[SBA] Sniper: Two Thirds of Players Are Ignoring His Best Skill

January 22, 2014


Over the next week or two I’m going to be doing some requested hero skill builds analysis to fill the time while I finish up something a bit larger.  Sniper is the first of these because it turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected.  Some of you won’t be surprised by the results, but this is the most pronounced case of popularity and success being completely inverted.  Here are the skills we’ll be looking at:


And here’s how people are skilling him:


In the Normal bracket Take Aim(E) is the dominant Sniper build, maxed first in over half of the games.  As we move up to Very High, this dominance declines significantly as Headshot(W) builds gain in popularity.  What remains consistent in all brackets is that approximately 66% of all players are maxing both passives before investing anything in Shrapnel(Q).  Shrapnel builds are always the distinct minority, though they do become more popular in the upper end of MMR.

And if you’re worried that 2.6% is too small to draw conclusions from, don’t worry (too much).  The Normal sample for this test is 22,000 games.  Sniper is pretty popular in that bracket.  Anyway, moving on to win rates.


So what we have is that Sniper’s most popular skill Take Aim(E) is consistently the least successful in all three brackets, while his least popular skill Shrapnel(Q) puts up his highest win rates.  To be fair to Take Aim, it’s at it’s least ineffective in the Normal bracket where it’s only 1% behind Headshot(W) and 3% behind Shrapnel.  The 11 point gap between Shrapnel and Take Aim in High might be exaggerated some by sample error, but the 6 point gap in Very High probably isn’t significantly off.

In actuality it’s not that surprising of a trend.  Headshot has decent scaling, 15 damage per proc for the first point but 25 damage for each additional point, but at a 40% proc rate that only comes out to an average of 10 extra damage per attack.  Sniper’s big weakness is opponent’s negating his range by jumping him, and forcing them to catch you through a 30% slow or sit through up to 480 damage to melee you is a decent little deterrent.

But let’s take it another direction.  Pugna is a pretty hot hero in professional Dota in 6.79 with a 7th highest ban rate of all heroes at 37.4%, and he’s largely picked for the pushing power of Nether Blast.  Well Shrapnel does a virtually equivalent amount of damage to towers as Nether Blast on a cast-by-cast basis.  Of course Pugna is still the better power pusher because Nether Blast has the much lower cooldown (5.5 vs 15) and much better int growth, but Sniper’s ability to attrition outer towers from 1800 units away is a non-negligible advantage of the hero that people just completely ignore.

So yeah, if you actually find yourself playing Sniper, consider saying ‘no’ to the all passive build and maxing Shrapnel first.  Oh, and as usual I looked at Sniper’s item choices, but they’re kinda boring so here’s a summary of the most popular big items.


[SBA] Legion Commander ft. Lifestealer and Ursa

January 17, 2014


As you might have already guessed, today’s Skill Build Analysis has a bit of a theme.  It’s been a month since her release, and Legion Commander is still the 2nd most played hero in Dota2’s public matchmaking.  It’s likely that much of this popularity is driven by her ability to jungle, as the general public loves anything with an ounce of carry potential that has a respectable early neutral kill rate.  With that in mind, today’s SBA theme is that jungling is not always a good idea, so before we move on to builds, let’s take a moment to look at the supposed efficiency of jungling.

The biggest arguments that get brought up in favor of jungling is that using one nets you a fourth farmer.  From an Experience per Minute perspective this is a relatively reasonable conclusion, provided you have a decent selection for the offlane that won’t get zoned out.  However, if you are more focused on the gold economy the benefits of a jungler are severely overstated.  With rare exceptions, a solo offlane just isn’t going to be making bank against a competent safe lane.  They’re not supposed to.  By committing to a jungle lineup you are trading away your claim to a risky, but larger farm source in favor of a safer but smaller guaranteed flow.

But when we phrase it like that we miss half of the story.  Not only are you downgrading your ability to convert those offlane creeps into items by jungling, you’re also weakening your ability to harass the opposing safe laner farmer.  Suppose the enemy team picks Dazzle, and you immediately grab Axe because Culling through Shallow Grave gets you off.  Your team picks a Dark Seer, so it’s looking like a pretty standard jungle Axe, but then the enemy team closes with an Antimage pick.  Should you still jungle at this point?  Dazzle/Antimage is a pretty weak lane, and Axe and Dark Seer can cause them a lot of problems with both Ion Shell and Battle Hunger for attrition followed up with a Surge into Beserker’s Call for the kill.  And even if the lane isn’t productive from a killing perspective, if your presence costs Antimage a significant amount of CS you’re successfully delaying the biggest time bomb in the game.  This isn’t to say that you should always duo offlane in this scenario.  Maybe the enemy team has a jungler of their own available that can make Axe hijinx unacceptably risky.  The real point is that we often think of jungling in this scenario exclusively along the lines of +150 GPM for the Axe and forget that it can also mean +100 GPM for the Antimage.  In my opinion, that exchange rate would not be in Axe’s favor.

Finally, the last cost involved with jungling, and the one we’ll be focusing on today, is that it can require you to adjust your skill build to effectively jungle.  This can be a liability when it sucks points away from other skills that are more productive outside of the jungle.

So with the intro covered, here are the skills we’re looking at for Legion Commander:


At first glance, Moment of Courage looks like your standard early one point wonder.  The proc rate increase per level is fairly weak (16/2/2/2), and while the lifestealing scaling is significant, percentage lifesteal is most effective at higher levels of base damage.


Some one point wonder, huh?  My belief is that it’s likely the case that Legion Commander’s skill build correlates strongly with whether she’s played in a lane or the jungle.  The high prevalence of Moment of Courage(E) builds indicates a strong preference towards jungling, and the distinct minority of Overwhelming Odds(Q) builds are likely the people playing her in lane.  Press the Attack(W) builds are more ambiguous, but as it turns out this doesn’t seem to matter much.  Incidentally, this is also the largest SBA sample yet, with the Very High bracket including over 18 thousand games.


In all three brackets the presumed laning build of Overwhelming Odds(Q) wins out over the Moment of Courage(E)-first jungling build, but interestingly the gap in success closes significantly in Very High.  Maxing Press the Attack(W) first never looks like a good idea, but Q->W->E builds do seem to outperform Q->E->W builds in Very High (though at this point we’re getting into very small sample slices).  Legion Commander as a whole appears to fall off in success as you move up in the brackets, which is interesting because preliminary results indicate that she is picked more often in higher rated games.  I also ran a quick farm dependency test on these matches and her score would place her in the top 20 most dependent heroes in previous runs.

In any case, this illustrates the point I was making earlier.  Overwhelming Odds appears to be Legion Commander’s most effective early skill, but jungling is perceived to require early investment into Moment of Courage.  Jungling with Legion Commander is certainly viable, but there’s a tradeoff involved, and that tradeoff won’t always be worth it.

With this in mind, I thought I’d bring in Lifestealer and Ursa for comparison.  Both heroes get used as junglers and have a skill strongly associated with their jungle builds that happens to be a passive with relatively poor scaling.  Let’s look at Lifestealer first.


Here we can see that Lifestealer’s jungle passive Feast(W) is the dominant build, particularly at lower skill levels.  What’s really interesting is that this is the highest incidence of Split builds in Very High that I can recall seeing in any of the heroes that I’ve looked at.  Traditionally, split builds as a whole do not do very well, get less common in higher skill brackets, and are generally extremely unpopular in higher skill brackets.  Lifestealer violates all three of these expectations, and his Very High Split build rate is almost double the next closest I can recall seeing (Viper at ~22%).  Those peculiarities aside, how are his builds doing in terms of win rate?


Like Legion Commander, the jungle-oriented passive first build underperforms the lane-oriented build, but it’s Open Wounds (E) not Rage(Q) that appears to be the top performer.  Alternatively, maybe Open Woulds-first is a somewhat viable jungle build, but either case it does appear to be Lifestealer’s most effective build option at the moment.  And if we break things down to a point-by-point comparison:


You can basically see the emergence of 2-1-4-1 as the dominant level 8 build provided you ignore High which is probably a sample irregularity.  Lifestealer’s sample was smaller than average.

Ursa is possibly the most interesting case of the three because his jungle passive has the most utility.  Fury Swipes(E) doesn’t have the best scaling per point, but skilling it up improves his ability to sneak an early Roshan.  You might also recall that a year ago I made a case for Earthshock(Q) being a highly undervalued skill.  So how do the skill builds shake out.


Unfortunately, Earthshock(Q) builds are still a massive minority.  I went out of my way to triple the sample size to alleviate this, but the win % data on them will still be somewhat unreliable.  Meanwhile, our expectations about Fury Swipes(E) proved correct.  It’s the dominant build, and unlike Feast, it actually becomes more popular in higher skill brackets.  But does its win rate hold out?


This is honestly the closest Skill Build Analysis that I’ve done.  All three primaries are within one percentage point of each other in Very High, and there’s no consistent trends across all three brackets.  What I can say is that Fury Swipes(E) appears to be the strongest ability in Normal games, but this advantage dissipates in higher brackets where players are better at using his active skills. Meanwhile, both Earth Shock(Q) and Overpower(W) do fine in the upper brackets.  I think you could honestly make a case for a wide variety of skill builds as long as you pick one and stick to it.  You’ll notice that out of the low performing, red arrow builds, 9 out of 13 were split builds, and virtually every exception (both Split builds that did well and non-split builds that did poorly) happens to represent a tiny sliver of the total games.  Yes, it’s possible that you’ll start with a build then come to realize it’s inappropriate given the conditions of the game, but you want to both minimize the number of games where you need to make this kind of adjustment, and minimize the impact of such adjustments by making them early and fully committing to them.

As for jungling, we’ve looked at three heroes with significant carry potential and jungle capability today, all three have jungling passives as the centerpiece to their most popular builds, and in all three cases these builds were not their most successful.  None of this is to try to prove that these heroes should never be jungled (at least for Legion and Ursa…) but you should really consider laning them if your team composition allows.  They’re all pretty effective heroes in lane, and as long as you can last hit and your lane isn’t a disaster, lane gold should drastically outpace jungle gold in the early game.

Since this is still ostensibly about Legion Commander, let’s finish it off by looking at her item trends:


I don’t like looking at item win rates too much, they can be terribly misleading due to a number of factors, but there’s a trend here that I feel warrants it.


These three items are Legion Commander’s most likely opening big purchase.  From the previous chart we can see that Armlet is significantly more popular in Normal and Shadowblade and Blink Dagger are far more likely to be built in Very High.  My immediate reaction upon seeing the item stats was “Armlet is in her official core item list, isn’t it?”  And of course it was.  What’s clear is that Very High players are prioritizing initiation tools over stats, and they’re likely correct in that decision.  It’s not something we can test for through the API unfortunately, but I strongly suspect that creating successful Duels is one of the best predictors for a successful Legion Commander game, and Armlet isn’t going to do a lot for you there.  Meanwhile, if you’re not building an Armlet early, Desolator and Assault Cuirass likely outpace it in total utility for the mid to end game, leaving Armlet a significantly less popular item in the upper brackets.  Given its cost, Blink Dagger appears to be the best bang for your buck, provided you’re capable of finding successful initiations.  And if you can’t, you should probably get better at that, since it’s a pretty integral part of the Legion Commander experience.

A Look Back at Wraith Night

January 9, 2014

In the past few weeks during my absence, I received a couple of questions about why I haven’t done anything on Legion Commander yet, but believe me, when she dropped the first thing I did the following night was try to start putting together some samples.  Unfortunately, I found that my parses were full of a bunch of garbage returns that didn’t represent real matches.  It then dawned on me that these garbage matches were actually Wraith Night games, and while not quite as interesting as what I wanted, still might present an opportunity nonetheless.  I’ve been going through them these past couple of weeks, and here’s what I’ve found.  It’s a little too late for anyone to act on it, but it’s better to not tamper with an experiment in progress.

The simplest and most obvious thing to do was to look at the popularity of different heroes.  To do this I created a simple sample of the first 500 games chronologically each day to create something that could at least pass as randomized.  Wraith Night returns were also split up by the usual matchmaking groups (Normal/High/Very High).


The two biggest trends here to me are the huge increases in popularity of Windrunner and Shadow Fiend when you leave Normal.  Axe and Omniknight see the biggest net declines, but both remain popular heroes in all brackets.  Overall we have two tiers of heroes emerging with Axe to Legion Commander representing heroes that see a ~40% pick rate or higher, and Magnus to Crystal Maiden having a ~25% pick rate or lower.

Due to the method I used we can also look at hero pick rates by day.  This allows us to see how the discovery process unfolded over the first few days of the modes existence.  Let’s look at VH first.


In VH, Windrunner skyrocketed in popularity over that first week.  Axe, Shadow Fiend, and Omniknight all also saw some gains, though only Axe was consistent.  VH was also the most dramatic of the three brackets in terms of distinct trends so I’ll spare you the extra graphics, but I will say that Windrunner and Omniknight were #1 and #2 in usage growth in both Normal and High.

Of course, week two saw the addition of 5 new heroes in Templar Assassin, Witch Doctor, Queen of Pain, Storm Spirit, and Elder Titan.  How did their addition change up usage rates?  About how you’d expect



(Click for the Day-by-Day Usage in Week 2 in the Normal Bracket)

The new heroes all enter at around 30-35% and then decline over the week to ~20%, with the lone exception being Templar Assassin who maintained a near 60% usage rate, second only to Axe.  With the addition of the new heroes, we now have three emerging tiers.

  • Tier 1 – Axe, TA, Windrunner, and Omniknight
  • Tier 2 – Drow Ranger, Shadow Fiend, Sven, Queen of Pain, Storm Spirit, Witch Doctor, Legion Commander, Elder Titan
  • Tier 3 – Lina, Magnus, Juggernaut, Venomancer, Shadow Shaman, Crystal Maiden, Jakiro, Sand King

Tier 2 is definitely the least stable of the three, as the new heroes could still have been in decline at this point.  Of the four, I suspect Storm Spirit and Elder Titan would be the most likely to fall into Tier 3.

But of course these tiers only represent popularity, and many times popularity doesn’t correlate with actual success.  This could be especially true in a PvE game like Wraith Night, where people might be more inclined to play something fun over maximizing their team potential.  If we want to look at hero strength, we’ll need some other metrics to look at.  The obvious choice is just basic win rate, but unfortunately Wraith Night like Dire Tide doesn’t actually record a winner.  Dire is always set as the victor (except, inexplicably, in match ID 430018855, the only game in all of my samples to have Radiant_Win set to true).

So I started looking for other predictor stats, but I kept running into difficulties.  Take this early scatter plot for example:


Don’t worry too much what this is supposed to represent, just know that the Y-axis is match duration in minutes.  Why are there match durations that last up to 5 hours?  Unfortunately, by the time I started looking into this the match replays were already unavailable, but these weird returns were annoying.  The good news is that whatever was causing these matches was gone in the week two sample.  The bad news is that absurd match durations wouldn’t be my only stumbling block.


Here the X-axis represents total team GPM.  That line of dots on the far right?  Games where every member on the team recorded a 2500 GPM.  I don’t know what’s going on in these either, but I don’t trust them messing with my measurements.  What I settled on to get around this was just eliminating the top and bottom 10% returns in order to get rid of these irregular matches.  I don’t know that it’s the right thing to do, but I was getting frustrated and it did leave me with something a bit more manageable.


So first things first, why did I decide to go with team GPM?  My guess (and it really is just a guess; I don’t actually know anything about Wraith Night) is that teams with the highest GPMs would be the ones with the most successful waves and the highest post-wave bonuses.  There’s also the fact that being able to win quickly is important if you’re trying to maximize your item returns, so it’s a pretty likely criteria for being considered a good hero.

Second, the interesting thing about this plot is that it seems to create 3 separate sloping bands, one clear one in the 30-50 match duration range, and two muddier ones at 10-20 and 20-30.  Is this related to the different difficulty settings in Wraith Night?  Haven’t a clue, but whatever the case the slope makes sense.  The higher your team GPM the shorter the expected match duration, so in the top band the teams that finished in 30 minutes had ~3000 total GPM and the teams that finished in nearly 50 minutes had a ~2000 total GPM.

Based on this, what I decided to do is look exclusively at the 30-50 band of matches.  It was a bit sloppy and some of the lower band of matches may have dribbled in, but whatever.  I just want to be finished at this point.  Using this set of matches, I found the average team GPM for each hero, and theoretically, the heroes with the highest average team GPM ought to be the most successful.  Theoretically.  I’m not 100% confident in the results, and would be more confident if I had a way to preserve a larger sample size, or just better structured match data overall.  That being said, here’s what I ended up with:



The one consistent thing is that no matter how I slice it, Omniknight and Windrunner always end up on top, and I feel pretty confident that they were easily among the strongest heroes of the mode.  Magnus and Witch Doctor might have been sleeper picks, but it’s hard to tell how much of that is genuine and how much of it is just really small samples.

The other thing I’ve taken from this is that if this mode sees continual balance passes for use next year, the top priority, besides adding new heroes, should be to buff underperformers.  I can’t easily distinguish between heroes that are actually underpowered and heroes that are just boring, but both issues deserve to be addressed.  My best guess for the heroes most deserving these adjustments would be Crystal Maiden, Elder Titan, Lina, Juggernaut, Sand King, and Venomancer, but a better testing environment would likely come up with a far more definitive list.

Anyway, that does it for Wraith Night.  It’s late and not especially topical anymore, but I hope it was still interesting.  The API is back to normal, so we should hopefully be able to start 2014 off soon with a look at Legion Commander sometime next week.