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Picking the Right Support

June 17, 2014 by Sando
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Introduction

Quite often in both pubs and captain's mode you see players picking support heroes seemingly at random, rather than trying to get the maximum possible synergy for their team and lane partner.

While the amount of choice in DOTA can seem overwhelming at times, when you group up the heroes into categories, it can become a lot clearer what kind of abilities you're looking for. This guide will explore the options and help you understand when to pick particular heroes...

Please note, this guide is still WIP and will need some additions and refinements. I've also only included the most commonly chosen support heroes to try and keep the lists managable...please make any suggestions in the comments section!

Questions to ask yourself

Once you've learnt a good range of support heroes, you start to have choices about which ones to pick for different situations. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help guide you towards the right options.

Some issues with team composition can be sorted out ingame - for example a team that lacks disable can eventually buy a Scythe of Vyse to help fix that. It may be too late by that point, but it's possible.

Other issues are harder to solve and best avoided. Having a heavily farm dependent team will cause issues early-mid game as nobody wants to buy the necessary support items. Lack of team fight abilities can't be fixed by buying specific items - all you can try to do is brute force the fights or try to avoid them through ganks and split pushes.

Work through the most important questions first and it will quickly narrow down your options to a much more managable set of choices!

Crucial Questions:

Is the rest of your team very farm dependent?

+ Hard Support

Does your team have some good AOE damage or lack team fight?

+ AOE Disablers

Do the opposition have some potentially killer lane combinations, jungler or nasty gankers?

+ Escapes
+ Healers



Important Questions:

Do the opposition have heroes with good escapes/mobility?

+ Disablers
- AVOID Slows

Does your team lack stuns?

+ Disablers

Are the opposition probably running a solo against your lane?

+ Harassers
+ Disablers
+ Nukers




Optimisation Questions:

Has the opposition got a lot of late game heroes?

+ Pushers

Do the opposition have a lot of squishy heroes?

+ Nukers
+ Harassers

Does your team have some good AOE disablers?

+ AOE Damage

Does your team have a lot of Burst Damage?

+ Nukers

Have both teams picked late game carries?

+ Late Game

Examples

I'll take you through some sample selections now to hopefully help illustrate how this all works:

Example 1:

The rest of your team have picked Pudge, Spirit Breaker, Queen of Pain and Faceless Void. This means that you're going to pick a safe lane support, and probably have to buy the courier and ward all game.

This means you need to pick from the hard support heroes list.



You're going to have a melee lane partner, so a ranged support would be preferable. He's not particularly aggressive early game, so you want to avoid pushers and you probably won't get a lot of early game kills unless your mid comes to gank.





Next up, the rest of your team is fairly ganky, with a hard carry, reasonable stuns and a good AOE disable. The big AOE disable is probably the most interesting feature, meaning any big AOE damage would help, and having a stun or slow available will help you setup for other team mates if the opportunity arises.

This leaves us with a choice between Witch Doctor, Jakiro and Lich.






Example 2:


The enemy team has picked Chen and Weaver, meaning that they're very likely to have a jungle/solo setup.

If you're playing on the hard lane, you want a hero with some kind of escape skill to help survive ganks from the jungle, and some kind of push/anti-push skill would be useful too.

Puck, Dark Seer, Dazzle and Windranger could all be good choices here.



Enemy Chen -> Escape + Anti-push



If you're playing on the safe lane, you want to make it as difficult as possible for Weaver to get any farm, and ideally be able to setup kills on him too. He's very evasive, so you're either going to need a harasser, nuker or disabler to have a decent chance of taking him down.

Two heroes combine these abilities in Bane and Lion.



Enemy Weaver -> Disable/Nuker/Harasser




Example 3:

You're going to be laning with an aggressive early game carry like Juggernaut, Sven or Chaos Knight. While these guys need to farm, they also have considerable kill power in the early game if given the right backup.

In this situation you want to look at heroes who can help provide early ganking power - stuns, slow and/or nukes. Supports who have several of these skills are at a real premium in these situations:

+



Crystal Maiden, Ogre Magi and Jakiro are all excellent examples - they have both an effective slow and disable from level 2. Heroes with a very damaging stun/slow are also worth considering - e.g. Vengeful Spirit, Sand King, Tidehunter, Lina, Earthshaker and Venomancer.



Example 4:

The enemy look like they're going to be running a jungler, and your team have a strong ranged carry for the safe lane. They are not going to need a lot of help, maybe an occasional gank, pulls and/or early harassment to get them an advantage over their direct opponent.

Often the best choice in situations like this is semi-support heroes who ideally needs more farm than you would normally get early on as a support. Ideally one with a strong stun who can setup kills for their carry, and possibly by roaming to other lanes too.



In this type of situation I'd look strongly at heroes like Earthshaker and Sand King - you can spend a lot of time stacking, pulling and then farming neutrals. This keeps your carry safe with a well controlled lane, but also maximises their farm and xp. You've got strong stuns for ganks, and the farm will help you get an early Blink Dagger.

Basic Considerations

The first consideration you have as a support hero is whether to pick a ranged or melee hero.

As a general rule, melee heroes offer you more damage and survivability, but also mean you're likely to take more harassment when trying to deny, and will struggle to return hits on enemy ranged heroes.

Ranged heroes generally don't hit as hard and have less armour. However, they can also dish out damage and denies more easily, and can generally position themselves better in the lane.

The main thing is to avoid having two melee heroes in the same lane (unless you have a very specific combo in mind) - this can make it very difficult for your carry to farm and you to deny = a lost lane.

Also be aware of having a short ranged hero with a melee against two ranged opponents - this can lead to similar problems.

Nuker

Major Nukers:




Minor Nukers:




Nukers are a set of heroes with a lot of single target burst damage, designed to rapidly take down squishy enemy heroes in the early-mid game.

+ Enemy team has several squishy heroes
+ Your team has other burst damage heroes
+ Your team will be aggressive early on


- You need levels ASAP
- Enemy team have a lot of tanks and/or magic resistance
- Power drops away as the game progresses

Slow







Almost all slows (with the exception of Warlock) also contain an element of damage, making them a very effective way of getting early kills in lane, and a basic escape mechanism.

+ Enemy heroes lack escapes
+ Your team has other heroes who can stun


- Your team lacks stuns

Hard Support



This collection of heroes are suitable for playing a hard support role - i.e. they'll be spending all game warding, buying team utility items and being last for farming priority. Having better personal equipment does obviously still benefit these heroes, but they don't NEED it - usually a very minimal inventory is enough to let them deploy their abilities effectively.

Other heroes can play this hard support role if necessary, but they will likely suffer more of a hit to their effectiveness.

+ Your team is severely lacking support

- Your team already has plenty of support

Disablers



These heroes are crowd control specialists - providing long and chained stuns on enemy heroes. You may need to pick one of these guys if your team is lacking stuns, the enemy has a lot of heroes with strong escapes (you can prevent them from using them), and against teams who are running a hard lane solo - as the safe lane support your long disables should make kills easy for your carry.

+ Enemy team has very mobile heroes who rely on their escapes (e.g. Anti-Mage, Queen of Pain, Weaver and Storm Spirit).
+ Your team lacks stuns generally
+ Enemy look to be playing a jungler/solo


- Your lane partner lacks early killing power
- You'll need a few levels before you get sufficient stun time

Healers



All of these heroes share the ability to heal their lane partners (or globally, in the case of Treant Protector). This makes them excellent choices for either babysitting hard carry heroes, or hard lane supports where their talents will help keep their lane partners alive.

+ Hard Carry will need help against a tough lane combo
+ Hard Lane looks difficult


- Lane may lack killing power

Escapes



The ability to get yourself or your partner out of trouble quickly can be invaluable, especially when in the hard lane, and against teams with tri-lanes or junglers. With the exception of Puck, all these heroes can use their escape to help their partner.

+ Hard Lane looks difficult
+ Enemy team has a jungler
+ Dangerous enemy mid ganker


- Silence and long disables can prevent you using them

Pushers



Pushers specialise in taking down creep waves and towers quickly, usually through AOE damage, but also via special abilities. They combine well with snowball carries who either hit their peak midgame, or dominate by growing rapidly. They're not so good with harder carries who want to farm a stable lane.

+ Extra team gold from early tower pushes
+ Usually good anti-pushers too


- Tower pushes can be disruptive for carries who just want to farm safely

Harassers



Short Range Harassment (works best against melee heroes):



These heroes excel at making life miserable for enemy heroes who are trying to lane against them, wearing down their health and consumables. Eventually this can set them up for ganks or force them off the lane. While all support heroes are capable of harassment to some degree, these guys really specialise in it.

+ Enemy heroes are either squishy or melee
+ Your lane partner can follow up to get kills, or needs space to farm
+ Enemy hard laners are farm dependent


- Works best in the safe lane where you can be more aggressive
- Less effective when the enemy have a healer or damage block

Late Game



Most supports are by their nature less effective in the late game. Nukes lose their potency, carries have a lot more equipment and damage. Heroes get magic immunity items and can often ignore your spells. However, some supports do have abilities than scale nicely into the late game, and can give their team a definite advantage at that stage.

+ If you suspect the game will go late

AOE Damage



All of these heroes are capable of inflicting strong damage to multiple enemy heroes. This usually makes for some good team fight power in the early-mid game, but can drop off late game.

Although excellent usage can let you get the best out of these abilities, they tend to be most effective when used in combination with AOE disables that allow for perfect positioning and effect.

AOE Disable



AOE disable powers are incredibly strong throughout the game, providing easy targets for AOE damage spells and auto-attacks during team fights. The only problems with these types of powers tends to be the long cooldown, and that you need the rest of your team to take advantage of them.

Miscellaneous



Wherever possible, I've tried to keep the groups as tidy as possible to give you definite choices rather than covering too many shades of grey. There are a few heroes and abilities that do not sit comfortably in the other categories however:

Rubick - Jack of all Trades

A strong hero with a variety of abilities, he doesn't fit securely in any category due to his ultimate, Spell Steal - which allows him to use enemy abilities against them. Although this can work against a variety of heroes and in most situations, primarily he's picked to steal/counter big enemy team fight powers.

Omniknight/ Dazzle - Unusual team fight abilities

Their ultimates are both big team fight powers that don't fit in either of the big AOE categories. Both offer some degree of protection (partial or complete) to enemy right click attacks, while one also can weaken enemies armour. Essentially both are good against teams with strong right-clickers.

Chen/ Enchantress - Jungling Pushers

Both these heroes provide some degree of ganks and pushes from the jungle, occasionally providing wards and other utility equipment. They both require your team to have a hero who can solo, and tend to be picked for early pushes.

Trilanes



Trilanes are common in organised games, but much rarer in pubs. The idea is to setup a strong lane that guarantees farm for the carry, while also getting kills and starving the enemy heroes of anything.

Trilanes are always much more successful when they manage to get kills - this helps balance out the loss of levels that the heroes involved will suffer otherwise. Because of this, getting the right balance and combinations are key for a good trilane.

You generally want heroes who have good kill potential at level 1 - either full effect nuke/slows or nuke/stuns that can allow you to focus down and kill off an enemy hero. It's important to have this early on, as surprise is a key element in getting that first blood.

The lane carry is important - if they have early kill power (e.g. Kunkka or Chaos Knight) then your support heroes can get away with less. If they have little to no damage or stun outside of their right-click (e.g. Anti-Mage or Faceless Void), then your supports need to step in with more to ensure a kill. If your allies have unreliable slows or stuns, ensure you have a reliable stun to make sure they can hit.

Example 1:

Your team has randomed a Crystal Maiden and an Anti-Mage, and decided you will run a tri-lane to maximise their impact. You have a hard support and a hard carry, which means you ideally want a semi-support stacker/neutral farmer to go with them. CM already has a good early slow and stun, but AM will probably need a bit more help than that to bag the kill.

In this situation I'd look at Sand King, Earthshaker, Tidehunter, Lina or Leshrac - all have good nuke/stuns/slows, and can benefit from more farm. The exact choice would depend on what the rest of your team needs, enemy team, etc.

Example 2:

Your team has a Kunkka who will be the carry - you and a friend are looking at picking lane supports to go with him. His Torrent is a very effective level 1 spell, offering good damage and a slow, but is unreliable to hit with. At least one of his supports needs a reliable disable that is long enough to guarantee he can hit.

Common choices would include Shadow Demon, Ogre Magi, Lion and Crystal Maiden. Some strong slowers like Venomancer and Tidehunter could potentially do a job here too.

Any kind of additional slow or stun should be enough to get the kill, so you have plenty of choice on your 3rd hero pick.

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