Dota 2’s brief hiatus is coming to an end, as teams emerge from their cocoons ready for the first of Valve’s new Majors in Frankfurt. Joining them in metamorphosis is the game itself, fresh out of the latest raft of changes made by mage-in-chief IceFrog in the 6.85 patch. With such a plethora of changes happening in such a short period it can be hard to keep everything straight, so here’s a recap on Dota’s summer vacation with some meta insight from moonduckTV’s Andrew “Zyori” Campbell.
Starting with the teams, there was some furore over International champions Evil Geniuses kicking support player Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling in favour of Team Secret’s divisive carry Artour “Arteezy” Babaev. After this change, Secret’s entire team structure fell to pieces as Ludwig “Zai” Wåhlberg also left to finish his college studies, while Kuro “Kuroky” Salehi Takhasomi and Gustav “S4” Magnusson decided to branch off on their own.
All this means the reigning champions have a mostly unchanged team while their fiercest rivals were left with just Clement “Puppey” Ivanov holding the fort. To fill the ranks, Secret have recruited a number of free agents including the recently dissolved Cloud9’s Jacky “EternalEnvy” Mao and Rasmus “Misery” Filipsen. Other members of Cloud9, scattered to the winds by their final bad performance knocking them out in the first elimination match of The International, have found places among old friends.
Johan “BigDaddy” Sundstein has founded (monkey) Business, a team made up of old hands and newcomers alike, including renowned pubstomper Amer “Miracle-” Barqawi – known for frequently ending up on the winning side of public matches in the 8,000 MMR bracket. While C9’s Adrian “FATA-” Trinks joined with fellow free agent Kuroky to form 5Jungz with another mix of veterans and upcoming talent.
Another fairly green team to emerge in pre-season qualifiers is Monkey Freedom Fighters, headed up by former pro-turned-successful-streamer WehSing “SingSing” Yuen, together with former Alliance player Sebastien “7ckngMad” Debs.
All three teams have been making some strong early impressions, particularly against older line-ups who have made fewer changes. Alliance, returning from a break which saw them failing to even qualify for The International this year despite winning in 2013, have returned to a roster reminiscent of those glory days by picking up S4 again after Secret’s collapse. Long-time rival of Alliance, Natus Vincere, have also opted to keep as much of their roster together as possible despite an equally disappointing 2014/15 season.
Image credit: Valve
On the other side of the world, China’s scene has been relatively stable, no doubt as a result of the stringent oversight of the Association for Chinese Esports (ACE). With only a few one-player trades between teams creating a daisy chain of swaps, the overall landscape is fairly unvolatile and well-regulated, exactly the sort of environment Valve hopes to foster with the Majors format. BurNing leaves Invictus Gaming for Vici Gaming, Hao leaves Vici Gaming for Newbee, Rabbit leaves Newbee for Invictus Gaming and so the cycle continues.
There have been no inter-regional matches so far in the season, with Nanyang Championship and ESL One NY qualifiers being held individually for EU, America, China and SEA. This sets the ultimate test of these new rosters at whichever competition holds the group stages first. With New York’s Super Week coming up this weekend, it will be the first chance to watch Secret, EG, IG and CDEC clash, along with Fnatic’s recently acquired Team Malaysia squad – now featuring Dominik “Black^” Reitmeier in his second globetrotting return to the South East Asian region.
However players can only have so much impact on a game as vibrant, dynamic and seemingly alive as Dota 2. The latest patch, issued at the tail-end of last week, was intended to be a small balance tweak ahead of the Majors, with a *ahem* major patch arriving in the interim between Frankfurt and the next of the three new quarterly tournaments.
With changes to the heroes du jour Leshrac and Lina, as well as an exciting new upgrade to Batrider’s ultimate Lasso ability when he buys Aghanim’s, the patch has made some moderate-to-large changes in the name of balance. But has it affected the metagame of which heroes are strong enough to see constant use?
Video credit: NoobFromUA
“It's the same meta really,” says Andrew “Zyori” Campbell, a caster of the recently formed moonduck broadcasting studios. “Seeing Dark Seer and Ember Spirit rise in popularity, but just like 6.84 the game is very balanced and most heroes are viable depending what kind of team composition you want to do together.”
Moonduck is another entity to spring forth from Dota’s rebirthing – to continue with the theme set for the migration of the game onto Source 2 – and collects analysts and casting talent from around the world for tournament production, beginning with their own creation Elimination Mode. Zyori’s viewpoint from seeing these games suggests that this tournament’s meta will be fairly similar, though Lina and Leshrac are already seeing the effects of the nerfhammer.
“Teams will continue to ban them but they are being picked less than they were,” he said. “Also seeing Lina as a support more often than core. She’s always been flexible in the sense that she could be played as either, but she was played as core far more frequently on 6.84.”
Given the size and scope of the changes this time around, compared to those back in April, it’s understandable that the boat remains fairly level in the water. But with IceFrog’s assurances that a larger patch will be coming after Frankfurt – and the ever-looming introduction of new hero Pit Lord to the roster – will the boat start rocking before Christmas time?
“Who knows; it's hard to predict when the meta will shift,” Zyori said. “It's a sliding scale, not a black and white change. It will probably come with the next patch when they make major changes to the gameplay rather just tweaking modifiers and coefficients.”
One thing that is fairly certain is Techies’ inevitable fall from grace. Changes to his mine damage and the ability for enemies to destroy them without taking a hit seem like a nail in the bombastic trio’s collective coffin. “We will seldom see them played,” Zyori says. “They’re much easier to counter now, making it harder to get momentum in the early game.”
It was a rare sight already to catch a Techies in pro play, but always added the spark of excitement to matches. Team Secret vs Fnatic at Frankfurt’s last tournament in August for ESL One seems now like a product of its time, relegated to the memories of a fine summer of Dota. And that’s alright. New season, new beginnings.