written by Kris Krastev
Last month we had the pleasure of witnessing the biggest event in esports for the 9th year running - The International. A worldwide competition where 18 of the best Dota 2 (Defense Of The Ancients 2) teams compete for a multi-million dollar prize pool. Every year the pool is started off by Valve who injects $1.6mil, and the rest is funded by the community through in-game purchases.
For this year’s reiteration of the competition was hosted in Shanghai, and the prize pool reached a mind-boggling $34,328,163, nearly $8.8mil more than last year. Of the total pool, $15.6mil is awarded to the champions with the rest being split between the remaining teams - the last two teams only receiving $85,820. In case you missed the action, do not worry, we will go through the most exciting moments and announcements!
To start off with, the 18 teams are split into two equal groups to play a round-robin and decide the seeding into the double-elimination bracket for the main event. Top 4 of each group proceed to the upper bracket, 5th to 8th place to the lower bracket, and the 9th place of each group is eliminated.
Day 1 kicked off the most prestigious event in Dota 2 with many surprises and exciting matches. From support Invoker being picked to mega creep comebacks - there was so much action it was hard to resist not having all the streams open at the same time!
In group A we saw the now NA based Newbee squad (if you followed The International last year you might recognise them as Forward Gaming) surprise everyone by taking a 2-0 series away from Team Liquid. In their second game, Newbee faced the EU giants, Team Secret. In both games of the series, Newbee remained dominant in the early and mid games and seemed like the wins were secured, but their opponents are not known for surrendering easily. Secret held out, patiently waiting for Newbee to make a mistake. That is exactly what happened around the 50-minute mark in both games. Newbee seemed to crumble under the pressure of sieging the high ground and ended up losing their buybacks in unfavourable fights. Secret capitalised on this and made a successful counter pushes into the enemy base to secure their victories.
In the meantime, we also had something of a grudge match. Lasse Aukusti "MATUMBAMAN" Urpalainen and his adoptive team, Chaos Esports Club, went up against Team Liquid - the team with which they became the champions of TI7. The 2-0 loss to Newbee did not seem to phase Liquid’s captain, Kuro "KuroKy" Salehi Takhasomi. MATUMBAMAN’s replacement, Aliwi "w33" Omar, played an excellent Templar Assassin as Liquid secured the win with 41 kills to the 14 of Chaos in this 39-minute first game. In-game 2 Kuroky showed why he is considered the mastermind of drafting! As a fourth pick, Kuro drafted a Storm Spirit. Along with the Kunkka they had already picked, Chaos interpreted that it will be a mid Storm as they responded with one of MATUMBAMAN’s favourites - Lone Druid. Shortly after however Liquid revealed their trump card. With no counters on the board, they dropped the Meepo bomb. A hero w33 is famous for. Meepo completely crushed his opponents and dominated the game without a single death. A quick 22-minute game closed off this series.
Another noteworthy mention is the Team Secret vs Alliance series. Game 1 we had an unusual draft from Secret - Broodmother for Yeik “MidOne” Nai Zheng, followed up by Arc Warden for Michał “Nisha” Jankowski. Sacrificing their last barracks Secret managed to win the end game team fight as Nisha picked up a Desolator. Secret charged straight down the mid lane, leaving behind Jakiro to defend their exposed ancient. Heading straight for the throne they melted their way into taking away game 1 from Alliance. In the second match, Secret took a 3rd pick Invoker. This was, however, a support rather than mid, something that Yazied "YapzOr" Jaradat has been messing around in his pub matches. Secret pulled out an ancient strat from Dota 1 - running an aggressive Axe/Invoker offlane. 20 minutes the game Axe was already past the point of no return, carrying a Blink Dagger, Pipe of Insight and Crimson Guard. With no way for Alliance to hold their ground Secret finish the day without dropping a single game.
Over in group B we only saw teams play two series, compared to group A’s 3 series for the day. One of the teams that definitely caught the attention of the viewers was Fnatic. The SEA based squad faced some roster changes after the EPICENTER Major, but in their first series with Evil Geniuses, they showed exactly what they are made of. With carefully selected drafts and team coordination, Fnatic was able to hit their key timings and were easily able to dismantle EG’s defences at the 30-minute mark in both games.
Despite being clear favourites in their second series, EG’s first match against Na’Vi did not seem to start off much differently than with Fnatic. Both teams were clutching the Roshan pit at the 30-minute mark. There were multiple fights with no clear outcome, the NA squad used up their buybacks and had to back off. This gave Na’Vi the space to secure the Dire jungle and the tier 1 tower in the mid lane, with Roshan to follow shortly. With their momentum, Na’Vi broke high ground and secured a lane of barracks. The game continued for a bit longer as EG put up a relentless defence, but succumbed to the offences and lost their ancient at minute 47. Game 2, EG was able to show they are not ready to go down yet by clutching the game for 80 minutes before finally securing a win, making the series a draw.
Overall Team Secret and Vici Gaming took pole positions in their groups without dropping a game. Newbee, Mineski, and Fnatic put up surprisingly good performances against their opponents, while Team Liquid, Alliance and Fnatic seemed to underperform.
*Day 1 Picks*
Picks wise, to no surprise the most popular hero was Alchemist with a total of 35 picks/bans. The last major patch introduced an Aghanim’s Scepter upgrade to all heroes that did not previously have one and made it possible to consume the item and turn it into a permanent buff. This especially had an impact on the late game, as heroes that would normally prefer another item over the Aghs upgrade now found themselves in the best of both worlds. Alchemist as a character that is naturally good at getting exponential amounts of farm, while being able to give the Aghs upgrade to allies, was a clear focus in the drafts of most teams. Another really popular pick was Shadow Demon. With his natural ability to save allies from stuns and prevent enemy ganks while being able to debuff and slow the opposition, teams were able to achieve victories in 68.75% of their matches. Shadow Demon is a hero we see a lot of throughout the rest of the event.