Sando's Guide to Pub Support
April 7, 2017
It's been a while, but I've finally gotten some writing time again. One of the things I see a lot of in pubs is bad, misguided or lazy support play.
This guide is a practical look at how to survive and prosper in this difficult role.
I've tried to break this guide into digestable sections, highlighting both the mistakes and the remedies. We'll start by looking at the player stereotypes of bad support.
No doubt you'll agree with some of them, cackle and point at the silly pubbers. However, some of it may bite a little closer to home. Keep an open mind, honestly assess your habits. Feel free to tell me why I'm wrong in the comments section. Find that game where I do exactly the opposite and call me a hypocrit, it's all fine.
And of course, feel free to post up your own ideas.
The Wannabe Core
This is easily the most common type of pub support problem and hides a multitude of sins, so we're just going to concentrate on the most obvious one here.
Basically even though they've chosen a support hero (or have the one on the team most suitable) but are doing everything they can to be a core, and if that ruins their team then so what? Everyone knows Crystal Maiden
needs at least 3 big items to be effective.
- Vengeful Spirit
- Stealing farm from other players
- Being inactive
- Refusing to ward or buy any utility items.
- Underfarmed cores
- Lack impact because farm is less useful on their hero
- No vision or detection
- Enemy gankers run amok
The Wannabe Pro
A much less spotted and problematic species, the 'pro' support has gorged themself on far too many youtube videos and livestreams. They live in an alternative reality where their team always has 2 supports and are as skilled and organised as OG.
While I applaud their intent, they're sacrifice themself to an unnecessary degree and end up damaging the team's chances of winning. A pub support has to be more street-smart.
- Keeper of the Light
- Empty inventory on 10 minutes
- Unnecessary feeding
- Feels like 4v5
- Can be one-shot by enemy heroes, leaving you fighting from behind
- Enemy heroes get big from easy kills
- Enemy supports gain vision dominance from higher net-worth
- No defensive items to protect cores
- Lack of impact
The Item Rusher
There are many items that some supports feel the need to rush but easily the most common are Arcane Boots
, Blink Dagger
It's incredibly frustrating to see a support with 500+ gold in the bank, and absolutely no vision on the map. It's even more annoying when an enemy hero escapes on 5% health because they turned invisible and there's no detection, or two enemies tower dive and run off unscathed because nobody has a TP scroll to punish it.
There are games where you'll get a lot of early kills, assists or otherwise end up richer than expected. This is great, get your items - but NEVER, EVER forget to do the basics.
- Skywrath Mage
- No wards until 15 minutes
- Invisible enemies run amok
- Support constantly sat farming
- Lack of vision is very damaging to the team
- Impact of expensive item on support < impact of essential items on support
- Team lacks co-ordination and response
The Build Guru
"No, no you're wrong. Fly always builds this item by 23 minutes on this hero.". Ah the beloved build guru, ever alert to tell people their item choices are wrong long after the event.
's build is ALWAYS Tranquil Boots
into Blink Dagger
, right? Yep. Even if the enemy team has Shadow Blade Slark
Nope. Sometimes you have to adjust your builds. Sometimes you can't afford the item you want as a support, and have to make do with something else. If you're getting wiped out by a single combo before you'll be able to do anything you need an appropriate response - be it simply grabbing HP, a Magic Wand
, a Cloak
If your team already has two good initiators with Blink Dagger
s then maybe you should just pickup that Vladmir's Offering
or Solar Crest
that'll be far more impactful for your cores.
There are no perfect or definite answers with builds, be adaptable, use your brain. One thing I can't emphasise enough to new support players is that you should always consider the team before yourself - sometimes that means buying yourself an item you want as the impact will be best for the team - sometimes it means buying something that does almost nothing for you personally.
- Support is dead a lot
- Annoying nagging sound in your ears
- Terrible positioning skills without item
- Can be one-shot by enemy heroes, leaving you fighting from behind
- Can escape fights, so often leaves cores to die
- Team could be more effective with different choices
Supports don't matter, right? You don't need to try and survive, maybe you'll take one of them with you. Just dive right in, what's the worst that could happen?
Don't get me wrong - it's right for supports to die if it'll help the team. If it's you or your carry who gets Shallow Grave
then it ain't you. It's ok to trade up for a higher priority enemy. Sometimes you'll just get targeted and there's not a lot you can do except shrug your shoulders and be glad they wasted the wrong target.
The stuff I'm talking about is bad positioning, over-aggressiveness and just a general lack of thought that gives away cheap kills, or means you die before you get that one really important skill off.
Playing most supports is hard - you're slow, squishy and have less equipment than everyone else. Positioning is your friend. Vision is your friend. Instinct and logic are your friends. Your team are quite literally your friends.
The Eternal Babysitter
While almost every carry needs care and attention when they first start out, after a while they've got to learn to stand on their own two feet and make their way in the world.
For some cores this can be a few minutes into the game, or maybe a kill on the offlaner. Others take longer, but they get there in the end...and if their lane is uncontested you're actually slowing them down by standing around soaking up their XP.
The eternal babysitter will stay by their core the whole game like a comfort blanket, long past the point when they should have moved on. The rest of your team needs you too. Or you could just play Io
, in which case it's probably fine.
- Rich but inexperienced carry
- All warding entirely in one corner of the map
- Giant nappies and piles of dummies
- Rest of the team completely ignored
- Underlevelled carry
- Support has no impact
The Bored Warder
Warding gets boring. And really you only need vision in the early game, right? And my inventory is getting kind of full, there's not really space for them anymore. And detection...well, I can't just sell my Urn, it's got 3 charges in.
Don't get me wrong, we all feel the temptations of those shiny new items...mmm that Ogre Club
for my BKB would be some nice extra HP...I could just put my Sentry Ward
s in the spare part of my backpack...
DON'T DO IT.
You're a support, do your job. If you're feeling the temptation, you can be damned sure the rest of your team gave in to it ages ago and won't have two packs of dust to rub together if their lives depended on it. Which it does.
Vision is super-important late game. One pick off or team ambush could swing thousands of gold or decide who wins entirely. Everyone and their dog has Shadow Blade
s, Silver Edge
s abound and Glimmer Cape
s are ten a penny.
BUY WARDS. BUY DETECTION. KEEP THEM HANDY.
- EVERYONE, INCLUDING YOU
- Lost games
- Spoilt dreams
- Lingering regret
- Full inventories
- Lack of vision
- Lack of detection
- Lack of winning
Pub Support Mentality
Support play may be the art of the possible, but pub support play is more the art of the possible with your shoelaces tied together. You need to be smart; street-smart. Learn the ropes, roll with the punches, be effective even when the chips are down.
The first thing to do is calibrate your expectations to a reasonable level:
1) I do not expect my team to help me at all with supporting
2) I do not expect thanks for my efforts
3) I do not expect my team to always appreciate my decisions
4) I do not expect my team to make best use of what I provide.
5) I will be most successful if I stay calm and reasonable
About Farm and XP
There are many seemingly contradictory objectives for a support:
1) Be active and there when your team needs you
2) Don't take farm and xp from other players on the team
3) Get stronger by getting farm and xp like any other hero
The easy answer is that you should aspire to fulfil all of these objectives - but prioritise them in the order given above.
Simply put - you shouldn't be farming if you could be making a successful gank or reacting to a tower dive. If a core is farming something, you leave them to it and get out of the way. If mid is empty, offlane is quiet and your #1 doesn't need you to babysit...then sit mid and grab some stuff for yourself until you're needed somewhere or your mid player returns.
In pub support you'll frequently need to carry the load of 2 support players yourself. That sometimes means letting the less important things go a little, and it also means taking every viable opportunity to grab something for yourself.
Say you're playing Crystal Maiden
and wandering through the jungle to place a ward for your mid player. It only takes a moment to throw a Frost Bite on a nearby creep, notice it's xx:51 and stack the nearby ancients on the way. Maybe you do the same on the way back to the lane now your carry needs you.
Find efficient ways to grab some farm without impacting your team in negative ways. In some games this will be easy, in others it will be difficult. Always prioritise the important stuff above your own farm.
Many players are obsessed with items. Sure they do cool stuff, and you'd rather have them than not, right? It's true, but the whole point of support heroes is that they can be effective without them. If you don't already, try to understand the following hierarchy and operate as far down the list as possible when playing:
1) What items I have.
2) What items my team has.
3) What items the enemy team has.
4) Which heroes scale best with items?
5) When is my team strongest, and if it's now, why am I still farming?
Bad players can never see past their own equipment. "I need this", "If I get to this item, I'll win". Not true. Enemy cores generally don't care if your Crystal Maiden
has Black King Bar
, Glimmer Cape
and Aghanim's Scepter
because they have a BKB.
The next step up is being aware how important other players on your team having specific items is. If you've played Earth Shaker before, you know a Blink Dagger
is really key to getting the most out of him. So we should let him farm instead of us, and buy Wards so he doesn't have to. Gank with him to accelerate his gold and xp.
Next up - opponents. Anti-Mage
nearly has his Battle Fury
. Wouldn't it be great if we could delay that for as long as possible? That would really increase our chances of winning the game. So should I go help gank him, or sit in the jungle ineffectually hitting creeps?
You get the idea.
One thing supports especially should be very aware of is DENYING the opposition as much as possible. If they have less, your team has relatively more. It may wreck your xp to zone their offlaner so hard or mess with their jungle, but you don't need levels as much as them, and their team is relying on them to initiate fights. Your team are only relying on you to throw a few stuns occasionally.
I'm not going through a full warding guide here as there are plenty of them about good placements and the 'standard' places. You should know this stuff. If you don't, go learn it.
This section is more about the WHY than the WHERE. And how to achieve as much as possible in a pub environment.
Warding is all about getting INFORMATION
for your team. Glancing at the mini-map and seeing a dangerous enemy ganker's position lets you make good choices about where you should be.
Whether that means retreating rapidly or moving in to counter-ambush is entirely situational. The main thing is you haven't been caught with your pants down, totally unaware of your impending doom.
Good Information + Good Analysis = Good Decisions
The more I play, the more I realise just how important vision is. Games are won and lost all the time for the sake of a cheap Observer Ward
If the opposition always seem to be one step ahead of you, more co-ordinated and winning team fights, it's probably because they have better vision. Do something about it.
Aggressive Vs Defensive Warding
This is pretty simple when you think about it, but a lot of people still get it wrong. Whether to ward aggressively (i.e. on the enemy side of the map) or defensively (i.e. in the middle and your side of the map) is about two related things - access and game plan.
Access means being able to go somewhere without mortal fear - when you've lost all your outer towers then even leaving the base can be dangerous. On the other hand, if half your team are stalking the enemy jungle, you feel ok running in there to plonk down some spotters for potential targets.
Access is also about counter-warding - if the enemy sees you coming, they can respond by either killing you, or dewarding your ward after placement. Try to deward obvious enemy spots before placing aggressive wards.
Game plan - if your team just wants to farm and think they'll win late, place wards to help them avoid ganks and provide them with confidence to concentrate on maximising their farming speed.
If you're attacking a tower, try to place vision on nearby enemy approaches so you can see them coming and react accordingly.
Simple - work out what your team is trying to achieve, and place wards appropriately.
Dewarding in pubs is very hit and miss. Some teams will make serious efforts to battle your vision, others will ignore it completely. Sometimes enemy teams will barely bother to ward and there's not too much point trying to counter something that doesn't exist.
The first thing you have to do is work out what you're up against - are you seeing warding equipment in enemy inventories? Are they landing hits on you from positions they shouldn't be able to see you? Are they reacting to movements that they shouldn't be able to see?
Next up...are enemies trying to actively deward you? If so, you need to figure out quickly whether you're able to compete in financial terms or not. If their team is winning (more towers/kills) and has more supports than you, and/or better map control - then it can be difficult to fight this directly. If the situation is reversed, try to apply pressure to the opposition.
A Fighting Retreat
If you're losing the warding battle and are in a negative situation, the solution is not to give up on warding (it's too important), but to ward more passively.
What this means is to stick to less common and contested places. These places generally have an 'eye' ward symbol on them, and are optimal for providing great vision of important areas. You've essentially lost access to these, for now.
Start warding in places which are less common, but still provide some vision for your team. Be at least 1 sentry radius from any common position. Avoid re-warding any spots the enemy have previously dewarded.
Gem of True Sight is a real game changer in terms of warding. You now have to go super-evasive until your team can capture it. This means not only avoiding common ward spots, but avoiding anything on GROUND level.
This means only elevated positions - where opponents will need not only the gem, but also high ground vision to see them.
Your own dewarding can place considerable unease on the enemy team. Remember how we were talking about how important wards were for farming speed and avoiding ganks? Well the same goes for the opposition.
It's easy to think of dewarding as an exercise where hopefully we get our 100 gold back for buying the Sentry Ward
but far more important is the effect on the enemy team. That area of the map is dark for them now. Dangerous.
This is a pub, so their team might even start bickering and their already put upon support may just throw a wobbler and refuse to buy any more.
Most players are creatures of habit, so you can usually get a pretty good deward hit by just checking the most common spots - but it's much safer in a tight game (i.e. you're solo support) to start with just known spots where you're pretty sure they have one, or you saw them place it.
Step up your efforts once you have more gold. Place considerable emphasis if your team is playing aggressive and need to win early.
One final tip is to generally avoid placing your own Observer Ward
where you've just dewarded an enemy one. This is an easy and obvious target for the enemy support to return the favour.
This guide has flown off on a couple of tangents and mini-rants along the course of it's development. This is my attempt to bring it back to a few useful tips:
Smoke of Deceit
They cost 50 gold. In the mid-late game one good pick off or teamfight can make the difference. Buy the thing, ping your team until they (mostly) gather somewhere sensible, and go hunting. It'll win you a lot of games.
Even with language barriers, the game automatically translates auto-messages (e.g. alt click on hero portrait, chat wheel, alt-click on item etc). Use them. You can quickly and easily transmit a lot of information for your team without having to type.
PING + PHANTOM ASSASSIN IS MISSING + CAREFUL conveys pretty much everything that needs to be said.
DRAW ARROW + PUSH NOW - again does the job.
You're the support, your head isn't down farming, make sure you're spotting for and communicating with your team.
Sweet, sweet Clarity. The drink of choice for the poor support. They don't even get cancelled by creeps anymore. You can survive the whole game on them if you have to. You can get 28 of them for the price of Arcane Boots.
That isn't to say that you should never aspire to more - Arcanes are a perfectly good choice - but you should never be holding back on the essentials like Wards in order to try to rush items.
My team is so dumb, they never have detection
Dumb isn't necessarily the right word. They have other focuses, and a mindset pervades of "detection is the support's job". Yes, this all horribly falls to pieces when you've only got 1 support, and invis items are everywhere.
Gently encourage your team to buy more (if necessary buy it yourself and dump it into their empty slots) while setting a good example yourself.
Try to generate goodwill
Getting a team thinking and behaving positively is a big thing in pub games. They're much more likely to stay focused and work together with this mindset.
First up - share your stuff. You're a support; do what you can to give health and mana to others. Reply to thanks with "no probs" or "np". Say "Well Played" on the chat wheel if somebody gets first blood or things go well in a fight.
This not only encourages people to play well, it also creates trust which helps later on when suggesting ideas.