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.
EG vs. Fnatic
With iG's place in the final decisively secured, it remained to see which of the surviving western teams would face them. Game one made that question look simple: EG banned out Fnatic's all-important Io and seemed to bait out Excalibur's Meepo. He plays the hero better than anyone - and has single-handedly turned around games for Fnatic with him in the past - but here it was a disaster. He thoroughly lost the midlane against Arteezy, who killed him solo with Tinker. Focused rotations by EG assisted by good farm across the board made this a straightforward win for the Americans.
Fnatic made EG work for every inch of ground in game two. Augmenting a push-heavy draft with major teamfight ults - Chronosphere, Poison Nova, Black Hole - meant that they could get something out of every engagement despite an initially strong performance by Arteezy on a midlane Outworld Devourer. The game ran long, and it was a close-run thing all the way - particularly as Fnatic seemed keen to push their advantage too far in many cases. But eventually that teamfight power was enough to exhaust EG's supply of buybacks, and with their barracks gone there was only a limited amount of time left on EG's clock.
EG let the Excalibur Meepo through again in game three and it was only through a few impressive early jukes that Fnatic managed to survive the aggression designed to shut him down. Fnatic managed to claim a decent advantage in the early game, but couldn't control Universe's Tidehunter. As soon as that Blink Dagger came online, he was able to create space for Arteezy's Templar Assassin and mason's Doom to do substantial work. Fnatic held on thanks to Excalibur's Meepo topping the gold and experience charts, but it was all on him.
In an inverse mirror of the first game, EG were able to eventually grind down Fnatic's core heroes to the point where they could easily storm through several lanes of barracks at once. Hann1's Earthshaker was essential to slowing EG's pushes - a trick picked up from the Chinese teams - and great teamfight play kept them in the game, but one death from Excalibur without buyback cleared the way for EG to march into the final. Fnatic proved that they're one of the most dangerous teams in the world at the moment, but EG demonstrated how powerful multi-core lineups can be in these long games.
EG vs. iG
The final was a real test for EG. It began almost immediately after their semi-final match against Fnatic. Playing three best-of-threes in a single day is difficult enough without getting the kind of break that iG had enjoyed since their lunchtime victory over Alliance. But if there's ever been a player who could pull his team through anything, it's Universe. EG's offlaner did extraordinary work in the first game as Faceless Void, landing perfect Chronosphere after perfect Chronosphere while achieving respectable farm in a difficult position. iG drafted their familiar push lineup - Pugna, Enchantress, Shadow Shaman - but it wasn't enough.
Level-hungry core picks by EG - Void, Brewmaster, Razor - were bought space to farm by the incredible ganking combo of zai and PPD on Sand King and Mirana. iG regrouped and managed to push all the way through EG's mid barracks by the 20 minute mark, but a series of phenomenal teamfight performances around Universe's Chronosphere led to wipe after wipe for the Chinese team. Fifteen minutes after iG broke EG's base, EG returned the favour - and took a second lane of barracks a few minutes after that. Knowing that they were beaten, iG called it.
In game two EG opted for familiar strategies, drafting a farming hero for Arteezy - Phantom Assassin - and surrounding him with backup: Sand King, Batrider, Doom, Bane. In response, iG pulled out an aggressive lineup similar to the ones they beat Alliance with. Ferrari_430's Ember Spirit was the perfect setup for Sunstrikes from Luo's Invoker who was otherwise left to farm a lightning-fast Necronomicon 3 on the safelane. Credit goes to PPD for the hot jukes of the tournament, evading a three-man gank through the jungle before denying himself with Nightmare. But it was a small victory in a war that iG controlled decisively as soon as Luo joined the fray. It was obvious that EG didn't want to give up on the chance of a 2-0 victory, but it wasn't coming. The GG call came after 25 minutes.
Game three was as close to a perfect game of Dota as you're ever going to see. This isn't a game where perfection is really possible, but iG did everything they could to challenge that notion. EG picked up much of the same draft that they'd used to punish Na'Vi earlier in the day, combining Tiny/Io with Elder Titan, a farming Sand King, and a roaming Mirana.
It should have worked. It should have got them something , particularly in the late game when the Tiny/Natural Order combo came into its own. iG denied them a lategame. The problems started early, when it became clear that Ferrari_430's Queen of Pain could manhandle the Tiny/Io with impunity. Ganks came from every angle: YYF's farming Faceless Void. Perfect Sunstrikes from Luo on top of X Marks The Spot setups from ChuaN's unorthodox support Kunkka. Whenever EG looked like they might secure a kill, a Disruption from Faith's Shadow Demon took away their options. Precise, immaculate plays. iG executed flawlessly and gave nothing away: a single tower kill by Arteezy was enough to elicit a cheer from the crowd - and that was after twenty minutes.
Eventually, EG went all-in on Roshan in attempt to win themselves a way back into the game. iG punished it hard with a full five-on-five teamfight in which the Chinese team lost nobody at all. EG ceded victory - and the tournament - to iG after 29 minutes. The final score was 22 kills to zero . It was a tremendous statement to make in advance of TI4: EG are the best team in the western scene at the moment, and iG outplayed them in every conceivable way. The crowd was chanting "ChuaN! ChuaN! ChuaN!" as the Chinese veteran lifted the trophy, and with good reason.
If you missed our account of yesterday's games, you can read it here . Be sure to check out this interview with Mousesports' Pajkatt while you're at it, and check back in the next few days for an in-depth interview with Alliance's Loda.