Dota players like to throw around the word “meta” a lot. We talk about the shifting meta and how this or that pro team is really setting it for everyone else. The missing piece to this discussion. in my opinion. is the subject of the meta itself, the heroes. Dota has been through many cycles of heroes being strong, falling out of favor, and then returning to prominence years later. I think in a lot of cases the meta can boil down to just a few heroes that really dictate what gets picked. If a hero is strong, naturally you want to pick heroes that counter that strength while playing against it or enhance that strength playing alongside it. This creates a fairly predictable pattern of events that leads to counters to those counters or enablers being picked, and we end up with a full pool of heroes that are deemed viable in most games. I want to highlight three heroes that I think most often set off this chain of events that creates “the meta.”
FV simply beats every other carry in the game in a 1v1 and that means that any time he enters the meta, the game begins to revolve around playing with and against him. No other hard carry has quite the same level of disable as Faceless Void’s Chronosphere. Additionally, ever since his bash mechanic was changed to proc a secondary attack, Faceless Void’s damage output in the mid and late game has skyrocketed. As if he needed any help there. We have seen over the last year that there is very little that can be done against an uncountered Faceless Void. Even countering him is a tough task because the hero possesses strong survivability, laning and team fighting, making him very hard to punish without a real concerted effort to do so.
While there are plenty of slippery or high damage carry heroes, teamfight impact is what really puts Faceless Void over the top. Most heroes have strength peaks and valleys but Faceless Void possesses the ability to be relevant at all stages of the game. Unlike most incredible late-game carry heroes, Faceless Void doesn’t really suffer from a period of time where he cannot contribute to the team. Even after suffering a rare poor laning stage, Faceless Void can still show up to a fight without any damage items, drop a Chronosphere, and let his team do the rest.
This ability to press “R” and win a team fight makes it nearly impossible to fully shut down a Faceless Void. Because of this, Void often gets a lot more opportunities to come back into games than most other carry heroes. The addition of status resistance and various build paths that Faceless Void can go makes him a versatile carry who can easily match the tempo of the game while simultaneously outscaling it.
Alchemist is an incredibly volatile hero to balance. This is evident in the abrupt way that he has entered and exited the meta over the years. Any time Icefrog pushes the in-game economy a little too far in Alchemist’s direction he tends to dominate everything. On the other hand, if Alchemist cannot leverage his absurdly fast scaling in any meaningful way he gets outscaled by nearly every traditional carry in Dota. As a result, Alchemist is one of those heroes that should immediately be tested out whenever the gold mechanics are patched or new farming possibilities are introduced.
Whenever Alchemist is strong, it means that a large subset of carry heroes that require a slower game are virtually unplayable without significant game planning. This segregation of the carry pool has a strong spillover into the other roles on a team as well. Greedy or slower-paced supports, mids, and offlaners are at an even bigger disadvantage than their carry is against an Alchemist. Trying to take the greedy approach against the king of greed is a recipe for disaster.
This is a huge reason why Alchemist is such a popular hero for MMR fiends and in high-risk professional matches. I’ve often referred to a game with an Alchemist as an entirely different game than regular Dota 2 because everything revolves around either enabling or pressuring this one hero. Alchemist’s own ability to accelerate his own farm actually ends up accelerating the entire game as both teams draft and try to match this high tempo.
The number of times Tiny has been buffed, nerfed or reworked is a great indication of how challenging this hero has been to balance. Perhaps this difficulty in finding a playable balance is what leads to these heroes being so impactful and meta defining. They all certainly shift the style of game that must be played simply by existing when. Tiny punishes several things to the extreme. Low HP supports, positional mistakes, undefended towers and under farmed cores are all food for the Stone Giant that must be addressed when playing against him.
No other hero in the game can deal such devastating damage at so early a point in the game and at the frequency of Tiny. This allows Tiny to have a catastrophic impact on an opposing team if he reaches the Blink, max Avalanche, max Toss combo at a reasonable timing. Tiny can single-handedly make the majority of the map unplayable for most heroes. This potential to control the early game gives Tiny extremely high snowball potential with frightening regularity. There is probably no better example of the impact Tiny can have than Suma1L’s TI8 performance against OG. Suma1L rushed out to an 18/1/2 start in the first 20 minutes and nearly ended OG’s miracle run single-handedly.
Unlike most heroes based on snowballing via kills, Tiny is also one of the strongest closers in the game. His ability to annihilate buildings can rival a full five-man team. With this strong late game potential and incredible versatility of roles, Tiny is almost always somewhat relevant in the meta. However, the patches where Tiny is definitely one of the strongest heroes can feel a lot more oppressive than most. Not many things feel worse in Dota than being an underfarmed carry or a squishy support and instantly dying every time you leave your base.
There are certainly some other options to include on this list such as Drow Ranger, Io, and Broodmother. However, the three listed above have come and gone through the ranks of pub and pro Dota alike so many times that one could almost refer to them as the seasons of Dota’s meta. Are there any heroes that you define the meta by? If so, let me know down below.