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How to Play Support in Dota 2

Patrick Bonifacio  | 
Dota 2 Support

Playing support is not as simple as most make it out to be, but it is an essential role in Dota 2 nonetheless. (Photo courtesy Valve)

The support role (split into the “soft support/position 4” and “hard support/position 5” subclasses) is the last of the roles in Dota 2, and has the lowest farm priority on the team. Supports are responsible for making sure their team’s cores (those being the carry and the offlaner in most cases) have a comfortable laning phase, in order to get the farm and experience that they need.

Support heroes are blessed with powerful abilities, which are most useful in the early to mid game. They are able to impact the game even from the very start with their spells, and can score kills in the laning phase provided they have the right lane partners to synergize with their kits. Some supports on the other hand are more defensive in nature, and protect their cores or themselves more than they threaten their lane opponents.

Their strength in the early goings is balanced out by their relatively low survivability. Most (though not all) support heroes fall under the intelligence category, and have low base armor and health values to start with. These characteristics combined with their disruptive natures (as plenty of supports have stuns and disables built in) make them high-priority targets in gank attempts and teamfights — thus necessitating that support players be careful with their positioning at all times.

They are also designed to be less impactful in deep late game situations, as support heroes are not meant to carry games on their own unlike actual hard carries. While there are some supports that can turn dire situations around in the late game (Enigma comes to mind with his game-changing Black Hole ultimate ability), such picks are few and far between and are often hard countered by certain mechanics.

Despite all their weaknesses, though, supports are still extremely important to a Dota team’s success. A draft that has no supports is doomed to fail from the get-go, as the team in question will simply get run over by the early game prowess and more balanced gameplan of the opposing side. While their jobs might not be the most glamorous compared to that of cores, their presence is nonetheless absolutely essential to victory.

We’re here to teach you how to play this vital role properly and effectively.

Types of Support Heroes

Before getting into the basics of actually playing the support role, it’s important to distinguish the two classes of support heroes. While both are considered support roles, the individual playstyles of each one differ slightly based on their kits and overall design.

Hard Support

Also known as “position 5”, the hard support is the archetypal support role which most players completely new to Dota 2 will get to know first. Hard support heroes are meant to have the lowest farm priority on their team, and are designed to scale with experience more than gold and items. Largely independent when it comes to equipment, these heroes can make their presence felt even with barren inventories.

Dota 2 Support

Photo courtesy Valve

They are quite strong in the first 15 minutes of the game thanks to their powerful abilities that are strong on their own even without items — but tend to fall off later on in the game if they are unable to keep up in levels. Using their spells early on is the key to success, whether to protect their lane partner or score kills on the enemy team.

Examples of hard supports include Lich, Jakiro, Crystal Maiden, and Disruptor. All of these heroes have a few things in common, but the most important one that they share is the ability to harass or even threaten to kill lane opponents with their spells right out of the gate. These heroes also have low skill floors, making them perfect for first time players.

Soft Support

Soft supports or “position 4” heroes are higher up the farm priority compared to hard supports. Supports under this category are designed to be more item-dependent than their more frugal counterparts, as their kits are often greatly augmented by pickups such as Blink Dagger, Force Staff, Pipe of Insight, and the like.

Dota 2 Support

Photo courtesy Valve

While these heroes will still give farm to their cores, they are tasked with coming online with their items sooner than hard supports. To this end, soft supports are usually blessed with the ability to roam the map early in order to score pickoffs while helping other lanes have an easier time. Some soft supports also have great flash farming spells with which they can reliably gather gold for their item timings.

Examples of soft supports include Rubick, Earthshaker, Earth Spirit, and Sand King. Earthshaker and Sand King in particular rely quite heavily on Blink Dagger to initiate teamfights, while Rubick and Earth Spirit are just so much better when they have things like Aether Lenses and Force Staffs.

Basics of Playing Support

Know Your Role

In all but a few edge cases, supports will step up to one of the side lanes in order to assist their corresponding cores in those lanes. Hard support heroes typically go to the safe lane to help the carry get their farm. Hard supports don’t need much gold to begin with, after all, which means that they are best suited to being in a lane where they can give all their farm to a core that really needs it. Soft supports on the other hand will want to go to the offlane, because offlaners can usually survive without having to be protected 24/7, and because offlaners can very easily give some farm to their supports so that they still hit their item timings reasonably early.

Regardless of which lane you take, though, the most important parts of playing support are staying alive (which allows you to get experience) and making sure that you don’t sap experience from your lane partner unnecessarily. Positioning and playing close to friendly creeps and/or the tier 1 tower is key to the first part, as doing so makes it more difficult for enemy heroes to dive you and your lane partner.

If you’re playing a ranged support, doing this is fairly easy. Use the paths off to the side in order to stay at arm’s length to your lane opponents while using the creep wave to draw the line indicating how far you can safely go. Try not to go past the creep wave unless your hero is built for that, or your hero has a long enough attack range that you can harass your opponents from a safe place without drawing creep aggro.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ever take risks, though. Doing so can be very beneficial in certain situations, such as when your chosen hero synergizes really well with your partner in terms of spells and whatnot. Moreover, you can zone out certain opponents for a long time if you know where to place yourself in the lane.

You can put some real fear into your opponents if you play aggressively — but it is important to practice controlled and calculated aggression. Otherwise, you’re just going to feed the opposing core endlessly, which they can and will leverage to get a massive advantage in the early game.

In addition, there are times when it would be much better to just stand and fight rather than run away from a sticky situation. Such instances will usually unfold in a way that guarantees your death no matter what you do, which is especially common for supports considering their slow movement speed, low base stats, and lack of escape mechanisms.

When your death is inevitable, it’s often better to just stand your ground and try to take your enemies down with you. Use your spells before you kick the bucket! You never know what might happen, and you might enable your core to get a kill in the process.

Pull When Necessary

As for giving your lane partner solo experience, the best way to do this is to pull neutral creep camps so that they end up cutting your incoming creeps. In the safe lane, this is done with the easy camp closest to the tier 1 tower, while in the offlane the only creep camp that can be pulled is the enemy hard camp closest to your own tier 1 tower. For the former, you’ll want to attack the camp at the first or third quarter of the minute that the game’s timer is currently on (i.e. 3:15 or 6:45), then use their aggro on you to make it so that the incoming creep wave sees them just at the right time. As for the offlane pull, we suggest attacking with a delay of two seconds compared to the safe lane pull, so somewhere around the 17 or 47 second mark should do.

Doing this not only allows you to kill creep camps on your own as a support (which most support heroes are unable to due to their low base armor and/or health), but it also denies gold and experience from your lane opponents. This is because a few of the creeps are likely to either die or get close to dying as a result of taking damage from the pulled camp, thus effectively removing the gold and experience from the map before enemy heroes can get to them. Most importantly, this allows you to leave your lane partner alone to hit lane creeps, which means solo experience for both of you.

Moreover, pulling helps reset creep equilibrium. If your creep wave is pushed too far towards the enemy tier 1 tower, it can be hard for your core to get creep kills or even stay within experience gain range. Since pulling creeps delays their arrival in the lane by a significant amount of time, the enemy’s creep wave will not stop going towards your tower until your own creeps have finished cleaning up the camp they were pulled to. This in turn makes it safer for you and your lane partner to operate in the lane itself, as you will have the tier 1 tower close by just in case your opponents decide to try anything funny on you.

Eagle Eyes

Wards are exceedingly important to success in Dota 2. You simply cannot survive without them. Supports have traditionally been tasked with buying and placing down wards (both Observer and Sentry Wards), and this still does apply today. The only difference now is that Observer Wards are free! So there’s no excuse to not get them whenever they come off cooldown in the shop.

Observer Wards replenish one at a time every two minutes and 15 seconds, while Sentry Wards do the same every 85 seconds. Observer Wards are capped at four pieces, though, while Sentry Wards are capped at 10. You and the other support player on your team should try to keep the Observer Ward count below two at the very least, though ideally it should never be off cooldown for too long. If you find that the Observer Ward count is always two or higher, you need to keep track of its availability better.

Having that many available means that your team isn’t making good use of the wards to begin with, which in turn means that you aren’t providing your team as much vision as you should be. Open the shop every now and then to check!

Secure Ranged Creeps (If Your Partner Can’t)

We cannot stress this point enough: spend mana to secure ranged creeps in the lane — especially if your lane partner is unable to. Melee heroes without ranged nukes of their own will often find this difficult, so if you find yourself playing someone like Grimstroke or Lich (who have great long range nukes of their own), don’t hesitate to kill ranged creeps.

Seriously, allowing enemy heroes to deny ranged creeps is a big deal and will set you and your partner back significantly if it happens too often. The gold and experience from ranged creeps is simply too valuable to miss out on, and so we suggest trying your best to get them as often as possible.

Of course, you don’t want to take unnecessary risks just to get this done. If you have to overextend by a large margin to secure a ranged creep or your lane opponents are big threats to your life, doing so may not be possible at all. At that point, it’s best to just be within experience range when the creep dies or gets denied. Losing your life and giving away gold to your lane opponents repeatedly just isn’t worth what you get from ranged creeps. Exercise due caution and keep your distance accordingly.

Which Heroes Should You Pick?

It’s actually sort of ironic that newbies are told to play support when learning Dota 2 for the first time, considering how much the early game hinges on effective support play. Nevertheless, there are some heroes that are really easy to pick up and play in this role, and so we suggest that you choose the following for your first forays into the game:

Lich

Lich is a very basic hard support pick, which has decent base stats and a powerful early game kit. His Frost Blast (Q) serves as a great nuke in the laning phase, while his Frost Shield (W) enables aggressive play from the get-go.

Meanwhile, his Sinister Gaze (E) is a hard disable that can be cast from a fair distance away, and one that forces the target to start running towards Lich — and thus, his teammates. Chain Frost (R) is one of the most powerful teamfight Ultimates in the game, as it deals a ton of magic damage without putting Lich himself in much danger.

Jakiro

Jakiro wields the power of fire and ice to great effect. His presence in the lane is quite oppressive thanks to Dual Breath (Q) and Liquid Fire (E), which both deal significant amounts of damage over time to enemy units. Liquid Fire doesn’t cost any mana either, which makes it a very cheap but effective harassment ability.

Ice Path (W) freezes all units it comes into contact with, rendering them completely unable to act. It does have a long cast animation, though, so leading with it is important and can be difficult for new players to grasp. Still, his entire kit is excellent, glued together by his Ultimate Macropyre (R) — which lays down a long column of hellfire in a line in front of Jakiro. Any enemies caught standing in the fire will take a ton of damage over time, and discourages them from stepping over it to begin with.

Crystal Maiden

Crystal Maiden is the purest personification of a hard support. She is slow and extremely fragile, but her abilities more than make up for her weaknesses. Crystal Maiden is most valued for her passive skill Arcane Aura, which gives her and her teammates additional mana regeneration no matter where they may be on the map. Her aura alone enables aggressive spell-heavy strategies, especially in the laning phase when mana is at a premium.

The rest of her kit focuses on damage and disruption. Crystal Nova (Q) deals moderate magic damage over a large area, while slowing enemies caught in its wake. Frostbite (W) keeps enemies held in place for a few seconds, preventing their escape even if they have mobility spells at their disposal. Freezing Field (R) showers the battlefield with hail, slowing enemy units by a huge amount and dishing out tons of damage. Should her foes choose to fight under Freezing Field, they will also have to deal with the fact that it gives Crystal Maiden a whopping 20 bonus armor.


The support role may be easy to pick up, but it is definitely hard to master. There are multiple facets to playing the role itself, and some of the best support players in the world definitely did not get there without putting in the hours to hone their craft.

When it all starts to click, though, the result is quite satisfying — especially when your impact is felt by your team as a whole. Take our advice to heart, grind it out even when your cores are flaming you, and you’ll see the sweet fruits of your labor for sure!

Patrick has been playing Dota since the dawn of time, having started with the original custom game for WarCraft III. He primarily plays safe lane and solo mid, preferring to leave the glorious task of playing support to others.