Zeus and Spectre are the current king of pubs at a near 60% win rate. The one difference being that Zeus is picked twice as often as Spectre, appearing in 18% of pubs. His dominance in pubs is undeniable, but his viability in the professional meta has been limited in comparison. His recent tweak in patch 7.16, capping off a streak of buffs since 7.00, may change that.
The commonality among the top pub stomping heroes is that they can impact the game from a low skill floor. It’s the kind of hero that the average Dota player can succeed with.
Crystal Maiden, Underlord, and Vengeful Spirit’s auras benefit the team with no effort. Plus they have straight forward, easy to use stuns. Wraith King is a one button hero with two lives. Riki and Axe benefit from gross underestimation.
But the reasons for why heroes are strong in pubs don’t necessarily carry over to competitive play. Zeus is in a tenuous spot for balancing where his skillset make him undeniably strong in pubs, but he has a few weaknesses that completely neuter him in higher skill games.
In competitive play, the lane plays a significant role in how a game unfolds. And unfortunately for Zeus, he’s easily shut down. He has one of the worst attack animations in the game, rivaling Lina’s. His reliance on Arc Lightning to last hit tends to push the lane equilibrium into dangerous territory. He’s fodder against a gank, and there’s little recourse for him to turn around a fight.
If he’s picked early as a midlane core, he has quite a few lane opponents that have an advantage. Viper is a bane against most heroes, but Corrosive Skin is especially annoying to play against as Zeus. Templar Assassin and Puck can play as if it’s a solo lane, and they both become threats to kill Zeus at level 6. For most situations, Zeus can only break even, at best, in the lane.
Patch 7.00 could’ve been a turning point for Zeus’ potential. Talents offered a way for him to scale to the mid and late game. And Nimbus was a worthy Aghanim’s upgrade.
But it wasn’t enough to mitigate his weaknesses. Ever since then, he’s been buffed patch after patch. Both 7.02 and 7.03 further tweaked Nimbus, reducing its cooldown/duration and strike interval. It’s at a point now where Aghanim’s Scepter as a first core item seems like a viable build.
iceice goes for an Agh’s first build facing Newbee.kaka’s Storm in a pub
He has also received buffs that address his weakness in the lane. His base strength increased by 2 and base regen went from 0 to 1.5. Most importantly, his base attack damage was increased in 7.12, 7.15, and once more in 7.16, resulting in a net increase from 21-29 to 33-41.
At level 1, that puts him at 53-61 base damage, which ranks higher than Queen of Pain, Death Prophet, and a Shadow Fiend with 8 souls. This may be the final change that nudges Zeus into competitive play. Arc Lightning offered no advantage with denies. Zeus’s best chance was to deny the ranged creep, which adds its own complications to his lane equilibrium.
It may seem small, but Zeus being able to contest on denies, especially with the change to denied xp, makes him that more competitive in the lane. Top it off with the buffs to his resiliency, a little bit more range on both his attack and Lightning Bolt, a meta that that's shifting away from push and towards fighting, and we might see Zeus surface in the pro scene.