The International 2014: must-watch games from day two
If you missed yesterday's list, you can find it here.
Almost nothing today went as expected. Well, some things. As far as day two's competitive matches went, however, extraordinary upsets and out-of-left-field performances were the rule. Today saw the fall of former champions and the continued rise of teams that almost everybody had counted out. While the matches I've chosen below reflect the best of the day, this was one of those essential runs that bears watching in full and analysing after the fact.
Note that everything that follows includes spoilers for day two of the International. Recordings of all of the games below can be found through the official tournament microsite.
Na'Vi vs. Cloud 9, Game 3
This match was the heartbreaker, guaranteed to send a fan-favourite home. In game 3, with the set tied 1-1, Cloud 9 played some of the best Dota I've ever seen them play. They were arguably outdrafted by Na'Vi, who picked themselves up a Newbee-style push draft in attempt to secure a quick win. Against a Brewmaster, Death Prophet, Shadow Shaman, Nature's Prophet and Ancient Apparition, Cloud 9 should have lost most if not all of their towers by the twenty minute mark. They drafted Bounty Hunter, Doom, Ember Spirit, Clockwerk and Skywrath Mage in response, a lineup suited to pickoff kills that it didn't look like they'd get against Na'Vi's five-man deathball. I told a friend that I'd eat my words if Na'Vi didn't win. Then, well, I ate words for lunch.
Cloud 9 started rotating for ganks early and kept up the pressure, shutting down Dendi's mid Death Prophet and wasting time whenever Na'Vi managed to group up to push. Pieliedie's Bounty Hunter played hide-and-seek with Na'Vi in their own jungle for minutes at a time, earning little in terms of traditional advantages but playing mindgames that prevented Na'Vi from ever really cohering as a team. My MVP, however, was b0ne7. His fantastic performance on Clockwerk made him respect-ban worthy in the games that followed, and created a huge amount of space for Cloud 9 in conjunction with Skywrath Mage. Every time Brewmaster ult was popped early, Cloud 9 would get something done around the map to secure their advantage - but the fact that this was possible at all is owed to the amount of control that b0ne7 granted his team. They peeled apart the deathball before it could even really start, demonstrating that when they can't outdraft a team they can still certainly outplay them. I'm not sure if that particular talent will carry C9 against Vici, but it's not a bad start.
Other highlights from this set: Game 2. This was Na'Vi's comeback after dropping the first set, and the one game they played that really felt like them. Their current fondness for mixing up the lanes notwithstanding, game 2 is an opportunity to watch Dendi's Invoker prove that there's no such thing as a bad Chronosphere when Sunstrike is off cooldown. Meanwhile, Funn1k's Venomancer got off to the worst possible start - even dying to neutrals at one point - before punishing Cloud 9 well into the lategame with relentless Plague Ward sieges and punishing Poison Novas. Then, on the back line, Kuroky's Witch Doctor landed perfect ult after perfect ult, demonstrating that Na'Vi's talent for playmaking extends right down the roster.
LGD vs. iG, Game 3
Having won ESL One a few weeks earlier and had a strong showing in the playoffs, iG felt like the easy favourite going into their elimination match against LGD. That's why it was such a surprise when LGD utterly subdued them in the first game with a high-damage draft that made short work of iG's all-important supports. Game 3, however, showed off another type of Dota. This time, Rabbit's Centaur worked closely with DD's Vengeful Spirit to find kills on Ferrari_430's Faceless Void and even YYF's Bristleback. The game then settled into a passive phase, but it's worth watching for the very end. LGD built up such a health and healing advantage on Centaur and Viper that they gained the power to push through teamfights that should have ended in wipes and miraculously didn't.
There's a moment around the 45 minute mark when LGD's advantage is such that iG can't win, and Rabbit knows it. He's just defied all expectations and eliminated 2012's International champions: in the circumstances, he does what anybody would do. His victory dance.
Other highlights from this set: Check out LGD's Centaur-Invoker-Skywrath Mage combo in game one. We tend not to see a huge amount of early nuking power in these push-heavy drafts, but LGD made tremendous use of a Blink Dagger on Centaur Warrunner to set up instagib snipes all around the map. Watch the beginning of game two for a fantastic support performance on Mirana by ChuaN, as he landed long-range arrows that'd put most midlaners to shame.
LGD vs. DK, Game 1
Nobody expected LGD to take down iG, but DK was another matter entirely. The latter inarguably belong in the tournament's top three, and in the first twenty minutes of their match against LGD they demonstrated just why that's the case. Nobody executes teamfights and pickoff kills like they do. When they're firing on all cylinders, their coordination is immaculate. There were dozens of good examples of this over the course of this long match, but the one that comes to mind is a pickoff on Rabbit's Batrider on the bottom lane. Mushi's Templar Assassin approached with an invisibility rune and probably had enough damage to take Rabbit down, but he timed his opening Meld strike perfectly to coincide with an incoming Nature's Wrath from iceiceice. What could have been a protracted ten second kill was achieved in less than one, demonstrating the extreme efficiency that makes DK so threatening.
But then, the story gets strange. The middle part of the game was typified by sporadic exciting engagements separated by long periods of farmng and contesting wards. DK refused to consolidate their advantage for a long time, and eventually LGD were able to leave their base and farm their way back into the game. You can pick up on the exact moment when DK realised that they'd let the game run too long: they kept finding pickoff kills but DD's support Alchemist became a bigger and bigger threat while Lin's Lycan slowly grew beyond the point where DK could contain them. Eventually, it only took one good teamfight for LGD to regain their confidence, go on the aggressive, and punish DK hard in the lategame. The match ended with a base race followed by a standing ovation for LGD from the crowd - a well deserved show of appreciation.
Other highlights from this set: The rest of the games in this set will be played tomorrow, but while I'm at it - watch the first game in C9 vs. Vici for an absolute masterclass in offlane Batrider by b0ne7. Batrider is hardly a rare sight (when he gets through the bans) but b0ne7 plays him like nobody else. He's relentlessly aggressive with Sticky Napalm in a way that takes opponents by surprise, and the utter bravado with which he challenged fy's Sand King's right to jungle farm is inspirational. Characters like Sand King, Tidehunter and Enigma are popular in part because it's assumed that they can safely pick up some gold in the jungle if they can't find it elsewhere; b0ne7 did more than any other offlaner I've seen in this tournament to prove that notion wrong.
The All Star match
Puppey spooned rOtk, Loda stole some real cheese, and nobody would give Dendi a kill in a 100+ kill game. I'm not sure how much more I need to do to sell you on this.
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