Dota 2 is a game that has incredible balance, and almost limitless room for creativity among its professional players. Still, no matter how flexible a metagame gets there are always going to be some characters that are better than others.
Things have come a long way since 2012, when heroes like Lycan and Naga Siren dominated the meta, and Jakiro was impossible to win with. But there is still a variety of factors that can make different heroes fit into the game better than others.
With The International 2019 just around the corner, it’s worth looking over the recent trends in Dota 2 tournaments to determine which heroes are the go-tos for pro players. Win.GG poured over the statistics from a number of events, and studied the rapid-fire balance patches to pick out which heroes captains build their teams around.
Though every single hero is viable in competitive play, many are niche or situational options rather than the foundations of a winning lineup. By looking over the numbers and trends, we’ve picked out the characters that set the standard for their roles and also discovered some interesting patterns that could reveal what strategies teams have in mind for TI9.
Despite consistent nerfs throughout the 7.22 patch Spirit Breaker, Chen, Enigma, and Omniknight are four heroes that terrify pro players. That fact was on full display at the Dota Summit 10 where all four were banned in an overwhelming majority of games. On the off chance they got picked, they were generally quite successful.
All four took a hit in the most recent 7.22f update but at this point, it seems like Valve would really have to bring down the hammer in order to get the pros to ignore them.
Spirit Breaker remains an excellent initiator at all phases of the game, Chen can threaten towers in just a few minutes, and Enigma can basically do both of these things at the same time. Omniknight doesn’t fit into either of these molds but he offers exceptional lane sustainability and above-average scaling with his +90 GPM talent at level 10.
Storm Spirit has long been a go-to pick for elite mid laners like Syed “SumaiL” Hassan and Zeng “Ori” Jiaoyang, and that hasn’t changed this season. Just as importantly, Valve seems to love him. Despite seeing almost every other frequently used hero get repeatedly nerfed over recent months, Valve hasn’t touched Storm Spirit since giving him a few buffs in 7.22b.
Storm Spirit was already in a great place, but after avoiding nerfs in 7.22f once again, it’s possible he’s going to be the most sought-after mid laner in Dota 2.
Ancient Apparition and Outworld Devourer inhabit a unique space by comparison. Both are strong within their respective roles, but also happen to be solid counters to other popular heroes in the meta.
In terms of popularity and success, Morphling is a clear-cut S-tier hero. The sticking point is the nerfs he took in 7.22f. It’s possible those changes won’t impact him all that much, but time will ultimately tell.
Ember Spirit was hit with a seemingly big nerf after the Epicenter Major, but that didn’t really affect him all that much. Though root now disables Sleight of Fist, pros didn’t seem all that bothered by the change, as he remains popular and successful in tournaments and high-level pubs.
Juggernaut sets the standard for top lane carries right now. Heroes like Medusa and Spectre are on a bit of a decline of late with cores that offer early damage alongside solid scaling becoming increasingly prominent. Juggernaut sits atop the pack right now, but there are solid options aplenty.
Mars and Batrider stand as strong initiation options that can be flexed at the three or four position. Beastmaster fits into the same niche as Chen, offering strong pushing potential almost immediately. Finally, Grimstroke and Dark Willow are popular supports that offer solid damage options alongside potent disables.
Few of these should come as a surprise.
Sven, Slark, and Lifestealer all fit into the same niche as Juggernaut, offering strong early game impact alongside solid late game scaling. Lone Druid, Enchantress, Shadow Shaman, and Leshrac all offer very strong early game pushing tools.
Things start to open up in terms of viable support heroes from here, with Rubick, Oracle, and Crystal Maiden all popping up just outside the A tier.
Rubick has always been a favorite, given his peerless potential for making big plays. Crystal Maiden’s passive mana regeneration and strong damage output offer a lot in this meta. Oracle stands as a kind of discount Omniknight, offering healing and strong acceleration based on his talent tree.
The biggest surprise here is the resurgence of core Kunkka. While Kunkka has long been used as a support due to his strong disable abilities, he has been popping up more frequently as a safe lane carry or mid.
Naga Siren also finds herself returning to her former core glory. She was one of the most feared heroes in Dota 2 at one point but fell off after repeated nerfs. Now she is making a comeback as one of the best split push options in the game, and one of the deadliest heroes after the 45 minute mark.
Many of the game’s enduring specialists fall into this category. Efficient farmers Anti-Mage and Alchemist, bulky initiators Axe and Tidehunter, and AOE damage dealers Queen of Pain and Timbersaw all found some love with their strong niche tools.
Most of the remaining early game tower killers also land here. Troll Warlord is a solid core hero at every point in the game, but lands ahead of most thanks to his passive ability. Windranger has taken on the role once held by Dragon Knight, working as a mid laner that has strong wave clear and the ability to melt a tier-one tower if left unattended. Finally, Broodmother and her ability to keep a lane permanently pushed make an appearance.
Nyx Assassin and Medusa pop up as the oddballs of this group.
Nyx Assassin was a definitive S-tier hero earlier in the year, getting banned an overwhelming majority of the time. He still enjoys a solid amount of use and offers an excellent stun alongside one of the most scalable spells in the game in Mana Burn, but the hard shift in the meta towards pushing has seen him slide down the rankings in a big way.
Like Nyx, Medusa’s popularity is clearly being hindered by her unremarkable pushing potential. She remains an excellent hero in the late game but is still a big step behind the likes of Lone Druid and Naga Siren.
Just outside the B tier are many of the stragglers from the successful hero archetypes. Solid pushing threats in Death Prophet and Clinkz appear, highly specialized support heroes Lina and Bane are present and accounted for, and some more strength-based initiators appear with Legion Commander, Magnus, and Slardar.
Also included in this group are some previously top-tier heroes that have suffered from a steep decline.
Sand King, Templar Assassin, Io, and Doom were some of the most popular heroes at different points in the year but have either gotten rocked by nerfs or just fallen out of favor within the professional scene. These four have all enjoyed some play of late, but it remains unclear if they are returning to normalcy or are on a slide into irrelevance.
It’s been a rough few months for Warlock and Dark Seer. The pair were flying high as almost guaranteed picks and bans in all prominent tournaments, an achievement that drew the attention of Valve. This resulted in a series of nerfs that left the heroes considerably weaker and, in the case of Dota Summit 10, almost completely unusable.
That was enough to see these previously top tier choices fall outside the rankings ahead of The International 2019.
On paper, Warlock fits into the meta well given his ability to heal allies early and push hard in the mid game. Fatal Bonds also remains one of the deadliest spells in the game, under the right circumstances. His absence from Dota Summit 10 could be an aberration and it will be interesting to see if he can return to form.
Dark Seer is in an even shakier spot. The 7.22e nerf to Ion Shell was a devastating blow for Dark Seer, who went from being a threat at all stages of the game to being a niche counter to right click carries that don’t build quickly build Black King Bar. He might still be able to get some screen time at The International 2019 but it looks like he is set to slip back into obscurity after briefly returning to his former glory.