So How Does Any of This Make You a Better Dota Player?

No big release this week most likely.  I need a few more days to complete a 40k x3 sample extension for the end of this patch period.  This should allow me to do general sample tests with a much higher accuracy for every hero.

In lieu of an actual update, I thought I’d take some time this week to talk about why any of this matters, especially to a person who’s just trying to get better at basic, public matchmaking Dota.  To do this I’ve dusted off a particularly neglected account last weekend, played some games, and we can use them as examples for how the things I do here influenced my decision making.

Now they’re not great games.  This account was inactive for a long time, and I’d have to say the general level of play was significantly lower than when I last used it.  Maybe there’s ratings decay from inactivity.  Maybe the MMR system has just filled out since then.  Maybe it’s pure placebo.  In any case, it’s fine for us because it’s a level of play where bad decision making alone can easily lose you a game.  And decision making is exclusively what I want to focus on.

So let’s start with a somewhat frustrating game that began with an interesting decision.  It was All Random.  Their team was Broodmother, Chaos Knight, Spectre, Ursa, and Warlock on Radiant.  Dire was Clinkz, Clockwerk, Enigma, Bane, and me on Earthshaker.  An stark contrast of compositions, and we’ll get to that, but for now let’s focus on lanes.

Predicting their lineup is more or less impossible.  Pub teams in general can be essentially random when it comes to who’s laning where, and in their case they had so many carries that the only safe prediction was Ursa in the jungle.

As for our team, sometimes you can lobby your team into a certain lineup.  Sometimes you can’t.  In this case Clockwerk called top safe lane, Clinkz called mid, Enigma was obviously a jungle, and Bane was heading hard/bot.  They expected me to go hard lane with Bane, but I went top.  This confused them, and it might confuse some of you, but here’s why.

First, what exactly is a Bane/Earthshaker lane going to accomplish?  You might be able to set up a kill, but in general Bane’s laning is built either around using  Brain Sap for burst damage (or maybe attrition if you can get a quick Soul Ring) or using Nightmare and/or Enfeeble to set up kills for other heroes.  Earthshaker on the other hand is entirely build around using Fissure to lock people into bad conditions and set up kills.  I’m not going to say that you can’t make the lane work, but there’s no real synergy and a big risk that Earthshaker is just going to be standing around an an ineffective bodyguard.

The most universal advice for getting better at Dota is always be accomplishing something.  Time is the most valuable resource, and you can’t afford to spend the first 5 minutes hanging around an area doing nothing.  People like to send 2 people to the hard lane as insurance, but when it’s a weak lane that can’t accomplish anything you’re paying way too much for that insurance.

In our case, Bane was relatively safe.  The only real CC threat was Chaos Knight, who wouldn’t have a long stun for several levels.  Bane could use Nightmare and Brain Sap to keep himself relatively safe.  He’s probably not going to compete in CS, but who cares?  We have strong reason to believe that Bane’s CS level isn’t really that important to the teams success.  He doesn’t win through CS.  In the vast majority of cases he can’t win through CS.  Every hero has a window they hit, and all Bane needs is a quick 6 so he can get some Fiend’s Grip kills.  Having Earthshaker down there doesn’t do much to help him hit 6 and actually saps experience.  Yeah, suicide lane Bane is a risk, but big deal.  You can’t remove risk from a team composition.  You should mitigate it with smart picks, but good lane selection should be driven by maximizing your advantages, not minimizing your risk.

So how does sending Earthshaker to our safe lane maximize our advantages?

1. Clockwerk is an all-in kinda laner.  If a fight breaks out, Fissure can do a lot to control where we allow our opponents to move in such a way that allows Clockwork to land a good Battery Assault or Power Cogs.

2. Safe-lane Earthshaker can use pulls.  This puts us in a scenario where all 5 people are actively earning experience, which is a lot better than sticking Earthshaker bot as an ineffective bodyguard.

3. We know that the enemy team has 4 carries by virtue of the random gods.  Most likely this means one in each lane and one in the jungle.  Using a combination of aggression and pulls we can strangle the farm on whichever carry gets sent to the Radiant hardlane.  This should allow us to make them underfarmed and underleveled and give us a big advantage in the midgame while they’re struggling to catch up to relevance.

(Not as much of an advantage, but putting Earthshaker in our safe lane also gives a measure of security to our jungler, while also giving our jungler stronger opportunities to gank.  It wasn’t especially relevant since Enigma didn’t do anything but free-farm, but it’s worth mentioning.  These also cover a lot of the reasons why I dislike 2hard/1easy + Jungle comps as I mentioned in The Dota 2 Metagame)

As it turns out, their suicide solo is Spectre.  We zone her out, but Clockwerk pushes the lane anyway.  I respond by stacking with a heavy emphasis on denying.  Enigma comes over and starts converting my pull creeps.  The strategy still does a pretty good job delaying Spectre’s relevance significantly, and given the exact same scenario again I would absolutely endorse sending Earthshaker to the safe lane.

What I might do differently is put Clinkz in the safe lane, Bane in the mid, and Clockwerk in the hard lane.  Clinkz is our farm priority, so giving him freefarm with little to no chance of denies is our strongest early option.  Bane is our exp priority, so putting him mid allows us to guarantee a quick 6/7 into roaming.  Clockwerk is the least exp dependent of the three, and not significantly more farm dependent than Bane.  He also has the best tools for surviving a suicide solo while still getting Rocket farm.

Now let’s move onto part two where we look at what happened past laning.

The enemy team unfortunately did the smart thing and pushed our bot lane hard.  They took the tower, but Bane did get the levels he needed.  Clinkz was mid against Broodmother and it went ok but not great.  Overall we came out pretty well, but they ended up getting our two most important towers fairly early.  We responded by forcing a series of teamfights at the last tower which we won pretty resoundingly.  Both teams did a reasonably good job trying to play up to their strengths, and it’s actually kinda interesting to note just how dissimilar those strengths were.

They had the late game and they had the push.  Specifically, we couldn’t afford the resources mid to really shut down Broodmother, so our outer towers were really difficult to protect.  On the other hand, because they had so much late game they had trouble finding the farm necessary for all their carries and so their early fight was actually pretty mediocre.

We, on the other hand, had virtually no late game.  We had some amazing teamfight ult potential, and we generally did a pretty good job leveraging it.  Let me tell you that I’ve never had an easier time landing Chaos Dunks than that game.  We massively cleaned up early teamfights, and we took towers after we won them.  But the problem was that once we took the early towers we had no impetus to do anything, and we stalled.  When you have a team like ours, you cannot afford to stall.  Every single characters’ relevance fades off in the late game vs a lineup that only gets stronger the longer the game goes on.  Given their comp and our comp, we’re in a situation where if we do not take (multiple) barracks before late game rolls around we are probably going to lose.

This brings us to Clinkz.  Due to the random gods our gameplan revolved entirely around Clinkz, and he quite frankly did not deliver.  This isn’t to dump on the guy, but Clinkz is possibly the most misunderstood character in the game, and he’s the perfect example of big general principle number 2: if you fail to accomplish something with your character’s strengths, you’re not really doing much better than a feeder.

That may come across as controversial, but it’s 100% true.  Every character has a window a relevance, and if you don’t take advantage of yours you are dead weight.  Some characters have an easier to understand window than others.  A carry like Spectre just gets better and better the longer the game goes and the more farm you feed into her.  Batrider is always going to remain relevant because of the huge disable and displacement on Lasso.  But some characters have a much narrower window in exchange for an earlier or larger power spike, and Clinkz is the crown prince of those characters.

Think about it.  A hero with a strong windwalk, long range, really good early orb, and damage bonuses all over his kit.  This guy should be total pubstomp material, and yet he has a 42% win rate.  That’s a 42% win rate on a mechanically braindead character who also happens to be competitively viable, if a bit of a niche pick.  Unsurprisingly, everything I’ve looked at suggests that Clinkz sees one of the largest win rate increases as player skill level increases, so better CS probably plays a roll, but there’s something else going on.

Clinkz has what I feel is the strictest window of relevance in the game.  He has massive early damage increases, but you need the CS to get a quick mana item in order to use them regularly.  The value of these damage increases are fairly static, which means their value diminishes as HP pools increase with game duration.  Clinkz also will never become tanky.  Evasive maybe, but never tanky.  As the rest of the heroes in the game gear up and can force teamfights, this pulls Clinkz into a phase of the game that he does not want to be in, which means to play Clinkz well you have to essentially cripple the other team before they can reach that point.

So what did our Clinkz do wrong?  He played relatively passively and stuck with the team.  Despite our urgings to the contrary he would just farm passively after we won teamfights instead of just windwalking straight to the enemy base and taking a tower or barracks.  He never split off to scout and punish solo farmers.  Our early play gave him a massive advantage that he could have used to finish the game but instead he squandered it.

This is why I almost universally disagree with the assessment that new players should pick evasive heroes.  Take Weaver.  He’s not a carry who happens to have an escape.  He’s a carry that’s very carefully balanced around the idea of having an escape.  If you’re not constantly putting yourself into suicidal positions, getting the kill and Time Lapse/Shukuchi’ing out of those suicidal positions you’re quite frankly not playing the character very well.  Yeah, someone like Luna doesn’t have an escape, but the flip side of that is that she doesn’t need balls-to-the-wall aggression to be an asset to her team.  Just get decent farm, use your Eclipse at remotely appropriate times, and then glaive away during teamfights.  Yes, there’s more to being a great Luna, but being a decent Luna is far more straightforward than being a decent Weaver or Clinkz.

At a more general level, what we’re running into here is that player’s consistently invest way too much in insurance.  For example, “I don’t want to die so I’m going to build a Vanguard.”  If you’re just buying it for insurance, Vanguard is not a cost-effective item.  This is actually a really good thing for the balance of the game; but as a player trying to get better at the game, you have to recognize that the biggest first step to winning is constantly making decisions that allow you to constantly be the aggressor.  If buying a Vanguard is part of your plan to live through otherwise suicidal dives and wrack up a big kill advantage for your teams, then yeah, go for it.  But in that case you’re buying the Vanguard so you can be aggressive.  You’re not sitting on the Vanguard just because it might help you live through a bad time fight, and then limp back to your base while the rest of your team is dead and they’re taking your barracks.  You might be buying insurance for your K/D/A, but you’re not doing anything that’s helping your team win the actual game.

11 Responses to So How Does Any of This Make You a Better Dota Player?

  1. xdv says:

    Agree with all your points.

    I used to play team based PVP at a decent level – top 50 team in Guild Wars, no idea in WoW since the 10s and 15s maps (WSG/AB) was not ranked at the time, but when arena 5s came out we did match a top 10 world team. As the team leader (and from the team leaders I trained under) I am a believer in full contact full aggression doctrine. My credo is that if you’re ever standing around doing nothing, your teammates elsewhere in the map are going to be outnumbered and outgunned, and thus losing. I have very fond memories versing other premades, as we looked across the minimap at each other and figured out how to outmaneuvre and fake out the enemy.

    On that note… I’ve rarely seen Clinkz played successfully, even though he got repeated buffs. I remember a very very long time ago he was the prime carry choice alongside Medusa (in 2004) for some reason… which I can’t even recall, but the metagame then revolved around pooling items and AOE wave clearing, and that was when competitions were played in Team Pick mode…

    What would it take for Clinkz to be played again? It seems like Icefrog has been incrementally buffing his numbers but it hasn’t been working. I feel he is strictly outperformed by Nyx right now. And Clinkz isn’t a braindead hero at all: he requires a fair amount of micro that intimidates me from playing him: you need to watch the cooldown on your Skeleton Walk so you know if you can engage and get out if something goes wrong: you need to watch the cooldown and timing on your Death Pact so you have your buff up, you need to toggle Searing Arrows, and you need to hit Strafe at the right time – and your Orchid is so core it might as well be part of your abilities. A cooldown sensitive hero with 5 actives that is primarily a ganker yet needs to farm an Orchid asap is probably somethign I’d rate as among the hardest heroes to play in the game! I have a feeling we might come to a “Big Bang” balancing moment like we had for Drow when suddenly his searing arrows goes up to adding 80 damage per hit, or his Death Pact duration gets extended to 120 seconds and gains the ability to stack, something which will make people start playing him.

    • phantasmal says:

      I’m kinda fine with where Clinkz is right now to be honest. He’s like Storm Spirit in that he’s a situational and risky pick that -will- wreck your team if you let him get out of control (and will likely wreck his own team if he flounders). It’s relatively difficult to get him to that point, but it probably needs to be that difficult given the relatively low mechanical demands of his kit.

    • jimmydorry says:

      Even though it is true, I hate the concept of a hero just being plain useless without a specific item (orchid in this case). To me, this just screams out that further balancing is required.

      It is understandable that there will be trends, and generic builds… but still.

      I think it would be nice if Clinkz lost some of his damage potential and instead got a small silence of some kind. It would open up a few more doors in terms of most viable builds, and also reinforce some of the core game play mechanics with newer players. How would they know Orchid is a MUST have for Clinkz?

      INB4 haters that don’t want to see radical skill changes.

      • phantasmal says:

        I’m not convinced giving Clinkz a silence would really break his dependency on the Orchid. He would still rush Orchid and just have an extra silence on top of it.

        His design is just so mana dependent and there’s no other item in the game that comes close to boosting his particular brand of carry potential while also fixing his mana issues. I feel that to break that dependency you’d have to overhaul his entire kit, and there’s nothing about his orchid fetish that’s bad enough to demand that level of effort.

      • DeathBot says:

        The silence isn’t the main thing that makes Orchid so good for him though, it’s the combinations of Damage/Attack Speed as a DPS boost and Int/Mana Regen allowing him to cast his spells that are such a big deal. If you give Clinkz a small silence as a backstab mechanic for his stealth or something similar, he still has the problem of not being unable to do more than a single ult, stealth, strafe, bunch of searing arrows without having to save up mana to do it all again.

        The main reason that Orchid is so core for Clinkz is that there isn’t really another item that has good damage and mana regen with an easy buildup, and even if you add a silence to him your closest contenders are still something like Medallion, Shiva’s, and Sheep, which are hugely wrong steps in the wrong direction.

        If you want to remove his reliance on Orchid, reducing his reliance on mana would be the way to go, but that just leaves him as being a range carry with a stealth who should probably buy medallion, and moving him out of his niche is really not a fun way to go.

        He could use a little bit of love, but he really is in a good place right now, and some off the wall effect on one of his skills that slightly fills him out into other roles could be a way to go, though if you really want to keep him in the same place, something like increasing the damage and mana cost on later levels of searing arrows would likely be the way to go.

  2. Xanderby says:

    I really liked your bold point about accomplishing something with your heroes strengths as well as taking advantage during your window of relevance, it reminds me of games where I have secured a solid advantage with heroes like Sand King and Windrunner playing super aggressive and setting up kills.

    The main problem I have when trying to play like this, and probably the reason I often end up being much more passive than I would like, is that you need to be able to trust your allies to follow up/be in position or else you find yourself either feeding or just blowing all your mana for nothing and winding up with less relevance coming into the mid game.

    This is most common in pub games where you have difficulty determining how much you can trust your allies and equally you don’t know how much they are going to trust you. I believe this is due to two main factors being players past bad experiences and the volatility of match making and lack of a rating system to determine any kind of approximate skill levels to determine how much trust you want to put in your team mates.

    The result of this seems to be that any questionable decisions early on can cause a dramatic loss of faith while it takes a fair bit more to earn the trust of your allies such that they will tower dive with you to secure those extra kills.

    This lack of confidence from allies seems to have evolved into a lack of confidence in myself that has transfered over when playing with a stack such that I find myself picking heroes that rely less on heavy aggression despite finding that style of gameplay to be the most engaging.

    This is just my personal experience, but I’m sure many people (in normal bracket at least) would have had similar experiences. Have you got any suggestions with regards to inspiring teammates to follow your lead and take a risk when necessary? I’ve found that pinging seems to work better than talking on mic (in pubs) since it has the visual aspect/obnoxious sound and stuns seem to be effective since everyone can understand the helplessness of a stunned enemy, but so often I have found myself in an awkward sandstorm because my lane partner was just not in position to capitalise on what should have been an easy kill.

    • phantasmal says:

      For coordination with strangers, what I suggest is this.

      Before the game starts or during downtime, start by explaining your plan. And type it out instead of voice chat. Why? Because you can’t guarantee everyone on your team has put on headphones, is paying attention, can understand you, etc. Typing it out gives them a written record of the skill chain you want to execute.

      If you want to use voice chat, use it early on for simple things and see if they respond. If they don’t, you might be better off trying to communicate in chat, through pings, and map diagrams.

      Once you get into combat, initiating through pings will be the right call most of the time. Try to set it up so that you ping the target, your lanemate reacts to the ping, and you react to your reaction. This lets you get a read on whether your teammate noticed the ping, has other more pressing issues, is worried about a possible gank and wants to hang back but hasn’t communicated it, etc. For instance, if I’m laning with Ursa as Shadow Shaman, our big plan starts with a shackle as he beats them down. I’ll get into position and ping the target. If Ursa starts running at the target I know he’s ready and pop out with a shackle. If he doesn’t run at the target then I just wait and don’t waste the mana.

      The toughest is to not fall into the trap of viewing your teammates as a faceless mass without any sense of initiative. If people have let you down in the first two games of the day, and you go into the third expecting to be let down, you’re probably going to be thinking so negatively that now you’re the barrier to coordination. You can’t let yourself fall into the trap of generalizing and preparing for the worst. Also, another thing worth trying if you can’t coordinate with your initial lane partner is to roam a bit and give the rest of your team a try. Just because the first guy didn’t read your opening message doesn’t mean your other 3 teammates ignored it.

      Finally, if you’re really unsure of your cooperation, try to take risks and not gambles. Lots of people decide they’re going to play risky, do really dumb stuff, and then retract back to a passive state because they feel they’ve learned that risk doesn’t pay off. If you don’t trust your teammate, limit your risks to situations where if the coordination pays off you get a kill, and if it doesn’t you’ve just wasted a little mana. Once you feel more comfortable, then go full out aggression, but do try to bring up the idea that you want to go all-out aggressive before actually diving, and as always attempt to time your dives so that you’re not getting snuck up by their mid and TP support.

      • DeathBot says:

        The communication at the beginning of the game has always been important, I’ve found. It allows you to set a more relaxed climate for the people on your team, as well as allowing you to figure out which people will be open for communication within the game.

        The plan explanation is also a big part. While you can’t necessarily force your team into any characters, when due to a haphazard combination of randoms and picks you get Clinkz, Leshrac, and Rhasta on the same team, an early plan to 5-man push-gank dota can completely change the course of the game.

        If you really want to be the pubstar captain, this can all start before the pick screen even comes up, and you can start trying to plan a team and making a game plan, though people aren’t always receptive to this. I honestly prefer an element of danger anyways :P

  3. Jimmydorry says:

    You could always try yelling louder and pinging your allies when you die. I hear that helps team cohesion too. :)

    If in doubt… try it anyway? #YOLO

    Otherwise phantasmal’s suggestions are pretty solid. I have been caught out many times, finding out too late that some people don’t have headphones. ;( I should probably try reaffirming this sooner in game.

    Only serious addition I can make, is to try solo queue if you get in a bad streak. If your MMR diverges too far from the MMR of your stack, I find that the MM tends to fill your team with lower MMR players, to your detriment. After a few wins, it somehow seems to sort itself out. This also seems to work if you are the highest MMR in your stack.

  4. Fidelius says:

    Hiya, I just found this awesome blog of yours recently and have been gobbling up all the content. It’s all really fascinating for a fellow data-junkie like me and I also absolutely cannot wait until better tools are developed that will allow folks like you to gather much more comprehensive metrics and extrapolate even more interesting trends. Keep up the good work! Anyways, regarding this post specifically, I enjoyed reading about you playing actual games and how knowing what you know affected your gameplay. I don’t know how much you actually play but it’d be pretty cool I think to queue up with you or anyone else who is an avid fan of your work to play a few games together. Cheers!

    • phantasmal says:


      I don’t honestly play very often. Hell, if I played even half as much time as I spend writing about this game I’d be a much better player (and I don’t actually spend that long writing these things). I could maybe do some more strategic breakdowns of pub games, but it can actually be a bit of a challenge to find ones where strategy was important and not just, “Yeah, those picks/lanes were not going to work out for you,” but I’ll keep an eye out.

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