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The regional qualifiers for The International 10 (TI10) have finally concluded.
OG, Elephant, Fnatic, Team Spirit, Undying, and SG Esports won the qualifiers of their respective regions to join directly invited teams Evil Geniuses, PSG.LGD, Invictus Gaming, Virtus.pro, Quincy Crew, T1, Vici Gaming, Team Secret, Team Aster, Alliance, Beastcoast, and Thunder Predator in this year's iteration of Dota 2's annual world championship tournament.
In past years, Dota 2 would get a relatively small patch in order to balance the metagame during the short span between the qualifiers and TI. However, things are almost certain to be different this year after TI10 was postponed to October alongside its change of venue to Romania.
Three months should be enough time for Dota 2's enigmatic lead developer, Icefrog, to release a major update to the game. Not only that, it is also enough time for the teams competing in TI10 to figure out the new metagame that the update is sure to establish.
With all that said, let's look into some things that are sure to be addressed in the patch to come:
Neutral Items were first introduced to Dota 2 in the 7.23 update back in November 2019. While Neutral Items have proven to be an interesting new facet to the game, the randomness associated with them has also unfortunately proven to be game-deciding on the professional level. I expect the upcoming update to be centered around them.
While the lower tier of Neutral Items have been well-balanced as things that only make the game easier for their owners, things get dicey the longer the game goes and the higher the tier of the items that drop.
Far too often we've seen pro teams win a 60-minute game because they managed to get amazing items like Fallen Sky and Mirror Shield while the other side got the pretty bad ones like Book of the Dead and Force Boots.
It's difficult to think of a change that can make Neutral Items more fair while remaining balanced. More items being dropped per tier? Removing the more game-deciding items altogether? There's no clear-cut change that can be made that we've seen thus far, I'm afraid.
With that said, the most interesting concept for a change to Neutral Items I've personally heard thus far was from analyst Dominik "Black^" Reitmeier, who has often advocated for a Neutral Item 'token' system whenever he casts.
Basically, the system Black is proposing will give teams a certain amount of 'tokens' for farming neutral creep camps, which they can then spend on getting Neutral Items. The amount of tokens required for Neutral Items is then scaled depending on how good they are, with 'meh' items like Book of the Dead being significantly cheaper than Fallen Sky, for example.
Black's Neutral Item token system ensures that both teams can access the entire pool of Neutral Items, thus removing the randomness that sometimes makes them seem 'unfair'.
The fact that tokens are also gained from farming neutral creep camps also encourages better macro play from teams, as it will be another objective either side will be fighting over. While there are drawbacks to this system as with any other, this has been the best proposed change for Neutral Items I've seen and one I really want to see in the game.
With all that said, everything will be up to Icefrog. We don't know what changes he'll make or even if he'll change anything at all. Even so, in Icefrog we trust.
His introduction of the Neutral Item system was definitely strange when it was first introduced, but it has since proven to be a welcome addition to Dota 2. If anyone can make the Neutral Items better, it will be the man who introduced them to the game in the first place.
Aeon Disk has emerged as THE item of the 7.29 version of the game, with every team building it on almost any hero regardless of their role or the state of the game.
With its ability to protect any hero from getting bursted, you want to have Aeon Disk on your supports, offlaner, and mid — even your carry too, just for the heck of it — so that they can get their spells off in teamfights regardless of what happens.
While Icefrog may have first conceived Aeon Disk as a defensive item that allows teams playing from behind to mitigate their opponents' advantage and get their spells off, teams have been building it even when they are ahead just so they can never die and keep snowballing.
In essence, what I'm trying to say is: Aeon Disk is overpowered and is guaranteed to get nerfed in the upcoming update.
With that said, the question now is: How will Icefrog nerf Aeon Disk?
One of the biggest issues with Aeon Disk was that, once it activated, it reduced all incoming damage to zero and thereby allowed its owner to use Blink Dagger even after receiving a full barrage of spells. As a result, many have proposed to make Aeon Disk still reduce all incoming damage to any figure but zero so that its owner won't be able to use Blink Dagger.
The challenge is deciding how much damage the item should mitigate while still making it viable and balanced, will it be 50%, 75%, or some other figure? I'll leave it to Icefrog to decide.
Another nerf that Aeon Disk can receive may be towards its gold cost, which is a relatively cheap 3,000 gold. Increasing the item's recipe cost from 1,200 gold to, say, 1,500 will make it a much bigger investment and hopefully discourage teams from building it on every hero.
Icefrog can also go approach Aeon Disk's nerf from a different angle by retaining the item's current effects but making it charge-based like Drum of Endurance or the old version of Diffusal Blade. What this means is that the item's damage mitigation ability uses up a certain amount of charges — three would be a good number, I reckon — with the effect no longer activating once those charges run out.
Players would then have to buy the Aeon Disk recipe again to replenish those charges, all in all making the item as effective as it is now but for a shorter window of time and making it an even bigger investment for a player to keep using it.
To summarize, I'm not sure what changes need to be made to Aeon Disk for it to be balanced but what I am sure of is that it will indeed get some massive changes.
While I expect the pre-TI10 patch to not be focused on hero changes, there are bound to be a slew of nerfs for the most popular heroes during the regional qualifiers.
The three most popular heroes of the qualifiers — namely Lion, Hoodwink, and Phoenix — were picked in at least 100 games, with Lion appearing in 125, Hoodwink in 118, and Phoenix in 100.
All three are versatile supports that could be picked in the first phase of the draft without giving away much information on what strategy the picking team would be running, hence their popularity. I don't expect massive changes to those three heroes, just number tweaks to their spells like longer cooldowns, more mana costs, or less damage.
On the other hand, the most popular core heroes during the qualifiers were Dragon Knight (picked in 90 games), Lina (86), Terrorblade (85), Axe (82), and Luna (80).
Dragon Knight's recent rise in popularity came with a shift from mainly being picked to be a mid hero to the offlane, thanks to him retaining his innate tankiness and ability to quickly take down towers even with less resources coming his way.
Lina continues to be a popular flex pick between the 2 and 4 positions, though many teams have leaned more towards her being a mixed-damage glass cannon from the midlane. Meanwhile, Luna and Terrorblade have been the two most popular hard carries of the patch due to their fast farm rate and high impact in both teamfights and pushes.
While I expect the incoming nerfs for Dragon Knight, Lina, Terrorblade, and Luna to be number tweaks, I don't expect Axe to be getting the same treatment.
During the WePlay AniMajor, Axe shined the brightest in the hands of Wang "Ame" Chunyu, the carry player of Major champions PSG.LGD, as a fast-farming carry hero that dominates the map, deals a lot of damage, and is incredibly tanky with just Manta Style and Aghanim's Shard.
Many teams have since picked Axe and tried to replicate PSG.LGD's success with it, to mixed results. As a result, more recent Axe picks have seen him return to his more traditional role in the offlane instead.
I expect the carry Axe build to get significant nerfs, if not axed altogether, by having his illusions no longer deal pure damage with Counter Helix. This way, the hero can still remain a viable pick as the offlaner and maybe a niche carry pick. Even so, I think the hero is in a relatively good place balance-wise.
Of course, with every barrage of nerfs to the most-picked heroes in a patch, less popular ones will be given buffs to make them more viable.
A total of ten heroes were unpicked during the qualifiers: Bane, Bounty Hunter, Dazzle, Huskar, Ogre Magi, Omniknight, Shadow Fiend, Silencer, and Spirit Breaker — with Dawnbreaker being a separate case since she hasn't been released to Captain's Mode yet.
While specialist heroes like Bane and Silencer being unpicked isn't that unexpected, I'm surprised that the likes of Dazzle, Huskar, and Shadow Fiend were totally ignored. The latter three heroes are considered to be 'gotcha!' picks that can win you games if you managed to sneak it through a draft without getting countered, making their absence in high-stakes games that can get teams to TI that much more surprising.
I expect all of the unpicked heroes in the qualifiers to get significant buffs to make them viable. Although, like in the nerfs above, I think those buffs will come in the form of number tweaks instead of sweeping changes to their abilities. After all, those unpicked heroes would be the most popular ones in a meta that favors their respective playstyles.
Now, let's shift our focus towards Dawnbreaker. Before a new hero can be introduced to Captain's Draft, they must first be fine-tuned as well as receive Aghanim's Scepter and Shard upgrades, just like Hoodwink during the 7.29 patch.
While she was considered very weak and a borderline game-losing pick during the first couple of days of her release, Dawnbreaker has since settled to a niche of being an early game monster that quickly falls off by the midgame if she hasn't already won you the game. Differences aside, think of Dawnbreaker as a snowball hero in line with Queen of Pain or Shadow Fiend.
I don't expect significant nerfs to Dawnbreaker, if any at all, with her entry into Captain's Mode. What I'm more interested in will be what her Aghanim's Shard and Scepter upgrades will be. Will they allow her to play an entirely different role, much like Axe's Aghanim's Shard does, or just lean into her niche, like the Aghanim's upgrades for most other heroes?
A possible Aghanim's Scepter upgrade for Dawnbreaker would be to have her ultimate, Solar Guardian, no longer restricted to targeting allied heroes and can also be used on allied creeps or buildings. This will increase her map presence and impact, allowing her to be used as a split-pusher and space creator. That, or using her ultimate grants Dawnbreaker magic immunity, allowing her to heal allies and stun enemies in a huge area uninterrupted.
On the other hand, I expect Dawnbreaker's Aghanim's Shard to be centered on her passive ability Luminosity. The passive as it is only heals allies for a miniscule amount, so I foresee a possible Shard upgrade to increase the healing that it does to give Dawnbreaker added utility for her team.
TI10 has been moved from August to October and pulled out of Stockholm, Sweden, after it failed to get recognition as an 'elite sporting event'. TI10 will now be held in Bucharest, Romania from 7 to 17 October, where the 18 participating teams will be fighting to claim the coveted Aegis of Champions and the lion's share of a massive US$40 million prize pool.
The pre-TI10 patch is expected to be released later this month, giving teams about a month to figure out the new update and another month to acclimate to the new metagame it will establish — which should be just in time for TI10 to kick off.