I originally wrote this post for a more gaming-oriented blog my friends and I created, Bloglomerate. It is exclusively concerned with the game Dota 2. I’ve reposted it here to ensure it lives on in case Bloglomerate is discontinued.
The 1-5 System
A few years ago, the professional Chinese teams devised a simple way to designate hero roles, now known as the 1-5 system as it’s been adopted almost universally. I want to explain it because I think it’s a useful tool in figuring out stronger picks and lanes for each and every game, and that’s an area where I see a lot of room for improvement. Although I include some notes about more advanced strategies, I believe this is fairly accessible to anyone with a basic familiarity with DotA.
For any given team composition, each hero can be placed into a position, indicating the role that hero will play in that match. The top position (1) is given highest farming priority, while the bottom position (5) has the lowest priority. While many of the heroes in DotA tend to fall into one position more than any other, it’s important to understand that the 1-5 system is specific to each match. The hero in position 1 for one game could be in position 2 or 3 in the next match, especially if you’re playing non-traditional gametypes like All Random or Single Draft. Further still, even though many players will try to box heroes into specific positions, one consistent feature of the metagame in DotA is switching up which position a hero is placed into (the most recent example is how Nyx Assassin became overpowered when moved from position 2 to position 4/5).
What is less likely to change, however, is the position that a given player will take. That is to say, generally speaking, most players are best suited to position 1 OR P3, or P5, or whatever. This is because the requirements of each position are distinct from one another, and not all playstyles or player personalities lend themselves to fulfilling these demands. I’ll explore the relationship between player psychology and hero picks more in a future post. For now, let’s get down to the business of understanding the 5 positions.
Here’s one simple metric to consider them by:
^ CONSUMING FARM ^
v CREATING FARM v
Consuming farm is a straightforward concept; the carry takes precedence over the support when farming a lane, the carry is expected to steal kills on creeps, heroes, and towers whenever possible. The harder carries will likely ignore team fights or tower dives for the sake of good farm in the early game. In addition to maintaining great farm, the carry is also expected to die the least in the game, and to behave as selfishly as necessary to guarantee that.
Creating farm, however, is a more nuanced behavior, mainly because there are so many ways to create farm:
- pushing towers
- ganking (especially smoke ganks)
- lane control (denying, harass, and neutral pulls)
- stacking neutral camps
- warding (makes it safe to farm)
- counter-warding (makes it possible to gank or kill Rosh)
The further from position 1 a hero is, the more likely that hero is to participate in or initiate these actions. Most hard carries don’t want to push towers – they want to keep the position of the lane near the tower, where it’s safe and it’s easy and fast for the team to provide tp support in the event of a gank. Most hard carries don’t want to spend time ganking – ganks are risky and often fail, and the carry wants to be consuming the guaranteed sources of farm. Plus, tp scrolls are expensive; 135 gold is like 4 creep kills.
This is where it’s important to understand that supports aren’t just heroes that need fewer items, have strong early game abilities, or scale poorly. Any hero can support by warding, ganking, and stacking neutral camps to farm later, and that’s why the 1-5 system isn’t about picking heroes that fall into those neat categories, but about distributing responsibility across the five heroes on your team efficiently. More than describing heroes, the 1-5 system actually dictates lanes, as it’s lanes that determine what duties a given hero is best able to fulfill.
Position 1 tends to go in the safe lane. The lane creeps naturally fall closer to the tower (the map in DotA is wider than it is tall), it’s easy to ward the jungle/river to see incoming ganks, the neutral creeps can be pulled for lane control, and the jungle provides easy additional farm without giving up lane creep score. All of these features are optimal for the hero that needs to die the least and farm the most. The safe lane is far away from other lanes, making it hard to participate in ganks without a smoke or tp – but the hard carry doesn’t care about this.
More advanced strategies can send the P1 hero as a dual mid with P5 (Chaos Knight + Wisp is a classic combo for this). P1 can also solo the safe lane if the enemy only sends 1 hero in the off-lane, or if it’s a weak dual lane. P1 almost never solos mid – it’s too easy to be ganked, and mid should be occupied by someone intended to be ganking or pushing. P1 never, ever solos or goes dual in the off-lane, but can be sent with P4 and P5 for an aggressive tr-lane.
Position 2 usually solos mid. As a carry or semi-carry, P2 wants the great farm that mid provides, but will contribute to the team through ganking and/or pushing. Mid is a precarious location, being near the runes, relatively close to the side lanes, and very near the jungle, but this same circumstance makes ganks and pushes an efficient behavior. To avoid feeding and to facilitate ganking, P2 needs some combination of decent mobility, crowd control, burst damage, or survivability, which tend to come at a cost to late game scaling.
If P1 and P5 are doing a dual mid, P2 will solo the safe lane and gank via tps or through controlling the nearby rune.
Position 3 is often in the off-lane as a solo. As a semi-carry, “utility” carry, initiator, pusher, or ganker, P3 tends to benefit strongly from solo experience, but this comes with a caveat. Due to the many advantages of the safe-lane – primarily the ability to pull the lane – and because there will almost always be a strong enemy support present, this is a much more difficult lane to compete in. As such, it is common to pick one hero with strong survivability and mobility (Windrunner, Dark Seer, Bounter Hunter) to get as much experience as possible in whatever way possible (sitting in trees/invis, pulling lane creeps from between towers to prevent pulls, stealing from enemy pulls), with any farm being a bonus. If you send a mediocre dual lane and the lane fails, both heroes are now a liability to the team and may have given multiple double kills to the enemy, whereas one hero, even if dominated, will still have managed to acquire some experience and gold without giving too much of an edge to the enemy. In the worst case scenario that P3 is shut out of lane, she will almost always start stacking the ancient camp. For some heroes in P3 (Beastmaster in particular), this is a key part of the off-lane strategy.
If not in the off-lane, P3 is usually in the jungle, participating in ganks and pushes as soon as possible.
4 and 5
Position 4 and 5 are almost always supports, and when they’re both supports they function similarly, but with some key differences. P4 tends to be a support that requires a minimum level of farm, particularly in the form of items like Arcane Boots or Blink Dagger (think Sand King or Earthshaker). To help guarantee this farm, P4 will often be responsible for stacking and pulling neutrals for the safe lane, while P5 babysits the carry in the safe lane and bears the brunt of the warding (in both gold and time spent placing them) in the early game. An important caveat is that P4 can also be a dedicated jungler, whereas P5 will never solo jungle without heavy involvement in the lane.
For the traditional 2-1-2 lanes (which are the safest in pub games with uncertain teammates and weird hero compositions), P4 goes top with P3 while P5 stays bot with P1. If P1 is soloing the safe lane and P3 is in the jungle, P4 and P5 will go dual in the off-lane. More advanced strategies can place P3, P4, and P5 in the off-lane (aggressive tri-lane), or P1 and P5 go mid lane while P4 jungles.
To summarize, here are the most common ways the lanes can be set up:
2-1-2 (the pub lanes):
1: safe lane
5: safe lane
1-1-3 (defensive tri-lane)
1: safe lane
4: safe lane/jungle
5: safe lane
3-1-1 (aggressive tri-lane) – best if enemy sends a defensive tri-lane
1: safe lane
3-1-1 (aggressive tri-lane) – best if enemy sends an aggressive tri-lane
3: safe lane
1-2-1 (requires strong mid combo, e.g. CK + Wisp or SD + Kunkka)
2: safe lane