Image by Nikey
More than three weeks into the last hero balance patch, and we're finally seeing progress in the professional meta. DreamLeague Season 9 might have been a minor tournament, but it featured top rated teams and some of the fiercest competition, along with very welcome changes to the status quo.
The first thing is that there are no longer a 100% popularity hero. Gyrocopter, who was dominant throughout the Bucharest Major, has fallen down to 84% popularity, and teams seem to have found some counters to the hero.
The same can be said about Tiny, who was the previous 100% hero. Similarly to Gyrocopter, he is also sitting at 84% popularity, with almost the same exact distribution of picks and bans.
These two heroes remain extremely popular in the meta, but they are definitely not as scary as used to be: both of them feature a sub-50% win rate in the tournament, with Tiny falling as low as 41.67% across 12 games.
Both heroes were extremely successful in Bucharest even after receiving nerfs in 7.10, so their fall should be mostly attributed to how teams found new ways to play against them. It probably involves a combination of both different playstyles and different counter picks: the new buyback potentially allows teams turn a fight around against Gyrocopter and prevent him from snowballing very early, while hero meta developments, such as Lifestealer, are good answers to Gyrocopter’s early aggression.
Lifestealer and Sand King are the newest additions to the professional meta and both heroes work reasonably well. Sand King looks like the strongest position 4 support in the game right now with 91% popularity and 64.71% win rate across 17 games.
Sand King is an extremely versatile hero with a lot of damage, one of the strongest catch in the game and a massive teamfight presence, when piloted by capable players. As a position 4, he is a threat to most lanes, can fall back to farming if necessary and scales incredibly well, courtesy of an almost instant stun.
With many cores in the meta concentrating on lane dominance, Sand King was a very natural progression to the meta. He enables his cores to make early kills and in turn is enabled himself, resulting in a timely level and item progression throughout the game. And as mentioned in our previous blog post he is a good pick for when you are playing 4+1 in the early-mid game, and let one of the supports take some space. The amount of utility you can get from this hero with a single Blink Dagger is unparalleled.
Lifestealer’s return to the meta is a direct result of Gyrocopter and Tiny popularity. Lifestealer matches both of these heroes in lane, even in 1v1, matches their aggression in terms of early teamfights and later in the game has little trouble staying on and chewing through these targets. His win rate doesn’t necessarily support the idea of him being a prime core this patch, with a 45% across 9 games, but being primarily a counterpick, there are some games where he is picked preventatively, forcing the enemy to come up with different cores, Lifestealer doesn’t necessarily shine against.
30 heroes remained ignored during DreamLeague Season 9, indicating there is still a lot of room for improvement. However, for a tournament where a total of 32 matches were played, it is well within reasonable amount.
Of these 30 heroes, there are two that are already starting to gain momentum across different qualifiers: Doom and Jakiro are slowly becoming meta picks.
Jakiro is one of the weirdest supports in the game, where his abilities are all extremely potent in terms of disable duration and damage, but the amount of room for counterplay he leaves makes for a rather unappealing pick against better teams. He remains a very consistent and popular pick in pubs and there is a reason to explore him in this environment, while most professionals will probably continue picking him in conjunction with some setup heroes, such as Naga Siren or Elder Titan.
Doom preys on weaker lanes and is a good hero for a 2-1-2 plan, where you can contest the farm of the enemy carry while indirectly protecting your mid and safelane heroes from support ganks. His damage output on a single target is very high and his ability to shut down a single core in a teamfight does come in handy. However, given the changes to how buyback now works, there is a chance he is going to fall flat against better teams, who are better at identifying what risky plays to make and when to buyback for maximum effect, once Doom is on cooldown.
DAC is going to be one of the biggest tournaments of the season: a 16-team Major with meaningful group stage and double elimination playoffs: only the best and most consistent teams will thrive in this environment.
It also starts exactly on the day of a patch release, forcing all teams to adapt to the hero balance changes on the fly. While it might given less established teams better chances to take the enemy off guard, the amount of games played through the group stages and playoffs should guarantee a fair tournament with its own meta slowly developing, as it progresses.
These longer tournaments are the most indicative of what the meta problems might be: they force teams to constantly come up with new answers. Stronger, more confident teams, will surely also come up with some new questions for their opponents, such as: “what are you going to do about my support Terrorblade?” All in all, it should be very exciting, and we are excited to analyze the next patch and the DAC meta developments.