Impossible odds are overcome on day three 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

Header image via the official Dota 2 Twitter account. Spoilers beyond ‘IF YOU WATCH ONE MATCH…’, below. After three days I imagine this must begin to sound like hyperbole, but this International keeps going from strength to strength as the best teams advance through the bracket. Although the results of the day may not shock you, the matches themselves should. Today, catch the game that panel host and 14-year esports veteran Paul ‘ReDeYe’ Chaloner called “easily the top three game in any esport I’ve seen in the last 14 years. Possibly the greatest.” 

IF YOU WATCH ONE MATCH…

...watch EG vs. EHOME, particularly game one. 

THE MATCHES

Lower bracket: Alliance vs. Fnatic

Alliance needed to increase their tempo after their disappointingly passive performance on Tuesday and they showed signs of doing so in this first game against Fnatic. They scored first blood in mid, helping s4’s Mirana, but ceded some of this momentum when Fnatic.343’s Bounty Hunter sniped Alliance’s courier which was carrying s4’s bottle and boots. 

META BUSINESS

As I wrote yesterday, Shadow Demon is emerging as the key hero of this International. It’s now clear that teams need to either be able to slow siege with Illusions or need to be very well equipped to deal with it: and more often than not, the team with Shadow Demon wins. The prominence of supports—we’ve also seen a rise in Warlock play—also raises the issue of farm priority: a crucial factor in this metagame is how well teams are able to get vital levels on their position 4 and 5 players. EG in particular have come to excel at this. 

The Swedes nonetheless built up decent early map presence and began to group up for pushes. In their eagerness however they’d lost sight of Fnatic.Mushi on Sven, who performed for the first 20-something minutes of the game. Mushi alone gave Fnatic a massive gold lead and as soon as he started entering fights Alliance simply couldn’t find the trades they needed. A clutch Aegis of the Immortal steal by Fnatic around the 40 minute mark was a backbreaking blow for Alliance, who nonetheless held off the SEA team for another 20 minutes before succumbing to slow siege from hyper-tanky Sven illusions.

Facing elimination, Alliance took fans back to 2013 for the second game. As in their set on Tuesday, their response to adversity was to find confidence in comfort picks. With Nature’s Prophet, Enchantress, Puck, Rubick and Lifestealer, their early game was spectacular. Alliance.Akke’s map-wide presence with Enchantress handily won Alliance’s lanes for them, and Fnatic.Ohaiyo’s Batrider in particular had a terrible early game. The ability for Alliance to appear anywhere on the map with Puck-Lifestealer initiations and Nature’s Prophet teleports demonstrated why the team’s map control was once so feared.

Alliance struggled to convert that early presence into objectives, however, and Fnatic rallied around some great Chronospheres from Mushi’s Faceless Void and clutch Batrider plays by a revitalised Ohaiyo. A run of pickoffs drained Alliance’s supply of buybacks and, denied the ability to take fights on their own terms, their defenses crumbled. Fnatic took the set 2-0, leaving only one European team in contention for the International. 

Lower bracket: Liquid vs. Newbee

PLAY OF THE DAY

I will show you Fear in a handful of dunk. After a series of great plays got them back into a losing game, this clutch double Berserker’s Call from EG.Fear’s Axe set up an explosive combo from Ancient Apparition and Mirana. Blowing up Beastmaster and Timbersaw, EHOME’s tankiest frontliners, was a huge win for EG. 

Once a top four favourite Liquid’s disappointing group stage performance cast a long shadow over their International hopes. And Newbee hadn’t shown the kind of dominance that they did earlier in the year, ultimately struggling to overcome EG’s superior decision-making on Tuesday. This, then, was a battle of tarnished champions.

Despite what most commentators believed to be an outdraft by Newbee, Liquid’s absolutely phenomenal early performance in game one made this matchup look very one-sided indeed. Great combo play between MinD_ControL’s Sand King and KuroKy’s Kunkka made a case for Liquid being the best brawlers in the game at the moment. But ultimately they were outdrafted. In a post-match interview, KuroKy would allude to ‘one mistake’ that cost Liquid game one: that mistake, I’m pretty sure, was letting Newbee get Shadow Demon.

Liquid had sufficient ‘traditional’ lategame to close out the match, but this is the era of illusion play. Despite such a terrible start, the tempo-controlling power of Naga Siren combined with Shadow Demon’s powerful illusions slowly strangled Liquid out of the game. Fixing this ‘mistake’, as KuroKy put it, changed everything.

Claiming Shadow Demon for themselves in the second game, Liquid played it the same way. They dominated early, roaming the map with Undying and Sand King and picking up a fast lead. The difference was that they had serious lategame too in Morphling and Shadow Demon, and Newbee knew it. After another Liquid teamfight win, Newbee called GG at 17 minutes—the fastest win of the tournament. There simply wasn’t any point going late against a lineup they couldn’t beat.

TOP PERFORMANCE

I’m going to level with you, reader: this should probably be EG.Universe again, or perhaps EG as a whole for their phenomenal work today. But I want to keep showcasing talent from around the scene, so let’s turn our eye to Wings.iceice and his commanding Elder Titan in game two against MVP Phoenix. The game-winning control he provided his team demonstrated why the hero is so often banned.

Runner up #1: Alliance.EGM’s Rubick, game two against Fnatic
Runner up #2: Liquid.MATUMBAMAN’s Anti-Mage, game three against Newbee 

 In deciding to reset and try again, however, they also handed Liquid a big momentum boost. And Liquid got Shadow Demon again in game 3. This time, it looked like Liquid had the draft nailed down. Newbee’s lanes struggled near the beginning of the game but they put in a much better, more aggressive performance against Liquid than they had done earlier. For the first time in the series the teams traded relatively evenly. The issue for Newbee was that they’d allowed Liquid to pick Anti-Mage into a draft that had few answers to him, and that they subsequently failed to slow down MATUMBAMAN as he pulled ahead on farm.

A necessary attempt to challenge Liquid’s Roshan attempt at 20 minutes went terribly wrong for Newbee, turning into a teamwipe that Liquid capitalised on hard. The Europeans established map control and aggressive vision throughout Newbee’s half of the map while MATUMBAMAN’s willingness to fight kept catching the Chinese side off guard. After an exciting clash mid at the 35 minute mark. Liquid did it. After a 2-1 victory over the former International champions, they will continue to fight in the lower bracket as the last European team in contention. 

Upper bracket: MVP Phoenix vs. Wings

 This was the match everybody was looking forward to. MVP Phoenix are the most charismatically aggressive team in the tournament, underdogs-done-good who just want to punch everybody to death, all of the time. And Wings are the International’s most creative drafters, willing to throw away an upper bracket game with a Pudge-Techies pick just because.

The first game demonstrated both of these qualities. MVP picked up their fighting cores—PA, Dark Seer, Invoker—while Wings baffled onlookers with a glass-cannon lineup of Drow Ranger, Io, Queen of Pain, Puck and Warlock. Sometimes, genius looks like a pub game where two people want to go mid and one guy really needs to do his Warlock quest.

HERE’S A PICTURE OF UNIVERSE ANYWAY

But it worked. Despite crowd pleasing early aggression from MVP, Wings had given themselves two crucial advantages: they had cores that could easily disengage, and they had ultimates—particularly Dream Coil and Chaotic Offering—that punished MVP Phoenix for balling up. MVP Phoenix’s tendency to charge headlong at their opponents became a disastrous Achilles heel, with Wings letting the Koreans walk into trap after trap. Drow Ranger’s aura played nicely into Wings’ all-ranged draft, too, enabling quick pushes after each teamfight victory. Despite the eyebrow-raising pick-ban phase, Wings clearly had MVP Phoenix’s number.

MVP Phoenix did not care. Opting to play their kind of Dota or die trying in the second game, they drafted Bounty Hunter, Dark Seer, Spirit Breaker, Phantom Assassin, and Ursa. Yep! That’s five aggressive melee heroes. Nope! It didn’t work. In a shock move, Wings drafted… completely traditionally. With Juggernaut, Faceless Void, Elder Titan, Disruptor and Batrider, they had sensible answers to MVP’s swagger.

God love them, the Korean team almost pulled it off. They had a far better early game than they had any right to, riding talent and moxxie to a kill lead and plenty of early presence. But Batrider, Elder Titan and Faceless Void are top-tier heroes for a reason, and great play by Wings—particularly iceice’s Elder Titan—completely denied MVP Phoenix their vital momentum. MVP supports DuBu and Febby, so often the pace-setters for their team, were victimised by the punishing combination of Disruptor’s Glimpse and ET’s Echo Stomp. Wings took this series 2-0, and it wasn’t close. Most worryingly for MVP Phoenix, these games also broadcast the counter to Korean aggression to every other team in the tournament. 

Upper bracket: EG vs. EHOME

HOTTEST JUKE

Lightning-fast counterplay by EG.PPD’s Shadow Demon sees him cast Disruption on Axe in the microsecond between Axe’s blink initiation and his Berserker’s Call. Then he dodges the incoming Sacred Arrow for good measure, pulling EHOME completely out of position and leading to a kill on Mirana. 

Okay, seriously, just watch this one. Here’s the link again. Put some time aside: this should have been a grand final set, and I’ve not seen a game of Dota this close-fought or exciting since the finals of the International 2013. It’s that good.

This clash of titans began extremely well for EHOME as they won all three lanes. The unusual decision by EG to put carry Fear on an offlane Axe seemed to backfire, as EHOME.iceiceice put on a clinic as Timbersaw—one of his signature heroes. Huge early aggression from EHOME put them far ahead with all of EG’s outer defenses crumbling within the first 20 minutes. The Chinese team were already pressuring EG’s base by the time crucial items—like Axe’s Blink Dagger—came online. The duelling cheers of “USA! USA!” and “EHOME! EHOME!” had started to tilt hard to the latter.

But EG held the line. Once again, Universe made it clear that he is the best Faceless Void player in the world: a massive Chronosphere at 17 minutes followed by fantastic follow-up control play by Fear opened the door for SumaiL’s Mirana to score a triple kill. EG’s 17 year old midlaner put in a star performance of his own, finding kills both solo and with Universe’s peerless setups.

This was still EHOME’s game, however. They knew exactly how to split the map and contain EG’s movements. On multiple occasions, iceiceice would make threatening gestures on the top lane in order to force EG to give up vital objectives like Roshan. And EHOME.Fenrir’s Warlock presented fierce opposition to EG’s initiations: for every great Chronosphere, there was a great Chaotic Offering.

CLIFF OF THE DAY

Having blinked up to the cliffs near Roshan to kill Wings.iceice, MVP.QO gets to watch as Wings.Faith_bian survives against overwhelming odds in the river below. Somebody Force Staffs him down eventually, but it’s too late for MVPs chances in this game. 

 Three things kept EG in this game despite a massive disadvantage. First, they kept their heads under pressure and minimised the number of technical mistakes they made during fights. Second, they had Shadow Demon: throughout the game, Zai was able to turn EHOME’s advantage against them by turning creating illusions of old chicken’s Juggernaut to push the lanes back out. The third factor was fantastic itemisation. In what would be a clowny move in any other match, EG picked up Dagons on three heroes: Mirana, Shadow Demon, and Ancient Apparition. This spike in burst magical damage proved a vital counter to Timbersaw, allowing Zai’s Shadow Demon to fulfill an additional role as a playmaking nuker.

EG reclaimed the map after 70 minutes, but EHOME weren’t done with them. Double Warlock ults with Refresher Orb proved a problem for EG as EHOME played perfectly around their opponent’s overextension. They took another Roshan, forced EG back inside their base, and finally felled the last of EG’s barracks. No team in an International has ever come back from losing all of their barracks.

Until now. A miraculous hold in EG’s base gave them a foothold, and they made one final hail Mary push down mid. As EHOME engaged most of EG in the lane itself, Universe took on several EHOME cores alone and won. Nobody had buyback. Old chicken attempted to force the issue by going directly for EG’s ancient, but Universe returned, pinned him down, and killed him too. Surging back out of the base, EG went all in with a Divine Rapier on Universe’s Faceless Void. As EHOME scrambled to defend they found themselves hemmed in and controlled by ppd, Zai and SumaiL as Universe demolished first their tier 4 towers, and then their ancient. It was a historic victory, the best game of the tournament so far, and it was only game one.

BEST DOTA NONSENSE

Valve’s AR tech is one of the coolest and silliest things about this event, allowing them to project life-size versions of the heroes onto the stage and in front of the analyst desk. If that fails however, you can always try replacing that expensive CGI with a passing cosplayer

 EG re-entered the arena to the deafening roars of a home crowd, clearly surging after such a phenomenal success. For EHOME, the loss must have been devastating.

EHOME claimed Mirana and Axe for themselves in the second game along with Warlock, Earth Spirit, and Timbersaw. EG picked up their Shadow Demon and Faceless Void again and paired them with Ogre Magi, Drow Ranger, and a last pick Medusa that proved to be a tough challenge for old chicken’s mid Mirana. This time, EG won all of their lanes—hard. If you ever needed proof of the importance of psychological momentum in Dota 2, this is the game to watch. Having proven that they could overcome impossible odds, EG played like they couldn’t lose. And EHOME played in the knowledge that any game can be lost, and they started to make mistakes.

But they didn’t go down without a fight. They picked up a few favourable trades while trying to stem the tide of EG’s aggression, and old ELeveN’s Axe made play after play that kept EHOME in the game. But when EG could find and eliminate Axe before the fight it gave them an advantage that EHOME had no answer for. A huge early advantage on EG’s core heroes, plus the natural pushing power of Drow Ranger and Shadow Demon, placed EHOME’s base under sustained threat. A series of stunning Chronospheres from Universe—some with no vision whatsoever, all perfect—effectively shut EHOME out of the game, again.

EG took his historic series 2-0, and advance to the upper bracket final. After a shaky year, the defending champions are looking like they might lift the Aegis again.