Avalanche of Victories: Guide to Snowballing in DotA2

Hello everyone! It’s easy to fall behind when a game doesn’t go your way, but some heroes have it worse than others… These heroes are sometimes referred to as “snowballers.” They generally combine a very powerful skillset with an extreme reliance on maintaining an xp / gold advantage over their foes. With great risk comes great reward: today’s topic is snowballing in DotA2! Please pay close attention since this topic is challenging and mastering it will bring you into the advanced tier of DotA players.


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In case you guys aren’t familiar with the concept of snowballing let me explain it first.


What is snowballing?

Snowballing follows a certain pattern. You start at parity > you kill someone > this makes you stronger while they fall behind > you kill them again > you get even stronger. Usually by this point, the enemy starts playing defensively. With the enemies playing scared, you can take down their towers or just outfarm them until they start playing risky on the map. Then you kill them again! Think about a Slark or Storm Spirit: when they grab a quick couple of kills on supports, they’re able to control the map very well!




Now that you know that what snowballing actually is, let’s break down what makes a hero capable of it!


Identifying Snowball Heroes

A snowball hero is usually distinguishable from hero design. Such characters have great ganking abilities and, in some cases, even ways to disengage in case things aren’t going well. On top of this, snowball heroes have good laning mechanics which allow them to gain an advantage. Think of Invoker or Ursa’s crazy damage, even at low levels. Some snowball heroes (like Anti-Mage) don’t have extraordinary lane potential alone, but they shine when allowed to farm well early on. This is another way to create that gap in net worth between yourself and the enemies!


For example, Queen of Pain is a solid mid hero with amazing lane control. Her Blink ability ensures that she can safely grab a quick gold and xp lead through runes and lane creeps. Afterwards, she starts ganking with her perfect toolkit: she can approach her target fast and deal enough burst damage to take almost anyone down. On the other hand, Slark is a safe lane hero who doesn’t shine in the laning phase. However, he’ll usually have one or two supports at his disposal, which are going to secure his farm, until eventually he has enough advantage to start ganking.


Simple stuff right?


snowball heroes


How & when to snowball…

Understanding all this is, in theory, easy. The hard part comes in applying it: deciding how and when you should start snowballing in a DotA match!


Most snowball heroes rely on one critical item to get rolling: Shadow Blade on Slark. Eul’s Scepter on Lina. Bloodstone on Storm. Etc. It’s very important for you to do everything to get that big item as soon as possible.


Every hero has a range of time during the game when they are most efficient at what they do best. From the moment you pick up a Shadow Blade (or Blink Dagger) on Slark, you are a snowballing machine. This window of opportunity lasts until enemy squishies have enough items or levels to avoid instant death when you jump them.


storm spirit


Snowballing: Things Go Well

Let’s look at an example: say that you grab your Shadow Blade at 12 minutes game time.


  • 12:00 – Veni, vidi, vici… You get a few easy kills on squishy support heroes. Life is easy!
  • 14:00 – Enemy supports react to your ganks and start warding. Maybe they spot one of your ganks, and it fails but another succeeds.
  • 16:00 – The supports get tankier. They might have a Bracer / full Magic Wand, and even an Infused Raindrop or Treads! You manage to get one more solo kill.
  • 20:00 – The enemies complete their first survivability items, like Glimmer Cape, Mekansm, or even Eul’s. You can no longer easily solo kill them, and your peak has passed.


In this case, since you were able to kill the enemy supports a few times, you still have a pretty good chance at victory. Even if you stop ganking and start teamfighting, you’ll already have a substantial gold lead on the enemy cores.


shadow blade


Snowballing: Things Go Poorly

Let’s say that you finish Shadow Blade at 16 minutes game time instead. It’s a bit slower, because you tried ganking earlier and you wasted time, or maybe had a tough lane, and so on… Refer to our previous time chart.


At 16:00, you can hardly solo kill anyone… Even though you finished Shadow Blade, the supports had enough space to get a few extra levels and you’re further behind compared to the first scenario!


Timing is everything!

What if you try to kill their mid lane Lina or safe lane Spectre as soon as your item is finished?


Finished at minute 12? You played a nice early game, and got a fast Shadow Blade. Lina is just 200 gold away from finishing her Eul’s… You stealth into mid, kill her, and suddenly she needs 600 more gold to finish! Maybe you play safe and stick around middle lane. Then you kill her a second time, she rage quits, and your team commends you!


Spectre had a tough laning phase, and he needs 400 more gold to get his Vanguard from Side Shop. You coordinate with your offlaner to kill him… His team starts flaming each other, and you see “spectre noob reported” in all chat… Ez +25 MMR!




What if you finish your item a bit later?


At 16 minutes, Lina just got her Eul’s. When you engage, she uses Eul’s on herself… She turns around, lands a stun and ulti… You go down, and suddenly you’re being accused of buying your account!


Maybe you try safelane instead. You try to gank the Spectre, but he has his Vanguard… It’s a close fight, but sadly it’s not enough! Ten minutes later, he finishes Radiance. In the next teamfight, Spectre pops ult and everyone goes down… You’re left farming the jungle since you can’t do anything about it… Your team sees you fighting Satyrs, they spam ping you and you see “nice slark AFK farming ” in all chat. Next game, you get sent into low priority.




Conditions for Victory

The moral of the story? Don’t waste time picking up your first big item. When playing a snowball hero, it’s all about who’s going to get that gold first and start having an impact!


Alright, maybe I’m too hard on you… Let’s say that you do everything possible, but the lane is just too hard. The team doesn’t help at all and you just can’t get your key item in time even if you play like Arteezy. You need to understand that playing a snowball hero isn’t just about being good enough inside the game. You have to create the right circumstances in the first place! Avoid picking a snowball hero unless you see that you have decent support or you can predict a good matchup in your lane.


Another very important detail: make sure sure that you can actually kill at least two enemy heroes. First picking a Slark is usually a bad idea even if your team guarantees your farm. In response, the enemies can go with a Storm mid and Anti-Mage carry to counter your ganks. In this kind of game, sometimes you can get a Shadow Blade at 10 minutes and it’s still not enough!



Final Thoughts

In order to play a snowball hero, you’ll need to keep a few things in mind. Get ahead of the opponents in xp and gold as soon as possible, analyze your target’s items, HP, and level, and pick yourself a good matchup to ensure you succeed in your ganks! I’ll see you guys next week when I discuss the three basic principles of every DotA2 game… You’d better not miss that one!


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