The Book of Tactics
Artist: Valve
Date: 05/2018
Map Control


In this guide, we will talk about tactics and what the whole team should do in specific situations. Coordinated team effort is one of the major distinctions between low-level and high-level play. After the laning stage, most low-level Dota players start to randomly roam around the map and to fight without much thought, which makes the whole game and its outcome incredibly random too.

If you look at the minimap of professional games, however, you will always see a logic in the whole hero movement, e.g. one hero is split-pushing while the four others are defending a tower. There should always be a goal/objective in mind before any action in Dota and, even more importantly, the same goal/objective should be in the head of the whole team. It is not a good plan to split-push while your allies are forcing fights - they will end up dying 4v5. If you want to force fights the team needs to walk as five; if you want to split-push your allies need to be defensive while you are not with them etc. To overcome obstacles you need a coordinated effort. Even a team of 5 very good players could easily lose a game if they are not playing as a team.

You need to understand the position in which you are not only individually, but as a team, in order to make the right decisions. Can you fight? Do you have item/XP advantage? Do you have map control advantage? What should you do to change your situation (or preserve it if it is favorable)? What are your opponents doing and how should you react?

Tactics Relationship

This guide will touch on tactical and strategic decision making. It will use the simple model illustrated above will show you how you can think and figure out what you need to do to win.

During all of this, remember that even if you want to you cannot take the right decisions without the needed in-game information and general Dota knowledge. The in-game information comes from Vision, while the knowledge, hopefully, comes from this guide and plenty of experience.


As far as knowledge is concerned, it is something you will accumulate slowly over time. However, the simple rule Rat Dota > 5-Man Dota > Gank > Rat Dota is a very good place to start from. Whenever you are not sure what to do as a team, ask yourselves what your opponents are currently doing and adopt the playstyle which is the counter. This will allow you to make the right tactical move as a team very often. The rule could also be used in terms of strategic decisions. Think how good each hero is in each playstyle. Try to pick heroes who counter what your enemies are doing OR to pick a versatile lineup which can play all three playstyles well.


Nikolay "CTOMAHEH1" Kalchev
Info & Editing

CTOMAHEH1 used to play support in Basically Unknown together with Mind Control. Since then he has had  success in a couple of smaller tournaments and qualifiers (e.g. two first places in MSI Dragon Battle 4 & 5) and has been standing in, playing for and captaining various semi-pro stacks.

His highest placement on the EU ladder is top 100 - he plays all roles, which is untypical for high-ranking players and shows his great versatility and understanding of the game.

Kyril "MrNiceGuy" Kotashev
PM, Writing & Editing

Esports and gaming enthusiast since forever and founder of Dotahaven.

Has been playing Dota since 2005 (5.84). An Ancient player in Dota 2.

Three Playstyles

For illustrative purposes, we can separate the way a team plays in three general play styles.

5-Man Dota: forcing team fights, claiming objectives

The first and most common way to play is to walk as a team and go for objectives (pushing towers, killing Roshan). This is the most straightforward playstyle as it is the least reactive - you want to force team fights regardless of what and where your opponents are doing. They will be forced to react to your movements, otherwise they risk losing objectives and map control. However, it is only smart to 5-man when you think you have the fight advantage because of your lineup, items, timings, etc.

Ganking: forcing small-scale engagements to take away map control

The second way to play the game is to split-up, roam the map and search for small-scale engagements with your strongest gankers. This will disable the enemy team from free-farming because you will take away the “safe” areas on the map.

This is both a reactive and proactive play style. You need to be aware of where your opponents are and what they are doing in order to find the ideal gank targets. At the same time you want to dictate the tempo of the game and actively take-over important farming locations – e.g. gank and ward the enemy jungle.
Rat Dota: turtling, split-pushing, avoiding fights

The third way to play is to split-up, avoid fights, out-push the waves, split-push, stall the pushes of your opponents and prolong the game until you are in a dominant position. Generally, you want to adopt this play style when reaching the late game will give you an advantage - i.e. when you scale better with items and levels. Moreover, if you are not in position to take a direct fight it will allow you to take trades and maintain map control.

This is the most reactive playstyle and what you do and where you go depends on the decisions and positioning of your opponents.

The Simple Rule

Rat Dota beats 5-man Dota;
5-man Dota beats Ganking;
Ganking beats Rat Dota;
Tactics Relationship

wItH thIs oN3 SiMpLe rUle yOu wILL neVER lOsE aGaIn!

Seriously though - this is a generalization and there are cases where this rule doesn’t really hold. However, most of the time it does and it is strong enough so that if you base your in-game decisions on it you will very rarely be wrong. Dota is too complex and in the heat of things it is extremely hard to make the right tactical decisions. Such a simplification is very useful practically.

The reasoning for the rule is pretty simple - the advantages of one playstyle counter the drawbacks of another.

Rat Dota beats 5-man Dota;

To maximize your fighting strength you have to group together - this is the logic behind the 5-man Dota tactic. You want to utilize this strength to push and force fights. The problem is, however, that when you are staying together, you are not utilizing the free space on the map very well. You are farming only the lane which you are pushing, while the two jungles and the other lanes are empty.

Split-pushing and Turtling is a natural counter to the 5-man Dota on two levels:

First, when you are split-pushing your cores are very effectively utilizing the open space on the map that you get because the other team is clumped up in one place. Your split-pushers are farming and pushing one lane, pressuring undefended towers, teleporting to other lanes, farming the jungle and so on. Just by doing that, the split-pushing team will massively out-farm the 5-man team and will get a big gold and XP advantage in the long run.

Second, the 5-man team wants to force fights but will have a hard time doing so versus the split-pushing team. If part of the split-pushing team stalls the pushes of the 5-Man team (turtles), the split-pushers will be able to push-out the other lanes and even get towers before they return to defend. If you are the split-pushing team and you know you cannot take 5vs5 fight even under your own tower, you can just trade (a tower for a tower) and you still will be ahead in terms of resources. While the other team just got a tower, you got a tower plus all the farm your carries got from split-pushing. If the 5-man team abandons the push and returns to defend, this is again in your favor - the enemy team has wasted time since they didn’t accomplish an objective, while you were gaining resources from split-pushing.

The deciding factor, in that case, is if the 5-man team can overcome your stalling/turtling and push fast enough. This is very hard to do against a team that is turtling properly with good anti-push spells. If the 5-man team fails to push very fast, in the long term they are at a very severe disadvantage.

Ganking beats Rat Dota

The problem with split-pushing is that your important heroes are always “out of position”, in the sense that if they get caught their allies will not be able to save them. So, if you are split-pushing while your opponents are in position to gank, you could very easily end up feeding kills. You need incredibly good map control and vision to be able to avoid all kinds of ganks; even this will not prove enough sometimes because of Smoke of Deceit. In addition, if the other team is roaming and ganking you will rarely see all heroes together, which is the typical clue that you need to start split-pushing. Even if just 1 dangerous hero on the enemy team is missing (e.g. Bat with Blink), split-pushing or even just out-pushing the lanes all of a sudden becomes extremely risky.

The deciding factor here would be if the split-pushers could avoid dying from ganks continuously whilst at the same time attempting the hard task of split-pushing and farming effectively. This is why the best split-pushing heroes are always heroes that are very hard to gank (Ember Spirit, Anti-Mage, etc.) or even heroes that can split-push with units without getting out of position (Naga Siren, Natures Prophet, Arc Warden, Lone Druid). 

5-Man Dota beats Ganking

The issue with roaming and ganking is that, when you are doing it, you are looking for small-scale engagements. This means that your enemies have to be spread-out around the map, otherwise it is simply not possible to find ganking targets. You want to pick-off single targets (or small groups) rather than fight the whole enemy team.

You are searching for fights but you are moving in small groups or even alone. When the enemy team is moving as 5, if you find the fights you are looking for you will simply lose them. I.e. when the enemy team is playing 5-man Dota, if you try to gank somebody because you see him on the map, you will walk into the whole team and probably pay with your life. This way you waste your time and effort and in the end - you give resources to the enemy team.

Deciding what to do

You should react to how your opponents are playing by changing your playstyle accordingly.

Opponents are playing as 5:

If they are pushing as 5 you need to spread-out and use the free space on the map as efficiently as possible.

If they are pushing as 5 and you don’t think that you can easily stop the push by fighting it off (this is likely to be the case if they decided to push), it is smart to leave heroes with long range spells to stall the best split-pusher on your team (the pos. 1) is split-pushing.

The key here is who is faster. Your opponents will likely push faster as 5, but if you are stalling their push effectively you can buy your carry a lot of time. If your carry is making good progress – your opponents will most likely have to TP to defend, wasting a lot of time for an unsuccessful push. If they are faster, you might have to either take a trade or TP back to defend. Usually if outer towers are in question, a trade benefits the split-pushing team. If your opponents are knocking on your HG, however, you might have to make a stand.

Moreover, if stalling has reduced the HP of your opponents this could be a good time to TP back and commit to a fight (that’s why HP sustain is vital for a 5-man pushing team).

If your opponent team is playing together as five, it is a great idea to prioritize out-pushing lanes heavily. This means that when they commit to a push you will always have an opportunity to start split-pushing immediately. Moreover, the out-pushed lanes will give you information where the enemy death-ball is located which is very valuable for your playstyle.

Opponents are farming & split-pushing:

If your opponents are spread-out and farming/split-pushing, you should try to gank the farmers with your strongest kill potential heroes. If you don’t have very good map control, use as much Smoke of Deceit as possible. Should you be successful, this will not only stop the split-push but will help you to get map control over the area you are ganking. Even if you are not successful, by pressuring the enemy split-pushers you restrain the space on the map they have for farming.

While you are doing that the rest of your team should farm. In some situations they will have to take care of enemy summoned units (Illusions/Treants/Wolves/Necronomicon Units, etc.). Pushing-out lanes is also important because it will take longer for a split-pusher to take a tower if he/she has to push out the whole lane towards your tower.

Opponents are roaming and ganking:

If your opponents are trying to gank you consistently, it is best to stick together with your team. This way you can defend the target of the gank, counter-gank and get some kills out of the efforts of your opponents. Staying together will also help you go for objectives. Most heroes that are good at getting pick-offs are not as effective at 5vs5 clashes, especially before they get good items. By staying together and getting objectives you are not allowing them to fight on their own terms.


Naturally, 5-man Dota is the playstyle in which you will get the least farm. The whole team is in one place, let’s say one lane, so the whole team is farming only ~8 creeps for each minute spent in that lane + possibly the closest camps to the lane.

When Roaming and Ganking, always try to farm the resources of the location you have ganked. This way you not only get the kill but the resources in the area which you have overtaken - this is part of the reward for a successful gank. Moreover, the heroes who are not participating in the gank should farm the free safe space that their teammates are providing them.

When split-pushing, of course, you are constantly farming the lanes which you are pushing-out, so in this scenario, it comes more intuitively. Rat Dota is often the the most farm-intensive playstyle.

Ahead or behind?

It is very important to have a good idea of whether you are ahead or behind in the game. There are a few factors to consider:

Resources: Items & Levels
Map Control

The Resources” bit is easiest to see. You simply need to click on enemy heroes whenever they are visible and see what they have in their inventory. How does this compare to your inventories? If their carry has more expensive items than your carry and your supports are poorer than the enemy supports, then you are at a gold disadvantage. If most enemy heroes are higher level than most of your heroes, you are at an XP disadvantage. Since Dota is a game of numbers, resource advantage translates directly into fight advantage.

The “Lineup” bit is more abstract. Some heroes can fight more effectively without items, other can’t. Some heroes are good in 5v5 fights, others aren’t too impressive and so on.

If it is early in the game and you have a lot of heroes that NEED items while your opponents don’t run any real hard carries - you are at a lineup disadvantage. You need items to fight, while your opponents don’t. This means that even if you have some resource surplus, the strength of your opponent’s lineup can compensate. Of course, in the late game, this advantage will shift in your favor as the opponents don’t scale as well with items. The same holds for some special cases. Do your opponents have a lot of crowd control and AoE damage while you don’t? Then you are at a lineup disadvantage in team fights, especially in narrow areas. Do your opponents farm faster than you and scale better with items than you? Then you are facing a lineup disadvantage when it comes to trading farm and reaching the late game.

“Map Control” is also very important to consider. The map control advantage can be summarized as two points of superiority:

First, more static defense and more TP hubs (Towers, Shrines) which allow you to move around the map faster. If you have towers and your opponents don’t your own territory is safer to stay in - you can TP support, tower hug, if you have your shrines up you can easily heal your health/mana to stay alive. In addition, the towers prevent enemy creeps to go past a certain point - this is very valuable because creeps give vision.  If you have a tower, this guarantees that the enemy team doesn’t have creep vision past that point.

Second, map control is having a vision advantage - this means having good Observer Wards around the map, push-out lanes and equally importantly, having denied vision to your opponents by dewarding their Observers. If you have multiple Observers around the map and you have just dewarded your opponents, this means you have more information than they do. This will allow you to make more educated decisions on what activity to undertake and you might have the opportunity to find fights you want to take and avoid unfavorable fights. Bear in mind that you can gain vision advantage thanks to hero skills, not only Observers: invisibility skills, summoned units used to scout or specialized skills like Track. This control can also be denied to a degree - if you have strategically placed Sentry Wards it will be very difficult for the enemy invisible hero to scout you unpunished.

To sum up, map control gives you information and information gives you safety. Without map control, everything you do is riskier.

When you combine the three factors, you will get a very good idea if you are ahead in the game and why. Don’t try to judge if you are ahead only based on the fact if you won or lost the last fight. You might have lost because of execution, not because you are behind. Starting to play as if you are playing from behind, therefore, is a big mistake in this situation.

How to use this info

The “three playstyles” theory explained so far doesn’t change in any way if you are ahead or behind in the game. The relationship between the three activities remains the same. What changes, however, is how forceful/aggressive you can be in your playstyle. To illustrate we can use 5-man Dota. Forceful 5-man Dota is pushing towers together while your opponents are alive and able to defend. Defensive 5-man Dota is when your team stays behind your carry smoked waiting to counter initiate or when you defend your base as 5 (using the vision, high ground, positioning, and defenders advantage). When you are behind, you are not likely to be successful if you do the first - your opponents are ahead, which means that they will gladly take an open 5 on 5 fight. The second option, however, might give you good initiation which could win you a 5v5 fight even when at an XP and Gold disadvantage.

Generally speaking, the forceful options bear greater risk (and are more rewarding). Fight advantage (because of the lineup, gold, and XP or map control) might allow you to pull such plays off unpunished. Defensive/Low-Risk plays are less risky - they allow you to fight on your own terms and can usually compensate for some XP/Gold/Lineup disadvantage. Such play usually allows you to get back into the game.

TACTICS: 5-man Dota
5-man Push:

The 5-man push is the most common way to force your enemy to fight. It is smart to push as five only when you have the fight advantage because of lineup (you have strong AoE control and damage spells) or resources (you have more items and levels than your opponents). If you are certain you can win a push can put your enemies in a bad position. They have to choose - take the unfavorable fight or let you take free towers and map control.

5-man Rosh:

Similarly to 5-man pushing, being the first team to enter the Roshan pit is risky as you will be clumped up and your enemies will likely have the initiation advantage. This means that you should opt for such a Roshan attempt only if you are certain that you have the 5v5 advantage and a full-on is likely to be in your favor.

5-man base/tower defense:

The most intuitive thing to do when you are at a disadvantage is to fight in your own territory where you will have the positioning, vision, initiation and overall defender’s advantage. Do so when you can take a 5v5 fight on your own terms. However, be very careful not to stick together and wait for a push that never comes. If you tower hug (or stay in the base) as a team while the enemy team is farming, you are falling further and further behind.

5-man gank baiting:
It means staying close to one hero who is openly farming (even pushing out) a lane. When your enemies try to gank that hero for being out of position, the rest of your team should initiate to kill the gankers. This is a good strategy when enemies have been successfully ganking you (or trying to gank repeatedly). It is a rather safe way to get a kill on and stop the momentum of an aggressive hero which is currently snow-balling. Similarly to the 5-man tower/base defense, waiting for a gank that never comes is bad. Nevertheless, most opponents are rarely going to let an overextending free farming carry get away unpunished, which might give you the needed opportunity.

5-man push/Rosh when opponents are dead:
When you have the numbers advantage, because you somehow got a kill (through a, gank, etc.), it is smart to use this advantage and try to take some objectives - either a tower, shrine, Rax or Roshan. Your opponents are unlikely to contest because of the numbers advantage you have or if they want to do so the dead heroes will have to buyback, which is still a gain for you. At that point you should either continue pushing if you are confident you still have the fight advantage or back off and start doing something else - you forced a buyback, that, in itself, is a small victory.


Split-pushing when heroes are missing:

If you see an empty lane but at the same time you don’t see all enemy heroes on the map you could split-push. Yet you are undertaking a risk. The missing heroes might be ganking you, so it is only smart to do that when you are very confident you will be able to avoid such a gank - you have items or skills that make you elusive, or you have very good map control around the lane you are pushing. Playing this aggressively will force reactions and will free up space for your allies.

Split-pushing multiple lanes:
Split-pushing might be a good tactic if you know you can push fast enough but at the same time don’t want to take a 5v5 engagement. This way even if one of the split-pushers gets ganked (and in the worst case scenario killed) the other will be able to continue split-pushing and even take a tower, depending on how long the enemy team is preoccupied with the gank. When you have a significant advantage but cannot break the base as 5, this might be a good option to finish the game. Taking Rax with one split-pusher while the enemy team is defending the others.


Split-pushing/stalling when the whole enemy team is visible:
When you see the enemy team on the map and you see an empty lane this is a clear signal that you should go and split-push. Unless an enemy goes missing, there is no risk for the split-pusher himself. The rest of the team, however, should be careful and avoid fights (because the enemy will be at a numbers advantage). Stalling pushes and staying defensively positioned is the best option while the split-pusher is away.

Taking Trades:
When the enemy is pushing your tower or taking Roshan, and you are not confident you can win a 5v5 fight, it might be smarter to have one or two heroes split-push while the rest of the team is stalling. If you are pushing fast enough, you will reach the enemy tower and you will start hitting it. At that point, the enemy team will have to make a decision - to abandon the push and go back to defend or to continue pushing. The result will be a trade - a tower for a tower, a tower for Roshan, etc.

Out-pushing the lanes and Farming:
When you don’t see important enemy heroes on the map, instead of split-pushing you can simply out-push the wave as fast as you can and go back to safety (usually farming the jungle where you know you are safe). This way you are a far more difficult target to gank since you are not overextending. It will be easier for your allies to protect you even if you get ganked, and constantly out-pushing the lanes will stall the game and make pushes hard for your opponents.

TACTICS: Ganking

Roaming Alone:
You might be in a position where you can easily get solo kills. You want to capitalize on that strength by finding pickoffs. Roaming alone, however, is risky since you might find yourself at a numbers disadvantage (or you might get counter-ganked). Therefore, attempt this tactic only when you are confident that even if you get caught in a bad fight, you will be able to disengage and run away alive.

Blind Ganks:
If you don’t have vision on most of your enemies, though, you risk walking into a bad situation. This is why it is smart to undertake such ganks only if you are certain you will be able to execute the gank very fast and disengage ASAP.
Sometimes you might have a significant advantage in small-scale engagements. In such a position it is smart to get a few of your allies and enter the enemy territory to search for gank targets.


Ganking when enemy heroes are overextending:
If you see for sure that a lone enemy is far away from his allies, ganking him is a safe thing to do. Even if you are at a gold/XP disadvantage, you can bring multiple heroes for the gank and win the small engagement by force of numbers

When you don’t have map control and you don’t know where your opponents are, and yet you know that you need to stop them from farming the map, a 5-man Smoke Gank is your safest option. Best case scenario you will be able to get a pickoff and win map control over an area. Worst case scenario you will be involved in a 5v5 clash but with the initiation advantage of Smoke on your side..

4/5-man Smoke Ganking:
When you don’t have map control and you don’t know where your opponents are, and yet you know that you need to stop them from farming the map, a 5-man Smoke Gank is your safest option. Best case scenario you will be able to get a pickoff and win map control over an area. Worst case scenario you will be involved in a 5v5 clash but with the initiation advantage of Smoke on your side.

An example

To make the right tactical choice is vital. If you are behind and you are continuously defensively 5-manning, your opponents will simply out-farm you and out-split-push you. The game will quickly get out of hand and you will be unable to win whatever tactical choice you choose.

Therefore, you need information first, and to counter your enemies second. If you manage to get up some wards when your opponents are farming the lanes and jungle (or simply if you suspect they are doing so) - the right tactical choice will be to gank. Yet you are at a disadvantage. You cannot “aggressively” gank the enemy carry with 1-2 heroes without smoke - he will simply kill you or you will get counter-ganked. You can only “defensively” gank. The “defensive” or, more accurately said, safer way to gank is to smoke up as a group (4 or even 5 heroes) and gank in that way.

When you manage to get some map control and some kills, your opponents will probably react to your ganks and will start moving as 5. This is the moment when you need to change your tactic - you want to go back to turtling and split-pushing. Use the new map control you have to safely farm with your carries and push out the lanes while the other members of your team are stalling the push. Just before (or when) your opponents decide to commit, bring your carries back to the base (with TP’s) and try to defend the base/tower. If you are that far behind that you simply cannot do so, try to get trades. A tower for a tower or a Rax for a Rax is an incredibly good trade when playing from behind.

If your opponents don’t change up their playstyle (continue farming up and pushing the lanes out despite your ganks), you need to keep on doing what you are doing - in that case ganking. Things will get much harder when you run out of Smokes, however by that time hopefully you would have done some warding and dewarding and you will have some map control, i.e. you will be able to gank successfully without Smoke. Be very careful not to get baited into an unfavorable. Try to initiate on your target when you see that at least some enemy heroes are out of position to help out.

When you are ahead, follow the same logic and exploit the opportunities of having the more forceful position. If you see the enemy team is turtling as 5 in their own base, spread out and farm the whole map. Take advantage of your opponent’s Jungle, Ancient’s, etc. This way you will not only have more places to farm multiple heroes, but you will take farm away from your opponents. If you see that your opponents are trying to gank, gather as five, prevent the ganks, get some kills and get objectives (tower, shrines, Rosh). If you think that your opponents are not in a position to win a 5v5, you should group as 5 and go for an objective - either push down towers, shrines or take Roshan. The new map control/Aegis might be the thing you need to finish the game

What now?


After a successful gank, you will have the numbers advantage. This will allow you to be more aggressive - you should farm the area in which you killed the hero and you may even want to transition into a push. Even if you are not a great 5v5 lineup and you don’t think you have the team fight advantage, you probably can take a 5v4 or a 5v3 fight; don’t be afraid to capitalize on that. Either take a tower or force an enemy to buyback and retreat afterward.

After a successful gank you will also be actively controlling an area. This means that you will have the opportunity to place Sentries and Observers which could give you the information you need to gank once again in the future.

You should keep in mind important cooldowns. If you have successfully ganked, for example, a hard carry Luna, and you used your Black Hole for the gank but the Luna never used her ultimate or BKB, in the next fight you will be at a disadvantage - you will not have a Black Hole while the Luna will have both a BKB and her ult. This applies to pushing as well, and a buyback from a hero with his abilities off cooldown might turn the fight drastically. In this kind of situations, you might consider split-pushing the map, until you have your cooldowns up again and have the advantage in the fights.


After a successful push, you are likely to be on low HP and Mana, so it is smart to back-off and recharge. If you don’t need to do so, back off and farm-up the other lanes or jungles. Be careful not to get carried away in the push. Often players will fail to notice that some enemies have respawned and end up throwing their lives away needlessly, even after the objective of the push was completed. Don’t overstay your welcome. As we already mentioned, after a successful push you are likely not to have your important cooldowns as well, so even if you are on max HP and Mana you should avoid fights until these CDs are up.

After a successful Rosh, you need to decide how to use the Aegis advantage you have. You either want to push and force a fight (two lives on an important carry might be enough to win the game) or if you are not confident you can win a 5v5 even with the Aegis you might want to back off and farm up. If your opponents decide to bring the fight to you, you will have the Aegis plus the Defenders advantage.


If you managed to force a TP reaction by your opponents, simply back off and use the knowledge of their location to farm some more resources. You can farm the jungle or even better - TP to another lane to push it out while your opponents are certainly not there because they just TPed to the other lane.

After a successful defense of a tower/base, your enemies will be backing off (likely to their base, to heal up, etc.). Use the time and space you have to regain some map control - push out the lanes, ward, and deward, farm their jungle.

Vision = Information

Vision is incredibly important to be able to make decisions (making good decisions without having information is impossible). Imagine you see one hero pushing a lane towards your tower while you have no vision around the map. You think that the other heroes are in their jungle, farming, while this one is split-pushing, and you decide to counter this by ganking him. You commit 2-3 heroes to killing that lone target, yet all of a sudden the whole enemy team counter-initiates on your gankers. It turns out that the enemy team wasn’t split-pushing, but rather playing 5-Man Dota which as we mentioned is the natural counter to ganking. So, even though you thought you were tactically countering the enemy team, you defeated yourselves by making the wrong assumptions.

In that sense, making assumptions is risky. You want to have reliable information, and the only way to be sure of what your opponents are doing is to see them do it.

Without vision, the only viable option is 5-Man Dota. Remember, it is the least reactive playstyle and requires the least information about your opponents. You cannot stick to 5-Man Dota all game long, though. You are going to get severely out-farmed by the split-pushing team who has vision and knows where your whole team is. So, if you lose your vision around the map, your first priority is to recover it in some way. Probably the safest option is to smoke up as a team and walk to important locations, warding and dewarding.

Lineups: Tactical Freedom

If all heroes in Dota were equally good in all three activities, then the rule we outlined and the information that Vision gives you would suffice to shape a game of Dota. The team that counters tactically the enemy team will always win. In reality, this is not the case. Even though each Dota hero can be played in all the three playstyles, the skills and stats of a particular hero usually accommodate one playstyle more than the others.

Let’s illustrate this with Night Stalker. He is one of the best gankers in the game (very mobile; good single target DPS; night time vision granted from his 3rd and his ultimate are one of the best map controlling/vision spells in the game; potent single target slow and silence to prevent the target from running away). In the same time, he is a pretty weak hero to turtle and split-push with. He farms slowly and doesn’t have any means to push out waves and take towers. He doesn’t have good anti-push to help in the turtling either.

So, your picks might limit you tactically. If your team consists of 5 very strong gankers like NS, you will be incredibly good at small scale engagements. Yet if your enemies gather as 5 and start pushing you will have serious problems. You will not be able to gank anymore, you will either have to win fights or to split-push; since your heroes accommodate ganking but not the other two activities, you will be at a lineup disadvantage.

Tactical Freedom Hero Icons

It is very important to try to give your team tactical freedom. This means either having versatile heroes who have potential in all three playstyles (in the middle of the triangle) or compensating for your more extreme picks with other heroes who excel in situations where the extreme picks struggle (having a colorful team).

Note that nowadays whit the item choices that you have, even if your hero is not versatile you can make him such simply by buying items. Let`s use SF for example: if you want to 5-man with this hero you can simply buy Drums/Sange Yasha and BKB and start fighting whit your team. If you want to gank split-pushers you can buy Blink + Euls. If you want to split-push yourself - you can go for mobility items like Travels, Shadow Blade or Blink and some DPS items to deal more damage to towers. The problem with this line of thinking is that you need to get to the items - your SF wouldn’t be able to gank or split-push efficiently right away. This is going to be hard if you are losing the game tactically from early on.

The more balanced your lineup (and the more versatile your heroes), the more tactical freedom you will have. You will be able to adopt all three playstyles well, thus creating for yourself the freedom to decide what you need to do and how you want to play. The more extreme your lineup, the more narrow your tactical choices will be. A Naga (1) + Puck (2) + NP (3) is quite an extreme split-pushing lineup (all your core sare closer to the split-push & turtle side of the triangle). This means that, with equally good execution, this lineup is likely to win against a 5-man team and lose to a hardcore ganking lineup because they have trouble 5-manning until they get items.

Hence in terms of strategy and picking your heroes, you can either choose to counter-pick your opponents with a more specialized lineup OR play it safer and build a more versatile team that has tactical freedom. The second option is generally the way to go in pubs (and even in most competitive games) as it is more often fail-proof.