Join Date: Sep 2009
Definition of a Carry
I know people have been debating what makes a carry since the dawn of conventional DotA, and I did see that thread about Lina serving as one, but this is unrelated: I think that most of the differing definitions of carry is because of differing levels of play, and I'm here to define what I think are the most popular.
Carry (P-DPS) : a carry is a physical damage dealer with at least 1 skill that increases their physical damage output. Heroes like Mortred would fall under this as would heroes like Sven. PotM would not, however, which is why many who apply to this definition define her as a semi-carry.
Carry (P-DPS+Farm) : any hero that when given a bunch of farm (and consequently items) serves as a physical damage dealer. PotM would fall under this category, in fact "any hero can carry" under this definition. Examples of this are those who build out Pit Lord or Alchemist (because of their farming) into high-tiered toe-to-toe fighters. Often time these "carries" occur when other heroes (that may be better fit for the role) are not available (this can occur because pub's do not draft teams with a goal in mind, or because a team is forced to counterpick-out their carry slot).
Carry (Influential): A hero that, with relatively team-independent actions, can have great, consistent, influence over decisive team fights. There is a bit of a contradiction in the definition, because some carries have very little influence over teamfights in early game, in which case they'd be considered "immature" carries (at that time). However, heroes like Rhasta or Necrolyte, who scale well throughout the game, are also in this definition of carry as well. The definition implies a leadership role that is often decided by the play of the hero throughout that game rather than a theoretical one. The carry in this case literally carries weaker heroes, that without the carry, would be unable to achieve victory. It's a very active definition: a good way to tell if a hero is a carry, according to this, is if you would consider the game "GG'ed" if the hero was ganked, without chance of buyback, before a teamfight.
These definitions are associated with lower-level play in my opinion, though are not necessarily so, because unconventional teams can push unconventional roles onto heroes. But I still say "more often lower-level" because the specialization is more often based on individual choice of how to play the hero instead of an orchestrated strategy in which it is decided during a draft or pre-game what heroes get what farm. Also, because in the very high level play (the competitive matches people watch on the Comp. Matches replay forum) most of the heroes are very optimized for their roles and you just don't ever see an Alchemist or Pit Lord running around with BFury's and Armlets.
Carry (DPS) : Any hero that is excellent at dealing damage, regardless of type, throughout the game. Necrolyte with old bloodstone, Rhasta with old Aghs are examples of this definition. The important thing about this definition is that it's about the potential of the hero instead of how they are built: You can have both a carry-Rhasta or a wardbitch-Rhasta.
Hard Carry : Heroes that are commonly seen to be played as physical damage dealers. This definition changes with version: Naix and Lycan had their days, as did Spectre and BB. This can be seen as a sub-category of the Carry (DPS), because when drafting a carry you often choose how you want them to scale in relation to your supports or vice-versa. This definition is a reflection of theory-craft in which a hero's potential role are optimized: people have found that CM is best played as a support/warder and Sladar as a Hard Carry because he makes the most of the gold put into him (after a certain amount, of course). This can be a sub-category of "Carry (DPS)," but is important to differentiate because of the active, in-game-role, classification.
Carry (Competitive/Farm+not support) : I will spend quite a bit of time on this definition, because I believe it to be the most useful. Under this definition a carry is a hero that is strategically chosen to accumulate a large share of the resources under the team's map control. Obviously the degrees to how much will vary, so it is more of a percentage time relative to the support/wandering heroes in that game in which these "carries" spend in-lane or jungling. Often these heroes are optimized for their role whatever that role may be. That "whatever" means that a Sand King can be a carry and not be valued for his auto-attack in doing so. The optimized is more of a practical understanding of the definition, in that, according to version, heroes are often put in a role because the hero "makes the most" of the gold given to them to achieve their role. For instance: you give a Centaur Blink, a Hood and Treads he is quite intimidating, but a Sladar with the same items is much more useful in various strategic decisions. Now, if you are drafting (it's very important for this definition that you are organizedly choosing every hero) and you need a physical damage dealer or a scaling damage dealer you will pick Sladar over Centaur because Sladar with a certain item build is considered "optimized" for that role, while Centaur is not. Obviously heroes fill more than one role: like how Spectre is both a counter-initiator and a physical damage dealer, this definition ignores how often these roles are important to a team across games and pays attention to what the makeup of the team will be at what stage of farm and how that role effects teamfights in that game. It IS TRUE that most often the heroes that are given the most gold are those who are believed to be able to deal the most damage with the gold, but other heroes, for instance Tinker, can be valued enough to warrant a massive amount of farm, but to chain-disable instead of spam his nukes (obviously he CAN do both, but one can have a strategy in which he spends his time doing the disabling over the nukes). It is merely a function of how the game works (through killing things) that damage is most often valued. If Dazzle's heal had 0 cooldown, but did not damage, he would be given a huge amount of gold in order to spam it, and still be considered a carry. Lion with a Blink and Sheepstick, or WLock with an Urn, Mek and Pipe may be more tangible examples of how heroes, by this strategic definition are considered "carries."
Because of the dynamic nature of this, heroes can fall in and out of "carry" during a game. Let's say you play a PotM/SK lane and decide to have PotM defer most all of the CS to SK, while spending most of her time flanking to harass and to try for stuns. SK, at this point, will be a carry because he is being given the resources and is expected to serve a primary initiating purpose because of the gold. Let's say he get's his blink, bottle, treads etc by X minutes and then it is shifted that PotM will now take all of the gold she can (farming somewhere, obviously the laning stage has ended) to become a pusher/DPSer with Manta style, BKB and Butterfly. She will then have started to become a carry, while if SK then devotes to pure ganking, he will have fallen out of carry. That same example of PotM and SK (This is Sand King btw, for those of you who are not acquainted with common competitive lanes) serves to show that this defonition is also determined by "time spent in lane," as opposed to wandering, warding, risking oneself (like a CM checking the forest to see if a gank is coming on her babysat lane hero) or any other activity that needs to be done. It is a commonality of speech that you might not want to "Let Hero X farm, because then they can carry." This definition is very much tailored to how one assess teamfight situations and general game planning and focuses upon the function of each hero. I think it is the best definition for strategic thought, though that does not necessarily mean it is the most popular definition of "carry."
The forum disagrees on the definition of carry a lot, and gets in disagreements because of differing use of language. I would suggest that if you are to use "carry" in your post to give a short definition, whether it be one that I listed here, a combination, or a new definition, it really doesn't matter, just so long as you are clear.
A short sentence for you to read.