Does knowing the history of Dota matter? Newcomers, whether player or spectator, will see the meta that is playing today, without the context of what happened before. There are no history books for the revolving door of heroes in and out of the meta. How much does it matter for a new player to reflect on the dominant eras of Bloodseeker, Storm Spirit, Leshrac, or Juggernaut? What about pre-nerf, pre-rework Death Prophet and Faceless Void? There was a time before Aether Lens, a now integral item, and a time after. For every player who complains about an Invoker pick, there’s a graying Dota veteran reminding him, “you should have seen 6.83 Sniper.” The meta of each International becomes indistinguishable from the one before it—all part in building a Dota almanac.
It takes hundreds of hours to reach any semblance of competency in the game, rising from fumbling around with hero skills to maybe executing them when you should. There's the Dota IQ that can only be attained from playing game after game, grasping the intersecting mechanics of different heroes and different skills. And for the ambitious, there's the studying of Dota at the professional level to learn from the best. The truth is that experience and knowledge, from both past and present, matters in a game with such a strict learning curve. Here’s an ode to recently passed heroes—gone, slightly forgotten, but still part of the game.
Can anymore be said to mourn the passing of Winter Wyvern? It’s not often that a support hero, rather than a core, receives the kind of heavy handed nerfing that brought Winter Wyvern into rapid obscurity. It’s also rare that Valve nerfs the utility of the spell, Winter’s Curse, rather than the attributes—starting base stats, armor—of the hero or tinkering with the sliders on mana cost and cool down. Enough was enough, Valve said, and so Winter Wyvern dropped from being the 2nd highest picked hero (27 times) at the Shanghai Major to being picked 4 times at MDL and twice at Starladder.
During the Frankfurt Major LAN Finals, Tusk had a 98% Pick and Ban rate. This dipped down to 29% at the Mars Dota League LAN Finals and 36% at the Starladder LAN Finals. Tusk is in the same field as Batrider—owning a skill set that is valuable enough to withstand a few nerf hammers from Valve. Batrider was still valuable and prioritized in drafts, despite Valve’s insistence on pushing him out of the meta. Like Batrider’s Flaming Lasso, Ice Shards and Snowball were unique skills that retained their utility and functionality in the face of nerfs in 6.85. It was only in 6.86 that Snowball’s utility was finally changed when Valve made it unable to help allies evade Black Hole and Chronosphere. Tusk today is a shadow of what he once was, plummeting from first tier pick to the fringes of the meta.
“he was long mocked as being one of the worst carries in the game”
Slardar was an unfortunate victim of the meta changes in pace but more importantly with the addition of the offlane camp. It was a shame, since for a time he was long mocked as being one of the worst carries in the game, with poor flash farming potential. After a few buffs to Sprint and Slithereen Crush, he finally found a viable niche in the offlane. It was only for a brief moment that the map changes edged him out in favor of offlane heroes who can better farm the jungle, such as Lone Druid and Dark Seer. Slardar also had good synergy with Windranger, who also faced a similar fate in professional meta.
Windranger received a series of incremental buffs from 6.81 to 6.84 that pushed her into the dangerous territory of being overpowered. This was the major sentiment among the community and in pubs, where Windranger was the #1 most picked hero. However, her stats didn’t support this notion, as she had less than a 50% win rate across all brackets and during the Frankfurt Major she only mustered a 34% winrate in 32 games. Still, in 6.86 she received a nerf to Shackle Shot, reducing its angle to latch and allowing heroes to disjoint the spell. Today, she is the 5th most picked hero overall in pubs, but the 21st hero picked in the 5k+ bracket. In the competitive scene, she started fading out during the Frankfurt Major already alongside Slardar's fading popularity, and has now disappeared completely. She was neither picked nor banned during the entirety of MDL, across 75 games.
Compared to the previously mentioned heroes, Shadow Fiend has enjoyed a longer era of dominance ever since his buff to Shadowraze in 6.83 that increased its damage from 75/150/225/300 to 100/175/250/325. Most importantly however, a long prevailing bug was fixed that prevented his ultimate from dealing as much damage as it was supposed to. He benefited from farm metas, from push metas, and he was a comfort pick for nearly all professional mid players, who most likely had a competent Shadow Fiend in their wheelhouse of heroes. As a longtime favorite hero in the community—from old school legendary plays by Yaphets to Dendi’s two-hour, Dota 1 tutorial on how to play mid—Shadow Fiend’s popularity was a welcome one. He was highly favored in TI5 and at the Frankfurt Major LAN finals he had a 94% Pick + Ban rate. Then, recently, in Starladder he was picked twice and in MDL he was picked three times. In 6.86, Shadow Fiend not only received significant nerfs to his base armor (-1 to -2) and Shadowraze’s mana cost (75 to 90), he was nerfed against the jungle around him. With the addition of stacking magic resistance auras on creeps, Shadow Fiend’s strongest trait—his early-mid game flash farming—was hamstrung. If there was any consolation, it’s the addition of an Aghanim's Scepter upgrade that causes Requiem of Souls to heal himself. If there’s any hidden potential for this in the professional meta, we’ll find out at the Shanghai Major, if he gets picked at any significant rate.
Inevitably, after the Shanghai Major, Valve will institute a new patch, overwriting the one before it, and our history and experience with it in the process. That’s how the game stays fresh and how it has persisted to be an enriching experience for over a decade. New players to Dota will only know what's happening now without the context of the past, but it's never too late to learn, to grow as the game grows, and reap the same rewards from the time that the community has invested in the game, patch after patch.