Watching The International is an incredibly enjoyable experience, even for those who aren’t familiar with the game. The tournament is filled with jaw-dropping moments, game-changing abilities, and impressive plays. However, what if we told you that the real battle begins much earlier? The drafting stage of the game is where many matches are decided, as it sets the tone for the entire game. In the current meta, certain heroes have emerged as dominant forces, influencing the overall strategies teams employ in their drafts. While the balance isn’t always perfect, these trend-setting heroes can give a competitive edge to the team that picks them early. Teams that are well-prepared and knowledgeable about these heroes have a significant advantage, as they can both utilize them effectively and counter them if necessary. However, not all teams have the same understanding of which heroes should be prioritized. Some may misjudge the meta and make incorrect choices in their drafts. Dota heroes all have unique strengths and weaknesses, meaning even the most powerful heroes can be countered, while the weakest heroes have favorable matchups. Recognizing these dynamics and being able to manipulate them is a crucial skill when it comes to drafting. Picking a strong hero early on can sometimes backfire, as opponents may have strategies specifically designed to nullify their impact. This is why semi-flex picks, heroes that can fit into multiple roles, have become so important in the current meta. In fact, flex-picking in the first phase of drafting has become a central concept in the meta-meta-game. These heroes that can be played in different positions are highly sought after in a well-balanced patch. Additionally, heroes that can flex between support and core roles are particularly valuable due to their versatility. While there are heroes that can flex within core roles, such as mid and safelane, there are even offlane heroes that can be played as a position one carry. Ultimately, heroes that are both flexible and strong often become the highest priority picks at the beginning of the drafting stage.
However, despite the importance of understanding the meta and making optimal picks, no team has a perfect grasp of the current situation. Professional players may prioritize their comfort heroes, overvaluing their personal proficiency with them. This was the case with Mars for a long time, as teams consistently picked him despite his waning effectiveness. Conversely, teams may also undervalue heroes that are actually great fits for their strategies. This recently happened with Ancient Apparition, as teams began prioritizing him after ample time for preparation and analysis. The most recent small balance patch is sure to shake things up even further, and we can look forward to different ideas clashing against each other during the Road to TI. With sizable gaps between different parts of the tournament, teams will have opportunities to experiment and adapt, potentially resulting in three distinct metas over the course of three weekends.
Now, let’s delve into the current state of the game and what we can expect from the meta at the start of the tournament. Based on recent tournaments, it seems that the current patch favors tanky supports, utility cores with high durability, and carries that excel at farming quickly. However, patch 7.34d introduced significant changes, including nerfs to heroes like Phantom Assassin, Sven, and Gyrocopter. While these changes may not remove these heroes from the meta entirely, they have opened up space for other carries to shine. Spectre, for example, has seen a rise in popularity due to Phantom Assassin’s diminished effectiveness against her. The nerfs to Sven also hint at a potential return of illusion-based heroes. In the support role, there has been a shift away from tanky save supports and towards lane-dominating heroes like Bane, Undying, and Treant Protector. The support meta, overall, has felt quite open recently, with only a few heroes standing out as either overpowered or underpowered. In the second and third positions, tanky heroes continue to dominate the meta. Kunkka, Primal Beast, and Earth Spirit, who are capable of initiating fights and staying alive for extended periods, are highly prized in both roles. While more niche heroes like Puck and Outworld Destroyer may make appearances in the mid lane, they are unlikely to be as prevalent as heroes who can thrive without flawless execution.
To summarize, our initial analysis and expectations for the start of The International suggest that the meta will be somewhat similar to what we saw in DreamLeague. The carry pool has expanded slightly, but for the most part, we anticipate teams sticking to the standard meta during the Road to TI. However, beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess. The beauty of the current format is that teams will have two five-day periods to adapt and refine their strategies. It’s unlikely that a single dominant strategy will rule the entire tournament, and that’s something we hope to see. We would love to hear your thoughts on the longer duration of The International and whether you prefer it to the old approach. Share your opinions and your own meta analysis in the comment section below.