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Valeera is a hero who has a 52% win rate in Diamond+ according to internal Blizzard statistics, which would suggest that she's performing fairly well. However, it is my personal belief that her design is still extremely poor to the point where it restricts her niche dramatically. She has seen virtually no play in the HGC since her creation, appearing in a grand total of 33 games since she debuted (out of over 2.8k games), and most of those came from before her rework, not after. Many pros were pointing out that even in her "broken" post-stealth rework state, she still wasn't actually all that good, a sentiment I happened to share since her design essentially encouraged 1-2 builds and still does. And while her Hotslogs win rate is fairly high at Diamond+ (around a 54%), her overall win rate seems to be more lacking (closer to 47%). This suggests to me that she's less of a strong reliable hero that top players value as a great niche pick, and more that she's propped up by her ability to pubstomp players who aren't as skilled at detecting and countering stealth. So for today's segment, I'd like to discuss Valeera, the so-called "disabler", and propose a new path for her design.
Valeera Suffers from a Clash of Design Ideas
When Valeera came out, the design pitch was very clear: she is meant to be the sort of hero who acts as a sort of "disabler", using her openers in stealth to shut down a priority target so the team can fight back. She was released in the midst of a hypercarry meta, which should absolutely favor such a hero since all of the damage is coming from a single target. And yet, top players seemingly have no use for her and no real respect for the hero, despite her respectable win rate. So what's going on? I think there are several core issues with her design, many of which boil down to a clash in design ideas. Let's discuss these, one at a time.
1) Valeera is designed to use her openers strategically based on her situation and target, but her talents suggest that she's meant to power up one opener specifically, which is contradictory. As a result, this design encourages players to focus on one opener when another might have been a better strategic choice, in order to get the full power yield from their talents. It effectively commits a lot of her talent power into only a third of her openers, making your talent choices far less useful if you play her as she's meant to be played. The Lvl 13 talent tier in particular pushes this mentality by giving you no other choice but to invest in one of your three openers. This is why so many people feel compelled to use only one particular opener: they are effectively "wasting" their talent choices if they don't. This is not really true of most other heroes, so it gives Valeera a significant handicap in this regard.
2) Valeera is designed to be weakened when she's knocked out of stealth, yet since most of her kit's power is invested in her openers, this effectively means that she is one of the easiest heroes in the game to hard-counter in the draft. There are more vision options in the game now than any other time in the game's history, with the list almost constantly growing. Tassadar can hard-counter Valeera right out of draft. Chromie can, too, with her Lvl 1 talent choice. A number of heroes can pick up wards that neutralize her effectiveness at roaming. Even the Lunara rework grants her Sentinel Wisp, which creates yet another detection option. And yet all of these would have been fine and reasonable if you didn't also compound the problem with the recent changes to stealth. All forts and keeps now have vision on stealth heroes, and stealth is easier to detect by eye than ever before, allowing players to simply drop their AoEs and skill shots to knock Valeera out of stealth. Now while I will say that I approve of the stealth changes overall (which is sure to get me some flak, but I stand by my stance anyways), I think Valeera is disproportionately affected by them more than anybody else. With so much power locked into her openers, being regularly knocked out of stealth can effectively render her a liability rather than a useful hero pick, which is a large part of why she struggles in professional settings.
3) Valeera's design continues to struggle with the power balance between utility and damage. Most of the popular builds with Valeera have typically involved investing heavily into her damage in one form or another. Previously, most of the love went towards an Assasinate build for the teleport and extra spike damage, as well as Expose Armor and Cold Blood for even more burst. When that was removed, the build choices shifted to a Garrote-oriented build for additional DoT damage, and later a heavy investment into Sinister Strike for....you guessed it....burst damage. Each time a new build has emerged for Valeera, the story's been the same: nobody invests in it for added utility or because it alters the hero in unique and interesting ways, they pick it for damage. This is not unusual for assassins, of course. But with Valeera, it's a definite problem, since she's supposed to be a utility assassin moreso than a burst hero in her own right.
4) Valeera's Smoke Bomb provides too much benefit with a far smaller demand on skill. While Smoke Bomb and Cloak of Shadows are both seemingly balanced quite well, I would point out that Cloak of Shadows has been buffed multiple times since Valeera's release and still has a lower pick and win rate, according to the data we have available to us. I am of the opinion that a true balance between these ults can never be achieved so long as Smoke Bomb remains in its present state, because while Cloak of Shadows demands a higher degree of skill from its users in terms of activation, Smoke Bomb requires considerably less.
5) A number of other smaller issues exist with Valeera's design as well. Her design lumps most of her damage into her auto-attacks, yet her primary means of sticking to a target is very costly in terms of resources (30 energy on a 100 energy bar) and doesn't have a lot of reach (it's slightly longer than Li-Ming's Teleport). This, in turn, pushes people to invest heavily into Crippling Poison as an alternative means of sticking to targets, despite there being a lot of other great Lvl 1 talents. Others have pointed out one more issue that I agree with: the stealth rework's teleport adjustment is problematic because it adds a rather lengthy animation to her teleports and requires an extended period of stealth before it can be used, essentially forcing you to either use stealth prior to a fight, or risk using it in mid-fight and hoping that the enemy team ignores you for the few seconds it takes to get the teleport up. It makes her feel clunkier than she should be. And while I understand the reasoning for not giving her teleporting instantly, I feel that this wouldn't have been a problem if she didn't have so much of her power lumped into openers to begin with. I also have some issues with Valeera's kit not really having a way to reward players for using Eviscerate at all levels of use, since its only remaining talent pushes you to always use it at 3 points.
To put it bluntly, while I really appreciate the original aims of Valeera's design and I think that she's gotten better over time, I feel like that her kit is still a long way from feeling "right". Having an assassin with talents that compel you to invest in a single skill is not unusual, but an assassin who lumps most of her power into skills that she can't reliably activate when revealed (in a game full of ways to reveal targets) is inevitably going to have a very narrow niche. Her design is meant to be a reasonable mix of damage and utility, yet the most common build choices in higher levels of play still revolve around damage and provide very limited utility. One of her heroic choices actually decreases her difficulty and encourages the sort of "pubstomper" design that Blizzard is seeking to avoid. And there are considerable issues with energy management and overall efficiency in her movement that are also hurting her. In other words, I think that Valeera's potential as a "disabler" is being spoiled by a variety of problems that stem from a variety of mistakes in her design philosophy, and thus, my suggested rework is designed to remove these issues.
My Proposal for a Valeera Rework
With the issues addressed, let's discuss my ideas for adjusting her design. I fully expect that my pitch here will be controversial among both Valeera mains as well as Valeera haters, but I strongly believe that this is the right path to take her. First, let's look at some key points that I tried to focus around.
1) Valeera's talents need to be significantly adjusted to encourage the player to use a variety of openers, as well as allowing for multiple styles of combat.
2) Valeera's openers need to be nerfed so that more power can be placed in the rest of her kit and her dependence on her openers can be reduced.
3) Valeera needs to strike a strong balance between utility and damage, leaning primarily on the former but not removing too much of the latter.
4) Valeera's Smoke Bomb needs to be less effective as a "pubstomper" tool while still providing a lot of utility for a skillful player.
5) Valeera needs a number of smaller tweaks all over the place to improve her energy management and general combat flow.
With the above ideas in mind, I've drafted my own version of a Valeera rework. My rework is quite extensive, to the point where I decided to make a full blown rework page for it, which you can see in full by clicking on the image below.
Please keep in mind that I consider none of the numbers shown in the rework to be "final". Obviously, I don't proclaim to be perfect at balancing things, and some of my ideas will likely be too strong or too weak. I'm more focused on the concepts behind these ideas, which is the important part. Numbers can always be tuned, but a bad kit can't be fixed with small balance patches. Please keep this in mind when discussing my proposals. Now, without further ado, let's look at some key features of my rework! These are just a selection of key points, mind you, so you'll have to visit the rework page itself to get the full picture!
A) Valeera's stealth mechanics have been redesigned to increase the level of skill required to use her properly. Her stealth now works more along the lines of Samuro's Wind Walk, where Vanish places you in stealth for a limited time. To compensate for this, Valeera gains access to her teleport immediately after using Vanish and will use a near-instant "poofing" sort of teleport in place of the current animation, but it has a slightly reduced range and will only teleport Valeera up next to the enemy, not behind the enemy as it does now. This should help counter-balance the power she'll gain from the instant teleports by significantly reducing its reach when a target is facing Valeera, and slightly reducing it when the target is fleeing. Plus, the limited timer will force Valeera players to think on their feet in the few seconds they have to close the distance with their target, instead of casting Vanish long before the fight and then having tons of time to make a decision about which target they want and which opener to use. This also led to a nerf to the Subtlety talent, which benefits very directly from the now-instant teleports of her openers.
But for those of you who liked being able to teleport behind your target for body-blocking, believe me, it's nothing personal. In fact, I'm bringing that back as a talent choice (as it used to be long ago) in the latter half of the game in the form of the Shadowstep talent. This extends the range of Vanish's teleport and changes the design from teleporting behind the target into teleporting through the target, meaning you will always end up on the opposite side of your target when using it, instead of always appearing to the rear of the target. I feel this change is particularly critical because it gives players choice. They can choose to continue using their openers merely as gap closing tools if they've chosen a more fragile build, which will give them something reliable and fluid in terms of combat movement....or they can select this talent and turn her teleport into a body-blocking tool if they're playing a more sturdy build that can endure potential counter-attacks.
B) Valeera's openers have been nerfed in order to redirect that power into energy management, and all of her talents that only buffed a single opener have been removed and replaced with other talents that encourage mixed use of openers. Ambush has a higher energy cost and slight damage nerf, Cheap Shot's Blind was reduced in length, and Garrote deals slightly less damage and has a slightly shorter Silence. I'm sure that some folks will consider me crazy for doing this, but the idea is to move power away from her openers and into other parts of her kit, in particular her poor energy management. Even when selecting Lvl 1 talents that improve her energy management, Valeera's high skill costs limit how much she can stick to her targets and severely restrict how fast she can dish out damage. But with less power in her openers, some of that power can be dumped into better energy management via reduced costs to nearly all of her abilities. Sinister Strike has a slightly lower cost and can now refund some energy when it hits a hero, further encouraging its use as a way to stick to targets. Blade Flurry has received half of Fatal Finesse's energy cost reduction baseline. And both Cheap Shot and Garrote now cost 20 energy instead of 30, meaning you aren't dumping a third of your energy at the very start of an engagement. Of course, this means that talents which previously reduced energy costs have been removed or redesigned, since their power has been added to Valeera as a baseline. Relentless Strikes has been removed, and Fatal Finesse has been reworked to serve as a means of improving Valeera's wave clear (more on that later).
C) Valeera's talents have been reworked considerably in order to further increase her utility across all aspects of her kit. Valeera's new talent tree is radically different from her old one. While Lvl 1 remains almost entirely the same, almost every tier after that is completely new. One more minor example is that Fatal Finesse was moved down to Lvl 4 and adjusted so that it works much like Illidan's Immolation. This should provide Valeera some improved wave clear that might help open up her niche a bit more. Another is the addition of Crimson Vial at Lvl 7, which grants her a very limited form of self-healing. This doesn't completely make up for her lack of self-sustain, but it should open up options for her as a more aggressive assassin.
One big area I've changed is her poisons. Both Wound Poison and Crippling Poison now provide their benefits to both auto-attacks and abilities, allowing you access to some utility outside of Valeera's openers. However, the effects are more limited now, as each only provides a fraction of their original benefit and must be stacked 3 times to achieve the full benefit. In addition, they also take effect immediately after application instead of waiting until your first ability is used. This is a change to keep them consistent with changes to Vanish, meaning that you will have to use them more skillfully now instead of popping them whenever they are off cooldown. Also, I've added a third poison for the mid-game: Shiv, which works a bit differently from the other poisons in that it operates under much stricter rules. However, that is because this poison is a potent one which works much like "Spell Block" from other MOBAs. The target is briefly inflicted with a status that triggers only if they use an ability during that time. If they do, the hero is silenced for a short while and the cooldown before that ability's next cast is increased. This provides a very nifty way for Valeera to handle carry heroes like Tracer, who depend on their abilities to be mobile and stay out of danger, without being as dependent on her openers to do so. These poisons can all be further enhanced at Lvl 20 with Master Poisoner, which grants bonus auto-attack damage and reapplies the effects of her poisons to the enemy hero that she's currently attacking (assuming that target had any poisons applied to them at the time).
Finally, instead of having talents which encourage a player to invest into one opener exclusively, I have replaced these talents with all new talents that encourage a player to use multiple openers. For example, a new talent called Deeper Stratagem replaces the old Initiative talent at that level with a quest talent that requires players use each of Valeera's openers to secure kills for the team. After securing enough kills with one opener, Valeera is rewarded with a slightly smaller cooldown on Vanish, and she can complete this quest once for each opener, which highly encourages players to use all three. Another new talent, Prey on the Weak, increases your auto-attack damage on any target which has been hit by either Cheap Shot or Garrote recently, providing you with quick and consistent damage on a target that has already been softened up. Adding these among the variety of talents already present will help to push a more varied mentality with her openers, while still allowing players to build outside of her openers if they wish.
D) In the interests of keeping Valeera a challenging hero to master while still delivering on the pledge to give her extra utility outside of her openers, I've changed the functionality of Smoke Bomb to something more unique. In its new form, Smoke Bomb only lasts for 3 seconds and no longer provides armor, making it less of an option for extended pressure on an enemy without any form of retaliation. However, it now reduces the vision radius of enemy heroes. In addition, the effects of the smoke linger for 2 seconds after leaving the radius. This applies to both Valeera's Unrevealable and to the enemy's vision. This makes Smoke Bomb great for escape, but significantly reduces its offensive capabilities. This new design is great for getting out of an enemy's backline after the team collapses on you. You can reduce their vision and use the confusion to flee, while opening up opportunities for your team. Most importantly, it reduces Valeera's capacity as a "pubstomper" while still rewarding smart play.
As for the Lvl 20 variant, I wanted to push Smoke Bomb in the same direction as Cloak of Shadows in order to allow for more frequent use rather than directly increasing its power, which is already considerable in the right circumstances. As such, I decided to make it work together with your combo points, reducing its cooldown based on how many points you're spending. This makes it useful to spend combo points as often as possible, instead of always stacking to max, which I mentioned is a bit of a minor issue right now. I feel that this is also a strong way to improve the ability's synergy with the rest of Valeera's kit, much like how Enveloping Shadows currently ties into Vanish.
Well, that's my take on a new look for Valeera. Now it's your turn to tell me how badly I messed up. Do you like this new take on Valeera, or do you feel I went too far, or perhaps not far enough? Let me know what you think of Valeera's current state and my proposal to change her in the comments below, or on Reddit. I look forward to more thought-provoking discussions with all of you!