Hello everyone! First of all, I would like to mention that I am really happy I found the time to start writing new articles. I got a lot of suggestions for potential topics, and I will probably tackle most of them. For the one that follows, I will be writing about the importance of preparation for very important matches. Enjoy your read, and feel free to share your feedback after you are done!
Over the past few year, the competitive DotA2 scene never stopped growing. The competition is obviously tougher, a lot more players play the game and as a direct consequence the overall ‘level’ is now higher. The number of tournaments also increased by a significant margin, which means that it gives less time for the professional players to prepare. They are on the road way more often than before, so the amount of time that they have to practice is becoming smaller, although the competition is higher than before. A problem then occurs: What is the most efficient way to prepare big tournaments and big games?
To try to give you as much insight as possible on that matter, I will split my analysis in two stages: the first one will highlight the general preparation, i.e. the mindset of the team coming into that match, what did they focus on mainly. The second part of the analysis will focus more on the drafting part, what is the general thinking process behind it.
Let us start with the general preparation.
General preparation :
A common misconception is to think that the priority for teams is to prepare specifically against their opponent, it is generally not the case. Many reasons can explain it; we will go through all of them later. A very important thing to understand is that the first, and probably the biggest challenge for a drafter/captain is to be able to “use’, to their maximal potential, all his players (himself included). The first and absolute priority for any team before a big event is to prepare themselves as a team, regardless of all the potential opponents. Indeed, there could have been a new patch, a roster change etc.. As a consequence, the team has to find its own playstyle, a playstyle that seem effective, but more importantly a playstyle that allows the players in the team to bring their A-game. When EG switches Fear to position 4, their playstyle and their drafts changed drastically. They started running unconventional junglers such as Doom Bringer, Beastmaster or Nyx Assassin.
During the practice sessions before the tournament, teams are then going to try what they theorized and adapt it until it works. Again, this process has nothing to do with the opposing team. It is a process that could be done even without opponents. Playing versus another team is just a way to make sure what they came up with is reliable, and can be used against the teams they will face in big tournaments. They can then see how equally skilled players react to their strategies, how do they counter it, etc… This is also the reason why most of the top teams refuse to play against teams of a lesser level. Once the team is satisfied with the playstyle, and the strategies they built, they can start looking at their potential opponents. Please note that a strategy is not necessarily a composition of five specific heroes. It is usually more vague, rather like: running a playmaking hero mid, so that he creates space for the carry, or pressuring the offlane heavily in every game, to drag attention away from the greedy jungler. They have to come up with different possibilities when it comes to drafting, as they cannot realistically expect to get all the heroes they planned to get.
Drafting versus your opponent :
This part is probably the most interesting one. What you should remember from the general preparation is that every team came to the tournament with a precise idea of how they want to play, and what they want to draft. Some teams, that did not practice beforehand, have a different approach. They play the first games relying only on their confidence, they are confident they can win games although they aren’t prepared, and learn ‘live’ from the other teams, build their playstyle game after game. That was typically the approached of Secret 1.0 ( with Zai, Arteezy etc… )
But let us take a more concrete example of a big game, a LAN tournament final. Most of the time, what you need to acknowledge is that team did not get time to prepare specifically for that match. Indeed, they have been busy with the rest of the matches they had to play before they got to the finals. At best, they got one or two days to prepare before it, at wrost, they played the previous match a few hours before. The good news is that a final is never less than a bo3 or a bo5, so both teams will be given the chance to adapt during the match when it comes to drafts and strategies. Obviously, teams know each other’s players and favorite playstyles, so they do have some sort of information. You play versus Puppey, you know Chen is part of the equation. You play against Bulldog, Nature’s prophet and syllabear are most likely to be picked.
This is when the mindgame starts, it is the drafter’s job to find the perfect balance between countering your opponent, and making sure you are building a strategy that keeps you and your team in your comfort zone. Every drafter has a different style, every team has a different drafting style. Some teams will favor countering and forcing your enemy out of their comfort zone over assuring themselves a stable draft. Others will completely ignore you, give you all the heroes you want if they can trade it for something they really feel comfortable playing. It is a matter of playstyle. Personally, I think that making sure you stay in your comfort zone is the best way to approach drafting, at least it should be your priority. I changed my mind over the past few months, as the first style used to be my favorite.
Often, both teams actually favor the same heroes, because of the current patch and its metagame. This is when both captain might know in advance which heroes will be the most contested ones. Firstpick usually becomes extremely important. Another situation is when you do not really have the choice but to ban certain heroes against certain teams/players.
Many semi-professional teams just focusing on counter-picking their opponent, without having the bigger picture in mind. It is the main difference between top drafters and others. The art of drafting really relies on finding that perfect equilibrium, reading what your opponent is trying to do, countering him while securing yourself a stable and balanced draft, that your players are comfortable playing.
This takes me to my last point, the growing importance of coaches and statsmans. Indeed, as I explained, time lacks for team to prepare specifically against their opponents. Usually it is the coach’s or the statmans’s job. He did researches and stats about the opposing team, and briefs the captain before the match. That is what they usually like drafting, those are their most successful heroes, here is what people usually ban against them, etc. Obviously there are cases in which teams are very well prepared, but I would actually say that the outcome is usually worse than adapting live. Indeed, preparing yourself too much for a specific team might push you to tunnel vision, and do what you thought would be good against them regardless of how they draft on the D day. Overthinking it is never a good idea.
I hope you enjoyed your read, feel free to share feedback by droppig comments, or write me on Twitter & Facebook. Remember, this is nothing but my opinion 🙂