Friday, October 12, 2012

Why we’re going to continue to see more and more of Disruptor

So last entry was about Rubick. Though I spent a lot of time discussing the narrative which led to the genesis of my inspiration to write the entry itself. What a mouthful. I know, right. Thankfully, the exact point I’m making here is that feedback has been well received and I’ve decided to cut down on that stuff this time and jump straight into an analysis of Disruptor on a skill-by-skill basis. 

My underlying sentiment is that even though we saw an awesome [read: perfect] Disruptor from iG.Faith at TI2 and have since seen it variously picked by mostly CIS teams [mostly unsuccessfully, sadly], I expect us to see even more of it in the days to come, given certain particular disruptive functions which it can serve.

Thunder Strike

source: dota 2 wiki
There isn’t an awful lot to stay about Thunder Strike by way of comparison to other nukes. As a nuking skill, it is well balanced in terms of damage, mana cost and cooldown. It’ll help you control a lane, push a lane, or make a kill. But what makes this skill really fantastic is its ability to be disruptive of enemy movements, in addition to being a nuke. This is most obviously the case in two ways. First, a hero with a blink dagger will be unable to make use of it for 4 seconds [7 really, given the delay before the dagger becomes active again. Thanks AvgJoeSchmoe] even if the only source of damage to that hero is Thunder Strike. This is because Thunder Strike deals its damage in 3 parts instead of one. While a once-off nuke is sometimes neater for making kills and in order to avoid unnecessary trade-offs or heals, in this instance the nuke has a Enigma’s-Malefice feeling to it and is very frustrating, even for enemies who merely wish to use a Salve, Urn, or Bottle in order to quickly recover and retaliate.

The second and perhaps more subtle way in which Thunder Strike is disruptive is owing to its small, but relevant, AOE. It effectively adds an ultimatum to each cast: “Either you keep a reasonable distance from your allies for the next 4 seconds, or they’re going to take some gratuitous damage.” In any cases where the damage from Thunder Strike is shared over multiple enemies, it will be dealing a lot more than it’s mana cost and cooldown justify and will be success enough just for that. Meanwhile, if it manages to redirect enemy movements even slightly, it is functioning above and beyond the regular duty of a nuking ability, outputting damage AND influencing positioning. While it is often a good thing for heroes to keep a small distance from their allies to avoid being caught in AOE, in the heat of battle spending time to correct one’s position can result in a small delay in pursuing one’s original course of action - which can be lethal. Also, if both relevant heroes try to correct their positions, this effect can be amplified.

Kinetic Field

source: dota 2 wiki
Kinetic Field is without a doubt Disruptor’s weakest skill. That said, it does have the potential to be used in various different ways, making it at least a theoretically versatile ability. It can be used to keep people out of a key area or to keep people inside a desired location for a short time. This makes it useful in terms of preventing enemies from chasing, pushing or initiating as well as in order to disrupt enemy heroes’ ability to escape or move – where used aggressively.  Forcing one or several heroes to stay within a given AOE for 4 seconds [at level 4] can obviously be a skirmish-defining manoeuvre. 

And yet, the skill just generally seems quite underwhelming. One reason for this is that it has a 1.2 second form time, making it difficult to execute as desired, especially when lacking the luxury of time to premeditate a play. A further reason is that this skill does not actually disable enemies – this is a drawback in a few ways. Most obviously, units can actually move around inside the Kinetic Field which means that it is possible to trap someone inside the Field but not actually hinder their desired movement for the full duration that the Field lasts. In the case of a level one Kinetic Field which lasts 2.5 seconds, about half of that time could be used walking from one side of the Field to the other – this places an emphasis on casting it even more precisely, which is already difficult given the requirement that you compensate for its formation time. Another problem associated with Kinetic Field not being a proper disable is that heroes can still cast their spells and use items, most notably those which might help them escape the Field itself. Crucially, at the time that I began to write this entry, I intended to make the point that the ever-present Force Staff was an instant counter to any successful Kinetic Fields – however, the latest patch changes have edited this and Kinetic Field comes out significantly buffed now that Force Staffs can no longer push units out of it. Regardless, the ability still feels underwhelming . . . when looked at in isolation, at least.

It turns out, though, that the primary appeals of Kinetic Field are its interactions with the other 3 spells Disruptor has. That is to say, Glimpse allows for one to guarantee a well-placed field. Static Storm gives Kinetic Field a much greater sense of purpose, since the two together function as a serious lockdown for just about everything with an added bonus of some decent damage over time. And the often subtle AOE of Thunder Strike is emphasized a lot more where multiple enemies are caught inside a Kinetic Field, normally all edging towards the same border of the Field and thus all receiving damage from a single instance of Thunder Strike.


source: dota 2 wiki
Glimpse is likely to require no introduction as it is quite definitively the signature skill of Disruptor. From extremely far away, Disruptor can pull you back to where you were 4 seconds ago. This is a very powerful ability and, although it does require reasonably good play to optimize, it requires even better play from enemies to avoid its optimization. A good Disruptor player merely needs to learn where to position himself efficiently and how to judge 4 second periods intuitively yet accurately. In the meantime, anybody playing against a Disruptor must [especially once Glimpse is maxed out with a 30 second cooldown and 1800 cast range] be extremely diligent avoiding being caught out and isolated by a successful Glimpse. For example, any time that an entire team is retreating from their pursuing enemies, one of those fleeing is prone to being pulled back into a more-than-likely guaranteed death. In the meantime, as is popularly enjoyed, any time one teleports to any location, one must be vigilant in order to avoid immediately being Glimpsed back to the original location – which can ultimately be devastating for a teamfight or Skirmish. So this ability requires players to give a lot of attention to the way they execute what are normally very ordinary tasks in DotA. When there's a Disruptor around, you have to use TP scrolls nervously, walk carefully and fight with more awareness than usual. 

However, beyond all these generalized appeals of Glimpse, I believe there are some very specific things that it empowers a team to do which are, for me, what forces this hero to be a relevant pick in just about any metagame. Firstly, Glimpse offers a counter to heroes which are very fragile but counteract their weak state with natural escape mechanisms. This includes heroes like QoP, Mirana, Antimage and anything else which takes for granted its ability to detect a gank and jump away before being caught. The reason Glimpse counters this kind of hero is obvious: after they've used their escape, if you can still see the hero, you can merely return it to its original position. This means that for these sorts of heroes to avoid ganks when there is a Disruptor in the game, they need to try especially hard to aim their escape moves appropriately, hoping to land somewhere where the enemy team hasn't got vision. Incidently, this is one of many reasons that I believe Disruptor to function very well in a team with Bounty Hunter – constant Tracking filling the missing gap in a strategy which almost guarantees kills on these sorts of heroes [with any sort of disable and/or damage to back it up]. But of course, even without a BH, good warding or well-placed allies can achieve the same sort of goal. Not to mention the fact that a hero using a natural escape is often under pressure to act fast and unable to consider which direction to go in order to avoid being Glimpsed back. A final bonus here for Glimpse is that the accomplished Disruptor player will be able to sometimes cast Glimpse on a hero at the same instant as it casts its escape and, since Glimpse does not transport the unit immediately, this will counter the escape regardless of which direction it was aimed. A similar trick can be performed with Glimpse to counter Chen sending allies to base – here it is a lot easier because one can know just when the hero is about to disappear and thus have something to go on in terms of timing the Glimpse just before.

The second specialized purpose Glimpse commonly offers is an implicit threat against any 4:1 strategy – that is, any strategy which at any point makes use of 1 hero to farm while the other 4 engage in the game via skirmishes, pushing, ganking or defending. Why? Well, because an underlying principle presupposed by any 4:1 tactic is that the isolated 1 has a way to get to the other 4 at relatively short notice. Perhaps a tower is being pushed and the farming hero plans to teleport in at the last minute to aid in defending or counter-engaging. Perhaps the farmer is the one doing the defending and plans to teleport in to strengthen a push. Maybe it’s a Spectre that assumes it can haunt into any battle or a Nature’s Prophet or Wisp [and Wisp-sidekick] who assume they can TP in at short notice to gank. The point is that the idea of splitting 4:1 is very common in professional DotA. It allows a team to exert control over the map but also gain gold at the same time, thus not compromising efficiency ever. But if your opposing team has a Disruptor on it, there is a serious risk involved in this type of play because if he is alert enough, well positioned enough and aided by the appropriate vision, he will most often be able to directly counter any attempt for the isolated 1 to join the other 4, with devastating effects on whatever is about to, or has just started to, happen. For an excellent example of this sort of thing, check out this VOD, particularly from 49:10 until 51:03. [For a direct link to the relevant time, use]

The VOD is of a game between Empire and VP from the first day of the current Starseries. In this case, it’s not a strict case of a 4:1 manoeuvre because all 5 Empire players are pushing a tower together, intending to all subsequently teleport to the opposite lane to defend. Normally this would be a problematic plan, given the way in which TPs to the same location at the same time become delayed. However, because they have a Naga Siren, they expect that her Song of the Siren will nicely counteract the delays on the TPs with some time to spare, offering a good entry point for their excellent AOE combo. This makes a lot of sense. However, as you see in the video, the Disruptor – played by NS here – expertly Glimpses the Naga just before coming into range of its Sleep. I say ‘expertly’ because even a half a second fumble would have meant he’d be asleep and by the time he woke up a Glimpse would no longer have had the desired effect. So Naga is sent back to the other side of the map. Despite this, Empire manage to land a good Blackhole, catching three heroes, followed by an even better Ravage, hitting 4. And yet Empire get massacred anyway. It’s simple to see why – Luna got her BKB off before the Blackhole and Ravage [arguably also because of the failed Sleep initiation] and Naga isn’t present to dish out the equivalent kind of beating for her side. This series of events starts with Empire leading 14-8 on kills and ends with the scores level at 15-15 and Empire minus 2 towers and 1 set of Raxes. This, I would say, all a direct result of a single instance of Glimpse. [Incidently, the game is far from over at this point and those who have not yet watched the VOD are encouraged to take a look at this action-packed match – though full of mistakes, it’s never short of drama.]

So Glimpse is a very potent skill, useful in many obvious ways, enabling several fun gimmicky functions [cancelling TPs, pulling spawning heroes from fountain to their place of death etc.]. But what makes it truly superb is that unlike the other skills discussed so far,  which are ‘merely’ disruptive in the general sense, this skill disrupts enemies in some particular ways which are both likely to occur regularly and likely to have dramatic consequences – this is something I believe the hero will be picked more specifically for in the near future of competitive DotA2.

Static Storm

source: dota 2 wiki
After the previous discussion, it’s strange to think that Disruptor still has an ultimate to talk about. That said, there is significantly less to say about Static Storm than there is to say about Glimpse. AT 85 seconds, its cooldown is just long enough to feel awkward as a tool to control the early laning stage but definitely short enough to be a reliable skirmish-controlling asset moving into midgame. Of course, the success of most Static Storms is largely dependent on which other abilities they are used in combination with [whether Disruptor's or those of an ally]. Effective use of Glimpse and Kinetic Field can reliably catch at least one enemy in most of the duration of Static Storm. In such cases, the normally quite low damage it outputs [for an ultimate, certainly] becomes very relevant. This is an added bonus, though, the primary function of Static Storm being – unsurprisingly, now, I hope! – to disrupt enemies by silencing them for an extended period of time or briefly but at a key moment. I imagine that most people are readily aware of the potency of catching multiple heroes in Static Storm for several seconds – even without the damage, a few seconds of silence on multiple enemies can easily turn a battle. Indeed, as previously mentioned, the potential for such interactions is one of the main things which mitigates the many weaknesses of Kinetic Field. Perhaps less obvious though is the ability of Static Storm to immediately silence an enemy at a key point in a battle. With a quicker cast time than, say, Drow Ranger or Death Prophet’s Silences [and the added bonus of having your utility skill appropriately attached to your utility hero], Static Storm is uniquely placed as one of very few skills which is able to react very effectively to a perceived engagement from a hero like Tidehunter or Pandaren Brewmaster [Faceless Void, Enigma and many others could be added here but for the sake of convenience I’ll only discuss the two in detail]. The importance of this can be understood in stages. Firstly, Tidehunter and Panda are both heroes who, for most of the midgame can single-handedly have a dramatic impact on a battle merely by using their ultimates – they needn’t even use them very well, merely standardly. Secondly, these are also both heroes who are very difficult to stop from using their ultimates. Panda can ulti from far away, or blink in and immediately ulti. Tidehunter has Kraken Shell which makes it near impossible to disable him before he manages to Ravage. These two facts put together suggest an onus on any team playing against these sorts of heroes to have a specific plan in advance for how to handle these sorts of ultimates. Before Disruptor, the only viable ways to guarantee an enemy Tidehunter failed to ulti during an engagement were by using  Black Hole or Chronosphere. Other forms of disable or silence would need to be perfectly timed to be re-added to Tidehunter immediately as Kraken Shell procs and this is a very unreliable tactic. The same applies to Panda, though to a lesser extent, since sufficient chain-disabling or silencing can sometimes do the trick here. Now you can’t always and – often don’t want to – pick a Void or Enigma merely because the other team gets a Tidehunter or Panda. But you’d also do well to empower yourself to have a reliable plan for dealing with these ultimates in the midgame. Well, fear not, Disruptor, which is an easy pick to justify in almost any line-up, happens to have a built in answer to them too. Why? Because the silence casts almost immediately, and will normally last at least a second before the unit escapes it, assuming no further slow or disable. This is particularly relevant to the case of Tidehunter, because even if Kraken Shell procs, the silence will immediately re-apply itself.

Beyond these sorts of applications, it is also worth reiterating how potent the combination of Static Storm, Glimpse and Kinetic Field is. In most cases you are able to set up a Kinetic Field and Static Storm during the short duration of Glimpse and then once the hero lands it is taking damage, restricted in movement and unable to cast spells [and thanks to the patch, unable to force staff out either]. This means that Static Storm is a useful ingredient in any attempt to pick off one enemy by locking it down quickly. So it turns out that similarly to the case of Glimpse, while Static Storm is a generally useful disruptive skill, it’s the particular types of disruption it is capable of which really make it shine.


Concluding Remarks

It remains to be seen just where Disruptor is most suited to laning and what role it is most suited to playing in terms of gold priority. Its most common usage as of yet has been as a hard supporter but it does have the ability to solo mid - and early levels in Glimpse might be enough to justify this decision. Meanwhile we've also already seen one interesting cameo of DKPhobos soloing the long lane with Disruptor as a sub for Na'Vi. Regardless of where you put it though, the utility of this hero is undeniable and its name is more than earned by its ability to disrupt enemies in several different ways. Of course with the enormous recent update, I wouldn't be the first to suggest a potential large scale shift in metagame coming soon. Most speculation expects a more aggressive gank-orientated DotA2 - which I think goes without saying is a place Disruptor would feel more than comfortable. I am confident, however, that this hero can and will fit into any metagame.

Thanks for all the feedback so far and please continue to submit ideas, criticisms, or suggestions either by emailing me at or by commenting below.