Every Major brings new heroes and strategies into the spotlight and the ESL One Stockholm was no exception. Today we would like to take a look at the snapshot of the meta and see which heroes are doing exceptionally well and which are underperforming.
A high physical burst damage flex pick that can be an oppressive offlaner and a very potent late-game carry, while keeping up in tempo with most mids? Yes, Chaos Knight is that good and will most likely receive some heavy nerfs in the post-Major patch.
Not a whole lot to say otherwise: the hero simply has very good stats and exceptional tempo, making for a solid, viable pick. Perhaps jungle changes in the later patches might tame the hero without nerfing him directly: he will be worse off compared to other carries in the game and might get outscaled through good economy plays.
Position five Pugna is no longer something obscure. It is one of the biggest meta trendsetters with the subtlest, not immediately apparent massive teamfight impact. Nether Ward is stupid. Nether Ward coupled with Wraith Pact is broken.
There are ways to play around it and BKB completely counters the underlying principles. Moreover, stacking damage mitigation, or in this case, enemy damage output reduction is not a new concept: OG did it back in 2018. It’s just the first time this strategy is available so cheaply a single support can afford it.
Nether Pact might be so effective it is considered broken, but the Null Talisman stacking on Storm looks a little like game design oversight. It is very wrong that a hero with ~6.5k Net Worth at 25 minutes can have a full mid lane core impact on the game. You can shut down Storm in lane, you can kill him repeatedly and he simply doesn’t care: once minute 25 hits he will be effective.
We are not saying that the hero is completely broken, it’s just that no other hero in the game, especially among the mid lane cores, cares so little about what’s happening to their own economy. Five Nulls and BKB and you can kill almost any support in the game, possibly both enemy supports. Four Nulls, BKB and Linken’s if you need to adjust. And then you buy or consume an Aghanim’s Scepter and suddenly become a teamfight hero on top of it. Madness.
Every single time we write a major tournament meta recap and get to this section, Mars is there to greet us with his big, beautiful, overrated smile. The hero isn’t good, he hasn’t been statistically good for over a year. Yet he keeps on being picked.
The counter-arguments we heard include Mars being a comfortable first phase pick hero, so naturally he gets countered. The entire previous section of meta staples are first pick heroes as well. Even Storm has a ~55% win rate, despite EG trying their best.
There is also “you can spear the enemy towards your team for a cut-off initiation to prevent save plays”. This is basically the professional player equivalent of “I am going to play Pudge and land all the hooks, so we always get good initiation”. It can theoretically happen. It never does.
We are not saying Mars is a bad hero. He has very unique mechanics for damage prevention that will always be good in certain matchups. He is just not in a very good spot right now and he hasn’t been there in a while. Maybe let the hero rest and recharge a little?
Grimstroke’s ultimate is only as good as the biggest spell your team is pairing it with. Sure, over the years the hero’s playstyle developed quite significantly and he has one of the best shards in the game, but it is not enough, it seems.
The problem with Grimstroke is how telegraphed everything he does is. Phantom’s Embrace takes ages to reach the target. Ink Swell, even after the buffs, is hard to fully take advantage of. Even Soul Bind typically leaves some room for counterplay, as it doesn’t actually do much on its own.
We are not advocating for Grimstroke buffs and we honestly think that Grimstroke can be a very strong hero, but only with the right teammates who actually take advantage of his kit. There are better “general purpose” supports in the game otherwise.
Tiny’s been figured out, it seems. The hero received some much needed nerfs in 7.31c and coupled with how prepared everyone was for Tiny, the hero never took off. He still has one of the highest farming speeds in the game and great scaling, but it is simply not enough. Especially when facing higher tempo and similarly scaling heroes.
Perhaps the hero also suffers too much from Wraith Pact. Being melee with no mobility, his BKB usage must be on point every single time, but Wraith Pact directly counters Tiny’s main playstyle: he can’t blow up heroes under the effect of this annoying aura. If he can’t start a fight with a quick and immediate pickoff, he is already at a disadvantage.
Underlord is thought of as this boring hero to pick when you just want to chill in the offlane. For the most part this is a correct assessment for pub play. In the professional scene, however, things are a little bit different.
Two words: global mobility. These two words are typically enough to convince any pro player to at least give the hero a chance. Underlord took this chance and showed everyone how potent he can be.
Between really annoying root effects and a considerable amount of percentage-based damage, Underlord is already pretty great in the later portions of the game. When coupled with his damage mitigation aura, potential Wraith Pact and damage reduction from using the Fiend’s Gate, you get a hero that is not only tanky himself, but can also provide a lot of EHP to his team, without actually doing anything flashy.
This is mostly just OG.Ceb vibing with his young squad, but if the hero is good enough to win a Major with, perhaps it is a really good hero after all? We genuinely don’t know: on one hand Windranger is still a potential ~4 second stun on two targets, which is wild.
She also gets Gale Force for 1400 gold and while the effect is not easy to analyze from a strictly numbers standpoint, we believe it is one of the best shards in the game. Repositioning is always low-key broken.
On the other hand, unless you land those Shackleshots and unless you know how to abuse Gale Force, what you end up with is a relatively low damage, high maintenance, unreliable support with close to no plays when played from behind.
A long series of buffs across several patches made Batrdier a very viable hero that no one plays for some reason. A BKB-piercing disable that more or less forces a Linken’s purchase. Strong laning presence in the absolute majority of midlane or offlane matchups. High farming speed even in the new jungle and decent late game scaling. We don’t know what’s not to love.
Perhaps Linken’s buffs are one of the factors for why the hero isn’t that popular. Linken’s is far from being a dead slot right now. It might not be the most cost-effective item in the game, but it is no longer useless: the stats it provides are ok and the Spellblock on a 12-second cooldown means it gets you an advantage two or even three times in a single fight.
We feel like if Batrider doesn’t change significantly in the next patch, he might become one of the higher rated heroes. Right now he feels distinctly underexplored and underutilized.
It seems the meta has finally shifted from the previous patch. One of the biggest criticisms of 7.31 was that it didn't change enough in the game to have a major impact on the meta. However, it is us who were mistaken: the changes were simply a little bit too subtle and took a while to digest and react on.
Going forward we still expect some changes to the game, despite there seemingly being quite a lot to explore in 7.31. It mostly comes down to some questionable game design choices, such as Null-Storm, but we would also love to see both latest heroes added to Captain's Mode as well as some buffs to ten ignored heroes.