Supports are the backbone of any team, be it a professional match or a high level pub. They babysit their carries, create space for their mids, sacrifice their farm and their own lives for the greater good, and are generally pretty exhausting to play, both physically and mentally. For that reason, this role is often under- and even over-appreciated: it is hard to quantify a supports impact and quite frequently players don’t realise how much their support has done for their team. However, almost as frequently, support players think too highly of their contribution.
This blog post will be dedicated to analyzing top tier supports in pub and pro plays in an attempt to highlight the highest impact supports of the current patch. Picking a consistently strong support hero will unlikely win all of your games, but it can be a good starting point to understanding the role better and improving at it. For more on the support role, we recommend reading our previous posts dedicated to supporting in general and staying relevant in prolonged games.
Shadow Demon is a weird support — he is extremely meta-dependant, doesn’t offer reliable hard disables, and is notoriously lacklustre in pub environment. The hero is hard to play well and unlike many other supports, a poorly played Shadow Demon doesn’t simply have no impact on the game, but can be detrimental to his own team.
That said, current meta is a good fit for Shadow Demon. With Morphling (27 games), Medusa (27), Tiny (39) etc. being so popular, Shadow Demon can be exceptionally strong — his illusions fully benefit from base damage, and there is almost guaranteed to be at least a single worthy target on either team.
On top of it, he provides a strong magic immunity-piercing slow, a massive damage amplification and a minor, but potentially game-changing scouting tool. Knowing whether the enemy team is taking Roshan or checking highground from a relatively safe distance can go a long way in a professional match.
Exceptional in both pubs and in the professional scene, Bane is one of the go-to supports of the current patch with his unconditional utility, ability to bully out pretty much any opponent in lane and even a potentially decent damage output.
A well-played Bane will be relevant from the first minute of the game and will remain relevant against most heroes until the very end — his ability to shut down two targets at the same time, while providing a clear focusing guidelines to his teammates, is almost unparalleled.
In pubs he can also provide some necessary damage against buildings — it is common for pubs to draft lineups which are notoriously horrible at taking objectives, and unlike most other supports, Bane at level 15 can actually start hitting buildings quite decently. It doesn’t mean the hero should build core items or try to go for right-click DPS, but the talent can be a massive time saver when it comes to breaching highground.
For a very long time Disruptor was a CIS specialty — the hero complemented the aggressive playstyle of the region with one of the best catches in the game. Recent trends have seen a ubiquitous agreement on the high importance of the laning stage, hence more teams have started drafting aggressive cores. International Disruptor popularity was a natural progression to this trend.
On top of providing great catch, the hero is also excellent at shutting down some of the more popular intelligence cores, such as Puck, Queen of Pain, Tinker and Storm Spirit. Introduction of Kaya was a massive boost to the popularity of intelligence cores in general, making Disruptor a reliable counter.
At his best, he can help his team to take over the game extremely early. At his worst, he still has a plan B with an Aghanim’s Scepter ultimate upgrade and Blink Dagger. AoE Doom is something incredibly hard to play against, regardless of pick.
Pubs are a little different from the professional scene — teams aren’t as coordinated, pick progressions are very different, and games generally take longer, so greedier supports can feel better. Yet Bane is a top tier support in pub games as well with the highest win rate in 5k+ pubs at 56.38%. The second and third positions, however, are slightly different.
Shadow Shaman is very different to his initial design, even with most of his abilities left intact. No longer is he a squishy target with almost no damage — the hero currently starts with 620 HP, almost 3 Armor and 71-78 damage. If it wasn’t for the Bane’s sustain from Brain Sap, Shadow Shaman would be the go to lane bully.
On top of it, the hero has a decent level 1 nuke and a waveclear, two or even three disables and an ability to take objectives. This makes him an invaluable support in pubs, where cores are often picked based on their kill potential, but can have trouble dealing with buildings.
Overall, the hero is pretty straightforward when it comes to his playstyle, which is a big plus for pubs. He can be a little bit on the greedier side, but once again, the pub environment somewhat mitigates this drawback. Finally, his late-game rat potential has a chance of outright winning the game for his team — something pretty rare for a support.
Not only is Winter Wyvern one of the strongest supports in 5k+ pubs, but she is also one of the most popular heroes in the bracket as well. Even after all the nerfs, the hero remains one of the most effective counters to high physical burst lineups, while still being effective in the majority of other scenarios.
Strong outpush, situationally game-changing save, scaling damage/slow hybrid and a massive spell immunity-piercing lockdown — this is what Winter Wyvern gets for your team.
More and more frequently, we see her ultimate being used on the enemy BKBed carry as a primary target, allowing for a fight reset. It is not a “deal-damage” ultimate — it is “make enemy waste resources, while we set up or disengage” ultimate 90% of the time. And it is excellent at what it does.
The hero is absolutely worth exploring and learning — the payoff is massive even after all the nerfs and Winter Wyvern will stay a relevant support as long as physical damage exists.
Learning from high level Pubs and Professional scene is the best way to learn Dota. Blindly copying their picks, however, can be a dangerous path, since there are so many nuisances in the game. If you are serious about improving, do yourself a favor and watch a replay for a hero you are interested in — it is unlikely all of the things will be comprehended fully, but some of the more basic concepts can be understood, applied, and built upon in the future.