Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The openness of PC gaming allows anyone to contribute, from modders, Twitch streamers, and two-man dev teams to the biggest game studios in the world. But with no real regulator at the helm to set and enforce standards, it also means that everyone has shared ownership of the platform, opening the door to abuse, troublemakers, and scandal.

Pour a glass of dramamine and revisit the finest flubs that graced PC gaming this year. From least-most controversial to most-most controversial, these are the stories that drew the greatest negative reaction from the PC gaming community in 2016.

Scorched Earth added a ton of new stuff: new creatures like the deathworm and the mantis, new features, over 50 new items, and the centerpiece, six desert biomes.

ARK: Scorched Earth

The pressure on Steam's Early Access program has only increased since its introduction in March 2013. Although Early Access has yielded excellent games like Darkest Dungeon, Don't Starve, Offworld Trading Company, Subnautica, Divinity: Original Sin, Infinifactory, RimWorld, and Kerbal Space Program, some PC gamers remain reluctant to buy into unfinished games and the uncertainty that the Early Access label sometimes carries.

In September, Studio Wildcard dealt a blow to Early Access' reputation when it released Scorched Earth, the first paid expansion for Ark: Survival Evolved. At $20, it was two-thirds the cost of the base game. Many fans were unhappy to see a game that was by definition unfinished getting post-release content. On the third most-popular post on the Ark subreddit ever, one fan criticized: "We paid for the developers to finish Ark: Survival Evolved, instead they took our money and made another game with it." Studio Wildcard defended its decision saying that implementing an expansion early would make the technical process easier for future expansions.

More reading: Ark: Survival Evolved dev responds to paid expansion controversyValve must take greater ownership over Steam's Early Access program

Nostalrius could accommodate as many as 11,000 concurrent players.


Vanilla WoW (that is, a pre-expansion version of World of Warcraft) has remained a popular way to play the most popular MMO of all time. As Angus wrote in April, "Nostalrius is a time capsule: a beautifully nostalgic record of what a living world used to look like. It's a museum piece created by passionate fans with no official alternative." 

But it's against WoW's terms of service to operate an independent game server, even if that server takes no money from its community. In April Blizzard issued a cease-and-desist against Nostalrius, WoW's biggest vanilla server, which boasted 150,000 active players. The forecast was grim: Blizzard had shut down other vanilla servers before, and it felt unlikely that the internet petition that sprung up in response was going to reverse the action against Nostalrius.

The server owners complied, shutting down Nostalrius in April, but the fight wasn't done. Shortly after, they managed a face-to-face meeting with Blizzard to press their case for the value of vanilla WoW. "After this meeting, we can affirm that these guys WANT to have legacy WoW servers, that is for sure," wrote a Nostalrius admin.

The story continued to develop as members of the Nostalrius team, seemingly uncontent with Blizzard's lack of discussion about the issue at BlizzCon, announced their plans to bring back the server under a new banner, Elysium. Barring some change of heart by Blizzard, Elysium itself stands a decent chance of also getting shut down. But the resurrection of Nostalrius puts greater pressure on Blizzard to permit vanilla servers, lest it be embroiled in another battle with a big piece of the WoW community.

More reading: Inside the WoW server Blizzard wants to shut down

The revised victory pose.

Blizzard's buttroversy

Debate about the portrayal of videogame butts came to a head in 2016 when, in a lengthy post on the forums, player Fipps complained about a victory pose for Tracer, Overwatch's speedy and spunky attacker.

“I have a young daughter that everyday when I wake up wants to watch the Recall trailer again," Fipps wrote. "She knows who Tracer is, and as she grows up, she can grow up alongside these characters. What I'm asking is that as you continue to add to the Overwatch cast and investment elements, you double down on your commitment to create strong female characters. You've been doing a good job so far, but shipping with a tracer pose like this undermines so much of the good you've already done.”

Blizzard agreed, and promised to amend the pose. “We want *everyone* to feel strong and heroic in our community. The last thing we want to do is make someone feel uncomfortable, under-appreciated or misrepresented,” game director Jeff Kaplan wrote. 

Then came criticism that Kaplan was caving to criticism, or worse 'censoring' Overwatch in response to a complaint. "We understand that not everyone will agree with our decision, and that’s okay," he wrote in a second update. "That’s what these kinds of public tests are for. This wasn’t pandering or caving, though. This was the right call from our perspective, and we think the game will be just as fun the next time you play it."

Lost in the pile of this was how civil the original critique was. "My main complaint is that there is no facet of Tracer's silly/spunky/kind personality in the pose. It's just a generic butt shot. I don't see how that's positive for the game," wrote Fipps in the original post. I continue to agree that the pose wasn't Blizzard's best. Really, the reaction to the reaction was bigger, as it fed into a wider conversation around sexualized characters, feminism, inclusiveness, player criticism and other issues in games.

More reading: Overwatch victory pose cut after fan complains that it's over-sexualized

We loved Forza Horizon 3, but not the UWP strings it's attached to.

Microsoft's UWP

Microsoft's latest courtship of PC gaming continues to be a mixture of good and bad. We loved Forza Horizon 3, liked Gears 4, and found Halo 5: Forge to be surprisingly great. But on the operating system side, things weren't all blue skies and green fields for PC gamers in 2016. 

In March, Microsoft asserted its plan to bring its biggest games to Windows through its Universal Windows Platform, a set of standards and restrictions meant to, in Microsoft's eyes, make it easier to publish applications across multiple Windows devices, improve security, and help developers write code under a more unified platform. Those modest benefits are outweighed massively by the danger of Windows becoming more of a closed platform.

Among game companies, Epic Games CEO and co-founder Tim Sweeney was the most outspoken critic of UWP. In March, Sweeney labeled the initiative "a closed, Microsoft-controlled distribution and commerce monopoly," and called for others in the industry to oppose it. Sweeney didn't miss the opportunity to level more harsh words later in 2016. "Slowly, over the next five years, they will force-patch Windows 10 to make Steam progressively worse and more broken," he warned in July.

More reading:Epic CEO Tim Sweeney pummels Microsoft's UWP initiativePhil Spencer on Microsoft's PC plans: "I wouldn’t say our strategy is to unify"

CS:GO's in-game items sparked multiple scandals.

CS:GO skin gambling

The stage for 2016's skin gambling debacle was set three years earlier, when Valve rolled out cosmetic microtransactions for CS:GO. These items could be traded, sold, and bought through Steam for as much as $400—the maximum listing price on the Steam Community Market. It didn't take long for questionable, unlicensed third-party websites to realize they could use Steam bot accounts to automate item winnings and losings, and it didn't take long for dozens of flavors of skin gambling to spring up as CS:GO peaked in popularity.

The lowest point so far in a story that continues to develop, though, was the revelation that two very popular YouTubers showed themselves winning thousands of dollars of items on a site called CSGO Lotto without mentioning or indicating in any way that they were the creators of CSGO Lotto. Oops. Exposed, TmarTn offered a pitiful apology, saying that his relationship with had been "been a matter of public record since the company was first organized in December of 2015," presumably meaning that a public record existed of his co-ownership of the shady gambling website for someone else to uncover.

There's no definitive verdict on the legality of in-game item gambling at this time, but you can expect the issue to continue to be explored in 2017.

More reading:YouTuber owner of CS:GO betting site offers worst apology ever CS:GO’s controversial skin gambling, explained

A beautiful alien dinosaur that existed only as marketing.

No Man's Sky

It was a perfect, ugly storm of some of the least-appealing trends in modern gaming: unchecked hype, unfinished games, last-minute review code, bland procedural generation, and misleading marketing.

Before that, though, heavy, sincere anticipation had formed around No Man's Sky. Here was a game from a small studio with an impossible promise: 18 quintillion planets, procedurally-generated wildlife, infinite exploration. In trailers, it looked like a massive step forward for the stagnating survival genre. To help Hello Games achieve these lofty designs, it had the backing of a major publisher in Sony. And No Man's Sky was delightfully mysterious, so much so that we were still answering fundamental questions about the game a month before launch, thanks to limited access to code. At a preview event, Chris was allowed to play for less than an hour

Concerning signs came in the days before release. A significant day-one patch was on the way to fix major exploits. The PC release date itself wasn't announced until very late. A player who acquired a leaked copy of the game was able to reach the center of this allegedly near-infinite galaxy very quickly. And in a strange move, Hello Games wrote a blog warning players about the game one day before its launch on PlayStation 4. "This maybe isn’t the game you *imagined* from those trailers," wrote Sean Murray in a blog post that outlined, from his perspective, what the space game was and was not. "I expect it to be super divisive."

It was more than that. But initially, No Man's Sky became the biggest launch on Steam of 2016, hitting 212,620 concurrent players on PC. That's more than double the all-time peak of 2015 phenomenon Rocket League. In short order, the mystery unraveled. Two players, livestreaming simultaneously on launch day, could not see one another despite reaching the same location. The limitations of the game's procedural generation were revealed, as players shared screens and video of samey-looking aliens. And the hope that somewhere, cool, custom snake monsters were prowling the universe, disappeared. Players urged other players to seek refunds, and No Man's Sky's concurrent players sunk. Hello Games went quiet.

Our reviewer, Chris Livingston, recaps the rest of the saga perfectly in our lows of the year:

And then there was the reaction to the reaction: Hello Games went utterly silent for a couple of months. While I understand the reasoning—when everything you've ever said is suddenly under intense scrutiny, it makes sense to be careful saying anything else—the impenetrable silence only made matters worse, as fans felt they had been completely abandoned and ignored. At least things have gotten better recently, with new features added in the Foundation update, and the promise of more changes to come in the future.

There are lessons to be learned on all sides. Devs: keep in mind that no one ever forgets what you say during development, and while it's fine to talk about the elements you hope to put in your game, you're going to hear about it if those things aren't actually there when you release it. Plus, completely shutting off all communication with the people who have bought your game is a terrible idea. As customers, we need to remain skeptical of early E3 trailers, bullshots, pre-launch hype, and be especially cautious about pre-ordering games. And, we need to be patient. Even if developers aren't talking, they're listening, and adding new features to a game takes time.

Ultimately, it was a pleasantly chill, but underwhelming neon planet generator that became the poster child of many of the things we dislike. The lingering thought is how differently things would've gone if No Man's Sky had released in Early Access as a $20 or $30 beta.

More reading: The anatomy of hypeFive reasons game marketing can be misleading

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Photo credit: Helena Kristiansson/ESL

2015 had its fair share of spectacular moments, but this year has seen the combination of individual skill with copious amounts of luck taken to whole new heights. From airborne multikills to superb finales, here are some of this year’s standout moments for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

Death has wings

If this year left you feeling cold, that could only be a good sign: as Luminosity Gaming’s Marcelo 'coldzera' David demonstrated. In the first half of this year, LG (now SK Gaming) were carving a path through the best teams in the world. Running into Team Liquid in the semifinals of the MLG Columbus Major, they hit a bit of a bump. At 15-9 down, coldzera was the sole line of defence standing between Liquid and Mirage’s B-bombsite. As it turned out, he was all the defence LG needed.

Landing a jumping double-kill noscope is an unlikely prospect at the best of times, but for coldzera to pull it off and another two kills to save match point at a Major? Phenomenal. The blow proved too much for Liquid, who went on to lose the game in overtime. The full final can be found here.

The event has since been immortalized on the map with artwork of a winged AWP. You can find it tucked in by the van on the B-bombsite. Coldzera was such a fan of the piece that he commissioned a tattoo artist to recreate it.

Simple sniping

The AWP sniper rifle is Counter-Strike’s most iconic gun, recognisable instantly by its thunderous boom. If you think yourself an expert, however, let Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev enlighten you with some less conventional uses.

Left in a 1v1 with his opponent holed up in Dust2’s B-bombsite, s1mple throws both caution and his AWP to the wind in an audacious play. By hurling a massive gun over the wall, his opponent is distracted just long enough for s1mple to push in and take the round with a pistol.

S1mple is no stranger to making bold plays and, clearly envious of coldzera’s success, he couldn’t help but pull of his own spectacular noscope kills. Taking an aggressive 1v2 fight, Simple drops from Heaven on Cache’s B-bombsite, sniper in hand. Hitting one player on the way down, he then follows up with an absurd unscoped shot on the remaining terrorist. Map creator FMPONE was quick to mock up some artistic graffiti for the level, a change since added by Valve. Matching coldzera, s1mple had the work tattooed onto his arm.

The best grand final: Luminosity Gaming vs. G2, ESL Pro League Season 3 

The best grand final: Luminosity Gaming vs. G2, ESL Pro League Season 3The ESL Pro League Season 3 Grand Final hosted Brazilians Luminosity against the French G2 in a sublime five match finale. Taking place in May, LG were still riding high off their MLG Colombus Major victory. G2—after barely scraping through qualification— produced an underdog tale for the books, dominating the group stage before besting Fnatic in the semifinals. The final heralded one of the best series in years.

Map five honoured Inferno with a fitting send off before its removal and eventual rework by Valve. Despite the map holding a heavy CT-bias, the two teams traded round after round in a brutal slugfest each half. Both sides so evenly matched, it took a heart-stopping overtime finish to establish a champion. Best of five series are extremely rare these days in CS, and the ESL Pro League proved just how much of a spectacle they can offer. If you’d like to start from the beginning, game one can be found here.

A first for North America: Cloud9 win the ESL Pro League 

Following the brilliant performance of SK Gaming, the standard of competition in North America (NA) has been driven to new heights. Everyone from Team Liquid to CLG has had their moment to shine, but none quite managed to capitalise on a large international win. Fortunately, when America needed a saviour, old favourites Cloud9 stepped up to the mantle. Ousting the defending champions SK gaming 2-1, they became the first NA team to win the ESL Pro League and claim the greater share of the $600,000 prize pool.

A recent acquisition for C9, Timothy "autimatic" Ta gave an exemplary account, rising to the challenge time after time to dismantle SK. Following C9’s success, OpTic Gaming have taken the ELEAGUE Season 2 crown, increasing NA’s foothold on the international circuit. With a foot firmly in the door, the American fanbase can anticipate an exciting year to come.

Fail of the year

For every success in CS there will always be an accompanying failure, and some provide far more entertainment than others. Topping the list this year could be no other than Splyce’s stand-in, Jaryd "summit1g" Lazar. At match point, 15-12, summit is left in a tense 1v1 against CLG’s FugLy. After a short exchange, FugLy falls and Summit needs only defuse the bomb to claim victory.  With the match all but over, the production cut to Splyce’s booth in time to see the team erupt with an outburst of confusion and hilarity. Cut back to the game and we find summit has somehow died, earning CLG the round...

Oh dear. Elated in victory, summit runs over his own molotov, taking a staggering 40 damage to kill himself.  Adding insult to injury, CLG then went on to recover the match, beating Splyce in overtime 19-16. He may be a successful streamer, but summit is also likely to be the only player who managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The full match is available here.

Unusual entertainment

2016 also saw a number of bizarre occurrences play out:

Running on RNG

2016 has also seen interest in CS rise in the Eastern market, with China’s Tyloo asserting themselves on the international stage by knocking world champions Luminosity Gaming out of the Dreamhack Masters Malmo. Making their way into the quarterfinals, Tyloo were met by the might of NaVi. At 12-8 down, Tyloo attacked Inferno’s B-bombsite, producing an incredibly unconventional and unquestionably lucky AK headshot to take secure the plant.

Jumping over the first set of boxes, Hui "DD" Wu annihilates Navi’s AWPer with a single shot. Likely just looking for positional information, DD rolled the dice and came out on top, though NaVi would later take the match. The full game can be found here.

Moments like this are unlikely to be forgotten anytime soon, but the ELEAGUE Atlanta Major is just around the corner in 2017. Pitting the top teams against each other for a million dollar prize pool, CS fans will soon witness what the best of the best can be expected to achieve in the coming year. 

Dota 2

 Three's the magic number. 2013 is remembered as a charmed year for Dota 2—a high watermark that each subsequent era in the game's life has been measured against. 2014 will always be the year of the eight-minute International grand final, and 2015 gave us both the $6m echo slam and the frustrating, community-fracturing relaunch of the game with the Reborn update.

With that in mind, I think 2016 might have them all beat. This was an absolutely phenomenal year for Dota 2, from the spectacle of the pro scene to the metagame to the surprises that come from Valve's 'sure let's add VR why not' attitude to ongoing development. Dota 2 has never been more dramatic, a more open field of competition, more busted (Shanghai) or more polished (Seattle). It's never been more balanced and it's never been weirder, and somewhere between those two extreme's you'll find the game's soul.

So, yeah: this might have been the single greatest year in the history of the greatest competitive videogame on the planet*. Good job, 2016.

[*Other valid options are available, and these other games will get their own 2016 roundups. But I'm the editor and it's Christmas and I'll say what I please.]

A shambles in Shanghai

There was a time when these team intros were almost the silliest thing at the Shanghai Major. It didn't last.

Just as the professional community ran out of disasters to report from late 2015's World Cyber Arena, The Shanghai Major became the first Dota 2 event to fall down and not be able to get back up.

It was a technical catastrophe, with a new production team parachuted in at the 11th hour to rescue the event at one of China's most prestigious venues. This was coupled with one of Valve's most bizarre community management snafus yet—the highly public firing of panel host James '2GD' Harding, by Gabe Newell, on Reddit.

I wrote about the controversy in greater detail at the time, but the short version is this: while Valve's disinterest in traditionally corporate, shareholder-appeasing PR management is frequently laudable, this was not the play. Valve moved against the community's wishes for good reason, but couched it in such personal language that many took it personally. It's a testament to how well they've handled almost everything else this year that Shanghai feels like such a distant memory.

It wasn't all bad. The tournament itself was great, all told, with a run of fantastic moments that demonstrated that the game itself was entering a vibrant new phase. But when managers are getting trapped in offices and Gabe's on Reddit calling someone an ass, it's easy to forget that.

Magnificence in Moscow and Manila

Things took a sharp upturn after Shanghai, however. Both Epicenter in Moscow and May and the Manila Major in June were great showings for the game from a production standpoint. The former had a dynamic stage themed after the Roshan pit and the latter had, among other things, Game of Thrones' Kristian 'Hodor' Nairn literally holding the door for OG.

Look, I never said that any of this was going to make sense.

OG's win at both events ensured that they were the team to beat going into the International 2016, and their journey from Frankfurt underdogs to the very centre of the Dota 2 establishment in only a few months is a story all to itself. There's loads more to say about this period, from the faltering rise of Korean Dota in the form of the much-loved, hyper-aggressive MVP Phoenix to Newbee's extraordinary 29-game winning streak, which was brought to a close by OG at Epicenter.

Rosterpocalypse now 

Despite the introduction of a formalised roster lock system, reshuffle drama was still a major factor in the life of Dota 2 in 2016. Earlier in the year headlines were dominated by EG and Secret, whose ongoing game of musical chairs saw Aui_2000 booted from EG for the second time in a year and w33ha and Misery rendered teamless only days before Manila.

Then there's the scene-wide carnage of the post-International reshuffle, a tradition since 2014 that this year completely overhauled vast swathes of the Dota 2 landscape, from OG to Secret to Alliance and so on.

Yet in some ways the politicking of the professional community—and the waning influence of the old esports orgs in favour of player-owned teams—has given the year most of its best stories. DC's triumphant rise at the International is a Cinderella story that begins with its captain and midlaner being kicked out of Secret in March. Wings and Ad Finem both demonstrated that while the game's established elite are firing Twitlongers at each other, new talent can and will rise up to overthrow the old order.

Virtual insanity

Oh right, yeah: this was also the year that Valve added virtual reality spectating to Dota. It's both spectacular and kind of useless in practical terms, but I'm profoundly glad that it exists. I spent a weird evening sitting on the floor of my office watching Na'Vi vs. TNC from the ground level: hiding behind trees during teamfights, jumping up and down to warn Dendi of danger, and so on. It's exactly the kind of weird shit that I'd have joked about Valve adding to the game on a slow Thursday afternoon last year (in fact I did) and now it's real. Wonderful.

An incredible International

As a previous member of the 'KeyArena is never going to give us an International as good as Benaroya Hall in 2013' society, I have to respectfully admit that I was wrong. This year's main event was the best Valve have run and arguably one of the best contests in the history of the game.

Let's start with production: Valve nailed it, from the tone of the panel—which we'll get to in a second—to the stream and the stunning projection effects in the arena. They used AR to project life-size heroes onto the stage on the screens and during the analysis sections. They opened the show with Lindsey Stirling and closed it with an orchestra, first revealing Underlord and then shocking the community with the announcement of the first Dota 2-exclusive hero, Monkey King, via martial arts dance performance. Somehow, they managed to make whatever infrastructure changes were necessary to ensure that 2015's DDOS drama did not repeat itself.

It's hard to know how to sum up the tournament itself: I wrote 20,000 words about it at the time, after all. I'll start with the highlights: EHOME vs. EG, above, is the best game of professional Dota ever played. Bar none. It is the story of defending champions holding on by their fingertips for 75 long minutes. I've never been more exhausted or more elated by a videogame in any context.

Then you've got EG vs. DC, one of the best series of the year both in terms of play and the narrative that it sustains. DC were seen as a team of rejects, casualties of last-minute roster politics and either a second tier NA team or a second tier EU team depending on whether you ask a NA or EU fan. When they beat EG, the defending champions and the conquerors of EHOME, it was a statement.

DC retained a remarkable sense of fun even as their journey took them further than anyone expected. In a tournament partly notable for its remarkable meta, where only six heroes remained unpicked going into the final day, DC decided to throw caution to the wind and pick Jakiro in the lower bracket finals of the goddamn International.

This is to say nothing of Wings, the true masters of the meta (or at least, the absence of one). Their willingness to draft whatever, whenever and make it sing made them worthy champions. Standout performances by iceice and shadow closed out a phenomenal first year for this young team: last August, Wings didn't exist. Now they're world champions.

I forgot to mention TNC. Or MVP Phoenix. Look, it was a great International, okay? There's a reason it took 20,000 words last time.

Silly season

One of the accusations leveled at Valve in the aftermath of Shanghai was that the studio lacked a sense of humour: that they were set on delivering Dota with the sobriety of a golf tournament. I didn't agree with that assessment of the time—there are many different ways to be funny, and censorship-baiting gags about porn represent only one—and TI6 managed to put the matter to rest for good. They replaced the entire panel with puppets. They replaced the AR tech with a nearby cosplayer. After noting that making Purge explain games with a big touchscreen made him look like a weatherman, they doubled down.

A real sense of fun set in at Valve events this year, and it doesn't detract from the quality of the competition or the drama of those big moments.

A better meta

Thanks again to John Roberts for that amazing gif.

Back when 6.87 launched in April, I warned against the temptation to call each new patch 'the biggest patch ever'.

This was a year of the biggest patches ever.

6.87 brought substantial changes to the way stats scale and thrust Axe into the competitively limelight, as is only correct. It gave Earthshaker his wonderful Aghanim's upgrade, which I will demonstrate here:

...and arguably more importantly, it set us on the road to 6.88, which reigned in 6.87's outliers and in doing so created the most open meta that Dota 2 has ever seen. 95% of heroes picked/banned at The International is an extraordinary number, far in excess of where other MOBAs end up, and an amazing statement about the health of the game. There were issues, particularly with illusions, but damn—it's a small price to pay to see that many heroes viable, that many ways to win available to the best teams.

 Give Pit Lord

They gave Pit Lord! He's now called Underlord. The final unported DotA hero arrived in Dota 2 after the International, 'finishing' Valve's port of the game after five years. In a way, I think the community was more excited about Underlord as a concept than as a hero—he's situational and rarely seen nowadays. Shouting for him was a way of shouting for any kind of update, and giving the slowing rate of Dota 2 updates that's not unreasonable.

Side note: this is actually the first year in the game's history where the rate of hero additions hasn't slowed. We got two heroes in 2015 and we got two in 2016. Whether that's enough is another debate: but at least the number is shrinking by half every year any more.

Boston makes me feel good

A refreshed assembly of freshly-reassembled Dota 2 squads headed to Boston for the year's final Major, and it was a wonderful sendoff. The rise of Greek underdogs Ad Finem is the story, here, despite the ultimate triumph of nu-OG. Like OG a year before at the Frankfurt Major, Ad Finem escaped the 'maybe' column (by way of the 'who?' column) to surprise everybody with an impressive run to the grand finals. OG were clearly the better team, in the end, but OG didn't make ODPixel make a noise like this:

(That game, the third in the grand final, is incredible, by the way. You should watch it. And it deserves the 'best game ever' declarations that it provoked. It's not the best game ever—it can't be, in a year that also included EG vs. EHOME—but the fact that crazy stuff like this just keeps happening is a testament to how healthy Dota is right now.)

Dota 3

Look, I'm going to level with you. It was very late at night when they unveiled that trailer and sometimes it just takes a montage of splash art and some version numbers to bring a single tear to a man's eye. It is a beautiful dumb journey we have all been on: a decade of Dotas whose number begins with a 6.This month, that all changed. Dota begins with a 7 now. And it might as well be Dota 3.

This was the big announcement that Valve have been sitting on, as they are wont to do: bigger than Reborn, bigger than 6.87, bigger than that time  they moved Roshan a little bit to the right. 7.00 is the real rebirth of this game: a substantially overhauled map, a new progression system, a new UI. Every player has finished the year relearning a game that they knew inside-out. It has, and will continue to have, extraordinary ramifications for the pro scene—that, I suspect, will be the story of the early months of 2017.

At the time, what struck me about the update was the fact that Monkey King is actually least interesting thing about it—and he can climb trees and morph into a banana! What strikes me now is the confidence that it represents, both on Icefrog's part and Valve's. Dota 2 was in an extremely good place. Like I keep saying, this was a phenomenal year for the game. Tweaks would probably have been fine. Reign in the few remaining outliers. Do something about illusions—that kind of thing. I think that's what other developers would have done.Instead we got a total upheaval, a new game. This shows a profound respect for the fact that Dota 2 is ultimately about chaos, not balance. It's not meant to become a solved problem. It's supposed to be a sandbox for strategic inventiveness, virtoso technical mastery, and—frankly—really weird shit happening when all of the game's moving parts collide. Dota 2 has to keep moving to survive, and arguably the worst thing that could happen would be for Valve to think '2016 worked: let's just do that again'.

Dota 2 7.00 suggests that isn't going to happen. We're not going to get another 2016. We're going to get 2017, and honestly? If this year's taught me anything, it's not to make predictions. I've got no idea what is going to happen. I imagine a team I've never heard of will win the International and the next hero will be a big purple man. There you go. Check back next year to find out how wrong I am.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Maybe you've heard of our tiny piece of Counter-Strike history: a map called de_dust_pcg. It was released back in 2005 as a collaboration between Dave Johnston, the creator of the original Dust, and PC Gamer—thus the title, right? As Johnston explains in this blog post, it was originally created as a tutorial for the mag, and so "it never quite got the attention and iteration that Dust and Dust 2 benefited from." But now it's getting a second chance, as 3kliksphilip has ported it from Counter-Strike: Source to CS:GO, and also put up a nice video overview of its history and the changes that were required to make the new version work.

"Retrospectively I’m surprised at some of the choices I made, and the choices the layout exposes to players," Johnston wrote. "The map clearly doesn’t have the same depth of gameplay as Dust 2, sitting closer to the original Dust in terms of size and complexity—perhaps it could be considered Dust 0.8 if these things were numbered in such a way. I’m still unsure if the dropped bomb spot was a good idea, but it was certainly fun to try it." 

As a tutorial in a magazine, the map didn't get the iteration that Dust and Dust 2 did, but it also reflects the different priorities of that era, when the focus was on lowering the barriers to entry rather than "the all-important metagames that help enshrine longevity." Gamers these days are more tolerant of complex map layouts, Johnston said, while modern game engines are better equipped to "recreate and then exploit properties of [the] real world to guide players around the virtual world." Because of that, he concluded, de_dust_pcg "will probably leave most CS:GO players wanting a little... well, more." 

Maybe so, but it's free, which is a big selling point, and an interesting piece of videogame history to boot. It's available via the Steam Workshop, and 3klikphilip's own site lists some servers running it. And if you want to play around with the original de_dust_pcg files in the Hammer editor, you can grab them up here

Dota 2

Playing mid in professional Dota 2 is like being the frontman of a band. When you’re the midlaner, you’re the guy your team looks to for the big plays. The player that can completely turn a Dota game on its head. There’s a reason why, when you join a game of solo queue, mid is the first position anyone on your team calls. It’s easy to be inspired by any of the names on this list.

Midlane is probably the most difficult position to master, but often offers the most bountiful rewards. The names of professional mid players are always on an audience’s lips. From hyper aggressive players like QO to straight up lane dominators like SumaiL, the variation in both player and hero matchups in this lane always makes for a great show.

Photo credit: Helena Kristiansson/ESL


Team: Evil Geniuses Country: Pakistan

SumaiL is one of Dota’s biggest success stories. Born and raised in Pakistan, a country that isn’t well known for producing esports pros, SumaiL started playing Dota at the age of eight. Since then he’s moved to the USA, become a key member of team EG and won an International. All impressive feats. Even more impressive when you find out he was born in 1999. SumaiL joined EG (one of the biggest names in esports, let alone Dota) when he was 15. Then, seven months later, he won TI5.

What makes SumaiL such a great mid is that his team know that, no matter what, he will win that lane. If the enemy team pick to specifically counter the hero SumaiL is taking mid, chances are he’ll beat them too. His laning mechanics are exemplary. If you want to become a better midlaner, watch SumaiL replays. And if you’re going to watch one in particular, watch this one. Game one of the TI5 grand finals, 16 years old, feeds three deaths early in the game, finishes the game 7k net worth ahead of the opposing midlaner. Magical.

Photo credit: Steffie Wunderl/ESL


Team: TeamLiquid Country: Jordan

Yes, Miracle- didn’t attend the Boston Major as a player. Yes, Team Liquid have been diabolical in recent months. However, he still has the skill to quite literally render two of the best casters in the Dota community completely speechless.He started out as a relatively unknown, but extremely high MMR mid player. Miracle- joined team monkey business (who went on to become OG) in 2015, and the rest is history. During 2015/16 he established himself as one of the greatest, maybe even the greatest, player that Dota has ever seen. He became the first player ever to reach 9,000 MMR during his time with OG. Miracle- has the ability to take over an entire game on his own, dictating the speed of play to suit his team’s needs. With two major titles under his belt, all that’s left for him to win is an International, something that his sights will be firmly set on for next year.


Team: OG Country: Australia

Miracle’s replacement in OG, at first Ana struggled to find his place in the new team. For some time, he was the scapegoat when anything went wrong. Fast forward to the present day, and Ana has become a crucial member of the OG team that just won the Boston Major.

In 2015 Ana moved to Shanghai from Melbourne with the dream of becoming a professional Dota player. He took part in a tournament where young, high-skilled Dota players were given a chance to show what they could do in a competitive environment. His performance led to him being picked up by team Invictus Gaming (IG), with whom he won NEA 2016. Now a member of OG, and the only Australian player to ever win a Valve event, Ana’s aggressive but calculated playstyle has won over fans and players alike. To step into Miracle’s shoes and do just as well, or even better, would certainly have been daunting. Ana has proved to everyone that he’s up to the task.


Team: Ad Finem Country: Greece

After Ad Finem’s exceptional showing at the Boston Major, it would be almost criminal not to include this name on the list. The second-place finish at the Major is both ThuG and Ad Finem’s only real standout achievement. They came into the tournament as massive underdogs, but thanks to some incredible performances, punched way above their weight.

I don’t remember any game at the Major where ThuG didn’t win his lane. If there were any, there were very few. This tournament has really highlighted what this player can do. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more accomplished performance on Puck than in game two of Ad Finem vs Newbee. It’s not only Puck where he excels, though, as ThuG appears to have one of the most diverse hero pools in pro Dota. He seems to be able to dominate the midlaneon almost any hero, a trait that’s incredibly important if you want to be successful. For ThuG to truly establish himself now he can’t be content with a second-place Major finish. He's done it once in Boston, now he needs to do it again, and again, and again.


Team: Virtus Pro Country: Ukraine

Shadow Fiend was not a strong hero in 6.88 Dota. I’d go as far as saying he was probably one of the weakest midlaners in the game. Made of paper, and hurt beyond repair by nerfs to Raze and buffs to the jungle, he wasn’t in a good place. Then No[o]ne came along. In the first game of the Boston Major he not only crushed EternaLEnVy in the midlanebut he got a rampage. No[o]ne killed all five heroes on the enemy team in a single team fight. You’d think he’d probably be content with that, you know: one rampage is pretty nice. Over the rest of the first day he got another four.

His play style reminds me of fellow Ukrainian and Dota 2 legend Dendi. No[o]ne will regularly dominate his lane. Against weaker players, if left in a one-on-one, he can beat them to a point where they have so little farm that they are no longer relevant to the game. Nerves can get the best of him occasionally, but that gets easier with experience. Remove the nerves from the equation, and No[o]ne has the potential to elevate himself to legendary status.

Photo credit: Steffie Wunderl/ESL


Team: Digital Chaos Country: Romania

Once ridiculed for claiming “all I want is TI, I’m going to go there whether people like me or not”, look at w33 now. Not only did he go to TI, he finished second. A super high MMR midlaner with an affinity for Meepo, w33 is one of a handful of players who can stun an audience with displays of superhuman skill.His Invoker is a sight to behold, and was the shining star in an otherwise poor Shanghai Major. Despite winning the Major in Shanghai and coming second at Frankfurt, w33 was kicked from Team Secret just before the Manilla Major. Along with former team mate Misery, he joined DC and since then has proved himself to be invaluable. Finishing Second at TI6, and third/fourth at the recent Boston Major. Some people label him as the best mid Windranger in the world, which I consider to be entirely fair.

Photo credit: Helena Kristiansson/ESL


Team: Wings Gaming Country: China

It would be really silly not to include bLink in this list. The only member of TI6 winners Wings Gaming over the age of 20, bLink is an experienced midlaner and has been a part of Wings for over two years now. He may not be the flashiest player in Dota 2, but he’s certainly proved himself to be one of the best.Consistency in the midlane is just as important as having the ability to go out and completely dominate a game. bLink very much fits this mould. His Invoker and Shadow Fiend are both impressive, but not quite at the level as some of the other names on this list. But when you’re part of one of the best teams Dota has ever seen, and you’re as stable a player as bLink, that doesn’t really matter.


Team: MVP Phoenix Country: South Korea

MVP Phoenix didn’t do too well at the Major, but there is no denying QO’s skill as a midlaner. He plays Dota differently to most other players, let alone other midlaners. Typing QO on a Korean keyboard means “don’t back”: two words that perfectly describe MVP’s (and QO’s) playstyle.

He’s a very aggressive player. He may not get more last hits than his opposing midlaner, but he almost certainly will kill them. A lot. QO is well known for playing heroes that can commit way behind the mid tier one tower to get kills. His Phantom Assassin is one of the best (as shown at TI6), and he’s one of a few players who regularly take Slark mid lane. This Phantom Assassin game, recorded from QO’s perspective, shows just how talented he is as a midlaner. Scoring kill after kill, it’s a truly dominant performance. MVP will usually build their entire drafts around QO. On a team full of amazing individual players, that's a testament to how great he is.

Photo credit: Chris Romano/ESL

Honourable mention: Dendi

Team: Na'Vi Country: Ukraine

Dendi is a legend. He’s the reason I, and many others, got into Dota. Between TI1 and TI3 Navi absolutely dominated. They were easily the best team, and Dendi was the best mid player. While he may have fallen from the top in recent years, there’s no denying how much he’s done for pro Dota. So many of the things we take for granted in midlane were started by him. He was one of the first players who really put an emphasis on denying creeps from the enemy midlaner. This alone was enough for him to be able to dominate his lane in most games, on occasions being an entire two or three levels above his opposite number. Dendi is still one of the best at this, and his technique has inspired many other midlaners, including a few on this list (SumaiL probably most of all).

During his time at the top he was also known for making crazy, unorthodox plays that no one expected. This is one of the factors that made Navi so thrilling to watch. Most games would turn into the Dendi show—especially when he got to play Pudge. This game where Dendi played Pudge at TI3 is still my favourite game of pro Dota to date. There’s an in-game set for Pudge that includes a Dendi doll hanging from his belt, that’s how influential this guy’s Pudge is. As well as being a wonderful player Dendi has a great personality. Always interesting and funny, his interviews are usually a treat. Dendi may not be the best midlaner anymore, but he’s still one of my favourites.

Team Fortress 2

Smissmas, the magical time of year when men with big guns, questionable morality, and an unusual commitment to a two-tone color scheme are given all-new, all-festive ways to inflict violence upon one another, has once again come to Team Fortress 2!. This year's magical event features a slew of new Festivizer weapons, 17 winter-themed community cosmetics, and—just in time for the holiday season—three new taunts. 

Apart from the new stuff, the holiday update will also make some improvements to Casual matches and autobalancing. At the end of Casual matches, players will now automatically be formed up into a new match with the same players and teams, and will be given the opportunity to vote on which map is played. A new autobalancing system will encourage players to switch sides when necessary by offering bonus XP to volunteer turncoats. 

And of course there will be stuff to buy in the Mann Co. Store, much of it on sale. It doesn't look to be the biggest Smissmas update of all time, but then again, as Valve says, giving people gifts can bite you in the ass. Maybe you should just be thankful for what you get. Speaking of which, you can get the details at

Dota 2

The worldwide gaming market was worth a whopping $91 billion this year, according to a new Superdata Research report. Mobile gaming, powered by huge hits like Pokemon Go and Clash Royale, led the way with a total estimated market value of $41 billion, but the PC acquitted itself very well, pulling in just shy of $36 billion over the year, "driven largely by free-to-play online titles and downloadable games."

Gaming "is growing at tremendous rates and incorporating new media and platforms, expanding its reach," the report says. "Going far beyond the traditional 'gamer' dynamic, the games and playable media audience is now one of the most valuable and engaged demographics, and brand owners are paying attention." 

Premium game revenues on the PC hit $5.4 billion for the year, not too far off of the $6.6 billion earned across consoles. Overwatch led the way, earning $586 million, followed by CS:GO, Guild Wars 2, Minecraft, and Fallout 4. But the real money remains with free-to-play games: League of Legends once again tops that chart at $1.7 billion, followed by Dungeon Fighter Challenge, Crossfire, World of Tanks, and Dota 2, which brought in a relatively paltry $260 million. 

"After launching more than seven years ago, League of Legends is still on the top earning Riot $150 million per month. Dota 2 comes in second at $23.4 million per month this year, show fans' hesitation to switch to another MOBA," the report says, noting how difficulty it continues to be for new MOBAs to make a meaningful impact on the genre. "The modest success of mid-tier titles like Heroes of the Storm, Smite, Heroes of Newerth, and Paragon is still dwarfed by the top two, a persistent trend over the past several years." 

Interestingly,  while the free-to-play and esports markets are expected to see continued healthy growth over the next three years, the "premium" PC games market is predicted to decline slightly next year, from $5.4 to $5.3 billion, before bouncing back in 2018. Reasons for the decline aren't provided, but it may be related to the note that Valve's experience with the CS:GO skin gambling controversy has led other studios to "tread with caution" regarding digital goods, something that could have a braking effect on future growth.

"Developers for Rocket League, EVE Online, and Overwatch have been careful with how they implement virtual  items by either making them tradeable, or editing the terms and services to prohibit gambling of in-game currency," the report says. 

Superdata says its PC valuation is based on social, free-to-play, subscription, and premium games, and obviously there's a good bit of estimating going on, as companies like Valve and Riot—two of the biggest players in this whole thing—generally don't release numbers to the public. But overall, it paints a very healthy picture of the PC gaming scene. Superdata's full year in review market brief is free from


A reload is a seconds-long sideshow of watching ammo numbers go back up, a firearm equivalent of wiping the blood off a blade. Whether it’s the snappy accuracy of a mil-sim mag swap or feeding vomit balls to a living rocket launcher, reload animations are testament to the artistic prowess of personalizing a ubiquitous aspect of shooters. In alphabetical order, here’s some of the best reload animations on PC.

Battlefield 1 - Gewehr 98

Battlefield’s reloads mix function with form to spruce up each kit’s arsenal without straying too far into prolonged five-finger theatrics. The bolt-action rifles have satisfyingly crisp rechambering sequences, and it’s wonderful picking out DICE’s split-second touches on the older weapon design. The left hand of this Gewehr 98 sniper clamping over the rifle’s port to prevent an unspent bullet from flying out as he cycles the bolt to reload is a fine example. 

Battlefield 1 - Kolibri 

Behold the pee-wee Kolibri, the tiniest sidearm in a game filled with bulky, ancient MGs and hulking tanks. This novelty pistol has perhaps daintiest reload animation in gaming history. Swapping a magazine smaller than some caterpillars (the slight wiggle before the magazine enters its housing is a hilarious nudge) perfectly accompanies the sophistication of the pinky, ring, and middle fingers raised at maximum teacup clearance. 

Battlefield 4 - AK-12

Diverging from typical FPS fare of tilting the gun sideways for a clearer view of a reload, Battlefield 4’s AK-12 instead scores points for sticking with the realism of a trained military soldier dispensing with unnecessary movements. Note the forward-facing angle during the entire animation—this keeps the barrel’s business end pointed at the enemy—and the support hand curving beneath the grip to rack the charging handle and keep the firing hand near the trigger.

(gif via Jarek the Gaming Dragon)

Battlefield 4 - AN-94

 The AN-94 provides another AK-style reload with a much flashier “mag-pop” sequence that both seems terribly wasteful and oddly celebratory at the same time, almost as if it’s the gun version of sabering champagne.

(gif via Static Gaming)

Battlefield 4 - Unica 6

Catching one of DICE’s handful of easter-egg reload animations guarantees a double-take and that special feeling of accomplishment for triggering the fabled 1-in-10,000 probability. The Unica 6 secret reload is one of the earliest recorded from Battlefield’s community, and it holds a special place of honor for its ridiculous speedloader flick and follow-up cartridge comfort pat.

 (gif via Shimytangtang)

Battlefield Hardline - .410 Jury

Battlefield Hardline boasts plenty of hidden reload animations seemingly trying to upstage each other with increasing ridiculousness. Levitating an AK magazine with powerful criminal magic is impressive enough, but it’s hard to top the mesmerizing smoothness of the twirling .410 Jury and its gunslinger savant performing some extremity ballet.

(gif via Gibs O Matic)

BioShock - Grenade Launcher

Everyone’s favorite objectivist dystopia beneath the sea is a playground of art-deco architecture and hybrid steampunk weaponry—and then there’s the Grenade Launcher which looks like something the Home Alone kid slapped together in his garage. Its rough reload gives weight to its explosive power; you practically break the thing in half to shove in another coffee can’s worth of grenades into its metal gullet.

Borderlands 2 - Tediore

Borderlands 2's zillion guns follow a small pattern of reload animations based on each manufacturer. For Tediore, it involves chucking the entire gun like a slab of beef (with obligatory explosion) before generating a new one right in your hands. And yes, there’s entire character builds centered on throwing out as many Tediores as possible.

Call of Duty: Black Ops - G11

The few prototype guns found in Black Ops’ Cold War-era arsenal are a refreshing change from the cookie-cutter animations pasted across nearly every Call of Duty, and the G11 assault rifle nails that conceptual feeling best with its caseless rod reload and cocking handle crank that wouldn’t look out of place on a windup toy.

(gif via Undeath92)

Crysis 2

No single weapon in Crysis 2 sports an interesting reload, but each Nanosuit mode changes how Prophet rearms himself with suitably subtle animation changes. If you’re in power mode, you’ll slam in magazines with gusto and cock the handle with a firm grip. In stealth mode, you’ll more gingerly swap magazines and slowly bring back the handle so it makes less noise. Maximum context.

Counter-Strike 1.6 - M4

Surprising detail and nuance, for the time. The classic one-two of the open-palm mag-tap and fantastically inaccurate forward assist yank was a common occurrence when spectating a CT victory during those binge nights when homework was finished early.

Doom 2 - Super Shotgun

The only new weapon in Doom 2 was a powerhouse of a double-barrel shotgun with a big boom and a framey click-clack reload that’s music to a shooter grognard’s ears. You could've switched back to the original pump-action and saved some ammo, but you didn't.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon - Galleria 1991

Picking out a single example from Blood Dragon’s neon hallucination was almost as impossible as questioning Rex Colt’s sense of subtlety, but the Galleria 1991’s extra flair of casually tossing in shells is too excellent a combo to pass up.

Far Cry 4 - M-700

Carried from Far Cry 3 into the mountains of Kyrat, the M-700 is a plain but reliable sniper rifle favored for stealth-inclined players. Its reload is far more interesting with its abundant use of left-side screen space as the gun traverses across your monitor and back.

(gif via Jarek the Gaming Dragon)

Half-Life: Opposing Force - Spore Launcher

Shepherd’s logical action of picking up a baby of those creatures from another dimension trying to kill him gives us this Half-Life memento of an impromptu feeding session followed by—what else?—deadly vomit.

Killing Floor 2 - Dual 1858 Revolvers

The gun nuts at Tripwire earned their reputation as reload wizards from Red Orchestra’s authenticity, and Killing Floor 2’s high-fps, motion-captured animations are visual treats. The Gunslinger’s dual reloads pack so much refinement, the above GIF had to be slowed down to more easily observe the entire reload from start to finish. Nearly every other reload style is a blast to watch, a popular favorite being the smooth magazine retention for rifles and SMGs.

Max Payne 2

With enough kills chained during Bullet Time, Max whirls into a camera-orbiting move that’s less of a traditional reload and more of a sudden urge to pirouette his pain away. Still, it’s a stylish ode to Payne’s cinematographic influences, especially if you keep “Ave Maria” playing in your head the entire time.

Max Payne 3

Rockstar gleefully embellished Max’s gun-fu in his third killing spree, with the best animated touches emphasizing Max’s familiarity at juggling a small armory of guns. Reloading a one-handed gun while holding a two-handed weapon in the offhand is one of the best displays from the world-weary monologuer, as he tucks the bigger gun beneath his arm to free up his hand to change magazines.

Metro: Last Light - Shambler

The ramshackle design of Metro’s arsenal is already a pleasure to behold, but the Shambler shotgun’s revolver-style reload is one of the most unique of the series. The small toss between Artyom’s left and right hands as he feeds a shell into each clamp is a dash of detail and personality. 

(gif via Arbybear)

Overwatch - Torbjörn's Rivet Gun

Blizzard’s penchant for polish is on display in Overwatch’s reloads. Most of the cast would be right at home in this gallery, such as Torbjorn’s screen-spanning scrap refill, the only time I can think of molten liquid being poured into a gun.

PlanetSide 2 - Commissioner

The powerful Commissioner revolver is a trusty companion in PlanetSide 2’s massive warzones, and its split cylinder reload and automated spin bring that subsequent thrill of badassery after some bullseye frags.

Postal 2 - Beta Shotgun

The well-known video of Postal Dude elegantly shoving a fistful of shells into his awaiting shotgun embodies creative reload animations dispensing with silly real-world rules such as gravity and jams. The animation’s absurdity is even better experienced firsthand in the thick of Postal 2’s chaos, so definitely grab either the Paradise Lost DLC or the Eternal Damnation mod to see it for yourself.

Resident Evil 4 - Broken Butterfly

Console players have long recognized Leon Kennedy’s reloads in Resident Evil 4 as those of an expert zombie slayer, and the 2007 PC port brought his expertise into sharper detail. The Broken Butterfly revolver is a top pick; Leon’s nonchalant no-eyes-needed head tilt as he dumps out the cartridges and the almost lazy-looking single-bullet toss into the cylinder are just pure awesome. 

(gif via Hi-Res Reset)

Rise of the Triad - Dual Pistols

The challenge of animating an elaborate akimbo reload is smartly executed in Rise of the Triad, a fantastic world where air resistance is a myth and wrist strength reaches mutant levels.

Shadow Warrior 2 - Springchester

A lever-action flip might be passé by now, but Shadow Warrior 2’s Springchester exaggerates the pull-flip sequence so strongly that it's a wonder Wang isn't ducking for cover on the backswing. 

(gif via PC Gaming Videos)

Squad - M4

With all the arsenal acrobatics, it's nice to sometimes plug some realism back into restoring ammo to a weapon. This M4 reload from Squad reinforces the no-frills approach and the professionalism of the soldiers you play as therein, particularly with the confident-looking hand movements and double-check of the ejection port for a clean mag transition.

Titanfall 2 - 40mm Cannon

The Titans of Titanfall 2 are massive robots shooting equally massive guns, but their reloads pleasingly mirror human hand movements at a bigger scale. I love the small gears spinning open the ammo box housing and the slight jiggle of the barrel cover responding to the charge handle slamming forward.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

The Boston Major wrapped up last weekend with an exciting final that saw OG defeating Ad Finem to take home the $1 million first prize. But the action didn’t stop there as the final major CS:GO tournament of 2016 saw Astralis outgun OpTic at the Esports Championship Series. The world of digital sports will be fairly quiet now until next year, but we do have a few events to look forward to. All the details on this weekend’s action can be found below. Have a great weekend!

StarCraft II: Intel Extreme Masters

The top WCS Korea players based on their placement in the 2016 WCS Global Finals will be battling it out at the Intel Extreme Masters. Only those with the best macro game will be crowned the victor and win the prize pool of $35,000. The semifinals start today at 21:55 PST and Saturday 06:55 CET, while the finals begin Saturday at 21:10 PST and Sunday 05:10 CET. The event can be watched live over on Twitch.

League of Legends: Intel Extreme Masters

The Intel Extreme Masters returns to South Korea where it’s holding its first ever Asian stadium event in Gyeonggi. It's been eight years since the IEM tournament last visited South Korea and Season 11 continues with its second event. International League of Legends teams will battle it out for their chance to win the $100,000 prize pool. The semifinals start today at 18:30 PST and Saturday 03:30 CET, while the finals start Saturday at 11:40 PST / 20:40 CET. You can check out the official stream over on lolesports.

CSGO: ELEAGUE Major 2017 offline qualifier

The Major Qualifier will be held from the ELEAGUE Arena in Atlanta today and presented live over on Twitch. It will include the eight teams eliminated in the group stage from the prior major, as well as the top eight teams identified through Regional Minor Championships. The full schedule can be found here, while the event can be watched on Twitch.  

Overwatch: Intel Extreme Masters

Six teams from Europe and Asia will come together to deliver a show full of rivalries. Korean team Afreeca Freecs Blue were finalists in the Intel Overwatch APEX League, but failed to claim success after losing to EnVyUs in a 4-0 sweep. The IEM Gyeonggi Invitational will be their second chance to defend Korea's title as they battle on home soil. Meanwhile, Misfits will have a chance to test out their new lineup after a major roster swap. The quarterfinals start today at 08:55 PST / 17:55 CET, while the semifinals begin at 23:40 PST and Saturday at 08:40 CET. The full schedule can be found here, while the stream can be found over on Twitch.   

Dota 2

The idea of 'Dota 3' is a running joke in the Dota community, used whenever something changes so significantly that the game we knew might as well be dead. And because this is the Dota community, updates thought significant enough to qualify can be anything from shuffling Roshan slightly to the right to changing the size of the gold bounty granted by a kill when the level difference between the killer and victim is greater than the radius of the branch of a tree in the backyard of Icefrog's neighbour's physiotherapist yadda yadda yadda Dota Dota Dota.

This weekend's update, now live on the test server, is different. This might as well be Dota 3. And because Valve aren't allowed to use the number three, they're calling it Dota 2 7.00.

This is an epochal shift not only in Dota 2's history, but the history of arguably the most influential mod in the history of PC gaming

That '7' is significant in and of itself. If you caught the news in passing over the weekend you might have wondered why Dota players were losing their minds over a digit, but it's a big deal: DotA has been in version six-dot-something for more than 10 years.

After the original Warcraft 3 mod's emergence in 2004, it went through a period of rapid versioning under multiple stewards for a year or so. The shift from 5.84b to 6.00 in early 2005 marked the end of the Guinsoo era, with Icefrog stepping in starting with 6.02.

From then on, DotA crept forwards in small increments—reaching 6.69c in late 2010, the last patch prior to Valve's involvement. Development of the mod and Dota 2 continued in parallel from 6.70 onwards. I started playing in mid 2012, on version 6.74. Over the last four and a half years the game gradually reached a remarkable state of balance with 6.88. Everyone was excited (and trepidatious) about the changes to come with the 6.89 patch.

Which is why the announcement of version 7.00 is such a big deal. This is an epochal shift not only in Dota 2's history, but the history of arguably the most influential mod in the history of PC gaming. It's a sweeping modernisation of the game, from the interface to the map to the vital systems that power the most complicated competitive sandbox around.

Leveling stats is gone, replaced with a per-hero talent system that offers passive bonuses at levels 10, 15, 20 and 25. Where previously power spikes centered on key levels and the acquisition of items, now heroes have the opportunity to leap ahead of their opponents at more regular intervals.

Existing players have a lot to relearn when it comes to matchups

While the system seems similar to Heroes of the Storm on the surface, it's a very different creature when translated to Dota 2. This is a game that often boils down to successfully reading the relative power of two sets of characters and making strategic decisions on that basis. The addition of talents gives you something else to track, and allows for surprising late-game twists that weren't possible before.

I'll give you an example: I played Chaos Knight in my last game, facing a well-farmed enemy Juggernaut. It ran long but stayed relatively close, and after a long series of teamfights it was clear that Juggernaut was comfortable using Blade Fury to disengage from fights. He didn't account for one of CK's level 25 talents, however, which allows Reality Rift to pierce spell immunity—and this in turn allowed me to control Juggernaut in a vital late teamfight and shift momentum to my team.

Existing players have a lot to relearn when it comes to matchups, as the talent system has the potential to create a range of new counter-picks. I'd argue that this is good for new players too, as talents (unlike stats and the formulae they drive) are relatively easy to understand by reading them. And the fact that experienced players are having to relearn so much of the game helps to narrow the skill gap, at least for a short time.

Case in point: I got lost in a game of Dota 2 last night while navigating a map that I've spent several thousand hours fighting over. 7.00 overhauls the battlefield to an astonishing degree, relocating Roshan to the top of the river, moving every single neutral camp, adding some new ones, adding four (!) bounty rune spawns throughout both jungles, and changing every juke path. Thousands upon thousands of hours of accumulated map knowledge have been lost and must be reacquired, and every single guide to jungling, warding and roaming will need to be rewritten.

I've also felt lost within the new UI, which is the one area of this update that I suspect will see some changes in the next couple of weeks. Overall it's a positive change: cleaner and clearer in key areas, with more flexibility for future updates.

There's plenty that doesn't seem quite right, however, like the shop window concealing the kill feed on the right and the placement of the new 'enemy details' panel, which again fights against years upon years of deeply-ingrained player habit. We'll get used to it, though. After all, 'select enemy heroes to see their stuff because the RTS engine this is based on let you do that' is weird too.

I'm impressed by the changes to the pregame. After hitting 'accept' you're now taken to the match lobby near-instantly, which is a tragedy for anybody who was making a living from Dota 2 loading screens but great for everybody else. More tools to communicate strategic intent during the draft are very welcome, as is the ability to pre-buy starting items to get you out of the fountain faster. It's a welcome process of modernisation that doesn't make the game any less competitive. I also like the mad anime-style intro to each match, because it is silly.

It's funny that the most notable thing about this patch when it was announced—Monkey King, the first Dota 2-exclusive hero—has been so completely overshadowed by the massive changes elsewhere. Particularly because he is nuts. They've added a character that can climb trees, summon an army of monkeys, and run around pretending to be a banana, and this is the least interesting thing about the update. I don't know what to tell you; he's a new hero. Most players know how to deal with that. What they don't know how to do is deal with getting lost looking for Roshan.

I will say this, however. If you're worried that this new era of Dota 2 signals the end of the game's vital strangeness—a shift towards smooth focus-tested marketability—then Monkey King is a reminder that, at its heart, Dota 2 is still a game about really weird shit happening because of a decade of accreted rules and systems. To wit: earlier today I, a horseman of the apocalypse, helped my team find, isolate and kill a tricky monkey by eating a tree with some magic beans.

It's still Dota, everybody.


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