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PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to Aperture Tag: The Paint Gun Testing Initiative review">Aperture Tag review

Aperture Tag is a mod for Portal 2 that removes the portal gun and replaces it with one that fires gel: repulsion gel, which makes you bounce higher, and propulsion gel, which makes you move faster. Jumping and running, in other words, replaces portals as the main tools to solve puzzles with. Unfortunately, there's no replacement for Portal 2's other elements, like enjoyable voice acting, excellent writing, and a well-balanced level of challenge. And, unlike most mods, Aperture Tag adds a price tag, meaning the first puzzle to solve is: should you pay for this?

There are just over two-dozen test chambers in Aperture Tag, though a couple are recycled from the original game, spiced up by having no portal gun to solve them with. The early game is slow to evolve, giving you only the repulsion gel to play with for a long while. I understand the modders wanting to ease me into the mechanics of the gels, but you can't play the mod without owning Portal 2, and if you own Portal 2, chances are you've played it and already know how everything works. A shorter refresher course would have been welcome.

Once both gels are unlocked, the game ramps up the complexity, though unevenly. I found a couple of early chambers surprisingly vexing while some endgame puzzles were so easily solved I felt like I'd missed something. Even when puzzles are good, they can be spoiled by poor design choices: in one chamber, I'd solved the room in my head but it still took a while to beat solely due to the way a faith plate-launched weighted cube landed, which seemed unfair. I'm happy to have my brain and reflexes tested, but not thrilled to have to repeat a sequence because a cube took a few bad bounces. A small handful of test chambers, however, are genuinely satisfying to solve, utilizing gels, blocks, buttons, mirror cubes, force fields, and yes, even portals (they do show up from time to time, but can't be placed by the player).

No portal gun, but still a few portals.

It ain't the paint

Repetition is an issue. One of the first tricks we learned playing with gels in Portal 2 was that laying down a line of speed gel and ending it with some bounce gel gives you an awesome, rocketing leap. Aperture Tag requires this on so many of its levels that it feels like a pointless added bit of work, as if the modders just ran out of gel-related challenges and kept reusing this initially enjoyable gimmick. Also, while it takes just a mouse-click to reposition a portal in the vanilla game, slathering walls and floors in paint takes time and isn't particularly fun to do repeatedly in the same chamber. This becomes a problem since the mod's later chambers almost exclusively feature toxic floors, meaning that missing a jump is punished by death, often undoing all your careful (or sloppy) painting and discouraging haphazard experimentation. That said, the auto-save system works pretty well, saving your game at multiple steps throughout some of the longer and more elaborate puzzles.

Do you love poison floors? I hope so.

One nice addition is the "Fizzler," an energy field that switches one or both barrels of your paint gun on and off, and figuring out how to properly paint areas when your gun has been partially or completely disabled adds another level to the puzzle-solving. The mod could have used a few more new ideas like this. I was hopeful after spotting what looked like a new brand of sentry turret early on, but it didn't act any differently, and by the end of the game the turrets revert back to their original appearance not to mention that with unlimited bouncy gel at your disposal, turrets are easily beaten. I didn't notice much in the way of custom art assets, either, and there's no real use of cinematic physics (such as Wheatley mashing enormous test-chambers together in Portal 2) meaning the mod is mostly a static series of connected test chambers, with one exception.

The centerpiece of the mod is a time-based speedrun that requires you to zoom down a series of twisting corridors and launch yourself off ramps at breakneck speed, projecting gel ahead of you to keep up your momentum and bounce at just the right times. While exciting and satisfying to beat, this sequence is hurt by the lack of preparation for it, featuring only one brief sequence of gel-racing earlier. Also, when you're rocketing along at top speed, the gel you're splattering ahead of yourself actually lags a bit behind, making it tough to tell if you're painting the landscape ahead properly. Even the modders seem to recognize this sequence is overly difficult: they've provided a big red button that lets you skip it entirely.

Not the most subtle of traps.

Several attempts at a story, misdirection, surprises, and humor are made, but all fall flat. The personality core leading you through the test chambers isn't exactly irritating, but his jokes certainly aren't funny, and apart from "generally upbeat" it's a struggle to even pin down what his personality is. I wasn't expecting anything approaching Valve's level of writing, story, or performance, but if a mod is going to include lots of talking, its character should have something more interesting to say.

This mod is for sale on Steam. I'm all for modders getting paid for their work, and clearly a lot went into this mod, but I'd say their price is a tad optimistic for what you get. In the Steam Workshop, there are a few hundred thousand custom test chambers to explore for free.


Expect to pay: $7/ 5

Release: Out now

Developer/Publisher: Aperture Tag Team

Link: http://bit.ly/1qkNvz7
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.
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.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The International 2014: must-watch games from day two">TemplarAssassinSS

If you missed yesterday's list, you can find it here.

Almost nothing today went as expected. Well, some things. As far as day two's competitive matches went, however, extraordinary upsets and out-of-left-field performances were the rule. Today saw the fall of former champions and the continued rise of teams that almost everybody had counted out. While the matches I've chosen below reflect the best of the day, this was one of those essential runs that bears watching in full and analysing after the fact.

Note that everything that follows includes spoilers for day two of the International. Recordings of all of the games below can be found through the official tournament microsite.

Na'Vi vs. Cloud 9, Game 3

This match was the heartbreaker, guaranteed to send a fan-favourite home. In game 3, with the set tied 1-1, Cloud 9 played some of the best Dota I've ever seen them play. They were arguably outdrafted by Na'Vi, who picked themselves up a Newbee-style push draft in attempt to secure a quick win. Against a Brewmaster, Death Prophet, Shadow Shaman, Nature's Prophet and Ancient Apparition, Cloud 9 should have lost most if not all of their towers by the twenty minute mark. They drafted Bounty Hunter, Doom, Ember Spirit, Clockwerk and Skywrath Mage in response, a lineup suited to pickoff kills that it didn't look like they'd get against Na'Vi's five-man deathball. I told a friend that I'd eat my words if Na'Vi didn't win. Then, well, I ate words for lunch.

Cloud 9 started rotating for ganks early and kept up the pressure, shutting down Dendi's mid Death Prophet and wasting time whenever Na'Vi managed to group up to push. Pieliedie's Bounty Hunter played hide-and-seek with Na'Vi in their own jungle for minutes at a time, earning little in terms of traditional advantages but playing mindgames that prevented Na'Vi from ever really cohering as a team. My MVP, however, was b0ne7. His fantastic performance on Clockwerk made him respect-ban worthy in the games that followed, and created a huge amount of space for Cloud 9 in conjunction with Skywrath Mage. Every time Brewmaster ult was popped early, Cloud 9 would get something done around the map to secure their advantage - but the fact that this was possible at all is owed to the amount of control that b0ne7 granted his team. They peeled apart the deathball before it could even really start, demonstrating that when they can't outdraft a team they can still certainly outplay them. I'm not sure if that particular talent will carry C9 against Vici, but it's not a bad start.

Other highlights from this set: Game 2. This was Na'Vi's comeback after dropping the first set, and the one game they played that really felt like them. Their current fondness for mixing up the lanes notwithstanding, game 2 is an opportunity to watch Dendi's Invoker prove that there's no such thing as a bad Chronosphere when Sunstrike is off cooldown. Meanwhile, Funn1k's Venomancer got off to the worst possible start - even dying to neutrals at one point - before punishing Cloud 9 well into the lategame with relentless Plague Ward sieges and punishing Poison Novas. Then, on the back line, Kuroky's Witch Doctor landed perfect ult after perfect ult, demonstrating that Na'Vi's talent for playmaking extends right down the roster.

LGD vs. iG, Game 3

Having won ESL One a few weeks earlier and had a strong showing in the playoffs, iG felt like the easy favourite going into their elimination match against LGD. That's why it was such a surprise when LGD utterly subdued them in the first game with a high-damage draft that made short work of iG's all-important supports. Game 3, however, showed off another type of Dota. This time, Rabbit's Centaur worked closely with DD's Vengeful Spirit to find kills on Ferrari_430's Faceless Void and even YYF's Bristleback. The game then settled into a passive phase, but it's worth watching for the very end. LGD built up such a health and healing advantage on Centaur and Viper that they gained the power to push through teamfights that should have ended in wipes and miraculously didn't.

There's a moment around the 45 minute mark when LGD's advantage is such that iG can't win, and Rabbit knows it. He's just defied all expectations and eliminated 2012's International champions: in the circumstances, he does what anybody would do. His victory dance.

Other highlights from this set: Check out LGD's Centaur-Invoker-Skywrath Mage combo in game one. We tend not to see a huge amount of early nuking power in these push-heavy drafts, but LGD made tremendous use of a Blink Dagger on Centaur Warrunner to set up instagib snipes all around the map. Watch the beginning of game two for a fantastic support performance on Mirana by ChuaN, as he landed long-range arrows that'd put most midlaners to shame.

LGD vs. DK, Game 1

Nobody expected LGD to take down iG, but DK was another matter entirely. The latter inarguably belong in the tournament's top three, and in the first twenty minutes of their match against LGD they demonstrated just why that's the case. Nobody executes teamfights and pickoff kills like they do. When they're firing on all cylinders, their coordination is immaculate. There were dozens of good examples of this over the course of this long match, but the one that comes to mind is a pickoff on Rabbit's Batrider on the bottom lane. Mushi's Templar Assassin approached with an invisibility rune and probably had enough damage to take Rabbit down, but he timed his opening Meld strike perfectly to coincide with an incoming Nature's Wrath from iceiceice. What could have been a protracted ten second kill was achieved in less than one, demonstrating the extreme efficiency that makes DK so threatening.

But then, the story gets strange. The middle part of the game was typified by sporadic exciting engagements separated by long periods of farmng and contesting wards. DK refused to consolidate their advantage for a long time, and eventually LGD were able to leave their base and farm their way back into the game. You can pick up on the exact moment when DK realised that they'd let the game run too long: they kept finding pickoff kills but DD's support Alchemist became a bigger and bigger threat while Lin's Lycan slowly grew beyond the point where DK could contain them. Eventually, it only took one good teamfight for LGD to regain their confidence, go on the aggressive, and punish DK hard in the lategame. The match ended with a base race followed by a standing ovation for LGD from the crowd - a well deserved show of appreciation.

Other highlights from this set: The rest of the games in this set will be played tomorrow, but while I'm at it - watch the first game in C9 vs. Vici for an absolute masterclass in offlane Batrider by b0ne7. Batrider is hardly a rare sight (when he gets through the bans) but b0ne7 plays him like nobody else. He's relentlessly aggressive with Sticky Napalm in a way that takes opponents by surprise, and the utter bravado with which he challenged fy's Sand King's right to jungle farm is inspirational. Characters like Sand King, Tidehunter and Enigma are popular in part because it's assumed that they can safely pick up some gold in the jungle if they can't find it elsewhere; b0ne7 did more than any other offlaner I've seen in this tournament to prove that notion wrong.

The All Star match

Puppey spooned rOtk, Loda stole some real cheese, and nobody would give Dendi a kill in a 100+ kill game. I'm not sure how much more I need to do to sell you on this.

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: Techies revealed in All Star match">techies-reveal-TI4

It might have been rumoured for a while, but it's still unprecedented. Tonight at the International Valve took the lid off Techies, a DotA hero with a cult following due to his continued absence from Dota 2. Like Valve's other great unfinished projects - Ricochet 2, Portal 5 - Techies have become an event so long-awaited that it seemed like it'd never happen at all.

The All Star match is a just-for-fun friendly between two teams of pro players brought together by a community vote. It's an opportunity to see heroes played who aren't favoured in the meta, who aren't available in Captain's Mode, and, you know, who don't technically exist. That was a pun. The Techies reveal came late, after EG midlaner Arteezy had already picked Sniper. Then, with a deafening crack and a blast of on-stage pyrotechnics, his character switched and the crowd went insane.

No word yet on when Techies will be added to the client for everybody else, but it's unlikely to be long. The character is notorious for planting invisible mines around the map that change the way the game is played. Techies can also self-destruct, which is how 90% of first bloods are going to happen in your games from now on.

Revealing the hero at TI4 sets a dangerous precedent for Valve actually giving the community something that they've been getting far too excited about for far too long. What's next? An up-to-date development blog for the company's ongoing projects? Desks that stay locked in place on whatever floor Valve are keeping all their singleplayer FPS developers on? A brave new world is upon us, its birth heralded by the sound of three goblins blowing themselves up in a million pub matches every day from now until forever.

If you'd like to watch the All Star match, you can find streams and VODs here.

Thanks to Philippa Warr for snapping a photo of the big moment.

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 one">UrsaSS

Day one is over. Even though none of the teams in the upper bracket faced elimination today, success at this stage meant securing vast proportions of the prize pool in advance of the rest of the tournament. For the team that managed to earn their place in the grand final, it meant a guaranteed place in history as contenders for the single biggest reward ever offered in competitive gaming.

KeyArena is a great setting. I'd worried, quietly, that having fewer teams progress to the main event would make the International feel smaller this year despite the new, larger venue. I was wrong to worry. Walking into KeyArena this morning and seeing that 90-foot screen, the thousands-strong audience covering every part of the stadium, the lights, Valve's all-out, Source Filmmaker-enhanced introduction: nothing about this production feels small. As a fan, KeyArena is one of the most exciting places I've ever been. It's a table-thumping endorsement of this hobby.

Today's games lived up to the extravagance. One team in particular performed well in excess of what was expected of them, but every squad played their hearts out: there was a tangible sense that these games really mattered, that a year of developing strategies was culminating in this moment. Below, I'm going to list the three games from today that you should watch to get the best sense of the quality of Dota on display. If you're looking to catch up, this is where you should start. Be warned: spoilers follow.

Vici Gaming vs. Newbee, Game 2

Not every game I choose is going to necessarily be indicative of the results of the entire set. Vici Gaming vs. Newbee game two is my pick for the first match of the day because, unlike game one, it was tense and close-fought. Vici were the biggest success story of the group stages, but I attributed that success to a five-man push strategy that seemed to take the majority of Vici's opponents - particularly western teams - off guard. In game one, Newbee turned the tables, building a faster and stronger deathball and beating Vici at their own game. Game two is an essential watch because Vici were forced to play a different, more fluid kind of Dota.

Newbee's draft was on-point as far as the current metagame goes, with Batrider and Tidehunter doubling down on strong counter-intitiation, supported by a pushing lineup of Luna, Shadow Demon, and Viper. Instead of trying to outlast or outfight Newbee, however, Vici outmanoeuvred them. Super's Ember Spirit steadily became a bigger and bigger problem in teamfights, and Fenrir's Vengeful Spirit made a strong case for the hero's viability as a Batrider counter. By threatening to swap out any hero that xiao8's Batrider targeted, Fenrir made himself the target - smartly disarming this top-tier threat. The man of the match, however, was fy. I'm not sure he missed a single Ancient Apparition ultimate in the entire game, not only catching all of Newbee in teamfights but landing mapwide snipes as well. The match was a great showcase of the individual talent that goes into producing that otherwise anonymous-feeling Vici deathball.

Other highlights of this set: Game one. In an extraordinary beginning to the main event, Newbee comprehensively outplayed Vici and overpowered their opponent in record time.

Team DK vs. Evil Geniuses, Game 1

This was the matchup I was most excited to see today. DK are one of the few teams that can consistently outplay the American powerhouse, but EG's performance in game one demonstrated just how much of a threat they really are. It began with the first pocket strategy of the tournament, a support pairing of Enchantress and Ursa for EG that had most observers scratching their heads - including DK. A few lucky neutral camp spawns quickly equipped ppd's Enchantress with the tanking power necessary to take Roshan at three minutes, forgoing the traditional lifesteal requirement on Ursa and taking DK completely by surprise.

Those fast levels on Ursa enabled an aggressive earlygame for EG that, in particular, served to shut down MMY's Shadow Shaman. For a long time, however, it looked like the game was still DK's to lose. Burning being Burning, they maintained a farm and map control advantage that should have translated into a steady, traditional victory. Universe put paid to that. He's regarded as one of the best offlaners in the world for a reason, and if you are at all interested in what a player is capable of achieving in that role then his Tidehunter is the example to look to. Every time DK took something from EG, Universe would turn it into a trade - a trade that, more often than not, EG would get more out of. He single-handedly delivered his team through the midgame, and as soon as the game ran late that greedy support Ursa became a unconquerable fourth core hero.

Eventually, EG forced the issue in DK's base while Mushi attempted to split push. Unable to TP back to defend, Mushi attempted to kill himself in DK's fountain so that he could buy back. Given the midlaner's legendary survivability in impossible situations, his inability to die to the fountain in time to save his team is a little ironic. DK's tier four towers collapsed, and the Chinese dream team ceded the game.

Other highlights of this set: Game two, specifically EG's precision use of Global Silence to get the edge on DK in teamfights.

Newbee vs. Evil Geniuses, Game 1

Having just unseated DK in a 2-0 sweep, EG looked like they were ready to march confidently into the grand final. Newbee had enjoyed an extraordinary run since Monday morning, but this was surely the moment when the momentum gave way. The draft looked like it had everything EG needed to seal the deal - Brewmaster, Tidehunter, Mason's Mirana and Arteezy's Naga Siren. In that situation, EG weren't just the home side - they were at home, playing the kind of Dota that they traditionally excel at.

And they lost. It began with Newbee's support play, particularly Sansheng's Earthshaker who was responsible for preventing multiple first blood attempts on Hao's mid Lifestealer. Meanwhile, Mu's safelane Death Prophet was able to secure a rare solo kill on Universe's Tidehunter. Then, Newbee's disciplined rotations enabled simultaneous kills on Arteezy and Zai, beginning a campaign of violence against the Naga Siren that kept her Radiance at bay at every opportunity. When they couldn't kill the Naga Siren, they'd take towers, denying Arteezy the safe access to his jungle that he badly needed.

EG didn't go quietly. Between Zai's Sand King and Universe's Tidehunter, they had the teamfight to hold Newbee back from breaking base for a long time. The length of the game seemed to wear on them, however, and a late teamfight in mid demonstrated a rare capacity for miscommunication between the EG supports. One fantastic 3 vs 5 defensive performance by EG bought Arteezy the space he needed to break Newbee's highground on two lanes at once with Naga illusions, but it wasn't enough. Late in the game and armed with a Refresher Orb on Mu's Death Prophet, Newbee realised that they could push through EG's teamfight and keep pressing the attack while their ultimates were down. EG repelled the first assault but lost their tier four towers. Five minutes later Newbee attacked again, and although EG gave it everything they had they simply couldn't bring Mu down. The second wave of Exorcism ghosts took the ancient and dealt a decisive blow to EG's confidence that would be felt well into the second game. Not long after that, The International 2014 had its first grand finalist - Newbee, a team that had faced elimination on Monday morning.

Other highlights of this set: Newbee's timing in game two. I've never seen a team coordinate ganks so perfectly. PPD's support Wraith King was never allowed to hold onto his ultimate for long, and the global presence of Spectre and Nature's Prophet was used to tremendous effect against EG's individually-vulnerable teamfight lineup.

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 Giveaway: Win a SteelSeries Rival Dota 2 Edition Mouse and SteelSeries Siberia V2 Dota 2 Edition Headset">dotagifts1

This weekend, the world's best Dota 2 teams will gather to compete for the biggest award in e-sports' history. While that life-changing prize is out of reach to all but the most talented of players, we can soften the blow with a chance to win some quality gaming peripherals and exclusive Dota 2 items. We're giving away three sets of SteelSeries goodies, containing the SteelSeries Rival Dota 2 Edition Mouse and Hell's Glare weapon, and the SteelSeries Siberia V2 Dota 2 Edition Headset and Scythe of Vyse weapon.

UPDATE: The competition is now closed! Thank you to the 2000+ readers who entered. We'll start reading through the entries tomorrow, and reveal winners at the end of the week!

Here's how you win: in no more than 50 words, tell us what abilities and bonuses a Rival Mouse would provide if it was an item in Dota 2. Don't worry about careful balance or meta-game adherence; winners will be picked from the most entertaining answers.

Send your answers, by email, to Tom.Senior@Futurenet.com, and be sure to include the subject line "Dota Rival Competition", lest your entry be banished to Shadow Demon's shadowy realm. The competition will close on Tuesday, 22 July, at 6pm BST.

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 will be broadcast on ESPN">overview_bg_02

The 2014 edition of The International Dota 2 Championships, better known to gamers as simply The International, will be broadcast live on ESPN3, while an exclusive preview of the final match that will include an interview with Gabe Newell will be carried on ESPN2.

The collaboration with ESPN was announced this afternoon by Valve, which revealed that the four-day event, including matches, interviews and analysis, will be carried for the first time ever by ESPN. It will also be available online at WatchESPN.com, through the WatchESPN app for smartphones and tablets, and on streaming devices including the Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

"From the success of the Compendium to the collaboration with ESPN, this year's International really demonstrates how much competitive gaming has grown to rival traditional sports," Valve's Erik Johnson said in a statement. "We believe the teams have also pushed to a new level of play this year and will further demonstrate the incredible advances made across this tournament since it first began three short years ago."

The highlight of the coverage will be a preview of the finals on ESPN2, which will include expert analysis, highlights from earlier matches and interviews with players, as well as a talk with Valve boss Gabe Newell.

This year's International is the biggest ever, with a prize pool of more than $10 million, and even though the event is hugely popular among gamers the finals, being held in Seattle's 17,000-seat KeyArena, are sold out the partnership with ESPN will open it up to a much wider audience than ever before. If there was any lingering doubt that eSports have become mainstream, I think this lays them to rest.

For everything you need to know about the International 2014, check out our in-depth look at the main event right here.
PC Gamer
title="Permanent Link to The International 2014: everything you need to know before the main event">SeattleSS

After an eventful group stage, the International begins in earnest tomorrow. Of the nineteen teams in contention for the Aegis of Champions on the 8th of July, eight remain. Over four days at Seattle's KeyArena, those eight teams will fight to secure the lion's share of the largest prize pool in competitive gaming history. The winner will take away just shy of $5m. But this extraordinary reward, most players will tell you, isn't the point. The International is Dota 2's alpha and omega: it is where reputations are made, where teams are proven. Many of the matchups you watch this weekend will never come about in the same way again; the stress of falling short at The International is enough to tear lineups apart and force teams to start over. This is the end of the biggest year in the game's life and the beginning of the next.

You should be watching the International because it marks a milestone in the growth of e-sports, and because there's rarely been so much talent and so much emotion bound up in a single gaming event. Furthermore, the International plays an ambassadorial role for competitive Dota 2. It turns passers-by into spectators, spectators into fans, and fans into players. If you don't play Dota, there's a good chance that this year's tournament could change that. Over the next few pages I'll be providing an overview of the tournament so far, a look at the remaining teams, and recommending essential matches to watch. If you missed the playoffs or are new to Dota, hopefully you'll find everything you need to enjoy the International below.

Update your bookmarks

First, some housekeeping and some shameless plugs.

You can watch all of the International games on Twitch either on the main stream or newcomer's stream. The latter has improved tremendously over the course of the playoffs and is recommended if you're unfamiliar with the game. I also wrote a guide to watching Dota 2 as a newcomer as part of my Three Lane Highway column that may be useful. Broadcasts begin every day at 9am PDT/12pm EDT/4pm GMT.

You can also watch matches in-game using the DotaTV spectator tools: click 'Watch' at the top of the main menu followed by 'The International 2014', which is found under the 'Premium' section of the 'Tournaments' tab. For a comprehensive list of timings, video links, results and other information, the Dota 2 subreddit has an excellent survival guide as well as daily discussion threads.

Finally, I'll be at the International on behalf of PC Gamer and you can find all of our ongoing coverage on this tag page. Expect a report at the end of each day as well as interviews with players and personalities.

Update: You can also watch The International on ESPN3, as well as on ESPN streaming services.

What the hell happened in the playoffs?

The International's remaining eight teams aren't quite what anybody expected them to be at the beginning of the event. The Swedish returning champions, Alliance, didn't make it. Nor did fan-favourite Fnatic, Mousesports, or the Russian giants Empire. The hopes of North American Dota are now pinned squarely on Evil Geniuses, with both Na'Vi.US and a resurgent Team Liquid falling short. Arrow and Titan are gone too, with Southeast Asian Dota now represented entirely by players playing for Chinese teams.

There's a lot to be said about these results, and questions to be asked about the approach of particular teams as well as the tournament format itself. The group stages were arranged as a round-robin of best-of-one games, and conventional wisdom holds that Dota is best played in a best-of-two or best-of-three format. This is due to the metagame aspect of competitive play, particularly drafting, where a 'dialogue' between teams can only form if multiple games are played. There's also the fact that the map is asymmetrical, with certain teams favouring Dire or Radiant an imbalance that can skew certain best-of-one matchups.

Nonetheless, the playoffs demonstrated just how close the scene is at the moment. No team went undefeated, and there were upsets at every end of the scale from the sudden ascendancy of Vici Gaming to the rise and fall of Team Liquid. Last year, Alliance stormed the group stages in a 14-0 sweep. This year they went 6-9, unable to find traction in a metagame that seemed to have moved beyond them. This is important because it demonstrates how Dota 2 in 2014 lacks a single clear leader: if it's a race, it's an incredibly close-run one.

The teams that stood out in the group stages are the ones who were able to execute their strategies with skill and efficiency over long days in an extremely high-pressure environment particularly Vici Gaming, Evil Geniuses, and DK. This tournament format is a test of endurance and leadership as well as talent, and the final bracket placements reflect which teams were able to find wins when it really counted. There are still wildcards in play, however, and teams in the lower bracket who will fight tooth and nail to hold on to what hope is left to them.

Another fact to bear in mind is that the metagame for best-of-ones is different to the metagame for best-of-threes. There's a good chance that the strategies that carried teams this far will fail or be discarded at the main event. Even though the International has already run its course for many teams, it is about to enter an entirely new and very different phase.

The main event brackets, and how they work

This image provides an at-a-glance overview of the brackets at the beginning of the main event. On the left hand side is the upper bracket: the four teams that placed highest at the end of the playoffs. These teams are each two best-of-threes away from a place in the grand final. If they lose they drop down to the lower bracket on the right hand side and have a chance to play their way in the long way.

Teams in the lower bracket play best-of-three single-elimination games to progress, facing upper bracket teams as they drop down. For example: if Newbee beat VG and the winner of EG vs. DK, they're in the final. For Na'Vi to reach the final from the lower bracket, however, they need to win four consecutive matches without dropping a single one.

Before I forget: don't miss the All-Star Match

In addition to the regular matches on Saturday there'll also be an All-Star Match. This is a friendly between one-off teams whose composition has been decided by a community vote. Last year it was hilarious a chance for players to relax, for former teammates to duke it out in front of an audience. This year it means a little more because it's the only chance certain players are going to get to appear on the stage at KeyArena. Disappointed Alliance and Fnatic fans shouldn't miss this chance to see BigDaddy, Loda, and s4 play.

On the next two pages: everything you need to know about the eight remaining teams.

Vici Gaming

I'm not sure anybody expected to Vici Gaming to do quite as well as they did in the group stages. The Chinese team was eliminated from ESL One Frankfurt by Fnatic, but only dropped three games at the International to Na'Vi, EG, and Cloud 9, all teams that went on to qualify for the main event. They excel at building a 'death ball', a composition of five heroes that are good at pushing down towers and taking teamfights early in the game.

This is demonstrated by the fact that they had the highest overall gold-per-minute during the group stages but the fewest average last hits: when your team is bowling over tower after tower, you don't have time to click on creeps. You should expect to see a lot of Shadow Shaman from them, as well as Tidehunter, and the now-ubiquitous Razor all heroes that can sustain a push for a long time.

They will face Newbee on day one, and it'll be a tough battle. Newbee know how to build a death ball of their own, and they have broadly demonstrated a greater capacity to outdraft their opponent. If anybody is going to put a dent in Vici's well-engineered machine, it'll be Newbee. The Chinese teams know each other well, they're fairly evenly matched, and there's a lot at stake. Given both teams' affection for early aggression, expect this to be an exciting game.


Despite facing elimination when play began on Monday morning, Newbee had an extraordinary day. They not only eliminated Titan but they destroyed Na'Vi, ending their second game at the twenty minute mark. They went on to beat IG, securing a top-four placement for themselves and sending two world-class teams to the lower bracket. It might have taken a few days for Newbee to find their rhythm, but when they did holy hell. Old-fashioned Dota thinking expects the Chinese teams to be conservative and passive compared to their aggressive western counterparts, and Newbee demonstrated just how outdated that is. Nobody could watch Hao's omnipresent Weaver and argue that Newbee didn't know how to get the most out of the early game.

They're a relatively new team comprised of veterans, and their captain, xiao8, is known for pulling together robust, inventive strategies on the fly. This was demonstrated on Monday when they grudgingly ceded a lengthy second game to Titan, only to come back in the third game with a risky level one Roshan strategy that snowballed into a dominant and fast victory. This was in a match that would determine which of the two teams played at KeyArena: Newbee put everything on the line, and it paid off spectacularly.

Their endurance is equally impressive. They can maintain their energy and focus for a long time, and if a plan isn't working, they'll change it. I'd certainly consider them a contender for the grand finals if not the title, but it's all on the assumption that they can maintain that incredible momentum going into the main event.

Also: if any other player can top Mu's incredible snipe from their match against Titan, I'll be very surprised.

Evil Geniuses

EG established themselves as the best team in the western scene at the playoffs. North American with the exception of Swedish support player Zai, this lineup was drawn together by Fear a veteran of the North American Dota scene, and one of the focal points of Valve's Dota 2 documentary, Free To Play. Injured earlier in the year, he's since stepped into a coaching role. His replacement, Mason, has only been part of the pro scene for a few months despite having famously gone on record saying that he wasn't interested in becoming a pro player. His story is representative of the team as a whole: young, talented, confident, but maybe a little fractious.

EG like to build up their advantage and win the game late. They're creative when it comes to making sure their heroes maintain a strong gold advantage in particular, they make excellent use of the midlane and much of their early play is designed to ensure that their carries have the space they need to farm. Strong leadership is needed to make sure that happens, and they find that in ppd. In Universe, they've got one of the best offlaners in the world he can play a carry if it comes to it, but he shines on utility heroes like Dark Seer. Their midlane player, Arteezy, has a significant following having pioneered the farm-heavy style that has come to define EG's strategy as a whole.

On day one they play DK, one of the few teams to have bested them in the group stages. It should be a brutal rematch, and one that will test EG's ability to outmaneuvre their inventive opponents. They've got the talent and hunger to pull it off, but they could be badly demoralised by a loss. The home crowd will desperately want to see them reach the grand final, and they're expected to do so, but I wouldn't surprised if they ended up making the journey via the lower bracket.

Another matchup worth looking out for if it happens is EG vs. iG. iG beat EG in the final of ESL One Frankfurt and again in the group stages for the International. A grudge match on day two/three is possible, and would definitely be one of the stories of the tournament as a whole.

Team DK

Longtime favourites DK didn't have the flawless run through the playoffs that some expected, but they're inarguably one of the strongest teams in the world at the moment. After a disappointing showing at The International 2013, the DK organisation pulled together a new roster around legendary carry player BurNIng a lineup that included, notably, former Orange midlaner Mushi.

One of the best players to ever come out of South East Asia, Mushi was my MVP for The International 2013. He played a wider variety of heroes than anybody else, often impeccably, and Orange's third-place finished belied their formidable fighting spirit. His teammate iceiceice has likewise fallen short of the International title on multiple occasions, and will be hungry to make this DK's year.

DK draft creatively and execute near-perfectly, with some of the best teamfight coordination you're likely to see at the tournament. It's very hard to get the drop on a team that is as in-sync with each other as they are. DK are a good foil for EG because they share some of the same strengths great farming across multiple core heroes, reinforced by top-tier support play but I expect DK to have the edge in the drafting phase. They can collectively play more heroes than almost anybody else, although Newbee might give them a fight for that title.

Another interesting but possibly unlikely matchup is DK vs. Cloud 9. It was DK that sent Cloud 9 to the lower bracket, defeating them in the tournament's shortest game an eleven minute stomp. Cloud 9 will want revenge should circumstances conspire to give them a shot at it.

One the next page: the next four teams.

Cloud 9

Cloud 9 are an international team made up of a mixture of North American and European players. They're also as close as you're going to get to an underdog in the final eight, having overcome a year of management problems to finally earn recognition as a top-tier squad. This is a roster made up of popular veterans of the scene SingSing and EternalEnvy in particular who are now getting the best shot they've ever had at the title that really matters. SingSing has said that he'll only settle for winning, and you should believe it even if they're currently only a single best-of-three from elimination.

They are a creative and versatile team and it's a safe bet that they'll pull out at least one surprise hero pick at the main event. They can come across as flamboyant, sometimes, but there's always purpose behind it Aui_2000 and pieliedie are a formidable support duo, and although their ideas might be unorthodox (pieliedie's courier-assassinating Bounty Hunter being a good example) they also have a tendency to deliver results.

They are, however, a team that struggles to seal the deal: they don't win every game that they should, and their confidence can be used as a weapon against them. Don't count them out, but don't underestimate the endurance or consistency of their opponents either. This is one of the reasons why their first match, against Na'Vi, is an essential watch: not only are these both extremely popular teams, but they're struggling with some of the same issues. Na'Vi vs. C9 will determine which team has been capable of learning the most from the group stages and which is capable of putting that theory into practice without losing the flair that makes them special.


Na'Vi are without a doubt the most popular Dota 2 team in the world. Their victory at the first International and top billing in the Free To Play documentary turned them into heroes. Their lineup is one of the most stable in competitive Dota, and over time those players Dendi, Puppey, XBOCT, Funn1k, Kuroky have become characters that fans are very, very attached to. They came second at the International in both 2012 and 2013, in both cases taking a convoluted route to the final via the loser's bracket. They've done a lot to earn their romantic reputation: they're mavericks, scrappily confident, and individually highly skilled.

They're also not quite on form, as Monday's severe loss to Newbee demonstrated. Like a few of the other European teams, the current metagame hasn't allowed them to spin losses into victories like they used to. You look to Na'Vi for midgame plays that turn around impossible disadvantages, something that is becoming less viable now that towers and barracks are being destroyed earlier and earlier. You also look to Na'Vi for experimental strategies and wild drafts, something they gestured at on Monday when they ran a Fnatic-style dual mid with Io. But, at the end of the day, it didn't work perhaps because it wasn't their strat to begin with, and Na'Vi have always been iconoclasts.

I think it's fair to say that Na'Vi are either going to pull something extraordinary out of the bag or simply fade away: this is a team that has never really gone for compromise. It may well be that they've had their now-traditional wakeup call, and that beginning the main event in the lower bracket will give them the drive they need to aggressively climb the ranks. That's certainly what their army of fans is hoping for. But their ascendency is less of a done deal than it has been at prior Internationals: the competition is simply too good.

Expect their match against Cloud 9 to be highly emotionally charged for the players and audience alike. These are popular teams that nobody is going to want to say goodbye to, fighting for survival at the bottom rung of an unforgiving ladder. There's no calling it: whoever wins, it'll be an upset.

Invictus Gaming

The champions of the second International have been on a roll since their win at ESL One Frankfurt, despite dropping a set to Newbee on Monday. Their support duo, ChuaN and Faith, are unmatched in the role and iG are currently setting the high bar for what aggressive support play means in the early game. They reach beyond traditional hero picks when figuring out a lineup that works, often drafting carries or semi-carries for ChuaN Kunkka, Alchemist, Mirana that become monsters in the lategame. The great thing about iG is how they transition between phases of the game: there's not really a single time period where they're weak as long as the game is going according to plan.

Don't expect Ferrrari_430's Ember Spirit to make it through the ban phase it's simply that good. But he's still one of the best midlaners in the world, and vital when it comes to building a win out of ChuaN and Faith's early victories. When iG lose, they tend to lose very late the exception being their first game against Newbee on Monday. They've got a good shot at the title despite starting in the lower bracket, but it'll depend on their ability to dictate the pace of games from the beginning.

They face LGD in their first match, and I think they've got the advantage they beat them handily in their last encounter. IG's real test will come when they start to face teams coming down from the upper bracket.


LGD have been playing steadily better since a rough start to the group stage, eventually beating Liquid to secure a place in the top eight. For the most part, however, those victories were all against teams that didn't make the final cut the exception being Cloud 9, who they beat once before losing a best-of-three at the end of the second phase of the playoffs.

Lin and Rabbit are both impressive players whose flexibility has been used to good effect in LGD's better games. They're capable of impressive experimentation when it comes to it but they're also, on the whole, the least favoured of the five Chinese teams in the final eight. Similar to Na'Vi, they've got one foot in the general metagame particularly when they're running Razor, Viper, or Enigma, who they favour and one squarely within their own territory. Expect to see a Slark, a Centaur Warrunner, a Visage something to take that skill and versatility and run with it.

As I said above, iG are going to be a tough matchup for them. But if LGD were ever going to pull a pocket strategy out of nowhere, this is the match where we'll see it. Everything is on the line, and LGD have worked very, very hard to get this far. The odds are against them, but their star has only been rising since the beginning of the tournament. It may well be that it's got further to go yet.

Phew! That concludes this look at the competitive Dota scene on the eve of The International 2014. For more of our coverage, bookmark the tag page.

PC Gamer's coverage of The International 2014 is brought to you by SteelSeries. From July 18th through July 21st, all Dota 2 and team gear is 25% off. While supplies last.

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