This game we call DOTA is not simple. It is a complex puzzle that even professionals don’t fully understand. I don’t expect anyone, including myself, to fully grasp DOTA for a long time. I’ve been playing this game for eight years now and have logged over a thousand hours in DOTA 2, plus countless more in DOTA 1. Yet, I found myself still learning its secrets. Some are deeper than others and the game is constantly rewarding those who push its limits. So why is it we settle for trends and oversimplification of hero viability? I find this question is even more important with the International qualifiers in full stride. Some players honestly think that certain heroes have no viability in Captains Mode. How can we possibly make such assumptions when we all know DOTA is one of the most complex games of our generation?
Let’s start with my first rule of assessing a hero’s strength: There are no hard counters in DOTA. For example, gem is not a hard counter to Rikimaru but a strong deterrence. Just because a team grabs a gem for Rikimaru does not completely negate his presence. It only makes the other player adjust his or her play style and thus forces him/her out of their comfort zone. Yes, Rikimaru can no longer rely on his invisibility but permanent invisibility is not required for him to use his other assets. A lot of the time stealth heroes are a favorite among theory crafters to cast aside simply because you can “Buy wards, gem, and dust” to “counter” them. To some extent, they are right, but they often forget to look at both sides of the coin. By picking a stealth hero you are also forcing the enemy team to spend extra gold. This hurts supports the most and Riki loves to eat support heroes. Having to buy dusts, sentries, and wards to constantly keep someone in check weakens your gold intake. So, DOTA is a game of tradeoffs, not hard counters.
When I am in a discussion with someone about a hero, often the person will list the weaknesses of said hero and ignore its strengths. Or use other heroes to make their strengths seem less viable. On paper it all makes sense. How can I possibly overcome these weaknesses or heroes that I have a lot of trouble against? This question alone answers itself. This answer lies within how one drafts and how everyone plays as a team. So, you know all those weaknesses mentioned? Well, professionals fill in those gaps with their draft, laning construction, and play style. So unless you are including all of that into a theory the argument becomes quite weak.
I’ve played a lot of DOTA. I understand things about the game that many of my friends who began in DOTA 2 just don’t know. Invoker still feels like a new hero to me. Same goes for Earthshaker, Witch Doctor, Shadow Demon, Elder Titan, Bristleback, Dark Seer, and many others. That doesn’t mean I don’t understand these heroes. They still feel fresh, that’s all. If heroes like those still feel fresh, it tells me one thing. DOTA is a very, very deep game. Our understanding of DOTA is merely the tip of the iceberg. If I knew everything about DOTA, why would I continue playing it? Why would professionals continue playing it? The fact is I may never know all there is to know about this amazing game, but I do know not to make assumptions about it. The moment I make an assumption about a hero is the moment it kicks my ass all the way back to the fountain. DOTA is a humbling game even for the best and the ass whoopings only get worse as you get better.
So when you make your hero predictions, make sure you really think them through. Don’t tie yourself to a meta or a trend. Assess a hero based on drafting, laning, and player’s potential skill. This will not only make you a better player, but also better at predicting a heroes place in CM. I expect nearly every hero to be used this year. Creativity almost won the International a second time in a row for Na’vi. I think it will be what defines this year’s International and what will make it the most exciting yet. Good luck with your predictions.