Four heroes remained ignored throughout the whole tournament. Ignored heroes are to be expected even in long tournaments like the International and only four of them is an indicator of a great meta and high levels of diversity, but all of us would definitely be happier if we could claim that in our game every single hero is viable.
Today we will have a look at the inglorious four and discuss why these heroes are currently struggling and what changes can make them viable in the professional scene.
For a brief period of time last season, it looked like Slark was making a comeback. With decent laning stage buffs we saw the hero being picked in the professional scene, sometimes to a great success: he was among the most picked heroes in both EPICENTER XL and China Supermajor.
His downfall was as sudden as his rise to the top—there weren’t any massive direct nerfs or some global changes that made the hero significantly weaker. Slark simply fell out of favor and while it made our pubs a little bit more pleasant, it also allowed certain heroes to run rampant in the professional scene, uncontested by their typical rivals.
There are several reasons we can think of when it comes to his downfall: he is risky, somewhat cooldown-dependant, doesn’t push fast enough and is not a good teamfighter. But the biggest reason, at least in out opinion, is that he is not a hero who can win you the game on his own.
Looking at drafts from the more successful teams of the International 2018 one thing always stands out—they all have a hero on each team that can pretty much solo carry the game. Your typical Spectre, Terrorblade, Phantom Lancer and even Ember Spirit are all exceptional in teamfights, with either high teamfight presence or massive single target damage, that allows them to burst a single target down in less than two seconds.
This makes for a very easy gameplan: you either find a very quick pickoff and snowball into a teamfight from it, or you engage in a teamfight you are set up to win, using game-changing cooldowns. These heroes can deal massive damage and guarantee their impact regardless of the stage of the game and farm levels.
Slark not doing too well in pubs either, less than 43% winrate in 5k+ pubs
Even heroes like Ursa and Clinkz are good in this regard, capable of finding and killing practically any hero exceptionally fast. They guarantee their damage, since most of it start coming immediately after the initiation. Slark, on the other hand, requires time to become a threat, both in macro- and micro-sense.
Without Essence Shift stacks Slark is a highly survivable, exceptionally mobile core hero who deals as much damage as practically any hero would with his itemization. Getting to said stacks can be very problematic, especially in a meta where teams generally want to group up and go for objectives, rather than aimlessly wander around. So why pick Slark, when you can have any other hero who can do his job much easier and will also have access to stronger abilities?
OpenAI Five gave first-pick Slark less than 40% chance of victory during the showmatch back in July and professional players agreed with its assessment. Different circumstances will result in different probabilities, but with our current deeper understanding of Dota there is no place for a hero like Slark, who is excruciatingly slow, easily substitutable, requires time to come online and doesn’t offer burst damage even with farm.
Going forward, we are unsure how this hero can be made more viable in the professional scene without completely breaking him for our everyday pubs. He can still be amazing in a less disciplined, slower-paced pub environment, but his professional career right now is questionable, at the best.
In tense, high-caliber matches, ease of execution tramples almost everything. OG might have shown some very outside-the-box strategies, which required higher levels of coordination and teamwork, but most other successful teams preferred simple two-hero combinations, reliable disables and straightforward teamight and game-plans.
Dark Seer, if a team is to utilize the hero to its fullest, is the opposite of it. The hero is an unreliable setup for potentially game-winning plays and massive turn-arounds. Because of it, to keep him balanced, he is slightly weaker than your typical hero in all other aspects and that difference makes him very unattractive for professional play.
His damage requires time to kick in, his only method of control is a setup for other control spells at its best and his utility is not at all exceptional. The hero might be decent in lane, but he doesn’t offer too much on his own, more often than not making him a liability.
Once again, Dark Seer is a balancing nightmare—there is a reason his Vacuum was nerfed, buffed and changed so many times. Make it good and it will be too good. Make it situational and it will be so situational, that it will become borderline useless. You can’t have a hero that is generally good and has a chance to set up for a game-winning turnaround on top of it. And if you are a professional player, you don’t want to pick a hero that is generally not good, even if he can do something amazing for you once every couple of games.
The big problem with Dazzle right now is, once again, time it takes for his abilities to actually matter. On top of it, he is decent in many aspects, but not exceptional at any of them.
He can deal good damage in lane, but it takes a while to kick in and make a difference, while requiring Dazzle or his teammate to expose themselves. He can sustain his carry in lane, but 80 heal for 90 mana is hardly a good deal. He can completely strip off enemy armor, but the effect takes time to become relevant and his only burst damage is so situational it rarely ever comes into play.
The hero doesn’t offer any disables on top of it, making him strictly inferior to heroes like Witch Doctor and Warlock, who can sustain their teammates better, while also offering a lot more instant impact in teamfights.
Personally, I love the hero and he can be occasionally played in pubs, but his absence from the competitive scene is both understandable and justified.
The hero won’t get better with economy or laning stage changes and he doesn’t have a chance of re-emerging on the back of changes to other heroes. Dazzle needs straight up direct buffs to his abilities, preferably offering higher utility, as otherwise he will always remain outclassed as lane sustain, teamfight save, teamfight utility and damage source.
Slardar right now is, once again, outclassed by substitutes. Earthshaker is simply better, offering more damage, disable, utility and scaling. Sand King is more straightforward to use and requires less investment to start doing something on the map. Even Spirit Breaker does Slardar’s job better than Slardar, having two ways of disabling targets through Black King Bar and disrupting the enemy teamfight, while Centaur Warrunner has higher burst damage in the earlier stages of the game and much higher utility later on.
On top of it, many of the current meta heroes do not require any extra assistance in bursting down targets—Terrorblade or Ursa are capable of deleting even tankiest of targets in less than two seconds. Shaving off half-a-second of this time-to-kill is hardly a priority.
Slardar’s kit also makes him quite weird to fit in—you don’t want to give this hero farm priority, but he is also at his best when allowed to live for a little bit longer, hitting the enemy. Going forward, we expect the hero to either receive a rework on his passive ability or have stats and talents changes to allow for a full on core playstyle. Number changes to his abilities are very unlikely to do anything for the hero, bar something drastic, like sub-0.1 second cast point on Crush or substantially higher stun or damage values.