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August 24, 2022

Is Dota 2's Black King Bar a Problem?

These days, it would be hard to deny the influence of Black King Bar. The item has always been a core part of Dota, but things have started to change recently. While certain items will usually see more play than others, Black King Bar seems overrepresented in recent patches. In professional play, almost every player will always buy one, in fact, it's rare to not see the bar. It has become arguably the most important item in the game. With Dota's history of unconventional strategies, fans are starting to wonder: is Black King Bar a problem?

Blink About It

To understand the state BKB is in, it's helpful to look at another classic Dota item: Blink Dagger. This knife has been a core part of many heroes' builds for years, and for good reason. The low-cooldown mobility it provides can help in any number of situations and shores up many weaknesses. This is something it shares with BKB, but clearly there's more to the story. Why is BKB considered to be too good while Blink Dagger isn't? The answer lies in the context surrounding the item.

First is the price. Blink Daggers cost 2250 gold- not gargantuan, but a considerable sum to be carrying around. Meanwhile, a Black King Bar will put players back a whopping 4050 gold. Black King Bar can also be built, unlike Blink Dagger, offsetting the high price with a lower risk. While buying a Blink Dagger is risky business, requiring players to hold onto gold, buying a BKB isn't. There are two main issues with BKB's price. First, the ability to build it means that buying Dota's core item isn't much of a challenge. While this is fine for more situational items, it can lead to predictable play patterns when bought constantly. Second, the high price means that much more of a player's gold is going to this one item. Essentially, most early gold goes into the BKB fund, no matter what hero is being played. With Blink Dagger, however, the 2250 price point means players have more funds left to experiment.

[Related: What’s Wrong With Dota 2 Primal Beast?]

Healthy Competition

The other main difference between BKB and Blink Dagger is functionality. Blink Dagger has a number of quirks to use and techniques that players can learn. One of the most important of these is the range penalty. While the maximum blink distance is 1200 units, targeting a point beyond this will only move the hero 960 units. This means that with careful practice players can get more distance from their blinks. In addition to this, players can't use Blink Dagge for three seconds after taking damage from heroes or Roshan. This means that the Dagger isn't just a panic button. It can, however, still allow players to escape a dangerous situation before it occurs. It requires players to understand their situation and know when to blink away from danger, or into it.

Blink Dagger also isn't the only item of its kind. While it is among the best at what it does, there are several cheaper (if less powerful) alternatives. The Neutral Item Tumbler's Toy is free, but just pushes heroes 300 units. Force Staff is the bigger sibling of this, pushing heroes 600 units with no damage lockout. It costs 50 gold less than the Dagger and can be built.

Bar None

Blink Dagger helps show why Black King Bar is a problem. Unlike the Dagger with its quirks and techniques, Black King Bar is absolutely a panic button. It has no disabling clause like Blink Dagger, and so requires very little foresight. It has no special techniques, unlike Blink Dagger, save for its decreasing duration. While the duration does eventually go from nine to six seconds, six seconds is still a long time. It also doesn't impact how players use it- a situation that requires BKB will still require it, regardless of duration. No experienced player will choose near-certain death over using an expensive item.

Also unlike Blink Dagger, Black King Bar has no good alternatives. The only item with similar functionality is Linken's Sphere, which is more expensive and only blocks one spell. While it is similar, it is far from an alternative.

Bench The Bar

So what might be done about Black King Bar? While it has always been powerful, it seems just a bit over the line lately. A few nerfs might put it back in its place, but that's for IceFrog to decide. While it likely will be addressed soon, hopefully in patch 7.32, it will almost certainly remain strong. Dota without BKB just wouldn't be the same. The trick then is to get the bar into a better spot before the Regional Qualifiers. Many fans would certainly be disappointed to see TI 11 overrun by Black King Bars.

But as always, only time will tell what Valve has in store. Though famously silent, they always deliver when it counts. In the end, it is up to them to determine if Black King Bar is a problem.

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