Much Hook! Very Skill! Such Wow!
I started playing Dota a long time ago - I believe the first version I tried was 6.14b. The game only featured six taverns (you would "recruit" a hero to play from one of them) and the general opinion was that it is "Easy to Learn - Hard to Master".
I had no idea of role differences, lane set-ups or any other things that even the newest of players nowadays are aware of. Nonetheless, it did not prevent me from having a lot of fun and it was not uncommon for me to skip some classes in school and go to a Computer Club instead (to be fair, I was a straight "A" pupil with several math awards - no one really minded the occasional rebellious behavior of a 13-year old boy).
And throughout all this time I've had only one major complaint - Pudge, the Butcher.
I often ask myself a question - why is Pudge so popular? Of course there is Dendi - one of the best, if not the best Mid player in the world. He coined the idea of the Pudge as a mid hero and many tried to copy him. There is also a certain "manliness" to the hero - he likes to make everything close-up and personal. But ultimately, I believe that it is the rewarding feeling of hooking somebody.
Statistics I have been gathering for a completely different article only prove my point - since the introduction of Ember and Earth spirit the Pudge's popularity has only risen! Previously Pudge only made DotaCinema's Top 10 if Storm Spirit, Anti-Mage or Queen of Pain were involved. With two more heroes that have extreme mobility the amount of "JackPot!" targets has almost doubled. For some reason people think that if you manage to hook one of them mid-flight you should be given a medal and regarded as one of the best players in game.
New players with low APM's and poor positioning is what this hero preys on. And, honestly, after all these years I still make the occasional mistake of having low map awareness that results in my being Meat Hooked and Dismembered. However, the higher you climb up the rating and the more experience you get, the lower the threat coming from Pudge becomes.
And there are several reasons for it.
Not a Mid Hero
Dendi might have popularized the idea of a mid Pudge, but be honest with yourselves - you are not Dendi. And even the King of Hooks himself is rarely seen playing Pudge in a competitive environment, especially after the abolishment of Fountain Hook combo.
His low movement speed of 285 and lack of any escape skills makes him an ideal target to gank - even more so in the midlane, considering there are constant threats from both sides.
His starting 625 HP is good, but not amazing and 0.96 armour certainly does not help to mitigate the incoming damage.
Moreover, even in a 1 v 1 situation, his melee range makes him a very suboptimal pick - he can get harassed out of lane with no reliable way to heal himself, while the high manacost and cooldown of Meat Hook makes for a really bad farming tool.
Compare him to Dragon Knight, Night Stalker and Bloodseeker - viable melee mid options, and you will understand what I am talking about. These heroes tend to have a comparable, if not superior gank potential ( Night Stalker, Bloodseeker) or can be utilized in a pushing strategy ( Dragon Knight), while having a higher survivability and an ability to farm.
Not an Offlane Hero
It is self-explanatory - no survivability and/or escape means no offlaning. With the changes introduced in 6.79, hardlane (or offlane, if you prefer) is a much safer place - the creeps meet closer to your tower and the pull-camp is weaker. But offlaning Pudge facing a dual or even a tri-lane will probably have very little XP and Gold income. While the latter is not of a big importance, getting level 7 as soon as possible is a must for Pudge.
Not a Jungle Hero
Same as always - no way it is possible to pull off efficiently. You could always try to kill-off small camps with Rot, while stacking the Big/Medium camp nearby to Smoke of Deceit + Rot it later, but believe me, it will never be optimal, efficient or rational. Also, for all the people out there who did not get my point: "Do Not Try This at Home!".
Not a Support/ Not a Carry/ Not a Dual-Lane hero!
Pudge cannot carry a game. Even if he spans out of control and gets a lot of kills, he will still be weaker than most DPS-ers out there. While the extra stats and magic resistance are nice, they will not provide long-term benefits comparable to Legion Commander's Duel, for example.
So, in a Dual-Lane set-up he is left with a role of a Support. Being melee, it will be extremely hard for him to harass opponents, considering aforementioned 0.96 armor.
He can save some carry from a certain death, that is true. But there is a multitude of heroes that are simply better at it. Omniknight, Abaddon, Dazzle or any hero with a disable can do the job better, while creating a possible opening for a turnaround. Meat Hook simply does not provide the extra benefits of dealing damage if used to save, unlike Aphotic Shield or Purification.
Not a Tri-lane Hero
That leaves us with a Tri-lane set-up. It does look good on paper - have Bane Nightmare someone, land a perfect Meat Hook and finish off with a carry of your choice the opponent out of position. Or any other variety of a reliable disable + Meat Hook + Carry for that matter. But, there is always an opportunity cost - you can simply have a better hero for the job.
Mirana can land a Sacred Arrow on a solo offlaner, without the Nightmare being interrupted by an opponent's teammate, providing a much longer disable. Leshrac or Lina can simply deal more burst damage - something that will be a lot more useful against heroes with escape abilities, when compared to Rot. There are a lot of other arguments not in favour of Pudge, but I guess you got the basic idea.
And to top all that, I would like to point out that the Tri-lane set-ups are pretty unpopular at the moment, since the meta-shift to a more aggressive playstyle. A team can longer afford to share huge chunks of XP between three heroes, since the extra gold now allows the opponents to gather faster and hit stronger. You need your skills to be powerful enough to counter it.
It is especially crucial for Pudge, since you want your hook to get really long as soon as possible.
Pudge was in the game of Dota and Dota 2 for a while, and he is very popular, consistently being the number one in terms of picking frequency. His global win rate, on the other hand is pretty low - 48.16%. Moreover, before Valve decided to no longer transmit the Skill Bracket information, the difference between Very High Pudge WinRate and a Normal one was almost 4%.
Additionally, I have gathered statistics for ten people from my friend-list (including me). All of us are Solo 4.1k+, with two people in the 4.5k+ zone and one person in the 4.7k+. I have found out that the average win rate against Pudge for us is 53.79%, with mine sitting at a shameful 52.63%.
Moreover, the probability of facing Pudge in a game scales inversely with the Solo and Ranked MMR - just giving you guys some food for thought.
In no way do I try to say that Pudge players are bad, or that the hero itself is bad. If anything, the "legacy" status of Pudge should invoke some respect for the hero - in a couple of years we will probably see players younger than him.
At the same time, I have a strong belief that in a beautifully designed and complex game as Dota, with an enormous amount of possible variations and team line-ups, having a hero that has a 29+% probability of appearing in a match is really sad. Exploring the game in its full and trying yourself in different roles is a much more rewarding experience!
Moreover, I have tried my best to explain why picking Pudge is not picking a hero to win - it is picking a hero to look good and awesome. For some of you it might be very important and I am in no place to judge you, even if I really wanted to.
That said, I still wish you best of hooks and healthy meals!
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