Pudge is by far today’s most popular Dota hero, whose origins can be traced back to more than 20 years ago to Diablo 1, an ARPG by Blizzard. Many of Dota’s heroes in Warcraft’s days also borrowed their character design and lore from other Blizzard franchise—it’s no surprise that the iconic Alleria (Windrunner) and Illidan (Anti-Mage) also migrated their popularity into the Dota franchise. Pudge’s popularity has also still persisted to this day. While fan favorites like Invoker and Sniper have taken turns at the top, Pudge is the most played hero in Dota 2 of all time. This month alone, he’s being picked at a high of 46%, almost 50% more than the next popular hero, Sniper.
He was popular even before he was a viable hero, and now with his buffs patch over patch, he’s winning at a 53% clip. More games are both won and lost with a Pudge in the game than any other hero. How did it come to this?
This pixelated creature was once the most terrifying experience in video gaming
The Butcher was your first quest in Diablo and your first boss encounter. In a section of the game that’s about learning the mechanics and exploring the world, Blizzard, with a bold game design move—at least in the mid 90s—designed that first encounter for you to lose. The Butcher killed you in just a few whacks of his meat cleaver.
The only recourse was to run away, go deeper into the dungeon, and come back to defeat him when you became strong enough. The arching design idea was to give players freedom by allowing them to fail at the first stages of the game. The idea sounds quaint now, but this experience was part of what made Diablo the landmark ARPG of the era.
Enter “Pudge, The Butcher” in Dota 1. His Butcher title has since been removed, for the same reasons we now have a Windranger and a Bear-like creature for Brewmaster instead of a Panda. Dota 1’s heroes borrowed designs and lore from other Blizzard franchises, and with Warcraft 3’s Abomination character model, it was natural to import The Butcher from Diablo 1. Unlike The Butcher, the Abomination’s character model was more flesh golem than humanoid, now undead and donning multiple limbs. He still had the cleaver and meat hook.
Dota 2’s version became an amalgam of the hero’s past. He lost his extra limbs but was still undead, disemboweled, and rotting. Though he was no longer The Butcher, he still had the cleaver, meat hook, and apron. Everyone could put the pieces together.
Dendi surprises the audience at the TI all-star event
Dendi is the most popular pro player on our website, and it’s not dependent on the success of his team. He’s one of the few veterans from Dota 1 who is still playing at a high level today. And just as how legends have their signature heroes associated to them—Burning and Anti-Mage, Ferrari_430 and Templar Assassin—Dendi has Pudge.
It’s certainly an odd pairing, as Pudge was nowhere near as strong as he is today. He had obvious weaknesses, but the few things he was good at, Dendi and Na’Vi were able to extract the most out of more than any other team.The infamous fountain hook strategy that pulled Na’Vi to a comeback victory against Tongfu in The International 2013
Because of Pudge’s weaknesses in previous metas, Dendi playing Pudge felt more like a selfless ode to Dota fans. He was willing to risk his team’s chances to win for the sake of entertaining the crowd. It could have been seen as disrespectful of opposing teams to do so, except Dendi found success with the hero. If Pudge wasn’t already a popular hero enough in pubs, Dendi was trolling teams on the big stage and winning at the same time.
Pudge getting his Meat Hook nerfed (from 110/120/130/140 mana cost to 140 at all levels) in 7.07d was a rare occurrence. Aside from changes in 7.02 (285 to 280 movespeed) and 7.03 (Meat Hook speed nerf), he’s been getting buffs since patch 6.83, nearly 3 years ago.
Dismember was retooled over and over. 6.86 rescaled its damage and added healing, 6.88 lowered its cooldown, 6.88b increased its damage, and 7.07 nudged its duration higher and added a pull effect. Rot’s slow jumped from 20% to 30% over the same period.
Patch 7.07 also added another wrinkle to Pudge’s abilities that made him more viable in today’s meta: the ability to use Meat Hook to pull runes. Pudge players already had an advantage in the river, where Runes become attractive bait for enemy heroes. But now they also have a low-risk option to nab runes for themselves, then having the mana cost refunded as well.
Overtime, Pudge’s disadvantages have been mitigated. His weaknesses are now offset by buffs to his base health regen and Strength as a stat. Flesh Heap, now also with its own level 25 talent, became stronger when Strength gained status resistance perks. In the hero’s history, Pudge was popular even though he had clear disadvantages. He had unique mechanics and was fun to play. And now that he’s also winning more games than ever, he’s a menace to play against.