The International 2013 Group Stage – Day 1

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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 nearly $1.4 million first-prize.

All day today, 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.

(06:30am BST/12:30am EST) – Day one wrap up

Many, many hours of Dota 2 have been consumed, and everyone is feeling the fatigue. Day one is finally a wrap, but we still have over a week to go before it’s all over. So what are my impressions of today’s performances?

TI13GSDay!

If Alliance being the only team to remain undefeated doesn’t say much, I don’t know what will. Most importantly, they were consistent in their drafting and play. I didn’t witness any crazy strategies like everyone expects from them, but it’s clear that Alliance and many other teams are saving their secret weapons until the main event.

On the other end of the spectrum we have MUFC. I never actually watched one of their games, but just by flicking through the scoreboards I can’t identify anything majorly wrong with their picks. It could just be that they were simply outplayed, but that shouldn’t make them give up hope. I remember last year a certain team going that wasn’t doing well in the group stages either. However come the main event, they won the whole bloody thing. Of course I’m talking about IG.

The biggest surprise today has to be Team Dignitas and Team Liquid putting up many good fights. The only teams representing the USA, many see them as inferior to the more dominant European and Chinese teams which I would have to agree with. Regardless, they certainly showed us today that they mean business: Liquid beating TongFu and Dignitas owning LGD.cn in straight games.

Thank you to everyone who stuck around. Be sure to let us know your thoughts on day one in the comments section below. For now I’m heading to the land of nod before this all kicks off again tomorrow at 5pm BST. -Nick

(04:15am BST/11:15pm EST) – Old meta is the new meta

Having just witnessed Na’Vi’s double win over Zenith, Dendi reminds us that we need only look to the past for successful strategies. A Shadow Fiend with a Blink Dagger is a fearsome foe, especially when paired up with a hero who has a long AoE stun. Earthshaker did a great job fulfilling that role, providing an ample three second window for Dendi to get off his Requiem of Souls for huge damage.

Another interesting play was at the start of game two when Puppey, playing as Chen, sent a Harpy over to the mid lane. What happened next probably set the tone for the entire match. Puppey abused the Harpies ability, Chain Lighting, to basically win Dendi the lane immediately. It’s a four second cooldown nuke that does 140 damage to it’s initial target, before bouncing to four other targets. Not only did this provide huge harass to Zenith’s Outworld Devourer, but also weakened the enemy creeps, allowing Dendi to easily attain last hits and power up his Necromastery.

What does this mean: Na’Vi demonstrates that some of the old guard of meta strategies can still work, even in the face of recent nerfs. There’s always opportunity for good play to nullify heroes that seem weak initially. Speaking of which IG JUST PICKED MORPHLING! It’s like TI12 all over again. -Nick

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(02:15am BST/9:15pm EST) –Unstable Concoction

Due to such a long game from Alliance and IG, I missed almost all of series eight. I took the time to evaluate the group stage so far. All scores are accurate at the time of writing, but are bound to change as time goes on.

DK, Fnatic and LGD.cn tie at the top of Group A with three wins and one loss. All three teams have been playing some fantastic Dota, but all equally reminded they’re not invincible with each of their respective loss. Gyrocopter and Lifestealer still sit as the most successful carries to pick. Teams are experimenting with new line ups, but they haven’t found one that shakes the tried and tested meta. Na’Vi is tied at two games all, coming back from a rocky start to the group stage, a similar situation for Zenith. Mouz had a great start, but haven’t managed to keep alight the fiery spirit they demonstrated in their first game.

Hang in there MUFC, four losses isn’t all that bad, right?

Group B is looking drastically different on the other hand. TongFu are remaining undefeated with a straight four game lead. Alliance are in a similar situation, but need to beat IG again to match TongFu. If last game was anything to go by (read about it below), it will take another long game to settle it. Liquid is sitting with two games apiece, striking it even between their opponents Orange and VP. The games that they won were executed in almost methodical fashion, but it looks like they weren’t able to keep up the consistency. Sitting at the bottom are VP, Orange and Rsnake, with one win and three losses.

What does this mean: The teams that are experimenting with new, strange hero picks are getting punished right now. That’s not to say it should be avoided: the group stages are a better place than any compared to the main event where a loss can spell doom. I’m convinced that one team will find a lineup or strategy that will send ripples throughout the event. From who, I’m not sure. I’m sure Quantic Gaming would have shown us a few things or two, but alas they’re not around. Alliance is your next best bet, as crazy tactics is ingrained into their play style. -Nick

(01:30am BST/8:30pm EST) – Eating my own words

To finish series seven, I decided to duck into Alliance against Invictus Gaming. As I watched the picks I almost felt like I was going to eat my own words from earlier today. Alliance pick up a Viper while IG respond with a Spectre. Two heroes arguably who have seen little play in recent tournaments.

First blood kicked off bottom with a dead Crystal Maiden for Alliance, but they swiftly responded by killing IG’s Treant Protector in the jungle. The next upset came when Outworld Devourer was bringing his bottle to mid, and a miss micro of the courier got it killed by Alliance’s tier one tower. Not only did the courier dying award every player from Alliance with 150 gold, but it also denied IG’s Outworld Devourer his bottle for more than two minutes.

Kills are exchanged here and there, each team took it in turns to draw blood. The only way to see who was ahead was to dive into the stats, which showed Alliance’s Viper on top of last hits. It started to come together for IG once all of their heroes hit level six. Treant Protector pounced on Alliance’s assault on top tower, which allowed IG to pull ahead on kills.

A lack of wards for Alliance made it an uneasy experience Viper and Lone Druid whenever IG disappeared off the map. An engagement mid saw Alliance fighting back IG’s lead. Everyone was at low health after everything had gone off, and Spectre retreated to TP out in the Roshan pit. However Lone Druid chased him with his monstrous companion, and snagged the kill before Spectre could finish the teleport.

As it approached the half an hour mark, things looked even again. Spectre picked up Radiance while Lone Druid matched and raised her with an Assault Cuirass. Alliance looked to take bottom barracks and was successful, however it cost them dearly when they tried to exit. First to go was the bear, which was on cooldown for Lone Druid. Trying to save it, Naga Siren was caught out and swiftly dispatched. Within a minute IG were at Alliances mid barracks and knocking on their door, forcing Alliance to spend gold on multiple buybacks.

Another fight in the Roshan pit bodes well for Alliance, who caught four of IG in a Call Down from Gyrocopter thanks to a well timed Song of the Siren from Naga Siren. Forced to buy back, IG tried to recuperate their set back, but Alliance were having none of it. A final push down mid ends up with a five man wipe for IG, as Alliance demolished their base and forced the “gg”. -Nick

(12:30am BST/7:30pm EST) – Thunder and Lightning

In the land of the melee carries, the Razor is king. That’s the lesson that I’m going to take away today, at the very least. Fnatic, arguably the strongest team to play so far today, lost their second game to Zenith through a combination of hubris, a gold disadvantage and some excellent Razor play from Yamateh.

By the end of the game the Razor had Aghanim’s Scepter, upgrading his ultimate ability, and a Refresher Orb, allowing him to cast it twice. The lightning cloud above his head was really quite something to see, surging through the Fnatic base with only the slightest of resistance.

The matchup between DK and LGD.cn proved to be as interesting as was suspected, with both teams taking a game off one another, although LGD’s victory against DK’s draft of Timbersaw, Tidehunter and Pugna feels more like a failure on DK’s part to weild a strange draft than for LGD to properly outplay the team.

Na’Vi’s games against Mouz prevented history repeating itself, and while Fnatic might have been able to knock the Western powerhouse down a peg or two, Mouz weren’t able to repeat their success, instead finding themselves unable to slow down Na’Vi’s attempts to regain their momentum. After a strong first game, Na’Vi even mixed things up, putting Dendi on a Lone Druid, and XBOCT on the Weaver, a hero I’ve never personally seen him on before.

Liquid got the best of Orange, and while my attention was drawn more to the other games, I have to say I’m surprised; Orange have always seemed like a strong team, and while Liquid are by no means weak, I assumed the lack of familiarity with this kind of tournament and setup would work against the American team.

What this means:

Mostly that Na’Vi should never be counted out, and that Fnatic aren’t untouchable. So, really, we’re back to where we thought things stood at the beginning of the day, although Fnatic are still sitting considerably more pretty than at the beginning of the day.

The hugely wide range of hero picks has been the most surprising thing so far, with Timbersaw picked up three times, and Bloodseeker at least twice. Even Silencer is in a game currently, as is Tiny and Luna. It’s getting to the point now where I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t a hero left in the pool that hasn’t been picked by the end of the group stage.

Well, maybe Axe. No love for Axe.-Phill

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(12:20am BST/7:20pm EST) – I’m the Juggernaut, bitch

Next up it was Liquid and Orange, and right off the bat the picks were interesting. Crystal Maiden made another appearance for Liquid, a hero which had all but fallen out of the pro scene. There was also a support Tiny for Orange who could easily contribute to ganks in the early game, transforming into a semi carry with enough farm late game.

Liquid drew first blood bottom with Juggernaut, Naga Siren and Crystal Maiden. The combination of Naga’s Ensnare into a Blade Fury from Juggernaut proved effective for another eight kills within eight minutes. Orange were clearly on the back foot, and every time they tried to gank the Juggernaut it ended up being turned on themselves.

It was equating for a kill a minute for Liquid at the thirteen minute mark, most of them attributed to Juggernaut. 10,000 gold and 5000 experience in the favour of Liquid left Orange in a very difficult position. At fifteen minutes, Orange had only one tier two tower remaining.

Again Orange tried to take down Juggernaut, but he got away again with only a sliver of health, only to re engage and feed him more gold and experience. Liquid took the fight to Orange’s final tier two tower mid. Orange had no choice but to engage. It was immediately met with a Song of the Siren which bought Juggernaut the time needed to heal and retaliate. The “gg” swiftly followed from an almost broken Orange. -Nick

(12:00am BST/7:00pm EST) – It’s too late to capitalize

We start series seven with Virtus Pro and Tongfu, and what a back and forth game it was. VP picked up the likes of Lifestealer, Disrupter and Puck to grab their enemies and hold them in place for Lifestealer to eat. Meanwhile Tongfu had Storm Spirit and Alchemist, two heroes which ball out of control towards the late game.

Engagements were been split right down the middle, with each team trading off in turns. The difference is apparent when VP’s Nature’s Prophet split pushed during every fight, always ensuring VP came away with some sort of lead. But all this did was delay the game, as VP could never capitalize on a good fight. Storm and Alchemist got their Orchid and Assault Cuirass respectively and began to consistently win teamfights.

With VP on the back foot they tried and retaliate once most of Tongfu’s globals were down. But the gank at top was a failure, and Tongfu ended up sending VP home to lick their wounds. Black King Bars popped up everywhere for Tongfu, ending most of VP’s ability to dictate a fight.

A beautiful wall by Dark Seer gave Tongfu the middle barracks, the game looked all but over. VP put up one last hurrah with a smoke up top, but was just met with that paralysing global silence from Silencer, resulting in VP throwing out the “gg”. VP played so well in the early game, but Tongfu managed to bring it home at the beginning of the mid game with great teamwork and item picks. -Nick

(10:30pm BST/5:30pm EST) – The Swedes are coming

If you’re from Sweden, the matchup of Alliance against LGD.int is almost a win win; you’ve got an entirely Swedish team in Alliance, and the legendary Pajkatt on the side of LGD.int. But really, the allegiance seems to be with the team that embodies the concept. For everyone else, Alliance is the team that is going to be carrying the flag for the West if Na’Vi falter.

And, reassuringly, they’re looking significantly more strong than the Ukrainian team. Both games against LGD.int weren’t easy by any means, but Alliance never looked properly threatened throughout them. Both featured the Venomancer, and both were dictated by poise and patience on Alliance’s side.

In the matchup of Liquid against VP, Liquid managed to find themselves a little more in the second game, pulling in the Razor and overcoming VP’s Skywrath strategy. One of the more interesting factors at play for the American teams is the fact that this entire tournament is played over a LAN connection, eliminating the issue of ping that can plague their games. For some teams, like Dignitas, it seems to be working against them, but Liquid at least has some experience from the G-1 League, and it’s working for them.

The second match between iG and Rattlesnake was a little less close, and significantly more confident on the part of iG. They’re looking more and more like the team that won the tournament last year, and a surprise pick of Bloodseeker from Rattlesnake, a hero that is considered cripplingly weak by most, didn’t even remotely pan out for them.

What it means:

While the odd atypical pick up like Venomancer and Skywrath is interesting, the biggest thing to take from this set of games is that Alliance are coming out of the gates strong, and they’ve always been vying for the place of best Western team with Na’Vi. They’re looking like they’ve got the ability to go the whole way through the tournament, and LGD.int, while not quite a top teir team, are by no means easy to wipe out.

Coming up is a matchup between DK and LGD.cn, which should be one of the most significant groupings in Group A. LGD were incredibly strong last year, and from DK’s performance against Dignitas, along with their recent matches leading up to the tournament, they’re easily looking like they could sit at the top of their group. Seeing who comes out victorious of that pair of games is going to be very interesting.-Phill

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State of Play:

Every team has played at least one game now, and the groups are starting to filter out. Fnatic, DK and LGD.cn are sitting comfortably at the top of Group A, with TongFu currently the only team with two wins in Group B, just because they’ve been able to play more games. There’s a more detailed breakdown of the grouping stage, updating as the games happen, over on Liquidpedia.-Phill

(9pm BST/4pm EST) – David and Goliath

After last night’s performance, Rattlesnake going up against last year’s winners, iG, in their first game, seems almost a little cruel. But iG haven’t been performing all that well of late, and Rattlesnake were looking anything but weak against Quantic.

For the longest time, their first game looked like it was going the way of Rattlesnake. Picking a greedy lineup as seems to be the norm for the team, they went for three core heroes, which forces them into a position where they need to win every lane to be able to bring every one online. It’s part insurance policy, part gamble, and for a while it looked like it was going to work.

But the longer the game went on, the stronger iG looked, and Ferrari’s Shadowfiend began to take its toll. They won the match, but Rattlesnake made them work for it, and that’s an impressive feat regardless of the result.

More interestingly, Virtus Pro have been continuing the creative picking, grabbing Skywrath mage in both their games against Liquid. They’re running him as a support hero, which goes against his normal position of controlling the mid lane; the first game went their way pretty convincingly, but things are a little less in their control in the second. That’s thanks mostly to a Razor pickup by Liquid, a hero that’s seeing a surprising amount of bans across the board.

There’s been the first game in the two-match series between Alliance and LGD.int, with the most notable draft being of Venomancer on the side of Alliance. That’s a hero that hasn’t really ever been a common pick in competitive Dota, especially the longer Dota 2’s development has gone on, and the larger the hero pool has become. But with the high emphasis on vision that’s prevalent in competitive Dota 2 at the moment, Venomancer’s wards are all but invaluable.

Tongfu, who recently won the Dota 2 Super League, the largest tournament outside of The International, beat Orange convincingly in both games, who were running odd drafts like Timbersaw that just weren’t working out for them.

What this means:

The interesting thing to take away from this round of games is the Skywrath pickup, I think. He’s apparently seen quite a lot of play in the Russian scene, but to see him run relatively successfully as a support hero when he’s barely seen play outside of Russia could easily have knock on effects for the whole tournament.

The thing to bear in mind is that The International is a melting pot for strategy and drafting tactics as far as Dota 2 is concerned. It’s rare that you have two scenes collide, but here every single region of competitive Dota 2 is placed in the same city, at the same time. Seeing how teams refine their game to adopt what works and throw away what doesn’t, is going to be the real test of this year’s teams.-Phill

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(8pm BST/3pm EST) – Deja Vu

Na’vi didn’t ban out the Alchemist, and Fnatic didn’t bother wasting a ban on him either. Unsurprisingly, after the previous game, Na’Vi didn’t pick him up, and Fnatic instead opted for a quick Lifestealer.

In response, Na’vi went for Keeper of the Light and Phantom Lancer, a draft which feels almost a little desperate, like they’re trying to guarantee a win after how shaky the last game left them. They’re a pairing that got a lot of notoriety half a year ago when Phantom Lancer was at his peak, causing a spate of boring farming matches and considered by many to be frustratingly overpowered. Due to that, there’s not really a quicker way to lose fan support. Dirty, dirty.

I’m focusing on this matchup because it’s the one that had the most potential for an upset after that big Fnatic win in the first game. Na’vi are the clear favourites going into this tournament, and the fact that they lost their first game is not only an upset, but also demonstrates quite how open this entire competition is.

Fnatic took the victory in the second game, too, and looked even more confident in their victory than they did in the first game. It was a small advantage that they just stretched out into a last one by choking out Na’Vi’s attempts to wrest control back, preventing any momentum to build up. In a lot of ways, it looked like Fnatic were playing like Na’Vi at times, which is a pretty high accolade.

In the LGD game, they picked up Tidehunter, and along with heroes like Magnus and Anti-Mage they found a pretty strong victory against MUFC. They’re winning confidently, but it doesn’t seem like either of the games against MUFC were particularly easy. Seeing Tidehunter pop up again after last night’s Wild Card match was a surprise, but it’s always welcome to see such an iconic hero return to the competitive scene.

Perhaps the most tense game was between Mouz and Zenith, where Zenith chose to go with a very greedy lineup against Mouz, grabbing Lifestealer, Alchemist and Dragon Knight. Going up against a Nature’s Prophet and a Gyrocopter, Zenith achieved victory through patience, rather than specifically outplaying Mouz in the moment to moment. It was a matter of ‘my carry beats your carry’, and despite coming close, Mouz couldn’t finish the game before Zenith had the advantage.

What this means:

The biggest point here is Fnatic causing such an upset with a 2-0 victory against Na’Vi. It’s more about them than it is about last year’s runners up, though; Fnatic weren’t really a blip on the radar going into TI3, with it being expected that they’d naturally migrate towards the lower half of their group. But with this victory they’ve shown that they have the nous to pull off victories against even the strongest of teams.

It’s going to be incredibly interesting to see if they can repeat their success against the other powerhouses in the group, like LGD.cn and DK, the latter of which is looking stronger than ever with blindingly fast victories over Dignitas.-Phill

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(7pm BST/2PM EST) – Alchemissed

There were a lot of interesting picks; Dignitas Doom vs DK Alch mid, Bloodseeker on the part of Zenith, LGD going for heroes like Beastmaster and Spectre. Seems like teams are seeing what they can do, and what they can get away with.

Mouz picked up Clinkz, placing him in the primary carry role and echoing Quantic’s play last night. It’s a weird shift, especially with an offlane Lifestealer, and speaks towards some hidden potential in the ganking hero to instead be more of a viable late-game carry.

Going by early games, Zenith, Na’Vi and DK proved you just can’t let Alchemist out if you want to win the laning stage. The hero is crazy strong at the beginning of a match.

Dignitas crumpled in the face of DK. Their greedy lineup wasn’t shut down in the slightest. Dignitas bet big on winning early game with Doom and Shadowfiend and get punished for it.

LGD.cn beat MUFC soundly, as expected. Even with slightly atypical picks in Spectre and Beastmaster.

Na’Vi/Fnatic: Feels like Na’Vi were playing a little too cocky, and Fnatic were waiting for them to slip up. There were a bunch of moments where Na’Vi were taking unnecessary risks and Fnatic have immediately taken advantage of them. The primary example being the greedy Roshan attempt after using Reverse Polarity. Each one adds up, and Fnatic have pulled ahead pretty convincingly.

Mouz/Zenith: A similar story to the Na’Vi game, except Mouz never really lost the advantage, although they came close multiple times. Zenith closed in on their lead, and then lost a massive teamfight, setting themselves back another five-ten minutes. That cycle was repeated throughout the game, until the advantage became insurmountable.

What this means:

While both Mouz and Fnatic’s victories are impressive in their own right, what’s interesting about them is that they are against arguably stronger teams, both of which drafted an Alchemist. He’s a hero that’s been all but first ban material for the past few months, especially after how successful Na’Vi were with him in China at the Alienware cup.

It’s true that DK managed to win convincingly with the hero, but that victory didn’t feel predicated on utilising the Alchemist. They outplayed and outdrafted Dignitas, and both of those led to a quick and convincing victory.

It’s natural to try and figure out who is going to be this year’s Naga Siren, the hero that’s in almost every game and defines the strategies that the players utilise. While this is a pretty small sample group, it’s looking like Alchemist isn’t going to be that hero.-Phill

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Pregame thoughts:

Typically, the group stages are defined by conservatism mixed with a dusting of creativity. It’s here that the International teams are faced with their most comfortable opportunity to try out interesting strategies, but at the same time placing badly in a group could lead to an early exit from the tournament.

What this means for the first day of the preliminaries is twofold: on the one hand, matchups that teams consider a forgone conclusion present an opportunity to try out something new, but on the other, when a team is up against someone they see as a competitive equal, they’ll aim for the win as safely as they can.

Theoretically, this should lead to consistently interesting games across the board, as weaker teams throw strategies at the wall to see what sticks, and a bunch of close games between tried and true match-ups like LGD.cn against Na’Vi, or Alliance against iG.

– Phill

I can imagine a lot of you feeling slightly overwhelmed with the amount of Dota 2 presented to you this weekend. The key to enjoying it is to approach it with a very care free attitude. Although watching exclusively the big guns might be a popular option, pay just as much attention to the underdogs.

Big names such as Na’Vi, Alliance and LGD.cn will treat these group stages as systematically as possible. They want the points, but they won’t be willing to use all their secret strategies and tactics unless they absolutely need to. They’ll like to play it safe and conservative until the main event, where it counts the most.

The lesser known teams on the other hand will probably be throwing everything they have at each game, treating us to some meta shaking Dota. Quantic Gaming were perfect examples of this: responsible of many of the meta line ups you’ll see throughout the tournament. It’s also the reason why Rattlesnake banned out Treant Protector over and over again in the Wild Card match.

So when you’re looking for your next game to watch, don’t be afraid to take a peek at a team you’re unfamiliar with. You never know, you might witness something truly special.

– Nick