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PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Three Lane Highway: surrender buttons, Gordian knots, and other thoughts on giving up">Skywrath Mage

Three Lane Highway is Chris' column about Dota 2.

When someone describes something as a Gordian knot the presumption is that it's waiting for the sword. There's virtue associated with solving complicated problems quickly and decisively the legend of Alexander and the knot expresses a cultural preoccupation with the notion that twisted impossible things are deserving of a direct and just and violent 'solution', normally at the hands of somebody with unusual power and perspective (read: some dude with a sword.) Anything else, it follows, is a waste of time.

There are other ways of telling that story. In 333BC, a longstanding and much-revered Persian multiplayer puzzle game was hacked to pieces by a singleminded Macedonian powergamer who valued his experience above that of the other players. The game's (possibly real) forum must have been in uproar; I imagine they had something to say about it in the pages of Phrygian Hemp Gamer. This Alexander guy, they'd write, cared nothing for the intent of the game's designers or the rules that they'd created to ensure an optimal play environment. He didn't have the taste or patience to value complexity for its own sake, and his reductive actions had curtailed everybody else's freedom to enjoy it too. What a scrub. Broke game Midas fix.

Whether you agree with Alexander's imagined critics depends on whether you place greater value on the solved or unsolved version of the puzzle; whether the knot means more to you as a symbol of enduring quasi-divine complexity or as a demonstration of curt terrestrial pragmatism. This is one of those useful notional binaries that worms its way through civilisation linking myriad historic acts of virtue and evil and art, from military interventionism to Romantic poetry to "truthiness" to Lovecraft to the guy in every comments thread on every article on the internet who begins by typing "well, actually..."

In this case I'm bringing it up because it helps to explain why you can't forfeit matches in Dota 2 and why that is broadly a good thing. This week's column is a response to Arthur Gies' argument in favour of a 'white flag' option on Polygon, in which he kindly cites my own writeup of the TI4 Grand Final. I don't entirely agree with Arthur but I can see where he's coming from, and I hope the fact that I've spent the first three paragraphs of this column framing him as the Alexander the Great of free time helps him to forgive me for taking the other side, at least to the extent that I'm going to.

A given game of Dota 2 is a Gordian knot awaiting solution by one team or the other. By withholding the 'forfeit' button, Valve withhold the sword. The only way you are going to untie this knot is by picking at it with your fingers while nine other people attempt to do the same some helping your effort, others hindering it. This principle is the source of the game's enduring complexity and its capacity to continually create new stories over time.

The life and value and charm of Dota is bound up in the notion that it is this absurd and vastly complex system of rules that players encounter socially. In order to bring out the best results from that system the last-minute upsets, the extraordinary moments of collective skill an underlying structure is needed to ensure that all of the game's variables have the opportunity to resolve themselves appropriately. That means keeping people in the game. It begins within a couple of from-on-high commandments ('Thou Shalt Not Abandon') and extends to social conventions like condemning people who rage or deliberately feed or sulk in the fountain.

Your ability to forfeit the game or not, as is the case here is part of an unwritten contract between yourself, your teammates, your opponent and the game's developer. Giving up under the wrong conditions constitutes a breach of that contract on multiple fronts: you deprive your allies of the right to try, your opponents of their right to win, and the developer of their right to provide you with an appealing alternative to not playing their game at all. The game asks you to grant it a certain amount of your time a commitment extended, as Arthur rightly points out, by the punishments levied at people who bail early on the basis that it will always be more interesting to stay than it is to leave. The implication is that the systemic potential of the game is fundamentally devalued the moment an individual or a team gains the ability to hit the 'nope' button.

In return for your commitment to a given match, the developer promises to provide a game system that continues to generate new possibilities over the course of its lifespan. In the aftermath of the International, that's not the case for Dota 2: the laning phase determines too much of what follows, comeback mechanics aren't effective enough, and the midgame is becoming an interstitial phase before a foregone conclusion rather than the second stage in an evolving debate. Before version 6.82 arrives to throw the system back into welcome disarray, pro-surrender arguments like Arthur's are given weight by the fact that the game itself is falling short of fulfilling its part of that four-way contract. You're being asked to commit your time to play but not being provided with a sufficiently diverse system to play with. As the sword is withheld, the knot tightens and atrophies. You're owed a better experience.

It's understandable to ask for your sword back in this scenario, but incorrect because the problem is within the game, and you can't fix a systemic problem by shutting the system down.

The current structure is appropriate at the level of players like Arthur and I, people who play Dota under substantially variable social conditions. Maybe we're solo, maybe we're with a few friends, maybe we're in a full party; maybe our opponents are solo, maybe they're a stack, and so on. Maybe they're assholes. Maybe we're assholes. When the composition and disposition of a game's participants are this diverse you can't leave the point at which the game ends up to group debate. Democracy doesn't work that well. Dota 2 has a problem with players who mentally or physically abandon the game as it is. Playing until the ancient explodes is the only way to manage that degree of chaos.

It's different in pro games, where the composition of each team is a known quantity and the social environment in which the game takes place carries with it an assumed level of participation. Professional players are obligated to play, so they can be trusted with the power to end the game early when appropriate. A competitive context grants the 'GG' call tremendous significance it becomes a feature rather than an external imposition, and in many cases ending a game early is a key part of ensuring a team gets off to a good start in the next one. It's about creating the best environment for continued play, rather than simply cutting the experience short to avoid discomfort.

There's an argument to be made for extending these powers further down the chain to the point where they're available to other types of player. They used to be before team matchmaking was changed, formally registered teams of five could queue for matches against one another and the surrender power was available. I miss the feature. It has become far harder for my fledgling team to practice efficiently since team matchmaking was merged with ranked. Games take too long; where before we could get two or three done in an hour we now get one. This is partly due to the metagame and partly due to changes to the matchmaking system, and it's a problem that we've had to look outside of the game client to solve. Where before we had a functioning way to practice in-game, now we're looking to scrim groups and in-house leagues.

It was very unusual to see teams abuse the forfeit option in team matchmaking because, like pro players (and this is probably the only point of commonality at the level I play) everybody involved had agreed to be there. They'd made a prior commitment to the game and their teammates. Valve should consider this: the social conditions that make surrendering viable extend beyond the competitive scene and private lobbies. Really, any time two full parties clash it can be assumed that there are lines of communication and understanding in place to offset the potential downsides of allowing players to wave the white flag. It's a more stable environment by default, and therefore Dota's vulnerable systems need less protection from rogue elements.

I'd like Valve to reintroduce the 'GG' option to team ranked matchmaking and perhaps five on five matchmaking as a whole because it's a change that encourages people to play more Dota, not less. Better Dota, too: this is a game designed to be played by a full team, and finding a full team would become the best way to ensure that you can't be fountain-farmed at the conclusion of a losing match. The solution to Arthur's problem would be to turn his three-stack into a five-stack. A well-implemented surrender power restricted to certain parts of the game could encourage greater socialisation between players and more exciting games as a result: an act of pruning, rather than cutting.

There's a 'swords to plowshares' analogy to be made here, but let's not.

To read more Three Lane Highway, click here.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.>

I am on a horrific Dota 2 losing streak at the moment.

Unrelatedly, this week’s Dote Night will be about losing streaks and Dota 2. I’ve been reading through the wisdom of SCIENCE to find out more about losing streaks and, hopefully, how to fix them.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The International 2014: Valve’s SFM recreations of classic plays in webm form">Dota 2 Navi

Remember the International? Twenty million people watched it, so chances are you do. I wrote a couple of things about it, too. But we missed something: one of the best bits of fan service to emerge from the entire event, particularly for people who have followed the pro Dota 2 scene for the last couple of years.

As part of their series of team introduction videos, Valve produced Source Filmmaker recreations of each team's best moments. Similar to the clips produced for the Free To Play documentary, they take actual plays from the history of the competitive game and turn them into brief CGI movies. I'm not a huge fan of using CGI to promote games normally - particularly when it's utterly divorced from the reality of the game itself - but I like what Valve have done here. These are clips that communicate the feeling of a play rather than its reality, and that's a good way for newcomers to get a sense of why people get so excited about this isometric wizard battle game. Below, you'll find high quality versions of each of the clips plus an explanation of the moments that they're based on.


Match source: The International 2013, Grand Finals - Alliance vs. Na'Vi Game 5. Watch original version.

As returning champions, Alliance received the most substantial cinematic treatment. The sequence above covers the last few minutes of game five of last year's International final - the moments when Alliance finally tipped the scales against Na'Vi and claimed the Aegis of Champions. In the first instance, S4's Puck uses Dream Coil to cancel defensive teleportations by Puppey and, by chance, Dendi. Then, we see Loda's Chaos Knight smack Funn1k's Batrider out of the air for Bulldog's Nature's Prophet to finish the job (this is about as violent a depiction of split pushing as you're likely to see, incidentally.) Loda then uses Reality Rift to outmaneuver XBOCT's Alchemist before attacking the Radiant ancient to end the siege of all sieges.

I missed EGM's Io the first few times I watched this clip - he's in the background during the Batrider kill and flies past right at the end, just before the ancient explodes.


Match source: The International 2013, Lower Bracket Round 4 - DK vs. Orange Game 2. Watch original version.

This particular moment came after Burning's Weaver scored a triple kill on Orange in a teamfight around the Dire secret shop. Under the effect of Doom for almost the entire fight, Ohaiyo's Dark Seer was forced to flee with Burning hot on his heels. At the top of the stairs leading into the Radiant jungle, Mushi's Shadow Fiend perfectly timed Requiem of Souls to obliterate Burning as he approached unawares - the beginning of a run of turnarounds that would ultimately see DK eliminated from TI3. In an ironic turn, Mushi would eventually leave Malaysia to play for DK, contending at TI4 alongside the carry he blows up so spectacularly here.

This clip garnered additional attention because it's the first time Valve have shown off Shadow Fiend's new model. The hero has been due a redesign for a while - he looks like a gothic novelty shampoo bottle that has been left in the sun for too long - and rumour has it the new model will debut in-game in the same patch as Techies.


Match source: The International 2012, Upper Bracket Round 2 - IG vs. Na'Vi Game 2. Watch original version.

This teamfight has picked up legendary status in the last two years, and it's the obvious choice to show off Na'Vi at their best. It begins with a strong initiation by IG on Na'Vi's entire team, leading with Naga Siren's ultimate. It's IG's fight to lose, at that point - they have Tidehunter's Ravage to play as well as Puck's Waning Rift and Dream Coil, and there's nothing Na'Vi can do to stop them as they get set up. Then, as the Song of the Siren ends, Na'Vi turn it around. LightofHeaven's Enigma activates a Black King Bar and gets off a huge Black Hole; XBOCT's Juggernaut activates Blade Fury to shrug off the magic damage; Dendi's Rubick pushes himself out of the expanding radius of Ravage with Force Staff, turns, steals Ravage and turns it on IG. Na'Vi take a fight that they should lose and turn it into a 5-0 victory.


Match source: DreamLeague S1, Day 25 - EG vs. Alliance. Watch original version.

Given the way Dragon Knight moves in this clip, I see it as an abstract interpretation of EG's convincing 19-minute victory over Alliance at DreamLeague earlier this year rather than a recreation of a specific moment, but if I'm missing something, let me know in the comments. Notably, it's one of the few clips from the team introduction videos not to be interspersed with original game footage.

Update: as Brian Zhu points out in the comments, it does seem to match with Arteezy's push top at the 10:50 mark - I've updated the video link above.

Nonetheless, it shows off two important aspects of EG's playstyle: Arteezy's ability to find game-dominating gold and experience in the midlane on heroes like Dragon Knight, and Universe's best-in-class offlane play. Notably, it's AdmiralBulldog's Doom that gets burned to death by Universe's Batrider - a pretty pointed statement about the relative impact of the two offlaners in 2014.


Match source: The International 2013, Lower Bracket Round 4, IG vs TongFu Game 1. Watch original version.

Hao's Lifestealer is on the receiving end of a pickoff by Ferrari_430's Storm Spirit in this clip, which marked a turnaround during IG's first game against TongFu at TI3. I doubt Hao feels too bad about it in hindsight, however - he went on to become part of Newbee, and now he's an International champion.

I like the way the clip presents Storm Spirit's Static Remnant and Ball Lightning powers as fluid parts of the same ability - it speaks to Storm Spirit's speed and controlling presence when played well, which were both a big part of IG's victory.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to More than 20 million people watched The International online, Valve says">The International

The 2014 International Dota 2 Championships attracted record-setting online viewership numbers, including more than twice as many peak concurrent viewers as the 2013 event.

In case there was any doubt that e-sports is a very big deal these days, consider them put to rest: Valve has announced that this year's International drew in "well over" two million peak concurrent online viewers, more than doubling that of last year's tournament. Overall, more than 20 million unique viewers tuned in to the event.

If you weren't among them and want to find out what you missed, you can catch up on what you missed with our in-depth look back on the Grand Finals right here.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to ESPN “delighted” by The International, wants to expand its e-sports coverage">dota_2-web

The recently-wrapped International 2014 was carried live on ESPN for the first time ever, and the broadcast was such a success that inside sources say the network now wants to dramatically expand its coverage of e-sports events.

ESPN's live coverage of The International was widely regarded as a major step toward the mainstreaming of e-sports, and fortunately for those who want to see more of that sort of thing, it went over very well. A source "close to ESPN" told The Daily Dot that the network was "delighted" with the response to the event, which actually went beyond its expectations "across the board."

"ESPN have seen enough recent successes with e-sports and are about to double down," the source said. "The numbers they hit with The International have only cemented the view that the time is right."

Next on the list is Major League Gaming's Call of Duty league, which ESPN had success with in June as part of its X Games coverage. MLG President Michael Sepso said at the time that the ESPN collaboration wouldn't be a "one-time thing," and now the network is reportedly in "advanced talks" with MLG about bringing future Call of Duty events to both web and television broadcasts. Coverage of other games is also being discussed, although those talks are at a much earlier stage.

Interestingly, the source also said that the number-one viewing platform for the PC-exclusive Dota 2 event was the Xbox.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Philippa Warr)

[I'll try to think of witty captions for Pip's pictures -ed]

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.>

Dota, League of Legends, Smite these are complex games to get your head around and thus a good first impression is key.

Until this point the introductions tended to come via excited friends. People who popped up online or at the pub to announce, “Hey, I’ve found this awesome game which I think you’ll love and which we can play together. Won’t that be great?”

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The International 2014: looking back on the Grand Finals">AlchemistSS

You can find write-ups of all three previous days of play at the International here.

The fourth International is over. As a fan, there's always a hollow feeling that comes with this period - the sense that the last of the hype has finally burned away, that this event that has come to occupy so much of your time and energy has been suddenly brought to a close. Post-International blues are a real thing. This year, though, those inevitable doldrums have been compounded by a Grand Final that won't have been what many fans were expecting when the main event began. Below I'm going to explain why I came away from the finals largely satisfied even though I agree with some of the criticism, and what I think the course of those four games say about the state of Dota 2 as we enter the next year in its life. Spoilers, obviously.

Before the main event I suspected that Vici's stand-out performance in the group stages was owed, in part, to the best-of-one format. In securing their place in the Grand Final, however, I was shown to be wrong. It's not the format, it's the patch. Vici under rOtk's leadership knew exactly how to play Dota in 6.81b. They demonstrated that against DK and EG, two teams that almost anybody would have placed ahead of them. This isn't unusual: The International is always, ultimately, a way of discovering which team has come closest to approaching Dota like a solved problem. Last year, that was Alliance. This year it was Vici and Newbee.

6.81b isn't friendly to strategies that rely on being able to fight back into the game if the early game goes south. Comebacks are much harder and the majority of matches are decided in the laning phase. On Twitter I joked at the beginning of game one that winning lanes meant winning games meant winning the tournament. That's a glib point but it's true: all but one game of the four played yesterday was won by the team that secured first blood. Only one lane of barracks was destroyed in the entire match because normally the losing side would know that it had lost when the first tier two tower fell. In a way, Vici's firm understanding of the game is what made those early GG calls inevitable: when you know enough to know that you're beaten, why continue?

That truth is unsatisfactory to spectators, especially those that are used to seeing Dota games decided by teamfight ten rather than teamfight one. Some of that dissatisfaction is owed to shifts in the metagame that require a bit of mental recalibration to appreciate and some of it is owed to the narratives we'd trained ourselves to look for. We were thinking about the rise of the DK dream team and the triumph of North American Dota and the struggles of the returning champion, not which of the Chinese teams had got the most out of the last four months of scrims. Newbee's extraordinary run from 11th place to 1st is one of the year's best performances, and deserves to stick in the memory, but it'll take a little while to get there. Getting there means appreciating the risks that Newbee took in the final, particularly when they were on the back foot, and how that translated into momentum and ultimately the title.

Vici's sole victory - game one - was a study in the pace-setting dominance that the Chinese teams love to establish. The ban phase eliminated the heroes most regularly associated with this kind of play, like Razor and Death Prophet, so Vici made it work with Lone Druid and Clockwerk. fy emerged from this International as arguably the world's best support player, consistently winning the early game for Vici. rOtk's Clockwerk and Fenrir's Earthshaker commanded the rhythm of the game from then on, and when fights were taken they were taken on Vici's terms.

That's how both teams want to play. What Newbee identified, going into game two, was that they couldn't rely entirely on the same set of picks and counter-picks to pull back the momentum they had lost. They needed to draft into their own comfort zone, even if it meant reaching outside of what might have been considered 'safe' at the International. In game two, that was Hao's Weaver - a position one carry who achieved 600+ gold per minute largely through kills. There's a moment, during the major teamfight in the Radiant jungle, when he's a few inches from being blown up by a Waveform from Sylar's Morphling. He jukes it, just, and survives to get another kill and escape the fight. That one small play - that moment of calm focus when his opponent reached desperately for the kill - is one among a number of similar plays that earned Newbee their prize.

Mu's Puck exemplifies that principle. Once again the hero emerges as the star of the International, the playmaker of all playmakers. Game three was the first game that was lost by the team that got first blood, but it was lost because of an incredible early-game gambit by Mu that turned Vici's first blood into a return double kill for Newbee. There's certainly an issue with the game when the momentum earned by a moment like that decides so much of what follows, but there's no doubting Mu's talent either. This was as close to a perfect Puck game as I have ever seen.

I'd have liked to see Vici come back in the final game, but you could tell that they'd tilted. The draft attests to that: Newbee picked up Brewmaster while Doom was still available, and, ignoring that opportunity to counter-pick, Vici took Weaver. They might have been trying to keep it from Hao, but they opened themselves up to a win-win-win Doom draft by Newbee that not only protected the Brewmaster but countered the Weaver and opened the draft up to Ember Spirit. This was the point, for me, where Vici's tilt tipped over. Under extreme pressure, they gave Newbee everything they needed to take the set.

If there's anything that disappoints me, looking back on the final, it's that the superlative skill that delivered Newbee through games two and three was present but not as necessary in the final game. Where 2013 came down to a $1m Dream Coil (or so it's told), 2014 came down to a $5m haste rune. xiao8's first blood on a mid Venomancer with an offlane Doom was a total disaster for Vici, the worst possible combination of roles and results. I'm not surprised that rOtk fell apart after that; most people would. fy and Fenrir deserve huge credit for keeping Vici in the game with their Ancient Apparition and Sand King counter-initiations, but it was Newbee's final to lose from the very beginning. That it lasted as long as fifteen minutes is, in a way, a sign of Vici's willingness to play it out: they could have GG'd ten minutes earlier.

Newbee's ability to find their footing and build momentum from nothing is what makes them worthy International champions. They deserve to walk away from the event as heroes, and Mu deserves his own commemorative Puck set. In the year to come, I hope Icefrog and the team at Valve consider the importance of comeback mechanics and work to lengthen the game at the highest level of play. But that's for the future. The International is over, we have our champions, and it's time to recognise the difficulty and magnitude of their achievement.

PC Gamer's coverage of The International 2014 is brought to you by SteelSeries.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alice O'Connor)

Newbee lift the Aegis, a shield inscribed with the names of winners.

So, The International 2014 is over. Newbee gave fellow Chinese team ViCi Gaming quite the drubbing on Monday to win $5,028,174. Competitive Dota 2 was broadcast on the ESPN cable sports network. Are digital sports now mainstream? Is this It, is this The Moment? No, of course not.

This year’s International has widespread attention because of that honking great prize pool of $10,930,814, the spectacle, and the novelty. Minor details like who won only matter on the day to most. So today, any old Tuesday, why post about it? The International 2014 will still matter in days, weeks, or months because of where loads of that moolah came from: fans. Valve are crowdfunding arena-filling tournaments and gamifying fandom. And somehow making that not awful?

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The International 2014: a Grand Champion emerges">AegisSS

Warning: spoilers below.

Chinese team Newbee has claimed the Dota 2 Championship crown at The International 4, along with a grand prize check worth more than $5 million.

The International ended in an unexpected fashion today as Newbee, which went 7-8 in the group stage, prevailed against ViCi Gaming in the finals. ViCi Gaming, another Chinese team, put on a much more dominant performance in single-match action, with a 12-3 record that included, prophetically as it turned out, a loss to Newbee. ViCi actually defeated Newbee in the first match, but came back with a dominant performance to win.

Congratulations to @NewbeeCN ...2014 @DOTA2 #ti4 Champions! pic.twitter.com/SIuqysan32

ESPN3 (@ESPN3) July 21, 2014

This is the first year that two Chinese teams have gone head to head in an International final. Newbee's victory earns it a first-place prize of just over $5 million, a huge increase over the $1.4 million earned by the winner of last year's event. As the runner-up, ViCi Gaming will take home just shy of $1.5 million.

Photo credit: Toby Dawson

PC Gamer's coverage of The International 2014 is brought to you by SteelSeries. From now through July 21st, all Dota 2 and team gear is 25% off. While supplies last.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The International 2014: must-watch games from day three">LunaSS

Missed yesterday's report? Read it here.

The bloodiest day of The International 2014 began with a run of the tournament's best matches. Then, after a run of upsets in a tournament that has been defined by upsets, one team emerged that will face Newbee in the grand final today. It's certainly not the grand final I'd have expected a week ago, and if you'd told me these results a month ago at ESL One I'd have called you crazy. I'd also have asked what it was like in the future and if you could help me skip the queue in the Secret Shop, but that's another matter.

Below I'll be listing off the must-watch games from yesterday as well as talking about some of the day's stranger moments. You can find statistics and videos for all of these matches on the official International website, and you can also look up the matches in-game via the 'Watch' tab.

Cloud 9 vs. Vici Gaming, Game 2

Cloud 9 had arrived at the main event as underdogs and made a statement by eliminating Na'Vi from the tournament on Saturday. Having dropped their first game against Vici, I was interested to see how they'd react. One of the familiar narratives of professional Dota concerns the teams that lead the metagame, the teams that follow, and the teams that do their own thing. I wanted to see a little bit of the latter from Cloud 9, and that's what they delivered in game 2.

Picking Meepo for SingSing was a fast way to win an already supportive audience. The pushing and farming power of the micro-heavy hero was, as is now traditional, bought space and time by b0ne7's Clockwerk, pieliedie's roaming support Bounty Hunter, and Aui_2000's Skywrath Mage. This was against a very strong draft by Vici Tidehunter, Death Prophet and Luna for the early push and teamfight presence, with Jakiro and Earthshaker as counters to the Meepo.

C9 established a lead on paper but that's what you are expected to achieve with a Meepo pick. In some of the best and bloodiest teamfights of the tournament especially a drag-out battle around Rosh at the 24 minute mark neither team really seemed to have an advantage. Vici's more metagame-friendly draft would look like it had the edge, and then SingSing's Meepo would appear to enormous roars from the audience to blow up Vici's core heroes.

Cloud 9 held on by steadily outplaying Vici to the point where the latter had to resort to a base race. If b0ne7's one-man defence of Cloud 9's ancient stands as the pinnacle of a run of outstanding plays by C9's offlaner, then watching SingSing's Meepo demolish Vici's base shows why the crowd was so excited to see the hero played. Cloud 9 might not have been able to finish the job in game 3, but they can be proud of what they achieved in game 2.

Other highlights from this set: Game 3. Cloud 9's tournament hopes came down to a single call. In Nature's Prophet, Luna and Enigma, they had a draft that could risk a level 1 Roshan attempt. The strategy is enormously risky at a live LAN event: even in a soundproof booth you can tell when the crowd is excited, and Dota crowds like risky plays very, very much. Vici had everything they need to sweep in and punish Cloud 9 hard, taking three kills in the early game. Honestly, the match was probably over for C9 then and there and Vici went on to demonstrate exactly why.

If SingSing's Meepo won game 2, Sylar's Morphling was the unstoppable force in game 3. He's famous for his skill with the hero as it is, and that great start followed by superlative farm made him an absolute monster. Watch the last ten minutes of the match to see just how much a supercharged Morphling can achieve: Sylar not only seizes map control for his own team but demolishes the heroes intended to do the same for Cloud 9. b0ne7's Nature's Prophet had absolutely nowhere to go. C9 fought to the last, but when a rampaging water elemental was taking barracks unopposed, the game was over.

Team DK vs. LGD, Game 3

Talk about teams playing their own kind of Dota. DK's draft in game 3 was a statement to LGD: we're taking this set, and we're doing it on our own terms. It looked like a list of the team's personal favourite heroes: Mushi's Shadow Fiend. LanM's Earthshaker. Iceiceice's Elder Titan. MMY playing Lion. Only a pointed ban kept Burning from his legendary Anti-Mage, but Weaver suited DK's armour reduction strategy better.

I have to admit: I'd been rooting for DK throughout the tournament and that draft sealed it for me. Mushi is great to watch on Shadow Fiend (which is why Valve made a Source Filmmaker clip of one of his biggest plays.) He'd secured a Mekansm in seven minutes, giving the glass-cannon hero even greater presence in the early part of the game. DK transitioned into a series of coordinated pushes that took advantage of the zoning power of Elder Titan and Lion to keep LGD's defence on the back foot.

It turns on a single play, right at the end. MMY used a Force Staff to shunt Mushi out of the trees on the Radiant bottom lane just as LGD drop a Serpent Ward trap, effectively wasting that powerful area denial spell as Mushi surges right into an explosive Requiem of Souls. That play led to DK taking the bottom lane of barracks and ultimately the game: a single fantastic moment turning into a hammer-drop of a finish.

Other highlights from this set: DK's return to form in game 2 is also worth a watch. It was a more traditional draft, but DK demonstrated that they learned their lesson from the night before: specifically, about breaking base when the opportunity presented itself rather than trying to farm out a great advantage. Not that they needed to: DK were strong in the laning phase, with iceiceice getting an incredible 22 minute Blink-Refresher combo up and running on Tidehunter.

DK vs. Vici, Game 1

There was a buzz around DK as they went straight into their elimination match against Vici. That finale against LGD made it feel like they could win with any draft at all, but Vici had their number. DK went for another 'them' lineup Beastmaster, Tinker, Undying while Vici laid their cards on the table with Razor, Pugna, Leshrac, Shadow Demon and Nature's Prophet. This wasn't a subtle strategy they may just as well have taken to the stage to proclaim "WE ARE GOING TO TAKE ALL OF THE TOWERS NOW" to the audience but it demonstrates just how well Vici understand the game at the moment.

It's often nice to watch teams win because of individual players or plays, but the International title is ultimately always going to go to teams that understand the game best at that particular moment in time. This year, that's Vici and Newbee. After getting a head start by killing Burning's Anti-Mage after a rare misplay by him, Vici started taking objectives everywhere. A back-and-forth at Roshan looked like it might help DK fight their way back into the game, but they were terribly behind. When VG took another teamfight later in the game and eliminated not just DK's cores but also their courier which was carrying Mushi's Manta Style at the time things looked really grim.

In Pugna, r0tk secured a hero that could keep DK from turning the game around with teamfights and pickoff kills. If they ignored him, they'd lose towers. If they focused him, they'd waste time trying to kill a slippery health-draining skeleton imp rather than dealing with Vici's other heroes. It was a great pick, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw him again before the tournament ends.

Other highlights from this set: Watch game 2 for another lesson in why you don't let Sylar get a personal 10K gold advantage on Morphling. You should also watch it for one of the tournament's silliest moments around 22 minutes, when DK's Faceless Void and Vici's Shadow Shaman hide inches from each other in the trees for an age without either team realising that they're both lying in ambush for each other.

EG vs. Vici, Game 1

There was no doubt which way a large part of the home crowd wanted this to go. EG are the unstoppable prodigal sons of North American Dota, single-handedly bringing the scene further on the world stage than it has ever been. Vici were playing after a successful but extremely long day. It didn't seem likely that they'd achieve much against a rested EG in the first game; maybe game 2.

In an extraordinary performance, Vici played as close to a perfect game of Dota as this tournament has seen. Countering Arteezy's Templar Assassin with Razor, Vici secured an advantage in mid that was reflected in the other lanes. On the offlane, a rare mistake by Universe fed first blood to Sylar's Nature's Prophet, setting him on the course for an incredible farming game. He picked up his Orchid by ten minutes and his Necronomicon 3 by 13. EG found themselves facing a highground push at the 12 minute mark, trying to hold on with an underfarmed and underleveled set of core heroes that couldn't sustain a defence for long. Utterly outplayed, the home side tapped out in less than fifteen minutes.

EG vs. Vici, Game 2

This is was the comeback the crowd was looking for from EG. For a start, their lanes went much better: Arteezy secured a comfortable advantage on Viper, a hero he doesn't generally favour, and Universe did well on the safelane with Faceless Void. As with DK earlier in the day, the key to EG's win over Vici was armour reduction and physical damage supported, in this case, by game-turning teamfight ultimates: Void's Chronosphere and Enigma's Black Hole.

But it wasn't a stomp. Vici made EG work for their advantage, particularly with an early Aghanim's Scepter on fy's Ancient Apparition that meant they could threaten EG's cores anywhere on the map. Vici's plan was still to push their way to victory, but every time they did they needed to contend with Universe's unmatched Faceless Void and zai's Enigma. For a time, it felt like the game might slip away from EG that those flashy plays might ultimately give way to a slow victory for Vici but the day hadn't drained its supply of huge plays quite yet.

Watch this game for the Chronospheres and the Black Holes: the moment when fights look lost for EG before Universe and zai sweep in and defiantly refuse to go quietly. There's nothing about the crowd in those moments, either. Being in the audience as EG fought their way back into the match was one of the highlights of the tournament for me.

Other highlights of this set: Game 3. What a strange ending. After an uncertain start compounded by a tricky draft for EG mason playing Void instead of Universe, Universe on Timbersaw, Zai getting nothing out of a heavily-warded jungle it still felt like the American team had a shot at forcing the game to go late and finding an advantage then. But Vici were out for towers and got them with Venomancer, Dragon Knight and Nature's Prophet. Then, EG fell apart. They tried to sneak Roshan and got it but ceded more ground than they expected, losing tier 2 and 3 towers were mid. Defending was crucial but when the Chronosphere really mattered it didn't work. Mason only caught one, and rOtk's Venomancer dropped a Poison Nova that might have won Vici a few million dollars. EG were facing a wipe and a lane of barracks early in the game. Looking at their booth, it seemed like they were already ready to leave. And then they gave up.

It was probably the right call the game was almost certainly lost at that point, even if it probably wouldn't have ended for another ten-twenty minutes. But it's a GG call that will be talked about for a while. It suggested a team that simply didn't want to lose slowly, that would rather get on with their day and accept third place. But that wasn't the story that a now-subdued audience wanted to hear. Watching EG tap out, I worried that the fractiousness of North American Dota had caught up with them at last. I'd be fascinated to hear what was said in that booth, although I suspect I can guess.

PC Gamer's coverage of The International 2014 is brought to you by SteelSeries. From now through July 21st, all Dota 2 and team gear is 25% off. While supplies last.

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