WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED IN THE GROUP STAGES?
A lot of upsets, is what. The four-day group stages saw fan favourites drop games to teams that had to climb up through the qualifiers and fresh ideas clash with a metagame that has stabilised around a few key heroes and strategies. When the dust settled, no team had gone undefeated and two qualifier teams—including one who came through the wildcard, the longest road to the International—had made it into the top five. That's almost unheard of. It's been very dramatic.
Skip to the bottom for the TL;DR version.
Let's kick off with a gigantic teamfight where everybody dies, shall we? This bloody battle was the highlight of Vega vs. CDEC game 1, and demonstrates just how much both of these teams wanted to qualify. Also notable for TobiWan's breathless casting and for giving TI5 its first quotable moment—"WHERE'S YOUR STUN? YOU DON'T HAVE ONE."
Sunday 26th July: the wildcard play-in
The four teams to finish second in the qualifiers played each other in a best-of-three double-elimination bracket with the top two finishers progressing to the main event and the bottom two going home.
The Chinese and European wildcards, CDEC and Vega Squadron, were tipped to take those places.
That's not what happened. First CDEC took down Vega 2-1 despite strong resistence while MVP Phoenix—brother team to MVP Hot6—beat North American hopes Archon (formerly North American Rejects.) CDEC then went on to 2-0 MVP Phoenix while Vega did the same to Archon, eliminating them from contention.
Finally, in the biggest upset of the day, MVP Phoenix took down Vega Squadron 2-1 to score the final place in the International 2015. This is the first time there have ever been two Korean teams in the tournament.
Tough choice, but I'm going with a moment that confused the casters as much as the players—coL.Zefrik's massive surprise Black Hole in game 1 of MVP Phoenix vs. compLexity. It looks like he'd blown his ult trying to kill MVP's Naga Siren, but had actually stashed a Refresher Orb on the courier—ready to devastate MVP's later push.
Monday 27th July: group stage day 1
This was a brilliant first day. Juggernauts LGD took two games off C9, which they might have been expected to do, but not without a 70-minute struggle from the fan favourites—including an incredibly ballsy Divine Rapier purchase from EternalEnvy.
Meanwhile, Secret were expected to do well against Fnatic—they dominated them at ESL One Frankfurt—but ended up getting taken apart by Mushi's Queen of Pain in their second match, drawing 1-1.
Upsets continued as American qualifier winners compLexity took down MVP Phoenix 2-0, and Phoenix drew 1-1 with Na'Vi.
The rest of the day developed more or less as expected in terms of results, but not without a lot of inventive play—Divine Rapiers on Ios, all-in Huskar play, and so on.
LGD emerged as the strongest team having not dropped a single match.
Secret's KuroKy counters C9's Roshan contention by stealing Magnus' Reverse Polarity. This is why you don't let KuroKy get Rubick. Plus bonus triple-cliffing by C9's bOne7 on the Magnus. Moments like this are why everybody get excited when teams clash around the Roshan pit.
Tuesday 27th July: group stage day 2
C9's dream took wing with a 2-0 over Fnatic and then took, er, whatever the opposite of 'wing' is with a 0-2 loss to Secret. Secret went on to 2-0 Na'Vi, confirming their dominance, and IG became the first team to take a game off LGD.
The biggest upset of the day by far was compLexity's 2-0 victory over Na'Vi: from being ignored by most observers, coL were starting to look like top-four material.
Virtus.Pro took two games off CDEC but lost to Empire who then went on to lose to CDEC, demonstrating how close this tournament has been.
North American favourites EG took two games off Vici Gaming and MVP Phoenix, asserting their dominance, but MVP Phoenix managed to stave off a run of losses by taking a game away from Fnatic.
There have been a lot of Divine Rapiers in this tournament so far, but none as timely nor as immediately devastating as this pickup by MVP.QO in their match against IG. While the play itself isn't amazing—IG simply lose three people immediately to Ember Spirit's Sleight of Fist—it's a crazy power spike given that this was a 70 minute game.
Wednesday 27th July: group stage day 3
The two most favoured teams, Secret and LGD, kept things ambiguous by trading 1-1. C9 defeated IG 2-0, keeping their own hopes alive while badly wounding those of the TI2 champions. Na'Vi and Fnatic—both struggling at this point—also tied, and Na'Vi went on to lose to LGD.
MVP Phoenix's rise from the wildcard was halted briefly by their encounter with C9, but they went on to take an unexpected 2-0 away from IG—furthering IG's woes. Their brother team MVP Hot6 lost to both Virtus.Pro and EHOME, while the latter traded with EG. Newbee lost to CDEC, as did Vici Gaming—we're talking a wildcard team taking games off the giants of their own scene, here.
compLexity, meanwhile, got shut down by Secret—game two of their set is definitely one to watch, featuring an absolutely astonishing performance on Broodmother by Secret's Zai.
Techies has steadily emerged as an important hero in this meta, rather than the fan-pleasing novelty pick they're sometimes seen as. Multiple teams have run it, but Aui_2000's performance against CDEC was, to my mind, the best. He's active and aggressive on a hero known for its passivity, and the clutch stasis trap in this teamfight demonstrates what the hero is capable of.
Thursday 30th July: group stage day 4
The final day of the group stage was a treat for anybody who really, really loves maths. There were a lot of knife-edge series that would determine which teams finished in the top four of their groups, and while LGD handily picked up the two wins they needed against Fnatic,
Secret only traded 1-1 against MVP Phoenix—definitely an upset. Even more so: compLexity's 2-0 victories over Cloud9 and Fnatic, which secured this qualifier team a place in the top four.
IG beat Na'Vi 2-0 in a TI2 finals rematch while Vici Gaming and Newbee went 1-1 in a TI4 finals rematch. EHOME picked up pace by beating Virtus.Pro 2-0 before going 1-1 against CDEC. MVP Hot6 enjoyed mixed fortunes, going 1-1 against Newbee but losing outright against Empire. EG made a strong statement in their games against CDEC, winning both handily.
The final positions necessitated an tiebreaker match to determine top four placement for Virtus.Pro and Empire, which was played as a best of three that Empire won 2-1.
Final standings (the TL;DR version)
LGD, Secret, compLexity and Cloud9 formed the top four for Group A and EG, CDEC, EHOME and Empire formed the same for Group B. MVP Phoenix rose from the qualifiers to narrowly miss inclusion in that set, while all of the previous International-winning organisations still in contention—Na'Vi, IG, and Newbee—found themselves at the bottom of their respective groups.
These were incredible, knife-edge, heartbreaking games. It's the first time an International group stage has been this closely fought, and it's unprecedented for teams that didn't get invites, who had to fight their way up from the bottom, to do so well—CDEC and compLexity in particular. The old Dota 2 pro scene died at TI4. The year-long gestation period of Dota 2's new status quo ended dramatically with this group stage, and it really is tough to predict what might happen next week.
Next: a beginner's guide to the current meta.