The Frankfurt Major's most next-level play so far is Dota at its best


Tonight’s upper bracket series between Vici Gaming and Team Secret was crazy. These are two of the world’s best teams with some of the very best individual players, and even so the standard was extraordinary. After a close first game that Vici ultimately took command over, Secret brute-forced a 2-1 result in their favour through a mixture of bravado, cheese, and whatever the opposite of tilting is. I'd strongly recommend watching the whole series: the VOD isn't available at the time of writing, but here's the Twitch link anyway.

I don’t want to talk about the whole series, though. I want to talk about this:

Gfycat from this thread by redditor /u/handofskadi.

This is one of the most next-level things I have ever seen a Dota player do. It is also, I appreciate, almost completely impenetrable to somebody who hasn’t invested time into this strange, brilliant game. For me, it’s a reminder of why Dota is so extraordinary and why—despite looking like other games in its ostensible genre—it remains completely unique.

The player you’re watching in the gif above is w33 from Team Secret. He’s controlling that blue archer lady with the green trail, running back and forth at the top of the stairs. That isn’t actually his hero—who is elsewhere—but an illusion of his hero, a duplicate that looks exactly like him but can be controlled separately and has next to no health or damage potential. The semi-transparent dragons and sea monsters and swordsmen running past amount to the entirety of Vici Gaming. Got it? Okay.

At the very highest level of play, the ‘probability space’ of a given Dota game begins to narrow out. There are very rarely ‘optimal’ decisions that a player or team can make, but there are certainly logical ones—strategies that teams might be expected to deploy, anticipate from their opponent, and so on. One example of this revolves around the use of Smoke of Deceit.

Every team has a limited (but regenerating) supply of Smoke of Deceit that they can purchase for gold. Using it grants every ally in an AoE a limited period of invisibility, and unlike regular invisibility Smoke of Deceit can’t be detected by Sentry Wards or Gems of True Sight. Instead, Smoke invisibility breaks when the user enters a certain radius from an enemy hero—the hero themselves, mind, not any of that hero’s pets or illusions or allied creeps.

Good players learn to anticipate a Smoke of Deceit and avoid it. If the enemy is behind or there’s an important objective they need to take and they’re all suddenly not on the map any more, it’s a good time to play safe. Very good players learn to anticipate the direction that a likely Smoke of Deceit attack will come from and avoid that specific area—again, it’s a matter of understanding the probability of certain decisions. The best players can anticipate both the timing and direction of a Smoke and actively play against it.

w33 did all of that and then some. He not only anticipated the timing and direction of Vici Gaming’s Smoke of Deceit use, he derived a way to do the impossible: to prove without doubt that it was happening long before Secret were in any danger, to reduce the chance that his judgement was wrong to zero.

See, Smoke of Deceit isn’t broken by running past enemy units, but the heroes it renders invisible are still physical objects in the world. They still block unit pathing. When w33 found an Illusion rune and spawned two copies of his hero, he used one of them in a completely unique way: he sent it into the enemy jungle, to the top of a flight of stairs that Vici were likely to pass through if they attempted a Smoke of Deceit attack. He then gave the illusion multiple queued movement commands, forcing it to run back and forth at the top of those stairs multiple times. Then he kept an eye on it.

The moment Vici Gaming pass, covered by Smoke of Deceit—that’s the transparency effect—they’re not revealed by the illusion. But they do cause the illusion’s pathing to momentarily fail. It hitches as it hits first iceiceice’s Tidehunter and then Fenrir’s Winter Wyvern, proving that something has obstructed it even if that something is invisible. You see w33’s green map pings come out shortly after: Vici Gaming are here, and they’ve used Smoke.

It’s genuinely brilliant, and it’s only possible because Dota 2 is fundamentally a game about systems rather than fixed rules. You might come up with rules to help you learn, and rules help you understand the metagame, but the moment somebody decides to break them—when they reach back past the rules to the systems that support them and twist them to their benefit—that’s when you get real Dota. And that’s why all of the Dota people you know are freaking out about a transparent blue archer momentarily hesitating when it bumps into a half-invisible watermelon man. Esports!

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Chris Thursten

Joining in 2011, Chris made his start with PC Gamer turning beautiful trees into magazines, first as a writer and later as deputy editor. Once PCG's reluctant MMO champion , his discovery of Dota 2 in 2012 led him to much darker, stranger places. In 2015, Chris became the editor of PC Gamer Pro, overseeing our online coverage of competitive gaming and esports. He left in 2017, and can be now found making games and recording the Crate & Crowbar podcast.