Before the main event started, Monster Energy's Alliance was rated the most dangerous team in attendance by their competitors at The International 3. Alliance proved that this fear was well-justified by claiming ultimate victory against Natus Vincere in the Grand Finals and engraving their names into the Aegis of Champions.
Like Alliance, Outworld Devourer was quite feared at TI3. OD's 73% ban rate (banned 116 times out of a total 158 games) was good for highest ban rate of the tournament. However unlike with Alliance, it seems teams were not wise to fear OD. In the 33 games where OD made it into play, OD won only a paltry 36% of the time. This puts OD as the fifth worst hero by win-rate at TI3 amongst heroes picked at least 10 times.
So why was OD so feared, yet so ineffective?
Why OD was banned
OD's ban-rate was likely the result of his ability to dominate the mid match-up with Astral Imprisonment.
Teams are under enormous pressure when picking their mid hero because of the important playmaking responsibilities the mid hero should hold in the mid and late phases of the game. Because mid is usually played 1v1, the chosen mid hero must not only have strategic value but should be self-sufficient during laning so that it can put itself in a position to contribute later. This is why many of the popular mid heroes in modern competitive DotA have either a low cost AoE damage nuke or an effective harass spell (or both in some cases). Such spells are important in ensuring a mid can compete for sufficient gold and XP. This is also why the ability to dominate runes is crucial for a mid – one of the many advantages of runes is that they give heroes with a Bottle a sustainable mana source to keep using these important spells.
While it does no damage, perhaps no spell is more effective at harassment than Astral Imprisonment. Both components of Astral are important facets in OD's mid strength. First is the temporary "banishment" from the field. In a team fight banish has less utility than a true stun, but in the course of laning there is practically no difference. Those seconds where OD's opponent is banished give him free reign to last hit and deny at whim free of counter-harass. Ultimately this means OD can effectively deny and last hit against heroes with far superior animations. The second component, the INT steal, functions to effectively rob most heroes of their nuke and harassment counterspells. After two or three banishes, most heroes will find themselves without mana they rely on to assert lane dominance. If the opponent decides to go for runes to replenish their dwindling mana, OD can then either sit back and rake in the free gold and XP, or he can use Astral to contest the rune. This gives him a rune-race advantage usually bestowed only on heroes with blink mechanics.
With his opponent spending up to a third of his time in lane banished, and the rest of the time without spells, OD is virtually guaranteed to win most mid match-ups.
So with if OD wins mid so effortlessly, why he perform so poorly? There are three big reasons.
First off, it's important to recognize that while mid might be a 1v1 matchup, DotA is 5v5. So if mid is losing and a team knows it can't afford to let that happen, the standard solution is to rotate their supports out of the trilane to gank. With the opposing offlane sufficiently harassed back, two supports can use smoke to quickly descend on mid and score a kill.
OD suffers from what is commonly known as "SF syndrome" where he has the tools to win the lane, but only if he remains undisturbed – something that rarely happens in high level DotA. And when rotating supports find OD, he is almost always dead. While Astral can be used on himself, it usually only delays the inevitable unless he is sufficiently behind the tower for teammate TPs to scare pursuers. And even should his life be spared, forcing OD back and forcing enemy supports to waste time and money to TP is a favorable trade. Even if Astral is used on an enemy hero, the nature of the gank means there will two more heroes each with potential disables to lock him down. It is this threat of rotation ganks that make heroes with escape and survival abilities, such as Queen of Pain and her Blink ability or Puck with both Phase Shift and Ethereal Jaunt, extremely popular for mids.
Secondly, it's important to recognize that winning any lane, even mid, doesn't necessarily win you the game. Opponents can always hedge their advantages in other lanes against a lost lane, and overcome early deficits by winning decisive battles during other phases of the game. In the case of OD, this is especially true because OD is a poor ganker and because of the Black King Bar.
Knowing that fighting OD 1v1 will be a futile endeavor, the opponent can decide to simply leech what gold and XP he or she can and then start ganking. This can be particularly effective because OD is not a strong ganker or counter-ganker. First, OD lacks any hard disables to gank. Remember that Astral is not a true stun, so while it can be used as a hold to displace a fleeing opponent, OD's team cannot use the disable time to kill the target only to re-position. This leaves plenty of time for the opposing team to counter-initiate. Second, OD also faces damage issues during the early game. One of the strengths of Sanity's Eclipse is that it scales. However because it is a scaling move, and not frontloaded damage, it has very low early game damage output when compared to other INT heroes ultimates such as Queen of Pain. Combined with the lack of direct damage coming out of Astral, sometimes OD just doesn't have the power to seal the deal in early skirmishes.
And no matter how great his start is, no amount of farm will allow an OD to be effective against a team with BKBs. If the opponents can hold out long enough to farm BKBs on their core heroes, they can temporarily reduce OD to a glorified ranged creep. Once BKBs hit the field, the execution burden on OD's team rises dramatically as they must now catch targets out of position in order to compensate. Alternatively, OD's team can run the game to point at which BKB durations become too short. This was seen in the longest game of TI3, the DK vs. LGD Farmfest of 2013, where DK's BKBs were all reduced to four seconds and unable to save them from the double Sanity Eclipse Refresher combo. However as one can tell from OD's winrate, these were not easy tasks for OD-selecting teams.
But perhaps the largest reason OD failed to be effective is the last one: teams figured out how to counter him. DK in particular ran a devastating push line-up with Pugna, whose Nether Ward wrecks havoc on mana intensive heroes like OD. However in most cases, teams focused on countering Astral. While Astral makes OD extremely effective against common mid choices, there are plenty of unorthodox heroes who can deal with the spell easily. In particular we saw Lone Druid and Razor emerge as two favored mid counter-picks to OD. Lone Druid with his Spirit Bear was able to continue to deny, last hit, and harass while with one bear while the other was banished. Razor on the other hand used the extremely cheap Static Link to defeat OD. Because Static Link continues to drain OD's damage even through Astral's banish effect, Razor was able to compromise OD's ability to last hit and deny. Either OD could stay in range to last hit for his gold and let Razor emerge from the banish with globs of damage to harass him with, or he could retreat out of range to break the link and sacrifice the creeps and XP.
Commonly undrafted heroes are undrafted for a reason. However everything in DotA is situational. Picks that would be poor in one circumstance can be brilliant in another. The relative popularity of heroes is not a simple rating about their strengths, but more so an evaluation of their flexibility. The most picked heroes are ones who can leverage their strengths in a variety of different line-ups or against different line-ups. In the case of fighting OD, picking the normally neglected Razor gave teams the ability to reduce or eliminate OD's margin of victory in mid. This meant OD no longer has the necessary advantages coming out of the laning phase to sufficiently contribute in later parts of the game. With OD not pulling his weight, there was an opening teams could use to punish OD.
The Future of the Devourer
It is clear that despite being a hotly contested hero with the ability to wreck havoc in mid, OD was unable to determinatively change the flow of the game through his presence. Comparatively Wisp, the community consensus on "overpowered" was the third most banned hero with a 67% ban rate (banned 106 games out of 158) precisely for that ability to change a with Relocation ganks. And unlike OD, teams have still not found an easy counter Wisp, who ended up sporting the fourth most successful win rate at a 64% clip.
So what does the future hold for OD? Perhaps with TI3 behind them, teams may stop banning OD knowing that there are tools available to deal with him, and deal with him effectively. On the other side of the coin, if he slips through the bans he may not even get picked with teams acutely aware of the burdens that come with picking OD. However many teams may continue to ban OD just because they don't want to deal with the annoying match-up mid, and do not want to have to alter their strategy to include counterpicks against him.