Defense of the Ancients is undoubtedly a team game - the esport scene’s discussions often revolve around teams performing well or poorly as a group entity. The Spotlight Series is meant to be a slight departure from that, where an MVP-worthy individual performance is dissected with short clips.
Inspired by Danny Chau and the Ringer’s King of the Court series.
Black’s career has been under scrutiny by the community ever since he stepped into the limelight with Mousesports in 2012. His playstyle seemed to be tailor made for the Four-Protect-One, where the entire game revolves around the carry player. The idea was a huge part of the meta till ‘14-’l5 and is still used by teams to varying degrees of success.
The setup does play to Black’s strengths— he’s arguably one of the top 5 pure farmers in the world today. According to Dotabuff, he holds the #12 spot in all-time GPM leaderboards despite having the worst career win rate of his Top 15 peers.
Black is often thought of as an ‘old school’ carry due to his impressive farming efficiency and the increased emphasis he places on his hero. But the today’s game asks the position one player to contribute in more ways than one. For example, Black’s perceived playstyle of a hard carry is in sharp contrast to the recently crowned n0tail’s team-oriented style.
The label of a ‘ricer’ has followed him around almost since the beginning, and often to his own detriment. Envy went on record last year saying that several players in the scene don’t necessarily consider him good. The frequency with which he hopped teams (and the caliber of them) after being ousted from Vici Gaming affirms the reputation.
Post TI6, Iceiceice came calling to reunite under a new roof based in SEA and it couldn’t have been a better opportunity for Black to redeem himself. He had another chance to show that his playstyle had evolved and he could keep up with the new school of carries.
Team Faceless has been dominant in the SEA since their inception, and the adjustments Black^ made haven’t gone unnoticed. A quick comparison between his pub and esports profile points to one thing — he loves playmakers, but rarely gets to play them in officials. In a way, he’s been pigeonholed into playing the same kind of heroes.
It’s like when a successful drama actor increasingly gets only sappy drama shows pitched to him.
So when Jabz asked his carry to step up and play a pure gank oriented core, Black happily obliged and delivered in spades on his favorite hero.
Team Faceless vs Eagles Gigabyte: Game 2 @ ASUS SEA Cup
Faceless picked the Pudge fourth versus the already mobile duo-core of Mirana/Void. Eagles then rounded out their lineup with Slardar & Morphling. Playing against four heroes with an escape skill is a pretty difficult task for the Butcher, but Jabz made sure to provide vision via the Bounty Hunter pick and reliable early lockdown through the CM pick.
Often times the carry & offlaner swap roles depending on team priority (or comfort level) and the carry player ends up in an unfavorable matchup in the offlane. Instead, Iceiceice played Juggernaut solo in the offlane while NutZ babysat Black^ as he rotted away in the radiant safelane.
Let’s dive in.
The Void had been using the dire creep wave as a shield from hooks until this point. Black recognizes the split second window between the dire creeps aggro-ing over to the radiant creep and the Void taking up a defensive stance again, and times the hook to perfection.
The slow motion demonstrates how difficult of a skill shot it was, and how he used the hitbox to his advantage (by casting slightly to the left of Void’s position). NutZ follows up with the newly buffed Frostbite to prevent a time-walk and Team Faceless have their first kill on the board.
A minute before this engagement, Iceiceice did some classic Iceiceice things and fed away first blood to the solo enemy offlaner. The unnecessary dive under the T1 tower gave Frostb1tez a great start — he was level 5 before the 5 min mark .
It was shaping up to be a lost lane for Faceless before the timely kill on Void. Black was able to delay the chronosphere which might have led to kills on the other two radiant cores.
Two minutes removed from the first hook, Black landed another one on the Darkterror.
The Crystal Nova slow allows the radiant duo to get in closer. Frostb1tez is forced to timewalk away to avoid the potential lockdown from frostbite into Dismember. The move also makes sense in the context of limiting FL’s vision due to night time, but it’s hard to say if the Void had it in mind. In addition, he uses the trees’ fog of war to hide. This is where the mindgames begin.
Black animation-cancels the hook ever so slightly, and the void sidesteps to the left to avoid the ‘perceived’ incoming hook. Black does not have vision of the void at this point, but he correctly predicts the behavior of the void. He launches a hook to the left of his fake one — catching Frostb1tez once more.
The second kill all but secured the early game for Faceless. The Void was still level 5 at the time of his death and his item progression was stunted (1461g @ 7min). The often guaranteed early kill (<10 min) from the first chronosphere didn’t happen either. Black also drew enough attention to the bottom lane, allowing the Juggernaut to catch up farm & XP.
The game snowballed in FL’s favor after this point. With Bounty Hunter reaching level 6 & acquiring track vision, landing hooks in the mid game became more reliable as well.
Still, the bounty reached level 6 at the min 13 mark. By then, Black had connected on 4/6 hooks. Eagles were getting apprehensive about moving out on the map and they played scared going forward. For a team with two strong initiators, they held increasingly defensive positions after realizing that Black was feeling it.
It’s similar to a basketball player making a shot after shot, forcing the opponent to double-team him. A good team always takes advantage of the extra space offered by the hot hand.
By the 25 mins, five of the top six net-worth positions were Faceless players and they had secured enough of a lead to end the game. Eagles’ first (and only) high ground defense was also disrupted by Black’s pudge.
Eagles are desperate at this point and Frostb1tez is looking for a big chronosphere to force a turn-around in momentum. He decides to lurk in the jungle to find a favorable initiation and barely shows up in FL’s vision. Black blinks immediately and throws out a blind hook to catch the retreating void.
While a kill wasn’t secured, Bounty hunter was able to a get a track off on the Void. The vision allowed the FL players to 3-way split in response to incoming chronosphere a few moments later. Only the Juggernaut was trapped in the purple bubble, and the rest of his team won the fight handily.
The game ended shortly afterwards as Black & crew cleaned up a weaker cast of Eagles Gigabyte. FL clinched the series 2–0, and in quite the convincing fashion.
The Butcher finished the game with an impressive accuracy of 52.2% on offensive hooks: 12 on 23 attempts. He also hit 3 out of 4 defensive hooks, one of which was an especially timely one to save Iceiceice from certain death in the mid-game. Iceiceice had many sloppy plays this game in particular, but that comes with a high-risk/reward mentality.
Overall, Black has gotten better at choosing which fights to engage and which fights to ignore since his time with Vici Gaming. The communication model in FL is more favorable and he seems to be reacting quicker when a favorable scenario pops up.
Still, his pro-activity chops leave a lot to be desired — and this is where the current crop of carries really shine.
Compare the player perspectives of Black vs n0tail (or say Arteezy) and you’ll find a noticeable difference. n0tail generally anticipates engagements by watching allied vision and makes adjustments accordingly. On the other hand, Black’s focus is largely on his own hero (even as a pudge) and he seems to be reacting to calls made by his teammates.
His reaction speed has improved without a doubt, but he’s still prone to tunnel-visioning his perspective. n0tail’s awareness of what’s going on around the map (without relying on calls) gives him an edge over other traditional carries.
Black’s game sense is still lacking compared to the Tier 1 carries today.
One can improve mechanical ability through endless practice, just like one can learn how to shoot jumpers in basketball. There are special coaches for that. Elite game sense, however, is much harder to come by — like court vision in basketball. It is an innate quality, separating the good from the great.
Black‘s amazing mechanical prowess has always allowed him to keep with the elite carries. But if he truly wants to be one of them, his awareness of the game needs to evolve further.
It’s much easier said than done, but if the second half of 2016 is anything to go by, things are looking promising again for the globetrotting carry.