Images courtesy of the official ESL Twitter account .
'Timing' has been the watchword of this entire tournament. It was a concern this morning, when another late start threatened to force the entire show to run long, with the last quarterfinal match - Na'Vi vs. EG - not starting until 10.30am. It was a concern when the arena's internet connection went down and when Fnatic's voice comms broke for twenty minutes. It was a concern in-game, too, as the strengths and weaknesses of today's greedy, ult-centric metagame came down to who had power at the exact minute when it counted.
Timing problems caused a fair amount of heartache today, but I also got to see a terrific showcase of what the best Dota 2 teams can achieve when they're moving to their own rhythm. In addition, the event itself held together despite the technical problems to deliver one of the best large-scale e-sports experiences that Europe has seen since TI1. Great casting and analysis and a hugely engaged crowd made Frankfurt a great place to spend a weekend - and I'm not just saying that because I've been surviving on beer, sausages and energy drinks since Saturday morning. Well, mostly. The point is: it's gone midnight and I've got games to discuss, so let's get into it. As ever, spoilers below.
Na'Vi vs. EG
Everyone was waiting to see how Na'Vi would do against the team that beat them 3-0 earlier in the week. EG stuck to a familiar set of heroes for game one, picking up Storm Spirit for mobility and control and matching him with Enigma and Tidehunter, giving them the teamfight ultimates that have defined this tournament. Na'Vi's draft had echoes of Alliance in its focus on the pushing power of Funn1k's Nature's Prophet and got greedier from there, with a farming Faceless Void, mid Invoker, and support Doom. Puppey's support Disruptor was effective but not such a hindrance to EG's pushing and farming power that he could grant his team painless passage into the lategame.
All those tower kills gave EG a healthy advantage across the board, with zai's Enigma in particular benefiting from having all of his major items - and more - by the twenty minute mark. Na'Vi's draft was built for teamfights but EG gifted them no easy kills. The game felt close to a long time but chiefly due to Na'Vi's ability to fight from a disadvantage - eventually, slowly, EG ground them down.
Game two seemed like a return to form for Na'Vi when Puppey's Chen secured first blood with a jungle harpy (of all things). Plays like that - and virtuoso ganks in general - are why Na'Vi are so passionately loved, but they've been outdrafted an uncomfortable number of times lately and that's what happened here. Funn1k attempted a Bulldog-style Nature's Prophet again but struggled to be effective against a Storm Spirit and Tiny/Io combo that proved to be just as good at taking rax when nobody was looking. XBOCT played Anti-Mage but couldn't win the farm war against Tiny, a hero who is perfectly happy to go toe-to-toe with AM in the late game. Without a Black King Bar, Na'Vi's carry just couldn't sustain a presence against substantial lockdown.
An unusual Elder Titan pickup by EG made it even more difficult for Na'Vi to survive when the game ran long, his Natural Order aura making delicate heroes even more vulnerable to EG's fully operational Tiny/Io battlestation. After a long back-and-forth in the late game EG eventually claimed the advantage, taking the set 2-0 and sending Na'Vi home. I saw many slumped shoulders in yellow hoodies afterwards.
iG vs. Alliance
In the first match of the semis iG gave the world a demonstration of how you go about dismantling Alliance. Banning Io and Nature's Prophet is part of it, but iG's strategy went deeper than that. They solved the problem of Alliance's current playstyle by refusing to fall into the obvious trap, which is committing everything to shutting down one of the Swedish team's lanes. Alliance are as strong as they are because of their map control: force Bulldog to play at 20% efficiency and S4 and Loda will get 150% out of the rest of the map. Force all of Alliance's lanes to operate at 70% efficiency, however, and they have a much harder time in the mid game.
iG did just that, with on point, persistently aggressive drafts that denied Alliance much needed map space. Ferrari_430's supreme Ember Spirit was a constant nuisance, and excellent Nyx Assassin rotations by YYF in the first game shut down not only Alliance's supports but S4's midlane Batrider too. The Swedes proved that they were capable of pulling out plays from the back foot, but the Chinese team kept up a degree of pressure that denied Alliance any hope of retaking the map.
Game two acted as more evidence against Brewmaster as a competitive pick. Teams love him, and his potential impact can't be denied, but that simple counter - press the attack when his ult is down - has caused problems for the teams that ran him throughout this tournament. I wouldn't be surprised if his place in the current meta was reconsidered after this weekend. He's great to watch, and dangerous in the right hands, but S4 looked like he was trapped in the hero in game two against iG. When Primal Split is on cooldown, he's just not the same hero.
This match demonstrated just how versatile iG are. Their early game plays discounted the notion that yesterday's steady push strats could be lazily categorised as 'Chinese Dota'. They knew how to unsettle Mouz, just as they knew how to topple Alliance this afternoon. It's a shame to see Alliance lose their recent momentum, but it has been very exciting to watch the return of a giant of the Asian scene.