The International rundown: TI12’s laning behemoths
The International championships just finished their twelfth iteration in Seattle, with Team Spirit lifting the Aegis to make the year their own. TI12 brought Dota 2’s most elite competition back to Seattle after venturing around the globe for a few years, so there was a sense of nostalgia to the competition.
While the Aegis might have traveled backward, Dota 2 has mostly moved forward. The game at the highest levels of competition has become extremely streamlined, with a single error having the potential to derail everything. It isn’t like the good old days (or rather, simple old days) of TI1, where the EHOME players were swapping roles in the grand final games!
In fact, the laning phase is one of the areas that has improved most in pro Dota! At this TI, dominant laners like Quinn and Yatoro put in work for their teams — and loomed large in the overall game state. So we decided to pair up with SAP and make a data-based rundown of TI — particularly, its landing stages.
We found a player from every position who was a behemoth during the laning stage. By laning stage, we’re referring to the first 10 minutes of the game — that’s where we collected most of our data. That’s partly because the first 10 minutes are a bit easier to measure and more predictable, with things like long or short game times running less interference. It’s also because the laning stage is a very unique part of Dota 2, and it sets up the stage for how the rest of the game will go. And at this TI especially, those lanes loomed large.
Illya "Yatoro" Mulyarchuk (Team Spirit)
A few years ago, when OG won The International two years in a row, anathan “ana” pham was seen as as one of the best carries to evergrace the game. But in the minds of some, he has already been dethroned by Yatoro, who was a beast of a player in Team Spirit’s TI10 and TI12 winning runs. So it isn’t any surprise that the numbers point in his direction.
Of all carries in the top 8 teams, Yatoro had the highest average net worth at the 10 minute mark. Net worth doesn’t only take into consideration last hits (creep stats), but it also looks at the player and their lane partner’s ability to get kills in the laning stage while avoiding deaths themselves. Yatoro was 200 gold over the average, and it shows with his last hits as well, in which he was only second (64 in 10 minutes) to Team Liquid’s Michael "miCKe" Vu (66 in 10 minutes).
What’s unexpected is that Yatoro is second from bottom when it comes to kills and assists, with an average of only 1.57. But it points to the fact that Yatoro and his laning partner Miposhka knew exactly when to prioritize kills and when to concentrate on farm, because at the end of the day, carries want all the gold they can get their hands on!
Honorable Mention: Michael "miCKe" Vu (Team Liquid) – First amongst the top 8 in last hits (66). Second amongst the top 8 in net worth (4423).
Quinn “Quinn” Callahan
Gaimin Gladiators made only one change to their roster for the 2022-2023 season: Quinn. As the season would tell, he was the last piece of the GG puzzle, bringing the team to the gold in the first half of the year. Not only did Quinn fit the team’s playstyle perfectly, but his own game improved significantly. He quickly became one of the best mid laners in world, and that showed at TI12.
Quinn dominated the mid lane in Seattle, topping the damage charts (4893 damage) for all mid laners at TI12 after 10 minutes, and coming second only to Danil "gpk" Skutin in net worth and last hits. One of the best indicators of his domination is the average net worth advantage Quinn accrued over the enemy mid laner in 10 minutes. He got ahead and stayed ahead,, beating his counterpart by 525 gold on an average. That wasn’t all farm, either. Quinn was active in the early game, having the second highest kill involvement (kills + assists) for mid players in the top 8 teams (2.5). (The only top 8 mid player who was better at it than Quinn was Virtus.pro’s Ilya "squad1x" Kuvaldin, who had an average kill involvement of 2.75 in the first 10 minutes.)
It wasn’t just Quinn’s mechanical skill that made him one of the most influential players of TI12 but his ability to play to different heroes — and their entirely different playstyles. Here is a distribution of farm for the top 8 teams (before the TI12 finals weekend), which shows how the off lane role has become the position 2 role this meta.
But Quinn, like squad1x, took a significantly higher slice of Gaimin Gladiators’ farm pie. He could play the tempo controlling heroes that would allow his other cores to scale, but he was also up to the task of being the win condition.
Honorable Mention: Danil "gpk" Skutin (BetBoom Team) – Highest amongst all mid laners for net worth (4313) and last hits (67).
Off Lane Players
Li "niu" Kongbo
After two years of dominating the Dota 2 scene, the LGD Gaming roster decided to part ways at the end of the 2021-2022 season. The roster was being rebuilt, and the one position that the team could not find a get a good fit for was the off lane. That is, until they found niu. niu started the season in Division II of the Chinese DPC League, but recognizing his potential, Zhang "xiao8" Ning brought him to LGD, which completely turned their season around! From struggling to get top 8 at DPC Majors, the Chinese powerhouse finished third at TI12. niu may have been new to The International, but he looked like he belonged on Dota’s biggest stage.
In the laning stage, the primary role of the off lane heroes is to make life miserable for the opposition carry, and niu excelled at it. Amongst the top 8 teams at TI12, niu had the highest kill involvement (3.11) of any off laner at the 10 minute mark, and the second highest hero damage (3463) after Azure Ray’s Yang "Chalice" Shenyi (4015). He had the highest net worth of any off laner at the 10 minute mark (4569). As the numbers point out, niu was massive — particularly, a massive pain for the other team.
Honorable Mention: Marcus "Ace" Christensen (Gaimin Gladiators) – First amongst the top 8 to have a higher average net worth over the enemy off laner (513) and last hits (57). Second amongst the top 8 in net worth (4479).
Xu "fy" Linsen
fy is widely regarded as the most deserving player to not lift the Aegis, and on his return to The International, she showed everyone why! fy God was on top of his game from his very first game of the tournament against Team Liquid, where he went 8/2/2 in 9 minutes.
He didn’t hit those heights in every game after that, but he was instrumental in Azure Ray’s surprise run to the top 4 at TI12.
fy recorded the highest kill involvements in the first 10 minutes not only for the position 4 (soft support) players in the top 8, but for all 20 teams in the tournament. He had an average of 4.31 kill involvements in the first 10 minutes, which gets hard to keep up once you advance further in the tournament. The only players with a higher kill involvement than him in the first 10 minutes were TSM’s Matthew "Whitemon" Filemon (4.5) and Evil Geniuses’ Jose "Panda" Padilla (4.43), who both played 14 games at TI12 as compared to fy’s 19. While this stat isn’t as important for a position 1 player (carry), it speaks a lot about the position 4 players, as they are the ones making the moves early on in the map.
Through the years, teams have always given more farm priority to fy in the position 4 role because of how effectively he can make use of it, and it wasn’t any different for Azure Ray. At the 10 minute mark, fy was second highest for net worth (2376 gold) amongst all soft supports, and he repaid that faith with high kill involvement and damage numbers. fy's laning stage hero damage (3955) was only second to Gaimin Gladiator’s Erik "tOfu" Engel (4024). It remains to be seen whether the position 4 maestro will continue to play the next season, but whenever he does, it is a pleasure to see fy work his magic.
Honorable Mention: Erik "tOfu" Engel (Gaimin Gladiators) – Highest amongst all position 4 heroes for hero damage (4024). Second amongst the top 8 in net worth (2182) and kill involvement (4.15).
Melchior "Seleri" Hillenkamp
It’s only fitting that the captain of one of the most successful teams of the season make his mark at The International, and GG’s Seleri did exactly that! He was top for net worth (2050), hero damage (3803) and kill involvement (3.85) amongst the hard supports of the top 8 teams. Seleri’s Enchantress is one of the best in the game, so naturally, it was banned out most games. But he had his own set of unique heroes like Chen, Jakiro and Undying – who had less than 10 picks at TI12 – who would enable him to dominate the lane. Gaimin Gladiators’ lower bracket run was fueled by their ability to craft their own meta — a meta both captained and exemplified by Seleri. The unpopular hero picks might not have helped the team in a long game, but it enabled him to dominate the lane, and the numbers are testament to that fact.
Honorable Mention: Yaroslav "Miposhka" Naidenov (Team Spirit) – Second amongst the top 8 in net worth (1978) and kill involvement (3.58).
Best Laning Stage Team at TI12
While it is interesting to determine what players excelled at the biggest Dota 2 tournament of the year, at the end of the day, it is a team game. And TI12 had one team that was leagues ahead of the others when it came to laning – the silver-medalist Gaimin Gladiators. Most teams played it safe, drafted for the late game, and bought Hands of Midas to keep the gold trickling in. But Gaimin Gladiators stuck to their guns and picked heroes that would help them dominate the early game.
The graph below shows the average net worth and average net worth difference of the top 8 teams at TI12, with the teams arranged as per their position at the tournament. Gaimin Gladiators, who placed second, are the clear outliers for both metrics. They had the highest average net worth at 10 minutes of all teams at 17627 gold. But the net worth difference is what makes them stand out – GG had an average net worth lead of 1544 gold at 10 minutes, which is what propelled them to assert their dominance once the lanes broke out. The second highest in the list? BetBoom at 698.
The 1544 is an average, which includes games in which they didn’t have the best starts as well. In a lot of games, their net worth lead was so high by the 15th minute, that the writing was already on the wall. The most memorable game, and perhaps one that will become a popular Dota 2 meme, is their second game against Azure Ray.
Gaimin Gladiators cruised through the lower bracket against most teams. The only teams that gave them a run for their money were Team Spirit (of course), Team Liquid and, to an extent, LGD Gaming. What did they have in common? They halted the Gladiators from running away with the game in the laning stage.
Gaimin Gladiator’s great lower bracket run showed just how strong a lane-first strategy could be. But the fact that Team Spirit prevailed in the end showed that laning was not everything (though, as Yatoro showed, Spirit was no early game slouch). While it is what we focused on here, the beauty of Dota is in the depth. At 2023’s TI, the Dota was deep enough to give us plenty to analyze just at the 10-minute mark, but deeper still for that data to not reveal everything.
Blood Grenades were introduced to the game quite recently, in Dota 2 patch 7.33. They help heroes in getting kills in the skirmishes before the game begins at the 00:00 mark, and in the laning stage. Professional players tend to go a bit overboard with the Blood Grenade purchases, so we thought with the help of SAP, we could analyze how Blood Grenade purchases made by supports impact their kill participation in the first 10 minutes of the game.
As it turns out, there is no correlation whatsoever! The correlation has an R2 value of 0.0118, which means Blood Grenades have a 1% chance of impacting your kill involvement. The beauty of the data is that the player with the highest kill involvement (TSM’s Whitemon with 4.5) has the highest Blood Grenade purchases (5.93). But Panda, who is second on the chart of kill involvements (4.43), is literally at the other end with the least amount of Blood Grenade purchases (0.21)! Maybe the data is playing tricks on us (it can happen!) or maybe it’s time for the pros to go easy on the grenades!