This is a follow-up to Tuesday’s beginner’s guide to comprehending and analyzing Dota 2. Here I will break down the basics of team roles and the different ways of playing them. This doesn’t cover every permutation as there are too many to explain and dissect, but it touches upon the broader aspects.
No role in Dota 2 is irrevocable. Every role can theoretically carry a team to victory or play a supportive element in the larger strategic plan. On top of that, no hero is necessarily restricted to a certain role. Throughout the history of Dota, heroes have played multiple roles depending on the popular meta and the underlying mechanisms of the game; even within those roles, they are diverging play styles. A five-person squad is generally partitioned into five roles, sequestered into an ordinal sequence by gold priority. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll split them into four categories: carry, off laner, support and mid laner.
The “carry” is a term left over from the yesteryears of Dota. Back then, there were fewer defensive items, and the majority of items gave players a leg up through additional DPS. Naturally, the player with the most gold could dominate the game through item advantage alone. This role is given the most farm on the map as their effective item pool is the most expensive. Despite being called the carry role, Dota 2 doesn’t demand the position function as the alpha and omega of strategy. There are generally three types of carry players: farmers, team fighters, and supports.
The farmer is a mechanical menace, a player who clears out entire creep waves and rotates between jungle camps without missing a beat. While on the surface it sounds boring, the truly great farmers are a joy to watch in moments of crisis. When everything goes to shit and map control is lost, the number of places that are safe to farm rapidly shrink. It’s the farmer’s responsibility to open up the map for his teammates by pushing into unsafe territory and keeping up with the enemy carry. The two best I’ve seen do this are Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao and Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei.
The team fighter thrives in the chaos of battle. Whatever mistakes he might make in the lane, he more than makes up for them when it comes to the big showdown. He either initiates skirmishes or is the key to winning them, which he pulls off with much aplomb. With the gradual shift toward more action over the past year and a half, many carries have had to acclimatize to a fighting meta. Despite the uptick in impressive players on this front, for my money Chen “Hao” Zhihao remains the best pure team fighter to ever exist.
The supportive carry aka role player gets less accreditation and praise for his sacrificial part. He doesn’t rack up the numbers of a farmer and he won’t blow your mind with jaw dropping plays like the team fighter. His main goal is to provide whatever’s necessary to make the overall strategy work. In the current era, this is how players like BurNIng and Johan “N0tail” Sundstein function within their teams. These types of carries rely on less farm, get more active items for the early-mid game and play heroes that accentuate the team plan rather than focus on being the winning piece.
The second role is the off laner, who is usually given third priority on farm. The off lane has generally bifurcated into two archetypes reflected by Saahil “UNiVeRsE” and Daryl Koh ”iceiceice” Pei Xiang. The iceiceice archetype is reminiscent of the old approach to off lane, back when the hard lane was expected to have no impact during the early game. His job was simply to survive and leech whatever gold/XP he could from the waves. No matter how much he was brutalized by the enemy, he would eventually scourge together enough to properly work as the initiator/playmaker. UNiVeRsE represents the more contemporary attitude. He plays off laner as a farming core who can reach the mid game with more than a barebones item build and make big team plays into the late game. These two players are the most iconic examples of these styles of play.
The support role was given that title because traditionally, players in these roles were expected to only supplement their carry or mid laner. This low regard has changed as the role has become increasingly important with each new version of Dota. Because of that, we can split it up into a few different types: roamer, babysitter, the 6, the farmer and the team fighter.
The roamer is the most common variation in the current era of Dota 2. His job is to control the tempo of the game in the early stages, influencing the fortunes of the mid lane/safe lane and controlling enemy rotations. There are multiple high impact, low cost items they can pickup to change the game. Every team has at least one player in their support duo who does this.
The second variation is the babysitter. This support’s entire job is to keep the safe lane stable and boost the carry as much as feasibly possible. They stack jungle camps, put down wards, chase the offlaner away, and sacrifice themselves in ganks.
The third type is the 6, an emaciated version of the dirt-poor 5 position (also known as the Johan “pieliedie” Astrom option). This was a role unwittingly created by pieliedie when he began willingly throwing away his life for information or to irritate the enemy. It sounded like a terrible idea at the time, except he created an insane amount of space in the process. He could drag three players on the other team to hunt him down; meanwhile, his team more than made up the difference with their free farm. So while pieliedie sat at close to nothing for the entire game, he could drag down the enemy carry or mid laner as part of his charades. With a great farmer like EternaLEnvy on the team, this often resulted in victories. It was further refined by Alexei “Solo” Berezin as part of his “3.5, 6” approach to VP’s support roles.
The fourth type is the farmer, famously pioneered by Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling. His passive style has fallen out of favor as the meta and patches encourage faster-paced play, but the overall philosophy has survived and flourished in a lesser state. Aui’s distinguishing mark as the 4 was finding spaces where he could farm effectively; eventually, he would become a fourth core. He could do this because he understood what stages of the game he could prioritize his own farm without detracting from his teammates or neglecting control of the map. While Aui’s specific sensibilities stopped working the notion was integrated into other teams. As mentioned before, Solo’s framework for VP specifically puts him at bottom of the totem pole. This way, Ilya “Lil” Ilyuk can accumulate significant farm on heroes like Visage while remaining active on the map.
Aui’s idea of boosting the 4 into the core role was an extreme offshoot of the jungler. The jungler is unique among support categories in the sense that he prioritizes his own farm at the start to reach a point where he can have impact on the map. Like the name suggests, he goes into the jungle to farm creeps instead of going to the lane. The role can either harass/kill opponents to snowball lane advantages, or they relentlessly farm creeps until they can get items that make them useful. Players who use support Enchantress belong to the former while players who use jungle Enigma belong to the latter.
The sixth and final type is the team fight support. We associate this category with winning the game through high impact plays in team fights. Usually this requires them being proficient on initiators with disables such as Earth Spirit, Rubick, and Lion. The most iconic example of this is Xu “fy” Linsen as he was the best at spellcasting in a team fight and using his skill to outplay his opponents.
The final role to talk about is the mid lane, a role that has drastically changed almost every year. It gets similar farm priority to the carry and in recent times, it has taken over the 1 position in terms of impact. Due to the solo XP of the lane, they are usually given the responsibility of controlling the tempo of the game. There are generally four types to consider: lane dominator, team fighter, supportive and late game.
The lane dominator specializes in running over his foe 1-v-1 through mechanical prowess and opportunistic decision making. He can singlehandedly win a game by crippling the enemy mid laner. The player most synonymous with this is Chen “Cty” Tianyu, nicknamed the six minute god as he outright won games by rolling opponents. There are other players that fit this criteria, but none as extreme as Cty as he drops off dramatically when he cannot crush the early game.
Like the carry designation, the team fighter likes to fight and looks to fight as that is where they excel. They are usually not stellar in the laning stage as they prioritize stability (in order to reach their period of strength) over anything risky. An example of this is Lu “Maybe” Yao as he dictates the fights for his team from the mid lane.
The third type is the supportive mid laner. Adrian “FATA-” Trinks during his time on Liquid was a player like this. He was remarkable in his ability to get farm despite how many people rushed his ass, but he wasn’t the player Liquid wanted to carry the games. Instead he was a stabilizing force that ensured Liquid could hit the midgame without incident. This has changed since he has returned to Cloud9.
The late game player is the rarest example. This is the mid laner who specializes in late to end game scenarios. He knows what items to get, how to use them and how to play against the entire other team. The current best at doing this is Anathan “ana” Pham from OG.
This is just a basic rundown of the roles in Dota 2 and how they can be played. There are more roles, and they vary depending on the heroes picked, the items and the overall situation of the game; on top of that, players can play multiple roles and aren’t just designated to one play style. Hopefully this serves as a good primer to understand how Dota 2 players can differ despite playing the same role, so to speak.