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Header image via the official Dota 2 Twitter account. Spoilers begin beyond ‘IF YOU WATCH ONE MATCH…’, below. This was a day that brought a number of the International’s underdog stories together for a final showdown. We lost some favourites along the way, but this year’s tournament continues to defy expectations as new teams rise to challenge the old order.
IF YOU WATCH ONE MATCH…
Lower bracket: TNC Pro Team vs. Digital Chaos
Shadow Demon was a little less important today as teams began to prioritise him more in the ban phase. This opened up the meta a lot, allowing for creative picks like DC.w33’s Magnus in their comeback game against TNC. Without the threat of slow illusion siege, the game is much more fun to watch with teamfight-centric heroes like Sand King getting a chance to shine.
The war of the underdogs: these two teams entered the tournament in the shadow of much better-established peers. It’s almost a shame that they met each other at this point: that one of them needed to end their run here, rather than get the chance to challenge upper-bracket favourites like EG and Wings.
DC placed a lot of importance on an aggressive trilane in the first game with the aim of shutting down TNC.Raven’s Drow Ranger, but they ended up ceding a lot of room to TNC.Sam H’s Batrider who scored multiple solo kills in the opening minutes of the game and picked up a phenomenal early gold lead. We’ve seen a lot of Batrider in this tournament, and this was one of the most impressive: TNC’s offlaner has really made a name for himself at this event.
His lead allowed TNC to pressure DC continually throughout the game, and Resolut1on’s Naga Siren wasn’t enough to give DC an advantage in the lategame. With Morphling available to score quick pick-off kills on vital DC supports and plenty of siege potential from Drow Ranger, TNC put themselves one game from advancing.
DC reached outside the tournament meta in game two, picking up w33’s Magnus paired with Elder Titan, Faceless Void, Ember Spirit and Ancient Apparition. TNC attempted to counter this teamfight-heavy draft with Silencer, but most of their hopes were centred on Alchemist: and DC support Misery proved extremely effective at shutting down the fast-farming carry with Elder Titan, following him around and preventing him from establishing the kind of lead that the hero specialises in.
DC pulled ahead this time but it wasn’t easy going: a few misjudgements cost them, particularly when they failed to play around that all-important global silence from Demon. Yet this was an impressive performance overall, particularly Resolut1on’s decision to pick up a Divine Rapier on Ember Spirit before DC’s situation got desperate. Although this is normally an all-in move, here it provided DC with a practical advantage that they needed to avoid a stalemate: something many teams have struggled with during this event. After an explosive Reverse Polarity-Sleight of Fist-Ice Blast combo, DC evened out the set 1-1.
TNC played their hand early in the third draft by showing Raven’s favourite carry, Terrorblade, along with Vengeful Spirit. DC countered with an early Winter Wyvern, who specialises in countering physical damage carries, as well as top pick Mirana, Dark Seer, and the infrequently seen but potent Slark. Seemingly deciding to go all in during the draft itself, TNC picked up Faceless Void and Alchemist: a very greedy lineup that left them weak in the early game.
Having proved that he knew exactly how to ruin an Alchemist’s day in game two, Misery delivered a repeat performance—this time with Sand King. They applied pressure to TNC’s vulnerable carries around the map, and TNC resorted to trying to sneak Roshan at 14 minutes to get back into the game. Misery threw his life away trying to disrupt the attempt, but this ray of hope for TNC was quickly squashed with a huge Winter’s Curse from Saksa’s Winter Wyvern. DC got a free Roshan for themselves as well as a comfortable kill lead.
DC followed up with deep aggression while Resolut1on continued to farm. At this point, Slark was ahead of Alchemist on the net worth table: a terrible sign for the prospects of the South East Asian team. As the half hour mark approached, this became an increasingly one-sided affair. Facing elimination, TNC fought to the bitter end: but greed in the draft and effective counterplay by DC had brought their fairytale run to an end. They can be very proud of top 8, but it’s sad to lose them.
Lower bracket: Fnatic vs. Team Liquid
A resurgent Liquid was the favourite going into the series, despite Fnatic’s solid performance against Alliance the previous day. Liquid drafted aggressively into Fnatic’s siege-oriented lineup, but early passivity prevented them from claiming control of the map through brawling alone.
Mushi’s willingness to aggressively roam on a position one Luna seemed to take Liquid by surprise, here, as Fnatic quickly began to take the better part of the trade every time the two teams clashed. And Ohaiyo on Slardar proved a tempo-breaking counter to Liquid’s attempt to wrest control back of the game. By the time Fnatic settled into the inevitable Shadow Demon-Luna illusion slow siege, Liquid were simply too far behind on gold and experience to fight them. This was a surprisingly one-sided victory for the South East Asian team.
Seemingly learning the same lesson that they were forced to learn against Newbee on Wednesday, Liquid locked off Shadow Demon in game two and focused on their own teamfight potential. And it went really, really well with Axe, Sven, Ancient Apparition and Razor establishing early dominance that made a third game seem all but certain. Yet Liquid failed to end the game early when they had the advantage, and as time dragged on something shifted in Fnatic. They rebounded at around the 23 minute mark with a huge teamfight victory despite a massive gold and experience disadvantage, taking on Liquid where they were strongest and simply outplaying them.
Then, they did it again. And again. Fnatic’s teamfight performance in this game was nothing short of extraordinary—see ‘Play of the Day’ for a specific example—and the subsequent and dramatic swing in their fortunes well deserved. Liquid held on until deep in the lategame, but they looked like their confidence had taken a big hit. A couple of whiffed invitations demonstrated an uncharacteristic lack of finesse, and Fnatic punished every mistake with a potent show of force. DJ’s Shadow Shaman deserves particular credit for his consistent teamfight impact over the course of the game. Liquid resorted to a last-ditch Refresher Orb purchase on Sven to stay in the game but found themselves outmaneuvered and outgunned. A triumphant Fnatic had eliminated the last remaining European team 2-0.
Lower bracket: EHOME vs. Digital Chaos
Having won the battle of the underdogs earlier in the day, here is where DC’s run was supposed to end. Despite being knocked down to the lower bracket by EG the day before, EHOME were nonetheless still regarded one of the strongest teams in the entire event, group stage winners that had made the defending champions fight tooth and nail for every inch of ground they conceded.
My notes for simply read ‘JIMMY NO’. Having routed TNC in the Roshan pit, their opponents DC move in to claim the Aegis for themselves. TNC captain Jimmy ‘Demon’ Ho smells a play to be made, however, and sets up on the cliffside to swap Moo out, kill Roshan himself, and steal the Aegis. It doesn’t work. Jimmy is slightly too late, misses his window, and dies in the attempt. This probably wasn’t the play to make, but when you’re facing elimination from the International—why not, eh?
Which makes what happened next all the more shocking. Despite what seemed like an outdraft by EHOME—with iceiceice comfortable on Anti-Mage against Invoker and Timbersaw—DC established an early lead with style. Strong support rotations, with the help of w33’s Sun Strike, built a kill lead quickly. Yet they didn’t look to have the lategame: EHOME had Shadow Demon and Anti-Mage, after all, while DC had made the surprise decision to put Resolut1on on a core Vengeful Spirit.
In defiance of expectations and the meta itself, it worked. DC were pushing high ground at the 22 minute mark, building momentum not from macro-scale decision making but from clutch skill where it counted. On-point Sun Strike snipes by w33 punished EHOME on the retreat and kept DC ahead as Moo’s Timbersaw acted as a potent foil to EHOME’s Sand King. They kept the pressure up, refused to cede anything to EHOME without taking more in return, and broke EHOME’s base in 30 minutes. Commentators wondered: did DC break EHOME’s spirit, or had EG already done it for them the day before?
Regardless, EHOME looked shaky in the second game. DC picked up an early first blood and a courier snipe that took the wind out of EHOME’s midlane efforts. Nonetheless, they ceded a number of early kills as EHOME’s rotations punished Timbersaw. EHOME doubled down on the pickoff power of Nyx Assassin and Lifestealer but as time went on this became less effective. DC demonstrated a willingness to expend Chronosphere to score a single kill on a vital hero, but this was enough to keep any of EHOME’s cores from getting out of control.
It began to look as if DC were living charmed lives. As Nyx moved into assassinate Resolut1on’s Faceless Void at the 26 minute mark, he just happened to Time Walk out of the way. DC would continually defuse EHOME’s aggression like this, with skill and luck locking the Chinese favourites out of the game that looked incredibly frustrating to play against.
From there, DC simply outplayed them. Channeling the spirit of EG.Universe from the day before, Resolut1on landed a huge three-hero Chronosphere at the 37 minute mark that provided the opening that DC needed to end the game. Elated, this team of misfits and rejects won themselves a place in the top five.