Monday, May 21, 2012

Hard Lane Solo

Soloing the hard lane against a trilane or strong dual lane can be very difficult for inexperienced players to deal with. In pubs it tends to happen when someone on your team jungles forcing you to solo by yourself.

For many average players the following scenario usually plays out:
The creeps are near the enemy tower and you can't even get into exp range. They deny hard too so the creeps never come towards you. After a few minutes of doing nothing you start to get frustrated and try to be more aggressive. This just leads to you dying and setting yourself back even more. Maybe you start raging at your team for someone to come help you. Or you go into another lane to mess things up.

You've probably encountered players who have done this before or maybe even you could be that player. In any case, here are some tips should you find yourself soloing against a tough lane:

1. NOT DYING should be your top priority.
You are already expected to get little to no farm while your opponents are going to have freefarm. Dying only widens this gap. Most average players die because of frustration. They get tired of sitting around doing nothing and make poor decisions. Do not give in and continue to play safe. By not giving them free kills you are already contributing something.
Stronger players tend to die because of greed. They try too hard to get a last hit or maybe they see a kill opportunity which causes them to be out of position. Do not give in to greed either. Any actions that can possibly get you killed should be avoided.

2. Understand what your hero is capable of doing in the lane.
Some heros can get away with more than other heros can. For example, Wind Runner can afford to be a bit more aggressive because if things go bad she can windrun away. Other heroes (melee, no escape skills) might just be forced to sit at the tower forever. Think about what your hero can do and act accordingly.

3. Understand what your opponent's heroes can do.
Knowing if their skills and damage can kill you is extremely important. Also know cast ranges so you can avoid getting stunned. Watch their behavior too. Most players start acting differently when they want to go for a kill.

4. Aim for a fast boots and Basilius (if posssible).
If your lane match up allows you to get some farm, getting boots quickly makes your time in lane a lot easier. The enemy supports usually will be too slow to be able to land their disables against you and you can outmaneuver them to gain more farm/exp.
Bas is good because it allows you to fight against early pushes on your tower with the aura on. It also provides a nice stream of mana for your hero. The armor is nice for mitigating the inevtiable harass as well.

5. Being under your tower doesn't mean it's safe.
If the enemy has creeps tanking tower hits, they can just go on you and get a quick kill. It's wise to keep a comfortable distance from the enemy heroes even when you're at your tower. Against some really aggressive heroes you might even have to go back to your second tower.

6. Consider rune checking and going for a gank.
If you're sitting at your tower and approaching the creeps will get you killed, you might be more productive by checking the rune and going for a gank on mid. Keep the creep position in mind because if you leave while the creeps reach your tower, you could be missing out on a lot of precious exp.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Soul Ring Overrated?

Soul Ring is an item that has many attractive features which makes it a popular choice among players. When I was still fairly new to Dota I remember rushing Perseverance on every hero. My thoughts on it were “Hey, this item gives me imba regen so I can stay in lane. AND I get mana from it so I can spam spells!”
 I would always start the game with no starting items and quickly rush Ring of Health and farm the Void Stone asap. I was so blinded by the benefits of the item that I didn’t realize they weren’t enough to make up for the costs.

This is actually a big issue for a lot of players. After a certain item choice works well for them in a few games, they continue to get that item in every game afterwards. Of course, they will probably lose a few games but the problem is that they won’t realize the reason for them doing poorly in those games is BECAUSE OF THEIR ITEM CHOICE.
I’ve had several successful games with my Pers first Beastmaster and Sven by spamming Axes and Stormbolt on my opponent and easily winning the lane. I’ve also lost several games with the same heroes and build too but I clearly remember thinking, “I lost the lane cause I faced a better hero” or “I lost cause I kept getting ganked because my teammates are noobs and don’t call MIA”. Not once did I ever consider that my losses could be the result of my item choice.

Back when I was making Perseverance, Soul Ring didn’t exist yet but I’m pretty sure that would’ve been my item of choice on every hero if it was released. It’s basically a mini Perseverance. You get HP regen and tons of mana to work with. It’s also much cheaper and easy to get from the side shop. What a great item!
But just like other items, there are situations where they work and situations where they don’t. Just because you won a few games with Soul Ring doesn’t make it an auto-buy every game.
As a note, there are some heroes where Soul Ring benefits them greatly regardless of the situation. For example, Brood, Tinker, and DK all make great use of the item. I’m mainly referring to heroes where getting soul ring may be questionable such as Sven, ES, Pudge, etc.

There are a few cons to the item which make it weak.

You pay 150hp to get 150 mana. This is fine if you’re in a strong lane and don’t expect any ganks on you. You get to spam spells and apply heavy pressure on the enemy as well as pick up some good farm.
However, if you’re against a strong lane or good gankers, Soul Ring use can leave you at vulnerable levels of hp. This can make you an easy kill.
Also, there may be times where you’re under attack and need to use Soul Ring to cast a spell. But the last thing you want to do is kill yourself faster by doing 150 damage to yourself.
So if you’re expecting heavy pressure from enemy heroes, Soul Ring is probably not the best choice.

The second con is that Soul Ring doesn’t increase your max mana pool. I know that you can go above max mana with Soul Ring but this mana is “artificial” and there are still going to be issues.
The cooldown on Soul Ring is 25 seconds. Most spells have a cooldown much shorter than 25 seconds. It’s very likely that you’ll use a spell twice or even thrice after a soul ring use. For low mana pool heroes like ES or Pudge, this leaves you sitting at uncomfortable levels of mana.
This is bad because you might run into situations where you’ll need to cast 2 spells, like Hook and Dismember, but Soul Ring will only grant you 1 spell. This mana choke issue happens a lot when Soul Ring is purchased.
Consider saving 200g more and getting Arcane Boots instead. They give a much bigger mana pool and have huge benefits to your team.

Lastly, Soul Ring largely promotes spell spamming in order to harass, farm, or both at the same time. Spell spamming greatly increases the chances that you get caught in a situation where using one your spells actually matters in getting a kill or saving your life. But instead, you just used that spell to get a last hit on a creep and now it’s on cooldown. GG.

Next time you want to buy a Soul Ring, consider if what you gain from the item can really make up for its costs. You might have to spend the 800g in other ways and learn to manage your mana better.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Earthshaker - Beyond the Blink Dagger

After the standard core of Arcane Boots and Blink on ES, what item do we get next? Aghs looks like the most popular choice over a large amount of games. I see a lot of players get this after blink without considering the effectiveness of alternative items. This is the main reason I decided to write this article.

To set the record straight, I don’t think Aghs is a terrible choice; the buildup is really easy and provides very nice stats. I often consider it as a followup to blink. Although if you’re making scepter solely for the ult upgrade, you might want to look at what the upgrade actually does.

“Can be upgraded with Aghanim's Scepter, causes each hero hit by the initial shockwave to echo the wave twice.”
At level 16, the echo damage is 70. Now if you’re not playing against retards, you can probably expect to hit 2-3 heroes with your ult in a team fight.
If my understanding of how the spell works is correct, Scepter will add 140-210 damage to each hero unreduced. After reduction it’s 105-157.5. Not a whole lot of damage.

So what are some good alternatives?

I feel that you should make this in most situations. If you’re facing competent players, there’s usually something that’s assigned to stopping your combo. It could be an Invoker in the back waiting to tornado you when you blink, or someone with orchid or a hex. You need to be able to cast your spells so you can proc Aftershocks and stun enemies for the full 4-4.5 seconds. BKB ensures that this happens.

If you’re not too concerned about getting stunned, Bloodstone is a great choice. It’s not commonly seen but I’ve used it very successfully. You get more hp than aghs and lets you play in a more suicidal manner as dying will benefit your team with the heal. Plus the buildup is easy too and you can disassemble Arcane boots to make it which puts it in the same price range as scepter.

Really strong choices but you have to consider if you’re going to be able to get the Mystic Staff. 2700 is a pretty hefty sum for an ES. But if your team is giving you the farm for it then go ahead.

Most people don’t think about getting this on ES but the HP and evasion help a ton. Best against physical dpsers because of Disarm.

If things aren’t looking too good for your team and you quickly need something to add that extra edge in teamfights, blademail is a good option. Very cheap components and lets you function after casting your initial combo.

Ideally, someone else should be making these for the midgame where they are most effective. By the time ES gets either Mek or Pipe, it will probably be late into the game where these items don’t shine as much. Nonetheless they are decent if your team lacks a pipe/mek carrier but consider how beneficial these items will be for your team before you choose to purchase them.

These are the items I find myself most commonly making on ES after dagger. Dota is game where choices are always “it depends”. Some items might be good in certain scenarios but not good in others. Use your brain when you play and choose the item that will give you the most benefit.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Playing From Behind

We've all had games where things go terribly wrong right from the start. All your lanes get crushed, mistakes are made, and you get ganked multiple times. The enemy team is playing with great teamwork and coordiantion while yours is playing like noobs. Before you know it, the score is 2-14 and all your outer towers are down while you haven't even touched the enemy's. Despair starts to set in and you want to sit in your fountain so the game ends faster.

This might happen more to some people than others, but nonetheless WILL happen at some point in a players career.

These situations are a blessing in disguise. I feel that fighting with your back against the wall is one of the best ways to grow as a player. Facing huge amounts of pressure and trying to overcome the odds will teach you things about the game that you would never realize if you simply gave up. And if you do happen to turn a game around, it's one of the most satisfying moments you can have playing DotA.

So how do we go about fighting our way back up the slippery slope?
The first and most important thing is to get back your confidence. As cheesy as it sounds, it's true. You need to convince yourself that you and your teammates can pull yourselves together and go on to win despite all odds.
Even if you feel like things are hopeless, the reality is that the game isn't over till it's over and winning is ALWAYS POSSIBLE FROM ANY SITUATION. Sure, the chance to win might rely more on enemies making mistakes rather than you actually doing anything, but at least you can play in such a way that maximizes their chances of screwing up.
Being in a weak position can actually be advantageous in that it may cause your opponents to play more carelessly as they think they've already won the game. This leads to them making mistakes that slowly and slowly give you the advantage.
In DotA, the outcome of a game is never certain at any point in the game until the end; just like playing the lottery. But if you don't try at all, you won't have that small probability on your side that you might pull off a win.

Okay, now that we've got our confidence back, what's the next step?
STOP DYING. Minimizing deaths will stop the gap between you and your opponents from getting bigger. If you haven't been dying, great! But you have to be really cautious and not die unecessary deaths as the enemy is probably going to try and kill any heroes in sight at this point. Understand that you are in the position and need to play defensively. Do not take any risks unless they look heavily in your favor. Put up defensive wards when you can and use them to avoid any confrontations as you'll most likely lose.

Now you need to START FARMING. Actually, minimizing deaths and maximizing farm are going to be done together rather than one after the other. You really want to focus on farming up to close the gold and level gap. At the same time, you want to farm safely. Use wards to your advantage so you know when to b. DO NOT GET GREEDY. If you see a 5 man gank coming, do not stick around to get that 1 last creep kill. Get out of there fast.
Don't be tempted to gank lone heroes. Chances are, back up will quickly arrive and you'll end up with a 5 for 1 trade which does nothing to help you.
Take it slow and safely catch up to your enemies.

DO NOT attempt to start teamfights that are away from your tower. The other team is already stronger than you so you will need every advantage you can get.

It's important to know when you are TRULY stronger than your opponents. Don't get overconfident just because you win a series of teamfights. They might have just been playing poorly because they got cocky. The next teamfight, they might start focusing and playing for reals which results in all your hard work going down the drain. Make sure you analyze the situation carefully to determine if you can really start taking control of the game again.

These things alone are no guarantee of winning the game but it's your best shot. Play conservatively and take chances when you have a clear advantage.

If you're playing with some randoms on your team who won't listen to you, it's probably going to be 10 times harder to turn the game around. Your best bet is telling your teammates to "play safe guys" and following the STOP DYING START FARMING method. If you're lucky, you will eventually be able to carry your team to victory.

Regardless of a win or loss, the important part of playing from behind is that you get A LOT better. If you get used to playing optimally at a disadvantage, imagine how you'll play when you are given an advantage.

While it'd be nice to just be extremely good at DotA and never get into sticky situations, the fact is that mistakes will happen eventually and you're going to be in an inferior position. Part of being a good player is having the ability to play out of these positions.

Dota 2 Match ID: 12806921
My team is playing on the Dire side and consists of 5 friends. We have an extremely poor early game where all our lanes lose and our opponents have way more farm and levels. The replay showcases how safe play and a series of successful teamfights can slowly catch you up to the opponents and eventually lead you to take the win.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

PanDa VS DK Commentary by 2009

2009 is a well known DotA 1 player and has won many tournaments with his team before his retirement from the competitive scene. He has since moved into commentating to be able to share his knowledge of the game.
I often watch his videos because he gives a lot of good insight into strategic parts of the game that may not be very obvious if you are simply watching the replay. 2009 definately knows his stuff and after watching his videos I always feel like I become a better player.

This video features PanDa and DK, two of the strongest teams in DotA 1, facing off against each other in a tournament a few months ago. It is in Chinese but has very recently been subbed by carl14706. His youtube channel has many more subbed videos that are all worth watching.
In the video above, 2009 gives a lot of good insight into the decision making process when it comes to pushing or trading towers. There is also some discussion about how item choices need to revolve around your team's strategy. This game is also very unique in that DK chooses to use a strategy that is not so common in the current metagame but makes it work well.

I strongly believe that if you want to be a better player, you need to watch the pros play. After all, how do you get better if you don't even know what the best players are doing? If you're still into DotA 1, 2009's videos are some of the best around and are probably some of the most informative.
Check out his youku page here. His videos are all in Chinese but even if you don't understand it, you can learn a lot just from watching his gameplay.
He does commentary on matches between top teams and also has several first person videos of himself playing various heroes. The first person videos are really educational because you get to see things like camera control, what players look at, and how they click.
I don't really recommend watching these if you've only played Dota 2. I say this because you will not be familiar with the hero models, items, and the interface which will make it hard to follow.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Protips For Solo Mid Qeen Of Pain

QOP is one of my favorite heroes to play especially when soloing mid. The skill build I normally use and will be discussing in this article is the Blink/Scream/Scream/Blink/Scream/Ult/Scream build.
I’ve soloed against other QOPs who used a Blink/Shadow Strike/Shadow Strike build which seems like it lets you dominate the lane more but with a tradeoff for a weaker midgame. I will refrain from commenting too much on the Shadow Strike skill build since I have never used it personally.
I am not saying the SS build is bad. In fact, I think it is very strong and have plans to try it myself. But for years I have been using the Blink/Scream build with no problems and want to share some of my knowledge on it.

I’ve soloed against a wide variety of heroes and found that the most frustrating matchups are against Bat, Lich, and the unexpected Huskar and Bloodseeker. Other than those, I feel that other matchups against common mid solos are even.

Here are some pointers that I make use of regularly and will hopefully help you the next time you play QOP:

Proper use of Blink and Scream are key to winning the lane. Blink lets you trade hits more aggressively since you can blink out if something goes wrong. It also lets you capitalize if your opponent is out of position. Scream gives you control over the creep equilbrium and gives you killing potential.

A well known trick is using Scream to get a last hit and harass at the same time. If I can, I like to hit the range creep a few times to get it in killing range for scream. Then I just wait until a melee creep gets low enough and the enemy hero comes into range and scream them for 2cs and harass.
If they’re scared and stay back, don’t use scream and last hit like normal.
It’s better to walk up and scream rather than blinking because QOPs mana gets worn down very quickly if you blink and scream every time. Also, if the enemy decides to fight back when you come in, you want to have blink ready to escape in case things aren’t looking in your favor.
Do not do this when Scream is at level 1. The damage is really low and mana cost is high.

Another little thing I like to do is if the last enemy creep is about to die, and their hero is near the creepline, just blink next to them and scream and attack walk. You will do A LOT of damage. Most heroes can’t fight back because they have to tank creep hits as well as your attack. Use your judgment on this though because heroes like Huskar and Bat (if he had a few stacks on you) can just kill you easily.

Start using scream more when it’s about time for the rune to spawn. You want to push the creeps back so you can grab the rune.

At level 6, your killing potential goes up drastically and you can start being more aggressive. Your opponent will need to keep their hp above 500 or so because Scream, Sonic Wave, and a few attacks will kill them quickly. And most common mid solos tend to be more fragile so it’s easier to get them into this killing zone.
I like to pick up a TP at this point and look for gank or counter gank opportunities in the sidelanes. It’s really easy to get kills since not a lot of heroes can stand up to the early nuke damage.

When going for a kill, use Sonic Wave first and then blink in and Scream. This causes both Sonic Wave and Scream to hit at the same time for massive damage. If you Blink Scream first, there is a slight delay before casting Sonic Wave where the opponent can do something to survive, like use their magic stick, leap or windwalk away, silence you, etc.

If you happen to get a good rune like Double Damage or Haste, go gank the corresponding sidelane if they are pushed out. If it doesn’t look like an easy gank, head back mid and use the rune to help you win the lane. Don’t waste time sitting around the river waiting for a gank opportunity to happen. By the time you get back mid, the enemy may have had too much time alone and can fight you much easier.

Itemwise, I usually aim for getting bottle, two nulls, and a magic wand. The cheap stats really help her fragility and give her a good mana pool to support her spells. Another common trick is to drop your stat items, if it’s convenient, before using bottle and then pick them up afterwards. This lets you regen a larger percentage of your mana and hp.
Boots actually aren’t a high priority for QOP due to her ability to blink. Early stat items help far more than an early boots.

If you do come across heroes like Bat, Huskar, Bloodseeker, or even Exort Invokers or SF, some players like to deny every single creep with these heroes and stand between you and the creepwave and there’s nothing you can do about it. The best option I have found is to get a bottle ASAP and use the Scream trick to get cs. If they are denying a lot, most likely the wave will be on their ramp and you can runewhore. If they push the wave out so they can grab the rune, that’s okay too since you can now cs and get exp. Just play safe until level 6 and you might have a chance to kill them.

Making use of all these laning tips will add up and make your QOP play much stronger. Some of these things apply to other solos as well so I hope this makes you guys stronger solo mid players.
In the future, I hope to post up more in-detail advice for specific matchups.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Warlock in 6.74 - A Look at a "New" Skill Build

Warlock is a hero that has received nothing but buffs over the past several versions yet still goes largely unnoticed. He is extremely powerful and versatile with his ability to solo a lane or serve as a babysitter while not being particularly item dependent. He fills in the role of an initiator/counter initiator very nicely and fits great in push teams.
Historically, there have been two ways to play Warlock: either as a babysitter for a carry or as a solo semi-carry. It was standard for a lot of players to do a Word+Stats skill build since it gave him enormous lane staying and harassing ability. However, times have changed and players need to revise their mindset of standard Warlock play.

These days, passive babysitters have fallen out of favor for more threatening supports. As such, I have found that soloing enables Warlock to perform most effectively. This is the skill build I have been using for a solo lane with much success:

1 – Bonds
2 – Upheaval
3 – Bonds
4 – Upheaval
5 – Upheaval
6 – Ult
7 – Upheaval
8 – Bonds
9 – Bonds
Stats and Ult when possible till 21
22-25 – Word

One thing that may stand out to you is the lack of Shadow Word. I suspect that this may be a controversial issue for most people since maxing Word first seems like the logical choice. After all, shouldn’t you max your nukes first? And plus, the spell doubles as a heal so you can stay in lane. Pretty much everyone would be inclined to think this way after looking at his skillset.
Players are slowly starting to realize that Shadow Word isn’t as great as it was thought to be and have adopted newer builds that focus on maxing his far superior skills, Fatal Bonds and Upheaval, for the midgame. And with so many buffs to these skills, there’s even more reason to take them over Word.

What are the shortcomings of Shadow Word?

At max level, Word is 290 dmg over 9 seconds after applying resistance. The damage is about the same as other max level nukes but the fact that it is damage over time and doesn’t stun or slow makes the spell unattractive. Not to mention enemies can be denied when under the effect of Shadow Word.
It’s actually a very strong heal in the early stages but I feel it’s not worth delaying Bonds and/or Upheaval since they give you so much presence in the midgame.
You can get Tranquil Boots to cover your regen needs and Fatal Bonds actually does more damage to the enemy when you link them with multiple creeps at full hp.
If you’re not a fan of Tranquils, it’s not too bad to level up Word but I don’t recommend putting more than 2 points into it or it delays your more relevant skills too much.

Comparing with the standard Warlock

While Word+Stats or Word+Bonds are very solid builds for the laning stages, the game is much more fast paced now and midgame teamfights have more potential to be decisive. Upheaval completely outshines Shadow Word in team fights and gives Warlock something to do after casting Infernal and Bonds.

If I’m laning against a Warlock and he does a max word build, I’m probably not going to kill him and he’s probably not going to kill me but when the midgame comes I know that either Upheaval, Bonds, or both will not be high enough level to pose a real threat.
If the Warlock skips word and gets Tranquils or masses regen items, the same outcome occurs except now he has two devastating skills to wreck in teamfights later on.

Skill builds and playstyles for heroes should change as they receive buffs and nerfs. Sticking to things that have been considered standard in the past may not be as effective anymore. A good example of this is Axe. For a long time, Battle Hunger was considered garbage and never skilled. Now, it’s widely accepted that it should be maxed first.
If you’re still stuck with the max Shadow Word builds, give this new build a try and see how it works. I’ve used it a lot and seen others use it as well with great results.