Photo courtesy of MSI Gaming's Facebook page.
Despite fewer matches being played, today saw some of the longest and most exciting games of the entire tournament. For that reason, I'm going to get straight into the match reports: with day one's tech issues largely resolved, this was a day spent watching the most promising teams in the event – Virtus Pro, Rave, Immunity and CDEC – resolve themselves into a final ranking order. The results were definitely not what I expected.
I wrote yesterday that letting Rave.Chrissy play Timbersaw was a mistake that few would make again after his performances against Wired Gaming and Virtus Pro. In the first game of their semi-final best of three against Rave, that's exactly the risk that Immunity took. They picked up Batrider and Skywrath Mage – two heroes that they favour – alongside dominant early-game support Ogre Magi, Ember Spirit, and the increasingly popular Necrophos. Rave had Vengeful Spirit (now the defacto Batrider counter) as well as Centaur, Witch Doctor, Timbersaw and Terrorblade.
After Rave secured first blood following an over-eager tower dive by Ember Spirit I thought Rave were in a good place to dominate the game, provided that they could capitalise on the pushing power of Terrorblade and Timbersaw. Immunity's teamfight nous proved too much for them, however, and a succession of favourable trades as well as outright victories forced Rave to commit four or five heroes whenever they wanted to achieve anything. After that, however, the game entered a stable phase with neither team willing to risk an all-in engagement. This was a fairly common occurrence today, suggesting that the current patch has an issue with inertia around the thirty minute mark.
Immunity slowly ceded map control to Rave, but Necrophos' buyback-disabling Reaper's Scythe is designed to insure against exactly this scenario. After pickoff kills on Vengeful Spirit and Witch Doctor left Rave open, a follow-up Scythe kill against Terrorblade gave Immunity the time they needed to end it.
Parallel to the escalating stakes of the set, Rave and Immunity were by this point embroiled in an ongoing competition to see who could yell 'NICE!' louder after almost anything of any note happened. The teams were sat two banks of desks apart, and what started as a bout of self-aware self-hype turned into a running gag that was a lot of fun to watch. Claiming their game-ending Terrorblade kill caused Immunity to collectively yell 'NIIIIIICE!' in a way that was faintly harmonised in the manner of an amateur barbershop quintet. Digital sports.
Rave earned a series of increasingly enthusiastic 'NICE'es in game two, running the Medusa that they like to draft whenever they feel like playing Dota for a really really long time. This time the plan was to create space for the Medusa to farm, a strategy that Rave are obviously comfortable with. Immunity ran Void, Dragon Knight and Queen of Pain but struggled to deal with a roaming Puck – and Chrissy's Timbersaw, once again. In the end, a contested Roshan attempt turned into a disaster for Immunity when their initial defense fell apart, and one teamfight later their base was left wide open to that well-farmed Medusa.
Immunity allowed Rave to pick up Medusa again in game three, this time supported by Earthshaker and Magnus. They took their own lategame carry in the form of Spectre, however, and an extraordinary performance by sLiCKz saw that hero pick up over 750 gold per minute in an eighty-five minute game. Both teams wanted it to go late, and go late it did, but Rave were relying on perfect Reverse Polarities to maintain their control and this simply wasn't as reliable as Immunity's Centaur and Brewmaster. Right at the end it looked like Immunity might throw the game when they went a little too aggressive on the high ground, but as soon as they pulled their discipline back together they managed to close out the game, and the set, much as they'd done to Bravado a day earlier. Nice!
On the main stage, Virtus Pro faced Chinese favourites CDEC. VP let Death Prophet get through the first round of bans – previously, she'd always been struck out by this point – but answered with a novel combination of Sven and Mirana that did a tremendous amount of work in the early part of the game. As Virtus Pro tend to do, they dominated in the first ten minutes while CDEC struggled to find kills without trading losses in return. Similarly, VP's Roshan discipline was used to good effect to secure their advantage going into the midgame.
Then, slowly, the game shifted. During another extended passive period both teams made headway towards the others' high ground, but it was ultimately CDEC's Slark that had the durability and damage to actually take objectives. And whenever VP committed to chasing Slark around the map, Death Prophet would be left to bowl over towers with Exorcism – which is why the hero is first-ban material. Then, as CDEC got ready to push for mega creeps, the game crashed for everybody. GG was called by VP right then, instead of waiting for a remake simply to confirm the inevitable.
CDEC picked Slark again in game two, this time with a Void/Skywrath Mage combo. VP's answer – as would become a trend – was to draft for durability, with Ogre Magi, Tidehunter and Necrophos resisting the kind of pickoffs that caused so many problems in the first game. They forced bloody exchanges even when CDEC should have had the advantage such as when Chronosphere first became available. The game remained close for a long time, but VP's talent for getting the most out of teamfights and using Roshan to their advantage gave them the momentum they needed to win.
Game three took the trends of the first two games and stretched them to extremes. Both teams drafted fighting lineups – VP taking Slark this time, along with Viper and Tidehunter, CDEC taking Enchantress, Batrider, Lycan, Puck – but this played to VP's advantage more than CDEC's. They had a fantastic, aggressive start but couldn't quite close out the game before the now-traditional midgame doldrums set in. In this case, however, the mid and late-game took the form of a series of brutal, inconclusive teamfights as both teams stacked up on BKBs and slowly wore them down over the course of an hour. In the end, dwindling BKB durations made double Ravages relevant once again and a pickoff kill on Puck provided the space that VP needed to finally end the stalemate. They took the set 2-1, and advanced to face Immunity in the final.
Third place match
I was expecting CDEC to face Rave for the title, not for third place. There was a slightly muted air to this best-of-three, which took place on the community stage while StarCraft II took over the main stage. Rave struggled to find form in the first game despite flanking their Medusa with pace-controlling heroes like Silencer, Sand King, and Timbersaw. CDEC used a midlane Troll Warlord to boost the already-substantial power of Faceless Void, ushering the team to a confident win. In the second game, Rave experimented with Naga Siren, Slardar and Batrider but any split-pushing and ganking they might have aspired to do was effectively curtailed by Ember Spirit, Nature's Prophet, and Vengeful Spirit. The set ended 2-0, with CDEC claiming third place in the tournament – but you could tell that neither of day one's best teams expected to find themselves in this position when all was said and done.
The grand final
Virtus Pro clearly believe that this patch is about teamfights, and today that belief was proven to the tune of $30,000. They received fierce argument from Immunity, however, who attempted to build their victories around one-off killing power and hard-farming carries. In game one of the best-of-five, this gambit worked. VP allowed Immunity to pick up Batrider, Queen of Pain and Silencer, with Ogre Magi to secure the early game and Phantom Assassin to grow steadily more terrifying as the game wore on. A controlling combo of Puck, Vengeful Spirit, Tidehunter and Wraith King offered some resistance, but by the 35 minute mark Phantom Assassin was simply too powerful to ignore. VP made them work for it, but before too long sLiCKz was landing crits that'd make a grown man cry. Or an ice ghost explode, depending on whether you are Ancient Apparition or not.
Tidehunter was VP's first pick once again in game two, as Sedoy's offlane hero pool settled into Bulldoggian levels of consistency. This time they pulled in Viper, Slark, Sand King and Vengeful Spirit too, effectively sending the message that they'd rather not die at all if Immunity would be so kind. Immunity stuck to their Batrider and Queen of Pain, but they failed to shut down Slark with any degree of efficiency. Just as CDEC had done to VP earlier in the day, VP used Slark's mobility and carry potential to control the map, and ultimately the game. With the set drawn 1-1, it was time for Immunity to rethink their strategy.
Their initial picks in game three were representative of the tournament in general – Ogre Magi, Void, Batrider, Mirana. VP responded with their own comfort zone – Tidehunter, Necrophos, Vengeful Spirit, Ancient Apparition – but delivered the first surprise pick in the form of Legion Commander. I loved this decision. She shuts down Batrider and synergises brilliantly with all of their other heroes, both as part of a full group and in pairs. Immunity were left to choose a mid, and I predicted something like Invoker to bolster their damage and control. They took, to my suprise, Windranger.
At first, it looked like a disastrous decision. That predictable ganking and teamfight power coming out of VP dominated the first half of the game, with Legion racking up a respectable amount of duel victories. Immunity had a lategame advantage on paper, but VP were in a position to deny them the opportunity to use it. Then, both VP and the game itself lost momentum. The teams entered yet another long period of trades, with VP generally claiming greater map control but being forced to back off after every engagement. Then, sLiCKz's Windranger entered her own dominant phase. During one base defense he landed four perfect Shackleshots in a row, and when Windranger utterly destroyed Legion Commander in a duel-gone-wrong (thank Daedalus and Aghanim's Scepter for that) the game suddenly looked winnable.
And it was. Windranger's extraordinary damage output posed a serious problem for VP, who had grown overconfident. Chronosphere became a way to set up targets for Windranger to destroy, a status quo that will probably cause pub Voids everywhere to faint from the scandal of it all. But when Immunity started to venture beyond the river, Necrophos happened. Losing Windranger to an upgraded Reaper's Scythe was all it took to place the game firmly back in VP's hands, and this time they didn't squander the opportunity to end it.
The beginning of game four made a fifth look inevitable. Against a strong Immunity line-up including Ember Spirit, Razor, Batrider, Skywrath and Sand King VP took Lycan, Enigma, Tidehunter (who'd have thought), Witch Doctor and Venomancer. Put it this way: I've seen Venomancer show up as part of a push strat in a BO5 grand final on two prior occasions and neither TI3-era Na'Vi or TI4-era ViCi seemed particularly happy about it afterwards. VP needed to win the early game convincingly and got off to just about the worst possible start by losing Enigma to a five-man Immunity rotation before the game even began. Ember Spirit, Razor and Batrider all got off to good starts, with Batrider managing a solo kill on VP's safelane Lycan that made Witch Doctor look like a neglectful parent.
Napping clusters of StarCraft II commentators sighed and anticipated the extra hour or so they'd have to wait before the SCII final. I started to wonder what had possessed VP to gamble this hard. Then, VP proved their point about teamfight lineups to the exclusion of all doubt. A Refresher emerged on Sedoy's Tidehunter depite his rough start, and well-placed Poison Novas and a string of perfect Black Holes gave Immunity no space to move.
'No space'. That was a space joke. Black Hole. Never mind.
MusiCa's Ember Spirit picked up a tremendous amount of farm – two Daedaluses, a Battlefury, and so on – but it wasn't enough. In the final engagement of the tournament, three successive Sleight of Fists yielded precisely zero critical hits as RNGesus turned his gaze away from the floundering team. And while teamfight ult after teamfight ult forced Immunity back into their fountain, a comfortably-farmed Lycan did what Lycan does when he gets inside your base. Immunity's ancient exploded and VP collected their giant cheque as the speakers blared the impressively literal 'We Are The Champions' over the cheering crowd.
Consistently, VP struck me as the most disciplined and experienced team in this tournament and that bore out in the end. Where others lost seconds arguing about their next moves, VP simply acted – and they kept their cool as the long days wore on, even if that meant running similar drafts over and over. Of all the teams in contention at MSI Beat It, they are the closest to cracking the current meta: and they cracked it by pressing 'R' at just the right time, over and over and over.
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