The International 2013 group stage preview

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As The International 2013 opens tonight, people are getting ready for a whole load of Dota. We kick off with the Wildcard match, Quantic Gaming and Rattlesnake battle it out to see whose journey is going to end at the first hurdle. Think of it as a starter to a three course meal.

Next up is the main course: the group stages. Sixteen teams will be whittled down to eight, and all it takes is 112 games of Dota 2. Each team battle it out for points: the top eight enter the winners bracket and the rest go to the savage losers bracket. It’s a lot of Dota to ingest, so much that it’s actually impossible to watch it all.

Of course, we save the big event for last as our tasty dessert to top it all off. The teams play in a knockout tournament until one is crowned the champion.

Here’s the itinerary for the group stages:

Saturday: 9AM PDT / 5PM BST – 10PM PDT / 6AM BST

Sunday: 9AM PDT / 5PM BST – 10PM PDT / 6AM BST

Monday: 9AM PDT / 5PM BST – 2PM PDT / 10PM BST

All the teams have been split up into two groups: A and B. Each team will play every team in their group at least twice, resulting in 224 games total. Cripes.

This preview is dedicated to each and every team, their strengths, weaknesses and our prediction on how they will fare in the tournament.

Group A

Na’Vi

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  • Clement “Puppey” Ivanov
  • Daniil “Dendi” Ishutin
  • Kuro Salehi “KuroKy” Takhasomi
  • Aleksander “XBOCT” Dashkevich
  • Gleb “Funn1k” Lipatnikov

It’s difficult to think of The International separate from Na’Vi. Persisting to the finals in both the first and second tournaments, they might not have taken away the million dollar prize pool twice, but once is more than enough to cement them as the iconic team in Dota 2.

Even disregarding that, Na’Vi have never looked quite as dominant as they have in the past few months, especially considering the professional Dota 2 scene itself has never been as strong and varied. Still Na’Vi confidently take victory after victory, even travelling to China to soundly defeat China’s best in the Alienware cup just a month ago.

Their success can be attributed to a triple threat: Puppey’s confident and intuitive leadership, making sure to give his teammates the heroes and roles they need to do what they do best, and ensuring that he denies the opposing team the tools they need to do the same. Dendi’s control of the map after winning the mid lane; if he falters for even a moment his team swoops in to make sure he gets his footing back. Both of these combined with XBOCT’s consistently ballsy plays, Funn1k’s quiet confidence on the offlane and KuroKy’s brilliant play on his signature hero, Rubick.

Prediction: It’d be a lie to say that Na’Vi weren’t the favourites going into TI3, but at the same time there isn’t really much space between them and the likes of Alliance, or LGD, or even a recovering iG. Victory will come down to a mixture of experience and flair.. Na’Vi have both.

Team Dignitas

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  • Ioannis “Fogged” Loucas
  • JingJun “Sneyking” Wu
  • Saahil “Universe” Arora
  • Kurtis “Aui_2000” Ling
  • Peter “Waytosexy” Nguyen

Team Dignitas can be summed up into one word: average. They’re a lovely bunch of guys, but The International is going to be a totally different beast of a competition than they’re used to. They’ve had next to no interaction with the Chinese scene, which will put them at a huge disadvantage when they inevitably face them.

Even when they’re fighting on their home turf, they’re only winning half of their matches.

This isn’t to say they don’t have a shot at the title, but it’s certainly going to be a uphill climb. This video shows their highlights from the Russian Dota 2 League, which they did indeed win.

Prediction: They have what it takes to make top eight, so it all really comes down to who they face in the group stages. If they haven’t studied the Chinese teams, the lack of experience will be their undoing.

MUFC

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  • Litt-Binn “WinteR” Chan
  • Daniel “TFG” Wong
  • Chen Hor “FzFz” Siew
  • Woi Cheong “Ling” Sim
  • Jun Lion “dabeliuteef” Loh

The only other Malaysian team in the draw alongside Orange, MUFC aren’t quite as well known, despite having fan favourite WinteR on the team. This is partly because they had to drop out of the International last year, opening up a spot for Mouz and World Elite to play for. And until their second placing at The Asia tournament last year, they hadn’t really moved that far beyond local tournaments in Malaysia and Indonesia.

But after picking up WinteR, things have accelerated, and while they’ve accomplished a lot to make it to Seattle, the bulk of the work is still to come; they’ve not been able to have all that much practice against the biggest names in the tournament, let alone properly get to know and understand the differences in Western Dota compared to what they’re familiar with.

Prediction: With a heavy focus on split pushing and strong support of mid lane, MUFC are facing a problem with rigidity of strategy: if they don’t mix things up going into TI3 they’re going to have trouble against teams that know how to exploit a lack of flexibility.

LGD Gaming.cn

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  • Zhang “xiao8” Ning
  • Liu “Sylar” Jiajun
  • Yao “Yao” Zhengzheng
  • Xie “dd” Bin
  • Leong “ddc” Fat-meng

Considered the best Chinese Dota 2 team in the world right now, LGD are greatly feared by the western Dota 2 teams. In May this year alone they cleaned house: winning 23 games and only losing a paltry 8.

They’re very methodical in their play, often achieving total team fight dominance and making it look almost easy. Yao’s Invoker play can sum this up nicely. Invoker is a hero with fourteen different abilities, and Yao makes it look like child’s play.

Prediction: Certainly the the team that China rest their hopes on, LGD could see themselves making the top four. The thing to usurp them would be surprise strategies, which we could easily see at this years tournament.

Group A (Cont.’d)

Mouz

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  • Troels “syndereN” Nielsen
  • Adrian “FATA” Trinks
  • Dominik “Black^” Reitmeier
  • Pascal “paS” Lohmeier
  • Max “qojqva” Broecker

After a disappointing performance at last year’s International where the team was knocked out at the first hurdle of the knockout stage, Mousesports has had a turbulent twelve months. They only starting to reconstitute with the addition of SyndereN in April of this year. Taking over the Captaincy, he had less than a month to get the team ready for the Western Qualifiers for The International, and despite having a lot of fan support, the early stages of the competition wasn’t exactly smooth sailing for the team.

But since coming out of the Qualifiers victorious, securing a spot in the tournament proper, Mouz have been going from strength to strength. While there’s some problems with the lack of versatility in Synderen’s drafting, as the team becomes more confident with one another they’ll also have more strategies available to them.

FATA has become one of the premier mid players in the entire professional Dota 2 scene, with his Puck play over the past few months controlling the mid lane and making sure his team asserts dominance over the match as it develops.

Prediction: It’s not unreasonable to see Mouz as one of the forerunners in Seattle. They have been able to beat teams like Alliance and Na’Vi on occasion, and that places them in a very strong position heading into the International. It’s just about whether they can continue to develop as a team even while they compete for well over a million dollars, or if the pressure will get to the still newly formed relationships between the players.

DK

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  • Xu “BurNIng” Zhilei
  • Bai “rOtk” Fan
  • Xie “Yueru” Junhao
  • Yao “QQQ” Yi
  • Lei “X!!” Zengrong

DK have a very successful history. Last year they won every tournament they participated in pretty convincing fashion. The problem is apparent when you check their tournament history for 2013: there’s not a lot there.

This year they’ve not had very much experience, and no one really knows why. They did manage second place in the G-1 League, falling to some crazy strategies from The Alliance. The clip below is one of the matches and worth a watch.

Prediction: Hard to say due to their low profile this year. We know what they could do, but it’s the now that’s important. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them knocked out early or in the top eight. It’s anyones guess.

Fnatic

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  • Tal “Fly” Aizik
  • Johan “N0tail” Sundstein
  • Adrian “Era” Kryeziu
  • Kai “H4nn1” Hanbueckers
  • Kalle “Trixi” Saarinen

A team who regularly sees themselves in the top three of any tournament, Fnatic have made leaps and bounds in terms of progression. With heavy training sessions and rigorous boot camps, their hard work will certainly put them above quite a lot of teams from the very first match.

A recent testament to their stoic determination was in the Corsair Tournament, where they played in the longest competitive match in Dota 2 history: clocking in at 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Prediction: They deal well with pressure, certainly a valuable trait at the biggest Dota 2 tournament. Expect them to reach the top eight, even the top four if they keep their cool.

Team Zenith

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  • Daryl “iceiceice” Koh Pei Xiang
  • Wai Hong “xy-” Toh
  • Nicholas “xFreedom” Lim
  • Wei Poong “YamateH” Ng
  • Chee Cai “Ice” Chua

The only team from Singapore in the tournament, Team Zenith have a tough challenge ahead of them. Earlier in the year they were dominating, in March alone they didn’t lose a single game out of thirteen. However since then it’s been a downhill struggle, playing less and losing more.

There’s still hope. The players have been practicing a variety of unusual heroes to try and surprise their opponents. Here’s Freedom playing Timbersaw, a hero which we should hopefully see a lot of during The International.

Prediction: With their horrible recent streak of results, their journey at The International could end abruptly In the knock out brackets. It will all come down to whether they can shrug off their recent bad luck and focus on what needs to be done.

Group B

The Alliance

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  • Jerry “EGM” Lundkvist
  • onathan “Loda” Berg
  • Gustav “s4” Magnusson
  • Joakim “Akke” Akterhall
  • Henrik “AdmiralBulldog” Ahnberg

Ever since their inception in April, The Alliance have been making strides on the Dota 2 scene. To put it briefly they have attained first place in eight of the nine tournaments they have participated in, with many more achievements under their previous team name No Tidehunter.

The Alliance aren’t scared to try new tricks to outsmart their opponents. Thinking outside the box can be a risky strategy in Dota 2, when notoriety for doing so is well known. Here’s a video of one of these tricks in last years Dreamhack.

It was simple. Nature’s Prophet teleports to Roshan at level one and suicides. He’d already spent his starting gold, and respawned instantly due to being level one. Once his death was announced to the public, it was enough to bait the enemy team into the pit and lose two of their heroes putting Alliance at an incredible advantage.

The play was jaw droppingly delicious, but it can only be done once. Being as famous as it was, there’s little to no possibility of Alliance being able to recreate that sort of strategy. But that begs the question: what new tricks are they going to pull out of the hat at this years International?

Prediction: The Alliance can easily make the top three, their consistent success a testament to their skill. Their greatest enemy will be their own creativity. If they try and force these extravagant plays, they could end up throwing a match when all that is called for is clean, tight teamwork.

Invictus Gaming

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  • Chen “Zhou” Yao
  • Luo “430” Feichi
  • Jiang “YYF” Cen
  • Zeng “Faith” Hongda
  • Wong “ChuaN” Hock Chuan

Last year’s champions, Invictus Gaming have already demonstrated their worth. The question is have they been able to keep it up?

Recent results aren’t promising. They’ve only won the G-League this year, which compared to other teams is alarmingly low. Rising Stars, a relatively new Chinese team, even managed to knock them out Esports Champion League in straight games in early July. The team just fell apart during the match, allowing horrible mistakes to put them on tilt.

Here’s the moment when they were crowned International Champions last year. The sportsmanship and respect between IG and Na’Vi is nothing short of admirable.

Prediction: Everyone expects them to do well, but lately it’s even questionable whether they will go far in the knock out brackets. Hopefully they’ve cracked down on their mishaps during rigorous training and bootcamps, ready to show us why they still matter.

LGD.int

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  • Per Anders “Pajkatt” Olsson Lille
  • Sergey “God” Bragin
  • Braxton “Brax” Paulson
  • Rasmus Berth “MiSeRy” Filipsen
  • Sivatheeban “1437” Sivanathapillai

Originally LGD.int were conceived as a sort of experiment in the nature vs nurture argument, where the dominance and execution of the Chinese scene was seen as a cultural advantage, rather than just due to their training regime or any particular mentality. LGD decided to put this to the test, bringing a group of Dota 2 players from across the Western scene and having them undergo the same rigorous schedule as their Chinese players.

Since their inception late last year, LGD.int have been performing relatively well, all things considered. Players like Pajkatt and MiSeRy have histories with Dota that go back half a decade, and they’re all but legends in their own right, and that level of experience at the very least means LGD.int less likely to struggle under the pressure of one of the largest LAN tournaments in Dota history.

That said, while they’ve firmly deserved their slot among the top sixteen teams in the world at the moment, LGD.int’s performance of late has been spotty at best.

Prediction: Teams that they have a history of doing well against they’ve lost games to, and they’re currently riding a decline, which is the last thing you want going into the largest tournament of the year. That said, if anyone can pull a victory-shaped rabbit out of a gloomy-looking hat, it’s Pajkatt.

Quantic Gaming

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  • Artur “Goblak” Kostenko
  • Airat “Silent” Gaziev
  • Sébastien “7ckngMad” Debs
  • Thibault “Funzii” Calonne
  • Titouan “Sockshka” Merloz

One of the two wildcard teams to compete at The International, Quantic Gaming is relatively new on the scene. Their first hurdle will be beating Rattlesnake, which they do have the edge in. Both are new teams, but Quantic Gaming have more experience of big tournaments, and all the challenges they introduce.

Speaking of big tournaments they made their breakthrough at Dreamhack Summer this year, reaching the finals against no less than The Alliance. They put up a hell of a fight too, which you can see in the video below.

Prediction: They have the advantage when it comes to the wildcard match over Rattlesnake. If they do manage to gain entry to the most prestigious Dota 2 event on the planet, it’s down to them to hold their nerve and remember what they came to do. Win.

Virtus Pro

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  • Yaroslav “NS” Kuznetsov
  • Oleg “Crazy” Kolesnichenko
  • Ilya “Airman” Pivtsaev (Illidan Stormrage)
  • Sergey “ARS-ART” Revin
  • Sergey “KSi” Kuzin

A greatly respected team from Russia, Virtus Pro have a lot of fans resting their hopes on them doing well in The International. They’re last achievement was winning The Defense 3 back in March this year. Around that time they also picked up ex Na’Vi member ARS-ART to bolster their team.

One of their key players is their carry: Illidan Stormrage. Not only is he a consistent farmer, but he knows the exact limits of each hero. This allows him to make incredibly accurate judgement calls when it comes to risking his life for those extra kills. Truly a player to be wary of in any match up.

Prediction: They’re a good team, but this will be their first big tournament. Their performance at Dreamhack Summer was surprising, but they will need to do more if they want a shot at the title. Expect them to make it into the top eight.

Group B (Cont’d)

Team Liquid

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  • Brian “FLUFFNSTUFF” Lee
  • Michael “ixmike88” Ghannam
  • Tyler “TC” Cook
  • Steven “Korok” Ashworth
  • Sam “Bulba” Sosale

Another relatively new entrant, Team Liquid’s foray into Dota 2 after success in Starcraft 2 has been confident over the past six months. The highlight was travelling to China alongside Alliance to compete in the G-1 League, and while they didn’t achieve quite the success of the Swedish team, they still placed well. More importantly, they garnered vital LAN experience.

Perhaps best known for popularising Visage in the pro scene when FLUFFNSTUFF so confidently started drafting the hero at the beginning of the year, there’s the hope that there’ll be similarly subversive drafting going into TI3. The major worry for Liquid isn’t how they draft or strategize, however, but merely whether they can adjust to such a massive shift in latency both on their side and that of their opponents. For an American team without a large amount of LAN experience the difference could be devastating.

That said, they will be used to the timezones, and the stability of their roster is sure to work in their favour, especially as morale plays a much larger role when the spectators and opposing team are only feet from where you’re playing.

Prediction: Team Liquid occupy a weird position of wavering near the top of the pack without ever quite breaking into it. They’ve flirted with victory over teams like Na’Vi and Alliance in the past, but have never managed to convincingly assert themselves over those monoliths of modern Dota. Although there’ll never be a better time than in Seattle.

Orange

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  • Joel “XtiNcT” Chan Zhan Leong
  • Yee Fung “Mushi” Chai
  • Kang Yang “ky.xy” Lee
  • Wai Pern “Net” Lim
  • Chaong Xin “Ohaiyo” Khoo

Orange have a reputation for bucking the trend of the metagame, at least in the small scale, with the team resolutely sticking to its guns on heroes like Windrunner and Sand King, despite both of them falling out of favour with almost everyone else over the past few months.

This, coupled with their habit of swapping around the roles each player is known for, make them one of the most unpredictable teams among the sixteen in Seattle.

That doesn’t mean it always works out for them, however. Mushi’s Outworld Destroyer might be respect banned against them almost half the time, but their refusal to stick with a small group of heroes seems to be just as much a curse as a blessing. Where most teams refine their play with a comfortable pool of strategies, Orange’s performance can be as unpredictable as their draft.

Prediction: It’d be difficult to place Orange among the frontrunners in the tournament, but at the same time it’s impossible to rule them out; Mushi is one of the strongest players in the Eastern scene, and the entire team is built around his ability to find farm and kills at any stage of the game. Orange have just as much potential to go far as they do to wiff it at the first hurdle.

Tongfu

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  • Zhi Hao “Hao” Chen
  • Pan “Mu” Zhang
  • Zhao Hui “Sansheng” Wang
  • Jiao “Banana” Wang
  • Yang “KingJ” Zhou

When you think of Chinese Dota the names of LGD and iG pop to the forefront of your mind, especially after last year’s International, and the way they’ve both remained at the top of the Chinese game ever since. But TongFu have been on the ascendancy ever since they came away in seventh place at the end of August last year, even taking LGD.cn’s spot in TI3 when that team changed its roster and was relegated to the qualifiers (which they promptly won).

Despite a rocky roster over the past six months, with three of their five members departing between March and April, TongFu have never looked stronger, coming away from the Super League, the largest tournament outside of The International, with the first prize. They were one of the only teams to take a game off Na’Vi in the Alienware cup, and that kind of ability places them in good stead going into Seattle.

What makes TongFu so exciting is their ability to beat the teams consistently held up to be the ‘best’, even if they haven’t quite managed to achieve it with any sort of regularity.

Prediction: In a tournament like The International, where upsets aren’t just possible but made space for with knockout stages, the possibility of a team like TongFu to relegate a favourite to the Lower Bracket, or even out of the tournament entirely, is always a possibility.

Rattlesnake

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  • Yinqi “Luo” Luo
  • Kai “Kabu” Zhao
  • Zhicheng “LaNm” Zhang
  • Peng “Icy” Wang
  • Li “NEO” Guo

One of the newest teams in the entire tournament, Rattlesnake remain an enigma. They managed to surge through the Eastern Qualifiers to place second after LGD.cn, which is almost like winning the bally thing as LGD.cn shouldn’t have been there in the first place. They’re going up against Quantic in the Wild Card match, and they could be seen as almost the Eastern version of that unpredictable Western team.

If you take a look at how Rattlesnake draft, or more revealingly, how they’re drafted against, it’s clear that teams don’t really know what the Chinese team is going to do. Rather than ‘respect’ ban any heroes, teams tend to just go for the current favourites, heroes like Alchemist and Visage, but even those staples aren’t all that commonly seen in Rattlesnake’s drafting.

One constant is greediness, however, with Rattlesnake favouring spreading their money-hungry heroes around, and forgoing any strategy that sticks to just one ‘carry’ role. Heroes like Dragon Knight, Lifestealer, Gyrocopter and Alchemist are all picked often, each thrown down different lanes to maximise the amount of gold in Rattlesnake’s coffers. The only other hero that could be seen as anything approaching a common pickup for the team is Kabu’s signature Clockwerk, the master of disrupting teamfights, despite his recent nerf.

Prediction: Rattlesnake’s entire tournament hinges on that Wild Card match; if they can win it, they’ve already beaten one of the stronger Western teams, and they’ll be in a solid position heading into the tournament proper. And if they lose, well, they’re out.