“The Metagame” is a common theme in the esports world. The “game within the game” dictates everything from gun purchases in Counter-Strike to strategies in StarCraft 2. On Feb. 19, however, the Dota world apparently forgot that the meta even existed.
On Thursday, drafters from some of the top teams in the world roundly rejected conventional wisdom, selecting heroes usually only seen in ill-fated public games. Even more remarkable was the thoroughness with which the meta was cast aside: No less than nine games and three separate competitions saw bizarre selections.
Dota Pit saw two eyebrow-raising picks in particular. In a loss to Team Secret, Hellraisers selected Phantom Lancer, a hard-carry who creates illusions of himself to push down lanes and overwhelm opponents. While Phantom Lancer is certainly suited for a carry role, the match marked the first actual appearance of the hero in all competitive games on patch 6.83.
In another match, ASUS Polar’s Artem “FNG” Barshak threw convention out the window entirely, selecting consummate support Treant Protector for the hard carry role.
The move proved to be a stroke of genius. By allocating farm to Treant Protector in order to expedite his Aghanim’s Scepter, Barshak gained access to the hero’s upgraded ultimate. Normally, Treant Protector’s ultimate ensnares enemies near himself. But the upgraded version of the spell, Eyes in the Forest, turns any tree on the map into a ward/death trap waiting to be sprung. And spring he did.
In the Fallout Gaming Major All-Stars European Qualifier, Empire added its own flair, selecting Pudge for its match against 4 Anchors + Sea Captain. But it was another CIS side that stole the show for unique Eastern European play.
In the JoinDOTA MLG Pro League European division, Moscow 5 utterly rewrote the playbook against Virtus Pro in a decisive two to zero victory. Game one featured a hard-pushing albeit extremely unique Naga Siren, Undying tandem, ending in Moscow 5’s favor at 44 minutes and 33 seconds. In the second game, the CIS underdogs wielded the rarely-picked Slardar and never-picked Tusk alongside a cheeky Broodmother to put the series away for good.
But even this wasn’t the most surprising development on the day that Dota went crazy.
With only 53 games across all Dota competitions in patch 6.83, Spirit Breaker was the 62nd most picked hero in the game before February 19th. His arsenal of spells, which allow him to sprint across the map and, generally, headlong into danger, have offered niche utility in the past but hardly enough consistent performance to be taken seriously by professional players.
Yet, in a single day, the kamikaze semi-carry was picked four times by three different teams across three separate contests. Power Rangers picked him in one win and one loss to Ninjas in Pyjamas in the Fallout Gaming Major Allstars, ASUS Polar picked him once in a win over Team Tinker in Dota Pit, and Alliance road the blue bull to victory against Power Rangers in the JoinDOTA MLG Pro League.
Ultimately, the actual results of Feb. 19 will quickly pass from the memories of Dota fans. No major tournaments were decided by these unconventional picks, and the lifespan of the YouTube highlights has already peaked and faded. But for one curious day, the world of competitive Dota lost its mind, and the game that claims that “anything can work” proved just that.