Hero picks are all over the place
Alliance, a team that was touted for years as having a single split-push style of play picked 19 different heroes in four games—only Beastmaster was chosen twice. Hero picks are all over the place, with Tiny played as an aggressive ganker, Enchantress as both an early pusher and late game anti-carry, and a range of situational counter picks all ready to shine. Enemy has a Faceless Void? Don’t pick Bristleback or Faceless Void’s Time Dilation will make him worthless. Earth Spirit? Hang back with Witch Doctor and use his heal to totally negate Magnetize. Witch Doctor? Snag Earth Spirit and use his remnants to interrupt the Death Ward.
The top bans are overpowering heroes that can control a game by themselves. Lone Druid, Earth Spirit, and Faceless Void are heroes that can fit on almost any composition and require active effort to counter. Vengeful Spirit, Enchantress, Invoker, and Nature’s Prophet are the most picked heroes, each providing reliability, but not enough to get instantly banned. All of these heroes can be active early in the game, with Invoker’s Sun Strike supporting any gank on the map, Nature’s Prophet’s safe offlaning and global presence, Enchantress’s creep brigade, and Vengeful Spirit’s reliable stun and support capabilities. They all keep providing additional utility in the mid to late game, from outright carrying to split pushing and teammate-saving. There’s been a couple picks that have been rising in popularity like Beastmaster and Outworld Devourer, but the most fun might be a once rarely-picked melee carry.
Sven is… in the meta?
Sven was picked 11 times with a 64% win rate, which is not too shabby for the Rogue Knight. He functions well because of his early game contributions, his ability to recover if he falls behind, and how quickly Sven becomes both a flash farmer and late game monster. Storm Hammer is a mostly-reliable stun in the early game, providing a huge amount of support in early ganks and teamfights. Warcry grants move speed and armor bonuses which add an incredible amount of flexibility—it’s both an escape and engagement tool. With just a bit of help in lane he can easily secure kills, and with a Helm of the Dominator purchase he can start farming the jungle and his own lane with incredible safety and speed. Cleave is maxed early to achieve this goal.
What’s very cool is the varied use of his ultimate. A spell that provides increased base damage doesn’t sound too exciting: all it does is make Sven hit really, really hard. Yet because of its 80 second cooldown it’s being used for team fights, tower pushes, and to kill stacked ancients in seconds. With a dominated creep doing the stacking, Sven can earn about an additional 225 gold per minute just from ancients. The sudden GPM boost means that Sven will hit his terrifying Blinkin’-Burstin’-Cleavin’ late-game that much earlier.
Every region is kicking serious ass, except for China
There was quite a bit of diversity in the first place group finishers, with every region besides China earning a high seeding. The biggest story is definitely the first place finish of Korean team MVP Phoenix, but it looks like there are a ton of powerful teams entering the playoffs with no clear powerhouse. The group stages provided a much smaller snapshot of competition due to the format—teams only played a single day and only against two to three teams. There wasn’t really time to change tactics or adapt as teams had at most a couple of hours to strategize.
The major upset from the group stages comes from China’s Dota scene—it just didn’t do well. Against non-Chinese teams their win/loss record was a miserable 5-12, and only LGD was able to qualify for the winner’s bracket of playoffs. While most of this article has been talking about the fast tempo and aggression of the group stages, teams like EHOME didn’t seem to have caught up with the meta. Being caught off-guard in such fast-paced games is incredibly difficult to recover from—there’s just no room for error. This may be disconcerting but isn’t unsalvageable, as the short break between group stages and playoffs is the perfect crunch time for analysis, practice, and adjustment. The Frankfurt Major showed that entering the loser’s bracket doesn’t mean a team can’t win, after all—just look at OG.
No one knows what will happen in the playoffs
Pros are already learning and adjusting to the group stage meta. This can be one of the most exciting moments of a tournament, as they’re trying to reframe every hero pick, every item purchase, and every aspect of the game so that they can storm the playoffs. If aggressive play is popular now, defensive picks like Elder Titan and Naga Siren might find themselves in vogue, or maybe teams will just double down on fighting and go full aggro. If the groups were any indication, the playoffs are going to be one hell of a tournament for spectators.
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