PC Gamer

The Dota 2 International 2015 group stages, which ended on Thursday, have been brilliantly exciting and tremendously popular—but they're nothing on next week's main event. Starting on Monday, the 16 best Dota 2 teams in the world will compete for the lion's share of almost $18m. While there are favourites for the title, this is the closest-run International I've ever watched. Upsets seem likely—it's going to be a fierce six-day battle.

It'll also be loud, confusing, silly, and baffling to newcomers. You're going hear at least one adult man bellow 'black hole'. Twitch chat is going to try, collectively, to offer their energy to somebody. That guy with a massive horn from TI3 might be back. You would be forgiven for not knowing what the hell is going on at first.

This guide is designed to provide new viewers and those who didn't have time to tune in for the group stages with an overview of what's happening, what has already happened, who's involved, and how to get the most out of watching the International. This is a large, multi-part guide, so don't feel pressure to read it all at once (though you can if you want to.) It's designed to act as a reference document—don't know a team or strategy? Hopefully, you'll find some answers here.

If you're just dipping your toes into TI5, I recommend reading this page and the beginner's guide to the meta at the end first. Catching up on individual teams and the group stages can wait until it's relevant to the match you're watching.

If there's something you'd like to know and you don't find it here—or you don't find it in sufficient detail—leave a comment. I'll be reading them, making changes where I can, and applying that feedback to future articles like this one.

GL HF! Let's Dota.

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EVENT OVERVIEW (THE BASICS)

Dates, times and places

The International 2015 runs from the 3rd to the 8th of August (Monday to Saturday next week) at Seattle's KeyArena. Each day's schedule will be a little different—not least because Dota 2 matches are of variable length—but they'll all take place on Pacific Time (-8 BST).

A run of games that takes place between 10.00am and 18.00pm, therefore, would be from 13.00pm and 21.00pm on the east coast, 18.00pm-02.00am in Britain, and an hour later still in western Europe. The grand final is on a Saturday this year, however, unlike the traditional Sunday. It's definitely worth pulling an all-nighter for.

Where to watch

Every game will be streamed on Twitch via the official Dota 2 account. It'll also be available via Valve's brand-new, very swanky streaming channel. This is still in beta and was sometimes unstable during the group stages, but it offers a huge number of benefits over Twitch. It streams at 1080p and 60fps and offers loads of additional functionality through your browser, like a live minimap and interactive stat panels.

It really is good. You can check out players' inventories without waiting for the casters to do so and pull up whatever graphs you're interested in. The chat is better than Twitch by virtue of being smaller—100,000+ people watching one stream devolves into meaningless noise, whereas I've seen the occasional conversation strike up on Valve's stream. Actual conversations! About the game! It's far from perfect, mind, and it's still likely a good idea to close chat entirely using the arrow at the top right of the screen.

Finally, you can watch every match in-game using DotaTV. You access this by booting up Dota 2 and clicking 'Watch' at the top of the screen. The International 2015 should be listed on the left-hand side. Click that and you'll see a list of all currently live matches and any recorded replays.

The benefit of using DotaTV is that you can control the camera yourself, access all the same functionality that the casters use, and disable the cast entirely if you feel like it. A fun way to watch Dota 2 is to sit on Skype/TeamSpeak/Mumble/Ventrilo with your friends and commentate the matches for yourselves. Now you can be the one to miss first blood!

The format

Sixteen teams. Ten teams were invited to the International directly, at Valve's discretion. A further four won their spot by coming first in a regional qualifier—either in Europe, the Americas, China, or South East Asia. The teams that came second in each regional qualifier entered what is known as the 'wildcard'—a chance to earn one of the two remaining spots by winning a one-day bracket that occured right before the group stage.

In the group stage, those sixteen teams were divided into group A and group B. Every team in a group played a best-of-two against every other team in their group. Winning both games in a Bo2 earned 3 points; a 1-1 draw meant that both teams got 1 point; outright losers got nothing. These points were then used to determine group rankings, with the top four teams in each group progressing to the upper bracket in the main event and the bottom four ending up in the lower bracket.

At the main event, teams that begin in the lower bracket have to win a best-of-one—i.e, a single match—to avoid outright elimination. The survivors will then play teams that are defeated in the best-of-threes happening in the upper bracket, which is why group stage placement is quite so important. It's not impossible for a lower bracket team to make it to the grand final, but the road is long and every match is an elimination match.

Find out how the brackets stand at any given point by visiting the  schedule on the official tournament site.

The prize

  • First place: $6,410,330
  • Second place: $2,760,003
  • Third place: $2,136,777
  • Fourth place: $1,513,550
  • Fifth/sixth place: $1,157,421
  • Seventh/eighth place: $801,291
  • Ninth-twelfth place: $213,678
  • Thirteenth-sixteenth place: $53,419

...and all of those numbers might go up with further Compendium sales. Crikey.

International prize pool fact: in 1985, the killer whale Keiko—later known for the role of Willy in the film Free Willy—was sold to a Mexican aquarium for $350,000. In 2015, that's about $780,000. This means that the top eight finishers at this year's International could afford to collectively buy a killer whale, while the grand champions will be the only players able to buy a killer whale each. This is the most pointless prize pool fact I could come up with.

Next: the teams, part one.

THE TEAMS, PART 1

Here's a quick overview of all the teams in contention, plus video links should you want to watch a mini-documentary where a star player's dad/brother/grandmother cries. Valve are good at those.

LGD

Members: xiao8, Sylar, Yao, MMY!, Maybe

Origin: China

Heroes to look out for: Io, Anti-Mage, Dazzle, Lina

Emotional soft-focus player bio: xiao8

LGD

LGD were gigantic in the group stage, demonstrating the commanding skill that comes with lots of experience. Including former members of DK, Vici Gaming, and last year's champions Newbee, this is the most successful Chinese team in contention—expect to see them continue that success. Midlaner Maybe had one of the most impressive runs of any individual player in the group stages, with a dominating kill/death ratio.

LGD are completely at home in a metagame that favours aggression, making good use of map-controlling teleporting magic ball Io and demonstrating superlative skill with the rest of the current top-tier heroes. Don't necessarily expect too many out-there drafts from LGD, but do expect them to use what they've got incredibly well.

EMPIRE

Members: Silent, Resolution, yoky, ALWAYSWANNAFLY, ALOHADANCE

Origin: Russia/Ukraine

Heroes to look out for: Bloodseeker, Magnus, Nightstalker, assorted pubstompers, Axe

Emotional soft-focus player bio: ALOHADANCE

Empire

Despite being the best-performing Eastern European team in the group stages, Empire's performance won't have been quite what they were hoping for. They're very aggressive, drafting heroes like Bloodseeker, Nightstalker, and Spirit Breaker and doing what they can to keep their opponents off-balance throughout the match. There's a degree of calculation to all of this, however—it's not just blind fury. Carry Silent has one of the most impressive gold-per-minute records of any player in the tournament.

There's a lot of experience on this team—despite the youth of captain Resolution—but no International titles. Empire is a team that is used to doing well on home turf and is now, at the onset of the main event, within reaching distance of their best-ever result.

Aside: offlaner yoky is known to play Axe, a big red man with an axe who remains inarguably the best hero in Dota 2 and there's nothing you can say to convince me otherwise.

CDEC

Members: Garder, Q, Agressif, Xz, Shiki

Origin: China

Heroes to look out for: Bounty Hunter, Broodmother, Visage, Earthshaker

Emotional soft-focus player bio: None.

CDEC

Formerly LGD's youth squad (a term of questionable value in a sport this young), CDEC have had a great run so far. Carry Agressif is, well, one of the most successfully aggressive carries in the tournament. Having come second in the Chinese qualifier, they conquered the wildcard to enter the main event. Then, in the group stages, they finished joint first in their group with EG. Normally, wildcard teams languish in the middle of the pack. Not so CDEC.

They've been called the future of Chinese Dota and that may well turn out to be true. They're very good at controlling the pace of the game with heroes like Bounty Hunter, and transition well into the later stages of a match. The biggest roadblock they've encountered so far was EG's Techies, a hero known to be good against the Chinese metagame in general. If they don't fall afoul of the western meta again, they should do very well.

Cloud9

Members: EternaLEnVy, N0tail, bOne7, FATA-, MiSeRy

Origin: North America/Europe

Heroes to look out for: Anti-Mage, Io, Batrider, Earthshaker, Meepo, Beastmaster

Emotional soft-focus player bio: n0tail

Cloud9

No team inspires more image macros than Cloud9. This is an energetic, characterful team that always does well but never seems to win anything. As a result, they're very easy to root for. Carry EternaLEnVy is one of the Dota scene's most notable personalities, known for his ability to match moments of superlative strategic decision-making and skill with, er, throwing just a little bit sometimes. EE-sama plays like every Divine Rapier could be his last (it never is) and is best summed up by this quote:

"When game is going this bad I just want to create chaos. Create so much chaos that no one understands Dota anymore."

He's matched with a group of European veterans with a huge collective hero pool. MiSeRy, FATA-, bOne7 and N0tail have all put in great individual and group performances in this tournament so far. Expect creative drafts and incredibly long games that get real weird past the seventy-minute mark.

Evil Geniuses

Members: Fear, PPD, Universe, Aui_2000, Suma1L

Origin: North America

Heroes to look out for: Clockwerk, Dazzle, Storm Spirit, Techies, whatever Fear is playing today

Emotional soft-focus player bio: Suma1L

Evil Geniuses

These North American favourites had a very strong showing at ESL Frankfurt last month and won the Dota Asia Championship earlier in the year. In Fear they have one of the most experienced Dota 2 players still in the game, in PPD one of the most experienced captains, and in Suma1L one of the youngest rising stars. As the most popular North American team they are followed everywhere they go by chants of "USA! USA!" (how ironic this is depends on whether or not they're winning.)

They're highly creative and versatile, with a good balance of virtuoso skill—particularly from SumaiL—and really solid support. Universe is among the very best 'utility' offlaners in the world, and Aui_2000 pushes the concept of support as far as it can go—as demonstrated by his aggressive Techies in the group stages, or his Naga Siren 'carry support' at ESL One. EG are, with Secret and C9, likely to draw the loudest and warmest reaction from the crowd in KeyArena.

Complexity

Members: Zyzz, swindlemelonzz, MoonMeander, Zfreek, Fly

Origin: Americas/Israel

Heroes to look out for: Dark Seer, Nature's Prophet, Sven, Techies

Emotional soft-focus player bio: swindlemelonzz and Zfreek

Complexity

The legacy of Heroes of Newerth stretches far into the Dota 2 scene, particularly in North America, and Complexity are the most recent example. Captain swindlemelonzz and his brother Zfreek were both HoN champions and have made the transition remarkably well—and remarkably quickly. Nobody expected Complexity to achieve much in the group stages, being so new and only really having the NA qualifier to their name. Then they came third in their group—behind only Secret and LGD—and a lot of people ate their hats (or their rares.)

They're not afraid to experiment in crucial games and have made good use of lesser-seen heroes like Wraith King, Sven, and Juggernaut. The biggest challenge they face in the days ahead is the fact that, hopefully, everybody else in the scene will have stopped underestimating them—and they've never competed at a live event of this magnitude. But that doesn't stop them from being within reach of the final, and that's extraordinarily exciting for a new team.

Team Secret

Members: Puppey, Kuroky, Zai, S4, Arteezy

Origin: North America/Europe

Heroes to look out for: Anti-Mage, Techies, Broodmother, Rubick, Chen

Emotional soft-focus player bio: S4

Team Secret

Considered by many to be the best team in the world going into this event, Secret is comprised of veterans from the European and North American Dota scenes. They've been winning LAN tournaments left and right all year, they're rightly loved or feared or both by everybody, and their coordination and creativity is second to none. They have an uncanny ability to turn bad situations around through sheer skill.

Every individual player is extremely experienced and capable in their role. They have a legacy of legendary performances going way back: Kuroky's Rubick. S4's Puck. Zai's Broodmother. Puppey's Chen. And even if they have a rough start, Arteezy's supreme farming ability has a tendency to pull them back into position—an awful lot of Team Secret stories end '...but then, Arteezy happened.'

EHOME

Members: Zyf, Cty, rOtk, LaNm, DDC

Origin: China

Heroes to look out for: Razor, Winter Wyvern, Earthshaker, Clockwerk

Emotional soft-focus player bio: rOtk

EHOME

A revival of one of the oldest names in Chinese Dota, the new EHOME mixes new blood with experience. Captain rOtk is a cornerstone of the game and lead Vici Gaming to their second-place finish at the International last year. LaNm is one of the most exciting support players to watch, too, particularly his Earthshaker.

EHOME had a very good performance in the group stage but not quite good enough to secure a top-place finish—they lost a game to CDEC, the team they beat in the Chinese qualifier, weakening their position. Nonetheless, they seem to be coming together as a team—particularly their newer players.

Next: the teams, part two.

THE TEAMS, PART 2

MVP Phoenix

Members: kpii, QO, March, Febby, NutZ

Origin: South Korea

Heroes to look out for: Naga Siren, Queen of Pain, Ember Spirit, Spirit Breaker

Emotional soft-focus player bio: None!

MVP Phoenix

The Korean Dota dream is more alive than it's ever been. Having scraped through the wildcard in second place, MVP Phoenix barely missed out on inclusion in the top half of group A. They've proven that they can take a game off anybody—including Team Secret—with creative drafting and aggressive play that has earned them a lot of fans.

Carry kpii has demonstrated great judgement over the course of the group stages and midlaner QO is reliably punching above his weight. MVP Phoenix are most fun to watch when they're rocking unusual heroes, but this doesn't always deliver the results they want—respecting the meta helps from time to time. Their first game against Secret in the group stages demonstrated just how good they can be when it all comes together.

Newbee

Members: Rabbit, Mu, June, Banana, SanSheng

Origin: China

Heroes to look out for: Dragon Knight, Disruptor, Ember Spirit, Lina

Emotional soft-focus player bio: Mu

Newbee

Last year's champions dropped off the radar after their surprise victory at TI4, but their performance in the group stages established them as a going concern—if not the dominance force they were in the past. Having adapted well to the new metagame, 2015 Newbee is aggressive, coordinated, and at their best in a five-on-five teamfight.

They're one of the few Chinese teams to experiment with Techies, and have enjoyed good results with Dragon Knight and Lina. Midlaner Mu's aggression makes him really entertaining to watch, and Newbee's supports—Banana and SanSheng—have been having a strong tournament too. Newbee came from nowhere to snatch the Aegis of Champions this year—or so it seemed—and while their run of draws in the group stages suggests that this won't happen again, it'd be a mistake to count them out entirely.

Vici Gaming

Members: Hao, Super, iceiceice, Fenrir, fy

Origin: China

Heroes to look out for: Sand King, Bounty Hunter, Rubick, Tusk

Emotional soft-focus player bio: fy

Vici Gaming

Vici will be surprised (and unhappy) to find themselves in the lower bracket. They came second at last year's International and have had a great run in the year so far, including a second-place finish at the Dota Asia Championships.

They boast one of the best—if not the best—support pairings in the world with fy and Fenrir, and one of the world's best offlaners in iceiceice. While they've been playing the meta with their picks for Super and Hao, it's in these lower-priority roles that they demonstrate the most creativity—even if the results haven't quite matched up to it yet. They were tipped to do very well this year, and have struggled, and will need to enter the main event with a more consistent approach.

Na'Vi

Members: XBOCT, Dendi, Funn1k, SoNNeiKO, ArtStyle

Origin: Russia/Ukraine

Heroes to look out for: Earthshaker, Gyrocopter, Tusk, Dazzle, Storm Spirit, Pudge why not

Emotional soft-focus player bio: XBOCT

Na'Vi

Na'Vi underperformed at last year's International (as did many western teams) and the subsequent shake-up—that led to Puppey and Kuroky forming Team Secret—has resulted in a very different team. They performed commandingly in the European qualifier but really struggled in the group stages, finishing up at the bottom of their group.

In a game that is increasingly punishing to risk-takers—just ask Cloud9—Na'Vi struggle to clinch games, particularly when playing from behind. That said, you can't count them out. New addition SoNNeikO is an enormously talented support player, demonstrating some of the best Earthshaker and Winter Wyvern play in the scene. Dendi, XBOCT and Funn1k remain the fan-favourites they always were, and regardless of the results this is a team that still comes with a devoted following.

Virtus.Pro

Members: Illidan, God, DkPhobos, Lil, fng

Origin: Russia/Ukraine/Belarus

Heroes to look out for: fng's lovely hair, Earthshaker, Silencer, Shadow Shaman, Lycan

Emotional soft-focus player bio: fng

Virtus.Pro

Virtus.Pro have had a very good year, including a respectable showing at ESL One Frankfurt—but their lower bracket starting position is evidence of their inconsistent performance in the group stages. They're most comfortable playing aggressively, but have demonstrated an ability to smartly outdraft their opponents—running Silencer against Empire's teamfight lineup, for example.

Losing the tiebreaker game at the end of the group stages puts VP a game from elimination, so expect them to come out swinging with a punchy, end-the-game-in-20-minutes draft. This is a team with decades of collective experience, they know what's at stake, and they've proved that they can beat the top-tier. Now they just need to do it.

Fnatic

Members: kYxY, Mushi, Ohaiyo, Kecik Imba, JoHnNy

Origin: Malaysia

Heroes to look out for: Queen of Pain, Bane, Centaur Warrunner, Templar Assassin

Emotional soft-focus player bio: Kecik Imba

Fnatic

Formerly Team Malaysia, the new Fnatic comprises stars of the Malaysian Dota scene—a part of the world that has always excelled at The International but is yet to take home a title. Midlaner Mushi is one of the most versatile and experienced players in his role, and his dominating performance over Secret in the group stages demonstrates what can happen when he's let off the chain. His protege, Kecik Imba, is emerging as one of the best new support players around.

Despite this, Fnatic have had a tough time so far. They're simply inconsistent: when they win, they win hard, against seemingly anybody, and when they lose it looks like a washout. It'd be a real shame to see this team go out in the first round, given each player's history with the event, but it's a real possibility at the moment.

Invictus Gaming

Members: BurNing, Ferrari_430, Luo, ChuaN, Faith

Origin: China

Heroes to look out for: Enchantress, Anti-Mage, Storm Spirit, Rubick

Emotional soft-focus player bio: Ferrari_430

Invictus Gaming

The TI2 champions seemed to be in good form right up until the group stages, and are now languishing in the lower bracket. This is despite having, in BurNing, one of the most talented and experienced carry players to ever play the game; in ChuaN and Faith, two of the very best supports; in Ferrari_430, a legendary mid; a brilliant leader in Luo. They're all great, but they're a game from elimination.

They don't seem entirely comfortable in the current meta, although they're adapting—and perhaps that'll be enough to get them through their best-of-one elimination game. Look to them for the coordination that comes with a lot of experience of working together, and drafts that mix on-meta picks with longstanding personal picks.

MVP Hot6

Members: Forev, MP, SunBhie, JerAx, Heen

Origin: South Korea/Finland

Heroes to look out for: Lina, Clockwerk, Bloodseeker, Zeus, Omniknight

Emotional soft-focus player bio: Heen

MVP Hot6

MVP's primary Dota squad won the South East Asia qualifier, although their performance in the group stages was substantially worse than their wildcard-bound brother team, Phoenix. As with Phoenix they draft somewhat unusually, pulling out Tinkers and Omniknights and Invokers during their group stage run (although admittedly these were nested in otherwise on-meta lineups.)

It'd be great to see Hot6 double down on their own style going into their elimination game. This is a team that is known for its daring play, particularly when things are going well, although that dependence on flair can be a crutch when matches go south.

Next: what exactly happened in the group stages?

WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED IN THE GROUP STAGES?

A lot of upsets, is what. The four-day group stages saw fan favourites drop games to teams that had to climb up through the qualifiers and fresh ideas clash with a metagame that has stabilised around a few key heroes and strategies. When the dust settled, no team had gone undefeated and two qualifier teams—including one who came through the wildcard, the longest road to the International—had made it into the top five. That's almost unheard of. It's been very dramatic.

Skip to the bottom for the TL;DR version.

RANDOM HIGHLIGHT

Let's kick off with a gigantic teamfight where everybody dies, shall we? This bloody battle was the highlight of Vega vs. CDEC game 1, and demonstrates just how much both of these teams wanted to qualify. Also notable for TobiWan's breathless casting and for giving TI5 its first quotable moment—"WHERE'S YOUR STUN? YOU DON'T HAVE ONE."

Sunday 26th July: the wildcard play-in

The four teams to finish second in the qualifiers played each other in a best-of-three double-elimination bracket with the top two finishers progressing to the main event and the bottom two going home. The Chinese and European wildcards, CDEC and Vega Squadron, were tipped to take those places.

That's not what happened. First CDEC took down Vega 2-1 despite strong resistence while MVP Phoenix—brother team to MVP Hot6—beat North American hopes Archon (formerly North American Rejects.) CDEC then went on to 2-0 MVP Phoenix while Vega did the same to Archon, eliminating them from contention. Finally, in the biggest upset of the day, MVP Phoenix took down Vega Squadron 2-1 to score the final place in the International 2015. This is the first time there have ever been two Korean teams in the tournament.

RANDOM HIGHLIGHT

This is a tough one to choose. I'm going with a moment that confused the casters as much as the players involved—coL.Zefrik's massive surprise Black Hole in game 1 of MVP Phoenix vs. Complexity. It looks like he'd blown his ult trying to kill MVP's Naga Siren, but had actually stashed a Refresher Orb on the courier—ready to devastate MVP's subsequent push.

Monday 27th July: group stage day 1

This was a brilliant first day. Juggernauts LGD took two games off C9, which they might have been expected to do, but not without a 70-minute struggle from the fan favourites—including an incredibly ballsy Divine Rapier purchase from EternalEnvy. Meanwhile, Secret were expected to do well against Fnatic—they dominated them at ESL One Frankfurt—but ended up getting taken apart by Mushi's Queen of Pain in their second match, drawing 1-1.

Upsets continued as American qualifier winners Complexity took down MVP Phoenix 2-0, and Phoenix drew 1-1 with Na'Vi. The rest of the day developed more or less as expected in terms of results, but not without a lot of inventive play—Divine Rapiers on Ios, all-in Huskar play, and so on. LGD emerged as the strongest team having not dropped a single match.

RANDOM HIGHLIGHT

Secret's KuroKy counters C9's Roshan contention by stealing Magnus' Reverse Polarity. This is why you don't let KuroKy get Rubick. Plus bonus triple-cliffing by C9's bOne7 on the Magnus. Moments like this are why everybody get excited when teams clash around the Roshan pit.

Tuesday 27th July: group stage day 2

C9's dream took wing with a 2-0 over Fnatic and then took, er, whatever the opposite of 'wing' is with a 0-2 loss to Secret. Secret went on to 2-0 Na'Vi, confirming their dominance, and IG became the first team to take a game off LGD. The biggest upset of the day by far was Complexity's 2-0 victory over Na'Vi: from being ignored by most observers, coL were starting to look like top-four material.

Virtus.Pro took two games off CDEC but lost to Empire who then went on to lose to CDEC, demonstrating how close this tournament has been. North American favourites EG took two games off Vici Gaming and MVP Phoenix, asserting their dominance, but MVP Phoenix managed to stave off a run of losses by taking a game away from Fnatic.

RANDOM HIGHLIGHT

There have been a lot of Divine Rapiers in this tournament so far, but none as timely nor as immediately devastating as this pickup by MVP.QO in their match against IG. While the play itself isn't amazing—IG simply lose three people immediately to Ember Spirit's Sleight of Fist—it's a crazy power spike given that this was a 70 minute game.

Wednesday 27th July: group stage day 3

The two most favoured teams, Secret and LGD, kept things ambiguous by trading 1-1. C9 defeated IG 2-0, keeping their own hopes alive while badly wounding those of the TI2 champions. Na'Vi and Fnatic—both struggling at this point—also tied, and Na'Vi went on to lose to LGD.

MVP Phoenix's rise from the wildcard was halted briefly by their encounter with C9, but they went on to take an unexpected 2-0 away from IG—furthering IG's woes. Their brother team MVP Hot6 lost to both Virtus.Pro and EHOME, while the latter traded with EG. Newbee lost to CDEC, as did Vici Gaming—we're talking a wildcard team taking games off the giants of their own scene, here. Complexity, meanwhile, got shut down by Secret—game two of their set is definitely one to watch, featuring an absolutely astonishing performance on Broodmother by Secret's Zai.

RANDOM HIGHLIGHT

Techies has steadily emerged as an important hero in this meta, rather than the fan-pleasing novelty pick they're sometimes seen as. Multiple teams have run it, but Aui_2000's performance against CDEC was, to my mind, the best. He's active and aggressive on a hero known for its passivity, and the clutch stasis trap in this teamfight demonstrates what the hero is capable of.

Thursday 30th July: group stage day 4

The final day of the group stage was a treat for anybody who really, really loves maths. There were a lot of knife-edge series that would determine which teams finished in the top four of their groups, and while LGD handily picked up the two wins they needed against Fnatic, Secret only traded 1-1 against MVP Phoenix—definitely an upset. Even more so: Complexity's 2-0 victories over Cloud9 and Fnatic, which secured this qualifier team a place in the top four.

IG beat Na'Vi 2-0 in a TI2 finals rematch while Vici Gaming and Newbee went 1-1 in a TI4 finals rematch. EHOME picked up pace by beating Virtus.Pro 2-0 before going 1-1 against CDEC. MVP Hot6 enjoyed mixed fortunes, going 1-1 against Newbee but losing outright against Empire. EG made a strong statement in their games against CDEC, winning both handily. The final positions necessitated an tiebreaker match to determine top four placement for Virtus.Pro and Empire, which was played as a best of three that Empire won 2-1.

Final standings (the TL;DR version)

LGD, Secret, Complexity and Cloud9 formed the top four for Group A and EG, CDEC, EHOME and Empire formed the same for Group B. MVP Phoenix rose from the qualifiers to narrowly miss inclusion in that set, while all of the previous International-winning organisations still in contention—Na'Vi, IG, and Newbee—found themselves at the bottom of their respective groups.

These were incredible, knife-edge, heartbreaking games. It's the first time an International group stage has been this closely fought, and it's unprecedented for teams that didn't get invites, who had to fight their way up from the bottom, to do so well—CDEC and Complexity in particular. The old Dota 2 pro scene died at TI4. The year-long gestation period of Dota 2's new status quo ended dramatically with this group stage, and it really is tough to predict what might happen next week.

Next: a beginner's guide to the current meta.

A BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO THE CURRENT META

Dota 2 is a complicated game and that can make it tough to watch. Last year, I wrote a  general guide to spectating Dota 2 as a newcomer that's still broadly relevant. Yet the Dota 2 metagame changes substantially every year, and the heroes, skills and strategies in play change with it. If you tuned into last year's International and felt like you got to grips with it then, you may find yourself having to start over for this tournament. This guide is intended to help with that.

If there was a title card for this year's International, it might look like this:

Dota 2 is currently in version 6.84c, and the metagame is pretty stable. It's very likely that we'll see a lot of the same picks and bans—particularly Gyrocopter and Leshrac, as visualised above—with relatively few surprises (although ask me next week if I want to take that particular prediction back.) That said, the heroes that are currently in vogue make for dynamic games on the whole—this isn't like last year, when the winning strategy actively made the game shorter and less fun to watch. If nothing else, having a relatively reliable set of top-tier picks makes the game easier to pick up for newcomers.

The key concepts

Pro games of Dota currently tend to be very aggressive, with lots of rotations—that's what it's called when a hero leaves their lane to try to make a play somewhere else. This is done in pursuit of map control, which is a really important concept to understand.

One way to think about is that 'map control' refers to the total amount of the map that a team can safely move across and farm. If a team destroys lots of towers or drafts heroes that specialise in suddenly picking off opponents, the effective area that is safe for that opponent to be in shrinks.

Most teams want to be able to achieve map control in the first 10-20 minutes with most of their players while at least one player—the carry—is farming gold for the lategame. Often, the results of early fights are only important insofar as they translate into map control, and therefore gold for the carry. For this reason, the scoreboard—which displays kills—can be a little bit misleading. Teams can be behind on kills but overall ahead if their key heroes are out-farming the enemy.

By tracking down and killing the enemy carry, placing vision wards, and seeking out other objectives, players and tip this equation in their favour. Usually, movement around the map will be related to one of these goals.

This isn't the only way to play or win, of course, and you'll see other strategies too—all-out pushes, drafts designed to end games early, and so on. As a beginner, however, the above is the most useful strategy to get to grips with.

The items

There are hundreds of items in Dota 2, and you'll hear commentators talk constantly about what a player might be about to buy and what it means for the game as whole. It'd be impossible to cover all of them, and honestly you probably don't need to know that much at this stage. Here, though, are four easy-to-remember items you should pay attention to.

Town portal scroll

This allows a character to teleport to a friendly building. It has a channeling time that can be interrupted by stuns, and is used to escape, return to lane, or just move around the map. Not having a town portal scroll—or having one on cooldown—can be a disaster if a player is caught in the wrong part of town.

You think they'd just remember whatever it says on this scroll by now.

Bottle

Typically bought by midlaners, this grants the player three charges of health and mana regeneration. It can be refilled by returning to the fountain or by picking up one of the rune power-ups that spawns at the top and bottom of the river. It's very important for sustaining a midlaners presence in lane: if they drop low and their bottle is empty, they may find themselves in trouble.

Refilling the Bottle using a Bounty Rune. The blue and green effect denotes Bottle healing.

Blink Dagger

Blink Dagger gives heroes the ability to teleport, which is a major boost to mobility. It's often bought on initiators—characters that specialise in starting fights by diving into the centre of the enemy and letting off their ultimate. Often when a character like Earthshaker or Axe gets a Blink Dagger they'll be careful to reveal it at a key time—once they know that an opponent is capable of blinking, teams tend to be much more cautious.

Black King Bar ('BKB')

Black King Bar makes heroes invulnerable to magic damage and crowd-control effects for a limited period of time. This allows big damage-dealers like carries to get a lot done in teamfights without the threat of being stunned, silenced, or turned into a pig. A character with an active BKB glows gold and gets a bit taller—you can't miss them.

Earthshaker is ten feet tall and solid gold and demands submission.

The heroes and skills

You'll see many more heroes in play than the dozen or so below, but understanding these and their key abilities will help a lot while spectating this year's games.

Gyrocopter

Gyrocopter is an incredibly popular carry because he farms well, makes good use of items, and is dangerous early—and therefore both a boon to his team and tough to shut down. Key abilities to look out for are Rocket Barrage and Call Down. Rocket Barrage deals high damage over time to the heroes nearest Gyrocopter, and you'll either see it as a salvo of rockets or lasers depending on cosmetics. Call Down is Gyrocopter's ultimate, a massive AoE missile strike that does damage, slows, and is often deployed at the beginning of a teamfight.

Gyrocopter's Rocket Barrage. And/or laser barrage.
Gyrocopter's Call Down. Nuclear launch detected.

Leshrac

Leshrac is arguably the most overpowered hero in Dota 2 at the moment, so you'll see him banned—a lot. He's so powerful because he's hard to lane against, he has a stun, a nuke, and a slow, he can demolish towers quickly with AoE magic and, later in the game, he becomes incredibly difficult to kill. All of his spells are strong, but the one most likely to be missed by newcomers is Pulse Nova, his ultimate. This causes Leshrac to glow and deal heavy damage in an area around him—look for the telltale disco lights.

Leshrac's Pulse Nova. Disco horse on, disco horse off.

Queen of Pain

Queen of Pain is a popular midlaner and sometimes played as a carry or offlaner. She can blink naturally, giving her high mobility, and offers AoE burst damage in a few different flavours. The most impactful of these is her ultimate, Sonic Wave. This is a cone-shaped attack that deals pure damage—without going into the details, this means that it can't be countered by magic resistance items or Black King Bar.

Queen of Pain's Sonic Wave. QoP is one of two Dota 2 heroes with a conical yell, the other being Beastmaster.

Tusk

Tusk is played offlane and sometimes support. He's useful because of the amount of utility and control he offers, as well as significant burst damage if he gets far enough ahead. Key spells to look out for are Ice Shards, which is a projectile that forms an impassable barrier where it strikes, and Snowball. The latter is the most complex. Tusk targets an enemy and rolls up into a ball, but doesn't start moving right away. Then, the player may bring other allies into the snowball to increase its speed and size. All players inside the snowball are completely protected from anything happening outside, giving the ability the power to save people as well as initiate fights.

Tusk's Ice Shards.
Tusk's Snowball. It gets bigger than this, honest.

Dazzle

Dazzle's a powerful support who can sustain his teammates for a long time. He has a unique ability, Shallow Grave, which manifests as a column of pink light around Dazzle or an ally. While affected by Shallow Grave, a hero can lose health but can't die. While there are edge cases where Shallow Grave can be negated, for the most part it's a very powerful way to keep a carry in the fight. If you see a low-health hero survive for ages in a bath of pink light, Dazzle has happened.

Dazzle uses Shallow Grave on himself. Fact: Dazzle is the chillest support in Dota 2.

Lina

A mobile spellcaster with huge lane presence and phenomenal single-target magic damage. Lina is popular because she tends to win her lane and can dominate heroes that are vulnerable to burst damage. In addition to a nuke and stun, it's worth looking out for her ultimate—Laguna Blade. This is a massive lightning bolt that does a huge amount of damage at high mana cost. When and where Lina deploys Laguna Blade in a fight tells you a bunch about the player's priorities.

Lina's Laguna Blade. Fact: it is fun to say 'Lina Lagunas Luna' quickly.

Earthshaker

Earthshaker is a support who offers a lot of control early on and who, later in the game, can single-handedly turn teamfights. Fissure is a long linear stun that creates an impassable wall for a few seconds. Even if a character isn't affected by the stun, in the vast majority of cases the wall itself is still an obstacle—Earthshaker is great when he can trap an enemy in dangerous territory. His ultimate, Echoslam, is a point-blank AoE nuke that 'echoes' off any enemy it hits. For this reason, it's best when used against the largest possible group—creeps and all. A good Earthshaker waits until his opponent is grouped up and then—boom.

Earthshaker's Fissure. Unlike most fissures, is actually a wall.
Earthshaker's Echoslam. Part of the reason why there's a Space Jam 2 happening.

Bounty Hunter

Bounty Hunter is nowadays most often run as a highly mobile support that specialises in scouting, harassing across the map and attempting to assassinate the enemy's courier as it delivers a key item. Able to go invisible from level 1, Bounty Hunter's most important ability is his ultimate, Track. Placing Track on an opponent allows Bounty Hunter's team to see them wherever they go—even if they turn invisible—and if a Tracked opponent dies then the gold reward is higher. Over time, lots of Track kills add up to a significant gold advantage.

Bounty Hunter uses Track on Axe. Because giant red men are hard to spot.

Bloodseeker

Bloodseeker is highly lethal with powerful potential to heal himself and the best teamfight cleanup ability in the game. He gets faster and more aggressive as enemies get low on health, and can even see through invisibility if the enemy in question is wounded enough. His kills return a lot of health to Bloodseeker if he's played right. Blood Rite creates a massive sigil in blood on the ground which detonates after a few seconds, silencing and damaging enemies caught in the vicinity. Rupture is his ultimate, placing a debuff on enemies that causes them to rapidly lose health if they move.

Bloodseeker's Blood Rite. Remember: two Blood Wrongs don't make a Blood Rite.
Bloodseeker's Rupture. Still works if you don't have blood!

Undying

Undying is popular for his incredible presence in lane—he's among the very few offlaners who can take on three other heroes solo and, in the right circumstances, win. This is in part because of the way that he steals the strength stat of his opponents—which dictates health pool, among other things—and adds it to his own. His most disruptive spell, however, is Tombstone. This creates a mausoleum that steadily spawns zombies at the feet of enemies. Zombie hits cause a slow and as the target loses health the zombies become more aggressive. They mount up over time and quickly become overwhelming, but destroying the Tombstone itself immediately kills all active zombies.

Undying's Tombstone. AKA Zombie House AKA somebody hit the god damn tombstone.

Winter Wyvern

Winter Wyvern is the most recent support to be added to Dota 2, and is considered a hard counter to drafts that rely on physical damage (powerful regular attacks, rather than spells, for the most part.) Cold Embrace is a big part of that. It's a heal that roots the target to the ground while they receive health over time. During this period the target can't do anything, but is also completely immune to physical damage—but vulnerable to magic. Winter Wyvern's ultimate, Winter's Curse, completely disables a single target for several seconds and creates a cursed field around them. Any enemy who enters this field is forced to stop what they're doing and attack their ally. Used right, this can cause the whole enemy team to 'et tu, Brute?' one of their own before the fight has even started.

Winter Wyvern's Cold Embrace.
Winter Wyvern's Winter's Curse.

Naga Siren

Sometimes played as a carry, other times as a support, the most important of Naga Siren's abilities to understand is her ultimate—Song of the Siren. This creates a huge area around Naga Siren—expressed as subtle blue wavy lines—that puts enemies to sleep and prevents them from taking damage. It lasts a while, but can be cancelled early by Naga Siren (or resisted with BKB). Song of the Siren is sometimes used to escape, but most often used to reset a team's position in the middle of a fight—it's possible to put the entire enemy team to sleep, get everyone into a better spot, and then start the fight over from this advantageous position.

Naga Siren's Song of the Siren. It's subtle.

Techies

Techies are... well, they're Techies. Techies are three goblins pushing a minecart full of bombs, and they behave like no other Dota hero. While weak in and of themselves, they plant mines around the map that can annihilate whole groups at once. Bringing Techies into a match can force a long game by slowing down pushes, and places huge pressure on enemy supports by requiring them to buy sentry wards to detect the bombs. In addition to traditional proximity-detonating Land Mines, there are also Remote Mines and Stasis Mines. The former can be detonated whenever Techies likes, and the latter stuns. Finally, Techies' Suicide Squad, Attack! ability allows them to sacrifice themselves in a huge explosion.

To the left, a Land Mine, To the right, a Remote Mine. Not pictured: tears.
Techies' Suicide Squad, Attack! ability. Well, maybe 'ability' is pushing it.

Phew! That's it for now. Check back on Monday the 3rd of August for the first part of PCG's daily International coverage

Community Announcements - SZ
New International immortal treasures are now available for a limited time. Each treasure contains five possible immortals and a rare International courier. There is also an extremely rare chance to unlock the Golden Trove treasure when opening either of the two treasures. The Golden Trove Treasure contains golden versions of the Trove Immortals as well as golden versions of the two rare International couriers.





Consume any extra immortals you own for a chance at a free Trove or Lockless treasure, and then try your luck again at getting the golden items. Opening your first and fifth treasure earns you two and four compendium levels respectively for each of the two treasures.

You can also support your favorite casters by buying signed versions of the new Lockless Luckvase and Trove Carafe treasures. These Signature Treasures now come with upgradeable autograph runes, which let you merge multiple autograph gems together to create a higher level gem. Level the gem up to 10 and unlock a special gold version of the autograph. A single use chisel is also included in the Treasure.
Community Announcements - SZ




The Group Stage is over, the Wild Cards have been chosen and the team brackets are locked in place. All that's left is the main event itself starting this Monday and running throughout the week, where the best Dota 2 players in the world will compete for over a $17,000,000 prize pool.

For the past five days, 16 teams have been competing for bracket positions to see who goes head-to-head with who next week. Click the image below to see how things shook out.



With the main event just days away, the teams will spend the weekend strategizing and, above all, practicing. Every team has a private practice area, stocked with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti-powered systems and G-SYNC monitors provided by NVIDIA.



If you're just catching up with this year's International, be sure to check out Kaci Aitchison's interviews with some of this year's top players, as well as in-depth player profiles, at our Youtube channel. You can also follow our twitter and instagram feeds for constant updates throughout the event.

It's going to be an exciting week. We'll see you Monday for Day 1 of the main event.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (RPS)

Early Access games are here to stay, but is that cause for concern or celebration? We gathered to discuss whether early access benefits developers or players in its current state, and how we’d make it better. Along the way, we discussed the best alpha examples, paying for unfinished games, our love of regularly updated mods, Minecraft and the untapped potential of digital stores.>

… [visit site to read more]

TF2 Blog


Grab your shields, sharpen up your blades and prepare yourselves for A Knight of Demomen, an all-out Demoknight battle taking place Saturday, August 22 (12:00pm ET-12:00am ET).


For twelve hours, players will battle as Demoknights to try and collect the most heads. All players must wield a shield and any melee weapon (no cabers). Players will also be permitted to use the booties and the bootlegger. The top three players when the twelve hours are up will be named victorious and receive the greatest of rewards. Click here to view the official rules and learn what you need to do to get in on the Demoknight action!



Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

Last time we checked in with teens-in-a-war ARPG spin-off Final Fantasy Type-0 [official site], we’d just received word that it would be coming to PC “soon”. Thanks to the press release that just landed on my desk, I can tell you that “soon” is August 18th. Obviously you should never preorder anything ever but if you were> to preorder this ‘un, you’d be able to cross the streams of in-game menageries by adding a chocobo courier to Dota 2. You can also have “a Moogle (Class Zero) as your ward”. I quoted that directly because most of the words didn’t mean anything to me.

… [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Quake III's Q3DM17

Level 28! No, the other kind of level. The type that you run around in, shooting people or jumping on their heads and that sort of thing. Adam, Alec, Alice and Graham gather to discuss their favourite levels and/or maps from across the vast length of PC gaming, including selections from Deus Ex, Call of Duty and Quake III. Someone even makes a case for Xen from Half-Life, and means it.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer
Back to the drawing board. Image by Legoformer1000
TRIGGERNOMETRY

We write about FPSes each week in Triggernometry, a mixture of tips, esports, and a celebration of virtual marksmanship.

When Valve released the massive Gun Mettle update for Team Fortress 2 earlier this month, it was another tally mark in a 500-strong patch dynasty for the everlasting multiplayer FPS. The update s brought rebalances and tweaks to one of the PC s most popular games. Most critically, it reinforced Valve s dedication for making sure TF2 s meta doesn t languish into mediocrity, a necessary step with competitive matchmaking on the horizon.

Most significantly, the update changed the mechanics of Engineers, TF2 s guitar-twanging, sentry-slinging staple. As the subject of another major overhaul patch back in 2010, the Engie has already seen both subtle and overt adjustments to his gameplay. The addition of the Gunslinger and the ability to pick up and move buildings practically transformed the Engie from immobile turret-babysitter to maneuverable hardpoint, and the increased flexibility between adopting either strategy type to suit the team redefined the class entirely.

Gun Mettle took this a step further by shortening construction, setup, and redeploy times for an effective sentry operator that can now more easily keep up with a push, retreat, or pivot to defend a fresh attack angle. Below, I ve extracted and summarized some of the more impactful patch changes, but be sure to read the full log for far more minor adjustments and rebalances for other classes.

  • Buildings construct faster, teleporters/dispensers redeploy faster, and hauling buildings incurs a smaller movement penalty.

These changes are the unifying theme surrounding the Engie for the Gun Mettle update—a focus on minimizing downtime and thumb-twiddling during pre-round setup and redeployment. You only lose about 10 percent of your movement speed while carrying a building, so aggressive sentry spots are now a far more appealing tactic than before.

You ll also spot more Engies using their shotguns and pistols more often, as they ll be spending less time thwacking away at getting their gear up and more time delivering direct firepower to the team. Even better, swapping the wrench type—say, from a Southern Hospitality to the Gunslinger or vice versa—now only self-destructs the turret and not your entire nest, keeping vital teleporters and dispensers intact instead of having to completely rebuild once more.

  • Mini sentries are now repairable, but they construct slower and have a smaller initial health pool while constructing.

Mini sentries—the cute, ankle-biting turrets used by Gunslinger Engies—were traditionally set-and-forget annoyances tucked into unexpected corners or sat brazenly in the open for a small burst of crossfire. With Gun Mettle, minis bulk up in durability by being repairable, but they need slightly more minding from their creator while building up—instead of starting at 100 health during construction, they re now halved at a fragile 50. Gunslingers will need to be a little more choosy as to where their little friend goes; a few pistol shots or a couple scattergun blasts will do in the poor thing before it even finishes coming out of the box. If you haven t already, consider pre-building your mini in a safe spot or while near teammates before hauling it to your designated perch.

  • While a sentry is shielded by the Wrangler, repair and ammo given by wrench hits is reduced.

The Wrangler, a pistol replacement that allows Engies direct control over their sentries while equipped, is a fantastic choice for direct pressure or long-range chip damage at the expense of vulnerability while keeping an eye on the target. A deadly combo often seen in final Payload point defenses entailed one Engie Wrangling his sentry while another constantly repaired and resupplied it, as the Wrangler effect provided a protective shield for the turret which cut down incoming damage by around 66 percent.

Post-update, repairing a shielded sentry returns health and ammo at the same percentage as the shield provides—66 percent. This tips the odds of a direct attack on the sentry back into whoever s firing on it, as Engies will need to let the shield expire after a few seconds of switching away from the Gunslinger—lose its added armor, in other words—to repair at full efficiency.

  • The Jag wrench swings faster but repairs a smaller chunk of building health per swing.

If you want to experience the Gun Mettle Engie changes in the most direct and fun way, equip the Jag and try constructing a building or two. The Jag s baseline bonus—a faster swing speed and construction speed boost—is additive to the universal build speed increases noted above. That means an incredibly fast setup and upgrade time for a full nest. (Check out the gif; it takes less than a minute to get everything built.)

The downside: you ll need more metal to repair your stuff, as the Jag now fixes up to 80 health per swing instead of the stock 100. An emerging popular loadout (and one of my favorites at the moment) involves pairing the Jag with the Rescue Ranger shotgun for additional ranged repair power and metal retention.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Adam Smith)

Below you will find the 25 best horror games ever released on PC. To ensure the list was as accurate as possible, the compiler was locked in a dark cellar with a copy of every game in existence and a computer capable of running them all. Two weeks later, the following article was found written on the walls in blood (the postscript was recorded on an audiolog). The writer was nowhere to be seen.

… [visit site to read more]

Community Announcements - SZ


The Wild Cards have ended, and the Group Stage starts soon. From Monday, July 27th through Thursday, July 30th, and starting at 9am PDT each day, two groups of eight teams will fight to determine their seeding for the Main Event of The International. Each game will be a set of two matches. At the end of Group Stage, the top four teams from each group will advance to the Upper Bracket of the Main Event, while the bottom four teams will go on to the Lower Bracket.

During Group Stage, three matches will be played simultaneously. You'll be able to watch all the action at <a herf="http://www.dota2.com/international/">The International website[/url], with the Primary Stream covering games in Series A, while also providing updates on the other games between matches.
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