The International 2014: must-watch games from day three
Missed yesterday's report? Read it here.
The bloodiest day of The International 2014 began with a run of the tournament's best matches. Then, after a run of upsets in a tournament that has been defined by upsets, one team emerged that will face Newbee in the grand final today. It's certainly not the grand final I'd have expected a week ago, and if you'd told me these results a month ago at ESL One I'd have called you crazy. I'd also have asked what it was like in the future and if you could help me skip the queue in the Secret Shop, but that's another matter.
Below I'll be listing off the must-watch games from yesterday as well as talking about some of the day's stranger moments. You can find statistics and videos for all of these matches on the official International website, and you can also look up the matches in-game via the 'Watch' tab.
Cloud 9 vs. Vici Gaming, Game 2
Cloud 9 had arrived at the main event as underdogs and made a statement by eliminating Na'Vi from the tournament on Saturday. Having dropped their first game against Vici, I was interested to see how they'd react. One of the familiar narratives of professional Dota concerns the teams that lead the metagame, the teams that follow, and the teams that do their own thing. I wanted to see a little bit of the latter from Cloud 9, and that's what they delivered in game 2.
Picking Meepo for SingSing was a fast way to win an already supportive audience. The pushing and farming power of the micro-heavy hero was, as is now traditional, bought space and time by b0ne7's Clockwerk, pieliedie's roaming support Bounty Hunter, and Aui_2000's Skywrath Mage. This was against a very strong draft by Vici—Tidehunter, Death Prophet and Luna for the early push and teamfight presence, with Jakiro and Earthshaker as counters to the Meepo.
C9 established a lead on paper but that's what you are expected to achieve with a Meepo pick. In some of the best and bloodiest teamfights of the tournament—especially a drag-out battle around Rosh at the 24 minute mark—neither team really seemed to have an advantage. Vici's more metagame-friendly draft would look like it had the edge, and then SingSing's Meepo would appear to enormous roars from the audience to blow up Vici's core heroes.
Cloud 9 held on by steadily outplaying Vici to the point where the latter had to resort to a base race. If b0ne7's one-man defence of Cloud 9's ancient stands as the pinnacle of a run of outstanding plays by C9's offlaner, then watching SingSing's Meepo demolish Vici's base shows why the crowd was so excited to see the hero played. Cloud 9 might not have been able to finish the job in game 3, but they can be proud of what they achieved in game 2.
Other highlights from this set: Game 3. Cloud 9's tournament hopes came down to a single call. In Nature's Prophet, Luna and Enigma, they had a draft that could risk a level 1 Roshan attempt. The strategy is enormously risky at a live LAN event: even in a soundproof booth you can tell when the crowd is excited, and Dota crowds like risky plays very, very much. Vici had everything they need to sweep in and punish Cloud 9 hard, taking three kills in the early game. Honestly, the match was probably over for C9 then and there—and Vici went on to demonstrate exactly why.
If SingSing's Meepo won game 2, Sylar's Morphling was the unstoppable force in game 3. He's famous for his skill with the hero as it is, and that great start followed by superlative farm made him an absolute monster. Watch the last ten minutes of the match to see just how much a supercharged Morphling can achieve: Sylar not only seizes map control for his own team but demolishes the heroes intended to do the same for Cloud 9. b0ne7's Nature's Prophet had absolutely nowhere to go. C9 fought to the last, but when a rampaging water elemental was taking barracks unopposed, the game was over.
Team DK vs. LGD, Game 3
Talk about teams playing their own kind of Dota. DK's draft in game 3 was a statement to LGD: we're taking this set, and we're doing it on our own terms. It looked like a list of the team's personal favourite heroes: Mushi's Shadow Fiend. LanM's Earthshaker. Iceiceice's Elder Titan. MMY playing Lion. Only a pointed ban kept Burning from his legendary Anti-Mage, but Weaver suited DK's armour reduction strategy better.
I have to admit: I'd been rooting for DK throughout the tournament and that draft sealed it for me. Mushi is great to watch on Shadow Fiend (which is why Valve made a Source Filmmaker clip of one of his biggest plays.) He'd secured a Mekansm in seven minutes, giving the glass-cannon hero even greater presence in the early part of the game. DK transitioned into a series of coordinated pushes that took advantage of the zoning power of Elder Titan and Lion to keep LGD's defence on the back foot.
It turns on a single play, right at the end. MMY used a Force Staff to shunt Mushi out of the trees on the Radiant bottom lane just as LGD drop a Serpent Ward trap, effectively wasting that powerful area denial spell as Mushi surges right into an explosive Requiem of Souls. That play led to DK taking the bottom lane of barracks and ultimately the game: a single fantastic moment turning into a hammer-drop of a finish.
Other highlights from this set: DK's return to form in game 2 is also worth a watch. It was a more traditional draft, but DK demonstrated that they learned their lesson from the night before: specifically, about breaking base when the opportunity presented itself rather than trying to farm out a great advantage. Not that they needed to: DK were strong in the laning phase, with iceiceice getting an incredible 22 minute Blink-Refresher combo up and running on Tidehunter.
DK vs. Vici, Game 1
There was a buzz around DK as they went straight into their elimination match against Vici. That finale against LGD made it feel like they could win with any draft at all, but Vici had their number. DK went for another 'them' lineup—Beastmaster, Tinker, Undying—while Vici laid their cards on the table with Razor, Pugna, Leshrac, Shadow Demon and Nature's Prophet. This wasn't a subtle strategy—they may just as well have taken to the stage to proclaim "WE ARE GOING TO TAKE ALL OF THE TOWERS NOW" to the audience—but it demonstrates just how well Vici understand the game at the moment.
It's often nice to watch teams win because of individual players or plays, but the International title is ultimately always going to go to teams that understand the game best at that particular moment in time. This year, that's Vici and Newbee. After getting a head start by killing Burning's Anti-Mage after a rare misplay by him, Vici started taking objectives everywhere. A back-and-forth at Roshan looked like it might help DK fight their way back into the game, but they were terribly behind. When VG took another teamfight later in the game and eliminated not just DK's cores but also their courier—which was carrying Mushi's Manta Style at the time—things looked really grim.
In Pugna, r0tk secured a hero that could keep DK from turning the game around with teamfights and pickoff kills. If they ignored him, they'd lose towers. If they focused him, they'd waste time trying to kill a slippery health-draining skeleton imp rather than dealing with Vici's other heroes. It was a great pick, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw him again before the tournament ends.
Other highlights from this set: Watch game 2 for another lesson in why you don't let Sylar get a personal 10K gold advantage on Morphling. You should also watch it for one of the tournament's silliest moments around 22 minutes, when DK's Faceless Void and Vici's Shadow Shaman hide inches from each other in the trees for an age without either team realising that they're both lying in ambush for each other.
EG vs. Vici, Game 1
There was no doubt which way a large part of the home crowd wanted this to go. EG are the unstoppable prodigal sons of North American Dota, single-handedly bringing the scene further on the world stage than it has ever been. Vici were playing after a successful but extremely long day. It didn't seem likely that they'd achieve much against a rested EG in the first game; maybe game 2.
In an extraordinary performance, Vici played as close to a perfect game of Dota as this tournament has seen. Countering Arteezy's Templar Assassin with Razor, Vici secured an advantage in mid that was reflected in the other lanes. On the offlane, a rare mistake by Universe fed first blood to Sylar's Nature's Prophet, setting him on the course for an incredible farming game. He picked up his Orchid by ten minutes and his Necronomicon 3 by 13. EG found themselves facing a highground push at the 12 minute mark, trying to hold on with an underfarmed and underleveled set of core heroes that couldn't sustain a defence for long. Utterly outplayed, the home side tapped out in less than fifteen minutes.
EG vs. Vici, Game 2
This is was the comeback the crowd was looking for from EG. For a start, their lanes went much better: Arteezy secured a comfortable advantage on Viper, a hero he doesn't generally favour, and Universe did well on the safelane with Faceless Void. As with DK earlier in the day, the key to EG's win over Vici was armour reduction and physical damage supported, in this case, by game-turning teamfight ultimates: Void's Chronosphere and Enigma's Black Hole.
But it wasn't a stomp. Vici made EG work for their advantage, particularly with an early Aghanim's Scepter on fy's Ancient Apparition that meant they could threaten EG's cores anywhere on the map. Vici's plan was still to push their way to victory, but every time they did they needed to contend with Universe's unmatched Faceless Void and zai's Enigma. For a time, it felt like the game might slip away from EG—that those flashy plays might ultimately give way to a slow victory for Vici—but the day hadn't drained its supply of huge plays quite yet.
Watch this game for the Chronospheres and the Black Holes: the moment when fights look lost for EG before Universe and zai sweep in and defiantly refuse to go quietly. There's nothing about the crowd in those moments, either. Being in the audience as EG fought their way back into the match was one of the highlights of the tournament for me.
Other highlights of this set: Game 3. What a strange ending. After an uncertain start compounded by a tricky draft for EG—mason playing Void instead of Universe, Universe on Timbersaw, Zai getting nothing out of a heavily-warded jungle—it still felt like the American team had a shot at forcing the game to go late and finding an advantage then. But Vici were out for towers and got them with Venomancer, Dragon Knight and Nature's Prophet. Then, EG fell apart. They tried to sneak Roshan and got it but ceded more ground than they expected, losing tier 2 and 3 towers were mid. Defending was crucial but when the Chronosphere really mattered it didn't work. Mason only caught one, and rOtk's Venomancer dropped a Poison Nova that might have won Vici a few million dollars. EG were facing a wipe and a lane of barracks early in the game. Looking at their booth, it seemed like they were already ready to leave. And then they gave up.
It was probably the right call—the game was almost certainly lost at that point, even if it probably wouldn't have ended for another ten-twenty minutes. But it's a GG call that will be talked about for a while. It suggested a team that simply didn't want to lose slowly, that would rather get on with their day and accept third place. But that wasn't the story that a now-subdued audience wanted to hear. Watching EG tap out, I worried that the fractiousness of North American Dota had caught up with them at last. I'd be fascinated to hear what was said in that booth, although I suspect I can guess.
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