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Ask PC Gamer is our weekly question and advice column. Have a burning question about the smoke coming out of your PC? Send your problems to letters@pcgamer.com.

Do I sit too close to my monitor? I usually lean in a lot when I'm playing games. — P.D.

Tough question with limited information. Maybe you're leaning in, but your chair is 150 feet from your desk. In that case, you're probably too far away from your monitor. But if your chair is in a normal position, like, right next to your desk, then you're probably too close. The typical advice is to sit at least an arm's length away from your monitor.

I covered some eye strain related topics in a previous Ask PC Gamer, and there's good advice in there (because I'm very good at eye advice—ask anyone). We've also gone over the best desk chairs, with a video guide featuring ergonomics expert Melissa Afterman (embedded above). She says your knees ought to be at about 90 degrees, or your elbows in line with your desk. You also want to be close enough to your keyboard that your elbows are near the side of your body, as reaching too much puts strain on your upper back. The mouse, says Afterman, should be as close to your keyboard as possible.

As for monitors, you want your eyebrows to meet the top-third of the screen so you aren't tilting your chin up. And as for distance, like I said, about an arm's length is good.

I do share this problem, though. When I'm working, I tend to lean in way too close to my display to read. And when I'm playing games, I tend to sit forward, especially if it's a competitive game. I now keep my keyboard right at the edge of my desk so I don't lean in. I've put stuff behind it, in front of my monitor, so I don't move it back. What I'm saying is that my desk is messy, but it has helped curb the habit. If I can't move my keyboard back, I can't lean in without putting my arms in an uncomfortable position.

If you're having eye strain problems, I recommend, first of all, having an eye exam. You might be sitting close to your monitor because you need corrective lenses. Another tip: try using F.lux to change the color temperature of your monitor when the sun goes down. I swear by it.

PC Gamer

NOW PLAYING

In Now Playing PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today, Andy protects and serves in GTA 5.

Now that Grand Theft Auto V is available on PC, the modding community is coming up with some amazing stuff. There are some silly ones, like being able to play the game as a cow, and some that fundamentally change how the game plays. My favourite so far is Police Mod by a modder called Dehan. It reverses the traditional GTA roles and lets you play as a cop, fighting crime in Los Santos and Blaine County. It s not quite as fully featured as IV s brilliant LCPD mod—yet—but it s still pretty fun. 

Hit F3 after installing the mod and a menu pops up, letting you go on duty. You can choose from every type of cop in the game, from highway patrol to FIB agents. Then you can spawn a police vehicle, including bikes, choppers, and even the snow-covered cars from the prologue. Cars magically appear in front of you, and you can spawn as many as you like. You can even spawn AI-controlled partners who ll follow you around, shooting at anyone who attacks you. 

A "massacre" spawns a load of gun-toting madmen who randomly attack civilians.

From the mod menu you can access callouts , which generates a crime somewhere nearby and sets an objective marker. It s best to do this in the city, though, because whenever I tried it in the country, the suspects would spawn somewhere weird, like at the top of a hill in the middle of nowhere. Callouts range from stopping a speeder who s tearing around in an Infernus, to intervening in a massacre —which basically spawns a load of gun-toting madmen who randomly attack civilians. You can t arrest perps at this stage, so all you can really do is kill em. The ability to force them to drop their weapons, or even just zap them with a taser, would be welcome. 

Another option in the mod menu is to spawn objects, such as barriers and traffic cones. I try and set up a roadblock with them, but cars just drive through them. I have so many cones cluttering the road at one point, that a bus drives through them and is immediately pinged into the air. I never see it again. There isn t much point to this option at the moment, but hopefully Dehan will expand on it in future updates. I decide to just focus on the callouts. I am the rain that will wash away the scum of Los Santos, I tell myself. But then I crash my squad car into a gas station and die horribly. 

It s weird being on the other side of the law. As I curse the goons firing at me, I think about how many times I ve been on the other side of this situation in GTA . The mod is hit and miss. Sometimes the Infernus spawns in the middle of the sea, making it impossible to catch, and there s no notification when you ve cleared an objective. I d like to be able to report back to HQ on my car s radio to finish a mission. But, hey, this mod was made by one person in their spare time. It s cool that it even exists at all. There were claims that using mods in singleplayer was resulting in people being banned from GTA Online , but Rockstar has since denied this. It has no problem with people using mods in story mode. 

Los Santos and Blaine County are such amazing playgrounds, I want to see more of this kind of thing from GTA s army of modders. I want to experience the crime- ridden state of San Andreas from other perspectives. There s already a trucking mod, but I d love to see the city through the eyes of a firefighter or an airline pilot. Sadly I don t have any modding talent whatsoever, so I ll just have to keep my eyes on the community and see what else they come up with. As much fun as I had being a cop, I think, until there s more to interesting things to do in the mod, I ll stay on the wrong side of the law.

PC Gamer

Final Fantasy XII could be getting a remake, if an announcement made by Arnie Roth, the conductor for a Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concert held in Pittsburgh at the weekend, is accurate. Roth isn't really an authority when it comes to Square Enix's release plans, but he did make explicit reference to a "remake" and, well, Square Enix is in the habit of remaking Final Fantasy games. Also: Gamescom is this week.

You can see the announcement in the unofficial fan-captured video below. If Roth is correct and there is a XII game on the agenda, I think it's more likely to be a remaster than a fully-fledged remake. There's also the niggling question of whether it'd make it to PC: Final Fantasy Type-0 is on the way as is the Final Fantasy VII remake but the recent Final Fantasy X remaster isn't. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

PC Gamer

When Doom launches next year it will not support modding beyond the tools offered by SnapMap, Bethesda's Pete Hines has confirmed. SnapMap is the level editor that will launch with Doom in early 2016, and while id Software hasn't outlined the full extent to which the game can be customised with the tools, Hines highlighted some of its strengths and limitations in an interview with GameTrailers.

Everything that we re doing on the mod side will be through SnapMap, Hines said when asked about modding tools in addition to SnapMap. 

"I used the analogy the other day [of] Minecraft. If you just pull any 12 year old and sit them in front of Minecraft, if they don t know what they re doing they could still make something: they can make a smiley face or build themselves a house. But if you put it in the hands of someone who knows what they re doing, they can recreate Zelda in Minecraft. 

"The SnapMap tools are much the same. Give it to anybody and they can do simple stuff, but the complex stuff all those things that used to be super-complicated the idea is that there's enough complexity and depth there that you can do all this scripting stuff, and make new gameplay modes. It s got this really steep high end, but you don t have to jump right to it like you do with the [previous] Doom tools."

Still, SnapMap won't be as flexible as previous Doom modding tools or even Minecraft, with the editor seemingly incapable of recreating outdoor environments. When asked whether it would be possible to make Doom 4 through SnapMap, Hines said: "I don t want to say yes for sure because of some of the outdoor stuff we do and how that works, this is more an interior thing."

When asked if it would be possible to recreate, say, Duke Nukem 3D levels, Hines elaborated.

"Some of the stuff [we showed at] E3 with the Foundry, where you ve got these massive open spaces, SnapMap isn t something that s saying 'here, build this cavernous interior space'," Hines said. "It s more about the stuff you saw in multiplayer it s tighter. You re not worried about building an interior space that s 30 stories high and half a mile across."

While SnapMap's UI on PC will be different to the Xbox One and PS4 versions, the functionality will remain the same. Users can share content cross-platform via Bethesda.net, though as expected, cross-platform play will not be supported. The full interview is worth watching if you want more details on SnapMap's toolset. 

Doom launches in early 2016. Here are Ian's hands-on impressions of the game.

PC Gamer

I'm no stickler for realism in video games, but it did annoy me that I couldn't destroy and burn furniture in The Long Dark. In a game that prizes improvisation under duress, I didn't understand why I couldn't just burn everything in the name of staying warm. Well, now I can. The game's major v.256 update introduces sweeping changes to almost every aspect of the game, and burning furniture is one of them. Hurray.

That's really quite minor in the wide scheme of things, because most aspects of the game have been tweaked with v.256. Foraging has been overhauled, and you can now harvest fuel directly from objects in the game world. Running has been simplified too, in the sense that you can't do it anymore: walking has been sped up slightly, and sprinting incurs both stamina and fatigue penalties. 

Full update notes can be seen on the Steam page, or you could watch the video below, which conveniently demonstrates all of the major changes in-game.

PC Gamer

Really quite good platforming roguelike Catacomb Kids has been making do with just two character classes since it appeared on Early Access a few months ago, so it's about time developers FourbitFriday added another one. They've done just that, obviously, supplementing its Poet and Bully classes with the Wanderer (basically the game's agile hunter class, capable of tracking enemies and using a sort of detective mode to scan the environment). Catacomb Kids is also 20% off on SteamItch.io and Humble Bundle (though the discount isn't live there yet) for the next week.

Update 0.0.10 (man, it sounds like there's a long way to go yet) also promises "more deadliness", "better level generation", peg legs, vicious dog enemies and more. My copy of the game has just been automagically updated on Steam, so there's your confirmation that the update has hit. I've had a quick go, and I like the cut of the Wanderer's vision-mode-having jib.

You can read the full patch notes for the update here.

PC Gamer

Last month, Terraria got its largest update in nearly two years. The 1.3 update was the third major content drop the game has received since it launched in 2011, with dozens of additional updates in between—including a Halloween update and a Christmas update, both of which brought end-game events that are now staples of Terraria's progression. The 1.3 update finally added what developer Re-Logic has called a "final boss" to the game, so I was curious what the future of Terraria held. I caught up with Andrew "Redigit" Spinks, the CEO and Lead Developer at Re-Logic, to talk about what's next for Terraria, mod support, a creative mode, Terraria 2, and yoyos.

PC Gamer: How did the rollout of the 1.3 update go?

Andrew "Redigit" spinks

Andrew "Redigit" Spinks: The launch of 1.3 went better than any of us expected. It is actually out performing our last major update. There were a few bugs that cropped up here and there but we were able to fix a majority of them relatively fast.

How much larger would you say Terraria is now than when it was first launched? (How many new items, enemies, etc.)

Spinks: Since the release of 1.0 we have added 2,827 items, 490 creatures, and loads of new content/features/mechanics. We have made a lot of improvements to the engine and added a lot of new backgrounds and world gen variations. It is crazy how far this game has come since release. It feels like a completely different game now.

Why did you decide to support the game for so long? Why not release DLC or expansions?

Spinks: Making Terraria was always about making a game that I wanted to play. Every time I would think we were done we always found new inspiration to come back and add to the game. Our community has been really good to us and we felt the need to return the favor.

Did you ever consider charging for extra content?

Spinks: No, not really. As a gamer I have never really been a fan of paid DLC.

A teaser image from 1.3's new end-game event. No spoilers!

1.3 added a final boss to Terraria, does that mean the game is actually finished. Is it finally at the point you had originally envisioned it?

Spinks: I was never happy with the idea of Terraria not having a final boss. This will likely be the end of the game's progression, but we do intend to continue updating. There is a lot we can do without pushing progression further. We have a lot of ideas for new mechanics and alternate biomes.

If Steam Early Access had been around in 2011, would Terraria have been an Early Access game? Or did your ambition with the game grow after its release?

Spinks: I would not have done Early Access had that been an option. I would have continued to work on the game until I felt it was ready for release. Because Terraria was leaked, I felt forced to release the game sooner than I would have liked and worked towards getting it to my ideal release state.

I d heard that 1.3 will be the last major content update to Terraria, is that true? If so, why?

Spinks: This will be the last update that I work on personally so it is hard to say what the future holds. That decision will be left up to the team that continues to work on Terraria. We like the idea of switching to smaller more frequent updates moving forward.

We have always felt that Mod Support would be the best final update to Terraria so that the community could keep the game alive.

Any idea of how frequently?

Spinks: Not yet, this is something we will play by ear. It is very dependent on what the team wants to add at the time. If anything, I would say every 1-3 months. We are hitting a limit within the engine so we need to be careful about how we add things.

What s next for Terraria?

Spinks: Terraria will continue to be updated and be expanded upon. Before we finish we would like to look into mod support as well as creative mode. We have always felt that Mod Support would be the best final update to Terraria so that the community could keep the game alive. I think it is great that we have such a passionate community interested in expanding on our game.

Now that 1.3 is done, will you be switching focus to Terraria 2? Can you share any details on it or how it will differ from Terraria?

Spinks: Now that Terraria is done I would like to start working on a new project that is not Terraria 2. I already have a lot of plans and ideas for Terraria 2, but that will be much later.

Can you share anything about that new project?

Spinks: I want to make a game that is very modular, that includes mod support, and makes it very easy for players to add their own content.

An early screenshot of Terraria: Otherworld, which is different from Terraria 2.

How does Terraria: Otherworld factor into your plans for Terraria and Terraria 2?

Spinks: Terraria: Otherworld is more to show another take on Terraria, whereas Terraria 2 will expand upon Terraria much more.

Do you plan to do a similar release and update pattern for your next games? What do you plan to do differently?

Spinks: We will likely stick to this same model since it worked so well for Terraria. I would rather put out games that are more polished than Terraria was at the initial release.

Out of curiosity, can you talk about the addition of One-Drop YoYos to Terraria, and now the creation of a physical Terraria yoyo. That seems like an unexpected partnership, how did it come about?

Spinks: I have been throwing for years and One Drop made some of my favorite yoyos. When I went to add them to the game I thought it would be really cool to add some of the yoyos I have in real life. Once that conversation started we both thought it was a good idea to make the end game yoyo real. I am beyond excited about this partnership.

Thanks very much for your time, Andrew.

PC Gamer

There's a new trailer for Superhot. Sorry, I mean SUPERHOT. Sorry, I mean SUPER. HOT. SUPER. HOT. SUPER. H—and, once again, it's another super exciting video showing off more time-dilated manshooting, gunchucking and abstract violence. It's like F.E.A.R. meets Frozen Synapse! Sort of!

There's a new trailer because the (seemingly unnamed) development team have just released a beta version to people that backed the game on Kickstarter for $40 or over. Here they are talking about that in a Kickstarter update:

"Ladies and gentlemen, we re hyped to announce that the beta has just been sent out to everyone eligible! Thank you one more time for your awesome support and trust, for spreading the word of SUPERHOT and for all the love we got from you! This is a great day for us, and I hope it will be a great day for you too, once you find the SUPERHOT beta steam-key in your email inbox and activate it in the steam app!

"Take your time and enjoy it! And once you're done, let us know if you liked it! Either by sending us an email, tweeting or on the secret backer forum. Also, feel free to post screenshots / videos of the beta if you'd like to, we're cool with that.

"Note that the beta is limited, we only send it to the people who pledged the $40 tier and above. We re a bit shy to release an unfinished game, but were doing it exclusively for you! There is no way to buy into the beta."

There's a playable prototype available on the site if you didn't pledge that much (or at all), but it's a bit basic compared to the footage above, and doesn't look nearly as nice. Superhot doesn't yet have a release date, but it's coming, and it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.

PC Gamer

Modders have been demonstrating what they can do with GTA 5 almost since the moment the game launched, and they're not showing any signs of slowing down. Case in point: the GTA 5 RPG mod by LogicSpawn, which turns the game's story mode into an RPG complete with quests, skill trees, crafting, and dialogue options.

With the mod installed, press the Y key to activate it. You'll be treated to a little opening sequence, and then you'll have to make some choices about what kind of character you'd like to play. Then you'll access a character creation screen where you can customize your look, choosing between tons of different models and outfits. You can also plays as Michael, Franklin, or Trevor, or as your online character, if you'd prefer.

From there, you'll get a couple simple tutorial missions, and then you'll be directed to meet a contact (there's an icon on your map) and start accepting quests. Quest givers and merchants appear on your minimap, and there are even dialogue options when you approach them. 

There's a custom menu that allows you to check on the progress of your missions, see what's in your inventory, and craft items like health kits and armor. As you play and complete objectives, you can upgrade your talents using a skill tree.

The mod is still in its early stages and I did encounter a few bugs and a crash or two. One character I created was completely invisible, so I had to start over. One contract I accepted, to grease a collection of goons, didn't seem to recognize that I'd killed all the targets shown on the map. Another character of mine spawned in Michael's house along with his personal vehicle, which wasn't especially convenient. Luckily, once outside (I had to leave out the back) I was able to respawn it. Bugs aside, it's a really clever mod with a lot of neat ideas, and I look forward to seeing it progress.

As with many of GTA 5's mods, the RPG mod requires ScriptHookV and Community ScripthookV. They've both been updated within the past month, so make sure you download the most current versions if you haven't recently, or you may have trouble getting the RPG mod to function properly.

Thanks to Evan at Kotaku!

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.

Skip to a section by opening the links below in a new tab, or just use the page forward and back buttons above.

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!, MaybeOrigin: ChinaHeroes to look out for: Io, Anti-Mage, Dazzle, LinaEmotional 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, ALOHADANCEOrigin: Russia/UkraineHeroes to look out for: Bloodseeker, Magnus, Nightstalker, assorted pubstompers, AxeEmotional 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, ShikiOrigin: ChinaHeroes to look out for: Bounty Hunter, Broodmother, Visage, EarthshakerEmotional 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-, MiSeRyOrigin: North America/EuropeHeroes to look out for: Anti-Mage, Io, Batrider, Earthshaker, Meepo, BeastmasterEmotional 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, Suma1LOrigin: North AmericaHeroes to look out for: Clockwerk, Dazzle, Storm Spirit, Techies, whatever Fear is playing todayEmotional 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, FlyOrigin: Americas/IsraelHeroes to look out for: Dark Seer, Nature's Prophet, Sven, TechiesEmotional 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, ArteezyOrigin: North America/EuropeHeroes to look out for: Anti-Mage, Techies, Broodmother, Rubick, ChenEmotional 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, DDCOrigin: ChinaHeroes to look out for: Razor, Winter Wyvern, Earthshaker, ClockwerkEmotional 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, NutZOrigin: South KoreaHeroes to look out for: Naga Siren, Queen of Pain, Ember Spirit, Spirit BreakerEmotional 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, SanShengOrigin: ChinaHeroes to look out for: Dragon Knight, Disruptor, Ember Spirit, LinaEmotional 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, fyOrigin: ChinaHeroes to look out for: Sand King, Bounty Hunter, Rubick, TuskEmotional 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, ArtStyleOrigin: Russia/UkraineHeroes to look out for: Earthshaker, Gyrocopter, Tusk, Dazzle, Storm Spirit, Pudge why notEmotional 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, fngOrigin: Russia/Ukraine/BelarusHeroes to look out for: fng's lovely hair, Earthshaker, Silencer, Shadow Shaman, LycanEmotional 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, JoHnNyOrigin: MalaysiaHeroes to look out for: Queen of Pain, Bane, Centaur Warrunner, Templar AssassinEmotional 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, FaithOrigin: ChinaHeroes to look out for: Enchantress, Anti-Mage, Storm Spirit, RubickEmotional 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, HeenOrigin: South Korea/FinlandHeroes to look out for: Lina, Clockwerk, Bloodseeker, Zeus, OmniknightEmotional 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

Tough choice, but I'm going with a moment that confused the casters as much as the players—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 later 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 instantly teleport short distances, 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

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