This post contains spoilers for The International 3 - Dota 2 Championships.
When I left Benaroya Hall late last night the final three competitors in the tournament had been decided. It's been a really exciting competition, with major upsets and strong showings from teams that few would have predicted would make it this far into the big money. Today promises to be one of the biggest contests in e-sports history. It feels like hyperbole to lay it out like that, but it's hard to see how it could be any different: from the prize pool to the level of play, competitive Dota has never been this strong.
Here's how day four went down.
DK vs. Orange began on Friday night, with the Chinese favourites - DK - taking a game off their Malaysian opponents. Orange responded with an unusual draft that made use of Slardar's damage amplification to wreck Dragon Knight and the push-heavy strategy he supports. Watch game two for the impeccable late team-fight where it all comes together for the Malaysians.
I didn't think Orange were going to take game three at first. They picked up Ursa, a hero who I'm glad to have back in competitive play but traditionally requires an early win to avoid losing ground to the traditional set of carries. Not that it seemed to matter - no matter how late the game went, Mushi's murder bear continued to clean up in teamfights and Orange took the win.
I love watching Storm Spirit play, so I was delighted when Ferrari picked him up in the second game of the IG vs. TongFu series. The first match had been played before, with defending champions IG taking a win. As with Orange and DK, however, the morning turned things around entirely. Many teams have learned to fear the Weaver since TI3 began, but none more so than IG when TongFu.Mu executed the tournament's first Rampage in an incredible teamfight that ended the second game - Storm Spirit or no. IG.Zhou picked up Weaver himself for the final round, but it wasn't enough to lock down TongFu.Hao, whose Anti-Mage's gold-per-minute absolutely crushed the competition. TongFu moved on to face Orange, and the winners of the second International were sent home.
Na'Vi vs. Alliance was the day's banner match - it's the match-up many are expecting to see in today's grand final. Na'Vi's run of unconventional drafts continued into the first match, when they picked up a Skywrath Mage for Dendi in addition to KuroKy's Io and Puppey's Sand King. The amount of magic damage they were able to dish out early scored them some kills, but it wasn't enough to end the game and by the time Alliance had picked up BKB's Na'Vi's potential impact dropped off entirely. S4 of Alliance deserves credit for a great Puck performance that denied Na'Vi a lot of freedom in teamfights, as does Na'vi's Funn1k and his cool, controlled showing as Windrunner.
Na'Vi seemed to make a similar mistake in a different way in game two. They picked up Luna as their carry, a once-popular draft who has dropped off due to severe early-game vulnerability. Nonetheless, her damage aura helped Na'vi take a dominant laning phase, scoring an early first blood on AdmiralBulldog's Lone Druid and wiping out every single one of Alliance's exterior towers with seemingly no opposition from the Swedes. I spoke to Alliance captain Loda afterwards and he said that they knew they could win if they stayed calm and kept farming - and that's what they did. With BKBs up and a Radiance on Bulldog's bear, Alliance started to take teamfights - and, slowly but surely, the map. They took the second game and sent Na'Vi to the lower bracket finals.
The best theory I've heard about Na'Vi's unusual drafts is that they're holding something back. They've always been known for their mind games, and there's a chance that they would prefer to take big risks against Alliance than ultimately give away a strat that might win them the whole tournament. Still, they've given themselves one more game to win to have that shot at the throne.
The day ended with a best-of-three between TongFu vs. Orange that would decide which team would represent Asian Dota on the final day. In the first game, TongFu picked up a draft that specialised in mobility and securing pick-offs with Lifestealer bombs: Storm Spirit, Nyx Assassin and Clockwerk as delivery mechanisms, with Silencer to nullify the disruptive potential of Orange's Bane. What they couldn't counter, however, was the teamfight potential of Mushi's Sven and Ohaiyo's Dark Seer - it's worth watching for the incredible Vacuum/Wall/Storm Hammer combo that they use to counter a Storm Spirit gank attempt.
Orange lost momentum in game two, however. Mushi was forced out of his comfort zone with a Doom pickup that favoured utility and patience over his customary aggression, while TongFu's Hao was very much in his element with a farmed Anti-Mage (sound familiar?) that the Malaysians just couldn't stop. They fought their hearts out to secure the series 2-0, but just couldn't seal the deal. In game three, however, Orange shifted gears and simply dominated, denying TongFu the freedom to capitalise on any advantage they might claim and pushing them back, inch by inch, until the GG became inevitable. They go on to face Na'Vi today: a phenomenal showing from the team and from Malaysian Dota in general.