Hello again, Lancelot reporting.
The difficulty of Dota 2 heroes is an often touched topic in guides, commentaries and forum discussions. After years of playing and trying my best to learn the ropes of all of them, the idea to come out with a tiering system to sort heroes according to their respective levels of difficulty struck me. However, I do have some disclaimers to make before I proceed.
I have read the Hero Difficulty guide made by fellow PlayDotA poster R.B.Economy. This is not intended to mimic it by any means, neither replace it, but serve as a more generalizable sequence for players to learn the heroes. In my opinion, the former guide is focused on quantifying every aspect of the hero learning curve rather then providing a guideline on which hero to play and learn, along with certain details that could be helpful.
Difficulty is actually a incredibly vague concept in Dota 2. Some heroes are easy to learn but difficult to master, some heroes are difficult just to learn the ropes, but are easier to master once the learning is done. Different players have different opinions of which skillshot is more difficult to land. Some heroes become easier to play as they get more farm, while some become harder to play if they were to take a farming position. The same hero can have varying amount of difficulty when building different items too.
On that note, different positions on the team are difficult in different ways as well.
I cannot give a perfect quantity to the difficulty of heroes because of these factors and I personally find it pointless for practical purposes (unless you are a game designer and heavily interested in game balance), however it is feasible to establish tiers of difficulty and sort heroes accordingly just to serve as a standard of sorts.
With this we begin with the easier heroes to learn and as we go up the tiers, the more difficult are they.
Lich, Ogre Magi, Venomancer, Viper, Lion, Shadow Shaman, Crystal Maiden, Disruptor, Jakiro, Tidehunter, Night Stalker, Wraith King
This tier of heroes are not only easy to play and master (it means that this hero relatively easy to hit the skill ceiling, it doesn’t mean you are already on par and can replace a professional player once you mastered them), but are suitable for learning the basics of the game while playing them. This is important because Dota 2 is a team game, playing these heroes allow you to become less of a burden, as focusing on simple tasks and objectives is enough to make your contribution apparent. The list consist mostly of support heroes as at lower levels, it is much more forgiving to play less experienced supports over carries and mid. I do not imply supports are easier to play then carries, a lot of professionals and pubstars will tell you otherwise.
Lich is so easy that he probably deserves a tier of his own. Mastering the hero and having solid knowledge of support play such as map control, pulling, stacking and making space is enough to allow a Lich player to be functional on a more competitive and formal game. His arsenal has only one regular nuke which deals great damage and functions as a strong slow at the same time, while having unit-targetting and having Area of Effect at the same time. It also happens to have one of the lower cooldowns for a nuke and is mostly unavoidable as it doesn’t have a projectile. This can be sustained with Sacrifice, which generates plenty of mana and experience by killing off a friendly creep. Frost Armor has a long duration and can be autocasted. On top of all of that, Chain Frost deals some of the highest possible damage to a team for a single spell and is one of the most feared teamfight ultimates to go against. Look no further if you never touched the game before, this is hands down the easiest hero to play in the game. He is also easy to itemize, most of his items are cheap and not situational, meaning you don’t have to consider the situation too much at lower levels of gaming.
To be honest, Ogre Magi may require some in-depth understanding to learn the mechanics behind the hero, but to play him well is incredibly simple as Ogre is more luck dependent than skill. He starts off being one of the tankiest heroes at level 1, with a solid no-projectile stunning nuke, a nice damage over time slow and a attack+movement speed buff. His ultimate Multicast allows him to make up for clumsiness with strokes of dumb luck, allowing to single handedly win fights with lucky Multicasted Fireblasts. He also gets one of the best Aghanim Scepter upgrades, which gives him an extra Fireblast that costs varying amount of mana based on his current mana pool and can cost as little as 1 mana when the manapool is depleted. In general, Ogre is close to Lich in terms of ease of use, practicality and learning curve.
Venomancer is an example of a no fluff hero, fairly simple to play, 2 easy skillshots which deal a lot of damage over time, which are annoying even for experienced players to play against. This is topped off by a passive which adds poison damage to your attacks, allowing you to harass with no cost.
Viper is often played as a core hero and is probably the perfect hero to learn lane control, solo mid and farming as a whole. Nethertoxin allows him to get last hits and kills easily, while having a built in UAM spell that allows him to harass without being under aggression. He only has one active spell, which is his ultimate, allowing you to focus on learning the more fundamental aspects of the game without worrying too much about mana, cooldowns and missing spells.
Lion is insanely good once you have a couple of proper games down your belt and have a decent feel about targetting and movement. He can sap mana to sustain his own spells, 2 solid spells (one is a great linear AoE stunning nuke, the other is one of the most reliable hard disables in Dota) to engage enemies with and the strongest nuke at level 6. The only difficult part is managing the insane cooldown of his ultimate at lower levels.
Another similar hero would be Shadow Shaman who is packed with amazing easy-to-land disables and a great multi-target nuke. He also has one of the more versatile ultimates, Mass Serpent Ward, which can be used as a tower pushing tool as well as a teamfight damage dealer when paired with his own disables.
Crystal Maiden is supposedly the easiest and most stereotypical support hero, the mascots of all supports. I rate her slightly more difficult then most imagined as she is probably the easiest hero to kill in the game being so slow and frail, and more often than not her spells do not buy enough space for her to survive. Playing her well requires some more solid fundamentals (i.e zone control) but other than that, and a channeling ultimate that makes her even more vulnerable, her design is incredibly simple. It is just not as simple as most think because of the many weaknesses she has (bad attack animation, low damage, slow, frail etc) make CM incredibly easy to exploit against and allow newer players to be abused.
Disruptor is slightly difficult because Glimpse and Kinetic Field are fairly unique and might take a few games to get used to. But his skillset generally makes him amazing to play without putting himself at risk and great to learn combination moves with teammates. Jakiro requires a little bit of knowledge on cast time, area of effect radius, and range, but is otherwise simple.
Tidehunter is also pretty suitable for new players to learn due to his durability and easy to land spells. Ravage is near impossible to prepare against at lower levels, since one can reliably catch multiple heroes to instantly win a fight if placed nicely. He could be as easy as Lich if it weren’t for the fact that he is melee, and playing melee heroes as a newer player can be more difficult. Tide players also require good game sense (cooldowns, manacost, positioning) so he doesn’t throw Ravage like a regular nuke for small objectives.
Some players consider Night Stalker relatively difficult because of the need to understand the day-night mechanics and timing (learning to contribute during daytime can be slightly difficult as well). However, one does not need a lot of games to play him well. in fact, a new player with just some ganking experience can kick ass as a Night Stalker fairly easily because of his buffed attacks, spells and movement at night. This further backed by his natural durability, easily forgiving new players for overextension. I strongly recommend Night Stalker to learn the basics of ganking and controlling the flow of the game.
Wraith King is the hardest of this bunch as he is one of the stronger late game heroes and learning to play good late game carries isn’t something you can learn in a few games . He may only have one simple spell but he also has a very low mana pool and is melee at the same time. I would recommend playing a good 10 games with the above heroes before trying him out so you get used to understanding how precious mana is and how disadvantageous being melee is. Anyway, WK offers the most insight as to what passives can do and how they function. He is also one of the first heroes one can learn to play as a tank and carry because his ultimate Reincarnation gives players a very good window for committing mistakes, while creating a lot of space for allies. He is kinda forgiving to play once a player is somewhat familiar with the flow of Dota 2 although it is recommended to watch over the cooldowns of Reincarnation.
Riki, Dragon Knight, Sven, Tiny, Omniknight, Huskar, Chaos Knight, Centaur Warrunner, Axe, Sand King, Sladar, Lifestealer, Spirit Breaker, Abaddon, Tusk, Drow Ranger, Juggernaut, Vengeful Spirit, Sniper, Luna, Gyrocopter, Troll Warlord, Phantom Assassin, Broodmother, Zeus, Lina, Silencer, Keeper of the Light, Bane, Witch Doctor, Warlock, Death Prophet, Dazzle, Shadow Demon, Nature’s Prophet
This tier consists of the easier heroes that doesn’t require much micromanagement or incredible reflexes. However, a good 20 to 30 games is recommended before starting on these heroes as these heroes require a substantial amount of game sense along with mechanical knowledge and skill. Knowing how to lane to get farm, how the stages of the game works, game objectives, costs and benefits and a certain amount of hero knowledge is required, setting these heroes apart from the newbie friendly ones. But overall, their design is simple enough to understand with simplistic guides and can be learned well with a couple of games.
Notable heroes include Drow Ranger and Sniper who would usually be classified as newbie-friendly to an extent. However, it is often forgotten these 2 heroes need a solid understanding of zone control to properly play them to not be punished as they have nearly nothing to get them out of tight fatal situations.
Broodmother is relatively harder to play but it sits comfortably within this tier. The micromanagement needed is actually fairly basic and usually does not involve more control than selecting all spiderlings and spiderites to attack one unit while abusing invisibility. It would be insulting to a huge part of the Dota 2 community to even consider this hard. Her other 3 skills don’t involve much skill and are simple to learn and play with.
Bristleback, Slark, Skywrath Mage, Ursa, Legion Commander, Leshrac, Doom, Lycan, Anti-Mage, Undying, Necrophos, Phoenix, Bounty Hunter, Earthshaker, Alchemist, Brewmaster, Treant Protector, Elder Titan, Bloodseeker, Weaver, Razor, Faceless Void, Magnus, Phantom Lancer, Clinkz, Queen of Pain, Templar Assassin, Nyx Assassin, Spectre, Pugna, Dark Seer, Ancient Apparition, Windranger, Winter Wyvern, Enigma,
This tier includes heroes that are generally less straight-forward and can take some time to learn. They are not particularly complex but their execution generally differs from the easier heroes and some of them have spells that are only powerful when used in conjunction with other allied spells. Others require relatively sharper thinking and calculation to play well. More often than not this tier of heroes require more precise prediction of how a fight is going to unfold, which may require at least 40 or so games to cultivate. To sum this tier up, extensive knowledge of their mechanics is required to play them well.
Some may laugh at the decision to put Bristleback here as he is considered relatively easy to play. I contend that Bristleback unique damage reduction mechanism and quill spray stacking requires some experience to achieve an acceptable level hero control. The profound understanding needed to decide whether it is safe to commit for kills sets Bristleback an entire tier above the simpler heroes. Windranger is interesting to mention as her difficulty can vary a lot, her 2 skillshots can be rather challenging to pull off, but at the same time it is not at all punishing to not land them perfectly. At the same time, she can farm pretty safely, have a free get out of jail card, versatile and able to delivery game changing plays even when underfarmed. The large window of error is enough to consider her of moderate difficulty.
Mirana, Outworld Devourer, Techies, Storm Spirit, Ember Spirit, Batrider, Pudge, Clockwerk, Kunkka, Timbersaw, Beastmaster, Shadow Fiend, Morphling, Naga Siren, Terrorblade, Medusa, Puck, Enchantress, Rubick, Oracle, Visage, Arc Warden
These heroes are rather difficult to learn and can take more than 10 games of repeatedly playing them to get an acceptable feel of how they work. These heroes often require more hands on practice then extensive mechanical knowledge alone. A lot of their functionality simply cannot be fully expressed through theory crafting but require hard work and dedication. There are skillshots which can be a setback if not timed correctly, skills that need precise positioning, farming mechanisms that require a lot of micromanagement and unit control along with fast reflexes. This tier is this mark that sets the truly more difficult heroes from the easier ones. Your style of playing these heroes cannot be replicated easily by any other player, and it is often at this tier where your signature heroes are developed.
Mirana is probably one of the least punishing skillshot hero to play because her 3 other spells serve a variety of purposes. She can also farm enough to be played as a regular DPS carry. Outworld Devourer needs specific knowledge of the gap between INT stats of different heroes and extensive practice to remember stolen INT duration.
Enchantress would normally be considered as difficult as Chen because of similar micromanagement mechanisms, but because she has a viable option of extending into DPS (allowing her to be less dependent on unit control) to be a powerful DPS carry in her own right, I consider her to be easier than Chen by a tier apart.
Medusa’s inclusion into this tier seems somewhat off as for the most part she doesn’t require a lot of skill. Still, she isn’t easy enough to be put in the same tier as Drow Ranger or Sniper. It is not obvious if spectated, but a lot of focus and patience is actually required to play Medusa well due to the enormous amounts of drawbacks she has and her design as a slow but potential RPG raidboss carry. A thorough understanding of maximizing gold gain while keeping the map checked along with advanced knowledge of item builds is recommended if one wishes to learn Medusa, who is probably the least exciting hero in the game.
Oracle would require a lot of memorization on the various effects of his spells to not have disastrous outcomes. And finally, we have Rubick which actually requires the player to understand every single active spell in the game to be used correctly, who is also frail and prone to ganks if not careful.
Lone Druid, Io, Tinker, Meepo, Invoker, Earth Spirit, Chen,
Of the tougher to play heroes, 7 of them have set themselves apart and are seen as a cut more difficult to play than the others.
Lone Druid used to be easier and rewarding to play, but some patches ago the nerfs made him much more punishing to play if not controlled by a true master of the hero. The bear gives a chunk of bounty to enemies if killed and it is extremely painful to play without the bear. Every bear death effectively makes Lone Druid a non-factor as he has nearly nothing to contribute without the bear. Until he gets an Aghanim Scepter, every time he dies, the bear dies with him too. Pick with caution, this is not a hero you can master within a couple of games.
Io comes next as it is rather difficult, if not outright impossible to play him without competent allies that communicates. On its own, Io has very low stats, armor and base damage, and is incredibly difficult to grab solo kills or even killsteals with. Live communication is compulsory to bring the best out of its spells, especially Relocate. To be fair, Io isn’t extraordinarily difficult to play in general, but it is very unrewarding to play without good allies. It is seen as one of the most overpowered heroes in the competitive scene, but usually no one bothers with this hero without a party of friends. Still, playing a good Io is a mark of an accomplished Dota 2 player as it reflects advanced game sense and skill.
Tinker, the notorious engineering hero with lasers and heat seeking missiles in a world of blades and spells. Requires a ton of space and farm, good start, runes, map control etc, this is one of the most frustrating heroes to play alongside with and to play against. He isn’t too difficult to play where you farm, push and get some kills with dual nukes, finding gank opportunities all over the map with BoT. It is the part where he maximizes all of his possible item actives and flurrying them without mistakes then rinse and repeat by Rearm-ing them again, that make him one of the most difficult heroes to play. Tinker requires a lot, and i mean A LOT of practice and muscle memory to master. At the same time, he also needs highly advanced map awareness and farming skills. There isn’t any single aspect that marks him as a extraordinarily difficult hero but a cumulation of various advanced mechanical skills and knowledge, along with fast fingers are required to play him well.
Following is Meepo, who was widely considered as the most difficult hero. I personally have trouble trying to master him but it can be established that Meepo is 70% muscle memory rather than advanced mechanical skills. One just needs to take time and let the tabbing control and map awareness sink in. Soon, Meepo’s overwhelming strengths such will become apparent and then one would realize Meepo’s own lack of drawbacks. Aside from needing farm, Meepo has literally no built in weaknesses (thanks to IceFrog repeated buffs in the past patches) to aside from being countered by a number of easy to play heroes. Meepo could have been a more difficult hero due to the death mechanic, but his overwhelming number of strengths and make him more forgiving to play even when compared to Tinker and Lone Druid. He is only rated above them because of the amount of tabbing, camera control and micro-ing a Meepo player is going to need to do.
Invoker might not be the hardest hero to play, but he is definitely the most complex of them. Having 10 spells and a unique Invoke mechanic, no hero in the game requires as much combination of knowledge and skill as Invoker. Every single spell he has is difficult to utilize in their own manners and all of them have multiple effects, and scale differently depending on which reagents he skilled. In practice, he is difficult to get used to, but somehwat easy to control once a specific build is learned. But once again, if it comes to utilizing the hero to full potential, Invoker is easily one of the most difficult because of the incredible skill ceiling. There is always room for you to get better with Invoker, new combinations of spells to learn, no matter how long you have been playing.
Finally, we have the infamous Earth Spirit. Bundled with an amazing arsenal of utility which includes stuns, silences, damage over time, rescue mechanism, escape mechanism, initiation powers all thanks to his unique Stone Remnant mechanics, and all of them deal respectable amount of damage. All of these makes Earth Spirit one of the most complex heroes, and at the same time demands extremely precise hero control. He arguably a shade more difficult than the Invoker due to his spells can be disastrous if misplayed and they require much more precise positioning and direction-ing than any other hero in game.
Was kidding about the finally part, because Chen is, in my opinion, reigns over every other hero in the game in terms of difficulty! He not just micro-dependent, but a Chen without any good creeps simply cannot function well. The creeps he controls are essential to the hero and they can vary depending on his luck. A Chen player would need total understanding of the jungle paths and creeps, tough nerves to drive gankers off without blowing his ultimate. He will need to master over 5-6 different good creeps along with ancients, learn their spells and passives and use them wisely. It is worth noting that most creep spells are no more powerful than level 1 spells of other heroes, and it is only through timing and chaining them nicely only which ganks could succeed. To make things harder, Chen doesn’t scale very well into late game (not to mention the creeps), especially if he is not able to get an Aghanim’s to control ancients. He is frail, predictable, and his contribution eventually becomes limited to saving allies with Test of Faiths and pushing or scouting with creeps. His only redeeming feature is that he is one of the strongest early-mid supports, which is highly desired in a meta that desires early dominance.
I honestly don’t think Chen is worth learning in casual pubs, if anything he is the only hero that I consider not worth the effort if one is not interested in professional or competitive play. This is why I consider Chen to be the single most difficult hero in the game.
13th February 2016
-Added Nature’s Prophet and Arc Warden
-Fixed Tiny being on two tiers at once