ESL One Frankfurt: day one in review
Images courtesy of the ESL Twitter account.
What an incredible day for DIGITAL SPORTS. You get used to the idea that these events are always going to get bigger; that the next step up is always going to mean a larger stadium and more impressive production values. But there's something pretty startling about seeing games played at the highest level in an environment like the Commerzbank Arena. It's more than you get from attending other kinds of large gaming convention: it's not just about having something in common with thousands of other people. It's about the catalysing impact of sport, the way a hobby can grow and grow and grow until it becomes a spectacle.
Today I became freshly aware of the effect that sport has on a crowd. Even as a handful of people crept away from the games to watch the World Cup, the energy in the arena was astonishing. I figured I'd seen the biggest crowd response I was going to see when S4 landed that million-dollar coil at the end of The International 2013, but ESL One came close to topping that with its first kill. It's the best soundtrack you could hope for, like watching Dota in the company of a thunderstorm. A thunderstorm that really likes it when wizards die.
If you missed any of the matches, VODs are available here. Otherwise, lets talk about the games. Needless to say, I'm going to spoil the results.
Mousesports vs. Invictus Gaming
The home crowd was on Mousesports' side before they drafted Brewmaster and Axe in their first picks in game one, which is saying something. The new Mouz, formerly Team Dog, are slicker and more aggressive than the previous lineup to carry that name. Aggression is more or less their identity, and that first game draft, which also included Bounty Hunter, Leshrac and Shadow Demon was designed to win the game fast and hard. It almost worked.
The tournament got off to the most exciting possible start when Pajkatt's midlane Axe, who had been handily outlaning Ferrari_430's Lycan, got jumped by IG's support pair of Earthshaker and Shadow Shaman. What should have been a routine gank mid turned into a disaster for the Chinese team when it turned out they couldn't actually bring the Axe down before his Counter-Helix spins wrecked them; three spins and two dunks later and that three man gank had become a first blood double kill for Mouz.
But momentum easily won is easily lost, and over time it became clear that IG had drafted specifically to control the tempo of the game. ChuaN's Earthshaker was the bouncer at the entrance of every engagement Mouz wanted to take in the midgame, slamming the door shut with on-point Fissures every time Mouz tried to press the attack. IG efficiently secured farm, towers and Rosh kills while Mouz's gank lineup fished for kills, taking advantage of the long cooldown on Primal Split to minimise the impact of the Brewmaster. With Pugna and Shadow Shaman ensuring that IG could take towers whenever they liked, Mouz desperately needed counter-initiation that they just couldn't reliably get from a Bounty Hunter or Leshrac.
It was a very different story in game two. Mouz picked up the Bane-Mirana combo, securing themselves a dominant start and lumbering IG with the most unhappy Razor and Faceless Void you're likely to see. MiSeRy was the clear MVP for his Bane play, creating space everywhere with max-range Nightmares, Fiends' Grips from nowhere, each setting up a Sacred Arrow or Ancient Apparition ult. IG doubled down on protecting Luo's Razor, which bought them some time, but all the while FATA built up a Viper that the Chinese team just couldn't deal with. It was a phenomenal performance from Mouz, ending after 36 minutes with 40 kills to 7.
Then, after picking up a head of steam, Mouz returned to their game one plan for game three. Denied the Mirana, they went for Brewmaster with Tidehunter, Lich, Ember Spirit, and Ancient Apparition. IG played what they knew, picking up Earthshaker, Lycan, Storm Spirit, Pugna and Rubick. Despite being close on kills and towers for the bulk of the game, Mouz struggled to unseat their opponents in teamfights and couldn't ultimately overcome the fact that they'd been outdrafted. IG's relentless pushing power forced Mouz into a reactive rather than active posture: as much a the western teams love Brewmaster at the moment, he acts as a fairly good barometer for when things are going badly wrong. If Primal Split is being used to clear out a Pugna ward, you've probably already lost. The crowd didn't want to see Mouz go, but go they did. They proved that IG are beatable, but IG proved that clutch plays mean nothing if you don't have a plan to end the game.