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


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.



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

  1. soprof says:

    There’s little-to-no reason to ignore shrapnel early on: it’s a pretty solid DoT with huge cast range and good dps, and the only reason to use mana until level 6.

    This is one of the biggest “legacy” miscalculations players have – shrapnel used to be bad, and people just remember it that way.

  2. dellis23 says:

    Interesting stuff. I had a smug sense of satisfaction after I saw the first chart and predicted that W & E would be the most popular picks in the very high skill bracket. Then I scrolled down and realized I was making the same mistake as everyone else!

  3. matt says:

    Years ago in dota 1, shrapnel used to be this explosive aoe piercing damage dealing ability that, because of it does piercing damage, was brilliant for flash farming. In remember in some pub games it wasn’t uncommon to see a cheap mana item on him to accelerate his farm with shrapnel. Once they changed it into a slow and it lost its ability to just about instantly burst down and entire creep wave (basically a piercing damage dealing nether blast) people just stopped seeing a reason to skill the new shrapnel other than maybe a point in it for the vision.

    I think it’s certainly an under-explored ability that could use some sort of rework to make it attractive again. It’s hard to compete against two quite good passives as well as an ultimate that has a relatively short cooldown along with a pretty high mana cost.

  4. kardel says:

    What makes Sniper win in a competitive game/stacked game is not the same thing as what will make him work in a random very high pub. Q probably excels in early push teams, especially for baiting an engagement onto you.

    But this kind of gameflow is exceedingly rare in very high pubs. Q is not good at 5v5 nor skirmishes, especially when almost everything moves faster, is tankier, and hits harder than you. The max passive builds, when stacked with the proper AS items (MoM/lightning?), give sniper significant burst and effectiveness early. The issue with passive builds is that it’s still thoroughly dependent on position, and that many players opt for items like lothar/yasha to alleviate this.

    I suspect it’s better to take items that maximize effectivness (MoM) given you take proper position vs items that help positioning, but neuter your ability to contribute in any relevant fashion.

    • Detective says:

      Ixmike plays max shrapnel sniper in inhouse matches and he probably has the best winrate on that hero i’ve ever seen. As far as i’m concerned you’re not going to get a higher level sniper game than ixdl unless that hero suddenly becomes popular in the meta

      Fact is, if you can get free damage on a tier one by hitting it with shrapnel constantly, there’s no reason not to pressure. By not using that skill you’re effectively trading serious building damage for… passives that you’re likely not going to use until farming up a couple of big items.

    • I get what your saying – tbh I’ve always built sniper with passives – but these stats are pretty convincing since even in the normal bracket the q-first build has the highest win rate at 52%.
      Als o it’s got to be based on who you’re laning against. I went Kunkka vs Sniper and thought i’d have the easiest time, but the Q saved him since I had to take a lot of harass to get tidebringer off.

  5. Dorje says:

    The numbers are convincing, but I think there’s more going on here. Most people prefer to play sniper as a mid, a role for which he is ill suited. His low movement speed and poor solo fighting ability makes him bad at rune control, but on top of that by maxing passives you give up on a bottle and usually ignore runes completely. Sure he often wins his lane, but he is a mediocre ganker that doesn’t have the midgame presence you want from a mid.

    Maxing your q first could change all that. He pretty much requires a bottle to use this skill, which changes the entire way he plays mid. Now his skills give him a midgame presence and contesting runes gives him a better ganking presence. With the bottle, he has mana to spam his ultimate which is a quite devastating nuke (just ask Rubick).

    I am still not convinced that sniper should be a mid, however. He is a hardish carry with a huge farm requirement and is very susceptible to ganks. Safe lane is the normal position for such heroes.

  6. Hazard says:

    This could have the correlation problem though. Let’s say that E is better most of the time, but Q is much better against certain heroes. Then Q could still have a higher win rate, as you only pick it when it counters the enemy hero, but E would be better in general.

  7. kimie says:

    If you are maxing out Shrapnel first you need to build an item that will regen your mana quickly. This is not a good way of building Sniper efficiently. Shrapnel is a mana hungry skill and the disadvantage of it is that it only bring damage on a specific target area only which most of the enemy hero could easily avoid it. So this is the reason why Sniper users do max out take aim first where you can take advantage of harrasing effectively. Remember Sniper is a very item dependent hero. You should buy your early items very wisely.

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