Heartbreak and triumph on the first day of the International 2016

NEED TO KNOW

Get up to speed on the players, metagame, and results going into the International with our extensive guide to the tournament and teams. You can find all of our ongoing coverage of the tournament on this page. The fastest place to find VODs for each game is on Reddit, but you can also find them in the game client. Check out the current bracket standings on the official site

Spoilers begin beyond ‘IF YOU WATCH ONE MATCH…’, below. This was a heartbreaker of an opening day that saw longstanding champions fall and new forces rise to challenge the world’s most talented teams. It’s clear now that this is going to be the closest-run International in the history of the game. Discover that truth as it emerges below, and find highlights in the sidebar. 

IF YOU WATCH ONE MATCH…

...watch Secret vs. LGD.

THE MATCHES

Upper bracket: MVP Phoenix vs. OG 

META BUSINESS

Group stage-defining picks like Drow Ranger and Huskar were less common on the first day, although the latter was banned and guarded against often. The major theme of the day was defensive support, with Shadow Demon and Oracle the clear top picks but with situational alternatives like Vengeful Spirit and Winter Wyvern seeing effective play too. The debuts of Techies and Centaur Warrunner—both picked by Wings—saw the number of heroes played raise to an unprecedented 103, a great sign for the health of the game as a whole. The day’s winner was clearly Axe, however: the dunk-loving initiator, previously a pocket pick, found himself in the unthinkable position of being one of the International’s most popular heroes on the first day. 

Although this is MVP Phoenix’s second year as underdog darlings, OG were the clear favourites going into this set. They’re an enormously consistent and talented team, able to adapt to the meta and build around their opponent’s weaknesses. MVP Phoenix ignored considerations of this kind going into game one, drafting themselves heroes that they (and in some cases, only they) like: the crit machine Phantom Assassin, charging space cow Spirit Breaker.

Picking well-loved but off-meta heroes into a top tier team shouldn’t work and, initially, it didn’t. OG support Cr1t put in a star turn on Earth Spirit, one of his best heroes, while superlative midlaner Miracle established dominance as Timbersaw. But as items and levels came online for MVP it all started to slowly turn. One huge fight got them back into the game, then a phenomenal counter-play in the Roshan pit put them ahead. OG had no answer to the staggering critical hit damage being put out by MVP.QO on Phantom Assassin and OG found themselves one game from the lower bracket.

OG rallied in game two, drafting greedily around a support pair in Naga Siren and Oracle that specialised in shutting off MVP’s phenomenal aggression. And it worked: Naga Siren in particular ensured that MVP Forev, who had such a strong game on Dark Seer in the first round, never got a good Chronosphere off as Faceless Void. This wasn’t a one-sided game by any means, but it was far more in OG’s control and they equalised the series 1-1.

Perhaps MVP’s issue had been that they simply didn’t have enough RNG-based heroes. Phantom Assassin and Ogre Magi returned for game three, along with an unexpected Invoker and Axe pairing. And it was Forev’s Axe that defined this game in an astonishing, game-conquering performance that propelled the underpicked hero into the spotlight. Dunk after dunk came down as Forev contained Miracle’s Tinker and claimed the top spot on the net worth chart, proving something that I’ve always believed but can’t really back up: that Axe is the best hero in the entire game, god damn it.

At thirty minutes and close to thirty kills in the hole, OG’s upper bracket run ended. The team that won two Majors—and their group going into the International—had fallen to the Korean dream. It was a spectacular start to the day. 

Upper bracket: Wings vs. Digital Chaos

PLAY OF THE DAY

Liquid.KuroKy breaks Na’Vi’s Smoke of Deceit, dodges Dust of Appearance, draws them back towards their own base, and murders their courier. This play is a mixture of judgement and luck, but it’s perfectly timed: one little Bounty Hunter acting as a total momentum-killer, buying the time and space Liquid needed to get back into a losing game. 

Digital Chaos pulled out the second Axe of the day against Wings, part of a smart aggressive draft designed to counter Wings’ Drow Ranger, a favourite of the current meta. At the start, it worked: Drow struggled in the laning phase and DC had free reign of the map for the first ten minutes. But a solid counterplay by Wings evened things out shortly after, and after that both teams became more cautious about engaging one another.

DC got split up and outplayed in a major teamfight at the thirty minute mark, the beginning of a decisive momentum swing in Wings’ direction. This time, Axe didn’t work and some fantastic play by Wings.bLink locked out the game in the young Chinese team’s favour.
After a cautious but relatively conventional first game, Wings set course for clown town. They picked up Pudge in the draft, a lesser-seen support (yes, he’s a support, people) who they’ve nonetheless run effectively before. Then they picked Techies. There was no good reason to pick Techies at this point, except that they have some synergy with Pudge and I guess if you can win with your hands tied behind your back then you’re sending a message that you can win it all.

Wings did not win it all. Techies had almost no impact, given what the hero is supposed to do, and while Pudge pulled off a few good hooks he had nowhere near the impact that a good standard defensive support could have had. DC took the game, but it felt very much like Wings had given them the game.

Having presumably gotten it out of their systems, Wings departed Silly Dota for the third game. Despite having iceice’s Chen counterpicked by Riki (also a support, by the way), absolutely phenomenal play in the laning stage put the Chinese team ahead. Centaur Warrunner made his tournament debut as a solid counter to Riki, and Wings picked up a big lead that let them deathball into a straightforward victory. They advance, DC drop to the lower bracket. 

Lower bracket: TNC Pro Team vs. Vici Gaming Reborn 

TOP PERFORMANCE

Wings.iceice put in a masterful showing on Chen in game three against Digital Chaos. His presence was felt across the map despite facing a hard counter in DC’s Riki. In particular, he was instrumental in winning the offlane for Wings’ Centaur Warrunner, a hero that would prove instrumental to their success later in the game.

Runner up #1: MVP.Forev’s Axe, game three against OG.
Runner up #2: Secret.pieliedie’s Shadow Demon against LGD. 

The first of the brutal lower bracket best of ones pitched underestimated SEA team TNC against Vici Gaming Reborn, a powerful Chinese team struggling with a last-minute roster switch. VGR drafted the day’s third Axe, along with Weaver, Mirana, and Storm Spirit: all heroes vulnerable to silence. TNC drafted Silencer.

Good early rotations from VGR put the game in their hands until TNC had the levels and farm they needed to bring their fight online. The game entered a passive phase with both teams trading relatively evenly, but the combination of Batrider initiations and Silencer’s global silence created pressure on VGR’s vulnerable core heroes. This game came down to pickoffs rather than teamfights, with a snipe on Weaver at 35 minutes opening up VGR’s base to TNCs surging forces. It was the opportunity they needed. With Batrider controlling the back line, TNC.Raven’s Terrorblade became a battering ram that smashed VGR’s International hopes. TNC advance to face OG today. 

Lower bracket: Team Secret vs. LGD

This was a clash of titans: two of the greatest drafters and captains in the history of the game, Secret’s Puppey and LGD’s xiao8, going head to head in one game with everything on the line. Both teams had underperformed in the group stage—Secret more so—but there was no clear favourite here. It was simply too close to call. 

And then, after only a few quiet minutes, LGD picked up a surge of momentum unlike anything scene in the tournament so far. A spectacularly well-judged first blood on Secret.Arteezy’s mid Alchemist by LGD.Maybe’s Juggernaut broke the game open for him in particular, as he abandoned the farming carry role in pursuit of a map-wide reign of terror. For fifteen minutes straight, LGD dominated Secret. This game that was supposed to be so close—gods colliding on a mountaintop—had become a beating in a carpark. 

HOTTEST JUKE

TNC.Eyyou’s Elder Titan escapes a bloody teamfight with Weaver on his heels, juking into the treeline and leading the enemy carry into a clutch Echo Stomp. Although this wasn’t sufficient to kill the Weaver, it’s a great display of judgement under pressure. 

But Secret held the line. They got a few much-needed kills, split the map, and picked up the farm they needed on Alchemist and EternalEnvy’s Terorrblade. Radiance and illusion spam, reinforced by Shadow Demon, helped them withstand push after push. What looked to be a 20-minute stomp became a 45-minute slugfest, and it just kept going.

A godly turn by Secret.pieliedie on defensive support Shadow Demon was illustrative of the phenomenal good judgement that kept Secret in this game. They proved that Dota doesn’t have a surrender option for a reason: that any game can be won, approached in the right way. Yet that judgement lapsed from time to time: pressure to make a play and get back on an even keel lead to mistakes, and mistakes lead to sieges that trapped Secret in their base. Despite the farm being picked up by Secret’s carries, LGD’s Ember Spirit and Juggernaut were getting fatter too. LGD also had their own phenomenal defensive support payer in MMY! on Winter Wyvern, whose Cold Embrace ensured that Secret couldn’t turn a defense into a disaster for their opponents.

65 minutes in, LGD.Agressif made the call and picked up a Divine Rapier on Ember Spirit. This was the damage spike LGD needed, making Secret’s cautious defensive positioning far less secure. A few careless deaths and buyback expenditures raised the stakes higher than the western supergroup could deal with, and finally—with Envy and Arteezy dead and their final lane of barracks under threat—Secret called it. They took a 20-minute dumpstering and turned it into a phenomenally tense game of Dota, but it wasn’t enough. Given the team’s instability over the past year, Secret’s future was uncertain as they left the stage. 

Lower bracket: Fnatic vs. Escape

CLIFF OF THE DAY

Impassable cliffs are the secret heroes (and villains) for Dota 2. In this instance, a stunning teamfight victory opens up Roshan for OG, but they don’t anticipate this stunning counterplay by MVP.Forev. A peerless Vacuum isolates OG on the highground where they can be picked apart by MVP’s core heroes: a sign of things to come. 

Wildcard second-place Escape pulled out another Axe—what a time to be alive—in this game, and it almost bought them the momentum they needed to overcome their better-established opponents. But Fnatic had better lategame prospects in Phantom Lancer and Templar Assassin, better pushing power in Shadow Shaman, and the ability to turn any fight into a gold lead with Bounty Hunter. All of these factors conspired to put Escape, with their midgame focused draft of melee strength heroes, at a disadvantage.

As the game tipped ever more in Fnatic’s favour it seemed as if nerves had gotten the better of Escape. Their drafted suggested all-in aggression—what do Night Stalker, Axe and Slardar do if not dunk people—but they never really committed to it, seemingly too afraid to lose the lead they built up in the early game. They lost it anyway. A cautious Axe is a sad Axe, after all, and an Axe getting two-shotted by a farmed up Templar Assassin is even sadder. Fnatic were pushing high ground at 22 minutes and Escape crumbled. Fnatic didn’t have the best group stage, but this was a definite sign of life for the South East Asian team. 

Lower bracket: Team Liquid vs. Na’Vi

BEST DOTA NONSENSE

While Gabe’s formal flip-flops are in contention for ‘just Dota things’ of the day, today’s award has to go to violinist Lindsey Stirling’s energetic performance of the Dota theme while dressed as Windranger during the opening ceremony

The heartbreaker. Liquid and Na’Vi are fan favourite teams for many good reasons: their playstyles, their players, their legacy. Liquid captain KuroKy and legendary Na’Vi midlaner Dendi were both crucial parts of ‘classic’ Na’Vi, a team whose fame and popularity is unlikely to ever be surpassed. A couple of months ago Liquid would have been the clear favourite going into this matchup, but meeting like this—after a rough group stage for both teams—was unexpected and uncertain.

It started off very well for Na’Vi. Their signature aggression came online around the map. They took trades, but they got the better deal in most cases. KuroKy’s Bounter Hunter wasn’t allowed to control the pace of the game as Dendi’s Queen of Pain and GeneraL’s Faceless Void created opportunities and capitalised on them. The first real fight was a wash, however, revealing that Liquid weren’t out of it yet. Liquid struck back with a pickoff on Ditya Ra’s Nature’s Prophet, but Na’Vi snuck Roshan. Then, KuroKy countered a Na’Vi smoke play and killed their courier, opening up the map for Liquid.

Yet the fights were still very close. Once again, defensive supports became the key: Liquid.JerAx’s Shadow Demon and Na’Vi.SoNNeik0’s Oracle acting as rocks for each of their teams. And once again also Axe, in the hands of Liquid.MinD_ContRoL, became the hero that his team needed. Suddenly the only heroes that Na’Vi could pray on became Liquid’s supports, while Liquid’s cores took the better half of the trade every time they fought. Culling Blade after Culling Blade shifted the advantage over to Liquid, but it was a clutch defensive Disruption at the foot of Na’Vi’s base by JerAx that won it. After 35 minutes, Na’Vi’s resolve crumbled. Dendi followed his old captain, Puppey, out of the International. Of that legendary lineup, only KuroKy remains.