and, in my opinion, he deserves the position of the second most picked support in professional play.
There are many reasons for that, but the most important one of them is the farming-based meta. With no emphasis on constant ganking and teamfighting, the massive cooldown on level 1 Finger of Death is less of an issue.
The ability to quickly dispose of illusions is another feature which should not be overlooked. In the same way Vengeful Spirit renders certain "big-ultimate" heroes less useful, Lion makes illusion-based heroes lose a lot of potency. It is not worth getting a core hero, whose presence can be halved by a single support. It is especially devastating against Chaos Knight in terms of teamfight damage output and Naga Siren and Terrorblade in dealing with split-push.
Apart from destroying illusions Mana Drain allows for a lot of sustainability during the laning stage and can even be considered somewhat of a soft disable on heroes with extremely limited mana pools (e.g. Juggernaut).
Last but not least, Hex has no cast point, which allows for some clutch counter-initiations against heroes like Magnus, Enigma and Tidehunter. With proper positioning and understanding of threats, a lot of initiators on the enemy team become irrelevant. Be mindful of Tidehunter and Earthshaker, though. The first will purge himself with Kraken Shell if focused while the latter has no cast point on Echo Slam.
This hero is best picked against teams that heavily rely on an initiation to teamfight or against a "glass-canon" lineup. The threat of both Earth Spike and Finger of Death will force enemy cores to get a Black King Bar, potentially forcing them to delay another core item, providing a window in which their dps is under an optimal threshold.
He is also an excellent initiator himself, so if your team lacks proper ways to initiate a fight, he can be a really welcome addition.
The hero was what won TI3 and got some very-well deserved nerfs in the aftermath. But following, in my opinion, a very correct philosophy of not taking away the main "strength" of the hero, balance patches did not make the hero completely irrelevant, as seen in the professional teams' preferences right now.
The hero is no longer a huge threat in the laning stage. He does have a decent amount of magic damage through Spirits, but they are easily avoidable and generally cannot be spammed. Moreover, they can be split among several targets by the enemy, lessening their burst effect and they also tend to push lanes, creating unfavourable conditions for the carry to farm in.
What hero has, however, is the ability to turn any core hero into Spectre in terms of mobility. While Spectre greatly suffers from terrible laning stage and no flash-farming capabilitiesas as well as a huge gold requirement to become relevant, Io can make even an early blooming carry such as Tiny or Sven a global threat. What it ultimately creates is an unfair condition for the enemy, where your core can safely farm lane and jungle without sacrificing time on joining the team if it is not within the tower range for teleport.
Seeing as the current meta is heavily farm-oriented, the hero has received a lot of deserved attention from the teams which did not want to sacrifice teamfight potential which lessens if you heroes are spread out across the map.
So when should the hero be picked? Seeing as he is extremely team communication dependant, he should be picked with caution. He is best played, as mentioned earlier, with heroes which can spike early and have the potential to snowball. More importantly, however, he should be played if you trust your core and have some extra communication with him. In solo ranked we believe this hero to be too complex in terms of decision making for pretty much anyone below 4.5-5k.
P.S. He should not, under any circumstances, be played against Disruptor.
For this article, I will assume that the reader is capable of at least very basic micro techniques and can use abilities on converted neutral creeps.
It was really interesting to see Chen among the most popular heroes in the meta. Deathball should have ended with TI4 and heavy pushing strats are nerfed in 6.83b. However, as it turns out, Chen is just too good at it.
In the beginning I have theorised a typical pub situation, where your team lacks a support hero. If there are no lane supports, picking Chen can be a huge mistake. However, the hero can be extremely punishing in situations where the enemy team has no active AoE abilities and generally lack outpush and I believe under these circumstances a Chen pick can be justified.
So what exactly does the hero offer? It was the case before the most recent patches that picking Chen meant setting a clock for your team, during which you had to win, otherwise you would lose with a late-game disadvantage. However, it is no longer the case. Or at least not to an extent it was previously.
Having two creeps at level 3 means that you can start ganking a lot earlier with more impact and that a successful gank will lead to a stronger push. In the current meta, taking high ground is a lot harder, with more resource required to take Tier 2 towers, but in a weird way, farming meta led to a higher demand for pushing as a way of gaining map control. If you heroes can farm safely and your enemy can't, you will eventually win. And that is exactly what makes this hero strong.
Was it an Aghanims upgrade that made the hero so powerful? Well, despite the belief that Aghanim's Scepter is now a "rush" item on Chen, I think it is not true. Going for an early Mekansm is still better, especially considering the only ancient creeps worth converting is the Granite Golem with his aura and, possibly, a Thunderlizard with an AS buff. Do not get me wrong, Aghs is powerful and is definitely a core item on the hero, but skipping early teamfight/pushing items is usually not worth it.
What has completely changed the game for Chen is the ability to teleport allied neutrals to yourself with [missing skill: chen-test-of-faith-5522]. It means that in a scenario where an enemy team tp's to contest a tower being pushed, you can quickly teleport to a different lane and take a different tower. If previously you generally had to commit to a single lane, now you can be a lot more flexible and gradually wear down the enemy. Enemy teleports to defend the tower? You switch the lane and the enemy has just committed resources and time to get their other tower damaged or destroyed. If the enemy does not Teleport, you still get a tower, easy as that.
Given the amount of map and game flow control provided by constant threat of a push, it is unsurprising that the hero has been so popular.
And since Chen can effectively jungle from level 1 your team should not be at a huge XP disadvantage when pushing, since more of resources on your side of the map were utilised initially.
Today we had a look at the Top Tier supports in the current patch as seen by professionals. Hopefully, it will help some people understand the reasoning behind popularity of the heroes and make drafting easier with better evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of what is considered top pick. One has to be flexible to succeed at Dota and blindly following the professional meta will lead to a lot of disappointments.
Next time we will have a look at supports which are almost at the top in terms of Picks and Bans but are not as popular, mainly because they are a little less versatile. However higher versatility does not mean higher utility, as seen in the case of Vengeful Spirit, and I believe there is a most optimal support for every situation.