2020 is finally over and with it a very strange year in Dota 2. Professional teams had to adapt to both changing patches but also a changing competitive environment. The development cycle of Dota slowed down a lot once COVID-19 took over the globe and so the evolution of the meta took on a slower and more organic pace. Over the past year, we had several newer heroes dominate the pro scene along with quite a few old favorites return to their former glory. Here is a recap of the most impactful heroes of the past 12 months to remind us all that change is an inevitable and welcome part of everything in life.
Snapfire & Void Spirit
I want to address these two heroes together because that is how they entered the game. Right off the bat it was abundantly clear that Void Spirit would be a top tier hero in pro Dota. Blessed with exceptional mobility, seemingly infinite escapes, and the ability to annihilate support heroes Void Spirit quickly became every mid player’s favorite choice. Despite several rounds of nerfs the hero remained a top value pick in all regions for his entire tenure in Captain’s Mode. Even after nearly a year of play there still seem to be few reliable counters to Void Spirit and so his place in the meta seems secure.
Snapfire took a little bit longer to climb to the top of every drafter’s hero list. Once she was explored however it was game on for granny. Snapfire has been an absolute must pick for months despite several nerfs to her damage output. The hero has also gone from mostly a reliable support to periods of dominance in both the offlane and mid roles as well. Even after another round of nerfs in the most recent 7.28 patch to end 2020, Snapfire remains one of the best heroes in the game to combo almost every other hero with.
We are going to throw it back to late 2019 and early 2020 for this next hero. Morphling was the absolute number one hero in the game for a while due to his incredibly broken combination with Earthshaker. Capable of one-shot killing basically every other hero in the game, teams like TNC Predator rode Morphling hard and won a lot with it. The inevitable nerfs phased the hero out of play briefly but since they had mostly addressed his Earthshaker combo it encouraged further experimentation. Morphling endures as one of the most annoying heroes to kill while also packing a heck of a punch in both mid and carry roles. Even now, teams are still finding unbelievably powerful pairings for the hero. It seems likely that barring any complete nuking of his core abilities that Morphling will be one of those skill-based heroes that are pickable no matter what patch.
Faceless Void started off the year in a pretty decent place and began to gain steam as other carries were hit with nerfs. The game itself began to slow down in pace and this is great news for a hero that can only realistically fight every couple of minutes. A slower-paced game favors late-game heroes that can team fight and in the carry role, no one does that better than Faceless Void. It has also gotten progressively harder to end the game thanks to several rounds of buffs to the towers and glyph. This means that nearly every game will be decided around Roshan, an area of the map that massively favors Faceless Void. It’s pretty safe to call him the carry hero of 2020 at this point.
Sven is the only other hero who could give Faceless Void a run for the most impactful carry of the year. After years of mediocrity due to poor mobility and a relatively weak ability kit, Sven leveled up this past year. In addition to a game-changing Aghanim’s Scepter, the Rogue Knight also received buffs to nearly all of his skills. Once everyone realized how powerful the combination of dispel, God’s Strength, and Aghanim’s Scepter was, Sven became first-pick material in several tournaments. With a built-in Battlefury, he was one of the only carries ready to farm from minute one and this let him outpace most of the roster. Sven has only just now begun to fall off from the top tier but it took a lot of nerfs and plenty of complaints to push this overpowered beast out of the meta.
In a meta that favors team fighting it’s no surprise that the God of War himself reigned supreme. Mars brings strong laning and strong team fight to the table making him one of the most stable heroes to pick. Able to combo with nearly every other hero on this list, Mars was easily the most popular offlaner for months at a time and even saw some brief play as a damage-dealing monster in the mid lane. Even after countless numbers of nerfs to his abilities, Mars continues to be an offlane favorite and likely will continue to be first or second phase material for captains in 2021.
For a while there, Magnus was the meta. Even after subsequent nerfs to Empower, the hero just gives away Battlefury for free. In a meta that focuses on the carry role, there is nothing more reliable than free farming potential. With a Magnus, nearly every carry in the game becomes viable and his team fight potential rounded out almost any draft. The Magnataur branched out a bit from the mid and offlane roles as well seeing significant play in both supportive roles as well as a small carry stint. In some ways, Magnus represents everything that a well-rounded draft needed in 2020 and beyond.
If Magnus was the embodiment of the meta, then Phoenix was its rebirth. The infamous flaming bird spent the majority of tournaments first picked or first banned even through several waves of nerfs. With heroes like Magnus, Mars, and Faceless Void routinely finding play, there is simply no better hero to combo with to ensure ultimate dominance in team fights. Phoenix is one of those heroes that has probably been incredibly broken for years but due to awkward mechanics took a long time to discover. Phoenix is a support that can carry games and after nearly a year of nerfs to the support role, that is a pretty special hero trait to still be able to find.
In the wake of patch 7.28, a few of these heroes have fallen off while others remain as strong as ever. In the current state of Dota, team fight and carry potential is the number one focus and thus the meta will continue to embody this style of play. Here’s to an interesting and entertaining 2021 where we will hopefully see a return of international play to jumpstart the innovation that has lacked for most of 2020.