Last week concluded our Support series, where we have discussed the relevance of top pick supports in public matchmaking. Today we are starting a new series, dedicated to the offlane heroes.
As usual, our focus will not be primarily on the ways to play the hero, but rather an overall analysis of why and when it is a good game to pick a certain offlaner. Today we will have a look at three most popular offlane heroes in the current meta: Batrider, Bristleback and Clockwerk.
Ever since the release of the hero in Captains Mode he has been a top pick priority, despite constant nerfs.
Originally, he was played in a Mid position with a relative success, but the meta shifts as well as a devastating nerf to his basic Attack damage resulted in a switch to an offlane role he is currently played in.
So why is the hero so persistent in Professional matches?
There are a lot of reasons for that, but the most important one is that you can not quantify utility effects - it is easy to nerf/buff things like Damage on a spell, Basic Attack Time or even Vision to balance a hero, but the Flaming Lasso is strong by design. It is the only spell in game which can reliably change the position of an enemy hero. All while disabling him AND punishing the other heroes in the enemy team in case they want to pursuit you to initiate a fight or save the teammate. Henceforth, it is impossible to tweak some numbers to get the hero weaker at what he does best - you either redesign his ultimate or keep him in the game intact, to forever remain the first pick/ban material for and against the teams who can utilise his strength.
He is also among the offlane heroes, which are relatively hard to shut down - the ability to flash-farm jungle stacks means that he can never be truly left penniless and the relatively low cost of reaching extremely high effectiveness means that he is almost never a bad pick. Tranquil Boots + Blink Dagger + Force Staff sums up to 5500 gold and Force Staff, while being a core item, is still not necessary in the early game to secure most kills.
His offlane presence in the trilane vs Batrider situation is pretty low. He can occasionally suicide to get an early kill/first blood, but his escape in the form of Firefly does not provide the necessary amount of safety to reliably get gold in the lane. At the same time, especially as the Radiant offlaner, you can always stack/farm the Large neutrals which are extremely close to lane and can be stacked from the River with the vision provided by either an İZLEYİCİ GÖZ or Sticky Napalm.
And here comes the main question of this Blog post: when do you pick Batrider? An easy answer would be - "always", when you need an offlaner. If you can play him properly and can understand the threat of the enemy trilane and weight your options as to whether to already go jungle or try to soak XP/Gold in lane - you can win a lot of teamfights before they even start.
the trust you put in your team's supports to actively stack the jungle for you.
the ability of your team to actually get a kill on a disabled target before the enemy can react.
the probability of the enemy getting multiple or single Linken's Sphere and the additional utility/synergy they get from it.
Additionally, the hero really asks for extra vision, either in the form of aggressive Wards, [missing skill: beastmaster-call-of-the-wild-hawk-5169] or other summons, since despite having flying vision during Firefly, it is still 1200/800 and can prevent Batrider from seeing potential openings for a move.
To be perfectly fair, Bristleback is probably not the second most popular offlaner in the game, since a lot of picks he got was to fill the safelane solo farming poistion, rather than the offlane one. That said he is still quite popular in the current professional meta to justify the presence in this blog post.
When discussing supports in the previous blog posts, we have touched on the idea that the current meta favours single target burst damage to snowball the fight with a 1 hero advantage in most engagements. It also introduced a lot of burst physical DPS heroes, which tend to quickly come "online" with cheap, high "return-on-investment" items, but do not necessarily fall off later in the game (e.g. Brewmaster vs Troll Warlord). So where exactly does Bristleback fit into this picture?
As it turns out, pretty much everywhere. Very much like Juggernaut and Troll Warlord, he can come online extremely fast. In most cases he only needs Power Treads + around ~2000 (can be a choice between several DPS or survivability items) gold to be already considered a threat, with great innate tankiness, punishing AoE damage and strong autoattacks. And what makes it all come together is the fact that at this particular moment in game, given the same or even inferior gold investment, Bristleback will be able to achieve comparable damage output capabilities of other popular autoattackers/cores, while directly countering them by simply not dying.
He can not be ignored and he is very hard to kill - properties, which made Dragon Knight popular for some period. But while DK needs his levels to get to a point where ignoring him can cost you a teamfight, Bristleback is happy to facerush even at level 7-10, time where teams are most vulnerable to the potentially snowballing Juggernaut and Troll Warlord.
The pick around Bristleback should complement this early-game strength to allow for a mild "rush" type of game plan - if he is not snowballed, he will gradually fall off and become less relevant, as the enemy gets their levels/items. He also falls short when it comes to dealing with heroes that have a lot of mobility (e.g. Storm Spirit) or can safely autoattack you from a distance without the means for you of closing the gap quickly and reliably (e.g. Medusa and Sniper). Investing in a Blink Dagger is not an option.
He can also be bursted quickly if played wrong - you want to show your back to the enemy hero with the highest potential DPS when you expect a nuke/autoattack and sometimes it is better to run ahead and focus other heroes, rather than trying to manfight an enemy core. With that in mind, he does not necessarily deal well with heroes which have long duration hard disables, which prevent you from turning (e.g. Lion, Axe), but excels at dealing with heroes which have a lot of damage at the cost of mobility/utility (e.g. Skywrath Mage, Visage, Zeus, Crystal Maiden).
Your general battle plan is to run into the enemy supports, ignoring their carry and letting your team deal with him at a number advantage, while you scare away the rest of the enemy team. Chances are - you will not only disable blinks of the enemy counter-initiators, but will survive the preferable to you 1vs2-4 engagement, while your team focuses the enemy carry, who tries to either protect his teammates chasing after you, or fights the rest of your team. Unlike you, it will be hard for him to survive an engagement under a number disadvantage in the earlier stages of the game.
The story of Clockwerk in competitive scene is somewhat interesting - he was always an option, but somehow never a priority. However, with the rise of both melee and ranged heroes, which want to just stand and autoattack, he finally got his chance at a spotlight.
Clockwerk is quite versatile when it comes to his build. Depending on the situation, he can rush either a Force Staff or Blade Mail. First one is amazing at disabling enemy melee carries for prolonged amounts of time by cogging them, force-staffing out and ignoring or killing from range. The latter is a generally good item if you intend to tank the damage and is better if you go in deep into the enemy team to deal with the annoying support or ranged carry. Ideally you should have both in most cases, but with their price being roughly the same, the initial choice is very important.
His damage output with Battery Assault got a rather strong early-game buff, totalling 320 damage and annoying microstuns at level 1. At level 4 it has the potential to deal 1280 damage to a single target over 10.5s and it is not surprising to see many professional players max the skill first, as opposed to previously popular Rocket Flare focus.
Rocket Flare, even at level 1 is an amazing tool for scouting and getting the enemy Blink Daggers on cooldown against counter-initiation. Its nuke potential is really low, but it can still be used to either harass/last hit in lane or outpush other lanes.
While Clockwerk is good against pretty much any team which has a non-mobile core (e.g. not Storm Spirit, Morphling etc.), he truly shines as a hero with a set-up for a big skillshot (e.g. Kunkka, Skywrath Mage, Lina). Additionally, he can literally create a wall between the enemy and his glass cannon ranged teammates, something that will come in handy in a lot of situations.
With all that said, there are still plenty of downsides on the hero. Out of all three heroes mentioned today, he probably suffers the most if facing a trilane. He has no option to jungle and his only escape ability - Power Cogs is not exactly the most reliable escape tool. He can occasionally last hit with Rocket Flare, but most supports can easily zone him out of the XP range alone. He is easily ganked and needs extra caution during the laning stage, which can lead to him becoming quite irrelevant without ever becoming relevant (e.g. early Force Staff on supports). On top of that, he also tampers with the ability of your melee teammates to deal damage.
With all this information in mind, answering the question of when to pick him becomes quite hard. In many cases Clockwerk should not be first-picked and is generally best when he is a surprise to the enemy and it is too late to get more than one hero to play around his strengths. So if you happen to last pick, go through the list of the ideas listed here and if no or little red flags pop up into mind, he can be a great addition to the team in the right hands.
This concludes our analysis of the Top 3 most popular offlaners in the game. In most cases, selecting an offlane hero will be harder than selecting a support, since there are more things to factor in. That said, the pool of heroes in Dota 2 is still big enough to find just the right thing.