We are continuing our series about roles in Dota in an attempt to help new players better understand the game. Today we are going to discuss one of the least popular, yet equally important role — hard support.
In our previous blog post we’ve already touched on the numerical approach to roles in Dota and position five, or Hard Support is the role with the lowest farm priority in the game. Typically, it means that your character is going to be of a lower level and won’t have many items by the end of the game.
That dissuades many players from attempting to play the role: there is a common misconception in the community that the impact a position five support has on the game is smaller, compared to other roles. That might have been true previously, but the balance patches over the last couple of years made the role considerably more important and interesting to play.
In fact, one could argue that the hard support role is the most interesting role to play right now: games are shorter on average across all skill brackets and hard supports, unlike other positions, rarely farm and typically have an earlier power level peak. If played correctly, a support hero is rarely idle: instead of afk-hitting creeps you are planning, scheming and constantly looking for an angle to attack or ways to get a macro advantage.
As such, there isn’t much difference between support’s early, mid and late-game: you should be concentrated for the whole duration of the game and never lower your guard. There are very few more satisfying things in Dota than outplaying a hero with five times your net worth, leading to an easy setup for a kill, but to get there, you have to fully understand the most important skills for a support.
Positioning is possibly the most important skill in Dota. It is important for all roles, but as a support your positioning mistakes will cost you more and as such, this is the first thing all support players should concentrate on.
In broad terms positioning is the ability to find space in the fight where you can have the maximum impact while staying alive for as long as you are useful. While tanky cores and some carries should typically have an aggressive, frontline position, the absolute majority of supports should be in the backline, using their spells from range, retreating once they are on cooldown and then returning for a second wave of abilities.
The biggest common mistake support players make is that they try to auto-attack the team’s target after using their spells past the laning stage. This approach makes sense in the first ten minutes of the game, but past that the right-click damage on most supports is negligible. The only big exception to the rule is when your team is ganking a highly elusive hero and you need all the damage you can get during the disable window.
Support right-clicking a tanky target doesn’t typically make a difference, but it generally forces you out of position and allows the enemy to find and kill you with relative ease. In most cases, retreating to a safer spot, waiting for your cooldowns and then returning to the fight with more disables or utility is preferable.
Learning to use spells in Dota is a skill that takes months to master. Learning not to use them takes years. Skills in Dota, compared to some other games, typically have a much higher impact, but on a longer cooldown and learning when to use them will definitely make you a better player. You can’t just press all the buttons in a quick succession and call it a day.
This is especially true for support heroes: they mainly contribute to the fights through their spell usage and the outcome of the fight heavily depends on how well they land their disables or how well they provide their utility.
Never pounce on an advantage as soon as it appears. Wait till it stands to have maximum effect. That means not using disables on already disabled targets, knowing what heroes to prioritize with your damage spells and casting your high-impact ultimates on priority targets.
Knowing how long your tank can survive for or how fast your carry can deal with a low-HP target can only come with experience, but as soon as you start getting a grasp on the general flow of the game, start asking yourself whether your spell is actually necessary in the current scenario.
Several years ago, in one of our blog posts, we’ve touched on one of the bigger problems with newbie supports: too often they get shoehorned into the role of a martyr. The aforementioned blog post still has a lot of relevant information, if you are up for some extra reading, but right now we would like to concentrate on the idea of “dying with a purpose”.
You can and should be the one to face-check the potential smoke ganks from the enemy. Support heroes should generally be quite close to their farming carry if your team is not grouped up and is simply trying to get some extra items. Hard supports with wave clear usually should be the ones to shove lanes in dangerous positions. Support life is a dangerous one, but it is still worth a lot.
Always think whether your current actions are beneficial to the team and whether you can survive through it without losing much efficiency. Revealing a smoke gank, getting killed, but providing your team with valuable information is admirable, but surviving the ordeal is preferable: use high grounds and defensive vision to try and stay alive.
Shoving waves into the enemy territory forces them to react and rotate, creating space for your enemy to farm, but getting an extra wave and getting killed is objectively worse than playing it safe and surviving.
Having vision on the enemy side of the map is always nice, but throwing your life away for a ward that will most likely get dewarded is rarely worth it: try to plant vision while achieving extra goals, rather than making excursions into the enemy territory just for the sake of it. Wards are best planted under the effects of Smoke of Deceit with your team as a backup during a gank. You can read this article for some general warding tips that are mostly patch-agnostic.
All of the information above ties into a single, quite concise idea: as a support, don’t be a martyr, unless you absolutely have to. Hard Supports are as important as carries at all stages of the game. They might not be the ones to actually deal the damage, but they are usually the ones who make dealing damage possible in the first place.
There are many skills in Dota that can only be developed in practice, but some general concepts can be learned outside of game. They are as crucial for your growth as a player as your mechanical prowess, so it is worth doing your homework. Above all, however, love yourself, your teammates and stay safe!