No meta, nerf Mirana and the reign of the qualifiers: what we learned from TI6

Ruida "Faith_bian" Zhang of Wings Gaming walks off the stage. Michael Hanson for ESPN

The dust has settled in KeyArena, and Wings Gaming has been crowned the victor of The International 2016. Over six days sixteen of the best teams in Dota 2 put on a stellar display that some are calling the best TI yet.

So while we all go back to our normal routines, as teams board jets and head home for a much-needed rest and start prepping for the next major, let's take a look back at some of the immediate lessons learned we can take from the abundance of high-level Dota we just experienced.

There is no meta...

On the final day of the broadcast, analyst Chan "WinteR" Litt Binn put it best:

"No meta, boys."

Wings' victory signified a greater shift in Dota 2 towards drafts less focused on a meta and more on team cohesion and player skill.

There were very few through-threads to draw an overlaying meta out of. Drow, Elder Titan and Shadow Demon may have been hotly contested, but none dominated the drafting stage like others have in the past. 105 heroes were picked at The International 6, with one final new pick sneaking in during the lower bracket finals.

Teams are thinking about composition in a more holistic sense, understanding the nuance of individual heroes and trusting players to operate in non-traditional ways. Digital Chaos' use of Naga Siren wasn't just good for a Void counter - you also never knew if it would be a support or core Naga until the last phase of the draft. Wings reached an Aegis based off its ability to pick heroes intelligently and the trust each player had in one other to play the draft well.

TI6 proved that teams are moving into a new level of play in Dota, one that's less regimented by picks and bans, and focuses on a clever draft and the execution of it. Wings Gaming could hand teams the exact picks they wanted from a draft, and still beat them over and over. Digital Chaos was the only team who could take a game off Wings at the tournament, and it's mostly due to Rasmus "MiSeRy" Filipsen's understanding of that shift in drafting. More heroes are viable than ever, and that means a new outlook for those who want to keep competing with the best.

... but maybe Mirana (and others) could use some changes.

All of that said, Dota will never be a perfectly balanced game. The major outlier of TI6 was Mirana, the most picked hero at 108 games with a 59 percent win rate. The hard part is where to start with adjusting the Priestess? Her Aghs upgrade was certainly a factor in her reappearance, launching her into a magic-damage carry role, but Mirana's strength also comes from the sum of her parts. A long-range stun, a mild-cooldown mobility tool, a global cloak that forces teams to readjust playstyle around it. Mirana's newfound role is healthy and unique, but now she has just a few too many tools in her kit.

Shadow Demon will also likely get a serious looking-at by the powers that be, due to the prevalence of late-game illusion siege strategies. What was once a fun gimmick from Alliance, using a Shadow Demon and Centaur to whittle down towers, became a repeated trend for late-game strats. The Disruption illusions are often too difficult for even most cores to deal with, and the rest of SD's kit makes him an easy consideration for most teams. It earned him a high spot on the most-picked list, and a 61 percent win rate across those 77 matches.

There were several usual suspects amongst the top picks and bans, like Drow Ranger, Faceless Void and Elder Titan who could arguably receive changes in the next patch as well. Even heroes like Timbersaw, whose Reactive Armor buffs rocketed him into contention for most mids and offlaners, could use a look or two. The nice part is that most of these are nitpicks, minutiae; there were very few glaringly overpowered abilities or heroes, and most of the top teams found their way to the higher end of the bracket by finding ways to subvert them.

Direct invites and qualifiers

The largest takeaway unrelated to game balance itself will likely be the number of qualifier teams that had successful runs in Seattle. Of the top eight finishers at TI6, only two of those teams were direct invites from Valve. The number three team came in from the open qualifier bracket of its region, and while EG might be an extreme outlier, it still shows the potential of qualifier teams. They've won premiers, they've won Majors, and in Wings they've now won an International.

This year also marked the smallest number of direct invites yet - only six of the eighteen teams that traveled to Seattle were directly invited by Valve, perhaps foreshadowing the qualifiers' dominance in KeyArena. There's an intangible X-factor that qualifiers bring, whether it's the amount of growth they gain over the course of the many games they play to reach the top, or the unknown underdog element.

Whether Valve continues a tradition of directly inviting teams or shifts to a new format is uncertain. It goes a little without saying that Major winners should, barring extreme circumstances, garner a guaranteed TI invite, but everything else is up in the air. Should the qualifier tournament be the true lead-up to TI? Do teams always deserve direct invites based on the year's results, or should they have to earn it? It will be interesting to see how the rigid structure of invites fluctuates this year, in response to the rise of qualifiers.