">We need wards!"
You've heard that one before, right? Maybe you dropped the ball and have fallen behind on getting wards up for your team. But sometimes you're being told that even when you do have wards. It probably irks you some. Maybe you start pinging your wards on the map in response. But here's the thing, sometimes what people are saying isn't just "> We need wards!". Sometimes it's more like "> We need relevant vision because what we have lets us use about 5% of the map!". Hopefully, I can help.
I recently made a thread on this subreddit, letting people ask general questions about climbing the ranks as a support. Warding was discussed some, but there are a lot of things I find lower-ranked support players do with their vision that could be addressed. Note that this guide will focus mostly on the use of observer wards. I can struggle with being too long-winded, so I'd rather focus on one.
Why do you need wards?
Here's the simply answer. We ward because their are 10 players in the game who each have some sort of goal. Some are about killing. Some about pushing out creep waves. Some want to have a respite in the jungle (friendly or enemy jungle). Some want to take down objectives such as towers or Roshan. You ward because you want to facilitate your teams goals while also denying the other team their own.
As such, your vision is objective oriented. How you ward should be informed by how you think the game is going to be played out over the next six minutes. But not every team composition approaches the game exactly the same, do they? That's where you, the support, have to use your head a little bit. You need to ask yourself, "What are we going to be doing, and what will the enemy team be trying to do?". So let's break it down.
Wards during the laning phase tend to be more defensive in nature, though there are plenty of exceptions to this. One observer will often be used by the offlaner(s), either to block a neutral camp in the enemy jungle from which an opposing player could pull and deny your team some xp, or to provide vision to spot the supports as they come around for kill attempts. These wards are useful, though they often are very short-lived if the enemy supports are competent and (1) have sentries to deward and (2) are perceptive enough to notice blocked camps.
Your second ward at the start of the game could be used in a few ways, but again the purpose is generally defensive. Usually, you're either going to be protecting your mid or your safelane with this ward. When to use which depends on the enemy composition. If the enemy heroes are a high threat of roaming to gank your mid, you should provide vision to protect him. Rune vision isn't AS important as it was a few years ago (when only one rune spawned, it is was random whether it'd be top or bottom), but it can be good to place a ward that both provides vision to spot enemy support movement while also seeing a rune at the same time. If you're up against a dual offlane and need to keep an eye on things like the enemy pulling from your hard camp or an enemy Pudge who sits in the fog threatening to throw out a hook, you're going to probably want a safelane ward to track their movements.
There are some cases where you can maybe do without either a mid or safelane ward. Maybe the enemy has a jungler and you want to keep on eye on him so you can maybe go kill him or notice other movements (if a jungle Ursa isn't showing, you can guess that he's taking Rosh. If a level 6 jungle Bloodseeker is missing, you can guess that he's ganking).
So time passes and new wards are in stock. This is where things become more dynamic (and it only gets more and more so as time passes). What are your goals now? In the safelane, you may be at a point where you're ready to leave your carry to solo. This is one of the more crucial times to provide a lane ward for him. He's accrued an advantage, but is still susceptible to enemy rotations. So you put down a ward so you can see them coming first.
And the other ward? Well...this can go anywhere. Maybe you protect your mid again. This is going to be around 4-10 minutes, so think about what's happening. The enemy players are getting their critical levels. Some heroes use this point to attempt ganks. Others (like Sven, Tidehunter, or Alchemist), are preparing to ramp up their farm by stacking or even taking stacks that supports have prepared for them. Again, it's your job to look at the enemy team and decipher how it makes sense for them to be playing at this point. The laning phase is coming to an end and you need to have the foresight to see what's coming next.
Post-Laning Phase Wards
I want to be very clear at the start of this section. Dota is a very dynamic game. I don't think it's possible for me to cover every scenario. Part of the point of me making this guide is to encourage you to put more thought into where you're putting up vision and to not rely on comfort spots and habitual or over-reactive wards. However, one concept in Dota will always be at the forefront: Map control. This isn't just a buzzword that people like to use. Map control is a substantial part of what determines who has an advantage in a game. After all, it's all about killing buildings in the end. So in a general sense, you should be thinking of how you wards allow you to both protect your map control while also taking away the enemy's. So let's talk about how you do this.
- Pushing wards: One thing less experienced supports don't do is to ward around where their pushes will be. Part of the problem is they generally avoid aggressive vision in general aside from obvious spots (plopped down right in the middle of Radiant jungle, or one of the various hill wards). But a ward that provides vision behind the enemy tower can do wonders for your team while you're pushing. It makes everyone's job easier. Your initiator knows when to go in. Your tower-hitters know when they are safe or not. Everyone else can position themselves better. The vision they provide in the long-run may not spot as much as some other wards, but they help you take objectives. And even the lane vision they provide later on is useful.
- Aggressive wards: The point of these wards is to spot out isolated enemies while they are farming or otherwise moving around their side of the map. Afterwards, they provide deep vision that allows your teammates to occupy that space relatively safely (except for invisible enemies or smokes). These wards are generally situated in various spots around the enemy jungle or ancients area, and tend to see larger parts of the map the the pushing wards, or at least multiple pathways that the enemy can approach from. As a downside, these wards are also often dewarded. So I encourage creativity. Hitting that sweet spot on top of the hill by the large camp in Radiant jungle might provide a lot of vision, but it's also very obvious and easily dewarded. One trick you can do is to ask yourself how you would deward there if you were on the enemy team. Try to place a ward that would be just outside of your own sentry range in that case. Creativity is a great thing to have when the enemy supports are countering your vision. These wards are very important to have as the game goes on, though. One of the critical jobs of most cores in the mid to late game is to push lanes. Your vision in this case allows them to do this more safely. These wards facilitate split-pushing, discourage the enemy from farming their own woods, and allow you to accrue a gold and xp advantage by taking way resources from the other team.
- Defensive wards: These are basically the opposite of the last category. If your carry is not survivable or capable of occupying enemy territory, then these wards should serve as an early warning when the enemy comes to invade. In general, I prefer less defensive wards and more aggressive wards. Aggressive wards allows your team to apply more pressure and take the game into their own hands. Defensive wards simply let you know when it's time to leave. You're rarely going to be as five heroes farming your own woods (or at least I hope that's not the case in your games), so the effect of these wards is on average going to be lesser than ones that allow your carry to take enemy jungle camps while also pushing out lanes. I'm not saying to not have any defensive wards. I'm saying the ratio should be more favored towards aggressive ones. Also, try not to ward too shallow in your own jungle (for example, Radiant supports will commonly place a ward on that hill by the large camp near mid lane. But that ward doesn't really provide much useful vision. In some cases, it might not even give your heroes enough time to get away. I hate that defensive ward spot, honestly). The best areas to get vision of are going to be around the various entrances to your jungle. This is harder to cover on Radiant than if you're on Dire. But the goal is for it to be sort of an alarm system for invaders. It's also good a lot of times to see around your own secret shop/ancients area, especially if you have a hero that stacks ancients and farms them. In many cases, these wards will be needed to spot enemy split-pushers so you can track them down and kill them off (so you can go for an objective without the threat of them being in the fight or pressuring your side of the map).
- Roshan wards: There's less to say about these, as it's pretty obvious. These wards let you see around the Rosh pit, either so you can see the enemy going for it, or so you can take it while being able to spot the other team should they try to contest it. These wards will often die VERY fast, as there are little ways to be creative about it while also providing relevant vision. Nevertheless, they are often times necessary anyway. All I'll say about placing vision here is to try to not place the same ward twice if you get dewarded (that goes for all wards, actually). The hill next to the pit is sort of an exception. Sometimes you just need it while you're trying to take Rosh. It can also be good to place wards that spot the approach of the enemy to the pit, rather than around the pit itself.
- Turtling wards: This is a "last resort" kind of situation in most cases, as the vision they provide is not so useful outside of defending your base. They will be placed up the lane were the enemy is pushing (usually at the top of the ramps near your base in the side lanes). They are the opposite of pushing wards, but accomplish some of the same things. They let you position or initiate more easily. They can give you vision of a crucial back-line support (obvious examples being like a Warlock, Silencer, Oracle, or Dazzle) and let your team jump on and hopefully kill them before they can get their abilities off. They also give you great information when you successfully defend your base and the enemy begins their retreat. Those side lane ramps can be scary to go near if you're chasing and don't have vision up them.
- Celebratory wards: If you're taking down the enemy throne and and have some wards left for whatever reason (not judging you...ok, maybe a little), then it's crucial to place some wards outside their fountain to establish dominance. Maybe get some sentries too and try to make a smiley face.
Miscellaneous warding tips:
- Try not not be over-reliant on the same spots. Mix it up, especially if you get dewarded. Don't place an obs in the same spot that got dewarded before. There are definitely some "prime" spots that give superior vision, but those spots are also obvious and get killed off easily. Sometimes all you need to do is go slightly off a common spot and you still have good vision, and it's less obvious to get dewarded.
- Don't get into "warding battles". This is where two opposing supports repeatedly ward and deward the same area and whoever runs out of money first loses. This is just dumb, but it happens sometimes. The real way to outplay them is to both kill their vision and find a different spot where they won't kill yours.
- When planting both sentry and an observer, place the sentry first. You sentry first so you can see if there is vision in that area. You never want to be seen by the enemy when you're placing an observer ward. Also, if your sentry does spot an enemy ward, then you should avoid placing your own obs there after you've dewarded. The enemy support is likely to check for your ward there later.
- If you're having trouble getting vision out (due to threat of dying), then ask for help. Request for your team to go with you while you ward, or at least one or two heroes on your team.
- Similarly, use smoke ganks as an opportunity to get wards out. Smoke ganks. You guys do those, right? In the early game, if you're moving around smoked alone or with 1 other hero, you can also use that time as a chance to get some vision out while knowing you're not seen.
- A very special kind of ward is what's called a "Tinker ward". These are on the cliffs at the edge of the map in the side lanes, and spot enemy heroes who like to hide in the trees (commonly a Tinker, hence the name). These spots tend to jut out a little bit, but you can just hover over the with the ward selected to find valid spots. If you need more help finding these, I can post some screenshots (or you can Google it!). They don't provide much useful vision outside of this specific purpose, but can be game-wining in the right scenario.
- Using an obs ward to block a camp (such as the ancients if you're against a Sven) is a nice thought, but you're losing out on potentially better vision. And since it's pretty easy to notice when a camp is blocked, it's likely you'll lose what vision it does give you anyway. I prefer to use a sentry for this purpose. It costs more (especially since sentries last less time). But you have to weigh what it costs you vs what it costs the enemy to have that camp blocked and make the judgment yourself.
- Rune wards are generally not that great as the game goes on. Don't let them be a crutch.
- Some good spots to place wards that don't generally get dewarded are where enemy towers used to be.
- Getting wards inside the enemy base can be tricky because it's often very obvious. If you've won a fight at their base and are taking down their buildings, you can try placing an obs further into their base (as opposed to right at the top of their ramp). They're probably too busy tilting and blaming each other to notice you do so. Just mind their tier 4 tower sight range.
That's all! Hopefully, this is helpful. If you're interested in some screenshots of the kinds of wards I talk about, then say something and I can look into adding them into the post. I'm a bit wary about it, because I don't want you to be like "Oh, so I just ward that exact spot in this picture every time!". The idea, again, is to get you to ward situationally and in a more objective-focused manner. And I'm also lazy. But I can add some screenshots if you think it'll be helpful. Again, I apologize for my long-windedness. There's no way to tl;dr this, though. I'm happy to hear any questions, thoughts, or criticism. Thanks, guys!