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How to practice & improve as a support player ?

            Hello everyone  🙂 ! Just came back from Dreamleague, and I have to say I really enjoyed casting games over there. The casting crew and the production were really nice and easy to work with. The overall ‘production value’ was quite high, the experience was just chilled and fun! I wrote that article during my spare time there, and on the way back.
This article is going to highlight a role in particular, the support role. I have always played support, and although I often get to try other roles/heroes, it still remains my favorite position. Playing support is about embracing the strategy you or your captain designed. It’s about being smarter than the opponent support, it’s about anticipating how they want to play the game, it’s about reading their minds.

maiden
The topic of today’s article will be rather simple : How to practice and improve, as a support player ?

This is a question I have been asked plenty of times. Answering in a sentence or two is actually impossible. I will try to give a lot of inputs in that article, share what I do to practice supporting, and hopefully you guys find the answer you were looking for.

Team practice :

Obviously, the first type of practice that comes to mind is the team practice. Play with your team, and create the conditions of a real match. Scriming other teams can only be useful. You get to see how people react to your plays, your warding, and you also get to watch the replay of the opposing team’s supports, which can sometimes be very helpful. Practicing in those conditions is going to require that you stay very focused and most importantly stay away from laziness. You have to think about what you do, and how you do it. You have to try everything that comes to your mind, to innovate. It is always a better idea to push your limits during ‘fake games’ than during an official. It might just not be a risk you’re willing to take on behalf of your team the D Day. There is not much to say about team practice, it is rather obvious.
I want to jump to the second part of my article, which is definitely the one that you will find the most interesting.

Individual practice :

There we are, individual practice. This is definitely the most important part of practicing the support role. Let’s start from the most obvious, to the least obvious.

mmr dota2

Solo games :

So first of all, you go for games in which you practice your mechanics with the heroes you play. You get used to the range of your spells, the way they interact with other spells/items, you try itembuilds, you get to know the damage you can deal, the position you need to have in fights, etc… In other words : you try to improve your mechanics and your knowledge of the hero in question.
There is more that you can do when you just play solo games, of course. You can practice your warding/dewarding. Warding depends on two mains things : the playstyle of the opposing players/teams, and the strategies/heroes they are running. Some players, for example, are aggressive by nature, thus their warding will be completely different from a very safe team. The same reasoning applies to strategies : if they run a line-up that relies heavily on getting Roshan, they will obviously ward differently than if they would be running a 4 protect 1 type of line-up. It is important that you keep those two aspects in mind when you try to analyze someone’s way of warding. Last, but not least, the real-time situation. Indeed, do not underrate the importance of that. Often you ward just because a fight was about to happen, and by observing that, you can’t get any intelligence that will be useful outside of that precise game. It is very important for you to learn how to make the difference between ‘reactionary’ warding or rotations overall, and ‘strategical’ ones.

Replays analysis :

This part is probably more important than the solo games. I would say than the solo games are useful to secure the basics, but looking at replays Is truly what will start to make the difference. You can either analyze your own replays, or others. When you look at your own replays, it is mainly to get more detailed information about how the opposing team reacted to your support plays, or to understand better what you did wrong/right. Obviously it is also very important to ask yourself what could you have done better in that game. The classic reaction is usually that if the game was won, there’s very few things to look at, but that is completely false. You can win a game although you played horribly, and vice versa. As a support, it is very important to understand what your role exactly is, what are the limits of your role.

replay.png

Let me take an example : if you played really well, pressured the midlane for instance, and allowed your midlane to really dominate his matchup. The safelane was secured as well, and overall early game was a great success. Nevertheless, your team lost the first big fights, and the game got out of control extremely quickly. You might have that tendency to, if you get to play that type of game again, try to get a bit more farm or space. That is just a mistake. It will only reduce the quality of games you play. It is important to know the limits of what you have to do. The rest usually comes down to your core’s decision making, or your team calls. Trying to do too much will actually get you to neglect the basics. You often see supports trying to get 25 kills in 10 minutes in early, forgetting the very basics that are warding, being ready to counter-gank etc…
The most important part of replays analysis is definitely the analysis of other players. Replays are like a gold mine, it is the access to people’s brain and geniality, so why not use it? Look at replays, try to understand what they do, and replicate how they do it. Obviously, once you understood it, you need to try to replicate it, and do it until you’re confident you mastered it. But this is probably the best way of improving as a support. Don’t copy everything, every player has his weaknesses, try simply to spot his strengths and adapt them to your way of supporting.

General practice :

This is the last point I will tackle in this article, and probably the one you’ve never heard of yet. Is it something I use a lot in order to improve as a support player, and it really helped me so far. I called it general practice, so what do I mean by that ? Well it is quite simple : it is to try to increase your general knowledge of the game. Practicing other roles, other heroes, so that you can understand them better, and thus, counter them better. Whenever I feel like I lack knowledge about a certain hero or playstyle, I actually practice it on my own to make sure I understand it to perfection. Let’s take spectre as an example. You’re a support player, and you keep facing spectre. The best way for you to learn how to counter spectre is to study spectre players, or play it yourself. By playing spectre a decent amount (until you’re good at understanding how the hero works and what he needs), you will realize many things about the hero, his strengths and weaknesses. For instance : spectre is a very slow farmer. You played spectre yourself, and you actually wanted to fight all the time, you were pinging your team “Haunt : READY” because you were dreaming of getting that roaming support kill. You realized how crucial your manta was, or you started going for easy targets in fights. You abused the manta ‘one shot’ move, where you just spot a hero that’s a bit far from the others in teamfights, in desolate range, and you always jumped him first with manta activation. Long story short, you know all there is to know about spectre.

spectre.png

So next time you play support against spectre, you are going to mess with him like never before. You won’t give him the kill he desperately needs, you will place the ward where you know you would farm with spectre, etc. It is also a great way to practice support roles, learning more about other roles. You’ll only be able to help your midlaner effectively if you understand his match-up, the timings, etc. Same goes for the support duel in a game. If you do not want to get completely out maneuvered by the opponent Tuskar, or Bh, you need to understand how that hero is played. Because if you don’t, even if you are the best spirit breaker in the freaking world, you will get outplayed. There are several ways to approach that type of practice, either you play the heroes yourself, or you watch good players playing them, or last, you discuss a lot with your team mates, ask them many questions about what annoys them when they play that hero, what helps them a lot, what are their timings, etc.

If you manage to keep all that in mind when you play support, you will be very effective, and improve very fast. It requires a lot of work, and focus, but it is doable. Also always keep in mind that it is better to practice effectively two hours, while you are still focused and in good shape, than to just play 10 hours in a row, being tired and lazy. Quality > Quantity. When you feel like your plays are becoming a bit sloppy, just chill, or go watch a replay.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your read, and most importantly that the article helped you in your tough support life. If you’re a core player, you now understand the amount of things a support has to take into account before being effective. Remember, this is nothing but my personal opinion/experiences. Cheers!

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The importance of preparation in competitive DotA2 “How teams approach decisive matches”

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!

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                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?

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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.

fear bm1

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… )

Team_Secret

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.

bulldog np

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.

balance

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 🙂

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