The heroes in Dota 2 are defined by the roles that they are suited to play as a combination of their attributes, abilities, and items, and the ways that these shape the game. Although the abilities of heroes may suit a variety of purposes and can be used in a variety of ways in different situations, roles nonetheless exist to define the playstyle a hero is expected to conform to, as well as the actions they are meant to perform within a game.
The attributes of heroes (their essential statistics and their basic combat ability) and the varying nature and effects of their abilities all serve to provide much distinction between heroes, giving them each tactical advantages and disadvantages at various locations, situations, and times within the game that have to be understood well for success. As strategic combat between two teams of five heroes with distinctly different abilities and strengths is the central conflict of Dota 2; players need to be well informed of their role within each team, as well as the roles of the enemy heroes. Even more importantly, players should keep in mind how their ability build and item build affects their heroes and fares against the ability and item builds of enemy heroes in the context of every single game so that they make sound decisions on the abilities and items that they choose to get.
Roles are dictated by many factors, including: the physical stats of the hero, what they bring to the table with their abilities as well as the nature of their abilities, where they should be laned (or jungled), and the amount of gold and items they need to perform well.
Although the official classifications are fairly rigid, the reality is that multiple roles can be filled by every hero depending on the choices they make, although some choices are wiser than others.
"Will become more useful later in the game if they gain a significant gold advantage."
Carries are the heroes that can obtain the greatest offensive power as the game progresses, the name so derived from the act being "carried" by a team into the late game; that is, to eventually bear the responsibility for ultimate victory. They tend to become extremely powerful later in the game relative to other heroes once they amass substantial levels and items. Once farmed, they are very good at killing opponents, though some carries such as Naga Siren tend to attain victory through their ability to destroy enemy structures rather than kill enemy heroes. Carries typically lack early game power, but must be powerful by the late game; thus, the items they carry are an essential part of their build. Most carries rely on right-clicking, using their inherent attack power (usually augmented by abilities) to overwhelm their enemies. Carries tend to have high base movement speed.
Although they are the powerhouses of the late game, they are relatively weak in the early game, as their abilities tend not to be very useful at low levels. Many "hard" carries, that is, carries that are extremely reliant on items to function (though benefit most from them) will need to farm almost incessantly prior to around 30-40 minutes into the game. They should not ever participate in early skirmishes unless they can assist without endangering themselves (for example, Spectre can use her Haunt ability to help her team's damage without ever actually being in danger). This can and often does mean that their team is forced to progress through much of the game without their help, during which time a team's semi-carry (usually the solo mid) will perform the role of carry, as the early to mid game is a semi-carries period of maximum relative power.
There are carries of all three primary attributes, although the hardest carries are almost entirely Agility. Strength carries (such as Alchemist, Dragon Knight, Wraith King, and Lifestealer) typically rely on sustained damage and their own durability to carry, as well as some decent disables. Their weakness tends to be low armor (though there are some notable exceptions) and because they are almost invariably melee, they can often be kited easily (kiting being a process of staying too far away from an enemy for them to attack you; as if the enemy is being strung along like a kite). Agility carries (such as Luna, Faceless Void, and Phantom Assassin) tend to inflict substantial damage in rapid successions, and have very high limits where damage infliction is concerned. Agility carries tend to be ranged but many are melee. Their weakness tends to be an inability to do anything effectively except inflict damage - they generally have minimal utility and are quite fragile, though there are exceptions to both. Intelligence carries (such as Storm Spirit, Nature's Prophet, and Outworld Devourer) usually rely on their abilities and active use of items to carry, but their physical damage is often respectable too. They are invariably ranged heroes owing to their frailty, but their powerful abilities mean that they are often difficult to kill. They tend to struggle against enemies with magic immunity.
Some carries with long-cooldown, teamfight-oriented ultimates, such as Naga Siren, Luna, and Outworld Devourer require constant team support all throughout the game, whereas other carries such as Phantom Assassin or Lifestealer are suited to tackling many enemies in succession and rely much less on their team (but suffer from a lack of AoE abilities). Essentially, while some carries are suited to solo encounters and ganks, others are most at home in a large clash.
Carries typically are relegated to a side lane early on with one or more Support/Babysit heroes to babysit them until they collect the necessary items to farm independently, while a select few carry heroes, most notably Shadow Fiend, can easily undertake a solo midlane role throughout the majority of the game. There are some cases where carries ended up in solo safe lane (Radiant Bottom, Dire Top) if the team opted to run an aggressive tri-lane at the suicide lane (Radiant Top, Dire Bottom).
A rule of carries is that the more farm a carry requires to be effective, the more power they can attain relative to other carries. The term "out-carrying" refers to one hero's capability to carry harder than another - that is, to have more potential power to carry than another hero. Carries come in all shapes and sizes, and while some require little farm to begin carrying quite early in the game, they can (and usually will) be out-carried by a "harder" carry than themselves if that carry is given the chance to amass the gold and items they require.
"Has a guaranteed disable for one or more of their spells."
Heroes tagged as Disabler generally have abilities which are more focused to reliable crowd control, whether by single target or by area. Generally, supportive heroes (because their abilities are not improved by items) often lane with carry heroes to malign attempts on their life. Carry heroes generally have weak disabling power, although some, such as Faceless Void are exceptional. Heroes with powerful disables tend to have low base movement speed, giving enemies a chance to react, but this can be bypassed with mobility items.
"Good at starting a teamfight."
Initiators are heroes who can safely and advantageously start a team fight. These heroes typically have strong area of effect damage or disable or some ability to affect the positioning of the enemy team. Many of these heroes rely completely on a positional item such as Blink Dagger or Force Staff to get the proper positioning to initiate a teamfight, while a select few, such as Elder Titan and Silencer, do not require this asset. Although it is common for an Initiator to be a Durable hero, this is not always the case; fragile heroes such as Enigma and Vengeful Spirit are adept at initiation. Late in the game, this role becomes very crucial, as an effective initiation can win a teamfight, and a poor one can lose it.
"Can farm effectively from neutral creeps inside the jungle early in the game."
Junglers are heroes that can efficiently jungle neutrals at the start of the game, rather than lane. This allows for there to be two solo lanes, which in turn allows two allies to benefit from solo farm instead of one. Junglers typically have abilities that allow them to convert neutral creeps, summon minions, or sustain themselves through moderate damage from jungle creeps. The ability to jungle is found in heroes of all attribute classes and roles.
Although having two solo lanes and a Jungler produces a significant gold and experience advantage, it increases exposure to enemy ganks and can make side lanes weaker.
"Can focus less on amassing gold and items, and more on using their abilities to gain an advantage for the team."
Supports are heroes whose purpose is to keep their allies alive and give them opportunities to earn more gold and experience. Supports usually come with helpful abilities for their team, such as healing spells or abilities that disable enemies; and generally are more centered around utility than damage (although they can often inflict huge amounts of damage in the right situation). Supports are not very dependent on items, and generally only purchase one or two items for their personal usage - the rest of their gold is to be spent on items for the benefit of the team such as Animal Courier, Observer Ward, Sentry Ward, and Smoke of Deceit.
Supports are typically paired with the team's carry at the start of a game. This is because the carry tends to be the weakest and most gold-hungry member of the team early on, whereas support heroes are at their strongest in the early game. Supports should always try to forfeit kills to any teammate who is more reliant on items than they are, only performing a kill if none of their allies is able to do it.
"Has the ability to last longer in teamfights."
Durable heroes (or "Tanks") are heroes who have the potential to sustain large amount of incoming damage from the enemy. They tend to have large amounts of health, health regeneration, armor, or magic resistance. They often have abilities to mitigate damage, avoid damage completely, or disable assailants. Strength heroes almost invariably conform to this standard because their primary attribute, Strength, also grants health, although heroes of any attribute can meet the requirements. These heroes usually have one or more abilities which are improved by being difficult to kill.
Despite the fact that most Durable heroes in Dota 2 (besides Axe and Legion Commander) cannot literally force enemies to attack them, they can effectively play the role of absorbing most enemy damage output in a teamfight. Some tactics for accomplishing this are:
- Outputting an AoE effect which severely maligns the enemy, so that the enemy practically must kill the durable first; for example Undying's Flesh Golem which increases all damage to hostile units in its radius.
- Being the first one to engage the enemy in a teamfight. The enemy will respond by unloading abilities and items on the durable because a) the enemy cannot see the durable's allies and is tricked to believe the durable is alone for easy kill b) the enemy cannot reach the durable's allies because they are too far away c) the enemy is inexperienced and prematurely attacks the first hostile target in sight. The result is that the durable will probably survive because of his high durability; when the allies charge in, most of the enemy's abilities are on cooldown and the battle becomes much more favorable. This tactic will not always work against seasoned opponents, however.
- Using an ability to force enemies to attack the Durable rather than his or her allies. The only examples of this currently in-game are Axe and Legion Commander, although Winter Wyvern also possesses a similar ability.
- Being the only target that can be readily attacked; a strategy that works best when the Durable's allies are ranged heroes.
In summary, a durable in Dota 2 is a durable hero with high survivability who often initiates a team battle and ideally is able to manipulate the enemy's damage output.
"Can quickly kill enemy heroes using high damage spells with low cooldowns."
Nukers are heroes with fast, strong, and/or sustainable spell or magical damage output, whether it be through single-target spells or area-of-effect ones. Because area of effect damage comes mainly from nukes, Nukers can provide a huge damage-per-second advantage in team fights when they can harm multiple enemy heroes all at once. Area of effect nukers also excel at pushing as they can dispatch enemy creeps efficiently. Burst damage nukers such as Lina can also be deadly, as one single fast combo of her spells can often kill or grievously wound an enemy hero immediately before any reaction, thereby making a teamfight one-sided from the start. The mana cost and cooldowns of nukes often dictate how they will be used, as ones with low mana cost and/or cooldown can be spammed in lanes or in ganks, while ones with higher mana cost and cooldown are often best saved for large confrontations.
"Can quickly siege and destroy towers and barracks at all points of the game."
Pushers are heroes who focus on bringing down towers quickly, thereby acquiring map control. If they succeed, they often shut down the enemy carry by forcing them away from farming areas. They typically have abilities that fortify allied creep waves, harm multiple enemy creeps and/or heroes at once, summon minions, or deal massive amounts of damage to enemy towers.
"Has the ability to quickly avoid death."
Escape heroes are heroes equipped with one or more escape mechanisms which allow them (or sometimes their allies) to avoid damage and abilities while retreating or repositioning themselves during a teamfight or gank. Escape heroes are particularly suited to soloing the "suicide lane" or short lane, as they can turn situations where death is inevitable into a temporary delay in farm. Escape mechanisms include movement speed buffs, invisibility, teleportation (such as Blinking), and evasion. Many carry heroes also have escape mechanisms to give them the survivability they need to continue farming and killing.
The term "hard carry" refers to a type of carry hero who is especially reliant on the acquisition of items to function effectively, as opposed to "softer" carries that gain substantial damage from abilities and as such do not require gold to be dangerous. Hard carries are generally equipped with abilities which scale very closely with their items, meaning that when they do not have farm their abilities are weak. Hard carries cannot have farm early in the game, so they are generally paired in lanes with disabling support heroes, whose powerful early game abilities counterbalance the horribly weak hard carry's. As a hard carry attains gold and levels, they will progressively become more dangerous, and generally reach their period of maximum relative effectiveness later in the game than other heroes - meaning that the hard carry will have a huge advantage if the game goes for long enough. As a rule, the more reliant a carry is on items to function directly correlates with how effective they are once they have them - for instance, Anti-Mage with three carry items in his inventory will be stronger than a Medusa with the same amount, but when six items are in play, Medusa will make much better use of them than Anti-Mage - this means that she is a harder carry than he.
- Examples: Anti-Mage, Faceless Void, Medusa, Phantom Assassin, Phantom Lancer, Spectre, Terrorblade.
Semi-carries are heroes that, like hard carries, are skilled at killing enemy heroes. Unlike hard carries, however, they do not require very much farm to do so, and are generally most dependent on levels, so they usually lane in the middle lane to amass them as rapidly as possible. They tend to be most dominant in the midgame, before either their own or the enemy's true carry has amassed enough farm to supersede them. A successful game for a semi-carry involves asserting map control and impeding the enemy carry's farm, which in turn allows for their own carry to safely amass items. The "Semi-Carry", although long acknowledged in the community, is not a role recognized by Valve, likely because of the high ambiguity in defining the role.
If they are doing well, a semi-carry may have respectable attack damage depending on the hero being played - and all semi-carries will scale at least moderately well with items. However, by the end of the middle game period, semi-carries typically transition into a more supportive role. This is not to say that they play Support; this is simply the point where their damage and capabilities are outstripped by "hard" carries. To amend their damage "falling off" (as it is called), they often build items such as Heaven's Halberd, Assault Cuirass, and Scythe of Vyse to provide utility instead of their ailing damage.
Gankers are heroes with abilities that deliver long duration crowd control and/or immense damage in the early and midgame. They tend to have good mobility and rely on a mixture of physical and magical damage as well as disables to bring down their enemies. Their goal is to give the team an early game advantage during the laning phase by killing enemy heroes in their proper lanes. The Ganker role is often synonymous with the semi-carry role, as most Gankers become semi-carries if they are successful in their efforts, owing to a large gold and level advantage. However, because their abilities do not scale as well, they will usually suffer more in the late game (hence the need for a hard carry). Nevertheless, if a Ganker performs extremely well, he or she might prove to be the overall bigger threat to the enemy team at the game's conclusion than an allied hard carry. The most important task for a Ganker is to restrict the farm and levels of the opposing carry.
- Examples: Bloodseeker, Chaos Knight, Ember Spirit, Night Stalker, Nyx Assassin, Pudge, Storm Spirit.
"Can focus on moving around the map instead of farming creeps early in the game."
Always support heroes, the main goal of Roamers is to gain as much map control as possible early in the game by warding, ganking and studying the location of missing heroes. They are also responsible for creep pulling, creep stacking (for the purpose of helping a fellow Jungler or to be the source of farm) and most crucially shutting down enemy Junglers. They often attempt to gank the enemy's mid hero, a difficult feat (albeit a very rewarding one) which usually requires a long-range disables and/or a Smoke of Deceit.
Offlane heroes are those with abilities that allow them to solo the "suicide lane" (top lane for Radiant, bottom lane for Dire). Having an offlaner in a team's lineup allows the team to also have a Jungler or run a tri-lane with less risk of losing the suicide lane to the opposing lane. In many cases, the offlaner may have to forgo a great deal of farm in order to simply stay alive, and as such may be on the back foot much of the time. Heroes with the ability to escape from certain death are best suited to this role, as the offlaner's first priority should be to not die in lane. Against skilled opponents, the offlaner may be extremely under-leveled compared to other heroes on the field, and as such it is generally unwise to put a hard carry in the offlane because they may not get enough farm to obtain the items they need to snowball into the late-game.
Generally speaking, heroes that can excel in the offlane and still be effective throughout the game have at least one of these qualities:
- A skillset that allows them to escape from ganks safely. See Escape.
- They are able to secure a reasonable amount of farm despite the possibility of being forced out of lane.
- They have abilities that will keep them alive in the early-game as well as allowing them to be effective in the mid-game despite a lack of gold. Supports such as Tidehunter and Windranger are examples of this. This can include heroes whose abilities have a great deal of utility later on in the game. For instance, abilities like Mirana's Moonlight Shadow and Earth Spirit's Geomagnetic Grip can serve to benefit other teammates as well as the player in a variety of scenarios.
- They are able to disrupt the enemy carry's farm. Good use of summons like Lone Druid's Spirit Bear can position friendly creeps in a place where the carry may struggle to get last hits, such as under a friendly tower from where you can deny them safely.