The International 2013 Group Stage – Day Two

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It has begun. The sixteen best Dota 2 teams in the world have commenced their battle for the Aegis of Champions and a (currently) $1.4 million first-prize. Yesterday was all sorts of crazy, with upsets and weird picks all over the place.

All day today weekend, we’ll be updating this story with notes and highlights from the “eSports Super Bowl”, with contributions from our resident Dota 2 experts Nick Wilson and Phill Cameron, along with eSports writer Rob Zacny. Then tomorrow and Monday, we’ll do it all over again.

So kick back, open up a stream, and keep refreshing this page to watch along with us.

(6:30am BST/01:30am EST) – Day two wrap up

It’s that time again. We’ve come to the end of day two, and if you’re still with me give yourself a pat on the back. Tomorrow we can look forward to a shorter day, with the addition resuming the Solo Championship that was postponed. But that can wait, what happened today?

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Alliance and Na’Vi came away smiling, winning every single game without much trouble. While everyone is still in awe of Alliances undefeated streak, let us not forget what happened last year. LGD managed to go 14-0 in the group stages, and while they still placed a respectable third, we found out they weren’t invincible. Still, most of their matches today were complete walkovers. Check back on my last update for the only game where they were tested: TongFu put up a hell of a fight, but it wasn’t enough. Both Na’Vi’s and Alliance’s last matches tomorrow are definitely ones to watch. Na’Vi face LGD whereas Alliance face Orange.

MUFC can’t seem to catch a break, matching their complete defeat from yesterday. I caught a couple of their games and they were just simply outmatched. Their place in the losers bracket is all but guaranteed, where your games are best of one before your ultimate fate is decided. Lets hope that they win their last couple of games tomorrow.

Team Liquid and Dignitas from yesterday have matched each others performance, both still with a chance to secure a seed in the winners bracket. I’m slightly worried about TongFu as they seemed to be deeply affected by the loss to Alliance, going on to losing both games against LGD.int.

It all starts again at 5pm BST, which is less than 12 hours away. We’ll see each team play their final pair, followed by the Solo Championship which was postponed due to technical difficulties. Thanks again for everyone who stopped by, go and sleep the sleep of heroes. -Nick

(5:30am BST/12:30am EST) – Highlight Reel

As today starts to wind down and the last few matches draw to a conclusion, lets take some time to see some of the highlights from day two.

LGD.cn vs Fnatic – Courier Snipe

It was the closing moments of the game, and Fnatic were preparing to defend their mid barracks from LGD’s push. If they could just win the fight, they could counter attack and probably get two barracks of their own, maybe even win. Era who was playing Shadow Fiend understood the importance of the inevitable engagement, and chose to use a courier to finish off his Satanic, an item that grants huge lifesteal.

As he sent the courier to buy his stuff, LGD saw it heading to the shop with a well placed ward. After Era had spent his gold on a Reaver and a the Satanic Recipe, LGD sniped the courier on its return trip. Era was now without his Satanic, buy back or a courier. Fnatic lost the fight and the game after Era was quickly dispatched during the teamfight.

Alliance vs Tongfu – Turned to stone

When a game lasts over seventy minutes long, fatigue sets in. A fight actually left TongFu with a chance to either push or Roshan, but neither happened. I watched Hao playing as Alchemist just standing near Roshan, motionless. He was fully slotted with items, so he couldn’t take the Aegis of the Immortal. He could deny it, but that would be a waste. There was also a Bounty Hunter up for Alliance, who could be waiting in the shadows to steal Roshan. What about pushing? Well it seems they were unsure if Alliance had buyback on the Weaver. You could sense the sheer amount of frustration due to uncertainty envelope TongFu.

Before long Alliance was up and ready for round two. They ran down mid, and found the dumbfounded Alchemist sitting in the trees still motionless. He was slaughtered on the spot.

Another fight ensued, but TongFu were beaten when Loda Time Lapsed his Weaver as he bought back from death, immediately returning him to the fight. Alliance proceeded to win the game, and I can’t help but imagine how TongFu feel. It’s the sort of mistake which can haunt you if you let it. -Nick

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(2:30am BST/9:30pm EST) – We have to talk about Alliance

As Alliance secure their tenth win undefeated, I had to ask myself: who is going to stop them? I was pretty sure TongFu would at least end their streak, and they did indeed come close. But time and time again Alliance just keep getting it right.

Their first match with Liquid was almost hard to watch. Within ten minutes the gold, xp and tower lead was so high, they had already won. The only thing stopping them was Liquids reluctance at calling “gg”, which I don’t blame them for doing. Sometimes not giving up until your ancient is well and truly dead can pay off, but not in a game like that.

I went into the second game almost with no feelings at all. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually an Alliance fan myself. However every game of theirs, with TongFu being the exception has been incredibly one sided. All of this with no sign of any crazy picks or tactics, Alliance surely keeping the cards close to their chest until the main event.

If I had to sum it up: slightly boring. So much in fact I find myself rooting for the enemy team.

What does this mean: Putting this in perspective we have to remind ourselves that Alliance’s environment is confined to only seven of the fifteen other teams right now. Their match could be present, but we’re just not going to see them until the main event. They’ve got VP left to face today, and considering VP are at the bottom of the group right now, the result will more than likely be the same. Part of me wants Alliance to actually lose a game before the main event, just so they don’t let the feeling affect their composure when it matters the most.-Nick

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(1am BST/8pm EST) – Doom, Razor and Ursa walk into a bar

Rattlesnake demonstrated the worth of Doom with an Aghanim’s Scepter in their matchup with VP. For a little context, Doom’s ultimate ability is called, well, Doom. It prevents a target from casting spells, using items and disables most passive abilities for fifteen seconds. It can make the enemies best hero completely useless for an entire team fight. Coupled with Aghanim’s Scepter, it upgrades this devastating ability to having it’s duration last indefinitely as long as Doom is in proximity of the target.

It was highly effective, shutting down VP’s Puck before she could initiate. Towards the end VP had to resort to baiting it out using Spectre: committing suicide only to buy back and Haunt back in. It was a strategy which could not last indefinitely.

LGD.int are still trying to make Razor work, even after multiple failures to get him to take off. Orange’s Lone Druid and Juggernaut picks do make Razor’s Static Link a lot more feasible to pull off, which is responsible for his anti-carry success. Static Link drains a targets damage, transferring it to Razor himself. If the link lasts long enough you can actually prevent them from causing any physical damage at all, while you two shot all the enemy team. I’m still convinced that the way to make Razor work is to build him like a tank, relying on surviving an entire static link to dish out huge amount of damage on the return engagement.

Meanwhile Orange give Ursa a whirl, and win against IG in their first game. Although Ursa wasn’t solely responsible for the win, a lot of that being attributed to fantastic Clockwerk play, again Orange aren’t afraid to draft outside the norm. Ursa is a true snowball hero, echoed by his Fury Swipes ability. Every hit adds incremental damage to his next attack, and stacks indefinitely. Combine that with some lifesteal and attack speed and he can chew through any hero in mere seconds, and Roshan for that matter. -Nick

(12am BST/7pm EST) – The dust begins to settle

It might just be the ever so slight sleep deprivation talking, but things feel like they’re starting to get a just a tiny bit serious. If you look at the way the groups stand, (which you can do on the Dota 2 website, or over on Liquidpedia), both of them are starting to show their hands in such a way that there’s only a little ways that they can shift, at this point. Fnatic and Alliance sit at the top of each, and for both teams it’s looking like their hardest games might be over.

Especially in Group A, it doesn’t particularly look like things are going to start moving around all that much. DK are only one win ahead of LGD, and it’s there that we’re going to see the two teams fighting tooth and nail to come out ahead. Na’Vi bloodied DK, and Mouz roughed up LGD, but it was LGD that came away with a win, where DK lost out completely to the Ukrainian team.

The attention will be on the matches between DK and Fnatic, later today, and LGD Na’Vi, tomorrow. If either DK or LGD can get a win against either team, they’re going to be that much more secure in that fourth place slow. However, if DK loses a match against Mouz, or LGD concedes a loss to Zenith, they could well be in trouble.

Group B, on the other hand, is anyone’s game. Anyone’s, that is, if you don’t count Alliance, who are far and away the winners of that Group, and are all but unassailable at this point. A single win separates the next five places, and any wins or losses could have the Group scrambling as far as ranks go. Every match suddenly takes on a little more significance, as well as each Alliance game becoming another test to see if the Swedish team can go undefeated.

They’re up against Liquid next, one of the first properly Western teams that Alliance have played. If Liquid can knock a game from Alliance, they’re going to get a lot of eyes on them, and a good old injection of confidence boosted to their morale.-Phill

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(10:30pm BST/5:30pm EST) – Mouz find their feet

If you were to ask me about the matchups from the past round before this tournament had started, I’d have assumed they’d be more than a little one sided. LGD wipe out Mouz. Na’Vi happily takes on DK. Zenith crush Dignitas. That’s going on the past few months of competitive Dota, all of which promptly left the building the instant these group stages started.

Now, those matchups are some of the closest in the tournament, with all those teams sitting on a comparable amount of wins. The match between Zenith and Dignitas was especially weird, with Iceiceice farming an insanely efficient Weaver, but being let down by a shaky support structure out of the rest of his team. Dignitas are looking strong as all hell at the moment.

Na’Vi against DK was a little more heartbreaking. No matter how inconsistent their play has been, Na’Vi go into every match looking like the favourites, and DK have been playing extremely well over the past couple of days. And going out of the gate, DK had the advantage, but they gave Na’Vi a wiff of space, and that’s about all Na’Vi needs to take the game, and take it they did.

By far the most interesting and surprising match came out of the Mouz/LGD.cn matchup. LGD.cn haven’t been playing the absolute best the past few days, but they’re still the team that came third last year, and still near the top of the Chinese pool. Mouz, on the other hand, have been disappointing, to put it mildly. They had a single victory to their name, and looked to be consistently outdrafted and outplayed.

Except here, where they all but schooled LGD.cn. It’s such a relief to see Synderen win a game, nice guy that he is. It’s still looking like they’re going to be in the lower half of their group, but at least they’ll have a few notches in their belt.

What this means:

It’s increasingly hard to use any knowledge of these teams from outside The International 2013 to inform of their performances inside of it. Strong teams are still strong, for sure, but they’re not playing how they normally play, and they’re not always winning matches you would think they should. Which, in all fairness, only makes it more interesting to watch.

Just, y’know, a little harder to bet rares on.

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(9pm BST/4pm EST) – A victory of the mind

So there were some other matches in the last hour and a bit. They were interesting matches, between interesting teams. Points were won, points were lost, iG beat Vp, Orange had a strong showing against LGD.int and Rattlesnake took a game off Liquid. I’m sure they were thoroughly entertaining.

But TongFu vs Alliance?

Let me tell you about TongFu vs Alliance.

78 minutes of two teams thrashing it out, without an advantage ever really going to one team or another. Every teamfight predicated on whether KingJ could get a Reverse Polarity on Loda’s Weaver, taking him out the fight for precious seconds so that Hao’s Alchemist could kill him as fast as possible. Each time EGM going for an Overgrowth, shutting down the entirety of TongFu’s team so that Loda could go to work. Some fights went Alliance’s way, some went for TongFu.

Alliance were unbeaten going into this, and they left it with a win. It was their first foray into truly creative and atypical drafting, and S4’s Timbersaw was a sight to behold. If you look at the way the game went, it wasn’t won in any one engagement, but over the course of the entire game. TongFu’s morale started to falter, visibly, throughout the course of the game. There was a moment where TongFu won a decisive teamfight, putting Loda out of the game for a minute and a half, and they just panicked. They didn’t seize the advantage, and didn’t do anything with that precious time.

What this means:

It was indicative of the rest of the game, and in a way it shows how much of an effect Alliance’s reputation can have in the middle of a game. They’re unbeaten here, they were unbeaten at the G-1 League. They’re a huge shadow across the entirety of this tournament, an infallible presence that even Na’Vi look a bit friendly compared to. These teams have played against Na’Vi, and they understand them, to a degree.

But Alliance? They’re something else.-Phill

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(7:30pm BST/2:30pm EST) – The picture emerges

Group A is starting to calcify. We’re over halfway through the games now, and it’s getting to the point where it’s increasingly difficult for the teams to move around their positionings in any meaningful way. Fnatic, Dignitas, DK and Na’Vi are all multiple games ahead of the other four teams, and while that’s not a gap that can’tclose, it’s getting to the point where an impression of how things are going to end up is beginning to emerge.

Dignitas, after a sound stomp from DK in the first round yesterday, have yet to drop a game, beating Mouz with aplomb and proving that they’re easily a contender for the top spot in Group A. They did it up against increasingly interesting Mouz picks, with a Razor accompanying the Venomancer in the second game, and while, for a little time, it looked like Mouz might pull it back, eventually Dignitas pulled it back.

DK going one for one with Zenith was a surprise, as DK were looking so very strong after yesterday’s performance. Zenith were drafting increasingly risky picks, with a Timbersaw failing in the first game, and Ursa in the second, transporting them to a hard won victory.

It was a similar story between Fnatic and LGD.cn, with the first game a thorough victory for Fnatic, and the second proving that an odd draft, with Outworld Destroyer going to the safe lane to farm instead of mid, and Shadowfiend farming against a Dragon Knight, pushing Fnatic into a corner that they might have put themselves, and in a match that lasted over an hour, LGD.cn won out with tighter play and smarter teamfights.

What this means:

Mouz are not playing to their potential, and it feels in part this is because they’re so far outside of their comfort zone. You can look at their performance at the Western Qualifiers, and consistently they’re going up against teams that are drafting in familiar ways. Synderen stated a month or so ago that he was seriously struggling with the way teams have been playing since the last game-changing patch, and the wild drafting over the past two days seems to be leaving him without an answer.

On the other hand, excepting MUFC it’s pretty hard to completely bet on any one team to have a solid spot in the top four in Group A. Na’Vi and Dignitas both seem under threat from LGD.cn and Zenith, but both Fnatic and DK are only looking incrementally stronger. Things are starting to settle down, but only in terms of points accrued; the games themselves are still crazy as anything. -Phill

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(6pm BST/1pm EST) – The Time Weave shimmers

The first set of matches are all pretty big ones. Apart from Na’Vi against MUFC, which resulted in a pretty one sided match in favour of Na’Vi, the rest of the pairings are pitting teams of much closer skill level against one another. Fnatic vs LGD, Mouz vs Dignitas, DK vs Zenith. This is the top of Group A duking it out to see who can get a comfortable lead in the group.

The throughline of all these games, though, is Weaver. As inventive as the picks are getting (and Timbersaw continuing to be a fixture, along with Venomancer popping up again), the one constant seems to be the semi-carry bug, shifting around the field of play from the offlane to the safe lane, always a presence, and always doing work.

After yesterday, the hero was sitting on a 76.5% win rate across 17 games. That’s significantly high, and certainly high enough that it isn’t just that the right teams are picking him; he’s incredibly hard to kill, and does exceptionally well against a lane disadvantage due to that fact. We’re seeing famous carry players like XBOCT and Burning pick him up, something I’ve personally not witnessed before, and they’re excelling with the hero.

The Mouz/Dignitas matchup is progressing in a very even-handed manner, despite Dignitas taking the first game. DK against Zenith was a little less tense, as DK secured an advantage despite a kill deficiency through judicious hero placement to maximise their ability to outfarm and outplay their opposition, and the Fnatic/LGD.cn matchup continues to show that Fnatic can go up against the best and come away with victories.

What this means:

It’s getting to the stage where I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see Weaver fall foul of the banning stage. It’s such a strong hero at any stage in the draft, as even if a team considers a counter in their picking stage, there are very few heroes that really put Weaver at a disadvantage. Doom, maybe, but even that falls short once the Weaver has a Linken’s Sphere, which blocks a spell once every twenty seconds. -Phill

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Pregame Thoughts:

Last night might of set the tone for the group stages, but today we are in for a real treat. Personally I’m looking forward to the Alliance vs TongFu match up deep into today’s prelims. They’re currently the two best teams in Group B, and if any team can topple Alliances undefeated streak, it’s TongFu.

For teams like MUFC, they really do have to pull through today. If they don’t win the majority of their games, a place in the losers bracket come Wednesday is almost guaranteed. Keep an eye on them, because if any team is going to be giving it their all, it should be MUFC.

Liquid and Dignitas are another pair that garnered attention yesterday, as they stood toe to toe against opponents who usually dominate the US teams. If they reproduce their performances from yesterday, they will be in prime position to take two of the slots in the winner brackets.-Nick

Yesterday proved thatthis is going to be a close tournament; there was only one team that didn’t come away with at least one victory, and some of the favourites for the tournament came away bloodied by teams who were expected to struggle. Fnatic went almost unbeaten, and LGD lost games to Dignitas. Even iG found themselves having to fight for their victories, a situation that shouldn’t really have occurred in Group B.

Today’s games should be just as exciting, with teams continuing to try out odd heroes and strategies, and trying to figure out how their opponents think. 71 out of the 96 available heroes were picked up during the games yesterday, and I wouldn’t be surprised if only 10 or 15 were left unpicked by the time every match is played today.

The groups are starting to filter out, and as a result of this we should be seeing the teams in a comfortable position starting to experiment more, and the teams in an unsalvagable position might throw everything at the wall, just to see if they can make the best out of a bad situation.-Phill