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The Dota professional scene is filled with exceptional players and, sometimes, the most talented and the most dedicated players just have to ruin their signature heroes for everyone else. They alone had the knowledge and the ability to get 100% out of a character, forcing them to get nerfed, while everyone else had to catch up or give up. Today, we are going to look at some of the most notorious examples of when a player's prowess resulted in a hero getting significantly weaker.
Earth Spirit had a very long road before getting into Captain’s Mode. The hero was still unavailable in the professional setting for almost two and a half years after release. It was and still is a hard hero to balance.
In 6.86 IceFrog decided that it was time: he removed Earth Spirit’s ability to pull his allies with Geomagnetic Grip, slightly nerfed his intelligence gain and let him into CM. Little did he know that one Finnish guy was about to unleash the beast within the hero and start the game of cat and mouse with the game designer himself.
The hero had too much utility in the hands of Jerax, and it was clear. Despite no longer having an almost-instant stun from range and the ability to get teammates out of bad position for free, Earth Spirit still had tons of different repositioning tools that could be used as both save and initiation. Granted, you had to get in your opponent’s face, but that is where Jerax wanted to be anyways.
For the next two and a half years, Earth Spirit was being bombarded with nerfs: his movement speed was being reduced, so that he couldn’t rotate as freely and as quickly. His armor was culled to a base of zero and his abilities, on average, had their duration reduced by ~15%. At this point, not even Jerax was playing Earth Spirit: the hero simply got to a point, where it was impossible to justify his pick.
That is why in 7.20 the hero received quite a bit of an overhaul: once again, the effects on his abilities were shuffled around and this is the version of the hero being played now: stun on Rolling Boulder, Silence on Geomagnetic Grip and Slow on Boulder Smash.
It is hard to believe that back in the day Earth Spirit had an almost instant stun for 2.5 seconds from a great range. Or that it could be easily followed up by a slow and a five second silence on a stationary target. It is hard to believe that this hero could pull his teammates out of a bad position with a press of a button, regardless of where they were facing and that his full cast nuke damage output was comparable to Void Spirit, while also having a very strong DoT of an ultimate. But it was the case back in the wild days of Dota and we can thank or curse Jerax that we will never see the hero at his peak performance again.
Dark Willow is a relatively new hero. It is a Dota 2 only hero, who was designed with no original Dota engine limitations in mind. When the hero was released, there was a lot of debate of what role she should be played in: a lot of players wanted to see core Willow, but most high level players agreed that she is probably at her best as a support. Most, but not all, because while the “core or support” debate was raging on, Cr1t was thinking: “why not both?”.
Greedy position four supports were just beginning to be a thing back then. The distinction only truly started after the International 2016 and it wasn’t until TI7 that it got universally accepted. Cr1t and his Dark Willow were at the forefront of this change. For four patches, since 7.10 and DW’s introduction to CM and 7.14 when she got heavily nerfed, Cr1t was steamrolling through the professional scene, unless the hero got banned, killing enemy carries and midlaners as soon as he got his hands on Eul’s.
Now, four patches might sound like a long time, especially since the last one lasted for half a year, but in reality it took slightly less than two months for IceFrog to realize what kind of monstrosity he provided one of the best position four players in the world to play with. The Bedlam damage was nerfed, the Jex revolution speed was decreased and the hero finally got to a point where it was balanced in the hands of Cr1t.
The interesting part was that the hero kept receiving nerfs up until 7.23. Dark Willow got to a point where she was close to being underpowered outside of some very specific team compositions, such as with Puck, Mars or Morphling.
The hero had a bit of resurgence lately, mostly off the back of being a great Spirit Breaker counter in the previous patch and her annoyingly effective Aghanim’s Shard that could cover the whole screen with brambles. But even this playstyle was nerfed slightly in 7.31.
Right now, Dark Willow is a very rare guest in higher level pubs and in the professional scene. Even the best players are avoiding the hero, since a lot of her abilities have counterplay potential. There is a bit of a hope that we might see the hero again, since she is being practiced by Cr1t in pubs in the new patch with some success, but we feel like she never truly recovered from the witch hunt back in the day.
Dota is an ever-evolving game with an almost infinite depth that for the last ten years had one core philosophy behind a lot of the design decisions: balance the game around the best players. This can definitely be a frustrating experience for most of us because sometimes your favorite hero just gets obliterate for seemingly no reason, but it is also something that constantly pushed more dedicated players forward and never allowed them to get bored.
What do you think of this design philosophy in general and what other examples do you think should be in this hall of fame and infamy? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.