The fifth Dota 2 International was the longest and most lucrative since Valve introduced the game to the world in 2011. After a week of group stages, 16 of the best teams in the world met in Seattle’s KeyArena to compete for greater and greater shares of a prize pool that topped $18m. Valve’s presentation was better than ever, running to a 360-degree screen, a stage shaped like the Dota logo, and a live orchestra for the opening ceremony.
It was also one of the closest contests in the history of competitive Dota. The first day saw both defending champions Newbee and fan-favourites Na’Vi eliminated. On the second day, the top-seeded Eastern European team, Empire, was eliminated by South Korean second-seed MVP Phoenix. This marked South Korea’s best year at the International, a tremendous showing for a country with very limited presence in the Dota scene. It was also an important result for Phoenix captain March, who will be forced to retire from professional Dota for the next two years as he enters mandatory military service. Day two also saw the fall of Cloud9, another well-loved team that just didn’t seem to find traction at this event. Another previous International champion, IG, lost out to tournament favourites Team Secret in the lower bracket after a hard-fought set. compLexity, a North American dark horse composed of former Heroes of Newerth veterans, found themselves going out 2-1 against Eastern European powerhouse Virtus.Pro – but not before producing one of the turnarounds of the whole tournament in their first game. Nobody expected anything from them in this International, and they proved that to be a misguided judgement.
The MVP Phoenix dream finally ended on day four, but that wouldn’t be the day’s biggest upset. In a shock result, Team Secret – pegged by many, including me, to handily take the entire thing – were eliminated 2-1 by Virtus.Pro. You could see them crumble: rumours of bad feelings among the team had spread in the early parts of the event, but in the games themselves it looked like an overconfident team quickly and devastatingly learning how close-fought the Dota 2 scene can be.
The day ended with the All Star match, where the community votes on the pro players they’d like to see shuffled into random teams for a single game. This year, Valve used the All Star to announce support for 24-player matches within Dota 2’s upcoming Reborn client update, and demonstrated this by inviting ten players from the audience to turn the game into a 10 vs 10. One of these audience members, wearing a fat suit and Pudge mask, turned out to be legendary midlaner Dendi – setting the tone for a very long, very silly evening. Kudos to the random member of the public who saved the game for his team as Omniknight – that’s got to feel good.
So many teams performed tremendously in this tournament, but it came down to two – and either way, it would be a fairytale ending. On one hand, Evil Geniuses were the great hope for a first-time American winner. Their carry, Fear, is one of the most experienced players in the scene but has never taken home the trophy that matters. Their star player, SumaiL, is a 16-year-old immigrant from Pakistan, one of the most talented midlaners in the history of the game. Until earlier in the year, he was living in a bedroom with eight of his family members.
On the other hand: CDEC, a team of Chinese newcomers whose thundering run through the group stages and main event took everybody by surprise. A few recognised their talent, but none expected them to do better than the four or five Chinese teams rated above them. Now-legendary carry agressif once told a hundred or so stream viewers that he wanted, just once, to play at the International. He made it to the grand final on his first attempt.
Unlike last year’s hour-long anticlimax, this was a brilliant four-game final. The two captains – EG.PPD and CDEC.Q – played a battle of wits in the draft which EG won in the first game but CDEC decisively won in the second. SumaiL and EG’s offlaner, Universe, played incredibly in game one, but so did CDEC’s Xz and agressif in game two.With the match tied 1-1, game three was incredibly close, a narrow victory for EG clinched with virtuoso high-pressure play by SumaiL. CDEC showed signs of stress in the fourth game, playing much more defensively. In the play of the tournament they killed SumaiL and made a play for Roshan, Dota 2’s most important map objective. But PPD and Universe countered with an Ice Blast-Echo Slam combo that annihilated CDEC inside the pit. They rode the roar of the crowd from that moment to the trophy itself, securing a historic first-time victory for North America at the International.