Alliance is the hottest team in Dota 2 right now. Since the start of patch 6.86 in late December, the team has placed first in both premier LAN tournaments it has attended -- World Cyber Arena and Star Ladder 13 -- and on Wednesday it completed a perfect group stage in Captains Draft 3.0, winning all six games.
Overall, the Swedish juggernaut has taken 25 out of 34 games this patch as it heads into the Captain's Draft 3.0 playoffs Friday. These games will be the team's final tuneup ahead of the upcoming Shanghai Major in March, where Alliance will hope to win a Major for the first time since The International 3 in 2013.
An oft-repeated narrative explaining Alliance's resurgence centers on the fact that many of the team's favorite heroes from its TI3 run were buffed in 6.86. But its success this patch has also been driven by a change in playstyle.
Alliance has become unique this patch in the way it prioritizes farm between its three core players. The vast majority of professional Dota 2 teams employ a traditional farming hierarchy in which the position 1 carry player rakes in the highest amount of gold, with the position 2 mid player taking the next-highest share, followed by the position 3 offlaner.
But Alliance has eschewed this formula and found great success by letting its offlaner, Henrik "AdmiralBulldog" Ahnberg farm nearly as much as its position 1 carry, Jonathan "Loda" Berg. To balance things out, Gustav "S4" Magnusson, has played less farm-dependent mid heroes such as Batrider and Puck as he has focused on playmaking and tempo control.
AdmiralBulldog has averaged 491 gold per minute (GPM) this patch, which ranks second on Alliance, just 40 GPM fewer than Loda's 531. But the beauty in Bulldog's gold accumulation rate lies in the fact that he's generally left on his own during the laning phase while Alliance's supports help Loda secure farm.
Being able to successfully leave a player on his own in the offlane has been especially important this patch. In LAN events, teams that have employed a solo player in offlane during the laning phase have won 54 percent of matches according to datDota. Meanwhile, dual offlanes have won just 42 percent of the time.
That disparity puts a premium on having a player who can consistently find farm when soloing the hardlane. And the numbers this patch suggest AdmiralBulldog is the best player in the world in this regard.
"Despite a (somewhat controversial) direct invite to the tournament, Secret was prohibitive underdogs."
Bulldog's 491 GPM in 6.86 is by far the highest rate among the 16 offlaners set to compete at the Shanghai Major. His GPM is nearly 20 percent higher than the average of the group.
He's also the only offlaner who ranks second on his team in GPM instead of third. On average, the offlaners on the other 15 teams attending the Shanghai Major have farmed at a rate 29 percent lower than their team's lead farmer. Bulldog's GPM has been just 8 percent less than Loda's, which is much closer than the gap between them was during Alliance's TI3 run.
There are two big factors in Bulldog's increased farming rate -- the new jungle camps added to the offlanes this patch and the early pushing strategies that Alliance has been using. Bulldog has expertly used the jungle to rack up gold when forced out of lane early in the game, and an average of 2.3 tower kills per game has been a boon to his GPM.
It certainly helps that Bulldog has been able to use his two most-played heroes all time so often. The Nature's Prophet and the Lone Druid are both deft junglers and pushers, and Alliance has gone 9-2 with Bulldog on either of those heroes this patch. His GPM in those games easily exceeds 600.
Bulldog's ability to play these heroes so well in the laning phase has put Alliance into great position for the midgame and when its team members like to group up and push down objectives.
Alliance's success with this strategy has set the bar in the still-changing meta game of 6.86, and the results speak for themselves: over five days at Star Ladder 13, Alliance rose from twelfth to first in the world in Noxville's Elo ratings.
Alliance will certainly be one of the tournament favorites going into the Shanghai Major. Its opponents might need to start committing more resources to shut down AdmiralBulldog in the early game if they want to have a chance to throw the Swedes off their game.
All stats from datDota.com. GPM stats do not include Captain's Draft 3.0 because of the different game mode.