The Factory Alch trend swept the DPC Circuit in the final weeks of the online stage in EU and NA. We look at how and why the “dead hero” Alchemist made a comeback.
In the last 2 weeks of the DPC 2021 Regional Leagues, a new terrifying pick found its way into the metagame - “Factory Alch”.
Pioneered primarily by OG, the strategy involves putting Alchemist (traditionally a position 1 hero) into the offlane, making use of the hero’s accelerated gold gain to amplify a teammate’s power spike through an early Aghanim’s Synth upgrade.
Paired with heroes with strong Agh’s Upgrades, the early Synth essentially transfers the Alchemist’s net worth to them, and lets those heroes grow out of control.
The volatility of Factory Alch has led to the hero going from a niche last-phase pick, to being first-phase banned in many subsequent games since it was unveiled. The thing is though, is that this strategy is far from new.
In fact the idea has been around since patch 6.84, when Agh’s Synth was first added. At the time, it was seen as nothing more than a meme, and hardly saw any competitive viability. So what happened to allow this Factory to reopen?
Why Greed is Good (Now)
Alchemist has always fundamentally changed the status quo of games he’s picked in through his notorious 3rd skill - Greevil’s Greed. Similarly to how Techies can turn a match into a game of minesweeper, Alch’s ability to amass gold makes the game all about him. By default, the hero will outfarm and reach critical mass way earlier than any other carry.
Alch’s weakness, however, is that in even net worth scenarios, his abysmal stat growth (lowest in the game) and overall lackluster kit can’t go toe-to-toe with most other traditional carries.
On top of that, his laughably weak early game can be punished by aggressive heroes and early pressure. Despite getting to his power spikes faster, if opponents can drag out the game, Alch is left with no more items to buy. Eventually Alchemist is... out-carried.
Alchemist first started making his way back into the meta after nerfs to Batrider -a hero that can pressure the map early and run circles around Alch. Bat also represented strong single-target disable - a weakness that Alch, no matter how farmed, would always be susceptible to. With Ancient Apparition (his traditional counter) being out of favour as well, this opened up room for him as a greedy position 1 pick against drafts without good early game pressure.
Which Teams Popularised Factory Alch?
Prior to OG’s adaptation of Factory Alch, the hero had been seeing success in NA with a 70.59% win rate. For teams like EG and 4 Zoomers, they made use of the new Swift Blink and improved Divine Rapier to turn him into a hyper-carry that seemed impossible to outscale.
Although barely touched in the other regions, Alch was still picked/banned here and there, likely due to the hero’s good core match-up against Puck - the most picked/banned hero of the entire DPC.
The 2-time TI Winners had other ideas though. While Alch received some minor adjustments to his kit in patch 7.28, the crucial change flew over most people’s heads: Aghanim’s Synth now transferring the stats (10 of each Attribute + 175 HP and Mana) of an Aghanim’s Scepter to the recipient. This meant that even though the item was consumed, teammates receiving the buff would get its full 4200 gold value.
This was enough for OG to bring Factory Alch out in their 1st Game versus Liquid, pairing it with Monkey King. The result - a 12 minute Aghanim’s farmed by Ceb, along with a Maelstrom on MidOne’s MK allowing them to take an early Roshan, and snowball MidOne out of control from there.
Making Alch work in the offlane though, is a whole different concoction from what that 1st match might’ve suggested.
OG had the Right Recipe for Success
The reason OG were able to pull Factory Alch off could be summed up to the fact that they circumvented Alchemist’s weaknesses and played to his strengths.
Most of Alch's prior issues came from being outscaled by his counterparts. By transferring his net worth through an Aghanim’s Synth upgrade to a hero with a far stronger kit like Gyrocopter or Monkey King, they’ve ironed out weakness number #1.
As for covering for Alch’s weak early game, drafts that saw the most success were those that paired him with strong position 4s, like Lion or Rubick. Additionally, there would be high emphasis on drafting favourable lanes overall that could hold their own, so that the Factory could farm away without much pressure.
As mentioned, Alch’s base spells apart from Greevil’s Greed are mediocre, but there’s a reason why Chemical Rage sits at a 100% pick rate in Ability Draft. The ridiculous amount of regen makes it so that unless you can burst him from 100 - 0, any damage dealt will simply be rapidly regained.
Despite Unstable Concoction being a slow-travelling projectile, this could be alleviated by a fast Blink Dagger after farming the Agh’s. This turned Alchemist into a deadly initiator and frontliner, putting opponents in a tough spot. If they tried to help an ally caught out by Alch’s Blink-Concoction, they’d be fighting into minus Armor thanks to Acid Spray, and would give up their positions as well. This let the Factory Alch team take favourable fights and free pickoffs, further growing their lead.
Does This Stuff Really Work?
Of course, as with any strategy, it’s not unbeatable. It’s no surprise that Timbersaw was picked/banned in 28/29 games Alch was played in EU and NA, with a 100% win rate against him. Timber not only can threaten the Alch at every stage of the game (Whirling Death go BRRRRR), he also single-handedly applies and prevents immense early-game pressure.
Factory or not, Alchemist’s goal is still the same - to cause an imbalance in net worth. Similarly, the hero’s relative weakness in the early game doesn’t change much as well.
When faced with their own strategy in their bout against Tundra Esports, they drafted a 2nd pick Bounty Hunter. BH not only offsets Alch’s gold gain through Jinada, but is also a hero who loves early fights, thanks to additional gold from Track kills. Doom picked for Ceb also meant that they could instantly take a hero out of the fight - Agh’s Synth or not. OG applied unrelenting early pressure and forced 33’s Alch to buy Necrobook instead, making him look like a creep instead of a golden trump card.
Apart from beating him in the early game/applying early pressure, a Factory Alch without a business partner to empower is quite a liability as well. Liquid abused this in Game 2 by banning Gyro, MK and Jugg after OG’s Alch pick, forcing OG into an unfavourable draft.
Other teams like Secret decided to face the threat head on (in classic Puppey fashion) and smashed the Alch-MK combo with overwhelming teamfight to beat out the MK’s Agh’s-Maelstrom and Rosh powerspike.
Naturally but crucially, the Mid Tier 1 tower’s importance is amplified by an Alch pick. Teams that can pressure and take the tower early severely curb the Factory’s production speed.
Alchemy Is The Future!
Despite its mixed success so far, a large aspect of Factory Alch’s is the volatility it brings to the draft. It forces opponents to consider every possible partner, how they can pressure him early, and if they have enough initiative throughout the game to keep that pressure up. Even the threat of the pick in later phases is another factor to worry about.
Even after losing in Game 1 to Secret, OG fearlessly picked Alch again, but this time with Gyro and Riki, and adapted to a greedier style to counter out Secret’s teamfight. The extra attention to Alch in the draft took its toll on Secret’s lanes, and they could do nothing but watch as Ceb farmed their hopes in Game 2 away.
The strategy is even seeing new iterations with the other regions giving it their own flavour. In the CN Tiebreakers, DALANJING Gaming made use of their Factory Alch to farm back-to-back Aghs’ for both their position 2 Void Spirit, and position 5 Brewmaster, giving them superior control in the teamfights.
The early Agh’s amplified YRG’s Void Spirit’s mid-game power, and was crucial in keeping the snowball rolling.
While the future of the strat remains unstable, what we know for sure is that we’ve yet to see the full extent of the Factory’s capabilities.
As the strategy continues to evolve and be experimented with, there will definitely be new iterations in the upcoming Playoffs and Singapore Major. Regardless of how it all shakes out, expect this Factory to remain open and cookin!