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Playing Initiators - The Basics

October 12, 2012 by Sando
Comments: 5    |    Views: 53534    |   


Being an initiator is one of the most fun and exciting roles in DOTA. You get to start the team fights in a blaze of pyrotechnics and mana, singlehandedly jumping into the middle of the enemy team...

And this is where the problems can start...this is a risky and demanding role, where mistakes can and will rapidly turn you from hero to punchbag to corpse. It can also be very rewarding when you get it right...and that's what this guide is here to help you do.

What is an initiator?

Simply put, an initiator is a hero who is good at starting team fights - providing an advantage to their side in these crucial clashes. This could be for a number of different reasons - but usually it's due to a particular spell or set of abilities.

Who the main initiator on a team is can change from game to game, or from fight to fight. Sometimes team fights can start almost by accident as heroes run into each other unexpectedly or ganks escalate.

Initiators generally sit somewhere between carries and supports in terms of their farming needs - but initiators can also be carries (e.g. Faceless Void) or fairly hard supports (e.g. Warlock). More usually, most are semi-support heroes and may require a Blink Dagger to allow them to initiate effectively.

Why are initiators important?

Not every team selection will have a specialist initiator, but team fight ability is something worth bearing in mind when picking.

The most critical moments of most games tend to be team fights, and the side that comes out on top will gain a massive advantage. Sure, teams that have substantially out-ganked, out-pushed or out-farmed the opposition can win them by sheer brute force, but in more closely matched games they are vital.

Good initiators can give you a vital edge in team fights by stunning, disrupting or damaging several members of the enemy team. They can turn round a bad fight, or set up a complete team wipe - thousands of gold and experience rests on each team fight.

Are there different kinds of initiator?

Well...yes and no. Technically any hero can initiate just by walking towards the enemy team and attacking them. Even among specialist initiators, their abilities are often massively different from each other, as are their method of starting the fight. We'll try to go through as many as possible in the sections below.

We can divide most initiators into 3 main categories though:

- Area of Effect Disable (e.g. Ravage, Black Hole or Skewer)

- Area of Effect Damage (e.g. Epicenter, Poison Nova or Requiem of Souls)

- Positioning (e.g. Meat Hook, Nether Swap or Hookshot)

Area of Effect Disables

These spells are quite often ultimates, but sometimes lesser spells can almost have the same effect (e.g. Paralyzing Cask).

The purpose of these abilities is to disable as many enemy heroes at one time as you can (well, duh!). However, there are several things you need to consider when you're doing this:

- Your team MUST be nearby and ready to take advantage of this situation. Mass disables tend to do minimal damage - their effectiveness is in giving your allies time to beat on them.

- Especially if your ability is channelled, you need to make sure that you either have some kind of stun protection (e.g. Black King Bar, Linken's Sphere or Repel), or that you hit enemies with stuns with your ability.

- If your team has more than one of these abilities (e.g. Black Hole and Chronosphere), make sure you've communicated which of you will be going in first to avoid interfering with each other's abiltiies, or wasting stun time by overlapping them.

Disables rely on other forms of damage to win the fight, so maintain their usefulness throughout the game.

Area of Effect Damage

Many AoE disables also inflict a little damage, but what we're talking about here is spells that simply try to inflict as much as possible.

Quite often these spells inflict damage over time, rather than all at once. So ideally you need to try and keep enemies inside it's AoE for as long as possible - this is where they can combine with disabling abilities to great effect.

The actual radius on these spells doesn't tend to be huge either, so you need to try to time your attack carefully. You can't afford to leave it too late as your team need you to get involved, but only being able to hit one enemy hero is a waste.

Items like Veil of Discord and Aghanim's Scepter (on some heroes) are the only way of boosting the damage of these spells as you max their levels. Be aware that most of these spells are most effective during the mid-game.


These heroes have abilities that allow them manipulate the positions of enemy heroes on the battlefield. Sometimes you can even get the same effect with a relatively inexpensive item like a Force Staff.

If a hero like Pudge can hook an enemy hero out of the group and into range of your group, you can swiftly focus them down - either their team has to immediately charge in to help them, or back off and risk fighting 5v4.

Dark Seer is arguably a positioning hero, as his Vacuum allows you to draw the enemy team into bad locations.

Tips for good initiation

Each hero has their own style of initiation, but here are some general tips to help you:

- Make sure you know your hero and how their initiation spell works

- If you rely on a combo, or a Blink Dagger, make sure that you've learnt the button presses necessary to land it quickly and consistently

- Ensure that your team is in position and ready to help/take advantage of your initiation

- Ensure you have enough mana for your combo, and everything is off cooldown

- If your team has more than one initiator, make sure you know who's going first

- If you're using any kind of AoE spell, try to hit as many heroes as possible

- Let your team know the status of your ulti before fights look likely to develop, ideally you want to have it for every team fight

Unfortunately, although watching videos can help show you what you're trying to achieve, there's no substitute for practice and experience here. Even practicing with bots can be difficult due to their reaction speed.

Once you start getting in to long games and big farm, you may face situations where you have a Blink Dagger, Refresher Orb and various other active items. Think through what your sequence will be before you have to do it.

Cooldowns and Coolheads

Most initiation spells are ultimates with a long cooldown time - often several minutes before they can be used again. A smart opposition team will want to fight when your ultimate is on cooldown if possible, and these things can often swing a fight in a close game.

Don't waste your ultimate, and don't use it if you don't need to!

There's a lot of ways of wasting your ultimate - panicing when you're getting ganked, using an AoE spell to kill one hero or other non-critical situations. It takes discipline to do this, but remember that even if you're going to die, the respawn time will often be a lot, lot less than the cooldown time of your ulti!

The other side of this is to keep calm and wait for the right situation in team fights to use it - sometimes your team will be doing well without your ulti and/or no good opportunity to use it presents itself - again, don't waste it! The mere threat of your ulti is enough to keep the opposition wary.

Thinking ahead

As the saying goes "no plan survives first contact with the enemy", but be sure that you have a rough plan in your head before a fight starts about what you're going to try to do. You'll probably need to react and change it once the fight starts, but it still helps.

The biggest thing to consider here is the heroes on the other team, and what they can do - do they have big ultimates? Do they have abilities that can go through Black King Bar? Is Rubick on the other team?

Black Hole, Rain of Chaos, Primal Roar, Overgrowth and Nether Swap all go through BKB. (Likely several other abilities do too - please add comments below!). This is especially important if your ability is channelled, or you're relying on being able to use items at critical moments.

It can also lead to some interesting stand offs between heroes - in one game I was playing Warlock against an Enigma. I was deliberately standing away from the rest of the group, ready to drop Rain of Chaos on him if he tried to Black Hole. After catching him out a few times, several fights ended without either of us using our ultimate! He couldn't risk having his ultimate interrupted, and I couldn't risk him landing one successfully...

Rubick is a special case, as his ultimate Spell Steal allows him to take the last power that an enemy cast, and use it himself. If you have a big ultimate and Rubick is on the enemy team, be sure to quickly cast something else straight afterwards to stop him stealing it!

Generally you want to "get the drop" on the enemy team, and land your big power before they can land theirs on you, but there are situations where you almost have to wait for the enemy to go first, as your ability will "override" theirs.

Ideally you'd have your team on voice comms and be able to talk about who to focus pub games it'll usually be left to whatever happens, you're just grateful if your team turns up!

Initiation for New Players

Initator is not an ideal role for new players - it's difficult and dangerous even for veterans. However, it might be a role that you're really excited by and want to play, so here's a brief run down of two of the easier initiation heroes: (if you want to play them, be sure to read some of the excellent full guides available)


A tanky semi-support hero, Tide has one of the best and easiest to use ultimates in the game, Ravage. It combines a massive AoE stun with fairly good damage, making it ideal for team fights. All you need to do is get into the middle of the enemy team, and let fly.

Obviously the enemy team isn't just going to let you do this, but you're generally tanky enough to absorb a fair bit of damage on the way. The cooldown is 2 1/2 minutes, so you need to careful to save this ability for team fights.

Blink Dagger is a good choice for Tide, as it lets him get precise positioning and surprise when used. Be careful before blinking in, as taking damage from enemy heroes or towers will stop you using it for several seconds.


A lane support and team fight hero, 'Lock is one of the few heroes in the game to get a long ranged initiation spell, Rain of Chaos. This allows you to start or effect fights without having to be right in the middle of them.

Rain of Chaos has a very large radius, making it relatively easy to hit a lot of heroes with it at once. It causes 100 damage, a 1 second stun and summons a Golem which will start attacking nearby enemies. While less instantly destructive than Ravage, it can still have a huge effect on a team fight, and also goes through most magic immunity.

'Lock doesn't need a Blink Dagger, as his initiation spell has a long range - again this helps with his support role, as he can spend that gold elsewhere. 'Lock has several other team fight spells, so you can start to learn combos here.


Here are some related guides that discuss the basics of other roles:

Basic Support Guide

Basic Carry Guide

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