With the group stages of The International 2017 tournament well underway, Dota 2 has the opportunity to showcase why it is worthy of all the hype, beyond the mere size of its prize pool. A day and a half in, Dota 2 has taken that opportunity to heart.
At around only 25 games played, 100 of Dota 2's 113 heroes have been either picked or banned out, according to DotaBuff.com. While many of these heroes were picked and/or banned a combined total of 2-3 times, there is still a gigantic spread, and 35 heroes have been picked at least 10 times.
Of course, among MOBAs and even MOBA-esque games such as Overwatch, the meta can become stale really quickly, with only a core few heroes selected in each game. With Overwatch, specifically, they've gone through particularly rough patches. At one point in a tournament during the infamous "tank meta," both teams picked the exact same heroes against one another, which doesn't make it exciting to watch.
Admittedly, that is a bit of an apples-and-oranges comparison, as Overwatch is an FPS and Dota 2 is a MOBA, but the philosophies behind the two games are interesting to compare. Dota 2 is making the case that almost all of their heroes are viable in at least some situations, a case that is bolstered by its pick numbers, but Overwatch head Jeff Kaplan's recent comments regarding Overwatch's balance paint a picture of a different philosophy:
Writing on the forums, Kaplan said "I know the desire – and mine too – is that during every match of Overwatch all 25 heroes are viable at any time. The reality of gamers and video games is that any perceived (whether real or not) advantage is going to cause players to assume that they must play hero x over hero y. A professional Overwatch player will not player hero x if he/she thinks hero y is even 1% stronger. We can balance the heroes to equality but if there is the slightest perception of advantage, it won’t matter."
While there is some validity to that, Dota 2 has a proven track record of responding to that perception and nipping it in the butt. For example, Dota 2's first original hero (one not ported over from the original DotA), Monkey King, became a mainstay at the Dota 2 Asia Championships, just before the Kiev Major. So, before the Major actually started, Valve rolled out a series of changes that heavily nerfed Monkey King which drastically decreased his pickrate in tournaments that followed, while not eliminating him entirely.
Only 13 of Dota 2's 113 Heroes have been ignored completely.
In the same vein, there were a series of heroes that would unlock talents upon leveling up that reduced their respawn time. Far and away, these heroes were picked way more than other heroes. In response, Valve released a patch that removed and replaced every single respawn-time-reducing talent. This affected heroes such as Lina, who had also enjoyed a great run of being insta-picked at the Dota 2 Asia Championship.
While its much more difficult to track down these numbers for tournaments of other MOBAs, you can look at the heroes of Dota 2 to see why they might have more variety in the Meta. Almost every ability in Dota 2 serves a fundamentally different purpose, whereas many other MOBA heroes have essentially the same category of abilities with different animations. Some will have an AOE slow, or a gap-closer, or a skill-shot stun, etcetera. As any Dota 2 player will tell you, hero abilities are truly unique, there aren't any two heroes that do the same or even "basically the same" things to varying degrees.
And, as they say, the proof is in the pudding. The Interntational 2017 is dangerously close to beating last year's record of 105 different heroes either picked or banned, and, judging by how things are going so far, it has a good chance of doing it. Dota 2 has routinely proven itself to be one of the most, if not the most vibrant MOBAs in terms of meta.