The International 4: The Main Event
No matter the victories, trophies, or titles a team has accomplished this year, this is what it all comes down to. Nineteen of the best DotA teams in the world came to Seattle last week, but only eight have made it to this point.
Dreams will be crushed. Tears will be shed. Gods will bleed. And at the end of it, one team will earn immortality and etch their names on the Aegis of Champions.
This is it.
Welcome to The International 4.
2013: The Year of Darkness
EG entered 2013 on a high note. After placing 2nd in DreamHack Winter 2012 to the team that would become Alliance, the team seemed poised to take the West by storm.
But it was not to be. As the new year began, EG entered a deep slump. And it happened at the worst time as Valve started scrutinizing teams for invitations to TI3. By the time EG managed to right the ship, they were too far underwater.
EG prepared itself for the qualifiers. Entering as the Western favorites, EG dominated the group stage and seemed poised to punch their ticket to Seattle. Then the wheels came off the wagon again, and the team's dreams of TI3 extiguished in two straight losses. EG would eventually demonstrate that the qualifiers were just a misstep with a bevy of top 3 placings in tournaments before TI3. But it didn't matter when they had to watch the biggest tournament from home.
Although the team had proven itself in the months preceding TI3, the goal wasn't to have a good team. It was to have a contender. So Clinton "Fear" Loomis was given the discretion to hand-select a team that could do just that.
Fear settled on a team consisting of him, Saahil "UNiVeRsE" Arora, Jeyo, MSS, and Fogged. On paper this team looked excellent. TI3 was a lost season, but Fear had assembled a team of talented players who were all willing to put in the necessary practice to be the best, an issue that Fear had always believed held EG back.
No one knew that EG, and the rest of North American DotA, was about to enter a short dark age. Dignitas' rebuild went so askew that the organization dropped support for the game. Liquid fared better, but was quickly falling behind the rest of the West once you looked across the ocean. EG's roster struggled with consistency, the only significant result being a 2nd place finish at ESWC to Empire... which had no real competition given that Sweden was not represented by Alliance and China did not attend.
EG was facing a grim possibility of missing another TI.
That's when EG saw the light.
EG called it quits and embraced the S A D N E S S.
The S A D B O Y S : A New Hope
Practice is essential for DotA professionals. But it is one of many moving parts in a top team. It makes you better, but only by pushing your limits and uncovering your talent. It had become clear that no amount of practice would fix EG.
Knowing from last year that results in the first few months of 2014 would be crucial to getting into TI4, Fear started another rebuild in earnest.
There were numerous high profile free agents available. There were also rumors that EG was looking to poach disgruntled stars from other teams. But Fear made the fateful decision to emulate a formula that had worked for Alliance last year: pairing two known quantities, Universe and himself, with three lesser known and newer players, Ludwig "zai" Wåhlberg, Peter "ppd" Dager, and Artour "Arteezy" Babaev.
At the time, no one knew the wonders that this roster would go on to accomplish. zai and ppd were talented and had a wealth of experience from Heroes of Newerth, but had yet to be seen in a top team for Dota 2. Arteezy had a title to his name, but it was earned from a stint as a stand-in for Cloud9 at MLG (then known as Speed Gaming). And many doubters held fierce to the position that his "cancerous" and "toxic" attitude would somehow surely doom any chance he had to compete at a high level in the long term.
So before debuting as the new EG roster, the team had to prove itself. They would start out instead as the S A D B O Y S -- a tribute to Arteezy's sophisticated musical tastes. And they would lose their first ever game, against Team Liquid, where they were completely routed by their would-be regional rivals.
But right after after that single loss, EG started winning. And they didn't stop. Not for twenty straight games at least. Liquid's victory would be short-lived; they would go on to see their status as the top American team crumble as they lost their next 13 matches to EG.
EG's meteoric rise through the ranks of the West was met with a lot skepticism. And to be fair, some of it was warranted. While EG handily defeated Liquid and Cloud9 numerous times, including at the Monster Invitational LAN at SXSW, most of their incredible record was built against low tier competition in the historically weak NA region, with the obliteration of a few South American teams here and there.
But slowly, EG's status as Best in the West became clear. Even when EG lost Fear to an arm injury for the rest of the season, the team kept marching onwards to the top. Despite the tremendous blow of losing a player of Fear's talent and experience, the team never seemed to take a step backwards. Substituting their go-to standin, Mason "Mason" Venne for Fear, the team kept delivering what ppd had promised at SXSW, "A lot of Midas, a lot of farm, and a lot of wins."
Most doubters were convinced after EG's 3rd place finish at StarLadder Season IX Global Finals. By June, only haters remained; EG had nabbed gold at The Summit and the HyperX D2L Western Challenge, along with silver (highest amongst all Western teams) at ESL One.
EG enters this weekend as the West's best hope to keep the Aegis. TI3 champions Alliance have already fallen. While TI1 champions and three-time consecutive grand finalists Na'Vi look stronger than most would have predicted, given their poor showings so far in 2014, they seem like a long shot to reach the final round for a fourth time. While known for turning it on when it counts, the Ukrainians will be starting in the Losers' Bracket and are only one series away from elimination.
It falls upon Evil Geniuses, pride of NA DotA, to defend home turf.
The Path to Victory Begins with Making Gods Bleed
The first opponent standing in EG's way to the Aegis is Team DK. Coming into this weekend, DK vs. EG has been a hotly anticipated match. Before it all started, many predicted this to be the Grand Finals; the inevitable clash between the top Eastern team and the top Western team.
With a roster recognized as one of the most talent-laden teams in the history of competitive Eastern DotA, DK has ruled over China for most of this past season. At the heart of the DK roster is BurNIng. Like Kobe and the Lakers or Jordan and the Bulls, BurNIng is the face of DK. And with good reason. Amongst even the highest echelon of carry players, BurNIng stands alone having led the original EHOME to an unmatched ten championship run and earning him adoration as "B-God" in China. He is joined by another of the would-be DotA Gods, Mushi, who led Orange to a third place finish at TI3. Known as "M-God" for his dominance in the SEA region, Mushi boasts one of the largest hero pools in the professional scene. The last of DK's DotA-bonjwas is iceiceice from Zenith, who like Dendi from Na'Vi, is known for both his solo prowess and his out-of-game antics. Togtether, these three give DK one of the most versatile and skilled tricores in modern DotA.
But as we all know teams comprised of only cores are doomed to failure, despite what that guy who last picks Riki tells you. Keeping DK's tricore afloat are two of the greatest support players in China, MMY and LaNm of EHOME fame. MMY served as one of BurNIng's support guardians during EHOME's ten championship dynasty. LaNm was one of the players EHOME turned to when trying to fill BurNIng's shoes and he stepped up like few others could to help carry EHOME to it's second place finish at TI1.
Super teams don't always work. But DK's allstars have lived up to the hype. They have taken first place in seven different Chinese events, such as the G-League and the eSports Champions League. In the international circuit, DK tore through the competition at the Global Finals for Star League Season IX. DK took home first place without dropping a single map, defeating none other than Evil Geniuses in the Winners' Finals and then the equally hot Empire at the Grand Finals.
DK looked unstoppable. At least until June, when they were shown to be mortal. Not once, but twice. First at the WPC Ace League Finals where Invictus Gaming, the TI2 champions who have seemingly returned to form with the return of fan favorite ChuaN, defeated DK in a dominating 4-1 set. Lightning struck again later that week at The Summit when EG, who had fought back after a terrible group stage, pulled out a 3-2 Grand Finals victory against DK.
Since then, DK's stock has slipped. Not by much, mind you. They bounced back to capture three titles in the Chinese circuit at the end of June. But the team no longer projects the same aura of invincibility they did a few scant months ago.
That valuation seems in line with how they have been doing at TI4 thus far. They have been performing well, but not to the level of excellence that is expected of this squad. Most pegged DK to advance directly to the Winners' Bracket as first seed, but they finished the round-robin in third place at 10-5. The entire group stage has been littered with upsets, and many of those upsets came at the cost of DK.
While DK bested EG last week during the group stage, there is no need for panic. Afterall, the last time DK beat EG in a group stage, EG went on to beat DK in the Grand Finals. But after EG's victory at The Summit, EG's Captain Peter "ppd" Dager pointed out the Dire won every single game of the series, indicating that EG's luck in drawing Dire and abusing the Roshan advantage in Game 5 proved pivotal.
If there's a skill differential between these teams, it is razor thin.
The only other encounter between the squads was at the StarLadder IX Finals in Kiev, where EG lost 0-2 to DK in the Winners' Finals. In both those games, EG permitted DK to draft Wisp for MMY which proved fatal (EG has since defeated DK's Wisp strategy.)
This will no doubt be a tough fight; there is a reason VG used their first seed advantage to choose Newbee as their opponents over DK. But EG has proven a match for the Chinese superteam before, and they have had a week with Fear to come up with their strategy. EG enters the match as the higher seeded team for a reason (and, if not for a tragic Riki pick, probably would have been the first seed).
B-God and M-God be damned, this is A-God's Aegis. Trust in blue to beat red.
The Winners' Bracket: All Roads Lead Through China
As important as DK is, they are not the end all be all. Claiming the Aegis of Champions will require at least two more victories should EG defeat DK. And regardless of who wins the other Winners' Semifinal, EG will face yet another monsterous Chinese team.
The first possibility is VG. Coming into Seattle, not many had VG pegged for winner of the group stage. Many considered Newbee as the new third wheel of the elite Chinese team trio. However VG has made a strong case that they stand alone above their piers. And it would be hard to deny them as they seem to have caught fire at the exact right time, similar to their monsterous run at the end of 2013 where they briefly challenged DK for supremacy in China. For more information on VG, check out EG's TI4 Preview Team Profile by @shirokaisen here.
The second possibility, no less daunting, is Newbee. Newbee was considered one of the Top 4 teams entering TI4 after a flurry of strong showings in the Chinese circuit. However they had a disappointing group stage where they stayed mired in the middle of the pack, finishing with a negative record. Unceremoniously tossed into Phase 3, the sleeping giant was unleashed. With three straight wins, they took the last Winners' Bracket slot by force. For more information on Newbee, check out EG's Preview Team Profile by @Gredival here.
EG proved themselves a match for both teams during the group stage. But both teams are championship proven teams, hailing from what has long been considered the most competitive DotA circuit, in a year that has seen a Chinese resurgence. If EG is expected to upset DK by reversing their group stage loss, VG and Newbee will be looking to do the same to EG.
The march to the Grand Finals won't be any easier after DK, but it is one EG should be prepared for.
The Losers' Bracket: From the Bottom to the Top
EG fought hard to get into the Winners' Bracket for good reason. Should EG fall to DK, they will still have a chance at the Aegis if they can complete the run-back from the Losers' Bracket.
In this scenario, EG will drop to face the winners of iG and LGD - a match heavily favored for iG.
EG will surely be itching for revenge against iG, the team that defeated them 2-1 at ESL One Frankfurt. The TI2 champions looked stronger than ever in Germany, however, like DK, they seemed to have entered Seattle in a less than ideal state. iG finished the group stage 9-6, a strong showing but definitely weaker than they had hoped. The disappointment was further amplified when iG were tossed into the Losers' Bracket by Newbee in an excruciatingly close 2-1 set. iG is a downright frightening team to have to face so early in the Losers' Bracket, especially following a group stage loss. But iG has probably had a lot of wind knocked out of their sails since the Newbee match. Add to that, EG's victory against the comparatively hotter VG, and the edge should go to EG regardless of the head-to-head record. Plus, the boys in blue will no doubt have dedicated some time to studying their ESL and group stage losses to iG with coach Fear. For more information on iG, check out EG's TI4 Preview Team Profile by @shirokaisen here.
EG will probably breathe a sigh of relief if LGD pulls the upset. If LGD wins vs. iG, it's less likely to be because LGD was the better team than because iG committed a serious mistake. An iG with the momentum of having beat LGD would probably be a scarier opponent than LGD having gotten a fortuitous win against iG. Since their third place finish at TI2 two years ago, where LGD was 14-0 until the Winners' Finals, they haven't looked like the favorites to take TI that they once were. Last year saw them fail to finish in the money at TI3 when they took an upset loss to Liquid. LGD's only title this year was HyperX D2L Season 4, all the way back in January. Moreover, they have since lost their longtime Captain, xiao8, to Newbee. Ever since xiao8's departure, LGD has sometimes looked lost without the vision and guidance of the Director. For more about LGD, check out EG's TI4 Preview Team Profile by @william_partin here.
Thank you to Valve, StarLadder, joinDOTA, and the WPC Ace-League for photography used in this article.
|Score||Player 1||Map||Player 2||Score|
|2||EG||Best of 3||DK||0|
|0||EG||Best of 3||Newbee||2|
|1||EG||Best of 3||VG||2|
|Main Event Wins1||:||2Main Event Losses|
|Score||Player 1||Map||Player 2||Score|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Na'Vi||0|
|0||EG||Best of 1||Cloud9||1|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Fnatic||0|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Empire||0|
|0||EG||Best of 1||Liquid||1|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Alliance||0|
|0||EG||Best of 1||DK||1|
|1||EG||Best of 1||VG||0|
|1||EG||Best of 1||LGD||0|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Newbee||0|
|0||EG||Best of 1||iG||1|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Titan||0|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Arrow||0|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Mouz||0|
|1||EG||Best of 1||Na'Vi||0|
|Group Stage Wins11||:||4Group Stage Losses|