By a significant margin, Io has the lowest win rate of all time in pubs, sitting slightly below 40%. Despite this historic low, he nonetheless has the potential to be a top pick in the right hands. It was the 5th banned hero during the main event and group stage at TI, due to its strength on teams like Virtus.Pro and Team Liquid.
The thing is that Wisp isn’t a great hero for most pub players. He requires a coordinated team, and a player with keen map awareness and game sense. For this past month in the <5k bracket, Wisp’s win rate ranges from 37.26%-40.68%. In the 5k+ bracket, its win rate tops at 47.88%. The hero is unpopular, struggles still at the highest skill bracket, and even many pro teams don’t use Wisp well enough to warrant a top ban. Is it time for a rework?
Wisp is at the bottom of heroes to play while drunk precisely because of its abilities to backfire. Relocate can send two heroes to die because of one person’s mistake. Io’s abilities require people to work in tandem—to coordinate movements, bait opponents, find openings in lane, and know when to backdoor. A pub player picking Io may be knowledgeable about these tactics, but the team also needs to be on the same page. And when Io is the 3rd least popular hero, at a pick rate of 1.9%, there’s a good chance your team won’t have much experience playing with Io. Compare this to Lich, who doesn’t care who his lane partner is. All he needs to do is cast Sacrifice and the occasional Nova. Lane is won. 54% win rate.
Next, for some reason, pub players are playing Io in the wrong lane. Wisp is in the safe lane in 47.46% of pubs, where it has the second to lowest win rate (the lowest is roaming, at 23.12%). The safe lane is safe, with plenty of other support heroes to secure it. Io, when paired with the right heroes, has unique advantages that players can leverage in the off or mid lane (45.4% win rate).
Pub player, Hope, plays a carry version of Wisp and has logged over 3300 games with the hero
The same reasons of game sense that make it difficult to use Io are also the advantages it has against opponents. First, ratting is extremely strong across most pubs. Cunning Nature’s Prophets players have long taken advantage of opponents stumbling to rotate, overrotate, or not at all between lanes. But Io, partnered with a hero like Tiny, can be more effective in taking out those objectives in the late game. This kind of mobility is why Io scales in the late game, and why he continues to be a top ban for teams who can use him well, since they’ll always have a path to win the game even when the stakes are dire.
Second, pubs rarely rotate or switch lanes in the first five minutes, making a combo like Io+Tiny especially strong against a stranded mid laner. Roles before the game are staked quickly. One person claims off lane, another claims mid, but rarely do they stipulate that they’ll need to switch lanes, or pair up, in case the matchup is disadvantageous. What usually happens is that they feed at least once before the team recognizes that lane needs help.
Playing against Tiny+Io requires preparation, a little foresight, an awareness of when it’s safe or dangerous to peek into the lane, a mid hero that can survive, and a supportive team. All these factors can be too much to ask for in pubs, and sometimes even in pro games. Team Complexity recently qualified for the Starladder Invitational off the back of their Tiny+Io pair. Wisp has the advantage of being so unpopular and unorthodox that most players tend to get baited by its mechanics. Tiny+Io may feel like cheese, but Io also has other strong pairs that can take advantage of opponents underrating its healing: Bristleback, Necrophos, Sven, and Legion Commander are a few common ones that pubs may be used to.
Wisp is in this tenuous balance of being too good for select pro teams and yet both unpopular and underpowered for the pub gamer. Although it’s very much like Dota to have a hero in this space, other heroes that have been here have had tweaks or a rework--Chen has seen his own share of major tweaks, including an Aghanim's upgrade--without compromising the core of the hero.