In public Dota 2 games, nobody wants to play support. That statement is based on my own experience—I play approximately twice as many games with one support and a jungle Legion Commander as I do with two supports—but also on Dotabuff statistics, which show that the only supports in the top ten most-played heroes this month are Pudge and Riki. And that’s going by the role these heroes are generally expected to play in the professional metagame; I would bet my bottom dollar that the hook-flinging meme butcher and the invisible stabby goatman are not being played as supports in the majority of their combined nineteen million games.
What is it about the support role that people detest?
What is it about the support role that people detest? Is it the fact that low-level games drag on forever, rendering supports as flimsy as tissue paper for 60% of the game? Is it the fact that supports have to struggle to buy even the lame items that don’t do damage, while their teammates—most likely Phantom Assassin, Pudge, and Legion Commander, statistically speaking—harangue them with petulant postmortem exclamations like “No wards, GG?” Is buying wards and the courier vaguely humiliating? Is it because players naturally measure their success with metrics present in other popular games, like Call of Duty, and supports tend to have the least favorable kill-to-death ratio?
Yes. It is all of these things, and it is also the fact that support is hard, because it is the position from which you are asked to do the most with least. From the vantage point of a 2-3K MMR player, support seems like the role you play when you want to spend the game as food for the enemy Storm Spirit. It’s about as glamorous and respected a position as the guy who holds the football for field goal attempts: if that guy screws up, you chew him out big time, but otherwise you pay him no attention at all.
Support is the position where you are asked to do the most with least.
Not so in the professional Dota 2 scene! Take Zhang “Innocence” Yiping, whose play at The Summit 5 was nothing if not glamorous. To quote his Liquipedia entry in its entirety: “Zhang ‘Innocence’ Yiping is a professional Dota 2 player currently playing for Wings Gaming.” But, as it turns out, you don’t need to be well-known in the Western scene to win Western tournaments over the best Western teams.
Innocence drew praise for swift rotations and solid play throughout Wings Gaming’s journey to first place. “This guy’s actually everywhere,” proclaimed FDL.Fogged, casting from the couch, after a timely rotation by Innocence turned into a kill on Na’Vi’s safelane Slark. Innocence’s playstyle is characterized by presence of mind and quick, creative thinking, as seen this marvelous juke against OG.Miracle in the upper-bracket finals:
Innocence, three hits from death, is doomed, until he deploys a tactic seen only once in a thousand games of Dota 2: the courier bait. He strands the precious courier beside the trees in imitation of panicked mis-micro. Except take another look at his face—does this look like an individual who panics?
Not bloody likely. Innocence knows that the courier will take three hits to kill. But Miracle is a pubstar at heart, and if there’s one thing a pubstar loves, it’s a good courier snipe. So Innocence scurries into the trees while Miracle swings once, then twice, at the proffered courier. Once Innocence is safely hidden away, he sends the courier over the treetops and out of reach. Miracle, who’s been tanking tower hits the entire time, is forced to blink away with nothing to show for it.
Miracle is a pubstar at heart.
In professional play, good supports are precious commodities, bartered from team to team with all the avarice and cunning of third-graders trading Pokemon cards. Zai and PPD, Puppey and Kuroky, Crit and Fly… legendary support duos command respect and fear that even the most formidable core players struggle to match. If Innocence and his partner in crime Iceice are able to maintain the level of play they showed at the Summit 5 when they travel to Key Arena for The International 6 in August, they might just be the next names added to that illustrious list.
Header photo of innocence courtesy ESL and Turtle Beach Entertainment.