There was a moment, early in The International's terrific opening match between Team Empire and LGD Gaming, where I thought, “This is terrific. I could watch this all day!”
Just twelve short hours later, with China’s Invictus Gaming team having brought a long, challenging day of Dota to a close, I have once again learned a valuable lesson about being careful what you wish for.
Things did not go smoothly on the first day of The International’s bracket stage. No sooner had we seen an impressive opening ceremony at Key Arena than the entire stream crashed and the opening round between LGD and Empire was postponed by over an hour. Later on, there would be another series of pauses and delays as internet connection problems derailed the event yet again. The end result is a tournament that stretched late into the night, with the final matches being played in front of mostly empty seats and a handful of die-hards.
A bit of anticlimax at the end of the day, however, should not overshadow the fact that the first day of The International 5 featured some fantastic games and laid the groundwork for exciting stories as we move deeper in the tournament.
Match of the Day: LGD vs. Team Empire
Hands down, this was a tremendous start to the tournament. Empire defied expectations in the group stage by edging out a significantly-favored Virtus.pro in tie-breaker, and they continued that trend today. LGD are one of the best teams from one of the best Dota regions, but they came within a hair’s breadth of getting knocked down to the loser’s bracket by Empire.
It was a fast-paced and hard-to-follow series, not least because it turned into a duel between two obnoxiously similar-sounding players: LGD’s Sylar (Liu Jiajun) and Empire’s Silent (Airat Gaziev) took turns carrying their respective teams, and were often at the center of the action.
Empire picked up an all mid-game composition for the first game and went right for LGD’s jugular, and the Chinese team were on the ropes for much of the first game. The moment the clock rolled over ten minutes, Empire were all over LGD, initiating fights everywhere they could and pushing LGD back to their Tier 3 turrets. LGD were getting strangled to death, as their Phantom Lancer couldn’t get the gold or experience he needed, nor could their Storm Spirit pull out a lead.
But Empire couldn’t break LGD’s tenacious defense of their Tier 3 turrets and their barracks, and eventually LGD managed to turn things around with a tremendous defensive stand at their mid-lane barracks. Empire forced the issue and dived-in, and LGD made them pay. That let their late-game heroes shine, and they were able to grind Empire down over the latter half of the game.
Empire bounced back, however. They got off to another great start, but this time they had an Anti Mage and a Bounty Hunter to give them greater late-game potential. LGD didn’t fare any better in the mid-game and found themselves getting torn apart by Silent’s Anti Mage, who was practically able to solo the entire LGD squad.
After that great rally, the ace match looked like it could be a classic. But unfortunately, Empire choked at the start of the game and LGD made them pay. Empire’s sorry gank attempt on LGD’s Ember Spirit resulted in a 2-0 for LGD, and started an ugly snowball rolling downhill that Empire were powerless to stop.
In the wake of that awful third game, one can only imagine how much Empire’s players will be thinking about that first game and how close they came to delivering an early knockout punch to LGD.
State of Play:
Look out, the Koreans are here!
MVP Phoenix may have arrived at The International as a Wild Card team, but they looked like a pretty serious contender as they shattered defending champions Newbee. Their strategic thinking may not have been on the level of what we see from teams like Secret or LGD, but on a purely mechanical level, MVP Phoenix looked terrific. They seized control of their game against Newbee on the back of one of their own mistakes. MVP botched a gank and Newbee decided to engage at the end of the play, thinking (correctly) that they should have an advantage. But MVP obliterated them in the ensuing fight, and wrested control of the match.
It was exciting to see from a Korean underdog, but there was also something bit menacing about it. The major Korean eSports organizations have a way of dominating every game they put their hand to. If MVP do well here, and if teams like SK Telecom or Samsung get curious about Dota 2? That could reshape the competitive landscape by the 2017 International.
On the other hand, if you want to see what great tactics in the absence of strategy get you, look no farther than Na’vi’s damp-squib performance against Vici Gaming. Na’Vi were getting rolled by Vici after just a few minutes, and miscues later in the game doomed any hopes of a comeback.
Their exciting and heroic defense of their base fell apart at the literal last second when ArtStyle’s Dazzle appeared to misclick and cast Shallow Grave (which saves its target from death for 5 seconds) on himself instead of his carry. Whether that could have made the difference, we’ll never know. Na’vi had already fended off one attack by the skin of their teeth, and Vici’s use of buybacks definitely left Na’vi in a near-hopeless position. But it was still a dismal end for the storied Dota team.
The one-time LGD understudy team had a surprisingly great group stage, coming in second behind Evil Geniuses, but their relative inexperience made them heavy underdogs against the Cloud9 team in today’s upper-bracket match. But after watching them crush Cloud9, it’s worth asking whether CDEC might not have been a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Tuesday’s play begins at 6 PM UK / 1 PM Eastern with the Upper Bracket games between Evil Geniuses and CompLexity, and Team Secret and EHOME, but unfortunately those games aren’t the ones we really want to see. No offense to CompLexity or EHOME, but Team Secret vs. Evil Geniuses is one of the major attractions of this tournament, and both teams are heavy favorites to advance on Tuesday. Barring some pretty major upsets, Evil Geniuses and Team Secret should be headed for a showdown after today’s games.
But things are a lot more interesting down in the lower bracket, where the threat of elimination hangs over some very good matches to give them that extra excitement.
So save some time later on, at around midnight UK / 7 PM Eastern, for Team Empire vs. MVP Phoenix. Team Empire are coming off a pretty crushing defeat at the hands of LGD, while MVP Phoenix are now carrying all Korea’s Dota 2 hopes on the shoulders right now. While you could argue that crushing this year’s Newbee team was no great feat, there’s no denying that MVP certainly seem to be gaining confidence and strength as this tournament continues, and are starting to look like the kind of team we expect Korea to produce. This is my pick for the match of the day.
Cloud9 vs. Vici Gaming SHOULD be a good match as well, except that Cloud9 got pulped so convincingly by China’s CDEC that it’s called Cloud9’s readiness into question. Maybe Cloud9 got off to a bad start, but there’s no doubt that Vici looked like a team that belongs at The International right now, and Cloud9 did not.