The pro scene in Dota 2, more than any other game in esports, is all about the players. Teams break up so quickly and larger organizations enter and exit the game on such a regular basis that the only constant is the in-game talent. As a result, fans become attached to their favorite players more than anything else.
That fact makes Dota 2 particularly interesting to look at from a historical perspective. Certain players have built up an almost mythological reputation and pouring over the footage of their play and the spreadsheets of their tournament results in an effort to separate fact from fiction is an interesting exercise.
So who lives up to their reputation? Better yet, who stands above the rest? Read on and find out as we pick out the greatest Dota 2 players in history.
Pinning down greatness in any kind of esport tricky. Picking out the best team at any given time or identifying the most talented players is a daunting task given how heavily things like the tournament schedule and strength of competition factor into the discussion.
That’s particularly difficult in Dota 2, though. While most esports have a largely consistent game year-over-year, Dota 2’s metagame has had some wild shifts over the years. The structure of lanes can shift, the expectations of positions can vary and entire roles can be phased in and out. That results in many players shifting to positions that suit their particular skill set or having something of an off year snuggled into the middle of an otherwise stellar run.
Some players, like Jacky “EternalEnVy” Mao, are very good at one position but wind up forced into playing other roles based on the needs of their team. Others, like Aliwi “w33” Omar, might be elite individually but have struggled to turn that into results due to unstable squads around them.
With that in mind, how will we go about picking out the best Dota 2 players?
In terms of picking out the best in each position, we’ll primarily look at tournament results over an extended period of time, while also acknowledging particularly dominant seasons. For overall greatness, however, we’ll simply be looking at longevity and results over a career.
Mid has always been the most glamorous position in Dota 2. With very few exceptions, the lane has been a high-stakes, one-on-one showdown with the potential to swing the entire game. That fact has often attracted the best, most technical talents in the game…a fact which hasn’t escaped fans! Many of Dota’s top stars over the years have been mids and in many cases, teams’ most identifiable players are their No. 2.
Unfortunately, that high-pressure environment has resulted in particularly high turnover, leading to many talented players sliding in and out of the spot over the years. That said, there’s no shortage of players that have stuck around as a mid laner for years on end.
In Dota 2’s early days, Danil “Dendi” Ishutin and Luo “Ferrari_430” Feichi stood as the best mid players, and as some of the most popular personalities in the game. Dominating early installments of The International and serving as the faces of their teams (Natus Vincere and Invictus Gaming, respectively), they set the standard for midlane success. Both dipped hard as the years went on, but they inhabit a uniquely important place in the history of the game and stand as the greatest mids of 2011 to 2014.
2015, however, marked a major transition point in Dota 2 with a number of today’s enduring mid stars breaking out around The International 2015. New names like Lu “Maybe” Yao, Vladimir “No[o]ne” Minenko and Syed Sumail “SumaiL” Hassan set the game on fire and have endured to this day as elites in their position.
There’s no shortage of fresh talent today, however. Players like Kam “Moon” Boon Seng and Topias “Topson” Taavitsainen have shown they can hang with anyone in the game one-on-one and seem poised for long runs near the top.
At this time, Dendi likely stands as the greatest mid player of all time, given NaVi’s dominance and uniquely impressive run from 2011 to 2013. That said, SumaiL also has the tournament wins and pure technical skills to make a strong claim as the greatest mid player of all time.
While picking out the best midlaner in Dota 2 history is something of a pick’em, that isn’t the case with the offlane position.
Saahil “UNiVeRsE” Arora is the greatest offlaner in Dota 2 history. No question, no debate.
That isn’t necessarily based purely on skill, mind you. Though he has always been an exceptional player, he has never been the definitive best in the world in the No. 3 position. Players like Henrik “AdmiralBulldog” Ahnberg, Daryl Koh “iceiceice” Pei Xiang and Pavel “9pasha” Khvastunov have all had valid claims to that spot over the years.
No, what separates UNiVeRsE from the pack is that while other players have hovered around that spot, none have done so in any kind of enduring way. Many of yesterday’s best offlaners have either been forced into retirement or changed position over the years.
UNiVeRsE, though? He was among the best offlaners in Dota 2 back in 2013 and he hasn’t lost that spot since courtesy of his strong run with Evil Geniuses from 2013 to 2017 which saw him win a number of LAN events (most notably The International 2015). He’s still performing well in that spot today with Forward Gaming and there’s no sign of him slowing down yet.
As with the offlane position, there is a fair bit of turnover in the carry spot. Players shift in and out of the No. 1 spot based on the needs of their team on a regular basis and even iconic carry players like Clinton “Fear” Loomis and Roman “Resolut1on” Fominok have spent time in other roles.
But, also like offlane, there is one clear exception to that. Somebody that managed to survive in that tumultuous spot for years on end and build up an impressive trophy mantel along the way.
That player is Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei.
From 2011 to 2017, BurNIng was arguably the single best carry in the single most competitive Dota 2 region. Initially working as the face of Team DK (one of the most fearsome teams of Dota 2’s early years), he left the organization in 2014 went on to have a fair bit of success with Invictus Gaming and Vici Gaming. Impressively, he managed to stick to carrying for almost the entire time, with only a few months being spent elsewhere.
The one knock on BurNIng is that he doesn’t have any Major or International wins to his name. Though he has taken first-place at several LAN events, most notably the 2017 Dota 2 Asia Championships, he has never gotten higher than fourth-place in Valve-sponsored tournaments, landing in that spot in TI2, TI4 and the Kiev Major.
Still, BurNIng’s skills have never been in question and his body of work speaks for itself.
As of this writing, he is currently coaching Team Aster. Don’t be shocked if he returns to active competition, though!
There have been many, many good support players across the history of Dota 2 and there have been plenty more players from other roles that transition to support and thrive. That said, there have been very few good captains over the years.
Keeping track of all the action going on in a Dota 2 game is difficult even as an observer, but absorbing all that information while actually playing yourself? While calling the shots for four other players!? That’s almost impossible to do effectively.
Though some have been able to do it effectively, only a handful have been able to do it well. And only three–Zhang “xiao8” Ning, Tal “Fly” Aizik and Clement “Puppey” Ivanov–have done it well for years on end.
Xiao8 is an absolute legend of the Chinese scene. From 2011 to 2016, he was the face of LGD Gaming, helping to establish it as one of Dota 2’s premier brands and best teams in the game. When he briefly left the organization in 2014, he captained Newbee to the championship at The International 2014 in its first year of existence.
Fly, ironically, has flown under the radar in the discussion of best Dota 2 captains. While he is best known for his time with OG, bringing the team to four Major championships, he enjoyed success as a captain both before and after that, helping to establish Fnatic in the Dota 2 space from 2012 to 2014 and most recently taking the helm for Evil Geniuses.
Finally, Puppey is arguably the most successful overall Dota 2 player of all time and he has built that reputation exclusively playing captain. From 2011 to 2014, he worked alongside Dendi to build NaVi into the first dynasty in Dota 2 history. When he parted ways with the org following TI4, he founded Team Secret which has stayed at or near the top of the Dota 2 scene ever since despite some ups and downs.
All three could realistically be pegged as the greatest Dota 2 captain in history, though Xiao8’s recent move from player to coach means he will fall behind the other two quickly. Depending on your tastes, Fly’s greater success in more recent years could earn the nod, but so could Puppey’s consistent success across a greater length of time.
So that brings us to the final question…who is the greatest Dota 2 player of all time? As stated, the biggest factors in determining that right now are longevity and tournament results.
When weighing those two factors, there is really only one option; Puppey. That may sound bold, but no single player has enjoyed consistent success for as long as he has.
As stated, Puppey’s heyday ran from 2011 to 2014 when he captained NaVi to the grand finals of three consecutive installments of The International and helped build the first true dynasty in Dota 2. From there he formed Team Secret, which has ranked among the best teams in the world ever since.
He may not have the versatility of someone like Fear, who has played every role in the game at some point, or the pure technical prowess of modern-day mids but he’s in his ninth year of top-notch pro-Dota 2. He hasn’t gone on hiatus, he hasn’t ever really gone into a slump and he hasn’t transitioned into coaching.
For all this time, he’s been plugging away, playing in LAN tournaments and performing well in the process.
He is one of just two players to compete in every installment of The International (the other being Kuro “KuroKy” Takhasomi), and has won at least one notable LAN tournament every calendar year since 2011.
Granted, that could change in short order. If he stumbles, or even slows down a bit, some of the other players on this list could cut ahead of him and take that top spot. Right now, though? He’s the Dota 2 GOAT.