Fads come and go: there’s no doubt that in all fields, what is fashionable comes and goes, with a wide variety of factors making their way into the determination of what is currently in vogue. DOTA is no exception to this, with the way in which the game changes in the iterative, evolutionary manner it does through the frequent patches the game receives over time being the key consideration in the zeitgeist found in the most commonly picked heroes and items across any games you may end up playing. Of course, the closeness that the community tends to have to the professional eSports scene as it relates to DOTA does have some effect on the decisions one sees being made in public matchmaking, particularly in ranked matchmaking: God knows I’m guilty enough of trying to emulate Arteezy’s Naga Siren or EternalEnvy’s Drow Ranger of late. Something that, however, does not seem to diminish is the popularity of lineups centred around a quick push to victory, particularly following the 6.78 patch.
Intuitively, it seems off to give a proper name to the type of strategy that is fundamentally centred around the core premise of the game in destroying towers with a view to destroying the enemy’s ancient: designating such an idea as a “strategy” apart from the game’s mechanics is akin to stating that “shooting folk” is a strategy in any given first-person shooter. There are, however, two key distinctions to be drawn: in the context of “push” here, the method of push and its pace are what designate something as a push strategy.
“Don’t fight, just push”
The concept of the prominence of the killscore in the HUD in DOTA is an odd choice: one of the first lessons that a player is likely to learn is that the number of kills in a game is rarely indicative of the amount of action or the closeness of a game. This is rarely more true than when a push strategy has been in effect: that team which has been relying upon their ability to push quickly and effectively is likely to have taken a few spills on the way there. Running up to towers and trying to take a burst of their health from them tends to put one at risk of being hit. This combined with a capable team with a fair amount of disable is bound to end in just mild amount of disaster.
Pugna’s Nether Blast, Shadow Shaman’s Mass Serpent Wards, Chen’s ability to dominate creeps and Lycanthrope’s wolves can work together, or independently, to give a team a definitive advantage in the ability to pressure towers in the early game. Taking away map control from the enemy team, combined with the burst of gold that is inherent in tower kills, helps any harder carry on the team start building ready to fight, as appropriate, and help the early pushers to continue pushing by providing sufficient resources for helpful pushing items such as Necronomicon to be built.
A million little pricks is roughly equivalent to a strong poke
Later into the game, heroes such as Lone Druid, Nature’s Prophet and Naga Siren gain from their ability to remain safe while doing damage to towers with units the control. Between Lone Druid’s Spirit Bear, Nature’s Prophet’s Treants and Naga Siren’s illusions, relatively weak units can start to prod weakly at towers, with the main hero being able to either escape or send their units in at little risk to themselves. With this approach, a split of the enemy heroes can be forced in order that towers not to be lost the attrition that such pushing techniques inevitably place on towers and base buildings.
There is very little more annoying in the game to be a victim of, but so satisfying to undertake oneself, than the Nature’s Prophet teleportation to the creep wave, push with Treants to the tower, poke it yourself somewhat and teleport out or become invisible trick. While cheap and cowardly by almost anyone’s definition, this approach can turn games that are all-but decided. It’s never about kills, and always about objectives. Given the way in which Nature’s Prophet scales with experience and gold, the hero also gets incredibly good in the context of one-on-one engagements with enemy heroes. It’s just not fair, and incentivises the development of the enemy team’s strategy into a push strategy itself.
Finish fast or lose
The downside of the push strategy is apparent readily if the game is not finished before the thirty minute mark: the majority of these fast-pushing heroes do not scale particularly well into the late-game. Drafted against a team with a Nature’s Prophet or Naga Siren, there is little chance that the balance-of-the-push will not lie with Naga/Prophet team. This fact does, for the most part, allow for the countering of “quick push” lineups: another example of the premise of “perfect imbalance” that the game’s design is so wonderfully centred around.