Abaddon came out late last week, and so far he’s maintained a public win rate just a tad under 57%. It’s still too early for me to have any actual data on him, but I thought I’d take some time to approach things from a more theoretical angle and examine his kit in the context of Farm Dependency.
The idea behind farm dependency is pretty simple. Every hero in the game scales with items, but due to the nature of the hero (primarily their base stats and their kit) some heroes scale better than others. On the flip end of the spectrum, some heroes can have no items and still be influential at all points in the game. The most farm dependent heroes are those with with the strongest scaling and the weakest itemless contribution. These heroes are almost exclusively what we call carries. While it’s too early for me to have any stats on him, it’s extremely unlikely that Abaddon will turn out to be a farm dependent hero.
The reason for this is that Abaddon lacks the most essential feature of a farm dependent carry: the attack damage steroid. The hallmark of Dota’s item system is that attack damage items provide the only real source of explosive scaling. Magic damage can only be amplified by a tiny selection of relatively niche item pickups. Many of the strongest defensive items are purchased primarily for the utility of their use effect and not for any kind of stat scaling (Force Staff, Ghost Scepter, Black King Bar, Scythe of Vyse…). The remaining defensive items are primarily intended as complements to an otherwise aggressive carry-oriented item build. You might be able to win disorganized pub games using a Vanguard/Blademail/Heart/Bloodstone build, but if the other team has a competent carry that’s keeping up with your farm you’re going to lose. Dota as a rule just doesn’t have hero designs that can build purely defensively and still be a constant damage threat thirty minutes into the game.
If you look at the top 20 heroes on my farm dependency chart, you’ll notice that every single one of them has at least one ability that amplifies their right click damage. Doom is the weirdest, but I guess wolf aura counts. Of the heroes without an attack damage steroid, the highest placement goes to Timbersaw at 41, and Timbersaw is similar to Storm Spirit in that he’s very good at converting excess mana regen into extra damage.
These steroids are important because they amplify the contribution of the items that you pick up. Suppose you give Drums, BKB, Manta Style, and Butterfly to both Luna and Nyx Assassin. Luna’s going to get way more out of those items because she gets 38 free damage from Lunar Blessing and extra bounce damage from her Moon Glaive. On top of this she has more attack range, receives more agility per level, and has a significantly higher move speed.
So what does Abaddon have going for him in terms of steroids? Well, Curse of Avernus offers 40 bonus attack speed, but if that alone is sufficient carry potential we’d see a lot more carry Beastmasters, since his aura also offers 40 attack speed. We could then go on to point out that Abaddon also has really low agility growth, offsetting this bonus attack speed and that the four most farm dependent strength heroes all have larger attack speed steroids (Lifestealer and Huskar) or abilities that temporarily lower their base attack time (Alchemist and Lycan), but let’s just leave it at the simple fact that Abaddon isn’t a right click prodigy.
You might then argue that this weakness can be made up by the sheer amount of survivability that Abaddon gains through Aphotic Shield and Borrowed Time. Well, that’s great and all, and I’m sure in pub matches you can find plenty of opportunities to blow someone up 1v1 when they forget that Borrowed Time exists. The problem is that if we’re back in a scenario where you’ve had free-farm as Abaddon, and your opponent has had free farm as an actual carry, all the other team has to do is a) ignore you, b) blow up your supports faster than you can blow of their supports, and c) focus you down once you’re alone, outnumbered, and no longer a threat. This is the Skeleton King paradox where Reincarnation makes him a terror against low-level, disorganized pubs, but where nothing about his kit makes him threatening enough to not ignore when compared to more competitive carries.
If anything, Borrowed Time is most threatening as a support ability. It’s like a free, souped-up version of Ghost Scepter. Teams like to pick off the squishy supports first, but Abaddon makes an unappealing target. So you target the other support, but Abaddon is free to spam low cooldown shields and heals on that target and use items like Force Staff to help peel for them. Basically, Borrowed Time makes Abaddon really effective as an anti-initiation specialist because it forces the opposing team to make a much more difficult choice on how to start the fight.
This certainly doesn’t mean that Abaddon cannot win pub games as a farmer, in part because winning a pub game is a relatively low hurdle. What you should keep in mind is that Abaddon isn’t going to win many games by strictly outfarming the opposing team. Instead, he would behave much more like a semi-carry in that he wants to quickly get a couple of efficient damage items and his ult and then dominate the mid-game through constant aggression. Is this a viable pub strategy? Given his near 57% win rate, probably, but this doesn’t make him an actual carry. Spiritbreaker can do the same thing, but it works for both heroes by leveraging their early game advantages to cut down on the length of the laning phase for both teams.
Could a 1 position Abaddon work reliably in professional games? I have my doubts, but even if it does, this still wouldn’t make him a carry. I would expect a team built around a 1 position Abaddon to be exclusively focused on winning the game in under thirty minutes, and their success would be much more hinged around disrupting their opponents early farm than it would be about maximizing Abaddon’s. Like the pub strategy, they would grab quick, efficient damage items and use them and Borrowed Time to force early clashes while the opposing carry is still ramping up. This still doesn’t make Abaddon a carry any more than the early farming trilane Treant strats made Treant a carry. Instead, these teams are foregoing traditional carry potential in an attempt to utterly dominate the early game, which would make carry potential a non-factor.