Tier 5 neutrals are supposed to end the game by introducing insane power spikes, but a recent pro game showed just how completely imbalanced they can now be.
Pirate Hats and Fallen Skies are fun to use, but there’s a reason Dota 2 saves them until after an hour. Tier 5 neutrals are some of the most powerful items in the game next to Aegises and Divine Rapiers. While some items like Apex and Seer Stone provide utility in spades, others are mediocre bonuses or just too specific for some drafts. They’ve always been imbalanced at the highest tier, but a massive swing in a Dota Pro Circuit Major match could encourage Valve to take a closer look at tier 5 neutrals.
The latest demonstration of terrible Dota 2 RNG took place at the Arlington Major. Team Liquid and Royal Never Give Up played their last game of the group stage on August 8, ultimately ending 1-1 with both sides advancing to the lower bracket of the playoffs. The first game lasted 63 minutes before abruptly ending in Liquid’s favor after notably imbalanced RNG for tier 5 neutrals.
Team Liquid earned an early advantage thanks to strong mid and safe lane performances. TL won a massive fight over RNG thanks to Lasse “MATUMBAMAN” Urpalainen’s Bristleback, but RNG’s greedier lineup soon came online. The game continued to drag with low-commitment fights and initiation counters. After taking the fourth Roshan and diving tier fours at 54 minutes, Dota 2 estimates that Royal Never Give Up had a win probability of 85%.
After a successful defense, Team Liquid rushed the enemy ancient but was repelled by a wave of buybacks. The stalemate continued past 60 minutes. With tiers 5 then on the table, both teams rushed their jungles. Here’s what they found.
Even though Team Liquid only acquired three items, the resulting power spike was so big that RNG couldn’t contest it. With Ex Machina, Bristleback suddenly had two Black King Bars, two Satanics, and two Abyssal Blades. A second Force Staff on Razor, a Shadow Blade on Nyx Zero, and low attack speed on Terrorblade’s illusions just wasn’t enough to counter it.
When it comes to Tier 5 neutral items, their win rates range from 57.79% to 53.12%. It’s no secret that they’re imbalanced, but why do they continue to be so?
The first reason is because the sample size for tier 5 neutrals is substantially lower than most other items. Dotabuff estimates that tier 5 neutral item Book of Shadows has only appeared in 108,295 games this month. For refence, Black King Bar was seen in 43 million games. Statistics are a powerful tool in balancing, and the necessary numbers just don’t exist for the game’s most powerful neutral items.
The second part is related more to how Valve designs these game-ending items. Many tier 5 items give a lot of a very specific attribute. Pirate Hat gives more attack speed than a Moon Shard, but what does that mean for a hero who already hits lightning fast? Anathan “ana” Pham‘s Terrorblade barely made any use of it, as the bonus attack speed doesn’t apply to illusions. The specificity of many tier 5s makes them either highly valuable or nearly worthless, and only luck decides which a team will get.
If Valve’s goal with tier 5 neutral items was to make the game end more abruptly, the current state of affairs is clearly a success. This Arlington Major match between RNG and Team Liquid is proof enough of that.