As you might recall, last week I published a thing on the hero win rate shifts of 6.81. At the time, I said that the biggest mystery of the patch is Pudge’s win rate increase. Well, that mystery has not abated over the past week, so I want to take some time to examine the potential suspects and see how their alibis stack up.
First the facts. At the time of this draft, Pudge has exhibited the largest win rate boost on Dotabuff in the 6.81 patch period at 3.94%. This is odd because the usual culprit for shifts this large are official balance changes, and Pudge received none. He also, as far as I can tell, received no direct or indirect buffs bugfixes that would have driven an improvement of this magnitude, and I can find no reported bugs in 6.81 that Pudge would benefit from. Of course, just because I cannot find them doesn’t mean that they’re not there, but at this point it’s safe to say that on this front I have no leads.
For now, let’s assume that Pudge’s recent success has nothing to do with a mechanical power boost and examine some alternative explanations.
Theory 1: Pudge is being played by better players in 6.81
The typical explanation goes like this. There are a lot of bad Pudge players. These Pudge players get distracted by new shiny things in the patch, so they play heroes other than Pudge. Pudge’s win rate goes up accordingly.
There’s some support for the idea that popularity trends can influence win rates. The most clear and consistent example is how every new hero introduced to the game has had huge day 1 usage rates that quickly fall off, and as they fall off the hero’s win rate always creeps upwards. Some of this win rate improvement, especially for newer and more complicated heroes like Earth and Ember Spirit, is players just learning how the hero works. Still, even with more basic heroes there tends to be a tourist effect. It’s not even much of a surprise; people who pick a hero because they like them tend to outperform people picking the same hero out of a sense of novelty.
The problem then is that there’s no real evidence that this effect makes much of a splash in the opposite direction, and even if there were, there’s no reason to believe it would effect Pudge dramatically more than every other hero in the game. And on top of that, Pudge’s use rate didn’t even decline post-patch. It actually hit a month high 39.24% last Thursday up from his usual 35-36%.
Theory 2: Pudge is taking advantage of trendy strats like Aghs-rush Lich and KotL
This theory we can actually test. Using the Dotabuff Pudge matchup page we can find out how often he plays against different heroes during different patch periods and his win percentage in each head-to-head matchup. Has Pudge fed off of a sudden surge of sloppy play?
In terms of usage rates, 6.81 did not shake things up dramatically. More important to the theory is that the heroes Pudge is facing more often in 6.81 aren’t exactly favorable matchups. Only Invoker, Keeper, and Phantom Assassin are better than average matchups both pre- and post-patch. Not by much in the case of Invoker and Keeper who are 42 and 45 respectively out of 106 in 6.81. Phantom Assassin was Pudge’s 11th best matchup in 6.80, but her6.81 buffs have improved her to 33rd. On the other end of things Wraith King was tied for Pudge’s worst matchup in 6.80, though things have improved for Pudge such that it’s now 104 out of 106. Ursa and Lich are also amongst Pudge’s top 10 worst matchups.
It’s also worth pointing out that this group is, if anything, outperforming Pudge’s overall win rate shift of 3.94%, thanks in a large part to buffs to Huskar, Faceless Void, Phantom Assassin, and Silencer.
Theory 3: Pudge is benefiting from a favorable meta-game shift, and his win rate comes from a handful of advantageous matchups
This explanation gets trotted out to explain any otherwise inexplicable win rate shift, and while it sometimes is valid for competitive play, things are rarely that responsive in pub Dota. Competitive Dota is a highly self-aware system where teams work to respond to specific matchup threats and any seemingly successful strategy will get integrated at-large as a counterpick option. By contrast, picks (and lane assignments) in pub Dota are essentially random dice rolls weighted by the innate popularity of the heroes in question. As a result, the influence of the metagame on pub win rates tends to be rather weak.
To demonstrate this, let’s use a thought experiment. Invoker is Pudge’s most commonly seen foe in 6.81 Dota, so let’s simplify things and just say he shows up in 1/5 of all Pudge games pre and post patch. In 6.80 Pudge’s win rate vs. Invoker is the same as his overall win rate at 48%. In 6.81 his win rate jumps four percentage points to 52%, but this increase is solely because of a favorable development in the Pudge vs Invoker matchup. As a result, his win rate in the 4/5 of games without Invoker stays at 48%. What would Pudge’s 6.81 win rate against Invoker have to be to make this possible?
So yeah, you’ll basically never see a win rate shift this large determined by a single match-up, at least in pub play. At a tournament like TI3 you can see a single hero like Outworld Devourer sunk entirely by counterpicks like Razor, but that was an incredibly small environment where teams had a very specific gameplan involving these two heroes. Pub play is a bit under a million games a day being played players that, on average, either have no concept of a Dota metagame or have an incredibly wrong one.
But perhaps there’s a broader explanation at work here. A cluster of heroes that are working in concert to lose to Pudge. Well, if there is, I’m sure not seeing them.
Using the Dotabuff matchup page again, I compiled the win rate shift in every individual matchup against Pudge between the two patch periods. 60 out of 106 of the heroes fell within a +/- of .75 from Pudge’s overall win rate shift of 3.94. Of the 46 that did not, the vast majority were heroes that had their own win rate shifts thanks to buffs and nerfs they received in the patch, with their Pudge shift being a rough summation of the individual win rate shifts. In short, Pudge’s newfound win rate appears to be distributed relatively evenly among the entire cast. I can’t completely rule out that there isn’t something more complex going on, but it’s definitely not a simple question of 1v1 matchups.
Verdict: Very Unlikely
Theory 4: With recommended items changed in the patch, Pudge players are now spending their money more effectively.
This…actually might have some merit. Maybe. I can’t actually determine if Pudge’s recommended items did change with the patch, as I can’t find a reliable source on what his recommended items were pre-patch. What I can say is that there has been some interesting item trends going on with the hero. Two in particularly actually.
I’m skeptical that the Force Staff -> Blink Dagger is the big driver here. From what I can tell using (Last Month – 6.81) to get an estimate of late 6.80, this trend towards Blink Dagger has been a gradual once ever since Pudge received the ability to use Blink Dagger in 6.79. If Blink Dagger was the source of Pudge’s win rate, we would expect his win rate increase to have also been gradual and not suddenly surge on patch day.
The Boots shift is much more likely to be due to recommended items. My estimate of (Last Month – 6.81) puts Phase Boots at a ~29% usage rate, which fits the profile for a precipitous dropoff in 6.81. Tranquil Boots is also definitely a part of Pudge’s current core items. It’s also worth mentioning that Pudge has a lower win rate with Phase Boots despite Tranquils being much cheaper, so there’s a case to be made that reduced Phase Boots usage should actually increase his overall win rate. The question though is whether this boot choice alone could drive a 4% win rate shift.
Verdict: Plausible, but possibly only a partial explanation
And that’s the case as it stands. It could be that Pudge stands out as the somewhat surprising biggest winner of the 6.81 recommended item changes, but I’m skeptical that this is the entire story. As I’ve pointed out, Pudge’s win rate increase in the patch was the largest of any hero, and a boot switch doesn’t seem like it would be enough regardless of the fact that Phase Boots are Pudge’s least successful Boot upgrade.
So we still have an open mystery on our hands. In the meantime, strongly consider skipping the Phase Boots when trying to get that Pudge compendium win.