Featuring ten days of competition, sixteen teams, a final prize pool of well over 2.8 million dollars, and a concurrent audience in excess of a million people, it was both an entertaining spectacle and a promising step forward in the growth of high-level eSports.
It was exciting. It was well produced. It was an opportunity to win Dota loot. It had ups, downs, and inbetweens. So let's have a look at how it went down.
Seattle's Benaroya hall once again hosted the event, with about 1700 lucky fans able to watch it live over the five-day stretch of the finals. Coming out of the group stages the clear favourite for the title had to be Sweden's Alliance, who were unbeaten atop their group, but they had definite competition in the winners bracket in the form of their European neighbours Na'Vi and Fnatic. Chinese representatives LGDcn, Tongfu, DK and Invictus Gaming also made the top bracket, with Malaysia's Orange Neolution rounding out the eight.
In the lower bracket, crowd favourites TeamLiquid and Team Dignitas were probably the best of the rest, both having narrowly missed out on places in the top tier.
Highlights from the upper bracket included this grinding monster of a game that culminated in a baserace, and a hugely entertaining best-of-three between Orange and Na'Vi. Elsewhere, DK and iG made history – and everyone really bored – with the longest game in competitive Dota 2 history. It was awful, and showed what can happen when two teams – both of whom are capable of spectacular, aggressive and daring play – decide to do none of the above and spend 98 minutes dithering and farming the jungle instead. DK lost in spite of being ahead for the entire game though, so that gave one point of schadenfreudey deliciousness.
The results were somewhat predictable, but the way they came about gave big hints about the later stages of the tournament: Alliance made heavy work of dispatching LGDcn, but never really looked out of their depth; Na'Vi and Orange showcased their huge potential – and the odd glass jaw; TongFu were quietly efficient, and DK – enduro game aside, put it down to nerves – made iG look pretty useless (iG didn't do much to help their case, either).
In the lower bracket there were fewer chances to really develop form – the cutthroat best-of-one format doesn't really lend itself to a slow build-up – it was all about who could be first to spot and punish vulnerabilities. As you'd expect, the teams that had placed higher in the groups performed better, but there were respectable performances from those that were defeated – Rattlesnake's effort against Dignitas was probably the pick of the batch.
Things got interesting when the defeated teams from the upper bracket dropped down to take on the lower bracket victors from that first round, making for games were a lot more evenly matched, although the advantage (as you'd expect) sat with those from the upper bracket. Fnatic drubbed LGDint, iG got over Zenith, Orange showed their quality with a good win to knock out a stubborn Team Dignitas, and in one of the biggest upsets of the tournament (in fact, it was probably one of the best overall team efforts), local heroes TeamLiquid outclassed LGDcn with a mix of straight-up skill, daring, and a healthy slice of luck.
While they would have been hoping they could ride this luck through the next round – past an iG team who had looked pretty lacklustre to this point – it wasn't to be, and although the game was pretty tight, Liquid's mix didn't quite come off, and they went home with a lousy forty-three grand. Also dropping out at this point were Fnatic, who lost a dull game against Orange (there were only two kills in the first twenty-five minutes, and things continued at that kind of soporific pace for the remainder).
In the upper bracket, TongFu and Na'Vi played one of the livelier best-of-threes of the competition, Na'Vi strongarming the first (which was one of the bloodiest games of the tournament) with a great mix and some insane micro, before TongFu rallied to take the second with aplomb. The deciding third game was one of the best of the tournament, with TongFu's initial momentum carrying them to an early lead, before Na'Vi's methodical (ab)use (depending on who you talk to) of the Chen-Pudge hook-teleport-fountain kill mechanic dragged them back – first into the game, and then the lead, eventually grabbing the game and booking themselves – at worst – a third place finish overall.
The other upper bracket match saw DK duking it out with Alliance – who continued to peddle their unique blend of suffocating split-push pressure interspersed with the odd perfectly executed teamfight, and they took the first game handily. But DK are a good team (they were definitely up there with TongFu in terms of the best Chinese teams), and they snaffled the second game, breaking Alliance's ridiculous unbeaten streak. Unfortunately they couldn't maintain their advantage, setting up a Na'Vi-Alliance upper bracket semi-final.
In the lower bracket, TongFu found themselves up against iG, and although last year's champs showed a bit more of their winning pedigree with an excellent comeback to win the first game, TongFu came into the second game refreshed (the match took place over two days) and in spite of trailing 12 kills to 4 in the fifty-fifth minute, they showed some serious grit (as well as outrageous Weaver play from Mu) to even the series at one game apiece (they were actually still trailing in kills when they won the game). Things were more straightforward in the last game – TongFu put on a clinic and systematically dismantled the former champions.
On the opposite side of the bracket, Orange took on the recently-dropped DK, with the Malaysian side looking to build on their momentum (bearing in mind that they were among the first teams dropped from the upper bracket), and initially they did just that – picking up good early kills and building into a frightening position – before DK clawed their way back, and after a brutal teamfight on the bottom lane, the Chinese team swaggered straight into Orange's base and won. This was another two-day match, and the next day an invigorated Orange hit back, dominating the second game after a shaky start. The deciding third game saw DK opt for a fairly greedy line-up with great late-game potential, but Orange hit a good timing of their own, securing a crucial teamfight at the fifteen minute mark and snowballing into a huge lead. This time though, they kept their tendency to overcommit while hunting kills in check (mostly), and in spite of DK rallying strongly late on, Orange took two huge teamfights and clinched the match.
This win meant Orange would go up against TongFu in the penultimate lower bracket match, with the winner playing Na'Vi for a place in the grand final.
In the draft TongFu went for a slightly greedy line-up, and Orange opted for a more conventional mix, with the exception coming (as usual) in the off-kilter choice of Sven for Mushi (who played a ridiculous number of different heroes over the tournament). The pick paid dividends, with the big man getting a hatful of assists and kills in the early-to-mid game, and with Orange really hitting their stride, they took the game with ease. But TongFu are a quality outfit (as they proved against iG), and they really took it to Orange in the second match, a rollicking seesaw-er that TongFu ultimately wrestled away. Again the match went to a third game, and with everything to play for (the loser would go home with about $200,000, while the winner was guaranteed at least $287,000), Orange came out swinging, taking a strong laning line-up (Mushi taking a solo mid Nyx Assassin, because why not). Their aggressive picks worked again, and at the twenty minute mark they were 11-1 ahead, with every outer tower down for TongFu. Things went from bad to worse for TongFu, as they dropped a few more kills (including an unlucky gank on their hard-carrying Hao), and with Orange turning the screw, the last Chinese hope was eliminated.
In the first of the semi-finals Alliance and Na'Vi squared off in what felt a bit like a little preview of the grand final – both teams had topped their groups and were highly favoured to make the last match – so it was interesting to see how it panned out.
As it turns out, the answer was “Not well for Na'Vi.” In the first game they picked up a good aggressive mix, including the hitherto almost permabanned Wisp (or Io, if you must), and set themselves to finding a gap in Alliance's armour. While the first few fights went their way, shortly after the twenty minute mark Alliance just seemed to flick the win switch, dominating a couple of crucial teamfights, and within ten minutes the game was over.
In the second game Na'Vi started even more aggressively, picking a super-strong (and mobile) early game line-up, and within fourteen minutes they had taken down every outer tower, but Alliance seemed content to leave them to it, instead focusing on farming up their Alchemist and avoiding the roaming five-man pack of Na'Vi. Once the towers were down though, Na'Vi seemed to lose purpose, continuing to roam around and slowly dropping behind in terms of levels. Once again, Alliance seemed to flick a switch when they were ready to start winning and somehow – whether Na'Vi were still off balance from the first game, or it was something deeper – it happened. They destroyed them so comprehensively that you had to wonder whether that might be it – that even if Na'Vi made the finals it would just be another steamrolling.
Whether that came to pass would depend on the lower bracket semi, with Na'Vi getting a second chance to fight it out with Orange for the grand final spot.
The first game saw Orange continue their devastating run of form, winning it with heavy-pressure split pushing and another standout performance from Mushi. Things looked pretty grim for Na'Vi, but they scotched a lot of doubts inside the first minute of the second game, picking up a double kill with some nanosecond-perfect micro. Just like that the – at times – stuttering performance from their last three games was forgotten, and they began to find their feet. From there they began snatching kills at will, and while Orange played exceedingly well, against Na'Vi's well-fed line-up and newfound confidence they conceded inside twenty-five minutes.
Despite Na'Vi's commanding effort in the second game, the advantage at the start of the third game went to Orange, as they picked up good early kills and carved through the first big teamfight, taking a 14-4 lead and doing serious work on the supports of Na'Vi. Things began to improve slightly for Na'Vi when they interrupted a Roshan attempt and snuck a few critical kills, but Orange smashed them at the next teamfight, getting four kills. Again and again Na'Vi would start to look like they were working back into it, only to find themselves getting hammered by the vicious teamfight combo of Orange.
One of the defining moments of the game came when Orange picked up an unchallenged Roshan kill, only for kyxY to destroy the Aegis with a misplaced attack-move. In the next teamfight Na'Vi pulled out all the stops and won, but it would have been a much trickier proposition if Mushi had held the Aegis. From here things began to tip back towards parity, and after forcing Orange into three buybacks that didn't get them any kills, Na'Vi took another huge teamfight, leaving Orange – with their buybacks on cooldown – helpless to prevent Na'Vi rampaging into the Dire base. With that Na'Vi took the gold lead for the first time since the two minute mark, and the game soon followed. It was an outrageous comeback, but full credit must be given to Orange, who – were it not for that misclick on the Aegis – could have been worthy participants in the grand final and certainly showed themselves as real contenders for the future.
The grand final itself, a best-of-five, was a fantastic series, starting with Alliance completely stomping Na'Vi in sixteen minutes – promoting serious misgivings about whether the upper bracket semi would be repeated – but the second game was a mirror image of the first, Na'Vi thrashing them right back and showing that the grand finals would be anything but straightforward. Games three and four went to Alliance and Na'Vi respectively, with both teams performing at a stratospheric level, and the series went to the fifth game, and ace match to decide who would take home the $1.4 million grand prize.
If you only watch one game of Dota this year, let this be it:
Alliance won and Na'Vi lost, but what happened in between defies description – other than to say it was an insane, rugged duel between two great teams performing at the absolute peak of their game – and it was both a fitting end to a fantastic tournament and a promising sign for the future of Dota and eSports in general. With play like this and viewer numbers growing (the League of Legends World Championships selling out the Staples Centre is pretty exciting), things are looking particularly bright.
So congratulations to Alliance, and to Na'Vi, and to everyone else who participated, and we can't wait for next year.
Source : ign[dot]com