OG: Breaking the meta in 2020

By Matt DixonDecember 30, 2020
Since they reformed before The International 2018, OG have captured the hearts of fans more than ever for several reasons. Some are drawn in by the close friendship between OG’s players. Others enjoy watching their scrappy playstyle; whether OG are diving deep when ahead or clawing back unwinnable games, their games are always a spectacle to behold. Another fascinating trait of OG is that, always prepared to ignore the meta, they draft unpredictably. 2020 was no different for OG – with no TI or DPC points on the line, there was more room than ever for them to experiment with bizarre picks for all of their roles. Below, we’ll try to comprehend the logic of captain Johan “Notail” Sundstein.

Infinite flexibility and uncounterable Cores

Flexible heroes that can be played in multiple roles are always popular. This year, Snapfire was a popular flex pick as she was a viable mid, offlane, and hard support. OG didn’t play much Snapfire. Instead, they found flexibility in other picks, particularly Elder Titan and Enigma. Elder Titan is already a flex pick by most team’s standards, available as a position three or four; however, OG played the hero in every role, including mid and safe lane this year.
Support Elder Titan has been the norm for many years. But, the popularity of his new Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade, which gives spell immunity from hitting enemies with Astral Spirit, opened up the opportunity to play ET as an offlaner. When OG saw the opportunity for a good core Elder Titan game, they went all in and played it as a position one or two. They did this when there was a lane matchup that Astral Spirit would be especially powerful in, such as against an offlane Nature’s Prophet or Meepo. These heroes' extra units provide huge amounts of damage when affected by Astral Spirit, giving ET massive early damage potential.
Equally, OG will happily first-phase Enigma any game and decide later if it should be a support or offlaner. A great example of this is their series against Yellow Submarine at EPIC League. OG first picked Enigma, which Yellow Submarine responded to by picking Terrorblade – a high armor hero who can withstand the physical damage of Enigma’s eidolons in lane as well as preferring to fight in his ranged form, safe from multi-hero Black Holes. In response to the Terrorblade pick, OG decide the Enigma will be Notail’s hero and pick Timbersaw as their offlaner. Timber’s AOE nuke damage tears through TB’s tiny health pool in lane and turn a difficult matchup into one which is hugely in their favor.
By demonstrating their willingness to play heroes like ET and Enigma in several roles, these heroes become a huge question mark to their opponents during the draft. If they try to counter them, OG shift the hero’s priority in the draft and find better matchups. However, ignore them, and OG are free to first-pick whatever they like.

Supports as cores: forcing early power spikes

Another trait of OG’s unusual drafting is playing heroes that are mostly played as supports as cores. There are several examples of OG doing this, from offlane Phoenix to safe lane Silencer and mid Oracle. These heroes are usually played for their high-value spells; you don’t need much farm to make use of them, and they are often very useful at lower levels. However, give them farm priority, and their maximum effectiveness arrives much earlier than it usually would.
One of OG’s most successful examples of this is Ceb’s offlane Phoenix. While Phoenix has a history in the offlane, it has almost exclusively been played as a position four support for quite some time. While Ceb played the hero just three times in EPIC League, he always played around one critical timing. At the 16/17-minute mark, he would complete his first main item: either a Eul’s Sceptre or Shiva’s Guard alongside reaching level 12, which unlocks level two of Supernova. This timing gives OG huge early team fight potential; with Sun Ray and Fire Spirits both maxed out, Ceb’s Phoenix offered huge damage. Combined with a Shiva’s Guard or Eul’s, Ceb can almost guarantee a successful Supernova followed by another round of Fire Spirits and Sun Ray.
The damage and huge AOE stun can single-handedly win team fights; in the graphs below, we can see how effective it is in these two games, one against Just Error, the other against Live to Win. The red circle shows where Ceb hits level 12. The win probability immediately turns sharply in OG’s favor.
This is a huge impact that a support Phoenix would rarely be able to offer. With lower levels in its critical spells and no defensive item to ensure the egg hatches, there is no chance of a support matching the impact of Ceb’s core Phoenix.

In search of the next Io

OG’s historic TI9 victory was made especially memorable by their safe lane Io games. Playing IO as a core had virtually never been done before; the Aghs build that won them a TI Final was originally a fun build that Anathan “Ana” Pham had played with in pubs. After picking it on a whim at TI9, they quickly realized just how powerful it was. The undefeated success of Ana’s Io at TI9 was something we’ve never seen before. Who would have thought that a magic-damage-focussed Io could be an unstoppable carry pick? However, after such notoriety, the build was nerfed, and Ana disappeared from pro Dota once again. So, what’s next? Can OG find another unpredictable hero to become their ace-pick to lead them to a third Aegis? With no DPC and no International to compete for this year, 2020 has been a year of experimentation for OG. Often, their experimental picks are underwhelming and don’t work out. Notail’s hard support Enigma has a 40% win rate over 10 games. Ceb’s offlane Tusk is 0-3. Topson’s mid Ancient Apparition is also 0-3, and his mid Riki is 1-3. Even so, OG kept experimenting all year long, no matter how hard it makes their games.
While some teams like Team Secret strive for victory all year round, OG play for the glory of the International. When there’s no Aegis to look toward, OG use the competitive scene as a time to learn and experiment. They create an identity of an unpredictable, bold team who don’t play by the meta. Drafting against OG is a mind game before anything else, and by the time the DPC returns, OG will have learned many lessons from the 2020 season. Will that be enough to carry them to a third Aegis? Only time will tell.
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