The Decline of Carries in Dota 2
Published on March 25, 2019
Dota 2 can claim some pretty amazing things. It has one of the longest and most storied competitive scenes of an esport. Its total prize purse absolutely dwarfs the runner-up. Its gameplay is designed to never give you the same game twice.
There’s an old saying in the community that nobody is actually good at playing Dota, not even the pros. They’re just the least bad. While it’s an exaggeration, there’s some truth to it.
Dota is one of the hardest games to learn and one of the hardest games to master. People who have been playing the game for years still learn something new every match.
One role in Dota has always carried the most weight to it. It’s the strictest pool to get into and the easiest one to leave. Position 1, or carry, defines heroes that rely on farm and experience in order to reach their maximum potential.
Most heroes like to farm every now and again, but the value carries give to a team is exponential to their farm. A sufficiently farmed Naga Siren can push every lane at once and lock their opponents out of the game. A Spectre with 25k network can bulldoze over the enemy team.
But above the Ursas and the Lunas are a class of heroes all their own. Hard carries take the concept of farming to its logical extremes. These heroes, like Terrorblade, Spectre, and Naga Siren have all either been completely absent from the pro meta or reworked into a support. Why have they been put on the backburner?
Part of the identity of a hard carry is their inability to lane by themselves. Their health pool could be too small, their damage too pitiful, or their ability to escape lacking. As a result, they’re almost always run in the safe lane accompanied by a support.
Oftentimes both supports would stay there while the offlaner was forced to go it alone. It seems strange now, but 1-1-3 lanes were the meta for much of the game’s history pre-2016. Times have changed since then, and solo-offlaning slowly declined until it was once again called “the suicide lane.”
As a result, one support began accompanying a core in both side lanes, creating the 2-1-2 laning meta that currently dominates both pubs and the pro scene. The lanes have been static since mid-2018, and just now, change is on the horizon.
Since they usually have a support in their lane, offlaners are able to get much more farm and experience than they used to. Tanky heroes with sustain and fighting ability were usually run as offlaners before, so those traits help them even more now.
More often than not, the offlaner can just run the carry out of the lane entirely. Heroes like Beastmaster, Skywrath Mage, Sand King, and Magnus have historically conquered the safe lane since dual lanes came back into style.
This double-dips on carries, as it not only makes their farm worse and harder to get, but it also means the offlaner will be the star of the midgame. The carry’s actions simply matter less and are harder to do. Remember that carries are the ones facing off against offlaners for the first phase of the game.
Hard carries rely heavily on the early game. If a Terrorblade gets a fast Yasha, he’ll be able to farm up his Manta Style quicker. With that, he can save for a fast Skadi. So on and so forth.
The laning situation shifting hurts carries a lot, but it’s not the worst thing. The real reason hard carries have declined lies in how much gold there actually is to farm. Creeps are worth pittance compared to what they used to yield.
Not too long ago, ranged creeps would give 53 gold maximum while melee creeps gave 44. Now the numbers are much more lopsided. Now melee give 38 maximum with ranged giving 58 maximum. It’s gone from 370 creep gold per minute to 344, assuming absolute maximums.
If a carry gets super unlucky (but lucky enough to get every last hit) for one minute, they’ll earn 288 gold.
That’s simply not enough gold for a carry to get off the ground and hit the jungle. If an Anti-Mage low-rolled on every last hit, it would take him over 20 minutes of free-farm to get Power Treads and a Battle Fury.
That’s a worst-case scenario, but it also implies that he’ll land every single creep. Offlaners are strong enough that they can deny good chunks of the wave before it reaches your tower. They won’t always leave you alone once you’re farming there, either.
The jungle has also had a massive decrease in available gold. Experience from jungling has also tanked, resulting in heroes not even bothering with the jungle during the midgame. The reason why every player went Hand of Midas in 7.21 is because there’s simply no other way to get gold and experience around the map.
Because of this lack of farm, every hero has naturally become stronger in relation to carries. Position 1s just can’t make a big enough gap between themselves and their own team, let alone the enemy squad.
Hard carries have been brushed aside for so long that it almost seems like an intentional move by Valve. Why has the meta shifted so far against long games and late-game stalling?
One possibility could be that Valve is trying to popularize their game as a spectator sport. Flashy mid-game team fights and meaningful ultimates are a big part of that, and hard carries don’t contribute much.
Magnus’ ultimate is a teamfight-ending massive area-of-effect stun that relocates the entire enemy team into a neat little pile. Naga Siren’s prevents both teams from doing anything to the other. See the disconnect?
Another possibility is that it was a complete accident. Valve has buffed support heroes in various ways to make them more fun to play but also increased their power level five-fold in the late-game.
It doesn’t help that many popular supports, like Lion, Dazzle, and Crystal Maiden, can essentially become core heroes as the game goes on.
Offlaners have become insanely strong compared to the pre-7.00 era and have also caught up to carries in terms of late-game potential.
Mid players drilled into Valve’s head that they want their lane to be a solo one, and Valve has left them alone for the most part. It’s carries who have to bear the brunt of these changes.
There are many players who still enjoy watching a Spectre dance around the enemy team to take dangerous farm. Seeing a team slowly suffocated by a fat Medusa is fun to watch in a horror movie-esque way. However, that just doesn’t appeal to newer players or those who take no joy in playing carry themselves.
Some players even insist that things are better this way, as games are shorter and depend more on overall teamwork than the performance of one player.
However, it is not worth sacrificing one of the core building blocks of Dota to make supports happy. There have been metagames in the past that allowed both hard carries and deathball to coexist peacefully. Hopefully, we can experience it again one day.