Dota 2: The International 4 retrospective and thoughts
My, but it’s been a bit of a Cinderella story for Newbee. The team which eventually won The International 4 – and the $5 million USD prize that went with it – didn’t exactly start off looking that strong.
They barely scraped through the round robin phase of the tournament, managing seven wins and eight losses against the other teams, putting them in 9th (or joint 9th) place – and those who placed 11th and below were eliminated. From there, they still had to fight for their tournament survival; before the main event, phase three dictated that they had to beat Titan just to make it to the main event.
They beat Titan, knocking them out of the tournament. Then they beat TI1 champions Natus Vincere, knocking them into the lower bracket of the main event. Then they beat TI2 champions Invictus Gaming, knocking them into the lower bracket of the main event – and securing their own place in the upper bracket.
When the upper bracket matches started… well, it still seemed like anyone could conceivably come out on top. Vici Gaming, Evil Geniuses, and Team DK had all proven themselves capable teams; even before this point, they’d generally been among the favourites to win The International itself. Newbee edged past Vici in a 2-1 victory, and then beat Evil Geniuses 2-0 to secure themselves a place as a grand finalist. At this point – from being placed 9th when the tournament kicked off – they were guaranteed at least a second place finish.
And the rest? Well, if you’re reading this, you probably already know. Na’Vi and IG were both knocked out of the tournament, ensuring that there would be no second-time winner this year. Vici fought their way through the lower bracket, managing to defeat Cloud9, Team DK, and Evil Geniuses to secure a chance at revenge against Newbee in the grand finals. Alas, it was not to be: despite a strong start, Newbee crushed Vici 3-1.
There are a lot of stories you can tell about The International 4, really. Newbee’s rise from barely qualifying to eventual victory is one, but I’m pretty sure you could craft a tale about Evil Geniuses – looking so promising before Fear suffered an injury in May, and then coming so close in every stage of the actual tournament, from 2nd in the round robin to 3rd in the main event.
Even individual matches have their stories! The second game of Cloud9 vs. Vici, with a surprise Meepo pick doing a ridiculous amount of work. The hour-long first game between DK and LGD, in which LGD managed a miraculous comeback – two lanes of barracks down, 20k gold and experience down, against a Nature’s Prophet, and they win, in large part due to DK playing over-cautiously and giving up their advantage. Evil Geniuses’ second game against Vici Gaming, proving the power of a Faceless Void with nigh-impossible Chronosphere placement. If you haven’t seen these games? Do so.
And yet, despite all of this, we… actually, no. I can’t speak for the community because I’m not a Dota 2 professional in any sense; I’m not a caster, an analyst, or a pro player. I’m just some guy who plays it quite a lot. But… well, I feel underwhelmed by the final day of the tournament, and I really doubt I’m alone. Newbee’s path to victory was a decent tale, yes, but that actual victory felt – to me – incredibly anti-climactic and more than a little hollow.
The best-of-five stretched to four matches, total. Vici took the first with some impeccable rotation, pick-offs, and ganks, and never really let Newbee gain any traction. This proved wise, as Newbee had an Alchemist and – given the speed with which he farms – a comeback wouldn’t necessarily have been impossible. Just incredibly unlikely, particularly after Lone Druid picked up a relatively quick Radiance. Vici got the advantage and then snowballed through onto the high-ground, causing Newbee to call GG a mere 25 minutes in.
The second battle saw Vici try roughly the same thing, albeit with some changes to their lineup… only this time it goes horribly wrong. Newbee managed to build up a massive advantage with a load of early kills and excellent trades, usually losing only one hero to take three or four from Vici, and this led to their Weaver, Brewmaster, and Alchemist becoming far too big to handle. Vici tapped out before they even lose a tier two tower.
Game three? Well, it didn’t exactly go well for Vici. Again, they went for early dominance, and again they completely failed to get it, trading poorly with Newbee. When a Roshan attempt went wrong and Newbee not only managed to force out two buybacks but take the Aegis, Vici GGed out again. While the odds were stacked against them (an underfarmed Ember Spirit, an underfarmed and underlevelled Venomancer, and a weak Nature’s Prophet against a snowballing Weaver, Puck, and Alchemist), it felt incredibly early considering it was the grand finals.
This was a GG at 17 minutes, and while defending against the push of a Shadow Shaman, Chen, and Alchemist was going to be difficult, they did have a lineup that could potentially do something against it. Ancient Apparition’s Ice Blast punishes aggression, Venomancer wards allow for a strong defence, Rubick can steal the powerful abilities of the opposing team, Ember Spirit thrives on stalemates, and Prophet is one of the rat kings. Yes, the game might’ve been been over within the next 10 minutes, but if there was ever an occasion to try to draw out a seemingly lost game then the grand finals are it – and, as mentioned above, we’ve seen massive comebacks in this tournament before.
And then game four! What happened? Did Vici try a brand new pocket strategy to confuse Newbee and pull out a victory, and perhaps turn the tables for an exciting game five? No. They went for a lineup that, again, needed a degree of early game dominance – which was going to be very difficult to find, considering what they were up against – and again died repeatedly to smart rotations. They failed to find any footing, and when one push attempt catastrophically failed (with three heroes going down almost instantly) they tried another push somewhere else. They looked overwhelmed and bewildered, and they gave up at 15 minutes after a disastrous fight at mid. All hail our new champions, Newbee.
The longest game of the grand finals was 26 minutes. Two games of the four were called before the 20 minute mark. There was no exciting back-and-forth action; there were no games that could’ve gone either way. There was an early game going horribly, and then a GG. From the looks of things, Newbee figured Vici out in game one, and then summarily crushed them in three straight games when Vici failed to pull anything else out of their hat. The excitement before the first game gradually gave way to dull disinterest, which isn’t really what you want from any final, let alone one prefixed with “grand”.
This was then capped off with an astonishingly dull press conference, and then a “Well that’s the end of The International, thanks for watching.” Not with a bang, but with a whimper, etc. Perhaps the afterparty with Darude will make it all better.
So yes, the last day was rubbish. There was no exciting Dota 2 on display, and the games themselves were about as long as the ban/pick phases. There were no real surprises (barring the brevity and boredom of the grand final games, at least). Considering this is the first time the tournament has been shown on, say, ESPN, in front of larger crowds than ever before… welp, this is not a good way to end it. No million-dollar dream coils, or a full five matches desperately fought out. None of the raw tension and excitement of TI3’s legendary Na’Vi/Alliance battle. Just early dominance and then GG. And that YouTube link, there? If you haven’t, watch it. Then watch TI4’s final match. Spot the difference in terms of excitement.
The International 3 was the first one I properly watched, and I was still relatively new to Dota 2 so there was a lot I didn’t quite get. I didn’t know the teams, and I wasn’t completely au fait with a lot of the heroes. Nonetheless, I watched most of it, and that final? That final was something. All five games were at least somewhat entertaining in their own right, and each one proved that neither team were really out. It was a titanic battle of champions. It was a grand final and it felt it; even just watching a stream the electricity and tension were palpable. This time… bleh.
I hasten to add that this isn’t the fault of either of the competitors, really – although, yes, okay, I do think Vici should’ve drawn out their losses at least a little longer. Both teams were playing to win, not to entertain the crowds; Newbee had a strategy that clearly worked for them, so they had no real obligation to change things up, while Vici stuck to their guns and it didn’t work out. You can argue that doing so was a terrible, game-losing decision, but it’s not their responsibility to provide spectacle. You can slightly more reasonably argue that some of this is due to the current state of the game and the meta, and that the first post-TI balance patch will heavily address some of what we saw. I can’t disagree with that overmuch.
Either way, this is far from the first final in a widely-viewed competition to be incredibly boring. Just look at the World Cup match from 19XX between that country and that other country! That was rubbish. So, okay, it happens.
Sadly, the final is probably what I’ll remember the most because everything else was building up to it, and that’s depressing because most of the last three days have had some really good Dota 2. Yes, okay, we’ve seen Doom and Shadow Shaman and Razor and Skywrath Mage more times than I can count, but we’ve also seen Lina and Undying and Meepo and other unconventional picks. We saw Visage and Drow employed to devastating effect. We saw pocket strategies fail miserably, and pocket strategies confuse and bewilder foes in games that seemed certain to go the other way. There’ve been exciting, close-fought matches, and amazing comebacks, and absurd displays of skill, and groan-worthy mistakes. There was the surprise pick of Techies in the All-Star Match, which was just the sort of little set-piece the event needed.
We saw Na’Vi – who’ve been a grand finalist in every International up to now – knocked out early. Defending champions Alliance went out before the main event, and remaining former champion IG fell around the same time as Na’Vi. The two teams in the finals were technically at The International for the first time (although both teams are “dream teams” made up of players who have been at the tournament before). Nonetheless, this was a new and relatively unexpected development.
There has been, in short, superb Dota 2, and for the most part the International 4 stream – with panel analysis, random interviews, and discussions of the teams – was actually relatively entertaining. Right up until the last day, anyway. I mean, even the award ceremony was dull. I demand dancing girls in Queen of Pain outfits, and dancing men in… actually, dancing men in Queen of Pain outfits would probably be even better.
Of course, the main event was only part of The International 4. There were approximately 972 new chests for you to spend your cash on, each offering a random cosmetic set (with autographs!). There were all the benefits and little sub-games offered by the Compendium, ranging from the fantasy leagues and the weird hero assistance tool, through to the Daily Hero Challenge.
The Daily Hero Challenge is something I will miss, while also being very happy that it’s gone. On the one hand, it was a wonderful tool for convincing me to try heroes outside of my comfort zone – I’ve played a Dragon Knight support (converting to a farming hero once our lanes were secured and our carry was moving on). I played Queen of Pain for the first time in a long time. I even discovered that I’m not as horrible on Meepo as I thought!
On the other hand, it also encourages people to play heroes with whom they are utterly terrible, and I would like to apologise to any team who had to suffer through me playing Elder Titan. I’ve seen a Luna die 10 times and barely manage to hit level 11 before 35 minutes; I’ve seen a Meepo keep every clone except for one in the fountain. Not that these were necessarily down to the Daily Hero Challenge, mind you. It’s just a convenient scapegoat.
If you haven’t watched too many games and want some suggestions, then: LGD vs DK game one, C9 vs Vici game two, Vici vs DK game one, EG vs Vici game two, and absolutely nothing from the grand finals. That should keep you going for a little while.
I could talk about what I want from TI5 next year, but a lot of it would be irrelevant – the meta is going to change between now and then, so we’re not going to have the same problems with picks and playstyles. I’d like a more exciting final and a bit more spectacle on the last day, but a lot of that is down to the teams that make it through. I did like what was done with the Compendium and I’d like to see that expanded on even further.
But, more than anything, I want to be writing a piece like this – only one which isn’t talking about what went wrong.