No two games of Dota are ever the same. We have all heard this bold statement. Dota is a brilliant game with a very open meta, and the continuous stream of patches keeps the game fresh, but no two games ever the same? Surely, that can’t be right.
Dotabuff is in a unique position to test this claim: we looked for matches where the same five heroes were facing the same five heroes of the enemy team, and the findings were quite astonishing, to say the least.
After analyzing 236854 esports matches across 2321 league including qualifiers, group stages and LAN playoffs of amateur, semi-professional and professional leagues we found only 24 instances where the same hero lineups would be played twice. That’s 0.02% of our sample size. Moreover, there wasn’t a single instance where the same 5v5 match was played three times.
Certainly, the amount of potential different 5v5 matchups in Dota is massive; however, not all of them are going to be viable even in the amateur leagues. Different patches also favor different heroes, and the likelihood of seeing a particular set of heroes several times within a single tournament is quite high.
It certainly shows from what we managed to find: in all 24 cases the difference in time between when the matches were played is minimal, and most of the time involves matches from a single BO3 series. Moreover, in all cases, at least one team would remain the same, playing the same lineup of heroes.
Most of our findings involve “the little guys” — teams from amateur and semi-professional leagues trying to make it big. Speaking from personal experience, these smaller teams generally have smaller hero pools and only a handful of strategies, which are also generally quite rigid.
In fact, in several instances the picks didn’t deviate even when the first pick priority was changed between games of a series: teams were content with trying the same thing once more, even if the first game didn’t go as planned in a bo3 match.
There is a whole discussion to be had on why most established professionals teams prefer the first pick, while many less experienced teams and pub players favor the second pick, but when you have trained a single lineup of 5 particular heroes the pick priority doesn’t seem to matter as much.
It is also hard to call any of these strategies “cheesy.” There are two Drow Ranger strategies, but none with Broodmothers, Techies or the likes. For the most part they are just solid, all around lineups, most likely selected because players feel comfortable playing them in the meta.
There are two cases that were of a particular interest, since they involved high-profile teams of quite experienced players.
First one is a BO3 series between TNC Pro Team and TongFu.WanZhou in 2015. Back then TNC was only getting to the status of a SEA powerhouse and could easily be classified as a semi-professional team. The same can be applied to their opponents.
In fact, of the two rosters involved in this BO3, only two players currently play Dota at the highest level: Sam H for TNC and Boboka for TongFu.WanZhou. It was also the first team for a current member of iG, who is probably best known for his impeccable position 4 plays on Monkey King and Earth Spirit.
It also adheres to the rule mentioned in the previous section: these lineups are simply comfort heroes for the players involved. The first pick priority remained the same in both matches, as did the sides, however the pick and ban orders were quite different.
The TNC lineup for this game can be also classified as “cheesy,” since it involved a Drow, Clinkz and QoP for the core roles, with Dazzle and Earthshaker supports. It was a very easy-to-execute, pushing strat, with an incredible tempo and amazing pushing and split-pushing potential.
It is quite surprising to see a professional team respond with a late-game oriented draft without safe outpush and low early teamfight potential twice in a row: a Bounty Hunter and Spirit Breaker duo, backed up by Ancient Apparition and Gyrocopter sounds good on paper, but only for when the enemy team is split up and only after the supports get to level 6. Otherwise, the lineup doesn’t have enough skills to effectively take the fight or at least slow the enemy down enough for Storm Spirit to come online.
This series is a very unique occurrence in the Dota world and one that should be remembered: doing the same exact thing and expecting a different outcome is very unlikely to work, even if you have the confidence, spirit, and skill to try it again.
The second case of high-profile teams picking the same exact lineups is much more recent and involves some of the biggest names in the Dota scene. The DPL Season 4 match between NewBee and VGJ happened less than a year ago, and all of the players are active in the scene, even if the VGJ itself is no more.
It is also interesting because it was a rOtk vs. Faith drafting matchup, and both of these captains are respected in the scene for a reason: while in the TNC vs TongFu.WanZhou series mistakes could be attributed to inexperience and rigidness, these two captains have proved their worth time and time again, often leading new players in the scene to great success.
The team has been together for over four months at the time, so “playing it safe” and “testing the new squad” claims can also be put aside. All of the players were and still are top tier players, with a potential exception of Freeze, who nevertheless proved himself already, currently playing for VGJ.Thunder.
It is hard to pinpoint the exact mistake made by rOtk in the draft: NewBee pick and ban orders remained almost exactly the same, with an Ursa for Lifestealer last ban switch-up and the same can be said about VGJ draft. Soon after the event the team disbanded.
Dota is certainly a beautiful game. The openness of the meta, the amount of different interactions, the undeniable differences between seemingly similar heroes — all of this forces Dota players to constantly evolve, think of new strategies and experiment, otherwise they will fall off. It is especially true for the highest levels of Dota.
The game gives both teams unbelievable amounts of options even before the horn blows, and the process of exploration of new interactions, new ideas and new builds is hard-coded into the DNA of dedicated Dota players. At this point in time, the NewBee vs VGJ series in DPL is the only instance of a high-profile Dota series having the same exact lineups and let it stay that way. Because no two games of Dota should ever be the same.