Another day of Dota 2 that'll be talked about for a while. At the beginning of the day, every team left in the tournament had made it into the top eight and was guaranteed to walk away with a payout equivalent to the entire prize pools of other competitions - but the reduced risk didn't prevent teams from fighting bitterly for a space at the top.
The moral of Alliance vs. DK seems to be 'don't let S4 pick up Batrider'. Alternative bans by DK - particularly getting rid of AdmiralBulldog's Lone Druid - allowed Alliance to pick up on-the-spot initiation power that no-one seems able to counter. That said, The Swedes' unstoppable streak ended in game two when Burning proved, with Anti-Mage, why he's one of the best carry players in the game. Alliance seemed unshaken however and took the third game with another set of incredible initiations by S4 - but, as ever, they're not a one-man team. Watch it for the coordination between EGM and Akke as Keeper of the Light and Naga Siren.
Na'Vi vs. TongFu proved, over the course of three games, just how varied in tone Dota 2 can be. Na'Vi often play best when they're showing off for the crowd and that was definitely the case in game one, when they demonstrated ably why teams started banning out the Dendi Pudge in TI2. Hooks, hooks everywhere: it's an incredible show of confident play, and the crowd loved it.
In game two, however, Na'Vi's Ursa pick-up forced them into trying to secure an early win they they just couldn't seem to nail down. They were eventually outfarmed - and, honestly, outplayed - by TongFu, who picked up a deserved win and pushed it to three games.
Game three remains controversial. Na'Vi drafted Pudge again, this time in conjunction with Chen, but didn't play the dominant game they did in the first round. Whether due to nerves or tiredness, Dendi wasn't the unstoppable early-game presence that he can be and this pushed Na'Vi onto the back foot. They responded by pulling out one of their pocket strats - the fountain hook trick where Pudge's hook and Chen's Test of Faith teleport is used to send an enemy flying across the map and into the fountain. They used this in conjunction with a Force Staff to threaten TongFu with what amounts to a 3000-range kill button, and this changed the tone of the game entirely.
There's been a lot of discussion about whether Na'Vi deserved their win, which they picked up after a fountain hook eliminated SanSheng's Visage. To my mind, they did: they chose a strategy that could deliver them a victory and they stuck with it. One the other hand, I don't think they earned the adoring praise that was lavished on them in Benaroya Hall or online: the fact is, their execution was all over the place. They constantly screwed up their hooks and every time Dendi teleported back to base for no reason it was embarrassing to watch. The impression I got was that they were rolling the dice until they got lucky, and then they did. I would have been a very different game if every Na'Vi fountain hook had been flawless, but it was a mess. Na'Vi are dangerous because they will try anything to stay in the competition, even pub-match cheese strats at the highest level of pro play. That's great to have, in a tournament like this, but it sometimes seems like they're positioning themselves as the bad guys.
Later in the day, Fnatic vs. Orange felt like two very similar teams facing one another. It ran long and low on kills as both teams avoided conflict (and elimination) but ultimately Fnatic couldn't overcome Mushi's Anti-Mage. It's nice to see Shadow Fiend and Morphling make tournament appearances, but the aggression wasn't there to make best use of them.
Then, TeamLiquid vs. IG pitched the last US team in the contest with the Chinese defending champions. Liquid came out swinging and picked up a very early - and impressive - first blood on Zhou's Weaver. The crowd in Benaroya went absolutely insane. Liquid also seemed unthreatened by Batrider, which was interesting to see. That said, the game dragged on and Bulba couldn't pick up enough farm on Lifestealer to stay competitive against Ferrari_430's Shadow Fiend. Solo safelane Outworld Devourer meant that Liquid had a dominating laning phase, but he became far less impactful when BKBs started to appear en masse: another feared hero knocked down a notch as Liquid's tournament came to an end.