I'm not sure anybody expected to Vici Gaming to do quite as well as they did in the group stages. The Chinese team was eliminated from ESL One Frankfurt by Fnatic, but only dropped three games at the International—to Na'Vi, EG, and Cloud 9, all teams that went on to qualify for the main event. They excel at building a 'death ball', a composition of five heroes that are good at pushing down towers and taking teamfights early in the game.
This is demonstrated by the fact that they had the highest overall gold-per-minute during the group stages but the fewest average last hits: when your team is bowling over tower after tower, you don't have time to click on creeps. You should expect to see a lot of Shadow Shaman from them, as well as Tidehunter , and the now-ubiquitous Razor —all heroes that can sustain a push for a long time.
They will face Newbee on day one, and it'll be a tough battle. Newbee know how to build a death ball of their own, and they have—broadly—demonstrated a greater capacity to outdraft their opponent. If anybody is going to put a dent in Vici's well-engineered machine, it'll be Newbee. The Chinese teams know each other well, they're fairly evenly matched, and there's a lot at stake. Given both teams' affection for early aggression, expect this to be an exciting game.
Despite facing elimination when play began on Monday morning, Newbee had an extraordinary day. They not only eliminated Titan but they destroyed Na'Vi, ending their second game at the twenty minute mark. They went on to beat IG, securing a top-four placement for themselves and sending two world-class teams to the lower bracket. It might have taken a few days for Newbee to find their rhythm, but when they did—holy hell. Old-fashioned Dota thinking expects the Chinese teams to be conservative and passive compared to their aggressive western counterparts, and Newbee demonstrated just how outdated that is. Nobody could watch Hao's omnipresent Weaver and argue that Newbee didn't know how to get the most out of the early game.
They're a relatively new team comprised of veterans, and their captain, xiao8, is known for pulling together robust, inventive strategies on the fly. This was demonstrated on Monday when they grudgingly ceded a lengthy second game to Titan, only to come back in the third game with a risky level one Roshan strategy that snowballed into a dominant—and fast—victory. This was in a match that would determine which of the two teams played at KeyArena: Newbee put everything on the line, and it paid off spectacularly.
Their endurance is equally impressive. They can maintain their energy and focus for a long time, and if a plan isn't working, they'll change it. I'd certainly consider them a contender for the grand finals if not the title, but it's all on the assumption that they can maintain that incredible momentum going into the main event.
Also: if any other player can top Mu's incredible snipe from their match against Titan, I'll be very surprised.
EG established themselves as the best team in the western scene at the playoffs. North American with the exception of Swedish support player Zai, this lineup was drawn together by Fear—a veteran of the North American Dota scene, and one of the focal points of Valve's Dota 2 documentary, Free To Play. Injured earlier in the year, he's since stepped into a coaching role. His replacement, Mason, has only been part of the pro scene for a few months despite having famously gone on record saying that he wasn't interested in becoming a pro player. His story is representative of the team as a whole: young, talented, confident, but maybe a little fractious.
EG like to build up their advantage and win the game late. They're creative when it comes to making sure their heroes maintain a strong gold advantage—in particular, they make excellent use of the midlane—and much of their early play is designed to ensure that their carries have the space they need to farm. Strong leadership is needed to make sure that happens, and they find that in ppd. In Universe, they've got one of the best offlaners in the world—he can play a carry if it comes to it, but he shines on utility heroes like Dark Seer . Their midlane player, Arteezy, has a significant following having pioneered the farm-heavy style that has come to define EG's strategy as a whole.
On day one they play DK, one of the few teams to have bested them in the group stages. It should be a brutal rematch, and one that will test EG's ability to outmaneuvre their inventive opponents. They've got the talent and hunger to pull it off, but they could be badly demoralised by a loss. The home crowd will desperately want to see them reach the grand final, and they're expected to do so, but I wouldn't surprised if they ended up making the journey via the lower bracket.
Another matchup worth looking out for—if it happens—is EG vs. iG. iG beat EG in the final of ESL One Frankfurt and again in the group stages for the International. A grudge match on day two/three is possible, and would definitely be one of the stories of the tournament as a whole.
Longtime favourites DK didn't have the flawless run through the playoffs that some expected, but they're inarguably one of the strongest teams in the world at the moment. After a disappointing showing at The International 2013, the DK organisation pulled together a new roster around legendary carry player BurNIng—a lineup that included, notably, former Orange midlaner Mushi.
One of the best players to ever come out of South East Asia, Mushi was my MVP for The International 2013. He played a wider variety of heroes than anybody else, often impeccably, and Orange's third-place finished belied their formidable fighting spirit. His teammate iceiceice has likewise fallen short of the International title on multiple occasions, and will be hungry to make this DK's year.
DK draft creatively and execute near-perfectly, with some of the best teamfight coordination you're likely to see at the tournament. It's very hard to get the drop on a team that is as in-sync with each other as they are. DK are a good foil for EG because they share some of the same strengths—great farming across multiple core heroes, reinforced by top-tier support play—but I expect DK to have the edge in the drafting phase. They can collectively play more heroes than almost anybody else, although Newbee might give them a fight for that title.
Another interesting—but possibly unlikely—matchup is DK vs. Cloud 9. It was DK that sent Cloud 9 to the lower bracket, defeating them in the tournament's shortest game—an eleven minute stomp. Cloud 9 will want revenge should circumstances conspire to give them a shot at it.
One the next page: the next four teams.