The following contains spoilers for day one of The International 2013 - Dota 2 championships.
I sat down with a friend to watch the first game of TI3 and it struck both of us that the event's incredible production values make you feel like your hobby is being legitimised right in front of your eyes. It's not flashy - Benaroya Hall is a concert value, and wouldn't allow for rotating stages or fireworks - but it's very, very slick.
Information from the game is displayed in ways that are impossible in regular streaming. The large central screen displays the game in the centre with match information - graphs, charts, and an enlarged minimap - off to the sides. Below, there is live footage of the inside of the two sound-proof booths where the teams sit. Below each player on the front of the booths are screens displaying that player's hero - complete with any cosmetic items they may have equipped - and their status. If they die, it switches to greyscale and a respawn timer appears. If they have an Aegis of the Immortal in their inventory, that appears as an icon in the corner.
It's definitely a room full of fans. A few technical hitches with the switchover between the analysis desk and interview team have been met with warmth, and during matches the crowd has a tendency to explode - as anyone listening to a steam will be able to tell. The American teams present get a more substantial welcome - as well as chants of "USA! USA!" - but every team has its supporters.
Despite spending 12 hours in Benaroya Hall yesterday, it feels like there's a huge amount still to come. Here's how the matches went down.
Na'vi vs. Orange
An explosive start - four kills in the first fifteen seconds of the game. I was worried that the opening salvos of TI3 would be tentative, given that there's so much on the line, but this wasn't the case. Orange represented the Malaysian scene phenomenally well in the first match but couldn't overcome a resurgent Na'vi in the second and third. It felt like this came down to the draft - Orange intelligently countered Na'Vi in the first game, but crucially they were countering a team that wasn't quite playing like itself. Dendi always seems trapped when he's playing a hero like Dragon Knight: moving on to Puck gave him the freedom he needed to make big plays in teamfights.
Fnatic vs. TongFu
A dominant 2-0 win for the Chinese team. A really strong core capitalised on the weaknesses in Fnatic's draft in the first game, and the double initiation power of Batrider and Storm Spirit made them incredibly hard to counter in the second. That said, Fnatic deserve credit for some incredible attempts - solo mid player H4nn1 in particular was playing the Dota of his life, landing an incredible Dream Coil right outside the Roshan pit. It was a great day for Puck fans, if you couldn't tell that already.
Dignitas vs. Rattlesnake
The first of the best-of-one matches that would determine which Lower Bracket teams would head home first. Everyone was expecting conservative play given the high stakes of these matches, but that wasn't the case here: Dignitas picked up a Timbersaw/Wisp/shotgun Morphling combo that wrecked house despite the presence of solid defensive heroes (Naga Siren and Keeper of the Light) in Rattlesnake's draft. If you watch one game from yesterday, watch this one.
Mouseports vs. LGD.int
A convincing win for LGD.int. Mouseports picked up a strong set of heroes - including the unpopular Phantom Lancer - but couldn't take the game late enough for Black^'s potential as a carry to come online. Early kills that should have come from FATA-'s Puck and paS' Nyx Assassin simply didn't - the same nerves that affected them in the prelims seemed to come back with a vengeance on the main stage. The man of the hour, however, was LGD.int's Brax and his phenomenal Clockwerk play. The man can land a Hookshot on anything: enemies behind trees, moving enemies, invisible enemies - and even, in one case, an invisible Nyx Assassin moving behind a tree.
Dignitas vs. Orange
It felt like Dignitas went into their final game overconfident. The instant pick-up of Timbersaw - the hero that had been so effective against Rattlesnake - allowed Orange to instantly counter with Mushi's Queen of Pain, who proceeded to clean up in the early game. Lacking a Wisp, Dignitas didn't have the mobility to execute the same confident plays that got them through their first match - instead, they built a much more conservative team that couldn't hang on long enough to come online.
Fnatic vs. LGD.int
This game belonged to Fnatic's Trixi. As Bounty Hunter, he spent the entire early game in the enemy jungle blocking camps, harassing supports, and preventing LGD.int's Brax from pulling off an ancient-farming strat with Puck. This allowed the rest of Fnatic to capitalise on their lane advantage and when they all came together LGD.int looked helpless. Era's racecar Lifestealer build - combined with the movement speed bonus from Track - made teamfights incredibly entertaining to watch.
The All-Star Match
Okay, maybe there's another essential game of Dota 2 from yesterday. The All-Star Match was a stretch goal from the Compendium where teams are assembled based on player voting. The match pitched Loda, ChuaN, Dendi, Hao and ARS-ART against Burning, Puppey, Akke, Mushi, and Ferrari. It was hilarious, and easily the most fun I had watching Dota 2 yesterday. So much so that I don't even want to spoil the drafting phase. Needless to say, it's worth watching for what happens when players leave the booth doors open and can hear what the commentators are saying. It's also worth watching for the moment when Dendi kills Puppey, pauses the game, and Gangnam Styles accross the main stage.
Just watch it, okay?