Treads in Crisis
Thursday, February 20th, 2014.
It's late and I should be asleep, but I'm trying to catch up on the week's backlog of DotA 2 competitive VODs. I see that the Na'vi vs Liquid match from the D2CL is getting a lot of positive buzz, so I start watching the first game.
Half an hour later and I'm getting all sorts of flashbacks to classic DotA 1 pro games. The heroes involved: Sand King, Tinker, Beastmaster, Visage, Chen, Rubick. The vicious reversal of the 4-protect-1 strategy, where each team's carry is desperately trying to farm while being constantly hunted by the strong, mobile gankers on the other team. At one point the Beastmaster even roars a courier and denies the other team's carry a crucial item. What's a more iconic DotA 1 moment than that?
But as the game goes on, I notice there is one very distinct difference between it and the games I used to watch. It's not the heroes, even though Ember Spirit is brand new to the CM pool. It's not all the small ability reworks each of these heroes has gone through over the years. It's the items. Specifically, it's an item.
It's their boots.
At 20 minutes in Na'Vi.KuroKy-, playing the Ancient Apparition, has a Magic Wand, Staff of Wizardry, Point Booster, and 900 gold, and basic boots. He gets to 1000 gold, but instead of upgrading his boots he buys an Ogre Club.
On the other team, Liquid`wayto, who is playing the Visage, is going a similar route. His team has less tower gold, so it takes him longer, but he buys a Magic Stick, Point Booster, Ogre Club, and has his basic boots.
Both heroes complete their Aghanim's Sceptres. KuroKy buys a Force Staff. After his team gains a stronger position in the game, wayto buys a Point Booster, and eventually a full Scythe of Vyse.
An hour into this game, a game where both sides are looking for fights and trading kills at a furious pace, and these two squishy supports are still walking around the map with basic boots. It's not as if they haven't had the money to upgrade. It's not as if they couldn't use the few extra stat points that Power Treads would give them. But they are just the latest examples of a trend I would have found unbelievable 9 months ago, let alone 5 years ago.
Boots. Everyone buys them, on every hero, in nearly every situation. They are the most common first purchase after a hero's starting items.
Why do we buy them? Well, what are boots for? They're for walking. Everyone knows that. Slipping on that first pair grants every hero a nice +50 bonus to their movespeed, and getting them before an enemy hero does gives the wearer a huge advantage. They can harass better, get to runes faster, initiate fights and ganks, land their spells, and even run away if things look dicey. With only a few very rare exceptions, every hero is going to want a pair of boots as soon as they can afford them.
But what happens after that? What happens when they want to take their boots to the next level?
go back in time, back to 2008. Two things happened that year that
changed the world for everyone. The first was the release of Katy
Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," single. The second was the release of version
6.49 of the DotA Allstars, a version of the map that brought sweeping
changes to many heroes and items. I'll let you decide which of those
worked out for the best.
Prior to 6.49, there were 2 choices for boots upgrades: Power Treads and Boots of Travel. While Boots of Travel worked basically the same way it always has, Power Treads were a different beast. They required basic boots (500 gold), Gloves of Haste (610 gold), and a recipe (410 gold). For the total price of 1530 gold a hero bought themselves an item that provided 65 movespeed and 35 attack speed.
When 6.49 was released one of the biggest changes was the
remake of Power Treads. A basic stat item was added to the recipe,
upping the total cost to 1850 gold, but now giving the holder +10 to
their chosen stat on top of 65 movespeed and 30 attack speed. As you
might expect, these new boots turned out to be very strong. So strong,
in fact, that 6.49b was released immediately, changing the item so that
only 1 could be held by each hero.
The concept of "bracer gaming" existed that far back. There was always a need for squishy supports to dial back their expectations and focus on getting enough HP to not immediately die at the beginning of every fight. Well, imagine how happy supports were when they found they could basically fold an Ogre Club into their boots slot and also get to run around faster. When it came down to it, the choice between a Bracer and that Power Treads upgrade was little choice at all (consider as well that Bracers didn't get their +3 damage bonus until 6.69). Spending that little bit of extra gold to double the effectiveness of their Belt of Giant Strength was a bargain.
without that, though, there was the +15 movespeed. A support that kept
falling behind was little use to their team, and much more likely to get
caught out of position. They would have even more trouble catching
enemies with their spells, and just became a general liability.
A year later 6.63 was released, and Power Treads were remade again. This was partly a response to the newest kid on the block, Phase Boots, but I'll get to those in due time. This version saw a much heavier distinction made between the purpose of each boot. Phase Boots were to be for damage, and they adopted Gloves of Haste into their makeup. Power Treads were now the alternative, and needed to be made more attractive to heroes that might consider going without the raw damage bonus of Phase Boots, and the extra manoeuvrability that Phase Boot's active granted. These new Power Treads were leaner and meaner, coming in at an all-time low price of 1400 gold, and requiring only basic boots, Gloves of Haste, and a recipe. They now gave 70 movespeed, no attack speed, and variable +stats. It had been obvious to everyone that, for just general utility, not every stat in DotA is created equal. This is the reason a Bracer or Null Talisman is more expensive than a Wraith Band. To make Power Treads as appealing as possible for a broad customer base, the stat bonuses were changed to +10 strength OR +13 agility OR +16 intelligence.
If that seems crazy to you, you're not alone. Not 2 months later, 6.64 was released, and both Power Treads and Phase Boots were remade again. Power Treads took back Gloves of Haste, which now replaced the recipe, keeping the overall price at 1450 gold. The stat bonus was flattened again, back to +10, and the movespeed was reduced to 60, with the Gloves adding back in 25 attack speed.
For a while after that Power Treads were relatively stable. In 6.69 the stat bonus was dropped to +8, and in 6.75 the attack speed was raised to 30.
But there was trouble brewing from behind the scenes. By 6.73 Power Treads were no longer a default choice, something that heroes who didn't need Phase Boots, and couldn't afford Boots of Travel, picked up to pad their stats a bit and keep their legs in the game. Now there were Arcane Boots, and then Tranquil Boots, both of which gave players new, and often better, options for the boots upgrades.
Then, tragedy struck. The one-two punch of 6.76 and 6.79, though they came with a year's worth of time in between the blows, finally did what all the other new boots couldn't by completely removing the bonus movespeed from Power Treads. (Though other boots lost movespeed as well, none of them were hit so hard. Even Phase Boots, which also lost all of their movespeed, still had the active speed boost while phasing.)
Power Treads, more than any other item in DotA, have become the victims of power creep. Much like Vanguard, which was once actually a very good item, both when it gave ranged heroes the same block percentages as melee heroes, and for a while after that was changed, when it still gave the buyer +300 HP, instead of just the +250 HP a Vitality Booster already provides.
Break down both items and think about the pieces that go into them, and what they are for. A player buys a Vanguard because they want their hero to be tanky, to be able to take hits. So, they pick up a Vitality Booster, which is +250 HP, and a Stout Shield, which has damage block. Then they spend nearly 900 gold on a Ring of Health (well, actually most people buy the Ring of Health before the Vitality Booster, but that's not the point). What they now have is an item that gives them the same HP as a Vitality Booster, along with the regeneration of a Ring of Health, and some decent damage block. But a hero that just wants to take hits has no real need for that Ring of Health; it does nothing for them in a fight, and for about the same price as the Vanguard they could buy a Mekansm, which helps their whole team, and with the 875 gold from the Ring of Health they could buy a complete Urn of Shadows, or most of a Medallion of Courage, or just put the money toward a better mid or late game item. Imagine if every Axe player you saw buying a complete Vanguard saved that extra gold so that they were already nearly half way to their Blink Dagger. In the end, there are always strong arguments carrying around just the Vitality Booster (or another item that boosts HP) and a Stout Shield alone, and then rushing straight for other items.
The same thing has happened to Power Treads. Where it was sometimes a decent option for a cash-strapped hero who needed some extra stats to play with, and also needed a set of upgraded boots just for the movespeed, that just isn't the case anymore. Carrying basic boots and spending that extra 1000 gold on a support item nearly always a better option for heroes that don't need the extra attack speed, and heroes that do need the extra attack speed could get it from any number of other items. And that's looking at the items in a vacuum, without considering Arcane Boots or other options.
There is very little practical benefit to buying complete Power Treads over most other item combinations for many heroes. Many heroes that used to buy Power Treads as a matter of course. They don't give the same bang for buck when it comes to stats anymore, especially if item slots aren't a consideration, and, most damning of all, they lack any sort of movespeed bonus. After all, that's the primary reason any hero buys boots to begin with.
That's the reason we see pro players running around 45 minutes into a game with tier 3 and 4 items and basic boots. If the hero isn't Tread switching to optimize Bottle usage, or doesn't really need some attack speed to trigger attack procs, or simply can't make good use of Phase Boots because they're spamming too much (ie, Bristleback), there's little reason to even consider Power Treads. Especially if that hero already has a built-in means of chasing, whether it's a blink-type ability, a slow, or something that improves their own movespeed, or a combination of all those.
It's unfortunate, because I think Power Treads are great item, and though Tranquil Boots are gaining a bit of ground as players realize that even while damaged they still provide some movespeed and armour, they still haven't replaced Power Treads as an upgrade for many supports. Power Treads are more than a yardstick, more than a default. Like Superman, one of my favourite comic book characters, they get a bad rap. There was a time when Power Treads were awesome, and I wanted to build them all the time, and there was a time when Superman was so powerful that he was taking down real-world villains. Superman is getting his time in the spotlight back, who why can't Power Treads?