Climbing the Ladder – Chapter 2: Ganking
(Chapter 1: Farming can be found here)
This post is the second of a relatively long series that will hopefully cover as many of DotA's large strategic elements as possible. Before starting with anything, I just want to remind you that DotA is a game of reactions, and no advice should ever be followed blindly. What I describe may work in most situations, but could be a bad option in some particular games. Therefore, look to learn as much as possible from this but remember to not treat it as a step by step plan.
These are the elements of ganking I will be discussing:
- What ganking achieves / why it is done
- When to gank where
- Midgame ganking
- Lategame ganking
- Defensive & offensive items
- Global interference
- Dodging ganks
Ganking is obviously done with the intent of killing the opponent’s hero. But what does the kill actually give you, and what does it take from the enemy? You get gold (Current Streak Of Dying Hero + 200 + Dying Hero Level * 9) and you get some experience depending on their level. The guy that just died loses 30 x his level in gold, and is out of the game for 4 x his level in seconds.
However, we have to take gold reliability into account – supports will have mostly reliable gold on them, which means they won’t lose nearly as much when dying. Carries on the other hand, will usually be stocked up on unreliable gold and lose much more, as well as have to waste time getting back into a position they can farm in. This is why you would much rather gank carries than supports, because you get the same benefits as killing a support, but you set the enemy team back a whole lot further. The fact that carries are usually the optimal gank targets may be common knowledge, but it is important to understand exactly why that is.
So we’ve discussed the gold and experience factors, and what remain are the more important ones – time and position. Obviously, when the enemy hero respawns they do so at their own fountain. This position is set in stone and can either be a good or bad one depending on where the fighting is taking place. This explains one of the inherent advantages those defending their own base have over those pushing their foes’ base – respawning naturally or buying back means you are back in the fight in no more than a few seconds. If you are the one doing the pushing, however, it takes much, much longer – unless you have Boots of Travel.
And finally, the time spent dead. Many heroes, especially cores, have big impact spells that change the course of the game – heroes that prevent you or make it more difficult and riskier for you to take objectives. The obvious ones would be strong teamfighters with big AoE’s like Tide, Enigma, DS, ES or Disruptor. But then there are strong antipushers like KotL and Tinker, which prevent you from taking any towers. Then there are heroes that are extremely strong around the roshpit due to the terrain, like Batrider, Storm and again the big aoe teamfight heroes – these prevent you from safely taking Rosh even when you are ahead.
Lastly, there are the splitpushers that make the taking of objectives difficult simply because they will push one of your lanes until you react. Nature’s Prophet is the best example – if you want to contest or take rosh, you send 5 heroes there. Furion teleports top and starts pushing. Both teams know it is 5v4 at the moment so the enemies play carefully, but they can also have the Furion TP in and make it a 5v5 whenever they need to. Your team on the other hand cannot afford to make a rash initiation, because if you lose the fight you not only lose rosh but your racks as well. While you are contemplating your decision, Furion’s push continues – as soon as one of you tp’s back to defend, Furion tp’s to Rosh and suddenly it is 4v5 with the enemies having an advantage.
So, here's the point. All of these heroes restrain your game in some way. As soon as you kill them, you have the space to take an objective, or force their buyback if we're talking lategame. While some heroes allow you to take objectives through solid pushing or teamfighting, strong gankers allow you to momentarily take those heroes away from the enemy, and press a numbers advantage. Pickoffs on the right targets often mean an uncontested objective taken or a fight without a vital enemy hero.
When to Gank Where
This is probably the biggest question when it comes to ganking.
Keep in mind that when ganking as a core you are losing time during which you are not farming, and this loss is to be directly subtracted from the gains of the gank when considering whether to go for it or not. In order to determine this, you also need to look at your farm rate. Carries such as CK, Slardar and WK have no farming spells, so they are usually picked with the idea of getting some core items and fighting and ganking early. Utility mids such as Puck, Magnus and Batrider do farm well and scale decently but are picked to be tempo controllers, making them well suited to ganking.
Most heavier farmers (PL, AM, Medusa, Naga, etc.) of course should never gank and only look to join a fight in order to pick up some kill gold and help with a push afterwards. Exceptions to this rule would be hard carries that can get solo kills such as Void, PA and Luna, but even for these heroes it is very rarely worth it to put themselves in a dangerous non-farming situation just to have a shot at getting a kill.
Every gank has a certain chance of succeeding, and there are just about a million factors that create that final percentage, many of them uncontrollable. Will the target be watching his hero? Will he be navigating the shop at that moment? If everything goes his way, can you still get the kill? If it’s risky, what will you potentially lose if it fails? All these questions that can be asked about the gank are questions you will start subconsciously working through as you get a better understanding of the game. It is also important to keep in mind the level of teamwork, timing and over-all difficulty of the ideal execution for the gank. Things like Disruption/Nightmare into Arrow are pretty much a no-brainer, and can be coordinated with anyone. However, often you will see pro teams go for ganks that are not quite as easily done and require everyone being very well on the same page – these are mostly ganks that do not involve many disables but rather burst damage. For example, combining one or more global nukes (AA ult, Furion ult, Clockwerk rocket) with a hero’s regular combo requires good timing – if either comes too early, the enemy will simply back off. Or a gank against a blinking hero with nothing but ministuns – requiring you to cancel their animation just before it completes, several times, in order to get the kill (e.g. Morphling + Dark Seer + Zeus ganking a QoP), or simply combos that require near perfect timing or will completely fail (SD Disruption into Hoofstomp/Torrent/Waning Rift against Blinkers).
Lastly, keep in mind where you will be after getting the successful gank off. In the early game, simply rotating 3-5 heroes, diving the tier 1 and getting a few kills often translates into a tower kill, because the tier 1s are so difficult to defend. However, getting a pickoff in the enemy woods? That’s great, but heroes will respawn very quickly in the early game and you might not be able to get anything more out of that kill, simply because you’re far away from any objective and don’t have the means to get there quickly.
This is usually the time where initiators that rely on Blink Daggers start shining. Sand King, Earthshaker, Puck, Magnus, Batrider, Brewmaster etc. are the heroes that control the game at this point. It is extremely important to know when exactly they get their blink, and your team needs to be prepared and ready to react. Simply calling missing 5 seconds after they stop showing up on lane isn’t enough – it’s fairly common for a Puck that has his Blink to back off as the courier is bringing it a TP scroll and immediately TP to a sidelane to gank, often resulting in several kills if the opponents are caught off guard. Generally in the midgame neither team has built up a huge advantage just yet and fights / ganks can go either way, mostly depending on whoever gets the better initiation or better positioning.
At this stage, the repercussions of a successful or failed gank are much larger. This is mainly due to a longer respawn time, but also higher gold loss (30 x hero level). In fact, the respawn time is not the only time-factor that changes from early to lategame. Your team is able to take objectives at a certain speed depending on the line-up (mobility and building damage), and that speed is always going to be faster the later the game goes due to levels and items. So there’s an increased respawn time, and it takes less time to kill a building or Roshan. If Tinker is dead with no buyback during the midgame, you can maybe get a tower or two at most. If Tinker is dead without buyback lategame, it could mean Rosh and/or one or more ‘racks gone. This is why people play much safer during lategame.
However, it is also a lot more difficult to pull a successful gank off at this stage. Teams tend to stick together a lot, perform baits, and it is also much easier to notice when many people are missing off the map. Another factor to keep in mind come lategame is the inevitable availability of buyback – even if you pick off an important hero, there’s a high probability that they have buyback so do not just charge in blindly.
Defensive & Offensive Items
This is an extremely important factor to consider when determining how a certain fight is going to play out, and is often an element that separates the good players from the bad. At a certain level, you are expected to know all the skills of every hero, and naturally take them into account when going for a gank. However, items are equally if not more important – does the hero have a magic stick or wand? If so, how many charges are on it? Even if it has 0, how many spells are you probably going to use in the gank? Do you have enough damage to go through the wand? This is a fairly straightforward example, but you would be surprised how many people go for ganks that clearly have no chance of being successful, just because they did not check the target’s inventory. Further examples:
Linken’s Sphere, an item commonly purchased on heroes that are already slippery (Morphling, Weaver, Storm, Potm, Slark), making them very difficult to kill. These heroes are already impossible to catch with disables that have a slow casting or travelling time, so you want to have a fast or instant disable – spells like Telekinesis, Primal Roar, Burrowstrike, Fissure, Fiend’s Grip, Hex (spell and item), Orchid, etc.
So, what happens when your gank target gets Linken’s? You can no longer initiate with the instant spell because it will get blocked, and so you need a Linken’s breaker which is either one of your instant casts sacrificed (not recommended because you will often need to chain them to get the kill) or a non-disable that breaks Linken’s with either an instant cast or a long range. These are things like Furion’s ult, Bara’s charge, Axe’s hunger, Luna’s beam, Zeus’ bolt, Disruptor’s glimpse, Invoker’s coldsnap, and for items Forcestaff, Dagon, Eul’s, and others. If you have no way to effectively deal with it, that is a sign that you are either far behind in terms of levels and item progression, or that this is a weakness in your draft.
Another mention goes out to the TP scroll. A far too common mistake on gank parties with a low amount of stuns or ministuns is to use them all straight away – never do that unless you can burst the target in 3 seconds, because otherwise they will simply TP out. When solo ganking with a Nightstalker for example, do not void straight away unless the target is really low – silence and hit a few times, then void, or the target will just tp out immediately after you use your only ministun. A successful gank is all about checking the opponent’s inventory and having an answer ready for heals, ghostform, blinks, forcestaffs, invisibility, etc., so that there is nothing that can take you by surprise and result in a failed gank.
Lastly, keep in mind that at a higher level of play enemies will expect you to check their inventory when given the chance. This knowledge is used to play mindgames, most often with (but not limited to) extremely crucial items such as a blink on initiators like SK, Tide, ES or Enigma. The player in control of that hero will drop their blink or leave it on the courier and then come out of fog – this is when you instinctively check their inventories and call out to your team not to worry, “Enigma has no blink yet”. Half a minute later you’re all pushing highground, supposedly safely, when suddenly Enigma blinks in and gets a fight-winning black hole, and everyone is left dumbfounded.
Don’t be fooled – stay one step ahead of your enemy. Think critically – is it really important for an Enigma to be farming the lane just as we are about to push? Why is he showing himself? Furthermore, consider how the game has been progressing, and whether they really cannot afford a certain item yet.
Just like taking items into account separates the good from the bad players, taking global interference into account separates the great from the good. Fortunately, there aren’t that many global abilities so it should not be difficult to check for them at the beginning of the game. Wisp and Furion’s global TP’s, Mirana’s invisibility, Chen’s heal, Treant’s block + heal, Visage’s birds (some teams use them to follow whoever is likely to get ganked, with the stuns giving the target extra safety) global damaging spells (that might turn it around on you) like Zeus’ ult, Sunstrike, Spectre’s Haunt, etc. Lastly, a special mention goes out to Centaur’s ult. Global haste is always useful, but it is especially one of the few counters to the otherwise so powerful blink->hex initiations, because the haste applies on the chicken and allows the target to escape – keep in mind as well that even if you have more follow up disables, the polymorphed unit has a very small model and is therefore not easy to click when moving at 522 MS.
Baiting can be achieved in several ways. Usually the goal is to lure the enemy into initiating a fight that seems favourable to them while in reality it favours you.
The most known method is to have a carry farming the lane seemingly alone, with the entire team smoked up behind him. Unsurprisingly this is the least successful method because very few teams, especially pro teams, will fall for it. However, there are many other clever ways to be one step ahead and bait the enemy team into your trap, and you can even come up with a new one if you think hard enough. There is the key-item bait as described earlier, often related to blink daggers. You can also position illusions during a push to bait out spells on them.
There are some more advanced baits too, such as the S4 Roshan level 1 bait with Furion, where the Furion intentionally dies to Rosh at level 1 while his team waits for the enemy team to check – then they backstab them and Furion skills level 1 teleportation to get back into the fight. Lastly, the DK courier bait where they send the courier through enemy vision in some direction to make their opponents think that’s where someone is waiting to get their items, while in reality the entirety of DK is smoked to the side and ready to ambush the confused enemy team.
This is a very important skill that solely requires good game sense and the ability to place yourself in your opponents’ shoes. If you imagine you are on their team, and you have good knowledge and understanding of the purpose, execution and timing of ganks, you will be able to predict them and therefore dodge them, as well as not get baited. It’s all about staying several steps ahead of your opponent.
For example, think about your opponents’ gameplan. Do they have a much weaker lategame than you? Then it is safe to assume they will try to gank, push and fight early a lot in order to finish it in time, and they will probably want to keep the heavy farmer down as much as possible. With this in mind, you should be very careful. And again, think about item timings and what they are doing at the moment. Are they taking Roshan with you being unable to contest, because your initiator is dead? Don’t just farm your woods, push top lane and at least damage the tower for example.
Communication is of course key here – you cannot expect everyone on the team to be checking everyone’s item progression, cooldowns and positioning – call out when Doom uses Doom, or when Ravage is on cooldown, so that your allies can make use of their temporarily increased safe space.
So, to sum it up, ganking is a part of pretty much every dota game, and you need to know both how to execute it properly and how to be prepared for it or dodge it. Know why you gank and when to do it with which heroes, as well as what the chance is of it working out and what lasting objectives you can take as a result. It is important to be aware of every single enemy hero’s positioning, item progression and cooldowns, because that paints the picture of the enemy team’s over-all capabilities, and allows you to gank and react accordingly.
These are some of the topics I will be discussing in the following chapters. If you want me to write about a certain one next, or have an idea for a topic that is not listed, feel free to message me.
- Fight participation
- (Support) rotations
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Opening image from dotafire.com