Black King Bar is an integral part of the game with many mechanics and abilities balanced around it. Lately, however, the item has been getting increasingly important, to a point where the first major item BKB feels mandatory on a wide variety of heroes. Is BKB too strong right now and how it could be nerfed is a question we will try to answer today.
We believe the answer to be yes. The average time for a BKB purchase in the last Major was around minute 23, with most cores going for it pre-minute twenty. In fact, a lot of them were a first major item for the hero.
Given how cost inefficient BKB is in terms of stats and how little it gives in terms of farm acceleration, this feels very forced by the game design. Players would prefer to not go for BKB and their heroes would be more efficient and successful in terms of Net Worth by not going BKB, but the moment at least one hero on the map gets this item, everyone else has to follow suit.
That was mostly true before: BKB timing was always important for Dota. However, in the current patch an early BKB is not punished in any capacity. Since patch 7.29 BKB only goes down to six seconds, which is ample time even in the late game. For comparison, it used to go down to five seconds from 6.82 to 7.29 and would actually go down to four seconds before 6.82.
The second reason BKB is so good right now is the relatively slow farming speed of heroes. Previously, flash-farming heroes could try to outpace the enemy team with efficient farming items, bulking up in stats. Right now, they just don’t have enough time or rather they have the same amount of time, but with the reduced farming speed they don’t get the same amount of items they used to previously and their long-term efficiency simply can’t compete with momentary power spike of multiple BKBs on the enemy team.
Even Tiny and Templar Assassin, the heroes who were relatively unscathed by the jungle changes are now suffering from this effect. In a fight, it doesn’t matter that you are three thousand gold ahead of the enemy core if you don’t have BKB. At the same time, if you build BKB early, skipping acceleration and efficiency items, then why would you play a flash-farming core in the first place, when you could go for a tempo one and be more useful to your team?
The absence of any meaningful punishment for an early BKB coupled with an extremely fast paced game makes for a meta that managed to fully converge on one single item. It is not a critique of the game’s or the patch design, though: the amount of options after you get your BKB is still massive and makes for a very enjoyable overall experience. However, the first ~20 minutes of every relatively high level game are basically “who can get multiple BKBs up faster” and that’s a problem that should be recognized.
There are several obvious ones: there are enough numbers on this item to be tinkered with and we are almost sure we will see the return of a five-second late-game BKB, as opposed to six seconds. The cooldown could see an increase and the price could change as well.
Slightly more creative solutions could involve changing the build-up for the item. Swapping Ogre Axe for Staff of Wizardry, for example, would ensure that Black King Bar isn’t a bit of a tanking item as well and would immediately make Agility and Strength cores who typically build BKB slightly worse off.
Better yet, if Black King Bar had no aggressive stats at all and instead gave things like regeneration, armor and mana pool, it could also solve the problem of a rather uninspired BKB + Refresher build. Leave long duration spell immunity an option, but make sure that there is a massive DPS and utility trade off associated with it. Right now BKB is a +34 damage and +200 HP item for Strength cores and while it definitely isn’t a lot, it is still giving more than it should, it feels.
Increasing the value of status resistance could be a solution as well. There was a patch where multiple Satanics stacked and it was almost as bad as the current state of BKB, but a middle ground between the current state of status resistance and status resistance at its peak would provide a nice alternative. In some cases, e.g. against Beastmaster and Bane, having extra status resistance would be preferable to BKB and it could introduce an actual decision-making process when it comes to defensive items on cores, as opposed to buying BKB in every single game.
Finally, we feel like the amount of free Dispels on Neutral and Purchased Items could potentially warrant removing the dispel mechanic from BKB. It sounds extremely weird, but the dispel effect right now is slapped onto pretty much everything. There is Eul’s, Aeon, Greaves and Lotus for utility heroes, Manta and Satanic for cores, as well as Flicker, Ascetic Cap, Witchbane and Stormcrafter among neutral items.
There is a lot of dispel in the game and it prevents many support heroes from being played at all. Spell Immunity no longer gives 100% magic damage resistance and removing dispel from it kind of makes sense, at least in theory. Naturally, a lot of heroes will have to be rebalanced, or would they? Because when was the last time you saw Silencer, Venomancer, Warlock and many other non-hard disable supports being played successfully at high level? All of them get countered naturally by the default item progression on 95% of core heroes and removing dispel from one already strong, borderline problematic item would be a step in the right direction.
BKB is too good right now and it is a combination of several factors, some of which are not necessarily BKB-related. Slower-paced meta, easier access to farm, changes to EHP on heroes and the availability and relevance of save items and save supports all play a big part in the evaluation of the item. Perhaps the item in its current state would be considered fine or even weak in another patch.
That said, we still feel like BKB should get a bit of a rest. It’s been one of the cornerstones of Dota for a long time, but evolving the game and diversifying the options players are presented with could be the next big step for the game. Do you agree with us, or do you think BKB is too iconic to change? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.