What is Dota 2's Deathball Strategy?
The Deathball is a pain the Dota 2 community's side, but like all strategies its time is limited.
Dota 2's "Deathball" strategy has existed for ages, but it's only within the past few months that it's come under fire from the game's community. Claims that the 15-20 minute games it results in are "boring," or that the strategy itself preys on issues of balance are common - about as common as the tactic was at The International 4 earlier this year.
As with any new meta its popularity rose swiftly, and unexpectedly, finally becoming the mainstay professional strategy. That is, until the next big thing comes along. With at least one new hero arriving shortly, and a patch likely not far behind now's as good a time as any to look at the so-called Deathball before it falls back out of rotation.
Get The Ball Rolling
The Deathball, as its name implies, is a fast-paced method of tower pushing that focuses on kills instead of actual push-heavy heroes. Like most methods of play in Dota 2 you can see it coming at the draft. The team planning to represent the Deathball approach will choose characters with devastating area-of-effect abilities. When the team's skills are ready (usually very early into a match) they form the titular ball of death outside an opponent's tower and set up shop.
This is the make-or-break moment for the maneuver's value. Used correctly, the team's powerful abilities should kill enough of the enemy team to make an organized defense impossible. The tower is lost, and the Deathball rolls on.
In a normal game, this wouldn't be a major issue. Towers are lost. Heroes are killed. It's the expected ebb and flow of Dota 2 every player acclimates to. The problem for the defending team is that it doesn't end there. Normally the usefulness of a particularly strong ultimate - a hero's bombastic, trademark skill - is limited by a cooldown time.
The next stage of a Deathball has the team waiting for those counter-initiating skills to be ready again before they move on to the next tower, likely winning another fight, taking another tower, or more than likely both. If the aggressors managed to wipe the enemy team at the first tower, even better - the heavy cooldowns get a precious few seconds to recharge as they resurrect.
Of course, as with every strategy, there are effective counters. Split pushing (sending one hero, like Nature's Prophet, to attack a tower while the rest of the team postures elsewhere) and trading (attacking opposing structures rather than defending) are both viable options, but it's a gamble. Without a team of four other players you can trust it's hard to mount a defense, or even pick the right counters.
It's All Downhill from Here
For instance, while the aforementioned Nature's Prophet can zip across the map, knocking down towers, it's unlikely he's as efficient as an entire team barreling down the mid lane. You might take more map control, but a base race at 15 minutes is still likely to turn against you.
A better option is to draft heroes with AOE debuffs of their own. Heroes like Undying, Silencer, and Disruptor are great options as they excel against grouped opponents. Ironically, some of the best heroes to deal with the blitzkrieg tactic have yet to see release in Dota 2. Techies and Winter Wyvern are perfect for the role. The former covers the map in vision, and when you know where the enemy is going to be it's much easier to place mines. Winter Wyvern, on the other hand, works much the same as Undying - his abilities work better on larger groups of enemies.
The irony stems from the fact that the Deathball's days are numbered. The Dota 2 community is famously fickle. From the hardcore farming carries of 2012, to the Global Gank, and beyond every strategy has had its time as the premiere tactic, and faded back into just another arrow in each player's quiver. By the time these heroes hit Valve's juggernaut the Deathball may have had its time.
Now that the new season of professional play is almost upon us the high-level players will already be looking for new strategies to throw their opponents off-balance. That doesn't mean we'll never see the Deathball roll on through now and again. Just expect it to be more of a tumbleweed than an avalanche.
For more Dota 2 features, follow @RedBullESPORTS on Twitter.