There is something extremely satisfying about finding a Dota hero you truly click with. It forms a bond between you and the hero that transcends wins and losses and lets you dive deeper into the specific mechanics and interactions that hardly anyone else knows. The same thing could be said about the roles in the game, each distinctly important in their own right. We have all had that teammate who picks Anti-Mage but keeps showing up to fights with no items and probably wondered, “why is this idiot playing carry if he wants to fight all the time?”
The truth is, each of us has different ideas about what is important in Dota and how the game should be played. Many of these ideas lead us to prefer playing one of the well-defined roles more than the others. It makes sense too, people with different personalities tend to favor different jobs and hobbies in their day-to-day lives. It made me want to try and distill each role down to one main defining personality trait that makes players fit well into a given role.
Generally speaking, if you enjoy your job you’ll do it better. In Dota, no team does it better than Team Secret right now so I watched a bunch of their replays to try and understand what makes each of their star players stand out in their chosen roles.
When the game is on the line and it’s time to close out that victory, no role has more influence than the carry position. Because of this, good decision making is the single most important aspect of being a good carry player. It may actually help to equate this role to something like a banker or financial advisor. After all, the carry role generally holds the majority of a team’s net worth and is responsible for using it effectively. Like a smart investor, a great carry avoids trying to get rich quickly but prefers to steadily grow and cash in their influence at precisely the right moment.
From watching MATUMBAMAN and other top-tier carries, there is a clear focus on avoiding risk. By dying as little as possible on the best scaling heroes in the game, a carry is investing in their future prospects to win. To pull this off effectively, the great carry players fight ONLY when there is great benefit in doing so. By being ultra-selective about fights and spending most of their time steadily accruing farm, a top tier carry creates a great deal of psychological pressure on their opponents.
Any good investor plans for the future and tries to calculate which direction the markets are most likely to go. Similarly, excellent carry players like MATUMBAMAN carefully plan the correct item progression based on the flow of the game and opposing lineup to find the right timing to make a game-changing play. It is also important to note that seizing the right moment when you have the upper hand is critical to success in the carry role. Misjudging a timing or misreading the tempo of the game will almost always lead to ruin for you and your team. All the best carry players have a firm grasp on what their power peak is and how to achieve it for maximum impact.
They say no man is an island but the best midlaners come close. To play mid is to have sole responsibility for your trajectory in the game. Mid players are often misconstrued as cocky or arrogant and this mentality is a side effect of their considerable power in the game. After studying Nisha however, it’s very clear that the self-assuredness of a top tier mid player comes from their own self-reliance.
It is immediately apparent when watching Nisha play just how willing he is to shoulder full responsibility for giving himself a good game. Whether he is warding or stacking, patrolling for runes or pressuring a lane, Nisha makes it clear to anyone watching that he is in charge. Because the mid role begins the game with the most opportunity to influence their lane, they also have the earliest opportunity to bring an advantage to other parts of the map. From watching Nisha play it’s obvious how little he needs his teammates to enable him and how this actually enables them. When a mid player takes care of themselves it allows the other four players to focus more fully on their own tasks. Nisha constantly showcases that he doesn’t need to be saved, buffed or taken care of because he will take care of himself. In the mid lane, there is no room for crying or complaining. After all, you wanted the solo lane in the first place, didn't you?
Offlaners have historically faced the weirdest and most varied circumstances. In some metas they are tasked with finding a way to survive and thrive against three kill hungry enemies. In others, they need to take towers and control the pace of play. It’s not surprising that offlane is the role where a lot of the innovation in Dota happens and players experiment with weird builds or adapt unexpected heroes to the role.
Along with creativity comes a natural fearlessness that enables the player to avoid worrying about failure. Creating anything of value involves a huge amount of mistakes along the way and it can be easy to give up under the pressure of these failures. Zai seems to exemplify this carefree approach to the game and rarely appears flustered after a double-digit death game. In fact, most of the time he bounces back in a big way after a mistake, having tweaked the formula and evolved his approach to a matchup or meta based problem. There is something supremely satisfying about extracting value against the odds through cheeky plays and a natural offlaner will take huge amounts of pride in these moments.
For the position 4 player, there is nothing more appealing than an out of position enemy hero. Other than maybe sniping a kill from long distance on a kill streaking opponent and feasting on the huge influx of net worth. Position 4 players are the masters of capitalizing on the moment and are always looking to test the enemy defenses for weakness. Team Secret’s Yapz0r has often been memed for his “kill stealing” but from a more holistic perspective, this is exactly what he should be trying to do.
Because the position 4 needs to play actively in most cases, there is very little downtime to keep up farm. Thus scaling must come from those opportunistic moments where you can get away with murder and snowball one tiny advantage into core level of impact. The best position 4s are always on the hunt looking for an opportunity or that one extra pick off to chain together. This aggressive and opportunistic style is a big part of why this role has evolved to control the pace of the game.
In no other role would it be acceptable to have no boots and only a magic wand at 10 minutes into the game. Even so, with a base 290 movement speed, the hard support will need to make sure to be in the right place at the right time, every time. This responsibility means that every move must be maximized, every single spell needs to be cast correctly and every tiny bit of gold you collect needs to be spent with a clear purpose.
Puppey has shown for over a decade that he is the best in the business at eeking out more value from fewer resources than practically anyone in the game. Another aspect of this is recognizing how to maximize downtime as well. Whether it be communicating strategy while dead or even jungling during a lull in the action, knowing how to get more out of every second in the game is crucial to success as a position 5. In some ways, hard support is the role of the perfectionist adding just one more reason why these players tend to be the captains of their teams as well.
The fact is, there is a lot of variety in a game as complex as Dota 2. There might be greedier supports, more selfless carries, and humble mid players. Using the current iteration of Team Secret as the shining example, however, it is clear as day that there are priorities on the spectrum of personal qualities that lead to success and excellence in each individual role. When you combine the embodiment of each quality with their respective roles you get a juggernaut of a Dota team that easily outperforms their opponents and appears to enjoy every moment of it in the process.