Image by Dr. Robo
It is usually much harder to advocate towards nerfs than it is to hope for buffs: making heroes weaker usually makes them less fun to play. Sometimes it is the only solution, however. Sometimes heroes are simply too strong, resulting in them being banned too often in the professional scene and being too obnoxious in pubs. So today, we are discussing heroes who could really use a nerf, perhaps even for their own sake.
There are many reasons Io is working as well as it is. It is a ranged Strength hero with decent Strength growth and built-in Attack Speed steroid to make up for lack of Agility. It is a flash-farming hero who lanes pretty well. It is now a core hero who is not only capable of dealing a ton of damage but can also save teammates and provide global presence to itself and an ally of its choice. It is a hero that does too much, and it clearly shows: Io was banned in 108 games during the Singapore Major.
It is also a hero that wins almost 54% of Divine+ pubs. There is literally no reason the hero shouldn’t get nerfed. The question is how and what aspect of the hero is the most problematic one.
Io was always a highly coveted professional scene pick because of the Relocate. Back in its support days, Io required good team coordination, precise timings, and angles of attack, and some thought put into how to play into some of the harder counters. These days the hero needs a Helm of the Dominator and a modicum of micro skill: the hero definitely got a lot more average-player friendly. Which is probably the biggest problem.
The hero’s skill floor got lowered not only through making the hero easier to play but also through making the hero straight-up better. At the same time, the skill ceiling remained static, and that meant that the best of the best players now had an absolute monster as an option.
There are many easy ways to make the hero weaker: changes to attributes or numbers on Io’s abilities would do the trick. The problem is then the hero would just go from being overpowered to potentially unpickable, which is not the desired outcome.
We feel a solution that would return the hero to its support roots would be the most optimal one, and that probably means fewer damage-based talents and perhaps a restriction on Tethering to dominated creeps. Even something as simple as not gaining full creep movement speed would go a long way towards making Io less ubiquitous without making it weak.
Phoenix is a surprisingly balanced hero in pub play: he is at almost exactly 50% across all brackets. It is when the hero is being played by the top players that he becomes slightly problematic. The hero had an 66.7% win rate across 48 games during the Singapore Major, so the nerfs are definitely expected. However, while with Io the question was how to nerf the hero without it becoming too weak, with Phoenix the question is how to nerf the hero in the professional scene, without impacting his pub balance.
In our opinion, the biggest impact Phoenix has in professional games isn’t a result of a well-placed Supernova. This ultimate is strong, but it is not overpowered by any means. What is overpowered, however, is Sun Ray and the way professional teams use it. When this spell hits more than two targets simultaneously, regardless of whether it is allies or enemies, the end result is a massive total HP swing.
This isn’t something pubs can consistently pull off coordination-wise, but it is something we’ve seen professional teams do time and time again. Baiting in multiple heroes, making sure Phoenix is far enough away and well protected, and chaining control spells is a relatively easy to execute and exceptionally powerful game plan.
Hopefully, we will see some sort of balance changes that would result in the hero still being fun to play, balanced for average players, but not as powerful in the competitive scene. Even with one of the best Phoenix pairings in Faceless Void being close to useless and with multiple supposed Phoenix counters in the meta, the hero is still too good, too reliable, and too successful.
Weirdly enough, Puck, possibly the defining hero of the Singapore Major almost didn’t make it to this list. The reason is pretty straightforward as well: Puck in the current patch is one of those weird cases, where the hero in the vacuum is considerably weaker than the hero in the context of the current meta.
Mobility and elusiveness are what was in fashion in 7.28. Puck is a mobile, elusive hero who has multiple tools that counter mobility and elusiveness. Puck isn’t necessarily overpowered or even oppressive. It is simply the best fit right now, as it can answer the second, third, fourth, etc. most popular mid pick in this current patch. The hero won’t be as good or as reliable, if heroes who Puck is good against aren’t as ubiquitous.
That said, some nerfs should probably be expected. Not because the hero absolutely deserves them and not because it is too strong. Puck was part of the meta for too long now, and it is common for Valve and IceFrog to “rotate” heroes out of the meta if they stay too popular for too long.
It is hard to predict which aspect of the hero is going to get nerfed exactly, but our money would be on Puck’s stat growth: for a hero with such a good laning stage, powerful midgame spike, and awesome late-game crowd control, Puck scales a little bit too well damage-wise.
What are your thoughts on the current meta? What heroes are you expecting to see nerfed? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.