6.80: Early 'Carry' Trends
Following my last week's analysis of Early Support Trends in 6.80, there were quite a few people who asked whether or not I would be doing similar analyses for Early Carry/Mid/Offlane Trends in 6.80. While this wasn't initially my intention, I decided to investigate some of the data to see if there was anything worth writing about. I chose to first look at Carry heroes as previous dealing with the 6.80 data had left me interested specifically in Luna's dramatically increased popularity. As with last week, the figures presented below come from datdota and should represent all competitive matches played in the current version up until the end of Saturday the 22nd of February [some 380 drafts]. I've included all heroes which have at some time played in the 1 position in a competitive match since the release of 6.80.
For much of the time I was writing this post, I considered making the entire post just about Luna. Luna, after all, is really the only 1 position hero that is actually trending purely as a 'Carry' since 6.80. Not only is it trending but its pick-or-ban percentage has literally doubled from 37% in 6.79 to 74% in 6.80. Now, before getting too excited, it should be noted that Luna was also by far the most popular Carry for the first month of 6.79 and was nowhere near the top by the end of 6.79 – this might suggest that the hero gains popularity specifically during times of less certainty about what to pick given how reliable a pick it is. That said, there is an interesting question to ask about why it is so popular now [and in early 6.79] even if the current popularity is likely to simmer down later on.
What makes Luna so special? Well, it's simple. Versatility. Those who have read any of my articles about 6.79 or 6.80 will be bored of hearing this by now but the truth is that versatility has become the standout quality of heroes when it comes to prioritizing them in a draft of late. And Luna is by very far the most versatile of the traditional 'Carry' heroes. She contributes plenty to winning a lane, adds substantial damage to a push or a split-push, is able to gank and harass pretty effectively, teamfights very well, and provides a very strong late game physical DPS'er to fall back on. She fits well into the safe lane, an aggressive trilane or even the mid lane. The bottom line, really, is that Luna can do all the cool stuff people used to pick Carry heroes for without the cost attached to just about all the other heroes that used to fit into that category. Despite being fragile early on, Luna is not just a burden on her supports but rather something of an asset during the lane stage in most cases.
While Luna had a hot start to both 6.79 and 6.80, Lifestealer [down nearly 20% now] ended 6.79 on top and thus we might expect it to do the same in 6.80, with no changes to the hero in the recent patch. Since receiving a dramatic buff to Rage's duration in 6.75, Lifestealer has pretty much just seen nerf after nerf and yet has always found a way to maintain a position of power. In fact, Lifestealer's popularity was probably a contributing factor to the increasing popularity of various heroes which are staples today such as Bane, Naga and Weaver. That said, when teams like Na'Vi are regularly picking the hero even when the enemy team already has a hero which is thought to directly counter it such as Bane or SD then you have to know this hero means business. Those who read my article last week about support trends in early 6.80 will recall how I discussed Rubick's change in popularity as being largely a matter of other heroes being given a chance. I think the same applies to Lifestealer here. Like Rubick, the Pros already know this guy. They know what he's capable of and they trust him to do that well. But early into a new patch, this is not always what teams are looking for. While Luna is reliable in her versatility, Lifestealer is reliable at doing what he does. Thus, even though both heroes are some kind of reliable, Lifestealer is probably a weaker pick early in a draft unless a team has already decided on what they plan to do – but this is a new patch and teams are still figuring some things out and thus very often have not decided what they want to do early on in a draft. That said, don't be surprised if Lifestealer works his way up to the top again by the end of this version.
These heroes make up nearly half of the list. And yet, you are probably used to seeing most of these in the mid lane. All of these heroes have seen some play in the 1 position over the past month as well as during 6.79. That said, pretty much none of them (with the possible exception of Pugna, who is very much on the decline at the moment, having only half its previous pick-or-ban percentage) have become more popularly picked as a 1 position than a 2 position. What does this say about current trends in Carry picks? Well, I think it says that the 6.79 patch, as well as the 6.80 one, have led to our change in language finally being followed by a clear change in our reality. Indeed, my discussing 'Carry heroes' in this article is, in fact, a bit of an outdated way to speak about Dota – and increasingly so. While players are still generally thought of as playing either the 'Carry', 'Mid', 'Offlane' or 'Support' role, much more than that we've begun to talk about the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 positions. These days, the hero that 'gets the most farm' or 'farms the safe lane' or 'gets the most protection from teammates is less and less complying with the classic picture of a 'Carry' hero.
In fact, with the notable exceptions of Luna and Lifestealer, this is a trend that has been gathering force for quite some time now. To the point that fans are almost ready to get excited when a hero like Antimage gets picked! A year ago seeing Antimage, Phantom Lancer, Spectre or the like was not just expected but in fact these heroes all pretty much took turns to be hated on by fans – such was their regularity. And yet now we are at the point where we have to ask questions about what 'Carrying' even means – does a hero need to contribute major physical DPS in order to 'Carry'? Does a hero need to be able to fight multiple enemies on its own to Carry? The answers to these questions are less and less clear.
The explanation for the dramatic change in Carry trends in recent months lies within things we've already discovered. Since 6.79, teams try desperately to avoid telegraphing their strategies, and especially their lanes, by picking versatile heroes. Further, we know that the game has become intensely active early on. Thus, picking heroes that will most likely force you into certain lanes, and force you into playing passively early on, is - rather unsurprisingly - not a very popular tactic at the moment!
While the above heroes are historically [and still usually] seen playing in the mid lane, these three are heroes one would expect to see primarily in the offlane. There isn't really a lot to add here about any of them. Again, their inclusion on the list just serves to emphasize just how many heroes have become more popular picks for the safe lane than those conventionally considered to be 'Carry' heroes.
Meanwhile, Mirana, Doombringer, and Slark are heroes that continue to maintain immense popularity in 6.80, popularity which is still increasing. But while some of the above heroes see most of their play in the mid lane and others see most of their play in the offlane, these three see play in just about any lane! All three can be found in any core position and Mirana and Doom even get played in the 4 position sometimes. While this echoes earlier sentiments about the relationship between versatility and popularity of late, I think it also reinforces the notion that teams are more and more picking heroes and not roles. Just yesterday, PR picked a 'Carry Venge' against VP. I doubt their thinking was that Vengeful Spirit is a lot like Antimage or Faceless Void or even Luna in its ability to 'single-handedly' Carry a team to victory! No, the hero fit the draft well and happened to slot in at the 1 position.
However, there are at least a few old fixtures on the list which we would consider to be 'Carry' heroes in the purist sense of the word. That said, Weaver has been seen in all three core positions, Gyrocopter has continued to play cameo roles as a support and Naga Siren is perhaps the most versatile hero in Dota when it comes to which roles it can play – being potentially useful as a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5! Sure, Naga is mostly being used as a 1 or 2 at the moment, but this should not reduce the versatility of the pick during a draft. Significantly, all three of these heroes have shown a decrease in popularity in 6.80, with Weaver losing 30% and Gyro and Naga losing 10% each.
After all the above discussion, then, it might come as a surprise that Morphling is one of the new kids on the block when it comes to popular 1 position picks. Morphling most certainly does fit into the classic 'Carry' category and although the hero's win rate in the version so far is only 43%, its 18-23 record is actually something I read as a positive sign. The fact that it's being picked substantially more than before [12% increase in pick-or-ban so far] but isn't completely failing suggests that this is less likely to just be a 'passing trend'. No, 6.80 gave Morphling back its ability to cast spells and attack during Waveform – undoing one of the key nerfs which shut the hero out of the last metagame it was comfortably in – and it's pretty clear that this is why the hero is being seen as more of an option for Pro teams now.
Ember Spirit I've included here just for the sake of completeness but I feel it's really difficult to comment on it at this point. Firstly, the hero was not even in the CM pool since the start of 6.80. Secondly, most of the hero's relevance so far has been in terms of bans and not picks so the real power of the hero remains a bit unclear. That said, various Pro players, including Loda, have already suggested that the hero is extremely powerful and should expect to see nerfs in the near future. Hopefully it will get some more game time then – so that Icefrog and co. have some actual data to go on!
The most recent incarnations of Dota 2 have begun to revolutionize some of our most basic concepts when it comes to thinking about the game. This posts an interesting analytical challenge to players and analysts alike - is the term 'Carry' just a relic of the past or are we just entering a more nuanced conceptual scheme? Could the 'Super Carries' still make a comeback?
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