Item Usage Trends by Skill Bracket

It’s time to move on to some new ground.  I haven’t talked about items yet, but one of the things the API samples allow is to track how item popularity changes throughout the skill brackets.  And this time I have a spreadsheet that might actually be fit for human consumption:

Before we start, a few clarifications and disclaimers.  In this spreadsheet I’ve used multiplier-based increases.  This is to prevent the changes in niche items from being drowned out by small shifts in items like Power Treads that are ubiquitous on much of the cast.  Some of the shifts may be attributable to underlying hero shifts in the bracket.  Also, all of the data is still from patch 6.74.  Once other patches are available it may be interesting to do a 6.76 comparison to see how hero changes, armlet buff, and the new shadowblade build path have affected things.

One last very important point is that this data is collected from end-game builds.  It cannot account for items that have been upgraded or sold.  For example, when I say un-upgraded boots have gone up 60% in the Very High bracket, that measures the number of games where a player ends the game without having upgraded their boots, and doesn’t include anyone who had boots at some point and then upgraded them.

I prefer to focus on the final column, “Normal to Very High Usage Trends,” because in most cases the Normal to High trend serves as a mid-point.  There are a few interesting counter-examples, but there will be more on that later.  Here are the big trends I notice in the shift to Very High.

1. Activation items become more popular

Among the items with a greater than 15% positive shift, we have Ghost Scepter(+446%), Necrobook(+254%/101%/73%), Medallion of Courage(+160%), Force Staff(+128%), Ethereal Blade(+116%), Drum of Endurance(+101%), Magic Wand(+79%), Soul Ring(+77%), Scythe of Vyse(+56%), Pipe of Insight(+52%), Blink Dagger(+51%), Manta Style(+39%), Eul’s Scepter(+34%), Veil of Discord(+33%), Black King Bar(+32%), Orchid Malevolence(+27%), Urn of Shadows(+23%), and Mekansm(+17%).

In fact, it would have probably been shorter just listing the items with any kind of a positive trend that don’t provide an activation ability.  That would be plain Cloak(+187%), plain Boots(+60%),  Ring of Basilius (+8%), Linken’s Sphere(+15%) and Maelstrom(+6%).  Ring of Basilius, cloak, and boots each cost ~500 gold, and Very High players tend to play more gold starved supports.  Maelstrom of course upgrades into Mjollnir, which does have an activte.

The question then turns to whether these activation items are, in general, better than passive stat-sticks, or if Very High players are simply more comfortable using these items.  My inclination is that both are true.  The latter is definitely true, but I’ll attempt to make a case for the former in the next few points.

2. Very High players are more likely to build cost-effective items to attempt to win early.  Normal players are more likely to build extremely expensive items to try to win late.

This trend makes sense given the much longer game durations Normal players face in this sample.  Players in the Normal bracket appear to be much more likely to zero in on big damage items like Daedalus(-42%), Radiance(-21%), Sange and Yasha(-69%), Basher(-55%), and Butterfly(-48%), and using these items simply win through out-farming and brute force.  This is also true defensively, where nearly every big defensive item sees huge declines in usage rates.  That’s not to say that any of these items are bad.  Very High players are simply more likely to prioritize other items first before going back and adding one or two to their final build if the game goes on that long.

3. When Very High players build defensively, they build for team survivability, CC, mobility, and CC immunity first.

Let’s look at the big defensive items that see the largest boost in Very High.

Ghost Scepter is the biggest at a massive 446% increase.  It’s still a niche support item, but it’s very good at providing physical protection during late-game teamfights.  This allows your team time to peel the carry off the support, or at least buys the support time to get their CC off cooldown so they can use it a second time in the teamfight.

Force Staff(+128%) and Blink Dagger(+51%), especially Force Staff, provide survivability by proactively getting you out of bad situations.  Blink Dagger is more limited and character specific due to the built-in combat limitations, but Force Staff is the ultimate peeling item at every phase in the game.

Not much has to be said about Magic Wand(+79%).  Smart usage of your charges can completely turn the tide of a fight, making it a very worthwhile purchase at 509 gold.  It’s also as much an aggressive choice as a defensive choice because the sudden surge of mana can net you an extra nuke or stun when you need one most.

Scythe of Vyse (+56%) is another flexible item whose active can be used both aggressively and defensively.  This dual-natured flexibility is a running theme in many of the big late-game items that remain popular in Very High.  Eul’s Scepter (+34%) is a strong for similar reasons as a bargain-bin variant.

Pipe of Insight (+52%) can be an extremely strong pick when countering certain enemy nukers.  What’s really noteworthy is that it is a defensive item that passes on its survivability to your allies.  Take Axe for instance.  Some people advocate a Vanguard (-37%) build, but Vanguard just makes focusing you an even dumber idea than it was before.  Same for Blade Mail (-35%) or even a Heart (-44%).  If you instead build a Pipe you get solid personal survivability in the magic resistance, but you can also pass on that survivability to the squishies on your team who are more likely to be focused first.  Mekansm (+17%) is strong for similar reasons, and the only reason it doesn’t see more of an increase is that it’s a relatively popular pick-up in Normal for an item that you only want one per team.

Finally, Very High sees a huge shift away from traditional carry items, which is to be expected with the shift away from carries that we’ve seen in hero usage.  The three big exceptions to this are Manta Style (+39%), Black King Bar (+32%), and Linken’s Sphere (+15%).  All three of these items specialize in making your carry harder to CC, which returns us to an earlier theme.  The best defense in Dota is a good offense, and the best offense is an offense that can’t be interrupted.

4. And now for a change of pace, let’s talk about boots.

The biggest trend in boots is a huge shift away from Power Treads (-22%), which then gets absorbed amongst the other boot types.  This doesn’t been that Power Treads are a bad item.  I feel that Very High players are simply much less likely to build Treads indiscriminately.

Phase Boots (+21%) are the most direct recipient.  Very High players seem to value the movement active on Phase highly and are willing to trade a bit of late-game DPS for it on a sometimes surprising number of carries and semi-carries.

Boots of Travel (+46%) sees one of the largest surges, but this is because they are a luxury item in all three brackets.  Very High players are simply more likely to reach the luxury phase due to their higher CS rates.

Boots (+60%) and Tranquil Boots (+22%) see their surges for the opposite reason.  Farm is more hierarchical in higher level games, and the supports are more likely to spend larger portions of their budgets on consumables.  This leads to any boot upgrades becoming a luxury, and Tranquil’s are the most affordable of the luxuries in that they are the cheapest and the most disposable due to option to disassemble later and sell off the components.  I suspect Very High players are also more likely to build Tranquil’s on carries as a temporary health regen boost that later doesn’t become temporary if the game goes bad too quickly, but this is much harder to prove.

Finally we have Arcane Boots (+8%).  They’re one of the few curious cases where an item sees a big upsurge between Normal and High, and then a significant decline between High and Very High.  I attribute this to mana regen being simultaneously overvalued and undervalued by the general playerbase.  High semi-carries and supports are more likely to reflexively pick up Arcane Boots when their team clearly needs the extra mana.  Meanwhile, Very High players are more likely to notice the situations when that much mana isn’t necessarily and adapt accordingly by putting their cash into Phase, Tranquils, or just not upgrading their boots in lieu of buying more wards, Drum, or maybe even an early Ghost Scepter.

5. Normal level players also overvalue Lifesteal.

Helm of the Dominator (-38%), Mask of Madness (-42%), Vladmir’s Offering (-46%), and Satanic (-51%).  That’s not to say lifesteal is a bad thing.  I honestly feel Vlad’s is one of the most cost-effective items in the game if you’re buying it in the right situation and with the right timing.  But I feel that Normal players are too likely to rush lifesteal items simply for the comfort of having the relatively passive health regeneration.

It’s also unsurprising that the least reduced of these items comes with a micro intensive active.


That does it for today.  As a bonus, have an extra Boots-usage spreadsheet.  It’s kinda throwaway since I ended up not really liking it, but maybe someone will find it useful.

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